BARSTOW • When Lucas Basulto brings out his snakes during the Desert Discovery Center's classes for elementary students, the kids often have the same questions.

Are they poisonous?

Do they bite?

Basulto has found a way to alleviate those anxieties — by letting you hold his snake, like Striker, a copper and tan striped California King snake, while answering your questions.

The 17-year-old has become a resident reptile expert at the Desert Discovery Center and for his years of volunteer service was selected as the  Mojave Environmental Education Consortium's student of the year on Thursday.

The Barstow High School 12th-grader was selected among six finalists from the High Desert area, including Apple Valley, Victorville and Lucerne Valley, and was the first Barstow student to receive the award.

Basulto teaches classes — both at the Desert Discovery Center and through road shows where he and his father visit Barstow elementary schools with their reptiles — and has given tours and worked on habitat restoration projects with the center for almost eight years.

In addition, Basulto pursues his passion for desert wildlife with a considerable reptile collection of his own.

When friends come over and visit, "most of them plug their nose" upon entering his room, Basulto said.

"I have a whole room full of them," he said.

He owns over 12 pets that are native specie snakes and lizards, several of which were rescued.

Basulto said that when his father used to work out at Fort Irwin, he once brought home a four-foot long Gopher snake that had been struck in the head by a car and was lying in the middle of the road.

Basulto took care of the snake at home for four years. Now the black-spotted yellow-and-tan snake resides at the Desert Discovery Center as one of its live displays.

Basulto was nominated by a teacher from Adelanto, Michelle Lawhead, who brought her first-grade students on a field trip to the center in February.

"He was interesting and fascinating — he was even funny," said Lawhead.

"He also spoke in words that they understood," she said.

"He's really a motivator for kids," said Rosa Yriarte, education coordinator of the Desert Discovery Center. "...The kids really react well to him."

The high school senior said he plans to enroll at Barstow Community College on his way to pursuing a career as a naturalist or herpetologist, a scientist who studies reptiles and amphibians.

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