Preparing for Winter: Reptiles & Amphibians

The Greensboro Science Center is home to a number of reptiles and amphibians, including four awesome Aldabra tortoises! Although they live at the GSC all year long, during your winter visit, you won’t see these guys out and about in our zoo.

As cold-blooded animals, Aldabra tortoises need warm weather to stay healthy. When temperatures dip below about 60 degrees, they remain inside their blockhouses where the temperature is maintained at a toasty 80 degrees and where they have access to heat lamps and UV lamps.

You probably notice in your very own backyard that you don’t see turtles, snakes, frogs, and the like during winter. Many of these animals hibernate during the colder months. If you see one around as the temperatures begin to cool, the best thing to do is to leave it alone. If the animal is in an unsafe location, you can move it to a brushy area where it can burrow and hide. To help local reptiles and amphibians, you can create brush piles in your yard where they can stay warm and safe through winter!

Turtle Tagging

Last week, a volunteer group from Burlington Christian Academy worked with our horticulture team to clean up the bioremediation cell adjacent to our parking lot. (BTW, bioremediation cell is a scientific way of describing a landscaped area containing plants that remove heavy metals from parking lot runoff so these toxic chemicals don’t enter our water supply.) During this work, they stumbled upon – almost literally – a partially-hidden box turtle!

The GSC participates in the Box Turtle Connection, a long-term study of eastern box turtles to understand more about their status, trends, and threats, as well as to develop strategies for long-term conservation of the species. Any box turtles found on or around GSC grounds are added to the database.

We collected morphometric (which is a science-y way of saying size and shape)  measurements such as weight, length, and width, and we record sex and age.

DSC_6959DSC_6948DSC_6951

Using a turtle ID code matrix, we made small indentations on the turtle’s marginal and peripheral carapace scutes. In other words, we filed small triangles into the outer-most part of the turtle’s shell in a particular pattern that is specific to that individual. This acts as an identifier should we find this turtle again someday.

DSC_6969

Finally, a small radio transmitter was affixed to this turtle’s shell so we can track its movements. The tag was adhered to the shell in a location that won’t impact the turtle’s mobility or ability to move through vegetation. Once the adhesive dried, the turtle was returned the same location it was found.

DSC_7071

Box turtles hibernate over winter, so we will not attempt to radio-track the turtle until the weather warms next year. Using radio telemetry, we’ll be able to track the movements of the turtle. By knowing the GPS coordinates of the turtle’s movements we can better understand the territory this turtle has and how far it travels in the warmer months. All of this information adds to our collective knowledge of the eastern box turtle!

Why is this research important?

While eastern box turtles can be found across North Carolina, populations are declining from habitat fragmentation and road-related mortality – as well as from being collected as a pet. They are a long-lived animal (more than 25 years), so they take years to reach sexual maturity. Therefore, it takes a long time for them to recover from population declines. Collecting and interpreting data about these animals now can help us protect them in the future!

What should you do if you find a box turtle?

If you find a box turtle attempting to cross a road, never take it home! Instead, merely help it cross because it will continue to try and return to its birthplace. Box turtles have a homing instinct, similar to birds, so they return to the same location year over year to build nests.

This time of year box turtles are looking for hibernation spaces. In late fall or over winter – although it is uncommon – you may see one bed down in brush or plant debris. If you find a box turtle in cold weather, be sure to leave it be. Animals that hibernate drastically reduce their metabolism to survive the winter when food sources cannot easily be found. Arousing them from hibernation is dangerous because they won’t be able to replenish the energy it takes to come out of hibernation!

Conservation Creation: Sensational Spiders

Halloween is right around the corner – which means we’re beginning to see lots of spooky decorations around town! These decorations often include an animal that strikes fear in the heart of many: the spider.

Spiders are commonly listed as one of the things people fear most in the United States. However, these animals play an important role in our ecosystems and do more for us than people may realize. But, before we get to that, what exactly is a spider?

Spiders are arachnids, meaning that they have 2 body segments and 8 legs. In the United States alone, we have more than 3,000 spider species present – which is only a fraction of the over 40,000 species found worldwide. Even with all of these different spider species present, very few are actually dangerous to humans. In North Carolina, the black widow and brown recluse are the only spiders with a venom that is able to harm a human. However, these spiders are small and prefer cool, damp places, so meeting one of them is unlikely.

