Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bee Awareness

On Saturday, March 27 beekeeper John deGroot installed bees in Pacific Science Center observation hive. The annual installation went remarkably smoothly. There was one minor problem, which John corrected but which will draw attention.

You will notice that there are two types of frames used in the hive. The wooden frames fit perfectly into the space designated for them. The plastic frames were very slightly smaller and were not supported on one side. John placed pieces of chalk under those frames as support. You can see the chalk on the south side of the exhibit. It is yellow and is wedged in between each row of frames.

Other than that the bees went into the exhibit nicely. Over the years, we have found that different hives of bees display somewhat different behaviors. Some are more aggressive, some are milder, etc. This colony seemed very calm. In fact for almost an hour after installing them, we weren’t sure whether the bees actually had access to the tube that takes them outdoors. They clung to their comb and didn’t explore. But before long we noticed the bees going in and out, getting oriented and looking for nectar sources.

When we inspected the hive Saturday morning, we did not spot the queen. John was slightly concerned about this although we noticed brood (baby bees) in all stages of development.

Also, there are signs of several queen cells being produced on the north side of the hive. These are the large ‘peanut’ shaped cells that don’t fit into the hexagonal grid of the rest of the comb. Bees produce new queens either when the colony is doing great and they are getting ready to split in two (swarming), or when there is some trouble with the existing queen and they are preparing to replace her. Based on where the cells are located, it looks like the bees are raising a new queen to replace the existing one – or perhaps because they recently lost their queen. We will be watching the situation closely; if anyone does spot the queen please alert an Animal Caretaker!

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Unwanted Visitors

Notice anything missing in the Tropical Butterfly House? If you answered, “The umbrella plant is gone,” you must be visiting us a lot! Give yourself a pat on the back! This week our Horticulture staff removed that tall, willowy sedge plant, Cyperus alternifolius that loomed over the south goldfish pond.


During routine plant grooming on March 16th, horticulturist Maida Ingalls noticed several caterpillars of different instars on the fronds of the umbrella plant. These odd looking creatures were easily recognizable as the caterpillars of Owl butterflies, Caligo memnon.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first infestation of Caligo caterpillars. Several years ago some had been found on the same umbrella plants. Those larvae were removed and destroyed. The Tropical Butterfly House is a controlled environment with strict USDA permitting requirements that forbid us from growing caterpillars on our premises. Because of our permit restrictions, we have been carefully watching this plant and others for signs of butterfly larvae.

After a short consultation, Maida and Horticulture Supervisor Jeff Leonard cut down and removed all of the umbrella plant foliage and stalks, placing it in the freezer for a minimum of 72 hours. Next, they will completely dig up the plants’ roots with hopes that some day they can install a waterfall that will run into the pond below.

Maida reminds us, “Caterpillars are masters of camouflage. It’s hard for the casual observer to see them on a plant because they easily blend in with the stems and mimic the veins of the leaves.”

Even though we select only plants that will not stimulate the butterflies to lay eggs, it’s not unusual for Science Interpreters or Life Sciences staff to come across tiny Lepidoptera eggs every now and then. As Life Sciences manager Sarah Moore explains:

“The pressure on female butterflies to lay their eggs is pretty strong. They pick up on scents, and on visual cues; color, texture, and reflectivity of objects can all trigger egg laying. We’ve had the most problems with Caligos. Besides plant foliage, we’ve found them laying eggs on guests’ clothing, walls, glass and once, a butterfly laid eggs on my plastic eyeglass frames!”

The Life Sciences staff is ever vigilant, looking for the tell-tale signs of chewed foliage and caterpillar frass among the plantings. The continual monitoring of our garden to allow only butterflies – not their offspring – keeps us in compliance with the USDA permitting requirements and makes a more pleasant environment for all.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Fresh Sheet - March 26, 2010

“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.

