KNME Science Café this past Saturday morning at the Bio Park and Aquarium was pretty special. Dr. Ralph Charlton is a extreme scientist. He is Curator of Invertebrates at the ABQBioPark. While we tried to overcome technical difficulties with our video clip, he entertained the crowd by placing a leach on each hand and talking about how they work and how to get them off. One kid suggested a spatula, other salt. But he did not even try to get them off. For the next hour, he spoke gesturing with his hands while the leaches were gorging on his blood. It made clicking the remote for his computer presentation a little tricky since there was a small leach hanging from his right index finger.

He was happy to narrate the NOVA ScienceNOW clip when the BioPark’s sound system refused to work. (Note to self, even a sound check does not guarantee the tech gods’ cooperation.) He described in detail the film’s story of the red-back spider and its cannibalistic behavior in the bedroom. Then, out of a shoebox, he took a huge tarantula. It was happy to be out of the box and began crawling around on Dr. Charlton’s hands along with the leaches! I was a little sorry to be sitting in the front row at that moment.
We saw a great presentation about the various mating habits and rare cannibal behaviors of several species and talked a lot about spiders. Several kids in the audience had great questions. This from a little girl: “How can you tell a boy spider from a girl spider?” Then without warning the smaller leach dropped off Dr. Charlton’s right hand. As he had explained, leaches inject their victims with and anticoagulant, so it began to bleed profusely. This did not stop him from carrying on with the discussion while we got him a Band-Aid and wiped up some of the blood with a tissue.

A few minutes later the big leach on the back of his left hand dropped off and a minor bloodbath ensued. He dropped both leaches back into their water jar and we got more Band-Aids. Even those did not staunch the bleeding. But he carried on talking about edible bugs while he munched on a scorpion bug. He also had waxworm cookies and toasted mealworms and crickets for courageous nibblers to taste. Everyone was invited to the invertebrate center after the Science Café and Tiffany finally put a gauze bandage on his hand before he lost too much blood.

Maybe it's just Albuquerque, but I can't understand why so many people RSVP to our events and then just don't show up. We end up turning people away. This was a Science Café to remember!

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