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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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!

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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!

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