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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—in a measured, even-keeled response typical of the organization—says a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History encourages children to traumatize animals including slugs.

No, the natural history museum’s “Life in One Cubic Foot” exhibit, which went on display March 4, does not feature any living creatures or instruments of torture. Instead, PETA says it encourages visitors to trap and potentially harm small animals found elsewhere.

The exhibit, according to a Smithsonian press release, features photographs of and research from 1 x 1 “biocubes” installed in coral reefs, parks, and midwater oceans. It also invites museum-goers to “participate in citizen science and uncover the biodiversity in their backyard by creating and monitoring their own biocube.”

This suggestion, according to PETA, is highly problematic.

“Children should be taught to respect even the tiniest beetles and slugs, as they have feelings and a right to live free from needless interference and suffering,” PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in a statement. “PETA is calling on the Smithsonian to advise visitors of all ages to learn by observation and video and to live and let live.”

A spokesperson for the Smithsonian said “the director’s office has not received the letter, and the director is currently away from the office.” The spokesperson added, “The museum plans to respond to the letter after the director has had an opportunity to review it.”

The letter argues that the exhibit coaxes people to take animals out of their natural environments and “photograph them at close range—a process that would undoubtedly be traumatic for them and out of step with modern, enlightened idea about how animals should be treated.”

Actually, this is about ethics in bug photography.

Photo by Ingfbruno via CC BY-SA 3.0