Spiders and other arachnids have a diet that consists almost entirely of insects. In fact, spiders consume an estimated 400 million tons (or 800 billion pounds) of insects every year!

In addition to spiders eliminating unwanted insect pests from our daily lives, they have also contributed to science and technology in other fascinating ways. For example, did you know that spiders’ webs inspired the creation of mosquito nets? Before mosquito nets, many people would actually bring web weaving spiders (called orb weavers) into their children’s rooms to catch mosquitos and prevent malaria.

Speaking of spider webs, spider silk is the strongest known material in the world. A strand of spider silk is up to 5 times as strong as a string of steel the same size! For this reason, spider silk is often used in research to develop materials like Kevlar and other synthetic materials.

To learn more about these amazing arachnids and help create a community web, remember to join our educators in Jeansboro Junction at the Greensboro Science Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30am and 2:30pm throughout the month of October.

 

Now that you have a new found love of spiders…

We’re sure you would like more of them around your home! We’re here to help you with that, with a DIY spider activity that will be perfect for your Halloween decorations!

What you will need:

  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • straws (or pipe cleaners)
  • scissors
  • paint
  • googly eyes
  • a paint brush

Step 1: Cut a toilet paper tube in half and glue it to the center of a whole toilet paper tube. Allow for the glue to dry.

Step 1

Step 2: Cut 4 straws in half so that you have 8. Using a little glue on the inside of the full toilet paper tube, adhere these to create the legs of your spider. (If you are comfortable, hot glue will speed up this process)

Step 2 Part 1Step 2 Part 2

Step 3: Paint your spider. For an added challenge, take pictures of spiders you find in your yard or other natural areas and try to paint your spiders to look like them!

Step 3

Step 4: Attach googly eyes (or paint eyes) on your spider. Spiders can have anywhere from 2-8 eyes so add any number that you like!

Step 4

Step 5: Allow for all of the paint and glue to dry before decorating your home with these upcycled arachnids. Happy Halloween!

Conservation Creation: Red Panda-monium, featuring DIY Seed Bombs!

Usha Red Panda DSC_5036

Red pandas are undeniably one of the world’s cutest animals. With bright red fur, striking facial features and a big fluffy tail, these animals have quickly become popular throughout the internet and in the hearts of our guests. However, these traits serve a larger purpose than to pull at our heartstrings! Red pandas are native to Southeast Asia, particularly in the temperate forests near the Himalayan Mountains. In these areas, temperatures remain cool and that large fluffy tail is used almost like a blanket to keep these small animals warm. In addition to providing warmth, that beautiful thick red fur helps these animals camouflage themselves within the red lichens that grow in their natural habitat.

Believe it or not, the red panda is the original panda. Red pandas were discovered around 50 years before the black and white giant pandas that we typically think of. These animals have caused quite a headache for scientists over the years as they’ve tried to figure out the relationship between red pandas and giant pandas.

Currently, red pandas are classified in their own unique family called Ailuridae. However different these animals may seem, they do share some commonality. For one, both the red panda and the giant panda love to eat bamboo! These animals are also both greatly affected by habitat loss. Here at the Greensboro Science Center we support the Red Panda Network, an organization dedicated to preserving these animals. You can also help red pandas by donating to the Red Panda Network here (https://www.redpandanetwork.org) and by continuing to visit the Greensboro Science Center and other AZA accredited zoos and aquariums!

Remember to join us during the month of September on Tuesdays and Thurdsays at 10:30am and 2:30pm at our red panda habitat to participate in our Conservation Creation activity as well as on September 14thfor Red Panda Day!

While red pandas live thousands of miles away from us, there are things we can do for animals effected by habitat loss right here in North Carolina! Some of these animals include our local pollinators such as bees and butterflies. As we move in to the cooler months of fall, we can begin planting flowers and other plants to help out these animals. To get started, we have a cool DIY activity for you to do at home that will be fun for you and beneficial to our local pollinators: Seed Bombs!

DIY Seed Bombs

What you will need: Air-dry clay, potting soil or compost, water, seeds, a large mixing bowl, a measuring cup of any size

To choose seeds that will be the most beneficial to your area, visit this website: https://www.ourstate.com/tips-bee-friendly-garden-north-carolina/

Seed-Bomb-Ingredients

Seed bomb ingredients

Step 1: Take 1 part clay, 1 part water, and 2 parts potting soil or compost and combine them in your mixing bowl.

