Saturday, September 28, 2013

Fresh Sheet – September 28, 2013

In preparation for the reopening of our Tropical Butterfly House next Saturday, October 5th, we have received a nice shipment of pupae from Suriname.


25 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
05 - Heraclides thoas (Thoas Swallowtail)
50 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
06 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
50 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
15 - Catonephele orites (Orange-banded Shoemaker)
34 - Anartia amathea (Scarlet Peacock)
50 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
20 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

Total = 255

“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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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

An Unplanned Model for Climate Change

On a recent Sunday, Animal Caretaker Chris Russell checked the temperature of our Puget Sound Salt Water Tide Pool, as he does every morning. But today something was different. The temperature had risen to 19 degrees C (66° F) and there seemed to be no sign that our chiller was trying to fix it. The circuit had tripped. Resetting it proved to be a Band-Aid solution. The next day it had tripped again.

Pacific Science Center’s tide pool touch tank is a recirculating water system. Unlike waterfront aquariums, we do not use naturally occurring seawater, but instead formulate our water from a synthetic salt mixture. This gives us a more consistent product unaffected by rain, pollution, etc. However, we are at the mercy of our equipment. If our hand rinsing sink failed, and kids touched our water with soapy or lotion covered hands, we would notice an immediate decline in the health of our animals. When our protein skimmer goes on the fritz, we quickly lose water quality.

When our chiller stops working, it is an emergency.

Although Seattle’s weather is mild, fluctuating from occasional 90° days to weeks of freezing weather in winter, the water temperature of Puget Sound ranges from a low of 6.7° C (44° F) in winter to a high of 13.3° C (56° F) in summer. We maintain the water in our tide pool within this range of temperatures.

In a natural setting, the temperature of the water is influenced by the air around it, and by the temperature of the tributary rivers feeding the Sound. At Pacific Science Center, the warmth of human hands touching the water significantly changes our tide pool’s temperature. The many people who learn about our animals by touching them act as a sort of radiant heat source, so that the tide pool is often a couple of degrees warmer at the end of a busy day that it was that morning.

But the good old chiller is supposed to take it back down to the colder end of things overnight so it’s ready to go again the next day. Without its help, the water would eventually rise to room temperature!

At the warmer temperatures, the animals seemed relaxed and comfortable. The anemones were open, clear looking and glossy. The sea stars ate well, and several started spawning. The fish were more active than usual. All of this sounds great. Why not just keep the water warmer?

Of course, the longer-term impact of warmer water wouldn’t be as positive for the animals. Warmer water holds less dissolved oxygen and more algae growth. If too much algae flourishes, its decomposition strips yet more oxygen from the water and can lead to serious problems for the animals.

Lower oxygen levels harm the ability of animals to resist disease and pollution. So when waters warm, animals that appeared healthy may start succumbing to preexisting disease, or may develop problems from injuries that would normally be very minor. Animal’s behavior also changes as they seek more oxygenated water. In the wild, they might migrate to deeper water or to areas with pockets of trapped cold water, or populations might start trending further north. In the tide pool, animals would seek oxygen near the water’s surface, even though it was warmer. As normally deep-water creatures moved to the surface, competition for good spots would lead to more animals fighting and injuring each other.

Luckily for our tide pool, these problems did not have time to express themselves. Our chiller had a bad circuit.Once Douglas Hall, our electrician, replaced it, temperatures quickly returned to normal.

There is no such quick fix for the climate changes that are raising the temperatures in Puget Sound. But understanding the risks, from a mini-model such as our touch tank, can make it all the more clear why it’s important. Reducing carbon emission is the best way to slow the rise of sea temperature, but keeping beaches otherwise healthy and intact – free from polluting runoff or from overuse – is also critically important. Resilient animals will be best able to withstand, adapt, and survive in a rapidly changing environment. Intertidal life, with its tides, fresh water feed, and periodic predation by shore life, is by nature challenging. Human intervention should aim to minimize the added challenges we throw at these already hard working systems.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Introducing Pepper Jack!

When our beloved corn snake Zea passed away in April, she not only left behind a hole in our hearts, but also an empty exhibit space. While we could never replace her, we have filled the exhibit with a new corn snake who has already become a member of our Life Sciences Family. Say “Hello” to Pepper Jack, our newest corn snake!

Before we considered a new snake, we needed to know if there were any environmental factors or contagions involved in Zea’s passing or something that could be harmful to a new snake. We needed a necropsy - the animal version of an autopsy. Since living animals are veterinarians’ priorities, it took a while for the lab results to get back to us. By mid-June, we learned that the exhibit space was safe for a new snake.

Enter April Wedman, Science and Education Specialist at Pacific Science Center, who also volunteers at the Seattle Animal Shelter. When she learned of Zea’s passing, she put us in contact with someone who could help us meet a couple of corn snakes at the shelter. Lead Animal Caretaker, Lauren Bloomenthal and a volunteer at the shelter discussed the details we needed to know about our potential snakes, and addressed any concerns about us as a home for a snake. Shelters prefer to adopt out animals to residential homes rather than large institutions, but we were able to demonstrate that our dedicated staff would treat an animal as well as a private home.

We set up a time for a meet and greet.

We decided to forgo our weekly Life Sciences meeting in favor of a group adventure to the shelter. We brought plenty of gloves for handling, and optimistically, a snake transportation device just in case we could bring a snake home. At the shelter, we met a beautiful corn snake who had clearly been well taken care of by his foster mom. We chatted with the foster mom about the snake’s behavior and history, as well as habitat and feeding situations we were working with.

Rather than wait, we agreed that the snake could return with us that day. After a short time filling out the proper paperwork, we were on our way back to the Science Center.

Pepper Jack’s name was the inspiration of Animal Care Intern Zari, who loves the cheese theme of our other two snakes. Put that together with the peppery red color and we’ve got a solidly awesome name. While Pepper Jack is a corn snake, like Nacho, Tillamook and Zea, he is a stripe variety. He has a gene that causes a stripey pattern to his skin instead of spots on his back or belly. Since he was a shelter animal, we don’t know that much about where he came from. From his size, we estimate that Pepper Jack is about 3 years old.

Pepper Jack, or PJ as he has already become known, has shown himself to be a great addition to the Science Center. His curious nature led us to quickly re-outfit the cage divider. Like Zea before him, PJ found a way into Nacho’s adjoining cage.

Best of all, PJ has a great temperament for being handled and has shown to be a very good eater as well. We’re all looking forward to the many happy years with our new snake!

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