Monday, March 28, 2011

Our Tide Pool Trip

Hey! My name is Aubrey and I am the Animal Care Intern. On February 23rd, a select group of Discovery Corps members and I went to Normandy Park Cove to collect animals for our Puget Sound Tide Pool exhibit at Pacific Science Center.

At first, we were skeptical of whether or not we would be able to make the trip because it was supposed to snow. Throughout the day we would eagerly look outside anticipating a snow-covered ground, but, alas, there was none. At around noon, our group packed into a Science on Wheels van to travel over to the park. When we arrived we saw that the beach didn’t have people on it - which is excellent for tide pool collecting. This way, we could avoid others thinking that it was okay to collect tide pool animals without a permit.

As soon as we stepped on the beach we went over our objectives. Our goal was to collect hermit crabs, anemones, and chitons within the limit set by our own animal-collecting permit. I was partnered up with my coworker Joy, who is the Discovery Carts Coordinator for our Science Interpretation Program, to find chitons. At first, they were hard to spot out because they blended in with the sand and rock. However, we eventually found some and put them in our collection bucket. While we were collecting chitons, my other coworkers were collecting different species of hermit crabs and anemones. We even saw a starfish with nine legs!

At the end of the day we were tired and cold, but the experience was totally worth it. When we arrived back at Pacific Science Center we moved the new animals into the tide pool so that they could be introduced to their new environment. Since that trip, our tide pool is full of new animals, awaiting the touch of curious minds of visitors.

The Life Sciences blog thanks Aubrey for her report and photographs.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Fresh Sheet – March 25, 2011

Visit the Tropical Butterfly House this week and make new friends!

Costa Rica

18 - Agraulis vanilla (Gulf Fritllary)
08 - Archeoprepona demophon (One-spotted Prepona)
23 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
03 - Caligo eurilochus (Forest Giant Owl)
08 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
08 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
08 - Chlosyne janais (Crimson Patch)
40 - Danaus plexippus (The Monarch)
09 - Dryadula phaetusa (Banded Orange Heliconian)
16 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
17 - Greta oto (Glasswing)
18 - Hamadryas amphinome (Red Calico)
13 - Heliconius charitonius (Zebra Longwing)
10 - Heliconius cydno (Cydno Longwing)
13 - Heliconius doris (Doris Longwing)
51 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
39 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
27 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
23 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
18 - Hypna clytemnestra (Silver-studded Leafwing)
42 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
13 - Papilio polyxenes (Black Swallowtail)
13 - Parides iphidamas(Iphidamas or Transandean Cattleheart)
44 - Phoebis philea (Orange Barred Sulfur)
15 - Phoebis sennae (Cloudless Sulphur)
20 - Siproeta stelenes(Malachite)

Total = 517

“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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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

They're So Adolescent!

At a recent staff meeting, Life Sciences staff commented that the naked mole-rat chambers have been looking grubby lately, even shortly after a fresh cleaning. At first this was simply meant as a slightly rueful observation. But as we discussed it, it became clear that the behavior of one group of animals is creating most of the mess.

The youngest colony members are now as large as the smallest of the adults in the colony. As they transition from juveniles into fully active colony members, these animals are showing behaviors that will help them be accepted in the group.

To a human, some of these behaviors may sound odd. The youngsters go into the communal latrine area and roll in the waste material they find there. Then they run through the tunnels tracking this mixture of bedding and debris. Wherever they go, there is a mess.

What could be the social advantage to a young naked mole-rat in coating itself in liquid from a communal potty? The answer starts to form when we think about where they live. Naked mole-rats’ habitat is underground in near total darkness. In their tunnels, it is impossible to recognize colony-mates by sight. One of the primary forms of identification is odor. Animals that smell like the colony are accepted; those that smell different may be rejected or worse, attacked. So rolling in the most odor-intense area makes a certain amount of sense.

As babies and youngsters, the mole-rats may have been so unthreatening that the colony accepted them without much difficulty. But as they become larger, it is important to the older colony members to recognize them as friendly.

For readers who have never had the pleasure, we can try to describe the odor of the colony. Naked mole-rats get all the water they need from their food, so their urine is extremely concentrated. It is pungent but not ammonia-y. It has a top note of sawdust and mouse, with a musky base note.

In the harsh outdoor habitat where they evolved, leaving the colony is extremely risky. Staying in the colony is much safer – if you don’t mind the smell.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Fresh Sheet – March 19, 2011

Almost 600 more pupae were added to the Tropical Butterfly House emerging window this week. Which one is your favorite?

