Conservation Creation: March of the Dinosaurs

How do scientists learn about plants and animals that are no longer here on Earth? Through studying fossils, of course! Fossils are created through a process called fossilization, in which materials like bone are slowly replaced by minerals. Another way fossils are formed involves the decay of an organism, which leaves behind a mold that gets cemented into a cast. Fossils can show bone, teeth, plant and skin textures, eggs, footprints, and imprints left behind. The scientists (called paleontologists) who study fossils have even found fossilized dinosaur poop with animal remains inside of it!

Paleontologists have been able to learn a lot about dinosaurs from studying their fossils. Based on evidence from bone and footprint fossils, we can learn the sizes of different species of dinosaurs, where they lived, how far they traveled, and whether they preferred to live in groups or on their own. Fossils have also given us information about how dinosaurs looked, moved, and even how they may have sounded!

While we’ve uncovered many of the mysteries of animals from the past, paleontologists are constantly finding new fossils and learning new things! For example, in 2016, a cache of hundreds of pterosaur eggs were discovered in China. Before this discovery, only six well-preserved eggs had ever been found! (You can read more about that discovery here.)

Now it’s time to make some discoveries of your own – with some DIY fossils!

What you’ll need: Flour, salt, water, craft sand, measuring cups, a large bowl, and dinosaur toys to make some fossil imprints.

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Step 1: Mix together 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of salt and 1 cup of craft sand.

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Step 2: Add ½ cup of warm water to the bowl containing the sand, flour, and salt.

Note: For more vibrant fossils, add food coloring that matches the sand to the water before mixing.

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Step 3: Use your hands or a wooden spoon to knead all of the ingredients together until they feel like a grainy bread dough. You may need to add small amounts of water or flour to get the consistency where you want it.

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Step 4: Using a small amount of dough, gently press your fossil object into it to leave an imprint.

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Step 5: Allow this to harden overnight. For a faster dry, you can also bake the dough at 250 degrees for 1-2 hours.

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Once your fossils are dry, examine them and discuss what you may be able to learn from them!

To make this project more challenging, use a variety of animal toys or plant textures to study a larger variety of fossils!

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.

 

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!

How Your Small Change Has Made a Big Difference

Each time someone visits the Greensboro Science Center (GSC), they’re supporting wildlife conservation! Twenty-five cents of each general admission ticket is dedicated to conservation efforts. Upon purchasing tickets, guests receive a token that allows them to direct their donation towards one of the three conservation projects represented on our Coins for Conservation machine. The GSC’s Conservation, Sustainable Practices and Research Committees come together to select the organizations and species represented. Over a six-month period, guests have the opportunity to use their tokens to select the organization they would like their $0.25 to support. After that time, three new organizations are selected for representation.

We’re excited to announce we have completed our first six months of the Coins for Conservation program. The following funds were raised in support of species conservation:

Oceana
Funds Raised: $10,000

oceanaEstablished in 2001, Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization focused on ocean conservation. Oceana seeks to find practical solutions to restore our world’s oceans. While not focused on one species, the organization influences decisions to address many ocean issues, including over-fishing and shark finning.

Komodo Dragon Species Survival Plan: Conservation Fund
Funds Raised: $7,000

komodoEstablished in 2007, the Komodo survival plan exists to research and monitor populations of Komodo dragons in the wild in order to conserve the species and its habitat. The organization educates locals about Komodo dragons as well as trains Indonesian conservationists to assist with population management and habitat conservation.

North Carolina Coastal Land Trust
Funds Raised: $6,000

ncEstablished in 1992, the NC Coastal Land Trust conserves natural areas to enrich the coastal community as well as educates visitors about land stewardship. One such natural area is the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden, which was formed through a partnership with the City of Wilmington. The park is open to the public; visitors can learn about carnivorous plants, including the Venus Flytrap. The Trust has a dedicated Venus Flytrap fund whose purpose is to sustain and manage this rare plant.

To learn about the three projects currently being represented, visit the Coins for Conservation webpage.

Honey, Oh Sugar, Sugar!

After a year of providing hives for our European honey bees, we recently had our first honey extraction! On Sunday morning, August 7th the GSC team got to work preparing for the process. The GSC hives are maintained by volunteer Linda Walbridge and GSC’s Head of Horticulture & Grounds, Chandra Metheny.

Honey bees make hexagonal (6-sided) wax structures or honey combs on provided hive frames, where they store honey for winter. Have you ever wondered, what is honey? Bees collect nectar from flowers, break it down into simple sugars and then store it in honey combs. The bees work together to beat their wings, fanning the nectar to evaporate all liquid. What is left is a thick, sweet, sticky, delicious product called honey! Honey comes in different colors and flavors depending on what flowers and therefore nectar it started as. Honey is a special product that is engineered by nature to keep for a really long time and not ferment. In fact, intact, edible honey was found in the tomb of King Tut!

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Fortunately, honey bees make more honey than the colony needs, which is why it is safe to extract excess honey. This process starts when the beekeeper smokes the hive to calm the bees. The beekeepers evaluate the hive’s overall health and check for hive beetles, mites or disease.

By placing a fumigator, or a hive cap coated in a smell the bees dislike, the bees move away from the top of the hive.

