Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Snakes on a … diet

Two of Pacific Science Center's boa constrictors, Esteban and Estella, just got some pleasant news from the scale. Esteban weighed in at 20.6 pounds (9.36 kilos), down from an all time high weight of 22 pounds in 2007. Estella has lost weight too – down to 24.8 pounds (11.27 kilos), from her highest weight of 26 pounds.

While our animal care staff normally looks at weight loss in our animals as alarming, in this case it was great news. Esteban’s weight is fairly good but slightly heavy, while Estella is decidedly overweight. We could not see her spine at all, and when she stayed still, her skin formed folds from the excess fat. Not only could her health be impacted, but also a heavy snake is harder to handle, leading to a cycle where she gets less handling, less exercise and less chance to lose weight.

Surprisingly, we were given the same advice that helps some people. Feed her smaller, more frequent meals. “Frequent” is relative here. She went from eating one rat every two weeks, to eating a smaller one weekly. We asked our presentation staff to make a point of getting her out for presentations. Being handled and held is a great form of healthy activity. Her weight seems to be nudging down, while her overall health is excellent.

How do we weigh the snakes? We weigh ourselves with and without a snake and subtract the difference. We use the giant scale in building 2, because it is there.

Luckily neither of the snakes is on the sun!
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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fresh Sheet – August 28, 2010

This week, we have received 108 pupae of just the two species pictured above! Come see if you can tell them apart.


50 - Papilio palinurus (Banded Peacock)
19 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail)
30 - Papilio hipponus (Hipponus Swallowtail)
60 - Idea leuconoe (Paper Kite)
48 - Chilasa clytia (Common Mime)
10 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay)
10 - Doleschalia bisaltide (Autumn Leaf)
80 - Parthenos sylvia philippensis (The Clipper)
30 - Cethosia biblis (Red Lacewing)
18 - Danaus chrysippus (Plain Tiger)
80 - Papilio polytes (Polite Swallowtail)
50 - Hypolimnas bolina (Great Eggfly)

Total = 485

“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.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Tillamook The Corn Snake

Pacific Science Center has a new resident in our Life Sciences area. In the reptile display inside Building 2 you'll now find Tillamook, a corn snake that was recently donated to us.

Here's what Life Sciences Manager Sarah Moore had to say about the newest member of our family:

"I am happy, excited, and somewhat amazed to announce that we have a new corn snake. Tillamook was provided to us through the Northwest Herpetological Society, which has worked with us in the past during reptile and amphibian shows. I am pleased that we made a good enough impression on them that they offered us a snake based on what they saw during those events.

"I was floored by how quickly Tillamook made himself at home in his cage. You will have to scan behind his water dish to see him, as we work out some hiding spots that make him feel hidden while letting people find him a bit more readily."

So, stop by and meet Tillamook. Our reptile display can be found near the naked mole-rat exhibit inside Building 2. You can also see some of these critters on our Live Science Stage during certain shows.
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Friday, August 20, 2010

Fresh Sheet – August 21, 2010

This week's shipment has 12 of Sarah Moore's new favorite butterfly, Siderone nemisis. These are very handsome black and red butterflies as featured on a recent postage stamp. Unlike Sarah's old favorite (can you guess?), they rarely get involved in escapes.

El Salvador

06 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
12 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
30 - Consul fabius (Tiger Leafwing)
06 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
30 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
15 - Heliconius hortense (Mountain Longwing)
10 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
25 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
10 - Morpho polyphemus (White Morpho)
12 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
30 - Papilio androgeus (Androgeus Swallowtail)
10 - Papilio erostratus (Dusky Swallowtail)
20 - Papilio torquatus (Band-gapped Swallowtail)
20 - Parides photinus (Queen of Hearts)
10 - Phoebis philea (Orange Barred Sulfur)
12 - Siderone nemesis (Red-striped Leafwing)
12 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

Total = 270


05 - Argema mimosae (African Moon Moth) KENYA
10 - Athyma perius (Common Sergeant) THAILAND
10 - Cethosia cyane (Leopard Lacewing) MALAYSIA
10 - Charaxes cithaeron (Blue-spotted Charexes) KENYA
10 - Euphaedra neophron (Gold-banded Forester) KENYA
07 - Euploea core(Common Crow) THAILAND
10 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay) PHILIPPINES
40 - Hypolimnas bolina (Great Eggfly) THAILAND
07 - Hypolimnas misippus (Danaid Eggfly) THAILAND
10 - Idea leuconoe (Paper Kite) PHILIPPINES
10 - Ideopsis vulgaris (Blue Glassy Tiger) MALAYSIA
10 - Junonia (Precis) atlites (Gray Pansy) MALAYSIA
11 - Pachliopta kotzeboea (Pink Rose) PHILIPPINES
20 - Papilio dardanus (Mocker Swallowtail) KENYA
10 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail) PHILIPPINES
10 - Papilio nireus (Blue-banded Swallowtail) KENYA
05 - Papilio palinurus (Banded Peacock) PHILIPPINES
10 - Papilio polytes (Polite swallowtail) THAILAND
05 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail) PHILIPPINES
20 - Parthenos sylvia lilacinus (Blue Clipper) THAILAND
05 - Salamis anacardii (Clouded Mother Of Pearl) KENYA
20 - Tirumala limniace (Blue Tiger) THAILAND

Total = 260

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How to Make a Sound

Pacific Science Center’s Puget Sound Salt Water Tide Pool is designed to look like a natural habitat, but behind the scenes it functions very much like any other aquarium. In this case, a salt water system.

