Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Late Summer Tide Pool Collecting

This weekend, Cari Garand and Wendy Hanson did an end of summer tide pool collecting trip, along with volunteer John Aurelius who generously lets Pacific Science Center collect from his beach at Indianola.

Trained beach naturalists, Cari and Wendy collected carefully, taking only organisms allowed on our permit, and leaving animals as they found them if they could not be used in our tide pool exhibit.

Here are the animals that Cari and Wendy brought back:
Hermit crabs: 15

Mottled Star: smaller ones, 4

Shrimp: 2 very little

Limpets: no large ones, but many small ones came in attached to other animals

Painted Anemone: 1

Aggregating Anemone: 4 mostly came attached to stuff

Moon Snail Egg Cases: 3

Barnacle covered rocks: 10

Chitons: 3, 2 bigger mossy or possibly hairy ones and one small lined

Snails: 8

In addition to the animals we might expect from a collection, our team spotted a bunch of the coolest looking items we’ve seen! The gelatinous, finger like objects are squid egg cases, and you can actually see the baby squids floating around inside the case.

Of course, Cari and Wendy wished they could bring some of these cases back, but knew that our system would not support such large, free swimming predators as mature squids. So the cases stayed on the beach.

Cari and Wendy used their professional experience to assess which animals would work best in our Puget Sound Salt Water Tide Pool. But being professional does not mean the collectors didn’t feel the wonder and excitement of being on a beach.

We encourage everyone to visit one of our local beaches, and spend time getting to know Puget Sound better. Bring your camera; you never know what amazing pictures may be out there.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fresh Sheet – August 27, 2011


50 -Papilio palinurus (Banded Peacock)
30 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail)
100 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail)
14 - Papilio hipponus (Hipponus Swallowtail)
100 - Idea leuconoe (Paper Kite)
08 - Pachliopta kotzeboea (Pink Rose)
18 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay)
78 - Doleschalia bisaltide (Autumn Leaf)
20 - Parthenos sylvia philippensis (The Clipper)
50 - Papilio polytes (Polite Swallowtail)
100 - Hypolimnas bolina (Blue moon)

Total = 568

“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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Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Number One Question About Naked Mole Rats

Everything about naked mole rats is fascinating, and Pacific Science Center’s staff are eager to chat about them. Want to know about eusocial behavior? These mammals are a great example. Excited about the latest pups? So are we! Have you followed the adventures of the dispersing morph and want help finding him? Maybe we can help.

But before we can answer any of these questions, we have to address another question, one more urgent:

“Are some of the animals dead?”

We get this question daily, often several times per day. Adult naked mole rats have long life expectancies, and the death of a grown colony member is an extremely rare event for us. So why do we get so many reports of dead animals, and how can a casual viewer separate the living from the dead?

Naked mole rats’ metabolism is adapted to the low oxygen and stable temperature of an underground tunnel. Their respiration and heart rate are lower than one would expect for such a small animal. Thus, there are fewer signs of life to begin with!

Their greyish skin is a second contributor. To many people, the color has an unhealthy appearance, but pinkish grey is the natural color of a healthy naked mole rat.

Additionally, naked mole rats have a habit of sleeping in very relaxed positions. They often stretch out on their backs, with legs splayed in the air, for a long, motionless, deep sleep. Their favorite snoozing spots are over heat exchange ducts. Sleeping naked mole rats will tolerate other animals walking over them, and even kicking them, often showing little or no response.

Small wonder, then, that a grey, motionless, splayed out form would appear lifeless.

We have a few pointers for observing possibly “dead” mole rats before jumping to conclusions.

• If they are in a tube over a heat duct, watch them closely. Animals go here for their deepest sleep, and often lie motionless. When another animal crawls over them, you may see subtle signs of life – a twitch or flexing of muscle. That’s all you need to know they’re ok

• If they are pink and grey, this is a good sign. In the rare cases where an animal has been found dead, it was discolored, with purple extremities.

