About greensborosciencecenter

The Greensboro Science Center offers three fascinating attractions in one wild destination! We are the only facility in North Carolina that offers an aquarium, museum, and zoo. Spend the day with us and come nose to beak with playful penguins, get eye to eye with awesome otters, explore the human body, experience Mother Nature’s fury and fun, and encounter exotic animals like gibbons, meerkats, and lemurs!

The GSC’s Bat Project

October 27 and 28 is Bat Weekend here at the GSC, so we thought it a great time to catch up with the GSC’s VP of Conservation & Research, Lindsey Zarecky, to learn more about bats and how the GSC is working to conserve their populations right here in the Triad.

Lindsey shared with us that bats were her model organism for her master’s thesis back in her college days. Needless to say, she’s a huge fan and is very knowledgeable about these creatures. Today, her focus is on understanding and reducing the negative behaviors and activities that impact the bats’ ecosystems.

Before we get into the specifics, you’ll need to know a little more about how bats travel and find food.

The species of bats found in the Piedmont area are insectivorous and use echolocation for both navigation and hunting. They use ultrasonic (above our ability to hear) vocalizations to help them with locating objects; these sounds bounce off the object and send sound waves back to the vocalizing bat. Interestingly, different species of bats vocalize at different frequencies and at different intensities. These differences help scientists to distinguish between the varying species. Contrary to a somewhat popular belief, bats aren’t blind! Echolocation just happens to be much more efficient for them.

Our resident researchers always have something in the works. Often, these things may go totally undetected by both our guests and even other staff members! So, what’s the deal with the GSC’s Bat Project?

Here at the GSC, we use bat detectors to listen to bats’ ultrasonic vocalizations. Each detector consists of a recorder and a microphone; these detect sounds and record them onto an SD card. The sounds are uploaded to a computer using a special software program, then analyzed by our team. This involves slowing down the recordings and playing them back at a level that we, humans, can hear. Call types we hear include those honing in on prey, social vocalizations and clicking sounds to indicate a bat is simply maneuvering through its environment. As mentioned above, the recordings help us to distinguish the presences of particular bat species.

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Lindsey changes the batteries and swaps out the SD card in one of the GSC’s bat detectors.

We have three detectors in operation year-round. Our location is southern enough that bats don’t necessarily have to migrate further south in winter, nor hibernate in caves. Of course, the bats are most active during the hot, humid months of summer. Detectors are placed at varying heights as well as within varying levels of vegetation – one within, one below and one above the tree canopy.

We’re using the detectors to collect information, addressing specifically:

  1. What bat species are present at the GSC?
  2. What is species diversity like throughout the year? Do migratory species tend to stay or leave during winters?
  3. How do different species use the canopy? Do larger bats tend to spend time above or below the canopy while the smaller bats stay within it?

Thankfully, we’re not going it alone when it comes to bat conservation.

Beyond the GSC’s Bat Project, our staff also help with state-wide bat conservation efforts, specifically the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat). This program is an acoustic recording program that recurs each summer. With a bat detector attached to the top of their vehicles, staff drive along designated paths to record data along that particular transect during the nighttime. This helps to establish species distribution across our state.

We also assist the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) with their annual surveying. NCWRC has what are called “mist net sites” scattered throughout NC. At sundown, mist nets are set up and opened to receive bats. Bats fly in, and scientists record their information – including species, sex, age (adult or juvenile), and assesses it for presence or absence of white nose syndrome. Then, the bat is arm-banded and released.

White nose syndrome has been present in the United States since 2006 but wasn’t discovered here in NC until 2011. White nose is a fungal disease that thrives in moist, cool environments, where it grows on the muzzles, wings or fingers of hibernating bats. Hibernating bats enter a state of torpor in which metabolic activity dramatically slows, allowing them to survive the cold months without food or water. White nose is an irritant that wakes the bats during their hibernations, costing them critical calories during a time in which insects are scarce. White nose also causes imbalances in blood pH and potassium levels, which can inhibit heart function and lead to fatality (USGS, 2015). White nose is a serious concern, responsible for the deaths of more than one million bats.

Now that you’re armed with lots of information, what can YOU do to help bats?

