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!

The Tale of Two Turtle Dogs

Last week, John Rucker came out to the Greensboro Science Center with his Boykin spaniels (AKA Turtle Dogs). The dogs have been trained to literally sniff out turtles. Before getting down to serious business with The HERP Project summer campers, John gave GSC staff a little taste of what his dogs can do.

John Rucker with Jenny Wren and Mink

John Rucker with Jenny Wren and Mink

After a brief introduction, John said, “Find turtles.” The dogs took off! They ran around the edges of a pond, through thickets, and along a small stream on the hunt for their prize. After just a few minutes, one of the dogs, Jenny Wren, ran up to John with her catch in her mouth… Don’t worry, the dogs have been trained to be soft-mouthed, simply holding the turtle gently until John takes it from them. In a span of about 30 minutes, Jenny Wren and Mink found 2 eastern box turtles.

Jenny Wren with a box turtle

Jenny Wren with a box turtle

What did we do with the turtles?

The Greensboro Science Center is home to a 22-acre study zone for box turtles as part of the Box Turtle Connection. For the third consecutive year, GSC zookeepers have been finding turtles, taking photos and collecting data for the project, then releasing the turtles back where they were found. Data collected includes the turtle’s sex, life stage, length, height, and weight.

Collecting data for the Box Turtle Connection

Collecting data for the Box Turtle Connection

This information is added to a statewide database that will help determine the stability of box turtle populations. So far this season, six turtles have been found at the GSC’s study zone.

Want to get involved?

The Box Turtle Connection website offers a couple of different ways you can get involved, depending on what level of commitment you are able to offer the program. For more information about the project and to learn how you can get involved, visit their website: https://boxturtle.uncg.edu/.

 

 

How to Attract Monarchs

A wonderful question on Facebook inspired us to talk to our horticulturalist about how to attract Monarch butterflies to your garden. Here is what she has to say:

Creating a space for butterflies is both a beautiful and incredibly rewarding hobby!

Plant specific species in full sun for nectar, include a variety of host plants such as milkweed for monarchs, and create enough ecological diversity through the addition of a few umbeliferous species to diminish certain pests without the use of harmful chemicals. I recommend including flowering Bee Balm or Bergamont, Native Purple Coneflower (Echinacea), Liatris Purple Rocket Flower, Black-eyed Susan, Butterfly Bush, Daisies, Asters, Dianthus, Tickseed, umbeliferous species such as Fennel, Dill, Yarrow, or Tansy. Salvias, Sweet Alyssum, and Lantana are also beneficial. You can also include annuals such as Zinnias, Marigolds, and Cosmos.

Netting Around Milkweed Seeds

Netting Over Seed Pods

Right now, many milkweed species such as Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca, and the Butterflyweed Ascpepias tubrosa, have flowered and are successfully producing their pods, which will dry and burst to release several seeds to the wind. You can place a protective netting over the pods in your garden to save some of these seeds. Other milkweed species include Whorled Milkweed Asclepias verticillata and Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata. Sowing your perennial flower seeds in the fall will provide them with the cold stratification they need to germinate well in the spring just as it occurs in nature. It is important to allow all wild-growing milkweed seeds outside of your garden to spread naturally where they will succeed and grow. You can purchase seeds from local native garden nurseries such as NC Botanical Gardens and others you can find listed here http://ncbg.unc.edu/recommended-sources-of-native-plants/.

Include an area with flat stones in the sun and an area for water puddling with a few “perching pebbles” where butterflies might take in water and minerals they need.

For more information about creating beautiful native gardens and habitat in North Carolina, visit: http://www.ncsu.edu/goingnative/ag636_03.pdf. To learn more about how to help Monarch butterflies visit Monarch Watch. Every plant makes a difference!

They Grow Up So Fast…

Caterpillars grow up so fast! It only took 19 days for our little Monarch caterpillars to grow 2,000 times their hatching size and slide into their chrysalis. Unlike the caterpillar of a moth that wraps itself in a cocoon made of silk, a butterfly caterpillar actually sheds, or pupates its exoskeleton to become a pupa.

You know a Monarch caterpillar is ready to pupate when it attaches itself to a sturdy object with a button of silk and hangs upside-down. When hanging upside down they curl up slightly and look like the letter “J.” This is called, “hanging in J.” The caterpillars will “hang in J” for eight hours before they begin to pupate. Then, it only takes 20 minutes to form the pupa!

Hanging in J

Hanging in J

The pupa, or chrysalis, is a beautiful jade-green and it even has a golden crown around the top! The Monarch pupa will stay in its chrysalis for about 10 days as a pupa.

Monarch Pupa

Monarch Pupa

You can see all of our chrysalis in the Greensboro Science Center lobby by the kinetic sculpture. You can also come for a very special event this Friday at 10:00 AM for the dedication of our Monarch Waystations. The event will include some very special guests and a Monarch butterfly release, so come flutter by!

Friday also marks the debut of a brand new 3-D OmniSphere show, Flight of the Butterflies. In this incredible film, you’ll have the chance to join hundreds of millions of real butterflies on an amazing journey to a remote and secret hideaway. Plus, hear about the true story of one scientist’s 40-year search to unravel the mystery of Monarchs: where do they go each fall?

Flight of the Butterflies

Flight of the Butterflies

Flight of the Butterflies will be playing in the OmniSphere through January 9, 2015. Check out the complete schedule on our website: http://www.greensboroscience.org/events/omnisphereshows/index.shtml

Magnificent Monarchs!

This tiny egg, the size of a pinhead, holds a creature that will grow and change into a magnificent Monarch Butterfly! This entire process takes a mere 30 days.

Monarch Butterfly Egg

Monarch Butterfly Egg

The egg was laid on a very special plant- a milkweed. Milkweeds are the ONLY plant a monarch caterpillar will eat. There are over 100 species of milkweed, 75 here in the U.S. Unfortunately, milkweed is losing habitat to development and agriculture, and being eliminated by herbicides used along roadsides and farm areas.

The Monarch butterfly population is measured by the number of acres they inhabit during seasonal hibernation. In 2003, Monarchs inhabited 27.48 acres. In 2013 they inhabited a scant 1.65 acres. Efforts are now underway to plant milkweed to help bring back Monarch butterflies. The Greensboro Science Center has planted three Monarch waystations in our zoo to provide milkweed as well as other nectar and host plants for butterflies.

Milkweed and Monarchs need our help! Learn more while you enjoy our breathtaking new 3-D movie, “Flight of the Butterflies,” which starts June 6th. Member preview night is Friday, May 30th, from 6:00 PM to 8:00PM and includes the movie, snacks, milkweed seed give-away, crafts for kids, and more! For more information on the member preview night, visit http://greensboroscience.org/support/membership/documents/FOBPreview.pdf.

You can keep up with the progress of the Monarch caterpillars when you visit the Greensboro Science Center, or follow them on our blog.