Carrie Cabral stood next her six-year-old son Jesse as he reached out to touch a diamond carpet python.
“I always thought they were slimier,” Jesse said.
Cabral and her family were some of the many visitors to the Yale Peabody Museum’s children’s event “The Natural History of Witches and Wizards: A Peabody Halloween,” this past Saturday. Peabody Museum Events Coordinator David Heiser estimated that about 1,000 people came for the Halloween festivities, which included a puppet show, arts and crafts activities and stations with live snakes, spiders, millipedes, scorpions and owls.
“The event is a mixture of education and entertainment,” Heiser said. “It’s our way of teaching natural history in a way that is engaging and fun, letting the kids have a hands-on experience with the animals and take home prizes.”
Heiser said the event, which ran from the morning through the afternoon, was intended for four- to 10-year-olds, with appropriate activities for younger and older children.
Cabral, a resident of Newtown, Conn., said she came to the Peabody Museum so her three sons could see some reptiles up close.
“We’ve been reading from an encyclopedia of snakes and other reptiles together,” Cabral said. “This presentation is really excellent for the kids, because it makes what they have seen in books come alive.”
Wildlife rehabilitator and animal educator Vinny Kovalik, who ran the snakes and spiders station, said while some children were afraid of the animals, most seemed curious and interested in learning about them.
Kovalik showed the groups of parents and children a red-kneed tarantula, a rainbow boa constrictor, a rat snake and other animals, pointing out their different anatomies and displaying examples of shed exoskeletons and snakeskin.
“I’m here to show the kids that these interesting animals are not scary and dangerous like the movies and television make them seem,” Kovalik said.
Other stations set up around the museum allowed children to look at preserved salamanders, eels and other animals used in a fairy-tale wizards’ potions. Visiting children could also learn about squid suckers, win prizes in a suction-cup ball tossing contest, make squid masks and tarantula collages and watch a puppet show about the giant squid.
Peabody volunteer Joanne Dietl said at least 50 children participated in her booth’s activity, for which kids put on the “Magical Peabody Hat” and went on a scavenger hunt to find information about bats, owls, frogs or spiders, depending on which animal the hat assigned them.
Heiser said more families attended on Halloween than last year, and the event would most likely become an annual one for the museum. He said the higher turnout was likely due to better publicity and Saturday’s rainy weather.
“This is one of those few events that does better during bad weather,” Heiser said.