Biologist Enthralls Kids With 'Maggot Art'

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It's a method of art reminiscent of Jackson Pollack's abstract drip paintings. Just more suited to the less squeamish.

Erin Watson uses blow fly larvae — maggots  — to get kids excited about painting. Judging by her upcoming educational demonstration project on the National Mall, it's working.

"Maggot art," the brainchild of Southeastern Louisiana University biologist Watson, works like this. With kids watching her, Watson drops diluted water-based poster paint onto paper. She then places the maggots into the paint drops. Next, the maggots are off wiggling around the poster, creating strangely beautiful abstract designs in their trail.

In the process, kids hear Watson teach them about maggots' importance in the decomposition of organic materials. A brief tutorial on the lifecycle of the fly is crammed in too, if time allows.

Watson's maggot expertise is just her day job. She is the only doctoral-level forensic entomologist in Louisiana. Watson consults on FBI cases, estimating the time or location of death by detecting the presence of certain types of bugs in dead bodies. A slight stretch from maggot-painting.

Watson will be showcasing maggot art at the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. October 23-24th.