"Invasion of the Bloodsuckers" descends on Peabody

Those dreaded little creatures notorious for preying on humans and sucking their blood — bedbugs, head lice, pubic lice, mosquitoes, ticks and fleas — are the focus of a new exhibition opening Saturday, May 28, at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

“Invasion of the Bloodsuckers: Bedbugs and Beyond” explores the biology and habitats of these bloodsucking arthropods, including where and how they live, how to deal with them, and how to tell them apart from look-alikes.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the band Stornoway will debut a song dedicated to bloodsuckers, and the Peabody will host a blood drive, with free admission for those who donate.

The creatures featured in the exhibition need one essential element to live: blood. Through family-friendly displays, interactive exercises, blood-feeding footage and actual specimens, the exhibition aims to help visitors appreciate the diversity of these blood-feeding organisms and their relationship to humans.

Each organism has a unique repertoire of adaptations and a distinct lifestyle that have evolved in close association with a host. Computer animations show the ancestral prototype mouthparts of arthropods as they morph into their present day form — the chewing herbivorous mouthparts evolving into a blood-feeding tool.

A film from the current exhibition, "Invasion of the Bloodsuckers," at the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
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Leonard Munstermann, exhibition curator and Peabody curator of entomology, wanted to show the public how to distinguish between bloodsuckers and other organisms often mistaken for them. This is particularly important because whereas most bites are harmless, others that are deadly may go unnoticed, notes Munstermann, who is also a senior research scientist in the School of Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine.

Thanks to the work of Ray Pupedis, senior collections manager for entomology, some two dozen look-alike specimens from the Peabody collections are on display along with those of the bloodsuckers, as well as information regarding their anatomy and habits.

Live specimens will also be on view: colonies of bedbugs and mosquitoes from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station whose resident entomologist Gale Ridge helped design the escape-proof enclosures. Peabody preparator and Torosaurus sculptor Michael Anderson has created giant, anatomically precise models of six of the major bloodsuckers. By including these models in the exhibit, organizers hope to remove any doubts about the real appearance of these creatures.

One of the interactive displays, “Spot the Bloodsuckers,” challenges visitors to correctly identify the offending bloodsucker before it can bite its target, a sleeping child. Visitors can also learn trivia about the arthropods — for instance, the Romans used them to treat snakebites and ear infections, and the antennae of mosquitoes help distinguish males from females — the ones that bite.

“Invasion of the Bloodsuckers” will be on view through Jan. 8, 2012.

The exhibition is sponsored by a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Band to debut bloodsucking tune
The British indie pop quartet Stornoway will debut an acoustic pop song dedicated to bloodsuckers at 1 p.m. on opening day, May 28, in the museum’s Great Hall.

The tune was written by lead singer and guitarist Brian Briggs (son of Peabody director Derek Briggs). A zoology graduate of the University of Oxford with a Ph.D. in ornithology, the musician enjoys writing acoustic-pop songs enriched with zoological references.

Stornoway will also perform selections from their debut album, “Beachcombers Windowsill.”

Red Cross blood drive
In collaboration with the grand opening of the exhibit and because the summer months are a particularly difficult time to collect the much-needed blood supply for area hospitals, the Peabody is sponsoring an American Red Cross blood drive to be held on Friday, June 3, from 12:15 to 5:45 p.m.

Donors will receive free museum admission the day of the drive, during which the Peabody will remain open until 7 p.m., as well as a pass for a return visit at any time. To schedule an appointment, call 900-RED-CROSS or visit redcrossblood.org.

The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History is located at 170 Whitney Ave. Hours are Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for children ages 3-18. Museum members, Yale I.D. holders and children under age 3 are admitted free. No admission is charged Thursdays from 2 to 5 p.m. from September to June. For information, call 203-432-5050 or visit www.peabody.yale.edu.

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