Get to Know our Animal Encounters with Alexa

If you’ve checked out our Animal Encounters Zone recently, you’ll have come across a vibrant tribe of animals of all sorts. From bees to snakes to local fish and turtles, it’s a fun spot with members of the animal kingdom. Now, every fourth Saturday from 10 to noon, the Animal Encounters team will be leading special programming in the museum.

Let’s catch up with Alexa, who makes the whole thing shine!

Hi Alexa!  You do such a great job with our Animal Encounters department! Might be a silly question, but how are the animals doing?

Thank you! The animals are doing great right now!

For those who haven’t visited Animal Encounters recently, can you give us a broad overview of what we can see and learn there and what it takes to keep such a vibrant part of our museum functioning?

In the Animal Encounters Zone at FCMoD, our visitors can see a pretty wide variety of animals from all over the world! We have a lot of arthropods – like the Emperor scorpion, the Chilean rose tarantula, and the Blue death-feigning beetles. We also have several amphibians, including the official Colorado state amphibian, the Tiger Salamander. There are some reptiles, like our Ball python, “Slinky,” and our Ornate box turtle, “Tara.” We have a big tank full of native Colorado fishes. And we have the ever-inquisitive, ever-adorable rats.

All of our animals require daily husbandry care to make sure that they are healthy. Each kind of animal requires different care though – when and what they eat, what kind of cleaning is necessary, common health problems to watch for, what kind of activities they need to keep alert and engaged. Our Animal Encounters staff needs to know about each animal’s native environment and diet, so we can replicate it in the tanks at the museum. We also need to know what kind of behavior to expect for each animal, so we can spot when they don’t feel well. The animal care all takes place before the museum opens, and happens every day of the year – even Christmas!

Almost all of the animals that we have at FCMOD are available through commercial pet trade. (The primary exception being the native fish, which require permitting.) If you are considering getting an unusual pet but don’t know how to take care of it, you can always visit the museum to check out our setup to keep the animals healthy and happy.

You all just recently started up with “Meet the Animals” programming. Can you tell our visitors a little more about that and what makes our animals so cool to meet?

We are now hosting a Meet the Animals program from 10 a.m. to noon on the fourth Saturday of every month! At each MTA, staff will have some of the museum’s animals out of their tanks so you can see them close up. Some of them you can even pet! Have you ever wondered what the Leopard gecko’s skin feels like? Now you can find out for yourself!

One of my favorite parts of MTA is that not only do you meet the animal – the animal meets you too! When you get to see one of our rats close up without the tank glass between you, you can see how she wiggles her whiskers and sniffs her nose to figure out what kind of person you are.

How does working with animals like this fit into your background and passions?

I have always been interested in all the living things around me! My parents supported me with some more unusual pets as I was growing up – including a couple Ball pythons (just like Slinky!) and a pet Black widow spider. As an adult, I love traveling to new places and seeing what kind of animals have adapted to live there. I recently got to see sea otters and Coastal brown bears in Alaska. (So cool!)

I have spent a lot of time volunteering with different organizations to take care of animals and improve the human-animal relationship, including the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program and the Clearwater Nature Center. I enjoy learning about new animals, their native environment, and the challenges that they face. And I am glad to share what I learn – once you see how adorable a Tiger salamander is (just check out his googly eyes and his smile!), and then learn how susceptible they are to water pollution, won’t you be more careful about what gets into the water supply?

What does it take to keep animals enriched and happy? Take us a little bit behind the scenes.

Do you ever get bored? No project to work on, no book to read, no TV show to watch? The animals can get bored too. We provide something called enrichment to our animals, where we offer things to make each animal more engaged and curious. For a rat, for example, that could be a puzzle where they have to figure out how to find the kibble inside. For the gecko, it could mean offering a new material in his tank, like dirt or wet moss. Having something new to explore keeps the animals mentally healthy and rewarded.

I think this is an important thing for any animal to have, so I even offer enrichment to my pet cats at home! I like to hide kibble around the house for them to find, or put it in puzzles that they have to figure out. Cats and dogs both respond really well to learning new games (and getting treats in the process), so you might try it at home with your furry friend.

The beehive is going gangbusters I hear! Who are we working with there and how do they do such a good job?

The museum has a partnership with Copoco’s Honey, a local beekeeping and honey company in Fort Collins. Beekeepers from Copoco’s regularly visit the museum to check on how the bees are doing. They like to look at how the bees are behaving (or should I say, bee-having?), for anything in the hive that might need fixing, and for any signs of illness in the bees. They always look for the queen bee to make sure she’s still healthy, and for all stages of life for the thousands of worker bees (egg, larva, pupa, and adult). I am not a professional beekeeper, but I love getting to watch and help out when they go over the hive. The last time they were here, I got to see some brand new adult bees chewing their way out of their cells!

You also partner with the American Fisheries Society. Can you tell us more about that rewarding work?

