Monday, November 30, 2009

Naked Mole-Rats Make News

Our naked mole-rat colony is one of the most popular Life Science exhibits at Pacific Science Center. And why not? They’re curious looking, they display humorous behavior, and they never fail to evoke a response – positive or negative – from visitors. Now this east African subterranean species of rodent is in the news!

An Associated Press article reports that University of Texas, San Antonio’s Barshop Institute for Longevity & Aging Studies is studying naked mole-rats. Scientists are hoping that these little guys can unlock the secrets to aging, strokes and even cancer. At least six other universities are also investigating why naked mole rats live so long, can withstand oxygen deprivation for long periods of time, and maybe even resist pain.

The Life Sciences team has long been aware of the longevity of naked mole rats. Our colony is over 16 years old. Some of the original members may still be a part of the colony today! With some recent changes in husbandry protocols we have a new generation of pups to observe.

Staff at Pacific Science Center cannot confirm that naked mole-rats do not feel pain, nor that they can survive in oxygen starved conditions. “I believe those findings, but I’d rather err on the side of caution with our colony” says Sarah Moore, Life Sciences Manager. “When we have given them injections as part of a treatment plan, the animals appear to feel something. They learn to avoid us if they know we are doing something unpleasant – whether they are expecting pain or just not wanting to be handled, they are certainly not happy about it. On the other hand, they anticipate feedings with excitement. So when you hear that they do not experience pain the same way as other mammals – they still have things they do and don’t like, and we try to make their (exceptionally long) lives enjoyable.”

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fresh Sheet - November 27, 2009

“Fresh Sheet” is our weekly shipment report of pupae on display in the emerging window. Visit Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House and meet our newest residents.


40 - Anartia amathea (Scarlet Peacock)
30 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
50 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
05 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
20 - Catonephele orites (Orange-banded shoemaker)
20 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
09 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
35 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
21 - Mechanitis polymnia (Polymnia Tigerwing)
20 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)
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Monday, November 23, 2009

Tide Pool Etiquette, Part 2

For many of our visitors, one of the most memorable experiences they can have at Pacific Science Center is at our Puget Sound Saltwater Tide Pool. But it’s not just about playing in water and touching weird things. Our goal in having a Tide Pool is to provide visitors with an opportunity to see and touch some of the many organisms that make Puget Sound unique and to learn how to interact with them in the wild. So whether you’re visiting our touch tank or headed out to the beach, we ask that you keep the following protocol in mind.

One sea animal that is common both in Puget Sound and in our Tide Pool is the sea anemone. A kid might say it resembles a toothbrush with a suction cup at the bottom. Sea anemones are also often mistaken for plants. In reality, they are animals. Although it is tempting to try to peel them off of rocks, this can hurt them. It is best to leave an anemone where it is. If you are curious, touch the anemone with two gentle fingers. Watch out for little ones because they may use something else, like their tongues!

Sea stars look rough and sturdy but they are fragile like most other tide pool animals! Like sea anemones, sea stars also stick to rocks, clams, and the sea floor. Do you think it would be a good idea to pull a sea star away from a rock? Of course not! This tears off the tiny tube feet that they use to hold onto things and to move around. You can touch a sea star with two fingers and feel its rough endoskeleton, but please never pull one off of any surface!

In our tide pool, we have a Plexiglas box of hermit crabs that visitors can hold. In the wild, it may be more difficult to find hermit crabs. They usually hide out under big rocks. No matter where you find them, treat them with care! Don’t forget - they can pinch you. At the seashore, stay close to the ground when you hold a hermit crab, in case you drop it. In our tide pool we tell our visitors that if they want to pick up a hermit crab, they must keep their hands over or in the water. We also tell our visitors to put the hermit crabs back in their box so they won’t get eaten by anemones or sea stars. In the wild there isn’t a box to protect hermit crabs but still, you should put a hermit crab back where you found it. Please don’t take it away from its home.

Finally, there are some animals you just shouldn’t touch whether you are visiting our tide pool or visiting a beach, including all species of fish. In Pacific Science Center’s tide pool, we have a very special fish: “Grunty,” the Grunt sculpin, our tide pool mascot. He is very cute and tempting to touch because he tends to swim in the shallow areas within easy reach of visitors. Grunty, like all fish, has a special mucus membrane over his scales that protects him from disease. If you touch a fish, you might take off that protective coating. Remember, without touching fish you can still learn a great deal about them. Observe how they use their fins to swim or compare how a small fish swims as opposed to a bigger fish.

If you keep in mind these few guidelines, you and all of the animals you find should have a great time the next time you visit the seashore or Pacific Science Center!

