BUSHNELL — The lively hog-nosed snake moved silently in its glass, green-lidded box, showing mild interest in the young faces peering at it.
The faces belonged to about 260 high school students who were taking a look at the reptile as they moved from one station to the next during Wednesday's 2012 Nature Coast Envirothon.
Fifty-two five-member teams from Pasco, Hernando, Citrus and Sumter counties answered science questions in five categories — soils, forestry, non-point source pollution, aquatics and wildlife — during the annual competition at Dade Battlefield State Park in Sumter County.
Earning the top overall score and a $2,500 Tampa Bay Times scholarship was the Golden Dragons team from the Citrus County Academy of Environmental Science: Kaleb Jemison, 16; Sarah Morgan, 15; Tyler Petrucci, 17; James Devlin, 18; and Harrison Clark, 17. The team is now eligible to compete in the state competition at Myakka River State Park in April.
Three Springstead High School teams from Hernando County placed in individual categories. The Tree Huggers — Pedro Estrada, 17; Trey Scott, 17; Beverly Becker, 18; Shane Scorzo, 17, and Jimmy Diven, 18 — had the top score in wildlife.
Springstead's Volvox team — Dylan Jones, 17; Kylee Courtney, 17; Kylie Van Meter, 16; Hannah Gagnon, 18, and Brandon Brosher, 17 — won the soils category.
The highest-scoring Hernando County team was Springstead's Talking Trash: Midori Kimura, 18; Kendra Arvay, 17; Meghan Moholland, 16; Bobby Reyes, 17, and Jonathan Collins, 17.
Pasco County's highest-scoring team was River Ridge High School's The Upwelling. Team members included Chris Dodson, 18; Gina Crisafulli, 17; Jake Stevens, 16; Lewis Psofimis, 18, and Jeff Motley, 17.
A first at the Envirothon was a tie in the forestry category, even after considering the bonus points. South Sumter High School's Agtastics team and the Golden Dragons from Citrus had to somehow break the tie, so they were given one more task.
Both teams were asked to measure a tree's height with a device called a Biltmore stick.
"It's a stick for measuring tree diameters and tree height, which helps you calculate board feet and sawtimber," said Sumter County forester Arthur Clothier. "It takes a high level of skill to measure a tree with this tool."
The Agtastics managed to measure the tree within 6 inches of the measurement made by the forestry professional, giving them the forestry category championship. Team members included Morgan Edwards, 18; Celie Hodges, 15; Matthew Gallup, 17; Matthew Hall, 15, and Nathan Jameson, 15.
Besides winning the overall event, the Golden Dragons were the highest-scoring Citrus County team and won the aquatics category. South Sumter's Planet APES — Taylor Colacecchi, 18; Chris Thornton, 18; Stephanie Henderson, 18; Krishna Amin, 17, and Dillon Jones, 16 — won the non-point source pollution category and finished as the highest-scoring Sumter County team.
Chuck Mulligan, a science teacher at the Citrus County Academy of Environmental Science and the adviser for the Golden Dragons, said the Envirothon is a valuable learning experience for students.
"Often times we teach and we teach," Mulligan said, "but the Envirothon is one of the outlets where (students) get to see how this information is used and what it means. It provides a more balanced and well-rounded education for the student."
Envirothon sponsors included the Tampa Bay Times, Walmart of Inverness, Natural Resource Planning Services, Publix of Hernando, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Forest Service, Gulf Trophies, the Citrus Native Plant Society, the Sumter Native Plant Society, the Hernando Audubon Society and Dade Battlefield State Park.