Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Two Batches of Babies!

A few weeks ago, we posted a birth announcement for Galinda. Four of her pups had made it past the critical first five days of life, and were on track toward growing up healthy and strong. Now five weeks old, they are still doing well, and we have some further news to share.

As long time fans of our naked mole-rat colony are aware, we are in the very unusual position of having two reproductive females. While not unknown, this situation usually resolves through fighting, but in our case seems to have become a stable long term configuration.

It was still a surprise to see a visibly pregnant Elphaba nursing some of Galinda’s pups, as Brianna observed on June 16. This was the first time we have ever observed pups nursing, with seeming success, on an individual other than their mom. Although the mammary glands of all naked mole-rats become well developed near the end of the queen’s pregnancy, we could find no reports of actual milk being produced, let alone of animals providing milk for pups other than their own. Elphaba appears to be doing something never before seen.

Nursing from two females is clearly beneficial for the pups. They gain extra nutrition, and create a social bond with Elphaba while still having the milk and attention of their own mother.

It is a little more puzzling what Elphaba gains. On the face of it, in fact, she appears to be losing nutrients and possibly risking her own litter. Nursing can cause the release of oxytocin, a powerful hormone related to childbirth and parent/infant bonding. Nursing another animals’ pups could lead to her pups being born prematurely, and it certainly is taking resources she would normally be giving to her own offspring. At this point we do not have a clear understanding of why this nursing took place, though it is certainly interesting to observe and speculate.

What is clear is that nursing another female’s babies did not prevent Elphaba from producing at least some viable pups. She gave birth on the June 17th. Two of the pups from that litter survived the critical 5-day mark and have past day ten. From all appearances, they are growing and developing right on track!

Read more!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fresh Sheet -- June 24, 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.

El Salvador

20 - Battus belus (Belus Swallowtail)
10 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
20 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
12 - Dryadula phaetusa (Banded Orange Heliconian)
20 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
08 - Heliconius hortense (Mountain Longwing)
20 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
80 - Morpho peleides(Blue Morpho)
20 - Morpho polyphemus (White Morpho)
20 - Myselia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
20 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
15 - Papilio androgeus (Androgeus Swallowtail)
15 - Papilio erostratus (Dusky Swallowtail)
12 - Papilio pilumnus (Three-tailed Swallowtail)
15 - Prepona demophon(Two-spotted Prepona)
07 - Prepona omphale=archeoprepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)

Total = 314


10 - Argema mimosae (African Moon Moth)
28 - Cethosia cyaneLeopard Lacewing
10 - Charaxes castor (Giant Charaxes)
10 - Charaxes cithaeron (Blue-spotted Charaxes)
07 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay)
30 - Hypolimnas bolina (Great Eggfly)
08 - Idea leuconoe (Paper Kite)
30 - Papilio constantinus (Constantines's Swallowtail)
20 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail)
10 - Papilio memnon (Great Swallowtail)
30 - Papilio nireus (Blue-banded Swallowtail)
01 - Papilio ophidicephalus (Emperor Swallowtail)
10 - Papilio polytes (Polite swallowtail)
21 - Parthenos sylvia lilacinus (Blue Clipper)
21 - Parthenos sylvia philppensis (The Clipper)
04 - Salamis anacardii (Clouded Mother Of Pearl)

Total = 250

Grand Total = 564
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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fresh Sheet – June 18, 2011

Three kinds of Owls and all sorts of Longwings arrived this week from Costa Rica. Come, check them out!

Costa Rica

08 - Archeoprepona demophon (One-spotted Prepona)
30 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
08 - Caligo atreus (Yellow-Edged Giant-Owl)
16 - Caligo eurilochus (Forest Giant Owl)
18 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
10 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
22 - Danaus plexippus (The Monarch)
17 - Dryadula phaetusa (Banded Orange Heliconian)
10 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
27 - Greta oto (Glasswing)
27 - Hamadryas amphinome (Red Calico)
20 - Hamadryas feronia (Variable Calico)
21 - Heliconius charitonius (Zebra Longwing)
27 - Heliconius doris (Doris Longwing)
29 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
21 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
29 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
27 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
18 - Hypna clytemnestra (Silver-studded Leafwing)
42 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
13 - Papilio polyxenes (Black Swallowtail)
13 - Philaethria dido (Scarce Bamboo Page)
17 - Phoebis argente (Apricot Sulfur)
21 - Phoebis sennae (Cloudless Sulphur)
26 - 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.

