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.

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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! 

Conservation Creation: Terrific Turtles

Ever wonder what the difference is between a turtle and a tortoise? To answer this, you must first know that all tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. This is because all tortoises and turtles belong to the Testudine family, meaning they are reptiles with a hard shell. However, turtles break off into other smaller families (dependent upon their traits). The most obvious difference is that tortoises only live on land, while turtles will spend at least some of the time, if not a majority of their life, in the water. Another distinguishing characteristic is that tortoises are herbivores (vegetarians), while turtles are omnivores, eating both plants and living creatures like insects.

While there are several differences between tortoises and turtles, one thing they have in common is their need for protection. Due to their hard outer shell, these animals are well equipped to protect themselves from the natural predators who see them as a potential meal. However, they are not prepared to save themselves from human threats (like habitat loss). This is why it is important to make sure that we don’t disturb wild turtles or tortoises when we see them and make sure to keep pets like cats and dogs inside so that they don’t become a potential predator for one of our shelled friends. We can also help by being cautious drivers. Many turtles have an internal homing sense and desire to stay close to their original home. This sometimes means crossing roads to find food or potential mates, then returning home. If you do see a turtle in the road and want to help, make sure that you move them to the side they are trying to get to, and only do this if you are safely able to do so.

Now… for some fun! This month, we will show you how to use bottles to make a turtle bank! If you want to take an extra step to help turtles and tortoises, consider donating to the following organizations, which we also support here at the Greensboro Science Center:

The Orianne Society: Nonprofit dedicated to the conservation of reptiles, amphibians, and the lands they inhabit.

The Turtle Survival Alliance : Nonprofit dedicated to conserving struggling turtle and tortoise populations through a variety of techniques including breeding programs and habitat protection.

 

DIY Steps

What you will need: plastic bottles, scissors, glue, fun foam or craft felt, a marker, craft supplies of your choice, and an X-ACTO knife or sharp blade (using adult assistance).

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Step 1: Using the X-ACTO knife, cut off the bottom of a plastic bottle, then use scissors to smooth out the edge.

Step 2: Place the bottom of the plastic bottle on top of your foam or felt, then use your marker to trace a circle around it.

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Step 3: Use your marker to draw a tail, a head and feet on to the circle, then cut out your turtle shape.

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Step 4: Put glue on the rim of the plastic bottle bottom from earlier and place it on top of your turtle base. Allow it to dry.

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Step 5: Use your X-ACTO knife to make a small slit in the bottom of your turtle.

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Step 6: Get creative! Add your own decorations to your turtle’s shell. If you use glue to adhere your embellishments, make sure to allow everything to dry before using your bank. You can also use your creation to store small household items such as buttons, screws or headphones!

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….

We all know what a Solar System is, right? It’s a collection of planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and other smaller bits (all held together by the gravity between them) that circles around a star — in our case, the Sun — that stands at the center of the whole thing. So, a solar system is where we live. But where does our solar system “live”? What happens when we zoom out and see the effect of gravity at a much larger level?

Our solar system and at least 100 billion other star systems are part of a larger grouping, also held together by the gravity between them, called a GALAXY. And just like the planets of our solar system tend to orbit in a flattened disk or plane around the sun, all the billions of stars that make up our Galaxy orbit the center in a highly flattened disk. In fact, our galaxy is pretty much as flat as a pancake; it’s disk is 1,000 times longer across from side to side than it is thick from top to bottom! If we could zoom out from our galaxy, the “Milky Way,” and see it from afar, it would look like a huge pinwheel or whirlpool of stars, which is why ours and many others are called SPIRAL GALAXIES.

There are something like 100 billion visible-to-us galaxies in the universe. When we look at them, each one is quite literally “a galaxy far, far away.” They are so far away that the light we see from them, traveling at a speed of nearly 6 trillion miles per year, takes millions of years to reach us. Because of that, we see each galaxy “a long, long time ago” — not as it is today, but as it was when its light first started the journey through space to get to us.

For the first time ever, the GSC now has a powerful new telescope which, outfitted with a sensitive video camera, lets us view live, real-time images of distant galaxies from right outside our front doors! Watch for us to offer public viewings in the months ahead. In the meantime, here are are some actual views of galaxies with our new scope…

May the Force be with you.

The Science of Beer

Beer is made from four basic ingredients: a grain (usually barley but sometimes wheat or rye), water, hops, and yeast. The basic idea is to extract the sugars from the grains so that the yeast can become alcohol and carbon dioxide, leading to beer.

First, the grains are harvested and processed by heating, drying out and cracking – a step called malting. The main goal of malting is to isolate the enzymes needed for brewing. An enzyme is a protein molecule in cells that works as a catalyst to speed up chemical reactions.

Next, the grains go through a process known as mashing. The processed grains are steeped in hot water for about an hour (similar to making tea… but it’s beer tea). This activates the enzymes in the grains, causing them to break down and release sugars. Once this is all done, the water is drained from the mash, which is now full of sugar from the grains. This sticky, sweet liquid is called wort. It’s basically unmade beer, sort of like how dough is unmade bread.

The wort is boiled for about an hour while hops and other spices are added several times to create different brews. Hops are a vine plant’s small, green cone-like fruits. They provide bitterness to balance out all the sugar in the wort. They also provide flavor and act as a natural preservative, which is what they were first used for.

