On Saturday, January 12, 2008, assistant curator Anthony Cogswell connected little creatures to a group of about 20 enthusiastic children at the Trailside Museum in Pound Ridge. In his “Creature Connections” presentation Mr. Cogswell was hoping to give the children an understanding of how animals are tied to their habitats, other animals and people.
Before bringing out each critter, Mr. Cogswell played three questions with the group of children who ranged in ages from 3 to ten. He’s fury, with big ears and a log tail, preceded Charlie the Chinchilla’s introduction. Then it was time to observe as a means to figure out where Charlie lives and how he goes about the business of survival.
It was easy enough to figure out that the thick, deep fur means a cold climate for Charlie. His dark coat has him blending in and hiding beneath a rough, rocky terrain to avoid predators like the Mountain Lion in the Rockies. And no one could miss his whiskers – especially one five year old boy from Somers named Will Grant.
The astute little scientist deduced from the rapid movement of Charlie’s whiskers that, “He looks like he’s hyper-proactive.” Dumbing it down for parents and reporters, Mr. Cogsworth clarified that, “He’s sensing,” in the absence of an extra eye or two.
Mr. Cogswell’s next guest’s body heat could fluctuate in accordance with room temperature or winter cold. “Cold blooded,” the children responded without prompting. He eats other animals and has no arms and legs, said Mr. Cogswell. To which the room in one loud voice exclaimed, “A snake.”
He instructed them that Spencer the corn snake, from exotic New Jersey, eats just one frozen mouse per week since he and his kind expend so little energy maintaining body heat through their cold blood. Slow compared to his main prey in the wild, snakes camouflage and cover from the tall grass and strike to the surprise of an unsuspecting warm mouse.
Crossing the dateline, with a one way ticket, Brad from Australia was easily identified once it was known he catches his meals with his tongue. Specifically, the bearded dragon has an appearance of a beard that puffs out below his mouth and spikes on his back that might make his predators think he actually is a dragon.
Not that sharp, he said, “the spikes are for show to sort of play a trick on other animals.” And when Brad is in his element, he uses his claws to burrow into the sand. Knowing something of the outback and geology, the kids knew this is done as a means to keep warm. Three year old Mimi Thomas also knew how his brown skin color and the desert sand helps Brad stay safe from his enemies. “It matches,” she squeaked out in delight.
Finally, Mr. Cogswell queried the crowd about a few unnamed six legged friends he held in waiting. Insects about to be unveiled was obvious but only Will, the whiz from Somers, knew that it was cockroaches from the rain forest that hiss to copy cat a snake and scare off possible predators. The meatball-sized creatures seemed pretty senseless to the adults in attendance but fill the important role in the food chain by recycling fallen leaves and their nutrients back into the soil.
The sentiment really separates children from adults and is why Mr. Cogswell likes working with the human variety of little creatures. “I love that they are so curious and always want to know more and more,” he said. That aside, from an environmentally active mind set, he said, “They are the ones who are going to shape this world,” and the more he sees them at Trailside, the stronger the future is for all of us.