This is the follow up to Nancy’s November 10, 2009 article on Tide Pool Etiquette . Our guest author/ photographer is a Volunteer and a Discovery Corps Internship Graduate.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

The Multispecies Aquarium Community

You never know what you’ll find when you open the refrigerator in Pacific Science Center’s Animal Care room. Take for instance this past week. Inside the 40°F refrigerator, slowly swimming around in a plastic container were Flopsy, Mopsy and Peter Cottongills, our resident Axolotls. What were they doing there?

For almost a year our trio of Mexican axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum) has lived in freshwater aquatic bliss only having to share their tank with a few docile guppies. Now the neighborhood has changed. Animal Care has recently acquired some African dwarf frogs (Hymenochirus boettgeri). What could be a better home for the dwarf frogs than the Axolotl tank?

Multispecies aquaria can be challenging to create. We must consider the temperature, salinity and pH of the water that the different species need. Are their environments compatible? With a little research we learned that the freshwater requirements of axolotls, frogs and guppies are pretty much the same.

Next we wondered: Can the African dwarf frogs peacefully coexist with moderately aggressive axolotls? Or should a separate apartment be created for the smaller animals? Considering that the tiny and aptly named African dwarf frogs are just about bite-sized for an axolotl, we elected not to test our luck. We reconfigured the aquarium with a pane of Plexiglas dividing a small portion of the tank for the frogs.

In addition to making spatial arrangements for our new dwarf frog residents we also gave the tank a full clean. As a regular readers may recall, keeping a clean aquarium for axolotls has been difficult. In the meantime, Flopsy, Mopsy and Peter Cottongills took up temporary residence inside the refrigerator, which gave a little shock to Animal Caretakers dropping off their lunches first thing in the morning.

The aquarium has since been put back together and our aquatic animals appear to be happy and healthy. Come check out our new multispecies aquarium on view for the public.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Elphaba's Litter

In our last Naked mole-rat article, we announced that one of our two breeding female mole-rats was days away from delivering a litter to the colony. Life Sciences and other Pacific Science Center staff as well as many of our readers have been waiting anxiously as the pregnant female grew.

On Friday, November 13, “Elphaba” gave birth to ten pups. By Saturday morning, it was clear that all was not well with them. Four were found dead that morning, another one Sunday and the remaining five died on the night of November 16. We have lost pups before, but this does not fit a familiar pattern. It is not uncommon for one or two poorly developed animals to be lost the first day. But when larger numbers have failed, they have appeared to thrive until sometime between days 5 and 10. This rapid, early loss is unexpected and we are working with our vet to seek some necropsy information to help explain the phenomenon.

This occurrence is of particular concern because the colony as a whole has shown so many signs of improving health. Above all, we want to rule out any conditions that reflect a threat to the remaining animals.

While we were focusing on Elphaba and her pregnancy, we also noticed that Galinda appears to be pregnant again! We must also keep in mind that nearly all mole-rat colonies only have one queen. Our situation is highly unusual. There is reason to believe that a colony with two queens is untenable in the long-term. We will be watching Galinda’s litter anxiously when it is born. If her pups thrive, it may be a clue as to the status of the two rival queens. If the pups do poorly, we will go back to looking for underlying health problems. Stay tuned!

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Fresh Sheet – November 13, 2009

“Fresh Sheet” is our weekly shipment report of pupae on display in the emerging window. Visit Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House and meet our newest residents.

El Salvador

40 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
15 - Colobura dirce (Mosaic butterfly)
30 - Consul fabius (Tiger Leafwing)
08 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
14 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
100 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
25 - Myselia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
40 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
20 - Papilio pilumnus (Three-tailed Swallowtail)
05 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

Los Angeles

17 - Charaxes brutus (White-barred Charaxes)
02 - Charaxes candiope (Green-veined Charaxes)
04 - Charaxes castor (Giant Charaxes)
07 - Charaxes cithaeron (Blue-spotted Charexes)
08 - Charaxes protoclea (Flame-bordered Charexes)
10 - Charaxes violetta (Violet-spotted Emperor)
22 - Danaus genutia (Common Tiger)
05 - Euphaedra neophron (Gold-banded Forester)
04 - Euxanthes wakefieldi (Forest Queen)
08 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay)
40 - Hypolimnas bolina (Great Eggfly)
14 - Papilio helenus (Red Helen)
20 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail)
20 - Papilio memnon (Great Mormon)
08 - Papilio nephelus (Yellow Helen)
14 - Papilio nireus (Blue-banded Swallowtail)
19 - Papilio polytes (Polite swallowtail)
10 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail)
14 - Parthenos sylvia lilacinus (Blue Clipper)
04 - Parthenos sylvia philppensis (The Clipper)

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tide Pool Etiquette - Part 1

If you’ve ever been to the Puget Sound Saltwater Tide Pool at Pacific Science Center, you know the first thing you must do to touch anything is rinse your hands. Now why do you think we have to rinse our hands?

