We're Nuts for Albinos

White squirrels, that is

It's getting pretty late in the summer. You've taken the kids to every theme park, water slide and dog-related event this city has to offer, and yet still they yearn for more to do. Yearning kids are bad, because they don't understand that yearning is a silent activity, like napping (another silent activity they don't do very well), so they whine more than pine. It's time to think outside the box, get counterintuitive -- now is the time for a road trip to Olney, Illinois.

Yes, strapping bored kids into a car for a three-hour jaunt to the east seems like a desperately bad idea, but Olney is worth the risk to your sanity. Kids are crazy about animals, especially animals they've never seen, and Olney is home to one of the rarest of species: the white squirrel. The town's Web site (www.sirin.lib.il.us) offers two theories about the origin of these uniquely hued rodents, but neither seems particularly plausible. Feel free to challenge the children to make up their own theories about how these squirrels got their white coats; it'll give them something to do on the car ride (our favorite possible origin involves Edgar and Johnny Winter). Take pictures, eat a picnic lunch in Olney City Park (502 White Squirrel Circle, 618-395-1473) -- just enjoy a little time with your kids outside, away from GameBoys and TV. With any luck, they'll tire themselves out trying to catch squirrels and will conk out on the ride home. -- Paul Friswold

The Bearded Worm
Caterpillars crawl into Chesterfield

Caterpillars seem to be the furry, loveable teddy bears of the insect world, don't they?

Not exactly, scolds Laura Chisholm, invertebrate specialist with the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House & Education Center (15193 Olive Boulevard in Chesterfield). Some can be so underhanded they'll camouflage themselves as bird droppings or, if necessary, pull a Toxic Avenger routine -- "The saddlebacks can even sting you," Chisholm explains.

Learn how to contend with these crafty creatures at the Butterfly House's live-caterpillar exhibit (August 1 through September 30, $5). There's also a talk for kids at 10 a.m. Saturday, September 13, and a lecture for adults at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, August 16.

For more on a story that really has legs, call 636-530-0076 or visit www.butterflyhouse.org. -- Tom R. Arterburn

 
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