Read more!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Never Stumped

“Plant down, we have a plant down!”

This is a walkie-talkie call you don’t often hear at Pacific Science Center.

But when wet soil, snow and rough winds toppled one of the Shore pine (Pinus contorta) on our grounds below the Tropical Butterfly House, the Horticulture crew quickly dealt with the problem. They immediately removed the damaged tree, which was obstructing foot traffic around it.

Life Sciences’ Horticulture team, Jeff Leonard and Maida Ingalls, is probably most famous for growing stinky lilies, bamboo, coffee trees, colorful planters and the many wonderful flowers and foliage plants in the Tropical Butterfly House. But some days are less about exotic flora and more about hard, but careful work.

To deal with the downed tree, they first removed all branches and cut down the tree trunk. This left a two-foot stump. Next they hauled away all the debris and cut the trunk into fireplace size pieces. Ever the recycler, Maida took the logs to help heat her home next winter!

Then came time to deal with the stump and attached root ball. This is the hard part! Digging out a root ball that weighs in the neighborhood of 300 lbs. took time, care and the proper tools to get it all out safely. NOTE: No horticulturists were harmed in the making of this story.

Once the stump was removed, it was clear that it still had the wire enclosure and even a bit of burlap from its original planting. This planting occurred before either of our horticulturist worked here. This is a great reminder: when planting, liberate the roots and let them spread out into the soil where they will be living. This tree’s roots were prevented from expanding, which may have contributed to its destabilizing in wet weather.

Finally, Jeff and Maida backfilled the planting hole, leveled the soil, and raked out all leaves and other debris. Arborist wood chips provided by Seattle Tree Preservation were used as base mulch. Soon cedar play chips will be blown over this and adjacent planting beds as the finishing touch.

We are most thankful to Portal to the Publics’ Tamara Yurkanin for documenting this feat of strength through her photojournalism. Thank you again Tamara!

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Fearsome Threesome!

With the Goose Bumps! The Science of Fear exhibit now open, fans of Pacific Science Center’s arthropods will have another place to visit with some of their favorite animals. People who have avoided our Insect Village due to a dislike of bugs now have a chance to rethink their feelings. Three species are featured in the exhibit in ways that encourage our guests to explore and challenge their fear of bugs.

The species we chose reflect the reactions we sometimes hear from our guests, as well as the fears of some of our own staff.

Many people have a deep, some say innate, fear of spiders. The Chilean Rose Tarantula (Grammostola rosea) is a calm species of spider. They would rather avoid trouble than face it. When threatened, they are more likely to attack by shooting leg hairs, causing skin irritation, than they are to bite. Even if provoked to bite, their venom is not dangerous to humans. Our tarantula is nearing time to shed her skin, something tarantulas only do once each year. Her exoskeleton is balding right now; soon she will have a new, silky growth of pink hair. She prepares by building herself a nice, comfortable silk pad to lie down on. Her species doesn’t like to touch rough surfaces.

Fear of cockroaches is fairly common. Most people don’t specifically fear being harmed by them, but rather dislike the idea of having them in the home. The Madagascar Hissing Cockroach’s (Gromphadorhina portentosa) natural habitat is the outdoors, which may make them less threatening. They are familiar from popular culture, and are also the one insect Pacific Science Center invites our guests to touch. Touching butterflies can hurt their wings, but cockroaches’ reputation for robust good health is deserved – they can be held and pet by hundreds and remain unharmed. But save the hand sanitizer for after you’ve pet them. It contains ingredients that dry their skin, and is much more of a threat to them, than they are to us.

The Desert Centipede (Scolopendra sp) was chosen for this exhibit because our Life Sciences Manager, Sarah Moore, admits that it is the one invertebrate she fears the most. This centipede can deal a painful bite and is larger than your garden variety. It is also far more mobile than most venomous creatures, running after its prey and catching it with its fangs. But in truth, Sarah’s fear is out of proportion to the damage this arthropod can inflict. Unless one had specific allergies, a bite would hurt but do no lasting harm. Active predators, centipedes are one of the beneficial animals that help keep pest insect populations under control. Without centipedes, spiders, and other carnivorous arthropods, we would have more damage to our gardens and more bugs in our houses!

