What if . . . you were a bat?

You'd fly far at night, use radar not sight, eat bugs bite after bite.

So, how about that — if you were a bat?

"Home Sweet Habitat," a new exhibit at Red Butte Garden, will take kids, parents and anyone else into that magic world of pretend. In seven larger-than-life habitats created by local artists and scattered throughout the garden, visitors will get an up-close look at what it means to be a bat or a beaver or a magpie or more.

Kids can imagine they are trout, searching for an insect dinner in a cold mountain stream, or hummingbirds migrating from Idaho to Guatemala for the winter, says Cynthia Lyman, communications manager at Red Butte.

"Every living creature is part of a web of life that is greater than any one contributing element," she says. The habitats will help people understand that.

What if . . . you were a fish?

On insects you'd dine, think swimming is fine, watch out for a line.

Did you ever wish — that you were a fish?

"Home Sweet Habitat" opens Saturday and will run through October. It is in the same vein as the Big Bugs exhibit the garden hosted a couple of summers ago, featuring larger-than-life wooden sculptures of insects.

The garden wanted another exhibit like that one, says executive director Mary Pat Matheson. But there are no other large, traveling exhibits like that one. "So we decided to create our own blockbuster exhibit."

Red Butte contacted local artists, brought in some ecologists. And the result, says Matheson, "is this ground-breaking exhibit. It interprets animals and their habitats in an artistic way. Each piece is different, each offers a unique interpretation. Together, they are wild and wonderful."

The seven habitats were chosen because they are somewhat out of the ordinary, animals that most kids would probably be familiar with but might not think a lot about, says Lyman. The featured animals include the bat, magpie, Bonneville cutthroat trout, hummingbird, paper wasp, beaver and the woodpeckers, squirrels and insects the might live in a "snag" or dead tree.

What if . . . you were a bird?

You'd live in a tree; fly high and fly free; just think what you'd see

If that occurred — and you were a bird.

Each of the habitats features an interactive element. At the snag, for example, kids can pull handles that make woodpeckers peck. At the bat exhibit, they can peer into a bat cave or listen to a demonstration of echolocation.

A series of moving panels at the magpie station lets kids look at a wide variety of objects found in this bird's world.

A "scavenger hunt" map and activity sheet that ties in with the exhibit also offers suggestions for activities. Hummingbirds flap their wings 500 times in 10 seconds, the guide points out. How many times can you flap your arms in 10 seconds? Or, "Red Butte Garden is home to more than 100 kinds of birds. Look around and count how many you see. Close your eyes and count how many you hear."

A large sign near each habitat also provides some "big picture" information — about food, range, shelter. And interesting tidbits such as the fact that hummingbirds may fly 3,000 miles and that magpies hold "funerals."

"They do," says Allen Bishop, creator of the magpie habitat. "If they find a dead bird, they send out a call, and they all gather around for 10-15 minutes, doing what — who knows?"

Bishop hopes kids might be intrigued by that and that by shifting the colorful panels around, kids will learn what's good and not so good in the magpie's habitat. "The hunter, for example. Of course, the magpie would not want to get shot at. But it might want to know what the hunter shot. They are scavengers. They are very intelligent."

"I've seen a lot more magpies around here since the exhibit went in," says Sarah Johnson, communications assistant at the garden. Maybe they like to look at themselves, too.

What if . . . you lived in a dam?

You'd not need a nail, could slap with your tail, you'd never get mail.

Snug as a clam — if you lived in a dam?

Rebecca and Clay Wagstaff, who did the beaver's lodge as well as the snag, hope that the exhibits will help kids be more observant in nature. "I hope they'll look at this, and then do more research on their own," says Clay. Too, he hopes that kids will see how the activities of one creature impact so many others. "Beavers have a huge effect on all the plants and animals around." True for beavers — and for people.

Therese Pitakis, who with Michael Mogus did the bat installation, hopes that visitors there will realize how important bats are to have around. "Parents shouldn't teach their children to be afraid of bats. You have less chance of getting rabies from bats than from household pets," she says. "Bats are fast, and if you can catch them, it means they are sick, and you should stay away from those." But bats are not spooky, they are not mean, and they eat a lot of insects.

Waldo Kidd, who worked with Bri Matheson to do the paper wasp habitat, also hopes that by understanding what wasps do and how they live, kids will lose some of their fear. Wasps deserve a healthy respect, he says, but they, too, provide an important service.

What if . . . you had a stinger?

You'd bow to a queen; have a nest that is keen; try not to be seen.

What a humdinger — to have a stinger.

Exploring the habitats takes you into interesting new worlds, says Greg Pearson, who did the trout exhibit. "Trout live underwater, and not many people know about underwater."

His exhibit features some of the insects trout feed on: may flies, caddis flies, stone flies. "The insects are very important. You can actually tell how healthy the environment is by the number of insects."

Hummingbirds, too, have an interesting life, flying so far and so fast. Mikel and Traci Covey created a "flight path" of their own, to take kids from flower to flower. "I hope it captures their imagination," says Mikel.

And imagination is a bit part of what it's all about in the wild and wonderful world of "Home Sweet Habitat."

What if . . . you stayed as you are?

Then you could pretend; you'd reach and you'd bend, but your dreams would not end.

Better by far — to stay as you are!


E-mail: carma@desnews.com