• Naked mole rats often rest on their backs and spread their legs out. This is a sign of relaxation. An animal that has died would more likely be rigid, rather than relaxed.

• Colony members are not tolerant of dead mole rats in their chambers. They would not ignore or walk over a dead colony mate, but would attempt to drag the animal to the most remote area of the enclosure. So if you see a mole rat being stepped on, it is probably alive.

• This is not a pleasant subject, but in the warm air of the colony, a naked mole rat that had perished would begin to deteriorate rapidly. Their stomach contents and skin would begin to fill with gases, and the animal would appear bloated.

We are always ready to check out any report of possible unhealthy or dead animals, but we also want to minimize the number of times we disturb animals that are simply resting. With so many people viewing our exhibits, it is often a visitor who sees a problem first and reports it. We hope with these criteria, that you have a better idea of when help is needed, and when a mole rat is just enjoying a nap.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fresh Sheet – August 21, 2011

Sixteen of the 607 pupae we received this week for the Tropical Butterfly House are not even butterflies! That’s right, they’re moths! Come see all our Lepidopteran species!

El Salvador

35 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
32 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
05 - Consul fabius (Tiger Leafwing)
09 - Dryadula phaetusa (Banded Orange Heliconian)
32 - Heliconius charitonius (Zebra Longwing)
12 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
25 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
20 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
50 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
25 - Morpho polyphemus (White Morpho)
32 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
20 - Archeoprepona demophoon (One-spotted Prepona)
08 - Prepona omphale=archeoprepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)

Total = 305


16 - Argema mimosa (African Moon Moth) KENYA
10 - Athyma perius (Common Sergeant) THAILAND
10 - Catopsilia pyranthe (Mottled Emigrant) THAILAND
10 - Catopsilia scylla (Orange Emigrant) THAILAND
04 - Cethosia biblis (Red Lacewing) PHILIPPINES
10 - Charaxes brutus (White-barred Charaxes) KENYA
03 - Charaxes castor (Giant Charaxes) KENYA
10 - Charaxes cithaeron (Blue-spotted Charaxes) KENYA
10 - Charaxes protoclea (Flame-bordered Charexes) KENYA
09 - Charaxes violetta (Violet-spotted Emperor) KENYA
10 - Doleschalia bisaltide (Autumn Leaf) PHILIPPINES
10 - Euploea core (Common Crow) THAILAND
10 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay) PHILIPPINES
40 - Hypolimnas bolina (Blue moon) PHILIPPINES
10 - Ideopsis vulgaris (Blue Glassy Tiger) MALAYSIA
10 - Papilio dardanus (Mocker Swallowtail) KENYA
20 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail) PHILIPPINES
10 - Papilio memnon (Great Memnon) THAILAND
10 - Papilio nireus (Blue-banded Swallowtail) KENYA
05 - Papilio palinurus (Banded Peacock) PHILIPPINES
20 - Papilio polytes (Polite Swallowtail) PHILIPPINES
10 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail) PHILIPPINES
10 - Parthenos sylvia philippensis (The Clipper) PHILIPPINES
10 - Parthenos sylvia violaceae (Violet Clipper) MALAYSIA
05 - Pseudacraea lucretia (False Chief) KENYA
10 - Salamis anacardii (Clouded Mother Of Pearl) KENYA
10 - Tirumala limniace (Blue Tiger) THAILAND

Total = 302

Grand Total = 607

“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, August 16, 2011

It’s all part of the job!

By Sarah Moore, Life Sciences Manager

Once in a while, an appointment on my calendar is so bizarre that even I wonder what kind of job I signed up for. This whole week is full of them. This week, I will “walk around picking up trash”, and check to make sure that the “butterfly cart gets restocked”. In one wacky day I have a 9:00 am “wild oceans adventure” a 10:00 am “discuss cockroach pigment with Brigid” and a 10:30 am “mist snake heads with Holly”. I end the week with “mole-rat cam follow up”.

