Attack and Release

Jul 9 • Art, ARTSY SMARTSYNo Comments on Attack and Release

Above: Sit with the blood-sucking tick, Ms. Phillipa! Emily Cottrell did just that during the opening of Cape Fear Museum’s pesky new exhibit. Courtesy photo

Above: Sit with the blood-sucking tick, Ms. Phillipa! Emily Cottrell did just that during the opening of Cape Fear Museum’s pesky new exhibit. Courtesy photo

Bloodsucking, pesky insects are a sure way to put a damper on summer. And because this summer has been so damp, without a doubt mosquitoes and other sanguinivores—blood-eating insects—won’t be leaving any time soon.

The Cape Fear Museum is hosting an exhibit of such nuisances in “Attack of the Bloodsuckers.” The traveling exhibit will remain in the museum until September 9th, showcasing the world of mosquitos, fleas, ticks and leeches. More importantly, it reveals the ever-bothersome question: Why do they suck blood?

Last week I had the chance to take a look at the exhibit first-hand. It felt like I was scurrying the pages of a life-size comic strip. Initially upon entering I was greeted by a 4-foot tick, Ms. Phillipa, at the top of the stairs. Her body grew as if she was sucking the blood from a human body. The eye-catching scenic walls and photo galleries of comic-like characters stand beside displays from Dennis Kunkel, an award-winning micrographer. His work superbly magnifies the tiny pests.

Various activities help visitors learn what bloodsuckers are attracted to. Practically so, it offers tips on how to repel the bugs. “There are plenty of inter-activities,” Public Relations Specialist Amy Mangus said as she walked me through the exhibit. “People can look through wentzscopes and see the samples of different bugs. We also have games like ‘Twitcher,’ similar to Twister, which is fun for children.”

We approached the “mosquito cockpit,” which tells visitors how these bugs track down their target meal. Consisting of a carbon-dioxide detector, moving target, breathing mist and feel for heat, the apparatus shows how mosquitos detect motion. In fact, from a mosquito’s point of view, I was able to see how they pick out their prey.

The exhibit also reveals their life cycle. Mosquitos go through four: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Though a mosquito’s life cycle is quick, they reproduce fast. During their adult life, it’s only the female that bites and drinks blood from animals and humans as to get protein for her eggs. Males feed on nectar from flowers.

“They are mostly attracted to moisture,” Mangus explained, “and with all the rain we’ve been having lately we’re bound to see a surge in the mosquito population.”

Throughout the winter months when it’s cold, mosquitoes can go dormant, depending on temperature in certain regions. Due to warmer winters in the South, these pesky bugs don’t die off as quickly.

Apart from water, mosquitos are also attracted to stinky feet. “We have a chart that visitors can use, which indicates how stinky their feet are, and how they react to bites,” Mangus said, laughing.

The exhibit offers information on what one can do to protect themselves and their homes from the bugs. For instance, aiming to reduce all standing water, where mosquitos breed—old tires, buckets, low spots and rain gutters—helps. Of course, mosquito repellent and netting also keeps away the bites, something which can be problematic depending on one’s reaction. These bloodsuckers can cause anything from nicks to welts to diseases like malaria.

Fleas and ticks get their spotlight, too, in the exhibit. Being in the state of the Long Leaf Pine, it’s only apropos the exhibit feature deer ticks, which can cause lifelong problems if they carry “Lyme disease” and are not removed from the skin within 24 hours. Other bloodsucking vermin, from leeches to vampire bats and even vampire fish from Brazil, can be explored. And as annoying as some of these animals may prove to be to humans, folks will learn more about their roles in our ecosystem. “This exhibit gives us a great opportunity to explore the science of bugs in a fun way,” Mangus stated.

With an average of 2,000 to 4,000 visitors coming to the museum each month during the summer, “Attack of the Bloodsuckers” is already proving popular. Since it opened in late May, the museum has hosted 3,000 visitors.

Admission to the Cape Fear Museum ranges from $4 to $7. Museum members get free entry. The Cape Fear Museum is participating in the Blue Star Museums initiative, too, meaning all active military personnel and their families get free admission through Labor Day (September 3rd). To find out about “Attack of the Bloodsuckers” or other exhibits, “Impressions of the Lower Cape Fear” and “Collection Selections: Breakfast” (closes July 15th), head online to

Attack of the Bloodsuckers
Cape Fear Museum
814 Market Street
Tickets: $7, adults; $6, seniors, students with ID and military; $4 ages 6-17; free, under 6.
Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sun., 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

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