El Salvador

15 - Archeoprepona demophon (One-spotted Prepona)
12 - Battus belus (Belus Swallowtail)
36 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
20 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
20 - Consul fabius (Tiger Leafwing)
12 - Dryadula phaetusa (Banded Orange Heliconian)
15 - Heliconius charitonius (Zebra Longwing)
09 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
80 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
20 - Morpho polyphemus (White Morpho)
36 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
10 - Parides montezuma (Montezuma Cattleheart)
40 - Prepona omphale=archeoprepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)

Total = 325


10 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
20 - Heraclides thoas (Giant Swallowtail)
40 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
40 - Papilio androgeus (Androgeus Swallowtail)
05 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
10 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
40 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
30 - Catonephele orites (Orange-banded shoemaker)
07 - Anartia amathea (Scarlet Peacock)
05 - Nessaea aglaura(Aglaura Olivewing)
15 - Biblis hyperia (Red Rim)
40 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
08 - Mechanitis polymnia(Polymnia Tigerwing)

Total = 270

Grand total = 595

“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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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Silk Moths!

Recently we've had a few unique species of moths in our Tropical Butterfly House: Polyphemus moths, Atlas moths and African luna moths. Now we have an entire exhibit of their distant relative, Bombyx mori currently undergoing metamorphosis in Pacific Science Center's Insect Village.

For thousands of years, Bombyx mori, silkworms, have been raised for their cocoons that are made into commercial silk. This silk is produced from glands in the caterpillar’s mouth as it prepares to pupate. Each cocoon consists of a single strand of silk up to 900 meters long.

In silk manufacturing, the cocoon is boiled and never becomes a moth. Of course in our exhibit, the silk moth caterpillars are allowed to mature mate and lay eggs. We’re showing the whole cycle!

These members of the large Saturniidae family are white, fluffy, flightless creatures with big antennae. With vestigial mouthparts and no digestive systems, silk moths are the antithesis of scary! We hope that seeing them may help a few of our guests overcome their fear of insects.

Silkworm eggs were shipped to us in late January and have been hatching and molting off-exhibit. Along with their late instars and cocoons the newly emerged moths have made a home in the Insect Village. Come see them!

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Everything – and the kitchen sink!

The water in our Salt Water Tide Pool tends to change a bit in clarity over the course of a week. On days where we have a lot of visitors, the water gets cloudier. When attendance is low, the water tends to clear up a bit. But recently, regardless of attendance, the water has just been cloudy – even murky. Our ammonia, pH and other tests were within healthy range and the animals were thriving. But guests had difficulty seeing the animals. The purpose of our exhibit is to educate and create a sense of wonder and stewardship, and our touch tank was not meeting this need. We needed to fix it, on a shoestring budget, but how?

There are four types of filtration – biological, chemical, physical and mechanical. Our tide pool uses all of them. To create a more robust and successful filtration system, we knew we would need to make sure we were fully utilizing each of these types of filtration.

Biological filters use bacteria to break down wastes excreted by animals into less toxic products. In our tide pool, we use “bio balls” which provide extensive surface area and for the growth of good bacteria. Our water quality measurements were good, so we had adequate biological filtration.

Chemical filtration uses carbon to removes toxins and impurities from water by binding them to material that can then be removed and disposed of. If it’s overused, it also captures trace minerals needed for a healthy system. Using chemical filtration alone is not an option.

Our protein skimmer uses physical filtration. When protein is mixed in water, it forms bubbles. It’s like a meringue made of sea scum instead of egg whites. B y capturing and discarding the foam, you remove the unwanted protein from the water. But protein does not causing cloudiness, so adding more physical filtration would not solve our problem.

Mechanical filtration captures loose particles in water, using some kind of straining material. We had been using filter canisters made of a fine metal mesh, as well as felt-like filter fabric. However, water was leaving these filters as cloudy as it went in. The mechanical filtration appeared to be the weak link.

Our first step was to identify the most efficient medium for mechanical filtration for our size of tank We knew that crushed coral would function as both a mechanical and biological filter, and this seemed like the ideal option. This main issue with coral was its weight. It is pretty heavy when it comes in bulk, and with our current vats, it would be difficult to keep the coral from getting into the filters, and nearly impossible to remove it when we needed to. So how to you suspend 100 pounds of crushed coral inside a 500-gallon vat and still maintain relative accessibility? The answer came to Animal Caretaker Dan Warner while he was washing dishes: A sink!

We retrofitted a slop sink with added drainage holes. Then we sealed netting to the bottom to keep the coral in place. Water flows from the tide pool and into this sink full of coral which now provides our main source of filtration. Then it drains from the sink into the vat, where it’s pumped back out into the tide pool again.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. To provide even greater mechanical filtration, we started using hula hoops buoyed by water noodles! They now support felt filter media that lies above the sink to and captures the largest bits of junk, such as uneaten food, hair, and spines shed by sea urchins.

And as Dan says, “Bob’s your uncle!” We have the filter of our dreams for a fraction of what it would cost to buy a new one.

Does it work? The BEFORE picture is typical of our system mid-week, when attendance is brisk but not heavy. The AFTER picture was taken after the very busy “Polar Science Weekend”, and shows that even on one of our busiest days, the coral is up to the task.

Thanks to Lead Animal Caretaker Brianna Todd for the photographs to this story.
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Friday, March 11, 2011

Fresh Sheet – March 11, 2011

“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.


