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'Snishkey' earns award for local seventh-grader

May 12, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

A fish, a monkey and a snake are unlikely friends, but to Neelam Patel, the animals' combined swimming, swinging and rattling traits amount to one ideal animal: The "Snishkey," which Science World magazine named one of its 10 Super-Species.

Neelam, 12, a seventh-grader at Northern Middle School in Hagerstown, is one of 10 winners in the national children's science magazine's Design Your Own Super-Species Contest.

"You always hear somebody else did it. It's never someone from around here," said Patty Roth, Neelam's science teacher.

The Science World contest, which was open to children in grades six through 10 from across the country, asked students to combine the traits of up to three animals into one ultimate species.

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Neelam's Snishkey is an animal made up of a fish's gills for breathing underwater, a snake for its keen sense of smell and its rattled tail for scaring off predators, and a monkey's arms and legs so it can swing from trees in the jungle, the Snishkey's natural habitat.

"I wanted an animal that could swim, be fearful and very energetic," she said.

The Snishkey, or Reptillia gorrilium, is featured in the May 9 edition of the magazine, along with nine other "species."

Other featured species are:

  • The "Cheeturea," a combination of a cheetah's speed, a turtle's protective shell and an eagle's sharp eyesight and claws, created by a Texas middle-school student.

  • The "Stark," a piranha-like ocean dweller, which is a combination of a starfish's regenerative qualities and a shark's voracity, created by a Massachusetts middle-school student.


Roth said after finding the contest information in an issue of Science World, she assigned her six science classes the task of creating their own species. Of the nearly 120 essays and drawings submitted by her students, Neelam's classmates voted that 28 should be entered in the magazine's contest. Roth then narrowed down the 28 submissions to 14 entries and sent them to the magazine.

She said Neelam's essay and drawing showed she had knowledge of the animal kingdom and the ability to research.

"It's very realistic," Roth said. "She has it living in the jungle, but it can live in the water, too. It's something you could feasibly see put together - a geneticist could do it."

Neelam's prize for winning the contest is a package of Zoo Tycoon computer games. The game allows players to create their own zoo by asking them to solve problems about conservation, habitat building and zoo management.

Neelam, whose favorite subject is math, said she spent three days drawing the picture and a week working on the accompanying essay.

She enjoyed the project more than others she's worked on in school because it gave her an opportunity to draw.

"I didn't really think I would make it," she said. "I did it so I would get a grade."

Neelam got an A plus on the drawing and the essay, Roth said.

"She's a good student. She works hard and she'll do what you want her to do," Roth said. "The students are really proud of her, too."

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