#BatWeek-Endangered

Want more bats? Visit http://www.batweek.org

Join us for Bat Weekend! During National Bat Week, come out on October 27 and 28 to learn how you can be a bat hero. Many people don’t realize the huge positive impact bats make on our ecosystem and why it’s important we work to conserve them. We’ll show you how to build your own bat box, play games and more – for bats’ sake! Event activities are free with general admission or GSC membership.

 

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News From Seattle

A couple of weeks ago, our Leadership team traveled to Seattle, Washington to participate in the annual Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) National Conference. There, they attended a hearing with the AZA Accreditation Commission, in which the group addressed critical questions about the present and future of the Greensboro Science Center. This was the final step in a series of many steps to earning AZA accreditation again. With that said, we’ve got great news to share… but first, you’ll need some background information.

Leadership at 2018 AZA Hearing

GSC representatives attend the AZA Accreditation Hearing.

What is AZA?

AZA has been around since the early 1970s. In response to growing concerns over the animal care being provided in zoo and aquarium settings, AZA established a set of scientifically-proven best practices as applicable to aquariums and zoos. The standards, available for review by the public at any time, apply to all aspects of an organization’s operations, including animal welfare, governing body, conservation, education, guest services, facilities, safety, staffing, veterinary care, and finance. AZA standards are considered the national benchmark in the eyes of many U.S. agencies, including the USDA, USFWS and OSHA.

How It Relates to Us

The GSC was first accredited back in 2008 with the opening of Animal Discovery Zoo. Before this year’s efforts, our last application and inspection took place in January 2013. With a new application due every five years, we’ve been in the process of applying for accreditation again. The application steps are outlined next.

The Accreditation Process, Simplified

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The GSC Leadership Team performs a mock inspection to prepare staff for the upcoming AZA inspectors’ visit.

First, a written application must be submitted. In order to complete this application, staff will spend roughly a year evaluating and updating the necessary information, including protocols, reports and supporting documentation such as records of safety drills or program animal handling procedures.

After the written application is submitted, an on-site inspection will be conducted by a team of AZA inspectors. Teams are made up of voluntary professionals – including a veterinarian, an operations representative and an animal program representative – from within the AZA community. For facilities with elephants and/or marine mammals, an additional inspector with expertise in those specific areas is assigned. To assure the most thorough inspection possible, AZA does its best to match inspectors to facilities that are similar to their home facilities. Once the inspectors arrive at their inspection site, they spend approximately three to four days taking photos and gathering information to determine whether or not the facility is practicing what it described in its application. Not only will they examine the grounds and amenities; inspectors also spend time interviewing various volunteers and staff members as well as the facility’s Board of Directors. Questions can range from “What is your organization’s mission?” to “What is your department’s safety procedure during a tornado?” No stone is left unturned.

The next step is for the inspectors to report back to AZA. Any comments inspectors make regarding items of concern must be tied to a documented standard. Inspectors cannot focus on past or perceived future issues and must focus only on what is happening presently. Although there is a separate section of the inspection report in which inspectors can share their opinions, opinions cannot be used as cause for a write-up. Additionally, although the inspecting team can make a recommendation regarding accreditation, they cannot make that decision.

Following the inspection team’s reporting step, the applicant will receive a resulting document detailing all concerns, if any, and will be provided with three to four months to address those concerns. After this time, the facility will send a representative or group of representatives to a hearing (the one mentioned at the beginning of this writing) with the accreditation commission, and this is where they will find out whether or not their facility has met AZA’s standards for accreditation.

How It Relates to You

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One of our priorities as an AZA accredited institution is to educate the community about our animals and their wild counterparts. Pictured above: a guest meets and learns about red pandas on an Inside Tracks: Zoo Trek.

If all of that sounds intimidating, it’s because it is! But it’s worth every bit of the work that goes into it. AZA accreditation means recognition, but more importantly, it means that we can work better and smarter for both our animals and our visitors. Being a member of a group of hundreds of other facilities means that we have access to great networking and resources, which translates to constant learning and improvement for us. Accreditation is synonymous with community, and all that we do is interconnected and for a greater purpose. Each animal we house serves as an ambassador of its species, telling stories of conservation and science. We want to provide the best education possible for our community, and AZA accreditation makes it possible.

Finally, for the great news. Executive Director Glenn Dobrogosz emailed the team the morning after the hearing to announce that the Greensboro Science Center has once again received AZA accreditation!

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A GSC volunteer guides a guest on how to safely touch one of our stingrays.