So what do all these silly meeting topics really mean? Some of them are fairly mundane. Walk around picking up garbage is just that. Each week, a team led by our horticulture staff, Jeff and Maida, walks the grounds, cleaning up litter. We like to keep things looking their best. Some trends we have noted: people are becoming more conscientious about correctly disposing of food wrappers and bags. However, smokers, gum chewers and dog walkers can make a huge difference by packing out their litter.

Our Tropical Butterfly House is full of lovely butterflies, each with a brief but glorious two week life span. When they die, many butterfly’s wings are still colorful and pretty. Rather than destroy these intact and valuable items, we prepare them for a second existence in our Butterfly Discovery Cart, where children get to observe, appreciate, and even touch a butterfly wing.

Wild Oceans Adventure is a summer camp offered by our camp program. One of the activities campers get to enjoy is watching and participating in a tide pool feeding. Kids learn how animals eat in the wild, how we care for them here, and how to be a respectful guest next time the visit a beach.

Why on earth am I discussing cockroach pigment? There is a rumor among new staff and volunteers, that our Madagascar hissing cockroaches get more pigment and grow darker as they age. No one knows where this unverified fact began. Since it is essentially a new hypothesis, we don’t have any data on whether it is true. Brigid, who supervises our Discovery Corps program is interested in running an experiment to see what really happens.

Holly, our Presentation Supervisor, and I have been tasked with analyzing our snake handling practices, to make sure we have all possible safety measures in place. Since we know that most snake bites are related to feeding accidents, we wanted to develop a clear protocol to let snakes know when they were going to be handled but not fed. One way to do this is to lightly mist water on the snake’s face before handling. This may sound unpleasant, but our snakes relish water in nearly any form, and would develop a pleasant, but non-food related association between a refreshing mist of water and an upcoming presentation. This is in theory. Holly and I want to prototype the process and see how the snakes really react before letting our staff do it.

I’m going to let my last appointment, “discuss mole-rat cam” hang out there as a teaser for now. This article is already long enough, and I hope to have a full story on the cam in the near future.
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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fresh Sheet – August 13, 2011

Costa Rico

16 - Agraulis vanilla (Gulf Fritllary)
08 - Archeoprepona demophoon (One-spotted Prepona)
10 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
08 - Caligo atreus (Yellow-Edged Giant-Owl)
08 - Caligo eurilochus (Forest Giant Owl)
08 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
24 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
07 - Chlosyne janais (Crimson Patch)
41 - Danaus plexippus (The Monarch)
21 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
22 - Dryadula phaetusa (Banded Orange Heliconian)
21 - Eueudes isabella (Isabella’s Longwing)
17 - Greta oto (Glasswing)
08 - Hamadryas feronia (Variable Calico)
07 - Hamadryas guatemalena (Guatemalan Calico)
19 - Heliconius charitonius (Zebra Longwing)
08 - Heliconius clysonymus (Clysonymus Longwing)
16 - Heliconius cydno (Cydno Longwing)
24 - Heliconius doris (Doris Longwing)
04 - Heliconius eleuchia (Eleuchia longwing)
31 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
09 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
12 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
25 - Hypna clytemnestra (Silver-studded Leafwing)
41 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
30 - Papillio anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
04 - Papilio cresphontes (Giant Swallowtail)
13 - Philaethria dido (Scarce Bamboo Page)
21 - Phoebis philea (Orange Barred Sulfur)
07 - Siproeta epaphus (Rusty-tipped Page)
27 - 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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Thursday, August 11, 2011


by Brianna Todd, Lead Animal Caretaker

Last week, I wrote a blog about my awesome trip to Rio Rico, Arizona for the Insects in Education and Conservation Conference. I learned and saw a lot during that trip, but there was one conspicuous story that I didn't mention at all. It was definitely the craziest thing I witnessed on the trip, and for that reason it merits its own story.

