Melissa Kaplan's
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Last updated January 1, 2014

Dr. Splatt's Roadside Attraction

Dead critters teach kids valuable lesson

Heidi B. Perlman, AP, Concord Monitor & New Hampshire Patriot, June 2001


LOUDON - Brewster Bartlett keeps his house filled with his favorite kind of animals: dead ones.

He's got raccoon skins, a collection of picked-clean deer skulls, cat and dog bones, a full skeleton from a mouse and a near-complete snake skin he keeps rolled in a ball. Not to mention the 2-foot stuffed rat his 3-year-old son keeps close by.

The macabre collection started off as a hobby but is now a key part of Roadkill 2001, an educational program started by the so-called "Dr. Splatt" at Simmons College in Boston to teach a type of science hard to find in any textbook.

"Kids today don't know the difference between an opossum and a raccoon when they run by," he said. "But when they see them lying dead in the road, they stop, ask questions, and learn."

The goal of the program isn't just to teach children to identify dead animals. Its aim is also to teach students about technology, their environments, and the live animals around them.

Bartlett developed the idea in 1992, on his way home from a seminar at Simmons, where he and a group of New England science teachers had decided to start an environmental monitoring project.

The topic they agreed on was lichens, the slow-growing green, fuzzy mold that appears on trees. The goal was for schools in different areas to participate and communicate their findings through e-mail.

But Bartlett was bored by the whole idea and came up with what he thought was a better one as he drove past a dead skunk.

"I made a few calls and found out that the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife only monitors bear, moose and deer that are killed," he said. "They said it was because they don't have enough people to do more. But I knew where we could find plenty of people to do the work."

The concept is a little gross, but simple.

Children from participating schools are responsible for monitoring and keeping track of the dead animals they see on the side of certain roads over a set time. When that period ends, the students draw conclusions from their data about the animal population in that region, as compared to findings in other communities.

A federal grant awarded to Simmons got Bartlett started in 1993 with a Web page that allowed schools to submit their findings and read results from other areas. Soon 100 schools from around the country were involved.

But when the grant ran out last year, the college dropped the program. It was recently put back online by EduTel, a Leominster, Mass.-based educational Web site. About two dozen schools have signed up for the program this year, and Bartlett said he hopes more will follow.

"I'd love to get to the point where we're doing the whole world," he said. "I'd love to know how many kangaroos are killed each year in Australia."

Disgusting? Slightly, but also educational and completely fascinating for children, said Sheila Adams, a sixth- and seventh-grade teacher at Rye Junior High School who has been using the project for eight years.

Though she insists her students only look - and never, ever touch - she encourages them to examine the animals closely and to write down everything they see.

"The fun part is watching things happen," she said. "Sometimes we find patterns and sometimes we don't. But after this many years, we've developed a pretty good profile for the animal populations in our town."

Over time, kids have found dead cats, dogs, birds, turtles, frogs and even a fish squashed on the side of the road.

One student came up with Bartlett's now famous "Dr. Splatt" moniker, and another came up with a word for animals that are so squished they can't be identified: URPs, or Urban Road Pizza.

"I always thought roadkill was really disgusting," said 12-year-old Lorelle Dennis, one of Adams's seventh-graders. "Now when I see dead animals I don't look away, I chart them. Now they're more interesting to me."

Bartlett travels to schools in New England while they work on the project to check their progress and to give them an up-close look at his own collection.

Most are fascinated by his animal bones, jockey for a chance to pet his raccoon hide and oooh and ahhh at his snake skin.

It's when he explains how some of them died - like the squirrel he found flattened in front of his house - that the weak-stomached turn away.

But it all works together to drive home the idea that humans are encroaching on the space that the animals had first, he said.

"Kids just have no idea how many animals are out there and how many are killed every day because of cars," he said.

"In addition to everything else they learn, this is a real wake-up call for them."

Wesley Chaput, a 13-year-old seventh-grader in Adams's class, agreed.

"The animals were here first and then we came in and made all the cars and the roads," he said. "I know I wouldn't like it if I was run over by a car. I feel sorry for them."

Related Reading - From Melissa Kaplan...

Interested in doing a little field research on your own? Some recommended resources are:

Flattened Fauna: A Field Guide to Common Animals of Roads, Streets, and Highway
Roger N. Knutson

That Gunk on Your Car: A Unique Guide to Insects of North America
Mark Hostetler

The Original Roadkill Cookbook and The Totalled Roadkill Cookbook
Buck Peterson


If you aren't too grossed out by RK (aka DOR - dead on road), check out the stuff that lives on and in you:

Furtive Fauna and Fearsome Fauna
Roger N. Knutson

A Field Guide to the Invisible and A Field Guide to Germs
Wayne Biddle

All of these and more can be found on:

A1 Books

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes&Noble Booksamillion

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