Grosser than gross
Wilbur D. May Museum, Rancho San Rafael Regional Park1595 N. Sierra St.
Reno, NV 89503
The Animal Grossology exhibit at the Wilbur D. May Museum in Rancho San Rafael Regional Park offers children—especially the ones with grubby hands, chocolate-stained shirts and sticky fingers—the opportunity to learn what icky really means: dung-pushing races, the science of feces, and a display explaining the formation and excretion of hair balls all rendered in plastic.
Running until April 18, Animal Grossology seeks to engage young children with the natural world. It does this by providing the munchkins with around 19 trillion things to touch, move and stick their hands into.
When I walked into the museum, I paid the nice lady $8 and turned left into the large exhibition hall. They’ve done up the walls with a vaguely jungle theme that clashes amusingly with the fake submarine, koi fish tank and giant dung ball placed in the room.
Ah, the fake submarine. Inside this plastic deally-whopper, I learned about barnacles, crustaceans, cnidarians (jellyfish, sea anemones), echinoderms (starfish, sea cucumbers), mollusks (octopi, squid, snails, slugs) and the fantastically bizarre life forms found around underwater volcanic vents. It’s great stuff for the budding scientist and way more informative than many science exhibits for children. For reasons unknown, this submarine sprouts a snake/eel looking head with a slippy slide out of its backside. Perfect for adding rug burn to the day’s parenting emergencies.
Near the explorer submarine is an enormous eight-foot ball of excrement. This horrifying device housed a videogame in which kids raced their dung beetles to the top of an obstacle course. Reading a plaque hidden on the game’s flank, I also learned that dung beetles perform their famous feces rolling act because their larva—yum, yum—grow by eating poop.
Beyond the giant crap ball, is a game that involved shooting foam balls from the mouths of plastic frogs into different holes. Supposedly this is to teach children about the Darwin’s frog, but I failed to make any connection between the circus game and a moderately sized amphibian that raises its young by holding them in its throat.
Down the hall and to the right lies the exhibit with the most potential to cause big, disgusting messes back home. The poop room houses numerous small exhibits detailing the wonderful discoveries your kids can make by toying with animal feces. Before you educationally minded parents find cat turds lovingly dissected on the dinner table, let me explain why. It turns out that inside each dump there lies an exciting hint to that animal’s feeding habits. Lion poop has fur in it—puts a whole new spin on mink coats, eh?—penguin crap smells like fish, and herbivores leave droppings with a lovely bouquet of herbal fragrances. In this hall, we also learned why cows fart so much—trillions of bacteria breaking down grass in their guts—why cats get fur balls—they lick themselves—and that it’s always a good idea to stick your hands in mysterious, dark places!
The next exhibit is devoted to the least appreciated species in the world: ticks, mosquitoes and leeches. Did you know that flies eat vomit, or that owls habitually regurgitate the furry remnants of their prey? Junior will love telling you all about it.