Have you ever heard of blacklighting? If you know an entomologist, mention blacklighting to them and watch their eyes light up. Like I said in my previous article, I am not a bona-fide entomologist, so I had never heard of it before I went on this trip. It was about six hours into our "afternoon excursion" that the term "blacklighting" caught my attention. It went something like this;
Serious entomologist guy: "You know, we've seen a lot of bugs today, but I feel like we saw more last year."
Trip leader: "Yeah, but wait until it gets dark. Then we can start blacklighting and the bugs will start swarming."
Me (sweaty, blistered, exhausted): "Say what? Dark? Black lights? Swarming bugs???" Fortunately I didn't say any of this out loud or I may have been banned from entomology for life.

This was the point when I realized I was in for the long haul, and that those sack dinners we had packed weren't for "just in case". When you find yourself out in the middle of the Sonoran desert, and your only ride home is a team of entomologists who couldn't be happier if it was Christmas morning, it's usually best to just go with the flow. That's what I discovered. Sure, I was tired and hot, among other things, but I was about to witness something bizarre and spectacular.

As dusk started to settle in, it was time to set up. I watched while the rest of the group set up two black light stations, each consisting of a white sheet jury-rigged across two poles, and a large black-light propped up in front of the sheet. The entomologists got their cameras and specimen jars ready, and started to stare at the sheets intently. A few bugs began to land on the sheet, mostly tiny beetles and moths. When I stated that that was kind of cool, I was interrupted with a promise, "This isn't even 10% of what we'll get." So we waited a bit longer.

Within 30 minutes or so, I started to understand what everyone was talking about. Giant beetles of all sorts of colors and sizes were flocking to the sheet, unable to resist the lure of the black light. Huge, beautiful moths showed up to the party next. I was excited to see some massive damselflies too, which I learned are the adult form of ant lions. I was told by a few blacklighting veterans that sometimes they've even witnessed tarantulas and scorpions making their way across the base of the sheet and having a field day with all of the free food we've collected for them.

Within an hour, the sheets were totally covered in bugs. A few interesting specimens were captured by entomologists for their collections, but mostly folks just took pictures. Standing next to the sheet, I felt like I was in a hailstorm of bugs as they constantly hurled themselves into my face and arms on their mission to reach the black light. Still, with the level of enthusiasm and awe exhibited by the rest of my group, it was hard not to catch their excitement. It truly was like nothing I've ever seen before. I'm glad I was forced to stay.

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Monday, August 8, 2011


Who are these people and what are they doing?

Here's a clue. Stay tuned!

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fresh Sheet – August 6, 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

30 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
20 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
25 - Consul fabius (Tiger Leafwing)
20 - Dryadula phaetusa (Banded Orange Heliconian)
10 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
20 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
12 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
10 - Lycorea cleobaea (Large Tiger)
40 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
40 - Morpho polyphemus (White Morpho)
20 - Myselia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
20 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
10 - Papilio androgeus (Androgeus Swallowtail)
10 - Papilio erostratus (Dusky Swallowtail)
10 - Papilio torquatus (Band-gapped Swallowtail)
20 - Parides photinus (Queen of Hearts)
20 - Prepona demophon (One-spotted Prepona)
25 - Prepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)

Total = 362


41 - Anartia amathea (Scarlet Peacock)
23 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
44 - Catonephele orites (Orange-banded shoemaker)
10 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
11 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
40 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
40 - Heraclides thoas (Thoas Swallowtail)
06 - Mechanitis polymnia (Polymnia Tigerwing)
12 – Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
05 - Phoebis sennae (Cloudless Sulphur)
48 - Prepona demophoon (One-spotted Prepona)
12 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

Total = 292

Grand Total = 654

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Whip My Net Back and Forth*

By Brianna Todd, Lead Animal Caretaker

Last week I was lucky to attend the 2011 Invertebrates in Education and Conservation Conference in Rio Rico, Arizona. Life Sciences Department Manager Sarah Moore usually attends this conference, and every year that she goes, I wonder, “Who would want to go to southern Arizona at the end of July?” I was still wondering this same question as I boarded the plane to Tucson.

