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Invasion of the Bloodsuckers

August 03, 2015

Giant bedbugs. Enormous ticks. Mammoth mosquitos.

A new exhibition featuring models of six larger-than-life blood-sucking arthropods—up to 300 times their actual size—opened this week in the lobby of the Yale School of Public Health at 60 College St.

Two of the creatures, the Northern house mosquito and the bedbug, are each in a “blood-feeding posture.” Another, the human head louse, is “laying eggs on a human hair,” while the cat flea is “preparing to leap.” The deer tick, meanwhile, is “in search of a host” and the pubic louse is clinging to a human hair.

Each of the featured insects has a unique set of adaptations that have evolved in close association with its hosts, said Leonard Munstermann, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health and curator of entomology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

The models were developed with a National Institutes of Health grant and originally displayed at the Peabody Museum as part of an exhibition, Invasion of the Bloodsuckers: Bedbugs and Beyond, which opened in 2011. Munstermann, who was the principal investigator of the grant and curated the exhibition, said that the sculptures are all anatomically correct and as “true to life as is humanly possible.”

The sculptures are all anatomically correct and as “true to life as is humanly possible.”

Leonard Munstermann, PhD

Michael Anderson, the artist behind the giant Torosaurus sculpture that stands in front of the Peabody, worked with Munstermann to create the creatures. They observed microscopic specimens and created macroscopic models.

Munstermann said the School of Public Health exhibition isn’t complete yet. The next step is to mount actual vector specimens on cards, so people can see what they really look like and contrast that with the models Anderson created. Munstermann is also considering creating a monthly quiz that people can take to test their knowledge of blood-feeding organisms, their behavior and the steps that they can to protect themselves.

The exhibition is expected to remain at the school through the end of the year.

Submitted by Denise Meyer on August 03, 2015