Less than 10% of the approximately 2,800 animal exhibitors licensed by the Department of Agriculture are accredited by the AZA. This means that if you’re visiting a zoo or aquarium and spot the AZA logo, you can rest assured that the place you’re visiting is living up to the highest standards in its industry. Don’t get us wrong – this is not to say that a given non-accredited facility does not abide by high standards! Since accreditation is optional, organizations may choose not to apply for AZA accreditation, even if they meet or exceed AZA’s benchmarks. What we mean is that we are certainly proud of our status as an AZA-accredited aquarium and zoo, and you should be, too! Thank you for helping us to rise to the occasion once again.

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The official certificate!

Winter Wildlife: Feed the Birds

With fall just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about winter wildlife! What happens to our feathered friends in winter? While some birds migrate to warmer climates where food and water are plentiful, other birds remain in our backyards – where food and water are more difficult to find. As fall fades to winter, seeds become scarce. As temperatures drop, water sources freeze. For those of you who enjoy waking to cheerful chirps or love the sight of a red cardinal contrasted with an evergreen tree, we’re sharing some ways you can encourage backyard birds to thrive through the winter.

Check out the fun feeders below! In addition to providing a food source for birds, they’re also a fun family activity you can make from materials you probably already have on hand!

PINECONE FEEDER

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Supplies:

  • Pinecone
  • Nut butter of choice; for a nut-free alternative, lard will also do the trick!
  • Knife
  • Birdseed
  • Pie tin or other deep dish to contain the seeds
  • Yarn

Procedure:

  1. Pour some seeds into your pie tin.
  2. Use the knife (with adult supervision, of course!) to coat the pinecone with nut butter.
  3. Roll the pinecone in the seeds.
  4. Tie yarn around the top.
  5. Hang it on a tree!

 

 

USEFUL TIP: When determining where to hang your feeder, find a spot several feet off the ground (where potential predators, like neighborhood cats, won’t be able to reach)! Birds like to feel protected, so look for a spot that keeps them relatively hidden – thick bunches of branches tend to work best.

 

TP TUBE FEEDER

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Supplies:

  • Toilet paper tube
  • Nut butter (or lard)
  • Knife
  • Birdseed
  • Pie tin
  • Yarn

Procedure:

  1. Pour some seeds into your pie tin.
  2. Use the knife (with adult supervision) to coat the toilet paper tube with nut butter.
  3. Roll the tube in seeds.
  4. String yarn though the tube and knot it.
  5. Hang it on a tree!

 

PLASTIC BOTTLE BIRD FEEDER

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Supplies:

  • Empty, clean plastic bottle with lid
  • Skewers or dowels
  • Scissors
  • Birdseed
  • Pie Tin
  • Yarn

Procedure:

  1. Use the scissors to poke a pair of holes directly across from each other.
  2. Thread a skewer through the holes to provide perches.
  3. Repeat the first few steps a few inches above your first pair of holes, for a total of 4 perches.
  4. Cut a small hole about an inch above each perch for bird beaks!
  5. Fill your bottle with seeds, then secure the cap.
  6. Tie yarn around your bottle and hang it on a tree!

 

CEREAL FEEDER

Supplies:

  • O-shaped cereal
  • Yarn
  • Large, blunt needle or twig (optional)

Procedure:

  1. String yarn through cereal. Use a twig or blunt needle (with adult supervision) to help if needed!
  2. Repeat the first step to your desired length.
  3. Tie the ends of the yarn together.
  4. Hang it on a tree!

Preparing for Hurricane Florence

As Hurricane Florence sets her sights on the North Carolina coast, the Greensboro Science Center team is closely monitoring the situation, enacting emergency preparedness plans, and readying supplies to deal with the possible aftermath of the storm.

Early Monday morning, the GSC’s Leadership Team met to discuss possible scenarios and ensure all departments have the resources they need to make appropriate preparations. Emergency staffing plans are in place, complete with phone trees, ride-share plans to ensure critical staff can make it in to work, and even on-site sleeping arrangements for any team members who may need to ride out the storm on GSC grounds.

Our animal care team is focused on increasing our back-stock of dietary items, medical supplies, batteries, flashlights, etc. in the event of store closings, delayed deliveries, and/or power outages. Speaking of power outages, each animal exhibit has a backup generator (which is tested regularly) to help ensure our animals’ exhibits continue to meet their needs in emergency situations.