Costa Rica

07 - Agraulis vanilla (Gulf Fritllary)
33 - Caligo eurilochus (Forest Giant Owl)
11 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
07 - Chlosyne janais (Crimson Patch)
23 - Colobura dirce (Mosaic butterfly)
20 - Danaus plexippus (The Monarch)
11 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
16 - Hamadryas amphinome (Red Calico)
11 - Heliconius doris (Doris Longwing)
29 - Heliconius hecale(Tiger Longwing)
19 - Heliconius ismenius(Ismenius Longwing)
22 - Heliconius melpomene(Postman)
11 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
07 - Hypna clytemnestra(Silver-studded Leafwing)
11 - Mechanitis polymnia(Polymnia Tigerwing)
36 - Morpho peleides(Blue Morpho)
77 - Myselia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
07 - Papilio cresphontes (Giant Swallowtail)
14 - Papilio polyxenes (Black Swallowtail)
10 - Parides iphidamas(Iphidamas or Transandean Cattleheart)
12 - Phoebis philea (Orange Barred Sulfur)
20 - Phoebis sennae (Cloudless Sulphur)
11 - Siproeta stelenes(Malachite)
07 - Tithorea tarricina(Cream-Spotted Clearwing)

Total = 432

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

(Another) Birth Announcement

On March 16, Galinda, one of our two the naked mole-rat "queens," gave birth to a litter of 18 pups. It is our policy to send out announcements of births until at least five days after the pups are born, as the first five days are a critical time period and many litters do not survive.

We are happy to announce that we still have pups.

As of March 23, 2010, there are 13 pups still alive in the colony, an indication that Galinda is producing milk and the babies are being allowed to drink it. Galinda has been observed nursing the pups every day, sometimes for extended periods. In a few cases we can see milk through the thin stomach walls of the babies. Some of the pups are gaining weight more rapidly than others, perhaps due to better competition for milk.

If the first week is challenging, so are the next 14 days. During that time the pups will learn to use their eyes and ears, and to eat solid food. We are cautious in our expectations.

On the other hand, with previous litters, our only success with rearing involved an extremely involved process of removing the queen and her litter from the rest of the colony and gradually reintroducing them. If the colony can rear the pups without this removal, it will allow them to function in a more cohesive manner and may help the two queens sort out which one should rule.

Stay tuned for more details!

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Raising Butterflies

Future biologists often enjoy raising caterpillars at home or in class, and watching them turn first into chrysalides and then to butterflies. The hands-on experience of feeding, tending and observing butterflies throughout the life cycle can spark a love of learning. Furthermore, kids get a frame of reference when they visit Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House.

Be aware, there are complications raising butterflies! We hope that those of you who wish to try raising butterflies yourself can learn from the many calls we get. We want you to have the best chance possible to bring caterpillars safely to adulthood.

To begin - the most common problem is timing. People may receive butterfly kits as a gift during times of year when rearing them is problematic. We recommend against starting raising caterpillars in the late summer, fall or winter. An entire life cycle can take as little as six or eight weeks, so you could end up with butterflies that can’t be safely released outside.

Pacific Science Center is always available to take in butterflies in this situation. Give us a call or e-mail first, so that we know you are coming. But a little planning can help you avoid the problem altogether.

If you find a caterpillar in the fall, it is best to leave it where it is. Left outside, the chrysalis will naturally adapt itself to changing temperatures and can survive even freezing weather. It can use temperature and day length to assess the time of year, and will not emerge until the season is ready. Inside, the temperatures may shock it into developing too quickly and emerging while it is still wintery outside.

Classrooms must plan not only around the seasons but around weekends and breaks. Pupae must be monitored daily, and planning ahead for weekends will help prevent the sorrow of coming in to a bunch of butterflies that emerged but had nothing to eat.

Not all butterflies emerge in good condition from their pupae. In an average batch of ten or twelve, you might have a few butterflies with crumpled wings, butterflies that die shortly after emerging, or even some pupae that do not mature into butterflies at all.

For some, this is a learning moment; for others it can be upsetting and sad. If you work with kids, plan for how you will approach the idea of death and physical damage. Be ready for some strong feelings and open discussion.

For most people, it makes sense to release native butterflies into the outdoors, and bring purchased ones to Pacific Science Center for flight in our exhibit. But once they have raised butterflies, some people choose to keep them in confinement, providing artificial nectar in the form of sugar water. The original kit for the caterpillars may have come with a small amount of food which will be gone. At some point, butterflies may breed and produce eggs. If you wish to carry on the life cycle, know what your butterfly species eats, and have that food available immediately! If you do it in advance, researching and finding plants is fun. Not so when hungry mouths are waiting.

