Saturday, February 26, 2011

A New Moth in the Garden

The Life Sciences department welcomes a new moth species to the Tropical Butterfly House: the polyphemus moth. With a wing span of six inches (15 cm) and stunning eyespots, this moth gets its name from one of the Cyclops of Greek mythology.

Antheraea polyphemus, the polyphemus moth, is a US native and member of the large family of Saturnidae, or silk moths. The silk moth family, which also includes the atlas moth and the African luna, is characterized by its pupae, which are wrapped in heavy silk cocoons.

Saturnidae are striking in other ways, too. Many of them are large, with stout, fuzzy bodies, impressive wingspans and enormous antennae. The atlas moth has the greatest wingspan of any Lepidoptera – up to 11 inches (29 cm). Surprisingly these large moths have vestigial mouth parts and lack digestive systems. Unlike butterflies, which use nectar for energy, saturnid moths consume all the food they need as larvae, and focus their adult lives on activities associated with reproduction. Their large antennae detect the pheromones of potential mates, and help them find and court each other in the few days they have in the adult form.

The cocoons for these "hand-some" moths arrived at the end of January and are just now beginning to emerge. Visit our Tropical Butterfly House and see if you have an eye for spotting them - but please, don't touch!

Thanks to Animal Caretaker Cari Garand and her cell phone for the polyphemus moth photos.
Read more!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vinegaroon Babies?

If you ever take a walk through the Insect Village at Pacific Science Center, you may have noticed the vinegaroon (vih-nih-guh-roon). This animal is one of our non-insect arthropods, and it is closely related to scorpions. Recently, when animal caretakers passed by the cage, they found themselves doing a double-take. When did the vinegaroon get so fat?!?!

Like all arthropods, vinegaroons have a hard exoskeleton that they must molt as they grow. When we looked at our vinegaroon a few months ago, we thought it appeared a little overdue for a molt. You can often tell when an arthropod is close to molting: Their bodies may expand or contract rapidly, they may change color, and usually the joints in between their exoskeletal plates begin to stretch out. This is what we noticed with our vinegaroon. But when it still had not molted after a few weeks, we started to get concerned.

Luckily, we got a timely visit from a former Animal Caretaker and insect specialist, Julie LaTurner. After a short observation, Julie had a hunch that something else was going on. She suspected that our vinegaroon was gravid, a term used instead of ‘pregnant’ for egg-laying species.

Few people have had much success getting vinegaroons to reproduce in captivity. A gravid vinegaroon excavates a chamber and walls herself in before producing her eggs. Our vinegaroon was probably seeking a place to burrow. In the exhibit cage, we use sand as a substrate, which is difficult for vinegaroons to dig through. But once we provided a better substrate for her to burrow, she went to work.

At first we were encouraged when the gravid vinegaroon immediately disappeared into her substrate. But then we again became concerned when we didn’t see her for a couple of weeks, so we checked through the substrate to make sure she wasn’t dead. Sure enough, we found her burrowed deep in the soil, with a large egg sac attached to her abdomen. Julie was right!

Inside the burrow, the vinegaroon will produce an egg sac that will remains attached to her body until her eggs are ready to hatch. When they hatch, the babies crawl out of the sac and onto their mother’s back where she protects them until they go through their first molt. After that, the babies leave the burrow. The mother stops eating while tending her eggs. She usually does not live long after the babies become independent.

Luckily, our vinegaroon’s second burrow is right up against the side of her enclosure, so we can check up on her through the clear walls (we keep it covered most of the time). We are not sure when her eggs will hatch. Little is known about raising vinegaroon hatchlings in captivity, and the odds are against us. But we will still root for the best, and hope to soon welcome new hatchlings into our collection.

While our gravid vinegaroon is on maternity leave, a younger, non-gravid vinegaroon is taking her place on-exhibit.

Read more!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fresh Sheet – February 19, 2011

Two shipments of pupae arrived this week to celebrate Presidents’ Day weekend. Check them out!


