Sep. 13, 2007 After soaking in paint, dozens of maggots squirmed across construction paper leaving colorful trails behind them.
"They're not going to be moving fast, so you have to be patient," Kim Schofield told a class of 31 fifth-grade students. Behold maggot art, said Schofield, a Texas Cooperative Extension program specialist in entomology.
But it wasn't art for art's sake, Schofield said. She allows students to handle the maggots in her presentations on entomology at schools around the Dallas area. It's a fun, effective method of engaging children. She picked up the idea from a forensic entomologist at the University of California at Davis.
"By using maggots, I help students gain an appreciation for insects," Schofield said. "I teach students to appreciate their role and to not be afraid of them."
Schofield gave her presentation recently at J. Erik Jonsson Community School in Dallas. She was invited by Anne Mechler, a teacher who is in charge of the school's science club.
"The kids think it's cool to dip the maggots in paint and watch them crawl around," Mechler said.
Schofield opened her lesson with a discussion about arthropods, a group of animals that includes insects, arachnids and crustaceans. She introduced the class to Trixie, her pet tarantula, and described the difference between harmful centipedes and pet-worthy millipedes.
"There are over a million types of insects in our world," she said. "Not all of them are bad. Not all of them need to be squished." Schofield also held up two hissing cockroaches, which were as long as her fingers, and allowed the kids to pet them.
"When I was your age I was very fearful of insects," she said. "But the more courses I took, the more I learned about insects. And then I got excited about insects."
Then it was time for the maggots.
"Are maggots good for the environment?" she said. "Yes, because they eat decaying things."
Mechler and Schofield distributed the construction paper and non-toxic, water-based paint. They carefully removed maggots from their containers, where they fed on fermenting corn meal. Each student got two or three to dip in the paint.
"They have a bit of an odor, like manure or a barn at the state fair," Schofield warned.
Alex Flores, 10, dipped his three maggots in blue, green and yellow paint. In about 30 minutes, they filled the page with crisscrossing and curly lines. "They feel slimy," Flores said.
He admitted to being nervous about touching the maggots at first.
"But not anymore," he said. "At first they smelled nasty. The paint makes them smell better."
Sarah Medina, 10, named one of her maggots Curly. "He's a lazy fatty," she said, as the maggot moved slowly across the paper.
After the lesson, Schofield collected the maggots and rinsed them off for her next presentation. No one, she said, has ever questioned whether the process was harmful to the maggots. But she pointed out to the class that the paint doesn't bother them.
"These maggots are quite hardy," said Schofield, who started doing maggot art last year. "But usually people don't care about maggots. There are no maggot advocacy groups."
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