Caterpillars and butterflies do not represent the same time commitment, either in years or in hours per day, as a dog or a cat. But they are completely dependant on us while we care for them. Still, we can become very attached and caught up in the outcome. Please take the time early in the process to plan ahead for the entire life cycle. It will maximize the educational value and cut down on the stress.

Sarah Moore, Life Sciences Manager

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Fresh Sheet - March 19, 2010

“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

07 - Anteos maerula (Ghost sulfur)
25 - Battus belus (Belus Swallowtail)
15 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
30 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
25 - Consul fabius (Tiger Leafwing)
25 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
20 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
80 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
30 - Morpho polyphemus (White Morpho)
30 - Myselia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
30 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
30 - Prepona omphale=archeoprepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)
10 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

Total = 357


40 - Anartia amathea (Scarlet Peacock)
20 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
23 - Biblis hyperia (Red Rim)
30 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
40 - Catonephele orites (Orange-banded shoemaker)
10 - Colobura dirce (Mosaic butterfly)
30 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
40 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
05 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
10 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
12 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
18 - Mechanitis polymnia (Polymnia Tigerwing)
10 - Phoebis sennae (Cloudless Sulphur)
12 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

Total = 300

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Monday, March 15, 2010

USDA Inspection

On March 3, the Life Sciences staff meeting was interrupted by a walkie-talkie call from the receptionist. A government inspector was here to see the naked mole-rats.

Pacific Science Center’s Animal Care program maintains permits from two completely unrelated branches of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Our butterflies and some arthropods are permitted by the Plant Pest and Pathogen department. These animals are seen as possible threats to agricultural crops, and are monitored to prevent escapes.

Mammals, on the other hand, are under the jurisdiction of the Animal Care branch, which inspects mammal care facilities to make sure that animals live under adequate and humane conditions. This day, a USDA mammal care inspector arrived for an unannounced inspection of our naked mole-rat colony.

The mammal inspector looks at the animal’s housing. She is looking for signs that they have proper ventilation. Is food available to them at all times, or according to their species feeding habits? Is there water? In the case of the naked mole-rats, the answer is no. Our inspector needs to see evidence that we do not provide water because these animals are able to use the moisture in their food. Otherwise we can be cited for not providing for their needs.

Animals must be housed on surfaces that can be kept clean, and in enclosures that are safe from pests such as mice and ants. Our USDA inspector may ask for a closer look to see what measures we have in place to keep our animal’s housing clean – what disinfectants we use and our schedule for using them.

She checks the animals’ records. We monitor humidity and temperature twice daily and record weights, births, deaths and medical conditions of all the animals. The Avian and Exotic Veterinary Hospital provides a program of regular veterinary care and the invoices to prove it.

Inspectors want to see how food is stored and may ask how it is prepared. Our roots and veggies are kept in the refrigerator, and are peeled and diced before feeding. We mix nutritionally dense dough of baby cereal and ground rodent chow as a supplement.

At the end of the inspection, the USDA inspector sent us notification that we passed. “No non-compliance” was the complete text of our rating – the highest possible score!

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Fresh Sheet – March 12, 2010

“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 - Cethosia biblis (Red Lacewing)
40 - Danaus plexippus (The Monarch)
40 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay)
50 - Hypolimnas bolina (Great Eggfly)
54 - Idea leuconoe (Paper Kite)
06 - Ideopsis juventa(Wood Nymph)
13 - Pachliopta kotzeboea (Pink Rose)
100 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail)
30 - Papilio palinurus (Banded Peacock)
30 - Papilio polytes (Polite Swallowtail)
40 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail)
40 - Parthenos sylvia philppensis (The Clipper)

Total = 483

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tide Pool Census 2009

Pacific Science Center’s Puget Sound Saltwater Tide Pool is home to animals collected under a Scientific Collection permit, issued by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WSDFW). Without a permit, it is illegal to gather animals from beaches. With a permit, it is still Pacific Science Center’s responsibility to take animals correctly, gathering only what will be used and leaving the environment as intact as possible.