The keepers then pull out the top “super” or top box of the hive. Most of the honey will be in the top and since the bees have already moved away thanks to the fumigator, it is safe to take the super.Bees cap the honeycombs with bees wax so the honey doesn’t fall out. Beekeepers remove the caps with an uncapping scraper.

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The scraper is used to remove the caps

The scrapped frames are placed into an extractor which allows the honey to flow out of the frames. The extractor works like a salad spinner. By spinning very quickly, centrifugal force, throws the honey to the sides of the machine. Then the beekeepers let it set to release any air bubbles after draining out through a strainer. Then the honey is placed into jars and it is ready to eat!

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Honey extractor

 

Each year as the hives get older the amount of excess honey they produce will increase.The GSC staff will check the quality of the honey, and may provide some for the enrichment of our zoo animals on exhibit.

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GSC Welcomes Two New Honeybee Colonies

The Greensboro Science Center is home to two new honeybee hives located in the zoo at the Friendly Farm. The warm weather we experienced early this year has stimulated colonies of bees to head out, seeking new hives. On two separate occasions in the last couple of weeks, colonies of European honeybees were discovered building hives on the GSC’s perimeter fence. Both colonies were found and retrieved by the GSC’s volunteer beekeeper, Linda Walbridge and GSC Horticulturist, Chandra Metheny. The team had to assemble quickly to remove the colonies and place them in new hives because the freezing nighttime temperatures would have killed the bees.

The process of safely and humanely moving a colony of bees is quite fascinating. Geared up in protective bee suits, Linda and Chandra carefully and meticulously removed the temporary hives from the fence. One major factor in ensuring a successful move is to identify and seize the queen bee. The colony will follow the queen to a new hive, but without her, the colony’s chance of survival is dramatically decreased. The staff had to be especially careful to safely sequester the queen into a transport capsule. The capsule is designed to allow worker bees the ability to easily move into and out of the capsule but due to the queen’s size she remains in the capsule. The worker bees were then placed in a bucket and taken to the new hive. The bees were particularly docile during this process. They were always aware of the queen’s safe location and since they didn’t have any brood or honey in their temporary hive, there was no need to be defensive.

Removing Hive from Fence

Moving Bees

The queen and her colony were safely relocated to a new hive at the Friendly Farm. The queen remained in her capsule for a few days where she produced pheromones, or scents, that alerted the other bees to her location. Additionally, the worker bees displayed to the rest of the colony the location of the queen, so the entire colony could make their way to the hive. The display is fascinating to witness–worker bees point to the queen by raising their back sides with heads down, using their hind limbs and abdomen to point towards the queen.

Once our colony was safely placed in the new hive, they had to withstand the night’s cold temperatures. To accomplish this, the bees generated heat by collectively beating their wings while surrounding and protecting the queen. They took turns moving around to allow each bee the opportunity to get close to the center and stay warm. By working together, the colony survived the cold weather. The GSC is supplementing the hives with sugar water. This will help sustain the colony while they learn their new habitat and map out tracks to new sources of food.

New Hive

Native and European honeybees, as with many pollinators, are vital to our food system and the ecological stability of our planet. However, they have suffered significant declines of recent. These declines are largely from habitat loss, disease, an increase in pesticides and changes in our climate. The successful rescue of these hives provides the GSC an opportunity to safely conserve and sustain bee populations. Staff will continue to provide bee-friendly garden spaces on campus to support these invaluable creatures. Be sure to stop by the Friendly Farm during your next visit and take a moment to see our new honeybee hives!

Three Hives

Cold Stunned Sea Turtles’ Care Continues

The four sea turtles being rehabilitated at the Greensboro Science Center are getting stronger and healthier every day. The team of aquarists and our vet are monitoring the turtles to assess when they will be ready for release. Their actual release date will be contingent on the state’s recommendation. The aquarists continue to provide care and evaluate the behavior of the turtles to make sure they are acting as healthy, wild sea turtles.

Aquarist & veterinarian examine sea turtles

Sea turtle swimmingHealthy sea turtles swim freely in their space; are relaxed and not skittish. Fortunately, our turtles are utilizing all the water in the tanks. They swim around, across, and throughout the water column. Sea turtles are reptiles and they must surface to breathe air, so you would think that they would float like humans do when they fill their lungs with air. But divers have observed how sea turtles appear to lie still and float under the water surface, whereas humans naturally rise and float on the surface. Sea turtles can regulate the volume of air in their lungs, so as they dive, the lungs compress and they become less buoyant, or neutrally buoyant, and essentially “float” in the water column. A healthy, neutrally buoyant turtle will float in the water parallel to the surface, but not necessarily on the surface. A turtle that isn’t able to float parallel is a sign something is wrong.

In addition to good healthy behavior, the team monitors the turtles’ diet. Aquarists feeding the turtles daily and they have noticed that the turtles’ appetites are growing. Adult turtles are herbivores (plant eaters), feeding on sea grasses and algae, but as juveniles they have a more diverse diet. Juveniles are omnivores (plant and meat or animal eaters), including a diet of jellyfish, crustaceans, and sponges. At the Center, the turtles are receiving a diet that consists of fish, squid, some lettuce and gel food. Gel food is a vegetarian alternative to their diet. They are not so impressed with this option, but they have readily accepted the other items!