Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Question #1: Can I ask you a question?

Answer: Yes! Please – ask another!

Animal Caretakers get asked a lot of questions – a lot of good questions! Here are some of our most popular.

FAQ #2: Are those snakes poisonous?

Answer: No, our snakes are not venomous. All of our snakes are constrictors, which means they squeeze their prey to death before they eat them. Our snakes don’t have to squeeze their food to death because we give them previously frozen rats. Dead prey is safer for the snakes because it can’t fight back and potentially injure them. Still, our constrictors squeeze their prey instinctively.

FAQ #3: Do you feed the naked mole-rats to the snakes?

Answer: No. The naked mole-rats are kept completely separate from the boa constrictors. Even though naked mole-rats sometimes die naturally, and the snakes would probably find them pretty tasty, we feel that we would be crossing a morbid line to offer our naked mole-rats up as food.

FAQ #4: Don’t sea anemones sting?

Answer: Not our Puget Sound sea anemones. You may feel a mild stickiness when you touch the anemone’s tentacles but that’s all. If you were a tiny sea creature, that stickiness would feel like a sting.

FAQ #5: Do naked mole-rats eat their babies? I think I saw one eating a baby!

Answer: Perhaps what you saw was a mole-rat eating a carrot? Unlike pet hamsters and other rodents in captivity, mole-rats rarely resort to cannibalism. In fact, when a mole-rat dies, it is more likely that the colony members bury them in the bedding.

FAQ #6: Are those the cockroaches they eat on “Fear Factor?”

Answer: Yes [sigh]. Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches are said to be delicious and high in protein. Some cultures consider them a delicacy. But we would never eat just any insect without thorough knowledge of its safety. Some insects are toxic and they all carry germs!

FAQ#7: How do the naked mole-rats know that the potty chamber is their bathroom? They can’t read the sign!

Answer: What do you think? Do you have a cat? Does she go in a litter box? Have you noticed dogs like to go where other dogs have gone? It’s because of the smell, right? And if you look closely, you’ll notice our naked mole rat potty chambers are isolated with only one entrance. This keeps the smelly room away from their living areas. Mole-rats have an excellent sense of smell!

FAQ #8: Will the hermit crab bite me?

Answer: Well, it won’t bite you … but it may pinch you, and then just enough to hold on. It’s more likely that when you pick up a hermit crab, the little critter will scurry back into his shell. It’s afraid of you!

FAQ #9: Where is the naked mole-rats’ water bottle? My hamster has a water bottle in his cage.

Answer: They don’t need a water bottle or dish. Naked mole-rats live underground in dry desert conditions. They have adapted to get all their moisture from their food. Because they live in cramped tunnels, the humidity is very high. Their need for moisture is not the same as your hamster.

FAQ # 10: What are these things? Axo …??

Answer: Axolotls, “ak-suh-lot-l.” Although they look like big tadpoles, axolotls are actually amphibians that never go through metamorphosis. You probably won’t find them in the wild – they come from areas of Mexico that are heavily populated and they are nearly extinct in nature. Axolotls are studied for their ability to regenerate their limbs.

Any other questions?

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Nancy's Photographs

The following is a blog post by one of our faithful volunteers (former Animal Care Intern and former Discovery Corp member), Nancy. In addition to caring for our animals and helping guests to have positive experiences with our animal exhibits, Nancy spends some of her free time learning and working with Youth In Focus. Soon she begins her freshman year at the University of Washington.

Here, Nancy shares some of her best tips - for all you photography geeks and novices alike - to take great pictures inside the Tropical Butterfly House.

I’m guest blogger, Nancy Huizar, and I am a volunteer for the Animal Care department. Did you know you’re allowed to take photos of our butterflies in the Tropical Butterfly House? I do it all the time!

When the lighting is low, visitors are permitted to use flash. Personally, lighting isn’t a problem for me. Natural light flows into the butterfly house through the giant windows and works wonders. Not only does the architecture of the butterfly house help, but the layout helps me as well. There are different types of plants that the butterflies like to feed from and most of them are low enough for me to get some neat shots. There are also some fruit plates that are about hip level and make it easy to get some shots of Owl butterflies (Caligo memnon).

The hard part about photographing butterflies is timing. You may see a butterfly sticking to one flower but once you get the proper settings on your camera, it’s already gone. For me that’s the most frustrating part. I always shoot manual with a digital SLR or a film SLR. This means I adjust my own settings and I also manually focus. Sometimes I have my settings right but then the butterfly moves slightly and then I’m not in the right angle to get the shot I want. This isn’t always a bad thing. The photo could turn out better than you intended.

As far as equipment, I used a Sony A300 for all of these pictures. I have regular zoom lenses. I don’t own any macro lenses but I cheat sometimes and use filters that give my lenses some magnification.

I hope you enjoy my photos and go out to your garden or swing by Pacific Science Center to take some photos of your own.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fresh Sheet – September 22, 2011

Come visit our bright, shiny, newly cleaned Tropical Butterfly House (Thanks, Jeff and Maida!) when we reopen September 24. The latest shipment of pupae is eclosing now in the Emerging Window.


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

Total = 507

“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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Friday, September 16, 2011

Mole-rats Get Inked

If someone told you a naked mole-rat was getting a tattoo, would you imagine something like this?

Do you get images of pink rodents donning biker gear and going a bit wild? While this would make a colorful blog article, the truth is almost as interesting and a bit more plausible.