Most aquariums with touch tanks don’t ask visitors to do this! However, most aquariums, including the Seattle Aquarium, have a different filtration system than we do. Many waterfront aquariums use filtered seawater, drawing the water up from a nearby source, cycling it through their systems, and returning it to the source after treating it to destroy any possible contaminants. But at Pacific Science Center, our water is continually recirculated within the tide pool and two filtration vats. Imagine getting soap into the water! The soap would circulate through the tide pool which would be very unfortunate for our animals; this would also apply to other substances! Sunscreen, lotions and even metals can harm the animals. Not only do our visitors rinse their hands, our staff does too. We try to keep our water as free of foreign products as possible.

People don’t always think about sea creatures as living animals. For instance, sea anemones look like plants. We often think of plants as a pretty little object we could carry around, we can’t do that with sea anemones. Our animals need water to live so their habitats are perfect the way they are! Furthermore, it is best to only touch an animal gently instead of trying to pick it up and take it home.

With a good understanding of the Puget Sound Saltwater Tide Pool habitat, we can next discuss the proper way to handle our critters. Watch this space for a future article!

Nancy, the author of this article, is a Volunteer and a Discovery Corps Internship Graduate. In August she reported on the Tide Pool Guide.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Fresh Sheet - November 6, 2009

“Fresh Sheet” is our weekly shipment report of pupae on display in the emerging window. Visit Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House and meet our newest residents.

07 - Anartia fatima (Banded Peacock)
07 - Archeoprepona demophon (One-spotted Prepona)
13 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
07 - Caligo atreus (Yellow-Edged Giant-Owl)
22 - Caligo eurilochus (Forest Giant Owl)
14 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
09 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
07 - Catonephele orites (Orange-banded shoemaker)
23 - Danaus plexippus (The Monarch)
20 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
14 - Greta oto (Glasswing)
06 - Hamadryas amphinome (Red Cracker)
17 - Hamadryas feronia (Variable Cracker)
17 - Heliconius charitonius (Zebra Longwing)
11 - Heliconius cydno (Cydno Longwing)
21 - Heliconius doris (Doris Longwing)
25 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
26 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
23 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
16 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
07 - Hypna clytemnestra (Silver-studded Leafwing)
11 - Mechanitis polymnia (Polymnia Tigerwing)
35 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
02 - Opsiphanes tamarindi (Tamarind Owl)
07 - Papilio androgeus (Androgeus Swallowtail)
29 - Siproeta stelenes (Malachite)
07 - Tithorea tarricina (Cream-Spotted Clearwing)

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Inside the Tide Pool

Behind the painted wall of the Puget Sound Saltwater Tide Pool touch tank, a pump, chiller and two large vats work nonstop to circulate, cool, and filter the water. Just like most home aquarists, we do a partial water change each week. And like many, we back-flush our pipes and filter media to keep them clean and operational.

Sometimes routine care is not enough, and we need to do some special maintenance to keep our system working its best. After the September full clean, the tide pool looked great, but changing out so much sand and water had diminished our population of beneficial bacteria.

To help foster new beneficials, we never clean both the touch tank area and our filtration vats at the same time; we try to leave at least six weeks between the two jobs. This keeps a reservoir of good bacteria, most of them lodged in floating Bio Balls that provide lots of surface area for helpful organisms to grow.

Unfortunately, the same surface area acts as a trap for lint, dust, hair, glitter, undigested food and sloughed material from the sea creatures, and a host of other unwanted debris. This waste drifts to the bottom of the vat, clogs the manifold that draws water into the pump, and therefore slows down water circulation. So after the six weeks elapsed, we knew the vat was ready for a little cleaning.

First the Bio Balls were lifted out of the vat to allow access to the water below. Note that the water in the touch tank area was perfectly clean looking, but the vat had accumulated enough solids to make it hard to see the bottom.

Next, the cloudy water, along with precipitated solids, was siphoned out of the vat. The last bit had to be cleaned out by hand.

At this point we could reach the manifold, which desperately needed cleaning. The manifold’s job is to allow water into the pump without allowing solids to get sucked in and possibly damage the machinery. The screen material that should let water through had become filled with particles and was causing the water to slow down. A good, hard rinse dislodged the gunk and the manifold was back in business.

We never use anything but water, salt and elbow grease to clean objects in the tide pool; soap and other cleaners can be deadly to the animals.

Putting the system back together is always easier than taking it apart. The manifold and Bio Balls were returned to the vat. Then we added enough synthetic sea water to make up for what we siphoned out. Through the rest of the day, we monitored the temperature, salinity, and circulation. Everything looked good, and by the end of the day, our system was back in business.

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