13 - Cethosia biblis (Red Lacewing)
50 - Doleschalia bisaltide (Autumn Leaf)
01 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay)
100 - Hypolimnas bolina (Great Eggfly)
100 - Idea leuconoe (Paper Kite)
17 - Pachliopta kotzeboea (Pink Rose)
120 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail)
20 - Papilio polytes (Polite Swallowtail)
97 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail)
15 - Parthenos sylvia philippensis (The Clipper)

Total = 533
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Monday, March 7, 2011

"Butterflies of El Salvador"

For years, Pacific Science Center has worked with a wonderful butterfly farm, Bioproductores de El Salvador. Through their e-mails and phone calls, we have caught intriguing glimpses into the challenges faced by a butterfly farmer working to do more –to create a wildlife refuge in the midst of habitats that have been heavily damaged by other human uses..

Dr. Serrano’s brief, evocative descriptions of daily life, or of the upsets of hurricanes, volcanoes, droughts and weather anomalies have always left us wanting to know more about his farm and what it takes to run it. The great news is, at last he has created a web site to tell more. Go to

If you enjoy Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House, you really must take a look. So much goes into the export of the lovely insects we display. And some of our favorite butterflies are described in great detail, with notes on their behavior that can help us plan our exhibit better.

Congratulations, Francisco Serrano, on creating this wonderful new resource.

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Fresh Sheet – March 5, 2011

Two shipments totaling 556 new pupae this week including the popular African moon moths. Maybe we should change our name to the Tropical Moth House?

El Salvador

20 - Battus belus (Belus Swallowtail)
30 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
20 - Consul fabius (Tiger Leafwing)
20 - Dryadula phaetusa (Banded Orange Heliconian)
20 - Heliconius charitonius (Zebra Longwing)
30 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
20 - Heliconius hortense (Mountain Longwing)
48 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
10 - Myselia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
30 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
15 - Parides photinus (Queen of Hearts)
30 - Prepona omphale=archeoprepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)
12 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

Total = 305


10 - Argema mimosa (African Moon Moth) KENYA
10 - Athyma perius (Common Sergeant) THAILAND
10 - Catopsilia scylla (Orange Emigrant) THAILAND
21 - Cethosia cyane (Leopard Lacewing) THAILAND
10 - Hypolimnas bolina (Great Eggfly) THAILAND
20 - Idea leuconoe (Paper Kite) PHILIPPINES
14 - Junonia almanac (Peacock Pansy) MALAYSIA
10 - Junonia lemonias (Lemon Pansy) MALAYSIA
42 - Papilio constantinus (Constantines's Swallowtail) KENYA
30 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail) PHILIPPINES
05 - Papilio memnon (Great Memnon) MALAYSIA
24 - Papilio polytes (Polite Swallowtail) THAILAND
11 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail) PHILIPPINES
30 - Parthenos sylvia violaceae (Violet Clipper) THAILAND
05 - Phalanta phalantha (Common Leopard) THAILAND
09 - Tirumala limniace (Blue Tiger) THAILAND

Total = 251

Grand total = 556

“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, March 1, 2011

Bee Bonus!

As mentioned in previous articles, Pacific Science Center’s observation beehive population contracts every winter. Overwintering an observation hive is tricky and we sometimes lose our colony in late winter. The main culprit is the cold temperatures and the bees’ inability to properly insulate themselves. Our hives are also usually unable to produce enough honey for substantial winter reserves and as a result we offer them sugar syrup to tide them over during these months. However, the 2010-2011 hive was a little different.

After last spring’s bee installation the hive had a few false starts and on more than one occasion, the queen was rejected. But after the start, the bees seemed to be doing well until late November. At that time, a sudden cold snap infiltrated the air inside the colony. All the bees and their brood perished in this cold. Normally, our hive is designed to survive cold temperatures, but this early and severe cold caught them unprepared.

When we disassemble our beehive for the season, Animal Caretakers dismantle the frames and clean them up for the next spring installation. This is not an especially fun job. Usually, there’s not much left in the frames except for dead bees and sticky wax. This year was different! The bees were gone but left their combs full of rich, flowery tasting honey.

Not wanting to waste this precious elixir, the Animal Care team quickly went to work cleaning the hive. It’s a messy job – but everyone wanted to do it! The result was about a gallon of wax and honey to divide among us.

Waxy honey is a nice novelty, but a bit awkward to eat. Normally bee keepers use a large centrifuge to draw the honey out of the comb. Without a centrifuge, the trick was to heat the honey carefully and slowly enough to get the wax to precipitate out of the honey. We found that 140-150 degrees in a water bath was just the trick! As soon as the honey cooled to room temperature the wax formed at the top of the jar and could be easily scraped off. Voila!

Thanks bees!

This story might have made you hungry. We are often asked why Pacific Science Center does not sell its extra honey. In fact, we rarely have extra. Because our hive is on the small side, all the honey the bees can gather is used to feed them and there is very rarely a surplus. We are in the process of drawing plans for a more flexible hive system that we hope will allow our bees to be more productive. When extra honey is a reality, we will make sure our loyal readers are kept in the know!

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