The cooled, strained and filtered wort is then put into a fermenting vessel to which yeast is added. At this point, the brewing is complete and fermentation begins. During this time, the beer is stored for a couple of weeks at room temperature (in the case of ales) or several weeks at cold temperatures (in the case of lagers), while the yeast eats up all the sugar in the wort and spits out carbon dioxide and alcohol waste products. Yum!

At this point, alcoholic beer is born. However, it’s still in a flat and uncarbonated state. This flat beer is bottled and can either be artificially carbonated like a soda, or if it’s going to be ‘bottle conditioned’, allowed to naturally carbonate via the carbon dioxide the yeast produces.

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After allowing the beer to age for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, you can drink the beer – and it’s delicious!

 

Conservation Creation: April Showers

In some way or another, we are all connected by water. Water is not only necessary for our survival, it makes our lives better in countless ways! To name just a few examples, water is used for our plumbing systems, growing the plants that become our food, and keeping our boats afloat so that they can transport goods all over the world. We even use water for recreation: when we kayak, swim or visit water parks! It’s safe to say that water is one of our most important resources.

So, how does water connect all of us? Through the water cycle! When the Earth heats up, water evaporates and begins to collect in the clouds. Once the evaporated water begins to cool, droplets form and return to Earth in the form of precipitation (think rain or snow). You can learn more about precipitation and weather in the GSC’s Weather Gallery on your next visit!

To see what the water cycle looks like in action, follow the steps below for this month’s Conservation Creation activity, Storm in a Cup.

What you’ll need: A glass, a small container, blue food coloring, an eyedropper, shaving cream, and water

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Step 1: Fill the glass with water, leaving about 1-2 inches at the top for the “cloud”. In the small container, mix water and blue food coloring. The resulting blue water will be your “rain”.

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Step 2: Add shaving cream to the glass of water, filling to the rim. This will form the “cloud”.

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Step 3: Use the eyedropper to drop blue water into the center of your cloud. It may take a while for the rain to break through the shaving cream, but once it does, your cup will resemble a storm.

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For an additional lesson, see how long it takes for all of the water in the cup to turn blue. This can serve as a model for pollution!

Since all water is connected through the water cycle, it’s important for us to do all that we can to keep our water clean. You can learn more about how to get involved in keeping our water clean through the City of Greensboro Water Resources website!

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!

Species Sampling: Crayfish

In late January, with temperatures hovering in the low 30s, a team of GSC staffers took to the streams to identify crayfish. Why, you might ask, would you wait for such a cold day for this particular project? We, the marketing department, had the same question as we were unceremoniously dragged from our heated office spaces to document the activity. According to our fearless leaders, Lindsey Zarecky, the GSC’s VP of Conservation and Research, and Brena Jones, of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, digging up crayfish is actually one area of research that lends itself to a winter excursion. The lack of new growth present at this time of year makes it easier to spot crayfish burrows and holes in the streambed.

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We know what you’re thinking… crayfish aren’t all that exciting. We thought so, too, initially. But read on! We’re going to share some truly fascinating factoids about a species present in our own backyards.

The first step to identifying crayfish, we learned, is locating them. Crayfish are burrowers. They are categorized based upon their habitat preference as primary burrowers (meaning they spend most of their time in burrows), secondary burrowers (meaning they are more often found in streams than burrows), or tertiary burrowers (meaning they are only found in burrows during breeding season). In order to find the animals, our team walked slowly through the stream, lifting rocks and looking for movement and searching for raised mounds that could indicate the presence of a burrow.

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Once the crayfish were found, the real fun began. Each animal was first identified by looking for several characteristics that distinguish one species from another. When it comes to pincher claws on a crayfish, size matters – for identification purposes, of course. The fat pinchers of the Cambarus are relatively obvious when compared with the long, narrow pincher claws of the Procambarus. Since crayfish can regenerate their claws, a tip Brena had for our team was to always look at the bigger claw for better accuracy.

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In addition to pincher claw size, the width between the lines on top of the animal’s carapace (or top shell), the presence or absence of spines on the carapace, and the pointiness or bluntness of the rostrum (which is a fancy word for the space between the eyes) can all be used for identification purposes. With that being said, there are a lot of undescribed species of crayfish in North Carolina, which can make identification challenging!

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Once the species was identified, some – ahem – personal information was also collected and recorded, such as the overall size and the sex. Males, Brena showed us, have an extra set of swimmerets, rigid in nature, on the underside of their tail. Each animal was also given a gentle squeeze. Pardon the scientific terminology here: a “squishy” crayfish may have recently molted. A shed exoskeleton means a growing crayfish!

Now, on to the big questions: why, exactly, are we digging up crayfish? Well, scientists, including the GSC’s own Lindsey Zarecky, are studying the effects of urbanization on wildlife. The recent sampling of species performed in our stream will establish a baseline for comparison as our facility continues to grow and expand. Knowing what the ecosystem looks like before, during and after construction will help scientists understand how to find a balance between continued development and maintaining native wildlife populations. The ultimate goal is to discover how to create a scenario where everyone wins – both humans and wildlife alike.