05 - Parides sesostris (Emerald-patched Cattleheart)
10 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
20 - Heraclides thoas (Giant Swallowtail)
40 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
15 - Papilio androgeus (Androgeus Swallowtail)
05 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
40 - Heliconius doris (Doris Longwing)
15 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
30 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
25 - Catonephele orites (Orange-banded shoemaker)
05 - Nessaea aglaura (Aglaura Olivewing)
05 - Biblis hyperia (Red Rim)
40 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
15 - Phoebis sennae (Cloudless Sulphur)

Total = 270

El Salvador

20 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
15 - Dryadula phaetusa (Banded Orange Heliconian)
10 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
15 - Heliconius hortense (Mountain Longwing)
20 - Lycorea cleobaea (Large Tiger)
48 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
30 - Myselia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
40 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
20 - Papilio androgeus (Androgeus Swallowtail)
10 - Papilio erostratus (Dusky Swallowtail)
05 - Parides photinus (Queen of Hearts)
10 - Prepona omphale=archeoprepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)
16 - Siderone nemesis (Red-striped Leafwing)

Total = 259

Grand total = 529

“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!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Say, ”Ax – a - WHAT?”

Of all the animals in our care, two stand out as having the most unpronounceable names.

The name “anemones” is familiar but a tongue twister for most kids:

Say it slowly to keep all those m’s and n’s in order!

Furthermore ...

The name of our strange looking salamander, the axolotl, is a mystery to most. The name comes to us through Spanish from Nahuatl, the language spoken by the indigenous Aztec people who first observed these animals.

Say it to rhyme with “max a bottle.”

It can be fun to talk about and learn the words scientists use to describe the world around them. At times, it is also crucial in order to communicate. Learning vocabulary and using it correctly makes it possible to communicate despite the barriers of language, distance and time.

But don't let scientific terms scare you or create a barrier to learning. If you see something new, exciting or fascinating, don’t worry that you can’t describe it technically – say what you saw. Ultimately science is about observation. If you love to observe, you can become motivated to learn the vocabulary.
Read more!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fresh Sheet – February 12, 2010

Here's a Valentine Weekend Idea - Warm up at the Tropical Butterfly House!


09 - Papilio pilumnus (Three-tailed Swallowtail)
60 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail)
70 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail)
71 - Idea leuconoe (Paper Kite)
09 - Pachliopta kotzeboea (Pink Rose)
50 - Doleschalia bisaltide (Autumn Leaf)
12 - Parthenos sylvia philippensis (The Clipper)
02 - Papilio polytes (Polite Swallowtail)
10 - Cethosia biblis (Red Lacewing)
07 - Ideopsis juventa (Wood Nymph)
80 - Hypolimnas bolina (Great Eggfly)

Total = 380

“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, February 8, 2011

Naked Mole-Rats – Year in Review

In addition to tracking 2010 statistics from our butterfly shipments, we in Life Sciences love to pore over the data from our other animal exhibits -- particularly the naked mole-rat colony.

Each year, we put together a review of all of our observations and records. Reflecting on this information gives us a better idea of overall colony health, and allows us to identify any long-term trends or changes.

Here are the major highlights:

Naked Mole-Rat Colony Population:
January 2010 = 27
January 2011 = 41

Deaths by year (adults and independent juveniles):
2008 = 9
2009 = 2
2010 = 1

Total recorded pregnancies: 8
Total recorded births: 8
Total pups born: 152
Average litter size: 19
Total successful litters: 1
Total surviving offspring: 13
Pup survival rate: 9%
Deaths of pregnant females: 0
Live parous females: 2

Weight changes from Jan 2010 to Jan 2011:
Average weight difference: +13.8 grams
Average weight difference among adults 2 years and older (pre-2009): -2.7 grams
Average weight difference among juveniles born in 2009: +18.5 grams
Average Jan 2011 weight of pups born in 2010: 31.7 grams

2010 weight changes by size – groups are divided based on their size in Jan 2010

In the above graph, the individuals within the 5-25 gram category are actually from two separate age groups. Most of them are the juveniles that were born in 2009 and they have showed a marked weight increase throughout the year. The average weight for this size group would likely be even steeper if it didn’t also include three individuals from the age group born in 2006 (including “Toothless Wonder”. We refer to them as the Runt Group). These three have not gained weight in over four years and we don’t expect them to grow much larger. All of the juveniles born in 2009 and 2010 have surpassed the Runt Group in size and weight.