Each week, we remove a portion of the water from our Puget Sound Tide Pool model and replace it with 100 gallons of new, clean saltwater. Because we don’t have ready access to Puget Sound water, we use a commercially purchased synthetic salt: brand name- Instant Ocean. Really! When this synthetic salt is mixed with the appropriate amount of water and other additives, it becomes chemically comparable to the water found in Puget Sound. In our tide pool, we aim for a salinity of about 3.2%.

First, we add a measured quantity of salt to our new mix water. We then mix the salt into the water overnight, using a pump dedicated to circulate the water. This also allows the water to release any chlorine as a gas that might be in the water.

Each time we do a full water change, we test the newly mixed salt water and the water in our exhibit using a hydrometer, which measures the specific gravity of the water. A hydrometer measures how dense a liquid is compared to water at a certain temperature. Because water can dissolve solids without changing volume, the more solids that are dissolved in water, the more dense the solution becomes.

In our case, nearly all the solids in our water are salts. So our hydrometer measurement is a pretty good indicator of how much salt is in the water.

Once we know the specific gravity of our tide pool water, we can convert to salinity – in fact our hydrometer converts for us. Salinity measures the parts per thousand of salts in the water. In our case, the water is about 3.2% salt – a bit less than the ocean because 11 rivers feed fresh water into Puget Sound estuary.

If the ambient temperature is very hot, we can lose water from the tide pool simply due to evaporation. When this happens, the water becomes too salty and we need to add less saline water to dilute it. Our system rarely experiences this. We do suffer from salt creep, a situation where salt crystallizes out of the water. If that happens in the pipes, it gives us quite a headache because the water circulation slows down.

Operating the tide pool, or any aquarium, is a great opportunity to brush up on math and chemistry lessons from high school. Math helps us calculate the amount of salt needed to bring a given volume of water to a certain salinity; chemistry helps us understand when and how to add buffer and how the nitrogen cycle allows wastes to be broken down. These skills are integral to maintaining a fully functional aquarium - just as important as knowing the names and life cycles of the animals we care for.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fresh Sheet – August 14, 2010

This week’s shipment from Costa Rica brings us 540 more pupae. When they become butterflies, they’ll find life better inside the Tropical Butterfly House than outside. Help us keep them happy!

Costa Rica

09 - Agraulis vanilla (Gulf Fritllary)
28 - Catonephele mexicana (Mexican Catone)
44 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
28 - Colobura dirce (Mosaic butterfly)
06 - Danaus plexippus (The Monarch)
19 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
08- Eueudes isabella (Isabella’s Longwing)
18 - Greta oto (Glasswing)
07 - Hamadryas feronia (Variable Calico)
40 - Heliconius doris (Doris Longwing)
45 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
04 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
35 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
28 - Hypna clytemnestra (Silver-studded Leafwing)
29 - Mechanitis polymnia (Polymnia Tigerwing)
32 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
35 - Nessaea aglaura (Aglaura Olivewing)
19 - Opsiphanes tamarindi (Tamarind Owl)
09 - Papilio cresphontes (Giant Swallowtail)
36 - Papilio polyxenes (Black Swallowtail)
06 - Parides iphidamas(Iphidamas or Transandean Cattleheart)
36 - Siproeta stelenes(Malachite)
19 - Tithorea tarricina(Cream-Spotted Clearwing)

Total = 540

“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.

Read more!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Meet the Beetles

Pacific Science Center’s Insect Village has some new residents. Come visit the Jewel Scarab Beetles and Sunburst Diving Beetles soon. You’ll be in for a treat!

Sunburst Diving Beetle (Thermonectus mamoratus)

With bright yellow spotting on their black carapaces, these water beetles have been called “living fireworks.” Their sleek bodies allow them to glide through the water with great ease. However, they also possess wings and use them to fly to new water sources when their pond or puddle dries up.

Also known as Spotted Diving beetles, they’re naturally found in southwestern United States and Mexico and eat mosquito larvae and pupae other small invertebrates.

Jewel Scarab Beetle (Chrysene glorisa)

This species is also commonly called the Glorious Beetle. Can you see why? Scientists are so impressed with the unique color of this insect that some are actually investigating the biological factors that make their carapaces so shiny. Results from their research could, among other things, help scientists to develop safer, and more reflective paint for cars and bicycles.

Also found in the southwestern United States and Mexico, these beetles live on juniper as adults. Their green coloring provides them with camouflage as they rest between the tree’s needles. As larvae, they prefer to hide out in rotting oak and sycamore wood.