As the storm approaches in earnest, animals will be locked in to their blockhouses (or indoor exhibit areas). Animals who are located in areas that may be subject to flooding or damage will be moved to alternate locations. Outdoor items, like furniture, sign holders, and research equipment (like the bat detector located on our roof), that could potentially become projectiles will be stored in a safe location until the threat has subsided.

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Crocodile Blockhouse

In addition to the safety and well-being of our animals, exhibits and staff, we are also committed to providing our guests with safe, enjoyable experiences. As such, we have decided to postpone our annual gala, See to Believe, which was originally scheduled to take place Friday, September 14. The event will now be held Friday, October 19. More information about this event can be found on our website: www.greensboroscience.org/seetobelieve.

The GSC will be closed on Friday, September 14 as planned. Instead of preparing for a party, our team will be focused on preparing for storm damage. We appreciate your understanding as we dedicate our team’s time to the safety and well-being of our animals. Any additional closings or delays will be announced on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/greensborosciencecenter.

While we take great pride in being proactive, we also realize that emergency situations often result in unexpected outcomes. To be as prepared as possible, we have ensured all of our vehicles – from trucks to tractors – are fueled and ready to be used as needed. Power tools that may be needed for cleanup have been checked, cleaned, fueled, and sharpened.

Like many others along the path of the storm, we are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. We hope you and your families stay safe during the storm. We will continue to share updates on our Facebook page.

Volunteer Spotlight – Megan B.

Megan BMegan B. has been a hard-working and ambitious volunteer with the Greensboro Science Center since June of 2017.  Megan says, “I enjoy science and working around the animals. I also enjoy meeting new people.” She got her start as an Animal Ambassador and later joined our Museum Ambassador Program.

“My favorite station is Friendly Farm, followed closely by Hands-On Harbor and Prehistoric Passages: Realm of Dragons,” Megan said. As a Museum Ambassador, our teen volunteers are given the opportunity to experience our aquarium, museum and zoo – all in just one shift! We’re glad Megan enjoys that variety!

A point of pride for many of our volunteers, including Megan, is all of the information they learn by spending so much time around the animals. Volunteers learn the names and even the behaviors of most of the GSC’s animals. Megan mentions, “When I came back to the GSC with friends during a class trip, I could introduce my friends to all of the animals and could show them cool stuff in the exhibits. I was their tour guide.”

An opportunity within the Museum Ambassador program that Megan jumped into feet first was becoming a mentor. This meant that Megan actually trained incoming Museum Ambassadors on all exhibits covered, tips and tricks to engage with visitors, how to handle sticky situations, and how best to succeed in the program. In all of our programs, volunteers who become mentors are able to take on more responsibilities in their role as well as learn vital leadership skills that can help them in other areas of their lives. Our volunteer program staff members tell us that it has been incredible to see Megan come out of her shell over the past year, not only as a Museum Ambassador, but as a young adult as well. They say the confidence she’s gained is apparent each and every shift.

Although the Museum Ambassador program only requires volunteers to complete two, three-hour shifts per month, Megan can’t seem to get enough of the GSC and completes three shifts per month instead! Megan says that “Volunteering at the GSC has let me meet all kinds of people from around the state and other states. I especially enjoy helping in the farm and talking about the animals. Volunteering at the GSC has encouraged me to major in science in college.”

For more information about the Greensboro Science Center’s award-winning volunteer program, visit our website: http://greensboroscience.org/get-involved/volunteer/

Living the Mission: GSC Staff Awarded Conservation & Research Grants

This year, the Greensboro Science Center provided staff a brand new opportunity to apply for what is known as the Conservation and Research Grant. This annual grant offers GSC staff the opportunity to pursue a conservation or research project. Eligible proposals can range from pursing a professional development opportunity, facilitating an existing field project (like mussel surveys or bat acoustic work), creating a conservation project (like a stream clean-up or butterfly garden), or taking on a new research question. After undergoing an extensive assessment by our staff Research Committee, this year’s recipients have been announced.

