Youth 'egg-static' over hunt for knowledge


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Ben Bryner and Kelly Hunter-Bryner could be a walking advertisement for city tourism officials.

The couple lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., and when the long Easter weekend came up, they picked Pittsburgh as the place they would visit with their two young daughters.

That brought them Saturday to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's Easter egg hunt, which, like many Carnegie events, was intended to entice kids into learning about the fascinating natural world around them.

The Bryner girls, Eve, 7, and Portia, 4, needed little prompting. Eve read all the instructions for moving from one learning station to the next, and Portia provided steady commentary.

"In a nest, in a tree, birds lay eggs, look and see," Eve read for the second stop of the tour, in which the girls had to find a kingfisher on the museum's "wall of birds" to get their goody-filled plastic eggs.

While they got their bounty, docent Nancy Sampson was happy to show them a specimen of the world's largest egg, a set of delicate birds' nests and the silky feathers of a stuffed owl.

"Remember our egg book at home?" asked Ms. Hunter-Bryner. "Who lays the largest egg?"

"The ostrich!" shouted Portia.

Ms. Sampson then told them she had once eaten an ostrich egg during a trip to Africa. "It has a strong flavor. It's very eggy. It was OK, but I wouldn't have it again."

She showed the girls how the fragile birds' nests had horse hair woven into them. Growing up in Murrysville, she said she used to comb her horses' tails and leave the hair for the birds. And as a teaching tool, her mother would throw brightly colored strands of yarn into the grass and then ask Ms. Sampson to find the birds' nests that had that yarn woven into them.

And all that was just one stop on the tour.

At other stations, Eve and Portia saw dung beetles -- familiar to some as the scarab beetles that played a scary part in the movie "The Mummy" -- and heard docent Valerie Keller tell them, "just like people don't all look the same, different dung beetles look different, too, and different dung beetles even go to different animal poop, so cows and elephants have their own dung beetles."

At another stop, docent Pete Moss showed the girls a hunk of baleen, the whale jawbone that filters food, like the tiny shrimp-like krill that were floating in a nearby jar.

Technically, he told them, baleen isn't actually bone, but "it's made from the same material our fingernails are made out of."

The Easter egg hunt drew steadily increasing throngs, and by the end of the four-hour event, 1,500 people had come through the doors, including about 450 children.

The egg hunt displays weren't the only things that attracted Eve and Portia, though.

They were mesmerized by the Carnegie's famous diorama of a lion attacking a camel and its rider.

"Look, Mommy, that llama has an ouchie!" Portia said. Her mom brought big sister Eve over to identify the llama as a camel. Portia nodded. "Well, that camel has blood," she said, making sure everyone knew the important issue.

At a whale jawbone display, Portia's mom showed her an intricate scrimshaw carving of a sailing vessel on a pie-piece-sized whale tooth.

The 4-year-old was rapt.

"Look, Mommy," she said. "That boat crashed right into that tooth."


Mark Roth: mroth@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1130.


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