Due to the short life span of both of these beetles, we fear that neither species will be here long. So check them out before they're gone.
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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Fresh Sheet – August 7, 2010

PacSciLife congratulates our butterfly farmers in Suriname, Ewout and Amira Eriks. They have recently opened an educational “Neotropical Butterfly Park” in Lelydorp, Suriname. Be sure to visit them the next time you're in Suriname. Tell them Pacific Science Center’s Life Sciences staff says, “Hello!”


08 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
09 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
20 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
60 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
14 - Colobura dirce (Mosaic butterfly)
50 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
35 - Anartia amathea (Scarlet Peacock)
40 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)

Total = 236

El Salvador

19 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
16 - Colobura dirce (Mosaic butterfly)
30 - Consul fabius (Tiger Leafwing)
07 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
14 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
15 - Heliconius hortense (Mountain Longwing)
20 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
07 - Lycorea cleobaea (Large Tiger)
20 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
10 - Morpho polyphemus (White Morpho)
30 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
12 - Parides photinus (Queen of Hearts)
30 - Smyrna blomfildia (Blomfeld's beauty)
08 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

Total = 238

Grand total = 474

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Friday, August 6, 2010

Happy, Happy Birthday Babies!

As mentioned in our previous post, today is the one year birthday of our first successful mole-rat litter since 2007. In celebration, we've made them a tuber cake!

Visit the naked mole-rat colony today and watch them celebrate the occasion. Hurry, because the cake might not last long!

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Life as a baby naked mole rat

On August 6th we will celebrate the one-year birthday of our first naked mole-rat litter since 2007. We’re so excited about this milestone, we’re even making them a tuber cake. In the past year, eight litters were born to competing queens, Galinda and Elphaba -a total of 136 pups in 12 months! Twenty-one have survived pup-hood and are growing into healthy adult naked mole-rats. Our colony has doubled in size in just one year!

This milestone started Life Science manager Sarah Moore thinking about the difficulties of mole-rat survival – even in captivity.

Two seemingly opposing things can be said of naked mole-rats: They are extremely long lived for their size and the first months of life are fraught with danger and a low probability of survival. If a naked mole-rat can survive the first few weeks of life, it has a good chance to go on to live a long and healthy existence. However, the challenges of those first days are often insurmountable. The last three litters born in our colony have had no surviving pups. The difficulties associated with making it through pup-hood have become increasingly apparent.

At birth, a naked mole-rat weighs less than 2 grams. Its eyes and ears are sealed closed and it can only drink milk. But it is not entirely helpless. From birth, mole-rat pups can right themselves if they fall over and wriggle through piles of older animals, working their way to the top of the heap. This is critical for them, as those who are unable to climb, risk being crushed.

It is during these first five days that we notice big problems – such as if the queen has not been providing milk or if the pups are unable to nurse. Pups are so tiny we can see milk in their stomachs if it is present. Without milk, the babies cannot survive.

Rarely do necropsy results from animals at this age point to disease. Indeed, often nothing can be concluded from studying pups that die in their first week. In fact, with large litters it is common for some of the pups to be more fully developed than others and it is rare that all of the litter members survive.

By the fifth day if all is well, the pups have grown significantly and are moving around the enclosure. They still need milk to survive and they are still highly vulnerable. But once they pass the five-day mark, we feel optimistic enough to post a birth announcement on this blog!

Between days five and ten, a second set of concerns begins. It is in this time that pups gain enough autonomy, but it is also during this time that they begin to pick up any viral or bacterial infections that may be present in the colony. We have found that frequent changes of bedding help reduce this risk. Even so, individuals with any inborn health problems may succumb during this week.

At ten days old, a mole-rat pup moves about easily, nurses well, and may be sampling food. Surprisingly, their first bites are often tough root vegetables rather than the soft dough balls we also provide. Baby mole-rats have teeth from the first day of their life. But their eyes remain sealed until their 20th day. This is less of a setback for tunnel dwellers than it would be for animals that evolved above ground.

Over time, naked mole-rat pups reach a third, difficult phase: The transition to a diet of entirely solid food. The cecal pellets passed from other workers are critical to the pups’ ability to navigate this change. Once they are eating solid food, they get to work cleaning chambers and taking on the everyday chores of a regular naked mole-rat. But that doesn’t mean they stop growing. Naked mole-rats usually take about 18 months to reach full size.

So why have some of our litters been successful while recent litters have be totally unsuccessful? There are likely a number of factors and we surely don’t know all of them. Aside from all of the inherent risks and tribulations of early pup-hood, it could be that our colony is reacting differently to new pups. Remember, half our colony has been born in the past year. Perhaps because of their youth and lack of skill in pup-rearing, the young pups are injuring the babies more than other adults would.

Additionally, our colony is the largest its population has ever been. Is there a limit to the number of individuals that can be sustained in a colony? Do the adults respond differently to new litters when the population has reached its limit? These are all questions we are asking now, and we will continue to post updates and new observations as they come. However, one thing is always certain with naked mole-rats: there will always be more questions.

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