What insects or arthropods do you fear? What makes them scary? What would make them less scary?

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Fresh Sheet – June 10, 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.

El Salvador

25 - Battus belus (Belus Swallowtail)
20 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
20 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
10 - Heliconius hortense (Mountain Longwing)
16 - Lycorea cleobaea (Large Tiger)
80 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
20 - Morpho polyphemus (White Morpho)
20 - Myselia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
25 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
20 - Papilio androgeus (Androgeus Swallowtail)
20 - Papilio erostratus (Dusky Swallowtail)
10 - Papilio pilumnus (Three-tailed Swallowtail)
25 - Prepona demophon (One-spotted Prepona)
10 - Parides photinus (Queen of Hearts)
20 - Prepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)

Total = 341


10 - Parides sesostris (Emerald-patched Cattleheart)
25 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
20 - Heraclides thoas (Thoas Swallowtail)
40 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
10 - Papilio androgeus (Androgeus Swallowtail)
10 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
40 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
30 - Anartia amathea (Scarlet Peacock)
05 - Archeoprepona demophon (One-spotted Prepona)
10 - Biblis hyperia (Red Rim)
10 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
40 - Mechanitis polymnia (Polymnia Tigerwing)
20 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

Total = 270

Grand Total = 611

Read more!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Very Hungry Nudibranch

Last Thursday, guests and staff were treated to a rare sighting of the Puget Sound Tide Pool model’s one and only shaggy mouse nudibranch (Aeolidia papillosa). This marine slug grazes on the tentacles of sea anemones. Having eaten the tentacles, it stores their stinging cells in its own body, rendering it toxic to predators. The shaggy looking growths on its back, which earned it its name, actually contain these stinging cells.

An unexpected stowaway from our most recent tide pooling expedition, the shaggy mouse is often hard to find. Unlike many home loving tide pool animals, it does not predictably return to a few favorite haunts. Since it is also small, flexible, and sandy in color, it tends to disappear for days or weeks only to suddenly appear in a new part of the exhibit.

In Pacific Science Center’s Life Sciences department, we must constantly remind ourselves not to anthropomorphize. Sometimes are easier than others. As the fluffy little nudibranch crawled between the arms of a purple sea star, it was all we could do not to think the star was petting it.

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fresh Sheet – June 4, 2011

Twenty percent of this week’s pupae shipment from the Philippines is Hypolimnas bolina , a species we’re seeing more than once in a Blue Moon!


20 - Papilio palinurus (Banded Peacock)
30 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail)
50 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail)
100 - Idea leuconoe (Paper Kite)
20 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay)
30 - Doleschalia bisaltide (Autumn Leaf)
80 - Parthenos sylvia philippensis (The Clipper)
14 - Papilio polytes (Polite Swallowtail)
30 - Danaus chrysippus (Plain Tiger)
17 - Cethosia biblis (Red Lacewing)
100 - Hypolimnas bolina (Blue moon)

Total = 500

“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!

Thursday, June 2, 2011


On Friday, May 27, Life Sciences staff received the following memo from Animal Care Lead Brianna Todd:

Hey all,
Just wanted to give everyone a heads up that Galinda gave birth last night. The babies look remarkably big and robust. We counted at least twelve this morning but there may be more.

Because the first week can be very challenging for mole rat pups, it is our policy to not make a formal naked mole rat baby announcement until at least five days have passed. It has been five days, so consider this blog post our official notice. The original litter was 20 pups – a rather large number for all the pups to be viable. As of Thursday morning we still have four little ones, gaining nourishment from nursing. It is now Thursday afternoon and the four pups continue to be active and show signs of growth.

Although day five is our big day for determining that the pups have a good chance of survival, there are still some challenges ahead as they incorporate solid food into their diet. But getting to this point is most heartening.

If it seems like a long time since our colony successfully produced offspring, you are right. Last offspring are now fifteen months old.

Read more!