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Beware of the beasties that bite

September 22, 2010

CSC Naturalist Bruce Beerbower meets Ms. Phillipa
Tick, a giant inflatable tick.

Catawba Science Center's Carpenter Hall is crawling with lice, bedbugs, ticks, leeches and other creatures that eat blood.
While it isn't “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” beware of the beasties that bite at Catawba Science Center. Giant blood suckers are launching an invasion, and Carpenter Hall is crawling with lice, bedbugs, ticks, leeches, fleas and other creatures that eat blood.
Explore the science of what’s eating you in a new, skin-crawling exhibit, “Attack of the Bloodsuckers!” now open at CSC.
Examine the what, why, when and how of mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, leeches and other parasites – plus, get a rare look at vampire fish and vampire crabs.
“The 'Bloodsuckers' exhibit is all about natural histories of strange or misunderstood creatures,” said  Bruce Beerbower, CSC's naturalist. “Beyond the Western Piedmont, there are a myriad of other sanguinivorous species, or creatures that eat blood. “
From the Amazon Basin to the mountains of Czechoslovakia — each one adapts to feeding in its own unique way. The Espanola mockingbird, endemic to the Galapagos Islands, feeds on other birds, iguanas, sea lions and the occasional researcher. Brazil boasts the teeny-tiny, but very persistent, vampire fish. Even certain butterflies have a taste for blood.
Visitors to CSC can discover the wonders of these sanguinivores through encounters with live species and interactive exhibits — all showcased in a cartoon and retro-1950s style.
“When you walk in, the graphics look like an old-fashioned horror flick, B-movies or pulp fiction,” Beerbower said. “Even the sitting area is fitted with a retro-sofa, chair and coffee table filled with books about the different bloodsuckers featured in the exhibits.”
Humans need food to survive, and animals that eat blood are no different. In fact, most of them manage to leave their prey alive — which is more than most people can say. With about 20 grams of protein in every drop, human blood is high-energy fuel for the animals who’ve adapted to eating it — and they have adapted in some pretty amazing ways.
The incredible biodiversity of bloodsuckers is sure to amaze and impress — especially with all facts and information about each creature.
For example, why did George Washington die from an illness that shouldn't kill him”
“Too many medicinal leeches,” Beerbower said. “Come meet Larry the Leech and look a real leech in the mouth.”
Test your bug-appealing foot odor — find out how much your feet stink.
“Pull off your socks,” Beerbower invited. “Stinky feet can make you more attractive.”
To a hungry mosquito, that is.
Do ticks creep you out? Receive a hug from Ms. Phillipa Tick, a giant inflatable tick.
While CSC can’t guarantee visitors will want to make friends with these critters, you’re sure to respect them after experiencing “Attack of the Bloodsuckers!”
Look at microscopic bloodsuckers under a microscope and magnified 31 times — ghoulishly creepy.
“This is going to be a great exhibit, especially around Halloween,” Beerbower said. “All of our staff, youth and adult volunteers will be involved.”
Beerbower has a surprise activity in mind, but mum's the word.
The exhibit, which appeals to all, from small children to adults, is open through Jan. 2.
“The more people look, the more they see and learn,” Beerbower said. “So, when you're bitten by a mosquito, is it a male or female?”
Visit “Attack of the Bloodsuckers!” to find the answer.


“Attack of the Bloodsuckers” examines the what, why, when and how of mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, leeches and other parasites. Learn why bloodsuckers are important to the ecosystem and how to keep them out of your system. The exhibit includes:
Mosquito Cockpit
Imagine you are a mosquito itching for a bite. Your mission is to track down your next meal.
Carbon Dioxide Detector
Measure the invisible carbon dioxide gas in your breath. Mosquitoes follow this invisible trail to locate a target.
Breathing Mist
See the wispy mist from a target's breath. A mosquito can sense wisps of breath up to a half mile away.
Moving Target
Test how compound eyes find a moving target. Just like a mosquito, it is easier to see an object more easily when it moves.
Feel for Heat
Use temperature to find a hot meal.Use a heat detector to find a warm arm — even through a shirt-sleeve.
Tool Time
Be a mosquito and use your probe to find a vein in an arm. Get a close-up look at the needle-noses, slicing jaws and suction-cup mouths other bloodsuckers use to get their blood meals.
Microscopes
Take a close look at some familiar bloodsuckers that you normally try to avoid, like a head louse, flea and tick.
Suckers Talk Back
A few bloodsuckers plead for their lives. Listen to the mosquito, leech, tick, and black fly explain their important place in the natural world.
Inflatable Tick
Meet Ms. Phillipa Tick, a giant inflatable tick. Have a seat in her lap and become her next meal — she'll grow on you.
Are You Attractive?
Do Mosquitoes like smelly feet? Do mosquitoes love you? It could be because your feet smell. Join other visitors in gathering the kind of information that researchers are studying to build a better mosquito trap.
How Do You React?
How does your skin react to mosquito bites? Do you get big red itchy bumps or are you lucky enough to have no reaction at all?
Matching Game
Try to find the matching pictures of some blood suckers. There's a twist — one picture in each pair shows just a small part of the whole animal.
TwITCHer
‘Right hand on head louse!'’ Play TwITCHer, the Twister-like game that ties you up in knots and makes you itch.
Mosquito Life Cycle
Spin your way through a film of a mosquito’s life cycle: from a wriggling larva that breathes out its rear-end to an adult crawling out of its pupal shell.
Suckers from Around
the World

Check out the weird suckers around the world: a life-like model of a vampire bat, a preserved sea lamprey and portraits of a vampire moth, vampire fish and a tag-team pair of blood-sucking bird species from the Galapagos.
Live Mosquitoes
Spend time with some live mosquitoes, all safely contained in three escapeproof tanks. You may know an adult mosquito, but have you ever watched mosquito larvae performing their little water ballet?
Live Leeches
See if you can spot which end of a medical leech is the biting one. With suction cups at each end and a flexible flatworm body, a leech can crawl like an inch-worm, swim like a whale, or just ‘hang out’ on the sides of the tank.
 

Want to go?

Stinky feet can make you more attractive — to a hungry mosquito, that is. Explore the science of what's eating you during “Attack of the Bloodsuckers!” The invasion of the beasties that bite you continues through Jan. 2. Admission is $4 for youth (3 to 18), seniors (62+), college students and active military with ID, $6 for adults and free for children younger than 3. Admission is free for CSC members. For information, call (828) 322-8169 or visit www.CatawbaScience.org.

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