Conservation Creation: Crafting Corals

Coral reefs are some of our planet’s most beautiful and vital ecosystems. Created by corals, reef systems provide both food and shelter to a large variety of animals. These amazing animals sustain around 25% of ocean life, even though they only make up about 1% of the ocean. Not only are animals able to live in the reefs, but the algae that grows on the corals is an important food source for several different organisms. Corals and algae are in what we call a symbiotic relationship – meaning they both benefit from each other. Corals provide algae with a place to grow; at the same time, corals gain energy through the algae’s photosynthesis.

So what are corals? Corals are tiny animals, called polyps, that group together to form a larger structure. Once an initial skeletal structure is formed, tissue can begin to grow. Once tissue has formed, some corals maintain a rigid appearance (like staghorn coral), while other corals are soft (like waving hand coral). As you could imagine, the appearance and traits of corals are incredibly diverse. As unique as corals are, they all face similar issues in the ocean. Corals have very specific environments that they inhabit. These environments are negatively affected by climate change, but we can help corals by reducing our carbon footprint and fighting ocean pollution.

 

Now, for our DIY activity: here’s how you can craft a coral reef of your own!

What you’ll need: Coffee filters, pipe cleaners, bowls, water, food coloring

supplies

Step 1: Fill your bowls with about an inch of water and food coloring. You can have as many bowls and colors as you would like! Just remember that more food coloring = brighter colors.

dye

Step 2: Place your coffee filters upside down in the water. Be sure to allow the color to travel throughout the whole filter. (For younger kids, this can be a great opportunity to teach them about color mixing!) Once the color has made its way through the whole filter, set filters aside to dry overnight. Low on time? This process can be sped up with the help of a blow dryer.

filter

Step 3: Stack 2-4 coffee filters together, then push a pipe cleaner through the center. You will want to twist the end of the pipe cleaner into a small ball to keep the filters from sliding off. This will serve as the center of your coral.

pinch

Step 4: Pinch the bottom of the filters around the pipe cleaner, then wrap the pipe cleaner around the pinched section; this keeps the coral together.

repeat

Step 5: Repeat the process to create as many corals as you would like! In this way, you can create your own reef! Feel free to get even more creative by adding toy animals or whatever else you’d like to see in your reef. For an added challenge, research different types of corals and animals living together in the ocean and try to build your reef based off of that environment!

Conservation Creation: Jelly Jamboree

Without a doubt, jellies are one of Earth’s strangest animals. They have neither hearts nor brains but have managed to survive on our planet for over 500 million years! Often called jellyfish, they’re not actually fish – instead, they make up their own group of incredibly diverse animals. For example, the smallest jelly, the Irukanji, only grows to about the size of a thumbtack, while the Lion’s Mane Jelly can reach lengths of over 100 feet! Some jellies use stinging for defense and hunting, others can clone themselves, and others still can glow in the dark.

So, what do these diverse animals actually have in common? A jelly’s body consists of a bell (the round top of the jelly), a nerve net (instead of a brain), and a mouth organ.

At the Greensboro Science Center, we house three distinct species of jellies:

moon jelly 01Moon Jellies – typically found in Japan, they’re an aquarium favorite, primarily due to their hardiness and robust lifespan of approximately 12 months. Moon Jellies sting using the small, tentacle-like structures surrounding their bell. However, the Moon Jelly’s sting is so mild that most humans wouldn’t even realize it if they’d been stung. The long, thin structures that extend from the bell of the jelly, called oral arms, move foods such as brine shrimp and small planktons to the Moon Jelly’s central mouth.

blubber-jelly_3770.jpgBlubber Jellies – native to the Indo-Pacific regions and coastal Australia, these jellies have a unique way of acquiring their food. They ram their bodies into the sand to stir up tiny crustaceans and plankton to catch in their oral arms, which contain stinging cells and also act as a mouth. Tiny spaces along the arms process the food (rather than moving it to a central mouth, like the oral arms of Moon Jellies do). Blubbers come in three different color varieties – white, blue and maroon – and have a lifespan of around 10 months.

cassiopea-or-upside-down-jellyfish-shutterstock_173059469.jpgUpside Down Jellies – found in the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean Sea, these jellies are one of the world’s most unique jellies. They lay on their bells with oral arms pointing upwards towards the sunlight. Bacteria on the oral arms allow these animals to gain energy through photosynthesis… just like plants do! Upsides Down Jellies also eat plankton and small fish, which is warm, sunny waters make for a perfect environment for them to thrive.