Each year we submit a list of all the animals we have collected in the last 12 months. In addition to being a requirement, this is a tool for us to assess how well different species do in the exhibit.

Below is a list of the animals collected in 2009 and the census of animals present at year’s end. This is a shorter version of the list we give the WSDFW, which gives details to genus or species level.

In some cases, there are more animals listed than we collected in 2009. The extras are animals collected in previous years – a sign that they are doing well in husbandry for that group.

Other animals are collected in substantial numbers and yet none are present at year’s end. In the case of shellfish, this is planned. Clams, barnacles and mussels are collected as food items for the sea stars. In other cases, such as “small assorted animals” we may still have the animals but cannot find them. Isopods, tiny anemones and small shrimp routinely work their way into our filter beds, where they live free from predators, and well nourished by the remnants of food left by other animals.

In some cases, though, the species is simply not doing well in our environment. Sand dollars, for example, have very specific habitat needs that are not met in our enclosure. This is an animal we are unlikely to collect in the future.

We had a very marked change in survival rates for anemones, urchins, and sea stars when we installed a hand rinse sink in 2003. Previously these animals could not be touched without rapid loss of health. Now they are highly resilient to touching. Contaminants on people’s hands were more harmful than the physical fact of being touched.

Hermit crabs are a special case because guests are allowed to handle them. Sadly, they did not experience the same jump in survival rates when we got the sink, and we are still working on ways to increase their longevity. The biggest risks to our hermit crabs seem to be, in order from highest to lowest: wandering into unsafe areas, fighting with each other, and rough handling by people. One way we have found to keep them healthy is to keep the population relatively low. An enclosure with twelve to 15 hermit crabs will remain stable, but one with twenty or more will experience losses until the number drops below 15.

Keeping these statistics is the best way for Animal Caretakers to track and assess our tidepool husbandry procedures.

-Sarah Moore, Life Sciences Manager

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Stick Bug Feeding

During the 11 years since the opening of the Ackerly Family Gallery, Pacific Science Center has maintained exhibits of Australian Prickly Sticks (Extatosoma tiaratum) and Vietnamese Stick Insects (Baculum extradentatum). They are visually and behaviorally interesting and have been very popular with the public.

For most of that time we have fed both on blackberries (Rubus spp.). Blackberries have the advantage of growing locally year round, making them relatively easy to obtain. Not surprisingly, however, they are not too popular with the staff taking care of the stick bugs. Aside from the obvious problem of thorns, they have a tendency to wilt rather quickly which requires changing out the feeding material in the cages weekly.

A short while ago, we learned that a colleague in another institution was having some success feeding his Australian Sticks Wax Myrtle (Myica californica). This shrub, like the blackberries, has the advantage of growing year round in the northwest and Pacific Science Center has the advantage of having a good deal of it in the plantings on our grounds. In addition, it seems to have a longer “shelf life” on exhibit so it doesn’t need to be changed out as often. Best of all – NO THORNS!!

We decided to give it a try. The Australian Sticks took to it like a duck to water. We have now successfully reared them from egg to adult and seen eggs from insects raised on the new diet.

But, the Vietnamese Sticks did not seem to care for it nearly as much. They would nibble on the myrtle but did not seem to be thriving. To meet their dietary preferences and maintain some of the advantages of the myrtle, we now dress the Vietnamese Stick Insect cage with a large bunch of myrtle, for appearance, and place a smaller bunch of blackberries in a container behind it where it is easily accessible from the cage opening. This way, we can change out the blackberry branches more often while leaving the myrtle in place until it begins to look wilted which generally is much longer that the blackberries. In addition to its good looks, the myrtle provides ample climbing surfaces so that younger stick insects can spread out without risk of thorns.

Bottom line, happy stick bugs and happy caretakers!

