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When Rudy Mancke speaks about natural history, he usually brings along some show-and-tell items for his audience.
Mancke, a professor at the University of South Carolina and the retired co-host of SCETV’s “Nature Scene,” brought a box crammed full of scientific significance to his speech inside the atrium of the University of South Carolina at Lancaster’s Medford Library on Thursday. He was speaking of the library’s exhibit, “Naturalists in South Carolina: Audubon in Context,” which closed Sunday.
At different times throughout his speech, he pulled out several snake skins, the rattle from a rattlesnake and a few animal skulls. He used the props to describe some of the species of animals discovered by famous naturalists in the United States.
The exhibit features several prints and writings from well-known naturalists, such as Mark Catesby who created “The Natural History of Carolina” and John James Audubon, for whom the National Audubon Society is named.
Mancke introduced the prints and examined what qualities make up a naturalist.
“A naturalist is a person who studies the world of nature and marvels at it,” Mancke said. “I’ve learned that everybody is a naturalist to one degree or another.”
Mancke said naturalists try to ask and answer two main questions.
First, they ask ‘what is it?’ when confronted with an unknown object or species, and then they ask ‘how does it fit into the rest of the world?’
Mancke said many naturalists such as Audubon demonstrated their answers to these questions by creating realistic prints of plants and animals in their native habitats. These prints showed what the species looked like and how it connected to its environment.
Mancke, who has a photographic memory and calls himself a “perpetual fourth grader,” said it’s important for people to learn more about the world around them.
“You know what our job is as parents, friends, teachers is to help people develop the latent curiosity people have,” he said.
Bob Bundy, a professor of biology and chemistry at USCL, was pleased to have Mancke on hand to speak about well-known naturalists.
Bundy, who took one of Mancke’s classes years ago while at USC, calls him “the most famous naturalist in South Carolina.”
“He’s brought natural history into everybody’s living room,” Bundy said. “What he knows is very interesting. Your eyes get real big whenever he takes out a box or a bag.”
More than 50 people turned out for the Audubon gallery talk and reception, including Lancaster resident Omileya Lewis and her son, KemRa.
She was interested in meeting Mancke because she’s also interested in the connections between science and nature. Lewis is part of a foundation that creates awareness about water issues.
“I love nature, and Rudy made me think there are people just like me,” she said. “I am a naturalist and I didn’t even realize it.”
Bundy said Mancke is the type of speaker that allows people to look at their world in a different way.
“What’s striking about Rudy is he’s always teaching, he’s always a teacher,” Bundy said.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (803) 416-8416