Shannon Anderson, Zoo Keeper: SANCCOB’s Keeper Exchange Program

Penguin DivingShannon will travel to South Africa to work with SANCCOB staff to refine her skills in bird care and chick rearing; Shannon’s knowledge and passion for penguins led her to pursue this program. On this trip, she’ll have the opportunity to work with field biologists, conservationists and sea bird specialists to expand her knowledge and will share her experience with staff at a presentation following her time in South Africa.

Rachel Rogers, Aquarist: Mote Marine Coral Restoration Workshop

coral 02Rachel, the GSC’s coral aquarist, has a passion for propagating and conserving coral species. At the workshop, she’ll learn the micro-fragmenting techniques used to propagate staghorn and elkhorn corals. She will also visit coral nurseries in the Florida Keys to gain knowledge on the best methods for growing and reproducing coral. She, too, will share her experience with staff at a presentation following the workshop.

Sam Beasley, Vet Tech: Sea Turtle Care Center at the South Carolina Aquarium

Sam Beasly | 36 | EditSam works alongside veterinarian Dr. Sam Young to care for the animals in our collection. Sam has a lifelong passion for turtles and rehabilitation of sea turtles. She will work with the vets and technicians at the Sea Turtle Care Center to rehabilitate sea turtles and care for injured turtles. There, she will learn new skills and receive hands-on training that will benefit her vet career. Sam will also be sharing with staff her experience when she returns.

We’re thrilled to have a team of staff who supports our mission of conservation by putting the “hands” in “hands-on.” Return to our blog in the near future for updates on the good works these team members will be doing!

Octopus Eggs and the Story of Senescence

If you’ve visited the GSC in the last couple of weeks, it’s likely you’ve heard from a staff member or volunteer that our Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) recently laid eggs. While this is very exciting news, it also means that the end of our female’s life cycle is drawing near.

Our Giant Pacific Octopus (GPO) has been here for about one year, weighing 9 lbs. at the time of her arrival. As of May 2018, she weighed 30 lbs. and stretched 6 ft. from arm tip to opposite arm tip. We can estimate from these numbers that at the time of laying eggs, she weighed around 40 lbs. Though ours is slightly below the average weight (around 50 lbs.) for GPOs, she’s very healthy. It’s always difficult to determine the age of an octopus, but we estimate her to be roughly 2.5 years old.

The average lifespan for a GPO is about 3 years, near the end of which they enter a stage referred to as senescence. Senescence occurs at the end of a mature octopus’ natural life; this is a roughly month-long period in which they mate. GPOs are one of many octopus species that are “semelparous,” meaning they reproduce once and then die. Salmon are another example of a marine species that does this. Senescence is characterized by several things, including loss of appetite, retraction of the skin around the eyes, laying and brooding of eggs (in females), uncoordinated movement or undirected activity (in males), and the appearance of white lesions on the body.

The process of laying eggs can be taxing on the female octopus, unfolding over the course of approximately a week. Eggs resemble grains of rice on strings, woven together to create a holdfast that attaches to a hard surface. The female octopus will lay eggs in her den (in which she’ll spend a good portion of her time) and prefers to attach them to an overhang. Brooding of the eggs occurs for five months to a year, during which time the female will aerate and clean them until her body succumbs to the stress of this process. During the brooding process, an octopus will start to lose her appetite and refuse food – all due to hormonal changes in the body. This leads her to becoming anorexic during the egg-guarding period – losing between 50-71% of her body weight – eventually leading to her death.

Octopus Eggs

As all Giant Pacific Octopuses are wild-caught, it is unknown if the eggs are viable. Mating can occur early in life, with the female holding on to the spermatophores deposited by the male until she is mature and ready to use them. To date, only one successful rearing attempt has been recorded in captivity, occurring in 1986. This one male (who came from a population of 200 individuals from approximately 20,000 eggs) lived to 38 months. The process of keeping him alive was heavily labor intensive, requiring 6-8 hours per day for feeding and fastidious cleaning during the first 9 months of his care.

As for us, we’re excited for this opportunity to learn more about how Giant Pacific Octopus females behave while caring for their eggs and will be recording our observations extensively.  Though we are not likely to have viable eggs, we’re excited to share this unique stage with all of you as the Greensboro Science Center experiences our first female octopus’ life cycle completion. Please feel free to find a volunteer or staff member during your next visit to ask questions. We look forward to seeing you.

Source: AZA Aquatic Invertebrate Taxon Advisory Group (AITAG) (2014). Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) Care Manual. Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Silver Spring, MD.