Things To Note:
We continue to see the overall body mass of the colony increase. The success of Galinda’s March litter was another major milestone on the path to a healthy and sustainable colony. Although we were pretty optimistic about Galinda’s litter, we were still amazed that 13 pups survived from one litter. This is the largest recorded survival rate of any litter at Pacific Science Center.

Galinda and Elphaba continue to coexist rather peacefully and both are still reproducing. Galinda still appears to be the stronger female, but neither seems to be bothered by the existence of each other’s pups. In fact, we have even observed Galinda attempting to nurse some of Elphaba’s pups. We aren’t sure that she was successful though. If you look at the literature on naked mole-rats, this behavior is still unheard of in other colonies. We wonder if perhaps these two are closely related.

One interesting story from 2010 was the emergence of the disperser morph. A few months after we successfully secured the enclosure from escape, he lost most of the weight that he had gained in preparation to his escapes. Now he weighs about 61 grams, down from 81 grams. He still looks healthy and behaves normally, but the dispersing behavior has totally disappeared. Why did he change so suddenly? He may have assumed a new role in the colony, as a breeder male, taking on the much thinner physique that is typical of other breeder males. Or perhaps he just gave up on escaping and decided to stop eating so much.

After reviewing the statistics and stories from the past year, we continue to have an optimistic outlook for 2011. Please check back with us here or visit us at Pacific Science Center to find out what’s new with the naked mole-rats.

Read more!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fresh Sheet – February 5, 2010

Our Tropical Butterfly House has 580 more pupae from all over the world. Visit us, warm up, and watch butterfly eclose!

El Salvador

25- Battus belus (Belus Swallowtail)
25 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
25 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
20 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
20 - Dryadula phaetusa (Banded Orange Heliconian)
15 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
30 - Heliconius hortense (Mountain Longwing)
07 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
15 - Lycorea cleobaea (Large Tiger)
48 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
25 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
12 - Papilio androgeus (Androgeus Swallowtail)
10 - Papilio erostratus (Dusky Swallowtail)
30 - Prepona omphale=archeoprepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)
18 - Siderone nemesis (Red-striped Leafwing)

Total = 325


10 - Argema mimosa (African Moon Moth) KENYA
10 - Athyma perius (Common Sergeant) THAILAND
10 - Catopsilia scylla (Orange Emigrant) THAILAND
10 - Cethosia cyane (Leopard Lacewing) THAILAND
10 -Charaxes lasti (Silver Striped Charaxes) KENYA
04 - Charaxes protoclea (Flame-bordered Charexes) KENYA
10 - Chilasa clytia (Common Mime) KENYA
10 - Doleschalia bisaltide (Autumn Leaf) MALAYSIA
10 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay) THAILAND
05 - Hypolimnas bolina (Great Eggfly) THAILAND
07 - Ideopsis vulgaris (Blue Glassy Tiger) MALAYSIA
10 - Junonia almanac (Peacock Pansy) MALAYSIA
10 - Junonia atlites (Gray Pansy) MAYLASIA
07 -Junonia lemonias (Lemon Pansy) MALAYSIA
02 - Lexias dirtea (Archduke) MALAYSIA
30 - Papilio constantinus (Constantines's Swallowtail) KENYA
10 - Papilio dardanus (Mocker Swallowtail) KENYA
10 - Papilio helenus (Red Helen) THAILAND
10 -Papilio memnon (Great Memnon) THAILAND

Read more!