Seed-Bomb-Combine-Ingredients

Combine 1 part clay, 1 part water, and 2 parts potting soil or compost

Step 2: Use your hands (or a large spoon) to mix the ingredients together, adding water as necessary. Your final mixture should be similar to Play-Doh in consistency.

Seed-Bomb-Mix-Ingredients

Mix ingredients, adding water as necessary, until the mixture has a Play-Doh-like consistency

Step 3: Add your seeds of choice to the mixture and mix thoroughly.

Seed-Bomb-Add-Seeds

Add seeds

Step 4: Form the mixture into balls or another fun shape of your choosing.

Seed-Bomb-Shape-Into-Balls

Form the mixture into balls

Step 5: Allow 2-3 days for your seed bombs to dry and then toss them wherever you would like your seed bombs to grow! Seed bombs don’t require care or attention so they can be placed wherever you would like to see your flowers. Visit them often in the Fall and Spring to see if you have any insect visitors!

Seed-Bomb-Final

Completed seed bombs!

Studying Bats for Species Conservation

The Greensboro Science Center’s Conservation and Research department is actively involved in saving the seven bat species found right here in the Piedmont. Bats in North Carolina are insectivores, meaning they consume insects. Every night from late spring until early fall, you may see bats swooping through the skies, foraging for insects. They are a great, natural pesticide – which is just one of the endearing qualities that makes us want to protect them!

In 2011, researchers began to see signs of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) on hibernating bats in the mountains. WNS is a fungus that adheres to the bats’ skin, particularly their muzzles and wings. The fungus is an irritant that causes the bats to wake from torpor, or hibernation. The process of waking burns a lot of calories, so the bats are hungry, but in winter, there are no insects to eat to sustain them. Large numbers of bats have perished from WNS by burning up their fat reserves before their spring emergence. Some species of bats are more prone to WNS than others, so some species have seen a much more dramatic decline than others.

Researchers across the country, particularly in states impacted by WNS, want to know the abundance and diversity of bats. Researchers collect this information to help construct a long-term understanding of populations before, during and after WNS. It allows scientists to make more informed decisions to combat the disease.

In order to understand what species live here, we sample the population. Since bats use echolocation, we use ultra-sonic recording devices to record calls. We can then interpret the call to identify the species and discover whether they are foraging or navigating their environment. We also use mist-nets to catch bats and obtain diversity and abundance information. This allows us to not only know what species is present, but also the sex ratio, age, and overall health of our bat populations.

Mist-netting is a technique where you string a mist-net between tall poles mounted in the ground like flag poles. Mist nets range in size from 3 meters to 12meters and can be combined to reach up to 30 meters high. Nets are placed at sundown and remain until 1:00am, with researchers checking them every eight minutes. Bats typically go through two rounds of foraging, one at sundown and one just before the sun rises. Mist nets look and feel like hair nets and they are designed such that bats fly into them and safely fall into a net pouch. Researchers carefully remove the bat from the net and place them into a mesh bag.

Once we have a “bat in hand”, we can collect information, including weight (1), species (2), arm length (3), age (4), gender (5), and wing rating (6). Then, we place an ID band on its wing (7) and release it so it can continue foraging. All data collected from these outings are tracked by the state.

The combination of acoustic recordings and mist-netting gives us an understanding of our bat populations. This data allows us to look at trends over time and see how species diversity and abundance change in response to situations like WNS. From this information we can make informed decisions on maintaining bat roosts, including caves, bridges and forests. Wildlife is wild and we are here to guide decisions that allow wildlife to thrive! Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so we need as much data as we can gather before we make any decision that could alter the natural behaviors or species composition in a habitat.

It is thanks to years of data collection that we have seen a plateau in the decline of WNS-impacted species. It is encouraging to think the large scale declines are coming to an end. We have also seen juveniles of those impacted species, which gives us hope that species are trying to rebound. Bat work will continue to help researchers understand this unique mammal and to help protect their habitats.

Busy Bees and Other Prominent Pollinators

Here at the Greensboro Science Center, we love all animals – big and small! One of our smallest residents is perhaps one of our most important: the honey bee.

Bees are social insects that live in colonies all over the world. These colonies consist of one queen, female worker bees and male drones. Worker bees, which make up the majority of the hive’s population, do all of the work – from gathering nectar to creating honey and building the hive. Worker bees have to be incredibly efficient because their lifespan is only around 45 days, which is much less than the lifespan of their queen, who can live up to 7 years! Drones are there only to help reproduce and keep the hive populated.