At first glance, jellies may not seem to be up to much, but they’re actually doing a lot of good for our oceans! Not only do they provide a food source for many of our favorite animals, but they also help to stir the ocean, keeping it healthy. Unfortunately, climate change and plastic pollution are working against these amazing animals. If you’d like to help jellies and the animals that rely upon them, reduce your plastic usage and your carbon footprint. A couple of easy ways to do this? Switch from single-use plastic straws and bags to reusable options, and buy more local produce and products when available.

And now, it’s DIY time! Here’s how to make your own jelly slime:

DSC_5090For this activity, you’ll need:

– 1 bottle (4 oz) of Elmer’s school glue

– ½ teaspoon Borax (found in the laundry detergent aisle)

– Food coloring

– Plastic wrap

-2 bowls and 2 spoons

-1 cup of warm water

DSC_5093Step 1: Pour all of the glue into a bowl.

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_5100Step 2: Fill the empty glue bottle with warm water, then add it to the glue in the bowl and stir.

 

 

 

 

DSC_5101Step 3: Add the food coloring and mix well.

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_5104Step 4: In a separate bowl, mix the Borax with ½ cup of warm water until the Borax is dissolved.

 

 

 

 

Step 5: Slowly add the Borax solution to your glue mixture.

DSC_5114Step 6: Stir and knead the mixture until you have a bowl of slime!
DSC_5119

DSC_5124To store, place your slime in the middle of a square of plastic wrap. Twist the wrap around the slime, then add a small rubber band or paper clip to keep this in place. Your slime will last about two weeks.

DSC_5126 (1)FUN FACT: After your slime is wrapped up, gently touch the top; it’ll feel very similar to a real jelly!

During the month of November, join us on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30 and 2:30 in SciPlay Bay for a Jelly Jamboree!

shutterstock_129375317

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.

Lindsey Bat Detector_4730

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.

 

DIY Science: Water Cycle in a Bag!

With all the rain we have been experiencing in the Triad lately, we decided it would be the perfect opportunity to have a lesson on the water cycle!

For this experiment you will need the following:

  • Plastic ziplock bag
  • Sharpie (to draw clouds and waves)
  • ¼ cup of water
  • Blue food coloring
  • Painter’s tape

DSC_1352

Begin your experiment by drawing clouds around the top and water around the bottom of your plastic bag. This will serve as a visual aid of the water cycle and how it works.

DSC_1353

Next, fill your plastic bag with ¼ cup of water, and add about 4 drops of food coloring.

Seal your bag shut, and hang it in a window (we recommend using painter’s tape since it is easy to remove once your experiment is over.)

Now it’s time to let nature run its course! Check on your bag periodically and notice how much condensation your baggie collects over time.

DSC_5516.JPG

 

What’s the science?

In nature, the sun’s heat causes water to evaporate from streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans. As the water vapor rises, it condenses to form clouds when it reaches cooler air. When the clouds are full of water, or saturated, they release some of the water as rain. Then the cycle starts over again.

The same principle can be applied to your experiment. Over the next few days, you will see that the water has warmed in the sunlight and evaporated into vapor. As that vapor cooled it began changing back into liquid, just like a cloud. When enough water condensed, the air couldn’t hold it anymore and the water fell down in the form of precipitation.

Remember, it is important to note that an experiment uses a variable (something that changes) to answer a question. To turn this demonstration into an experiment, you have to change something! Check out these questions to get you started:

  • Does the location (North facing, South facing, partial shade, full sun, etc)  of the window have any impact on the cycle? 
  • Does the amount of food coloring used have any impact?
  • How does the outside temperature impact the experiment?

Give it a try and let us know how your experiment turned out on our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter pages using the hashtag #gscscience!

DIY Science: St. Patrick’s Day Slime!

DSC_0425

Today we are making some St. Patrick’s Day Slime! This is a great slime recipe to have on-hand, and make whenever. 

To get started you will need the following:

  • 1/2 Cup of clear or white glue {Elmer’s washable school glue works best}
  • 1/2 Cup of liquid starch
  • 1/2 Cup of warm water
  • Measuring cup
  • A large bowl and a sturdy mixing spoon
  • Food coloring, confetti, glitter {optional}

Start by diluting  1/2 cup of glue into 1/2 cup warm water,{ really mix to combine completely}. Wash out the measuring cup before using it for the liquid starch.

Add some color or glitter to you slime to make it festive! Remember when you add color to white glue, the color will be lighter. Use clear glue for jewel toned slime! Mix the glitter and color into the glue and water mixture.

Now pour in 1/2 cup of liquid starch and mix vigorously. You will see the slime immediately start to form.

You won’t be able to use a spoon for very long, so get ready to get your hands dirty! Switch to mixing with hands for a few minutes until you feel the majority of the liquid incorporated into the slime.

