Carver - What does it take to get a room full of children and adults to say "Ewwwwww!!!" in unison?
It could be a milk snake curling around a woman's arm, or being told that certain owls like to eat skunks. But perhaps the number one reason for the gross-out was when naturalist Louise Beaudry told the audience that toads urinate in the mouths of predators that try to eat them.
The recent presentation at the Carver Library was all part of an Eagle Scout project created by Boy Scout Liam Kelly from Carver Troop 48.
Kelly is pursuing his Eagle Scout badge, which is the highest honor a scout can achieve.
His project, titled "The Benefits of Bats" seeks to enlighten the general public to the reasons why these tiny mammals are needed to keep both ourselves and our environment healthy.
Kelly invited the South Shore Natural Science Center to be the feature program at the library last week for his "Benefits of Bats" fundraiser. Kelly hopes to sell several bat houses to the public in an effort to attract more of the important little creatures to the area.
Naturalist Karen Kurkowski had several bat specimens along for the presentation.
She explained that bats are extremely efficient mosquito traps.
"They are very, very cool," she told the near capacity crowd of mostly young children. "If they are outside swooping, enjoy them. They don't want to be anywhere near you. They won't attack people or get stuck in your hair. That is only in movies."
She explained that one bat could eat up to 600 mosquitoes in an hour.
"If you have a bug zapper, throw it away," she said. "These guys work much better."
She explained the anatomy of a bat. Contrary to belief, bats do not have wings, even though they are the only mammal species that can actually fly.
Kurkowski said the "wings" are actually very long fingers with webbing in between. The tiny nails at the end of each finger help the bats to hold on to walls and trees and aid their travel as they crawl up into their favorite living spaces.
A little boy said he thought that bats hung upside down. She explained they need the finger nails to climb into their homes after which, he was correct, they often use their toenails to suspend themselves upside down inside.
"When you're looking at a bat, you are looking at a truly unique group from the animal world," she said.
Kurkowski told the audience that several bats could live in one house like the type Kelly is using for his project.
"They are part of the ecosystem and they are very important to us," she said.
Kelly's project, he said, was a result of his trips to Myles Standish State Forest and the camp where he works.
"The mosquitoes are pretty bad there. I was wondering why the population kept rising every summer," he said.
He researched and learned the bat population in this part of the country is steadily dwindling. Most of his information was gleaned while watching Norwell native Jeff Corwin's nature show and other such programs on television.
Corwin is a sort of local hero and has been intricately involved with the Nature Center, which is located in his hometown.
"There are problems with bats getting into houses here in Carver," Kelly said, "but that's because so much new construction has destroyed their habitat."
He said bats are commonly found in deep woods, which is quickly disappearing.
Kelly purchased several bat houses made of rough pine and, with the help of metalworker and Assistant Scoutmaster Brian Silva, used a wood burner to mark the boxes with the project name and branded them with a dark brown bat by heating a branding iron Silva made.
In all, 27 bat houses were purchased and personalized by Kelly. He is selling the houses for $25 each. But there is a bonus to the town from his efforts. For each one sold, Kelly will install a duplicate somewhere around town to help attract bats to areas where both mosquitoes and residents are plentiful.
Kelly said with help from Conservation Commission Chairman Dan Fortier, he would soon be seeking out good locations around the library, playground and schools. He also plans to locate some in Myles Standish State Forest.
"He asked me to help and I said yes," Fortier said.
"Could be my brother ratted me out," he joked. "His son is in the troop. I'm just going to help him find the best locations. Kelly said the bat houses would need to be placed 10 to 15 feet high in spots that face to the east."
Kurkoski and Louise Beaudry from the nature center said Kelly's program was important. They were glad to help him by attracting potential bat house customers to the library. Parents of the children who attended the wildlife seminar were seen purchasing bat houses after the event.
As the seminar progressed, toddlers and children became more and more excited with each animal presented by the naturalists.
Kurkoski and Beaudry explained each one in detail. A flying squirrel was compared to the bat.
"People think they fly, but they really don't," Beaudry said. "They have a membrane from their front paws to their back paws that helps them float from tree to tree or to the ground."
"They're like hang-gliders," a little boy called out. The children squealed at the idea.
Kurkoski said all of the stuffed, formerly live animals on display were victims of accidents.
"We did not kill them," she said to the young audience. "All animals know is that they need to find food, which is unfortunate for them sometimes because they cross roads."
She explained they don't understand the need to look both ways like the children do.
She helped the children understand nocturnal animals' hunting habits.
"Do they all hunt at the same time?" she asked.
"No, there would be a traffic jam," a little child called out. The young audience squealed in delight again.
"If you see a nocturnal animal in the daytime, it doesn't mean they are sick," she said. She explained that the animal could just be hungry. The only time there should be added concern is if they are acting strangely.
The red fox elicited a true Carver response.
"I saw one at a cranberry bog," a little boy told Kurkoski.
"And why do you think he was at the bog?" she asked.
"Looking for cranberries," the boy answered.
Kurkoski said the fox was most likely looking for small creatures that like to hang out in such locations so he could have them for dinner.
The children could barely contain their excitement when Beaudry presented the American toad. She held a towel underneath it.
"Do you know why I am holding this towel under him?" she asked.
"Because he'll pee on you," a child shrieked.
"That's right. Sometimes their only defense is to gross the predator out." she said.
The faint of heart, mostly the adults, squirmed a little when Beaudry presented a milk snake. The snake wrapped itself around her arm as she taught the children about its unique structure and habits.
"Snakes are one of the coolest animals in the whole world," she said.
Kurkoski presented some stuffed owls, including the sawhet and the great horned owl, the most powerful owl in the country. Comments whispered through the library room as she explained the great bird.
"He loves to eat skunks," she said. "If a skunk sprayed him, guess what? He doesn't care."
She said owls not only can't smell, they also have a second, protective lid that covers their eyes as they hunt. If sprayed, the owl can't feel the sting from the liquid on its eyes because of its built-in extra protection.
Kurkoski adeptly mimicked the sounds of the screech owl she presented. One audience member commented that she always wondered what that sound was.
But the audience likely thought the live barred owl was the coolest animal of the evening. The fluffy little bird was the crowd favorite. Kurkoski said he was taken to the nature center after an accident in which he lost part of a wing and, eventually, an eye.
She moved her arm so he would flap his wings. The children were bursting at the seams trying to stay quiet so as not to scare him. He seemed to thank them with a few owl calls before she returned him to his portable case.
Kelly said he had sold several of the bat houses by the end of the evening and looked forward to installing them around town. He said he would have plenty to sell to anyone interested.
To purchase a bat house, stop by the Carver Public Library or send a request to Liam Kelly, 36 Leonard St., Carver, 02330 by May 15. Donations to the project are also accepted.
For information on the South Shore Natural Science Center, log on to its Web site,
www.ssnsc.org , or call 781-659-2559. The center is located on Jacob's Lane in Norwell.