Why we needed a marking system

Pacific Science Center’s animal care staff keeps individual weight and health records for each naked mole-rat in the colony. This involves capturing and weighing them, but it also requires us to color mark each animal each time we weigh them. Over the course of a few weeks, the markings fade and identifying the mole-rats becomes a time consuming and stressful task for both the markers and the mole-rats. After a few years of the color marking method, we began to wonder if there were a more permanent marking system that would allowed us to recognize each animal at a glance.

What we chose

Tattooing fit the description, but there were some down-sides to it as well. It is more invasive than marking on the skin. Also, because most tattoo colors fade or look similar, we would be limited to only using black ink. The benefits, however, outweighed the risks. We chose a date during our annual closure in September and scheduled a mass inking session with our vet, Dr. Maas of The Center for Bird and Exotic Animal Medicine.

The tattooing process

After being weighed and positively identified, each naked mole-rat was briefly anesthetized for the procedure using isoflurane gas. Their skin was cleaned, and dots of ink were injected under the skin in key areas that would allow us to recognize the individual and give us details about his or her identity.

After tattooing, the animal’s skin was cleaned again and treated with antibiotic ointment. The mole-rats were monitored as they came out of anesthesia and then returned to the exhibit.

All seem to be doing well.

What each mark means

The animals in our colony range in age from over 15 years old, to pups born in August of this year. During that time, there have been several queens with successful offspring who are now part of the colony. We wanted our markings to help us keep track of which mole-rats came from which mother, and how old the various animals are.

The number of spots on the back of the neck indicates who the animal’s mother was. The spots on the rump allow us to identify which litter they are part of.

For individual identification, male mole-rats were marked on a left limb, females on the right. We used combinations of one or two spots on the front or hind limb, so that each animal could have a unique marking.

How the animals handled the experience

By day’s end, the naked mole-rats were fully recovered from anesthesia and were back in the colony chamber. Galinda had been briefly separated from her most recent pups, born in late August. But when she was returned to the colony, they recognized her immediately and started to nurse. We watched the mole-rats closely for signs that the ink sites were itchy or painful, but all appeared well.

By the next morning, the ink spots had spread slightly from when they were first injected. Dr. Maas predicted that they would first enlarge, and then fade slightly into distinct spots. We will monitor the colony closely for any complications, but for now it appears that the tattoos are healing well and will serve to identify the individuals in the colony for years to come.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

The Tropical Butterfly House Tour

Last week, Life Sciences Manager Sarah Moore was the guest speaker at the Washington Butterfly Association’s monthly meeting. For those who were unable to attend, the following PowerPoint presentation is provided without audio.

We hope this quick tour will satisfy everyone’s yearning to visit the Tropical Butterfly House until September 23, when we reopen to the public.
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Saturday, September 10, 2011

New Tobacco Hornworms

Pacific Science Center’s Life Sciences team is always looking for new species to add to our collection. Recently, we tried out some tobacco hornworms (Manduca sexta, also called hawkmoths, sphinx moths or hummingbird moths in the adult stage) to see whether we could rear them, and whether they would be of interest on exhibit. The results were quite successful.
The Tropical Butterfly House has done a wonderful job for the last 12 years of displaying chrysalids and adult butterflies. However, our USDA permits are strict about not allowing caterpillars inside the exhibit space. Anyone who has ever read, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” should understand that caterpillars eat a lot of food, and produce a lot of waste. They can also be a vector of butterfly diseases or parasites that could potentially harm native species if they were to get out of the butterfly house. Since the USDA does not regulate hornworms, we were able to raise the caterpillars in a separate, controlled environment (a cage), and then release the moths into the butterfly house. We were excited to see how they would do.
Our hornworms ate well and grew. We offered them potato, a relative of tobacco, which is their normal host plant. They loved it, and continued to grow. After they were finished growing, the hornworms pupated.
They looked much like other pupae we have seen, except for the large, handle-like proboscis that reaches across the head and thorax of the pupa. Manduca moths have a very long proboscis. They are powerful flyers, and have the unique ability to hover while probing their long proboscis deep into flowers to get the best nectar.
Hornworms normally live on the leaves of tobacco and related plants. When they pupate, they burrow into the soil below. We prepared “burrows” in a block of wood, so that they could feel secure but still be visible to our guests. Once the first moth emerged, we released it into the butterfly house where it made itself at home.
Our moth has proven long-lived and spectacular in flight. She even appears to be friendly. When we first released her into the butterfly house, she landed on a guest right away. According to the guest, she had found the pocket where he stored his cigarettes. This makes sense for a species that has “tobacco hornworm” as one common name. The scent may have reminded her of her host plant!
The Tropical Butterfly House will be closed for the next few weeks for our annual cleaning, but we will try to keep the hornworms on exhibit throughout the fall. If you come to see us, look for the bright green caterpillars on display in the Insect Village. Please be aware that the hawkmoths are sometimes hard to see inside the butterfly house. They are nocturnal, and are great at camouflaging during the day. Still, if you do happen to see one, it’s a wonderful and exciting treat.
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Saturday, September 3, 2011

No Fresh Sheet - September 3, 2011

Guests may notice that the emerging window in the Tropical Butterfly House is looking a bit sparse.

In preparation for Life Sciences' annual "Big Clean" during Pacific Science Center's closing September 12 - 23, we have suspended pupae shipments. When we reopen to the public we'll have a full window of emerging pupae. So plan your visit then, and meet our newest residents!

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