Honey bees are one of our most important pollinators. When they fly from flower to flower looking for nectar, pollen gets stuck on their hairy legs. When they are visiting other flowers, some of that pollen will fall off – and that is how those plants become pollinated. Through this process, we estimate that bees are responsible for pollinating plants that create 1/3 of the food that we eat here in the United States! Unfortunately, bee populations have been decreasing, which not only affects wildlife, but us as well.

You can help bees by choosing plants that they like for your gardens at home such as Purple Coneflower, Great Blue Lobelia and Goldenrod. You can also join us at the Greensboro Science Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30am and 2:30pm in August by our beehives in Friendly Farm to get a packet of seeds as well as help create a community beehive from bottle caps!

Fun Fact: Do you know what to do when you’ve been stung by a bee? Believe it or not, you don’t want to swat at the insect! When a honey bee gets crushed, it releases a pheromone that signals danger to other bees which causes them to swarm. When a bee stings, its stinger comes out so it cannot sting you more than once. Remain calm, brush the bee off and remove the stinger from your skin.

Now for an easy DIY way of helping bees beat the August heat!

Just like us, bees and other pollinators need water to stay healthy. You can help them by leaving trays of water out for them!

What you will need: A tray like a pie tin or small bowl, marbles or decorative stones, and fresh water.

Bee-Materials

Step 1: Place your marbles or stones into the tray.

Bee-Marbles

Step 2: Pour water into the tray so that the tops of your marbles or stones are just above the water. The idea is that they will give insects something to sit on so they can drink without risk of drowning.

Bee-Marbles-Water

Step 3: Place your tray somewhere in your yard for bees and other insects to stop and get a drink! If you don’t like insects near you or your house, you will want to place these somewhere that you won’t be bothered by them.

 

If you want to monitor your station to see who drops by, consider tracking your visitors with the iNaturalist app! You can read up on this app in our previous Conservation Creation blog. And don’t forget to get plenty of water yourself and stay hydrated in the summer heat!

Conservation Creation – iNaturalist + Monkey Madness

If you’ve been to the Greensboro Science Center or any other zoo or aquarium, you’ve probably seen many animals with a “Conservation Status” listed on their exhibit signage. These statuses range from ‘Extinct’ to ‘Least Concern.’ ‘Extinct’ means that there are either no more instances of that animal left in the wild, or that the ones remaining have no chance of reproducing. ‘Least Concern’ means that this animal is abundant in the wild and that there are currently no concerns revolving around its population numbers. Scientists have many ways of determining how many animals of a species exist in the wild – methods ranging from recording calls in the forest or tagging animals in the ocean to be tracked with innovative technology.

While these methods can give us an idea of what animal populations look like, there are many situations in which a population doesn’t fit into a specific category. For example, you may see an animal that is listed as ‘Data Deficient.’ This means there isn’t enough information to determine what their population realistically looks like. This applies to many ocean animals, since they can be difficult to track due to the ocean’s vastness. There are other instances where an animal can be listed as ‘Least Concern’ overall, but still be vulnerable in certain areas. This is why it’s important to be mindful of wildlife when you encounter it, regardless of an animal’s conservation status.

Now, for an activity! This month, instead of a craft, we’ll be sending you on an adventure! All you will need is a smartphone or tablet and the spirit of a biologist. Start by downloading the app, iNaturalist. This is a free app for Apple and Android that will allow you to track local wildlife and help scientists learn about the animal populations near you! Learn more about the app by visiting inaturalist.org.

wp

Once you have downloaded the app, you can begin your adventure! You’ll be taking photos of the plants and animals you find. If you already know what you’re looking at, you can identify it yourself on the app. If you don’t know what you’ve found, however, other users of the app can help you figure out what it is.

By participating, you’ll be helping scientists to learn about the plants and animals near you, giving them insight on what needs to be done to help and protect these beings. You can use iNaturalist anywhere you go – including your home, a vacation spot or one of Greensboro’s beautiful parks. Now… break out your safari hat and begin your journey as a Citizen Scientist!

Want more conservation? Get hands-on at the GSC! During July 2019, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30 & 2:30, join our educators at the howler monkey exhibit to learn about these monkeys and how they’re being affected by habitat loss. While there, you can make a seed bomb – made from seeds of local plants – to take home to enrich your local wildlife habitats!