The American Fisheries Society is a student club at CSU for college students interested in fish and other aquatic life and activities. The AFS provides FCMOD with all of our native Poudre River watershed fishes. Going out in the river and sampling (collecting live fishes) is a great experience for these students as they work on becoming fisheries professionals.

Do you love all the animals equally, or do you have a favorite and why? Mine is the python!

My favorite animal is always the one I am working with at the moment! However, I am especially partial to the White’s tree frogs, the Fancy rats, and the Ornate box turtle. They are all extra-good at being memorably adorable.

Thanks! Is there anything I should add or I left out?

For those of you wondering about my grammar in using “fishes” as a plural instead of “fish,” there is a difference! “Fish” is used when you have many individual fish of one species. “Fishes” is used for multiple individual fish from a variety of species.

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A Sneak Preview of our August 10 Women’s History Event

By Lesley Struc – Curator of the Archive

We are so excited that, for the first time since 2019, we will be hosting our annual Women’s History presentation live in the OtterBox Digital Dome Theater here at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. Join us on the evening of Wednesday, August 10 from 7:00-8:30pm to learn about these fascinating Fort Collins women through Museum collections, archival images, and more. Get inspired!

A black and white photograph of Mary Ault. She was part of the Betsy Ross Flying Corps, a pre-WWII organization of female pilots formed to support the Army Air Corps by flying ambulance, transport, and passenger planes during emergencies.

Mary Ault was born in 1911, grew up in Fort Collins and began flying at age 19, when only 117 American women had earned a pilot’s license. In March 1931 she became the first licensed female pilot from Fort Collins. Mary became a member of the Betsy Ross Flying Corps, a pre-WWII organization of female pilots formed to support the Army Air Corps. When tragedy struck in 1945, Mary’s life took an unexpected — and personally meaningful – direction. In Mary’s own words, seen on the National Air and Space Museum’s Wall of Honor, “I didn’t make a career of it but never lost my love for flying

Adrienne Jean Roucolle hailed from France and arrived in the Fort Collins area with her family circa 1888 when she was about 13 years old. She lived near the present-day intersection of North Shields Street and Highway 287 at a home the locals called “Lafayette’s Place,” a cottage surrounded by gardens and fruit orchards. A long illness by her little sister Marie Antoinette inspired Adrienne to concoct wondrous stories to entertain and enchant her sibling; these fairy tales were gathered and published in 1898 into her first book – The Kingdom of the Good Fairies. She went on to write several more books, plays, and newspaper serials, that celebrated adventure, fantasy, and romance. 

Belva Williams Cahill in about 1923. She was the wife of Fort Collins, Colorado businessman John Barry Cahill.

Belva Williams Cahill, born 1896, moved to Fort Collins with her family when she was a young woman. She lived with her parents until she got married to JB Cahill in 1921. The Cahills had two daughters, Shirley and Beverly. The typical life of a wife and mother can be hard to trace in an archive, but the snapshots of Belva’s life help answer the question of who around Fort Collins. Who worked at Wolfer’s grocery store? Who got their hair done at Varra’s Beauty Salon? Belva Cahill.

Frances Withers Bigelow was born on March 15, 1913, in Denver, Colorado.  Women ministers seem commonplace now, but when she was ordained in 1958, she was one of the first six ordained women in the Methodist Church nationwide. From 1973-1977 Frances W. Bigelow served as the Associate Minister at the First United Methodist Church in Fort Collins.  Even after she retired, Frances led church services as needed.  Leading churches in Colorado and Wyoming was only part of Frances’ legacy.  In Fort Collins, she was instrumental in the planning of Elderhaus and the first substance abuse center in the city. 

Object collections like the Historical Artifact Collection at FCMoD often harbor insights into the lives of people who are not well represented in the written record. Teasing out these stories, however, can be tricky. Join Collections Curator Linda Moore as she shares the stories of local women that are contained within FCMoD’s collection of objects. These women include a surprising number of artists, as well as adventurers, educators, and community activists.

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Special Screening: The Ants & The Grasshopper

Presented by Fort Collins Museum of Discovery and in collaboration with ACT Human Rights Film Festival, join us at the OtterBox Digital Dome Theater for the documentary The Ants & the Grasshopper. Winner of multiple awards and an official selection at film festivals across North America, The Ants & the Grasshopper follows the story of Anita Chitaya, who travels from Malawi to the United States. With her, she brings experiences from her homeland, including living with extreme weather, inequality, and child hunger. She is on a quest to persuade Americans that these issues are real and can be solved.

Tickets are available as Pay What You Can. We will host two showings. 

While at the showing, be sure to visit our special exhibit, FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Micro Views of Sustenance: Threats and Prospects. It is on view in our Woodward Special Exhibition Gallery.

Order a ticket for the 11 a.m. showing

Order a ticket for the 2 p.m. showing

The Ants & the Grasshopper is directed by Raj Patel and Zak Piper and has a runtime of one hour and 14 minutes.

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