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Zoo carries a message

The Baltimore Sun

A plant wilted after being touched, but seemed to spring back to life a few minutes later. Hundreds of tiny insects scurried inside petri dishes. Herman, the panther chameleon, caught crickets by swiftly unraveling his tongue.

For years, Lisa Nowakowski has spread the word of environmental awareness in schoolrooms. Yesterday, she took her message -- and some plants and animals-- to Towson's Bykota Senior Center.

As part of her "Survival Show," which focuses on nature's adaptive abilities, she discussed the pitcher plant's ability to lure insects into its deep, tube-like leaves with its sweet nectar. The Mimosa pudica looks anything but appetizing when it temporarily wilts upon being touched. The stapelia flower's odor of rotting flesh attracts certain pollinating bugs.

The audience viewed Monarch butterfly chrysalises, orange, green and turquoise poison dart frogs, bright gold tortoise beetles, caterpillars with spots resembling eyes on their head and a Venus' flytrap. They also looked at colonies of tiny insects through microscopes.

During a segment on creatures that mimic elements in their surroundings, seniors viewed walking stick insects, which resemble long sticks with legs, and the owl butterfly, which can resemble an owl because of its coloring and two large eyespots on its wings.

Nowakowski shared her message on the importance of environmental conservation. She spoke of the silk moths' continuing decline and the lack of suitable habitats for local butterflies.

Helen Kozak, a senior attending the presentation, said she will look more closely at insects and flowers.

"There are so many things around that we don't really see," she said.

Nowakowski, who lives in Bel Air, has participated in campaigns by the Rainforest Association of Maryland supporting bills in Baltimore City, Harford County, and Howard County that barred most government uses of rain forest wood.

She has presented educational environmental shows for almost three decades at such venues as the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, the National Wildlife Federation in Virginia, and schools and senior centers.

In June, she brought her reptile show to Bel Air's Southampton Middle School, where she has delivered several presentations.

William Carpenter, science department chairman at the school, said her program fits well with the life sciences portion of the seventh-grade curriculum.

"She's very effective at educating children on these subjects," he said.

Nowakowski said she devotes an average of 18 hours a day to tending to her numerous plants and reptiles, amphibians and birds.

"My house," she said, "is a zoo."

She recently decided to donate her 5-foot long caiman, a crocodile-like animal, to Cumberland's Tri-State Zoological Park. The animal had become hostile and too big for her to handle, she said.

She says her presentations are designed to encourage people of all ages to think about the value of preserving wildlife.

Pauline Robinson said she was fascinated by yesterday's program at the senior center.

"Seeing the frogs, the chameleon -- I'm 75 years old, and I've never seen anything like that," she said.

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