'Silly Billy' the Lizard Guy Entertains at the Library
Several dozen children got an up-close look at a frog, snakes, a tortoise, a scorpion and a bearded dragon at the library in Lawrence Township during a recent Sunday afternoon.
The room erupted in squeals from several dozen children as Jerry, a bullsnake, slithered across the floor of the Lawrence Township headquarters of the Mercer County Library on a recent Sunday afternoon.
But they were squeals of excitement, not fear. The children, sitting with their legs crossed on the floor just a few feet away, were having a blast watching Jerry and listening to his handler, “Silly Billy,” talk about the reptile and some of the other creatures he had brought with him.
“Silly Billy,” also known as Billy Harkowsky of Jackson Township, is one of The Lizard Guys, a group of animal enthusiasts who tour New Jersey and New York giving educational and entertaining presentations geared for children and adults alike using live animals. In business since 1995, the group estimates it has performed about 20,000 shows at schools, daycares, camps, libraries, birthday parties and other venues.
The shows – which are tailored to the age of the audience – usually last about an hour and feature six to 10 animals, with the presenter providing details about each animal, such as where in the world it comes from, what it normally eats and how long it will probably live. Audience members are encouraged to ask questions and, whenever possible, are given the chance to gently touch the animals with a finger or two.
During his visit to the library on Jan. 16, along with Jerry the bullsnake, Billy brought a tree frog named Jingles; a bearded dragon; a large tortoise; an emperor scorpion; and Jack Jack, a boa constrictor.
Educating the public about the wonders of the animal kingdom is a family affair for Billy. His wife Jenny is one of the Lizard Guys presenters and the couple’s 7-year-old twins often help out.
Lending a hand – quite literally – during the Lawrence Township presentation was Billy’s daughter, Ally. Showing as much enthusiasm and love for the animals as her father, Ally Harkowsky jumped right in and carefully helped lift the creatures from their carriers. From the small scorpion to the heavy boa constrictor, the exotic animals looked as natural in Ally's hands as a cat or dog would seem in the hands of any other child.
Watching the interaction between Billy and his daughter was reminiscent of seeing the late wildlife expert and conservationist Steve Irwin and his young daughter Bindi on the reality TV series “The Crocodile Hunter.”
A native of Jersey City, Billy was working in retail management when he nearly ran over a small turtle in the roadway in the early 1990s. Rescuing the turtle from traffic reignited a childhood passion for animals and, just six months later, he found himself caring for about 70 different animals.
That passion continued to grow and led him to The Lizard Guys. And it is that passion that he and his family are sharing with the rest of us in their shows.
The Lizard Guys show was just one of the many entertaining and educational events and programs for children and adults that are presented every month at the Lawrence headquarters of the Mercer County Library. For details about upcoming events, consult the library’s online calendar of events.