Children learn the danger of bugs

Everyone was a winner in a game of “toss the tick through the bull’s-eye rash” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History’s “Biodiversity Bites Back” day Thursday.

Volunteers, researchers and educators at the event taught families about the prevention of and pathology behind Lyme disease, West Nile and other vector-borne illnesses by displaying live specimens, handing out up-to-date information, and offering educational games and crafts, like a tick toss with plastic bug prizes. As the museum opened at 10 a.m., a crowd of about 60 people streamed into the museum’s main hall, wandering among the dynamic display tables that surrounded the large dinosaur fossils in the center of the room.

Thursday was “Biodiversity Bites Back” day at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. Along with the standard dinosaur fossils, displays about vector-borne diseases adorned the museum’s main display hall.
Thursday was “Biodiversity Bites Back” day at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. Along with the standard dinosaur fossils, displays about vector-borne diseases adorned the museum’s main display hall.

“With the peak tick season coming up in June, it’s a good time to prepare and to educate the public,” School of Public Health assistant professor Maria Diuk-Wasser said.

Funding from a five-year Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institutes of Health, in conjunction with a collaborative grant from the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation, makes the annual educational day, now in its sixth year, possible, Laura Fawcett, the project coordinator for the Peabody, said. Last year, close to 1,000 people attended the event, which is free to the public, said events coordinator Josue Irizarry.

Amid coloring paper mosquito crowns, bug toys and a popular puppet show, volunteers from local high schools explained the importance of seeing a doctor within two days of being bit to children 3 years old and up.

“You learn a lot of things and how dangerous [bugs] are,” Victoria Good, a fourth grader at Worton School, said. “Bugs can carry diseases that can possibly kill you.”

In addition to enlarged displays of live specimens and tools for categorizing household ticks at the School of Public Health table, several organizations, including the New Haven Central Hospital for Veterinary Medicine, the Yale Center for Clinical Education and the Connecticut Agricultural Exploration Center, offered families a chance to learn about biodiversity in Connecticut firsthand.

“When you come in you know nothing about it and when you leave you learn a lot of stuff,” Anna Castolino, a fourth grader at Davis School said. “I think they should come because it’s really fun and they get free stuff.”

But for Brady Funk, a 4-year-old from Milford, it was still all about the permanent dinosaur fossil display. When asked about the educational aspects of the exhibit, Brady rephrased the question.

“Tyrannosaurus rex was the king of dinosaurs. I know that,” he said.

Out of 15 visitors interviewed, only two had known about the event and planned their visit accordingly.

Museum member Cindy Jeffery from Ansonia, Conn., said she comes to the museum every month with her son to see the dinosaurs, but that the crafts and education tables were a nice treat.

Ben Goode, an 8-year-old from Cheshire, Conn., characterized the day as “good” and “like free shopping,” as he proudly displayed his bag of treasures: a wallet, calculator, hand sanitizer, bubbles and some pens — all free giveaways.

For those who missed out on the bugs, the Peabody’s forthcoming exhibit “Invasion of Bloodsuckers: Bedbugs & Beyond” will educate visitors on lice, head lice, pubic lice, ticks and mosquitoes. It opens May 28.

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