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This article was published 1/6/2010 (3518 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It's guaranteed to elicit cries of "Ick!" and "Eeww!" from most grown-ups.
But Attack of the Bloodsuckers!, a touring science exhibition on this summer at the Manitoba Children's Museum, appeals to kids' love of all things creepy and gross.
The interactive family attraction opened Tuesday and runs to Sept. 6 (the same date the museum at The Forks will close for an eight-month renovation). It's all about the wonders of sanguinivores — creatures that eat blood — including mosquitoes, leeches, bed bugs, ticks, head lice and other parasites.
"I like the leeches, because they have a suction-cup mouth to suck on blood," enthused 10-year-old Claudia McCartney, one of a group of students from Portage la Prairie who got to try out the 13 hands-on activity stations.
The show exploring "the science of what's eating you" includes health information on how to avoid getting eaten, and explains how even the peskiest bloodsuckers play important roles in the ecosystem. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is a sponsor.
The show was created by a science centre in Ithaca, N.Y., but is very appropriate for a buggy Manitoba summer, says Sara Hancheruk, the museum's director of education and exhibits.
Visitors can sit on the "lap" of a giant tick and feel the "hungry" creature inflate to 10 times its original size, simulating the tick engorging with blood.
Like a mosquito seeking warm blood, they can use an infrared thermometer to determine which cubbyhole a friend's arm is hiding in.
They can view the life cycle of live mosquitoes, or check out preserved bloodsuckers from around the world, such as a vampire bat and a sea lamprey. They can play a game of Twitcher, based on Twister, that includes fun facts such as "Female bed bugs can lay up to 500 eggs."
One station asks visitors to rate how stinky their feet are and how often they typically get bitten by mosquitoes, then use a sticker to plot their status on a graph. It's expected to document what scientists say: the more foul-smelling your feet, the more irresistible you are to skeeters.
The hit of the show is likely to be the aquarium holding eight blood-sucking, swimming leeches. Hancheruk finds herself having to play zookeeper and will be holding her first public "live leech feeding" on June 15 at 11 a.m. Every three weeks, she'll have to fill a sausage casing with cow's blood and put it in the leech tank.
"It's like a buffet. They'll all latch onto it and feed for about half an hour. They'll almost triple in size," she says.
Having become something of a leech expert, Hancheruk warns against any of the timeworn Manitoba methods of removing a leech from your flesh: burning, salting, grasping with tweezers or smothering with Vaseline.
"That makes the leech vomit," she says. "That's when you are exposed to disease. You're encouraged to slide something like a credit card under it (to break the suction). Or let it drink its fill and drop off."
Attack of the Bloodsuckers!
Manitoba Children's Museum
To Sept. 6