Nature's Educators: Colorado Raptor and Reptile Education

After the Animal Behavior Society conference in Boulder, Colorado, me and some other postdocs and PhD students spent a morning demonstrating various aspects of science to the public. After four days of listening to science and talking about science with scientists, it felt refreshing to be able to share some of our enthusiasm with non-scientists. Scattered within and around the natural history museum on the university campus were a number of stalls set up by various people. There were people from Nature’s educators: Colorado raptor and reptile education showcasing some beautiful birds, one of which had undergone surgery on its wing when it was found shot. There were also guppies, black widows and Jonathon Pruitt’s lab at the University of Pittsburgh not only had social spiders from around the globe, but also an entertaining and informative quiz on common spider myths (so, the thing about the average person having eight spiders crawl into their mouths during their lifetime is not true).

The tobacco hornworm caterpillar, Manduca sexta

I helped out on a stall alongside members of Dan Papaj’s lab (University of Arizona). We had live tobacco hornworm caterpillars (Manduca sexta) for people to handle, as well as pipevine swallowtail caterpillars and butterflies (not to handle as they’re slightly poisonous, and you never know when a child might try and eat a caterpillar). Chandreyee Mitra (a postdoc from the University of Arizona) had a fun game: she told kids about what this species of butterfly goes for in a partner and children had to point out which (dead) mounted male butterflies they thought a female might like best. She also showed children how data is collected, by asking them if they prefer ice cream or brussel sprouts, and adding their choice to a ‘data set’, to be completed by the end of the day.

Chandreyee Mitra teaching a girl about butterfly behaviour

Lisa Wang trying out her smell test on a member of the public

Lisa Wang, a PhD student, had a collection of different cooking ingredients in opaque tubes, and had children and their parents smelling them to see if they could identify them. The idea behind this was that, as we are a largely visual species, it’s much harder to identify such smells without being able to see them, and it seemed pretty difficult to us. Having said that, a lot of the kids were really very good at identifying the smells, making me wonder if we should have been collecting data to see whether smell is something we get worse at as we age.

All in all, the outreach day was good fun for both us and the children, and I’d recommend any scientist to try it out some time.

Jonathon Pruitt teaching me about social spiders


Photo Credits

All photos were taken by Kate Webbink.


I am grateful to the Society of Biology who gave me a travel grant, allowing me to attend the Animal Behavior Conference in Boulder, Colorado.