-Dan Warner, Animal Caretaker
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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Fresh Sheet - March 5, 2010

“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

10 - Anteos maerula (Ghost sulfur)
30 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
30 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
30 - Consul fabius (Tiger Leafwing)
10 - Heliconius erato(Small Postman)
30 - Heliconius hecale(Tiger Longwing)
10 - Heliconius hortense(Mountain Longwing)
12 - Lycorea cleobaea (Large Tiger)
80 - Morpho peleides(Blue Morpho)
10 - Morpho polyphemus (White Morpho)
10 - Myselia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
30 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
10 - Papilio thoas (Thoas Swallowtail)
30 - Prepona omphale=archeoprepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)
10 - Siderone nemesis (Red-striped Leafwing)
12 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

Total 354

Los Angeles

10 – Argema mimosa(African Moon Moth)
07 - Ariadne Ariadne (Angled Castor)
10 - Athyma perius(Common Sergeant)
05 - Catopsilia scylla(Orange Emigrant)
10 - Cethosia biblis (Red Lacewing)
10 - Cethosia cyane(Leopard Lacewing)
05 - Charaxes brutus (White-barred Charaxes)
10 - Charaxes castor (Giant Charaxes)
10 - Charaxes cithaeron (Blue-spotted Charexes)
05 - Charaxes violetta (Violet-spotted Emperor)
10 - Chilasa clytia(Common Mime)
10 - Doleschalia bisaltide (Autumn Leaf)
10 - Euploea core(Common Crow)
10 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay)
10 - Hypolimnas bolina (Great Eggfly)
10 - Idea leuconoe (Paper Kite)
10 - Ideopsis juventa(Wood Nymph)
10 - Kallima inachus (Dead Leaf)
10 - Pachliopta kotzeboea (Pink Rose)
10 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail)
10 - Papilio memnon (Great Mormon)
20 - Papilio nireus (Blue-banded Swallowtail)
10 - Papilio polytes (Polite Swallowtail)
10 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail)

Total = 232

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lydia is Sooooo Cute!

It seems there’s always something new and exciting happening within our Life Sciences department. Naked mole-rats are having babies, new butterflies are arriving every week, tide pool pumps break. It all comes with the territory when you work with so many different types of animals. But there are a few animals that may get overlooked, perhaps because they are so reliable and steadfast. They don’t really make any “news” to speak of, but they are certainly worthy of a second look.

Meet Lydia. In our opinion, which is totally objective and scientific, Lydia is the cutest leopard gecko in the whole wide world. Look at her picture and you may think she’s pretty, or just average. But spend a few minutes watching her attempt to hunt down the odd cricket and we dare you not to fall in love with this lizard. Every time she catches a cricket she chomps down on it, swallows, and then closes her eyes and licks her lips. I don’t advocate anthropomorphizing animals, but it’s hard not to imagine her saying, “Yum!”

The Life Sciences department inherited Lydia about 8 years ago. Before she lived in the reptile exhibit, she lived in Pacific Science Center’s Education offices. She was the pet of a former staff person, and lived in a small cage on a desk. We still don’t know how old Lydia is, but she was full-grown when we received her.

Leopard geckos are native to the deserts of south central Asia, mainly found in Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India and Iran. Most of their distinguishing characteristics are adaptations to life in the desert. Unlike most geckos, leopard geckos possess eyelids. This allows them to close their eyes and block out dusty desert particulate. It also means they look really cute when they sleep. Leopard geckos also have a noticeably fat tail. This is where they store all of their extra body fat. When food becomes scarce, a frequent occurrence in the desert, leopard geckos are able to metabolize the fatty tissue from their tail. Even as pets, a fat tail is a sign of a healthy leopard gecko.

Lydia has a nice fat tail, which is also really cute. When our veterinarian paid us a house call a few weeks ago, he raved about the size or her tail and her vivid coloring. He also warned us about a dangerous disease that is currently infecting large portions of leopard geckos within the pet trade. Cryptosporidiosis, or “crypto” is highly infectious and often fatal to geckos. In fact, our vet reported that most leopard geckos sold in pet stores within the last five years have likely been exposed to this disease. Luckily Lydia is a bit older, and has never exhibited any signs of infection or poor health. Our vet predicts a long and healthy lifespan for this lovable leopard gecko.

So the next time you’re at Pacific Science Center, we invite you to go past the tide pool, look beyond the boa constrictors, and check out our understated, but still adorable lizard. She is sooooo cute!

Brianna Todd, Lead Animal Caretaker

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