It turns out this is the best time of year for seeing and catching bugs. Every summer Arizona goes through a monsoon season. Torrential downpours arrive almost every afternoon, last for about 30 minutes or so, and then disappear as the temperature creeps back up into the 100’s. These rains are vital to the Sonoran desert ecosystem, and they’re also helpful for entomologists looking for cool bugs that have been washed out of their hiding places. Although I work with bugs pretty much every day, I am not an entomologist, nor would I identify myself as a “bug geek”. So I was a little trepidatious heading into this conference, but I thought at least it would be a good learning experience.

The first evening of the conference included a welcoming reception, with a keynote address by Dr. Mark Moffett. If you have not heard of Dr. Moffett, you might recognize him by his alter ego, Dr. Bugs. He is a research associate for the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution, as well as a contract photographer for National Geographic. In his career he has written over 20 articles for National Geographic and published more than 500 images in that magazine. I was lucky to see Dr. Moffett speak a couple of years ago when he was a part of the National Geographic Lecture Series. On that occasion, I saw him speak to a crowd of about 2000 people at the home of the Seattle Symphony, Benaroya Hall. I was definitely excited to see him in this much more intimate venue of about 120 people, and he didn’t disappoint.

After the reception, the conference was in full swing. Each day began with a series of paper sessions presented by conference attendees. Presentation topics ran the gamut from how to create cage labels that catch visitors’ attention, to the husbandry of Tanzanian tailless whip scorpions (Damon variegatus), to the effort to reintroduce the American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) to portions of its former habitat. All of the presentations that I saw were excellent. They gave me plenty of new ideas for ways to improve our invertebrate cages, and they provided me with some insight into the way similar institutions operate on a day-to-day basis.

In the afternoons, we had a variety of activities to choose from depending on the day. On the first afternoon, I attended a field trip, organized by Jim Melli of the San Diego Natural History Museum. This field trip was called, “Border Bugs”, and as the name suggests, we hovered right around (but not over) the Mexican border. Rio Rico is just 10 miles from the border, directly north of Nogales. Coming from the complete opposite side of the country, it was definitely an otherworldly experience to find myself wandering about in this ecological and political environment. As we roamed the deserts and the scrubs, far out in the middle of nowhere, the Border Patrol pickups and planted water jugs gave the expedition a totally eerie vibe.

In addition to the field trip, I also attended a couple of workshops on different afternoons. In one of these workshops Wade Harrell from Phylum Studios gave us some great ideas for designing cage props out of recycled Styrofoam. This was probably one of the most useful things I learned throughout the conference and I’m excited to start making some new props for our cages here.

On the final day of the conference, I was scheduled to give my own presentation for the morning paper sessions. After a few days of observing other folks’ impeccable work, I was more than a little nervous. The topic of my presentation was our Saltwater Tide Pool. Although much of the talk at the conference centered around terrestrial invertebrates, many people were excited to hear about their marine cousins. In my presentation, I talked mainly about the Ocean Acidification Cart, which is a new interactive floor component that lets cart performers tie together some important neighboring exhibits, including the tide pool, the carbon monitoring station, and the Science on a Sphere . By learning about the processes of ocean acidification, visitors can start to understand how different components of our world rely on and affect each other. The presentation was a success and I received a lot of compliments and interest in our curriculum after it was over. I was also happy to be done with it.

After the conference, just before flying back home, I was lucky enough to see the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, and even luckier to be able to go on a behind the scenes tour. They have a ton of animals at this museum (all of them local)! I could have stayed there for hours, but I had a flight to catch (and it was 110 degrees). Although this was part of an invertebrate conference, I have to say the highlight of the museum trip for me was definitely the rattlesnakes. I have a healthy fear of these animals, but it was still very exciting to see some of these beautiful and dangerous creatures up close.

As I boarded the plane to head back to Seattle, I couldn’t help thinking about coming back next year. I am a newbie to the world of professional conferences, but this one offered plenty of good people, great animals, and beautiful scenery. I might be a bug geek after all.

*A line from the pop song (“I Whip My Hair Back And Forth”) that was parodied by a pair of rapping entomologists in a performance they made on the last night of the conference.
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