Place your slime in a clean, dry container or on a non-porous plate. Slime can be played with right away but it’s consistency changes a bit over the next 30 minutes to a smoother looking substance as opposed to the stringier slime you may originally see.

Note: Liquid starch slime gets better with time but can be used right away. Playing with it helps it set!

So what’s the science?

The glue is a liquid polymer, meaning that the tiny molecules in the glue are in strands like a chain. When you add liquid starch, the strands of the polymer glue hold together, this gives the slime it’s slimy feel. The liquid starch acts as a cross-linker that links all the polymer strands together.

Remember, it is important to note that an experiment uses a variable (something that changes) to answer a question. To turn this demonstration into an experiment, you have to change something! Check out these questions to get you started:

  • How does the ratio of glue to starch change the slime?
  • Does the brand of glue make a difference in the final slime product?
  • How does the temperature of the water affect the slime?

Give it a try and let us know how your experiment turned out on our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter pages using the hashtag #gscscience!

http://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/liquid-starch- slime-easy- sensory-play- recipe/

 

 

DIY Science: Make Your Own Rainbow

Today we are going to teach you how to create your own rainbows – rain or shine, day or night!

To start this experiment all you need is:dsc_0421

  • A clear, smooth sided, drinking glass or glass vase, filled almost to the top with water
  • Tape
  • Paper
  • A source of light (this can be the sun, a bright flashlight, or other light source)
  • Scissors
  • A dark room

Begin by filling a drinking glass or vase full of water.
Next, you will need to cut a slat in your sheet of paper (you will want to cut a vertical, thin rectangular shape).dsc_0429

Secure your slatted piece of paper to the outside of the glass so that it is centered more closely to the top of the glass. 

Turn on your flashlight, and shine it down at an angle so that the light hits the top of the water in the glass and — find your rainbow! It depends upon where your light angle hits the water and reflects unto the surface below as to how far away your rainbow will appear. Try moving your flashlight closer and farther away as well as adjusting the angle to the water to see the best rainbow.

dsc_0435

What’s the science?

You probably noticed that this doesn’t look like your average outdoor rainbow. The flashlight’s ray contains different colors that create light (such as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple). When you shine the light through the water, it bends, or refracts, and separates into the different colors. This is because the different colors (or wavelengths) of light behave slightly differently as they travel through our variables of water and glass. Notice the order of the colors is exactly the same as they are in a rainbow you see after a rain storm? This is because each color has a different wavelength with red having the longest wavelength, and violet the shortest. This is why red is at the top of the arch and violet is at the bottom.

Remember, it is important to note that an experiment uses a variable (something that changes) to answer a question. To turn this demonstration into an experiment, you have to change something! Check out these questions to get you started:

  • How does the placement of the paper affect the outcome?
  • Do different light angles change the size of the rainbow?
  • Does the size or shape of the glass affect the size or shape of the rainbow?

 

Give it a try and let us know how your experiment turned out on our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter pages using the hashtag #gscscience!

 

DIY Science: Secret Valentine Messages

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we’re making secret messages with invisible ink for you to send to that special someone!

For this experiment you will need:

  • Grape juice concentrate (thawed)
  • Paint brush or sponge
  • Cotton swabs
  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • Cup
  • Paper

secret_1

To get started with this experiment, mix together  1/4 cup of baking soda and 1/4 cup  of water. Not all the baking soda will dissolve, this is OK. This mixture will be your invisible ink.

Using a cotton swab or brush, write your secret message on a piece of paper with your invisible ink. Dip your cotton swab into the baking soda and water mixture frequently as you write.

secret_5

Let the message dry completely.

To read the secret message, paint a thin layer of grape juice concentrate across the paper with a paint brush or a sponge. You just need a light amount of juice, don’t soak the paper. Remember – grape juice stains, so make sure you wear an apron or old clothes!

secret_7

So, What’s the Science?

Grape juice concentrate is an acid, which as some of you might remember from past experiments reacts with baking soda, which is a base. When you paint the grape juice concentrate over the hidden message, it reacts with the baking soda, changing the color of the “invisible” ink! If you can easily see your message before going over it with the juice, the paper may have acid in it. Acid in paper can react with whatever is placed on the paper. This is why some craft and specialty papers are labeled “acid-free.”

As always, it is important to note that an experiment uses a variable (something that changes) to answer a question. To turn this demonstration into an experiment, you have to change something! Check out these questions to get you started:

  • How do different fruit juices affect the outcome of the experiment?
  • Do different types of paper react differently?

Give it a try and let us know how your experiment turned out on our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter pages using the hashtag #gscscience!