OLYMPIA – What's green with yellow spots, talks like a Catskills comedian and works around the clock teaching kids about Washington state's fish and wildlife resources?
It's Slugman, the host of a new online riddle game appearing live on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's (WDFW) website.
Designed for use in school classrooms, "Washington's Wacky Wildlife Web Quest" features a different native species of fish or wildlife every two weeks, providing players with new clues to its identity every other day.
- "I am a smooth scaled snake with bronze/copper colored eyes and vertical pupils."
- "In the spring, the males of this species bugle, which sounds like this (audible sound)."
- "All 12 species in my genus, Aythya, are diving ducks (also called pochards). We are specially designed for rapid dives under water."
The clues may be challenging, but the presentation most definitely is not. Michelle Tirhi, a WDFW urban biologist who spearheaded development of the game, said capturing the interest of young people was a key objective.
"We knew it had to be funky and fast-paced," Tirhi said. "The game introduces students to some important concepts in biology, but we knew it couldn't look like schoolwork if we wanted it to catch on."
Spouting wisecracks and leaving a trail of slime, the glib gastropod was the clear choice of several student "focus groups" asked to preview the game, Tirhi said. While her own children, ages 6 and 8, also favored Slugman, Tirhi said the game is designed for students at Washington middle schools and junior high schools.
"The game gives students more than just a bunch of facts about animal biology," Tirhi said. "It also provides an understanding of the various roles native species play in the Northwest ecology, in our history and in our daily lives."
In recent weeks, Tirhi has sent flyers to more than 500 public middle schools and junior high schools around the state letting them know that "Web Quest" is now on-line. She is also working to contact more than 100 private schools as well as home schoolers statewide.
"The game is set up so that schools – or different classrooms within schools – can compete with one another," Tirhi said. "We're eager to see how many take up the challenge."
As an urban biologist, Tirhi spends most of her time documenting protected wildlife species, helping local governments develop wildlife-protection plans and working with landowners on a variety of issues. "Web Quest" sprang from a successful grant proposal she submitted in 2000 to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which was seeking new ways to educate young people about the natural environment.
Dave Brittell, WDFW assistant director for wildlife, said he strongly supported the project and appreciated the enthusiasm Tirhi brought to it, noting that public education on wildlife issues is an important mission of the department.
"Anything we can do to educate young people about wildlife and their role in the natural world is a step in the right direction," Brittell said. "Wildlife stewardship isn't the responsibility of just a single agency or department. It's everybody's responsibility, and we hope that Slugman can help us get the message across."