Extended Hours for Fall Break Fun!

FCMoD is open EXTRA days during Fall Break this year, and we can’t wait! If you’re looking for things to do in Fort Collins, plan your visit to FCMoD and enjoy fun for everyone! We’re open every day during the week of Thanksgiving from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed on Thursday, November 24th.

Here are some tips for your upcoming visit:

Earth Matters Special Exhibition – Build an insect hotel! Ride a bike to power a city! These are just a few ways that Earth Matters inspires visitors to rethink the world around them. Immerse yourself in thought-provoking scientific topics about our changing planet such as biodiversity, rising global temperatures, and issues around carbon emissions. Explore this STEM-based, family-friendly exhibit now through Sunday, January 8th. Don’t forget, members receive free admission to the exhibit!

Pop-Up Floor Programming – Join us in the main gallery for programs that rock as hard as you do! From Foley art to the science of sound, there’s something for everyone! Programs are included in general admission and free for members. Check out the schedule in our museum calendar!

Meet the Animals – On Saturday, November 26th, join us in Animal Encounters and discover some amazing creatures we share this planet with. Animals of all kinds from creepy crawlies, wet and slimy, to soft and furry. Don’t miss an opportunity to make a new animal friend! Free for members and included in general admission ticket.

OtterBox Digital Dome – A visit to the museum isn’t complete without a visit to the Dome! Featuring a gigantic 39-foot diameter dome screen, adventurers of all ages will be wowed by the Dome’s state-of-the-art digital projection systems and booming surround sound.

Now showing in the Dome: CAPCOM GO! The Apollo Story, Dream to Fly, Explore, Prince 360, One World, One Sky: Big Birds’ Adventure, Let it Snow! (starting 11/25)

Special Spanish-language shows: Un Cielo, Un Mundo. La Aventura de Big Bird y CAPCOM Go: La Historia del Programa Apolo

Check out the schedule here!

Archive and Collections (Free Zone) – Dive into local history by visiting FCMoD’s robust Archive and Collections! Free and open to the public, visitors can either take advantage of walk-in hours Tuesday through Saturday, 10-1, or schedule an appointment Tuesday – Friday, from 10-4. Can’t make it in? Check out the online archive here, which grows daily!

The Museum Store (Free Zone) – Shop small this holiday season! All purchases at The Museum Store support FCMoD’s mission to create meaningful opportunities to learn, reflect, and have fun. From jewelry crafted by local artists, to books for children and adults, to toys and other curiosities, there is something for everyone at The Museum Store!

The Museum Café (Free Zone) – From pastries and coffee to jump start your day, to a variety of casual lunch bites, The Museum Café is here to fuel your discovery!

Membership – Membership is the best way to experience all that FCMoD has to offer! Not only do you receive free general admission for a year, but you also enjoy exclusive discounts, events invitations, and more! Plus, membership makes the perfect holiday gift. (Check your email on Monday, November 28th for a very special offer!)

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Our new special exhibition, Earth Matters, is now open until January 8, 2023

 

Explore our changing planet and visit Earth Matters: Rethink the Future at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery from September 17 until January 8.

Explora un planeta que está en constante transformación; el nuestro, y visita la exhibición especial La Tierra importa: Repensar el futuro que llegará al Museo del Descubrimiento de Fort Collins a partir del 18 de septiembre hasta el 8 de enero.

En español

In nature, everything is connected—air, land, water – and everything is subject to change as well.

Earth Matters: Rethink the Future features fully interactive exhibits that put viewers front and center – enabling them to think in terms of solutions across a world of topics. Visitors will engage in themes such as biodiversity, rising global temperatures, and carbon emissions while creating lasting perspectives about the bigger roles we play in our environments.

While thinking about sustainability, you’ll see the inner workings of a tree, learn about endangered species, experience life in a coral reef, and calculate your water consumption. Earth Matters: Rethink the Future gives us all the chance to reimagine a more sustainable future – starting in our own backyard.

We are excited to take part in such a topical conversation. The exhibit will be on display until January 8, 2023, featuring STEM crossover for school audiences, and lifelong learners as well.

Created by Scitech in Perth, Australia and produced by Imagine Exhibitions
Exhibición creada por Scitech en Perth, Australia, y producida por Imagine Exhibitions

En la naturaleza, todo está conectado: el aire, la tierra, el agua y a la vez, todo está sujeto a cambios. 

La Tierra importa: Repensar el futuro es una exhibición ampliamente interactiva que coloca a los espectadores frente a cuestiones elementales que buscan encontrar soluciones diversas a problemas vigentes. Con temas como la biodiversidad, el aumento de las temperaturas globales, las emisiones de carbono, y mucho más, podrás crear diferentes perspectivas sobre el rol que tienes en cuanto a tu entorno.

Mientras piensas en la sostenibilidad, verás el funcionamiento interno de un árbol, aprenderás sobre especies en peligro de extinción, experimentarás la vida en un arrecife de coral, calcularás tu consumo de agua, entre muchas otras actividades increíbles y educativas, incluyendo experiencias STEM (ciencia, tecnología, ingeniería y matemáticas por sus siglas en inglés) para toda la familia.

La Tierra importa: Repensar el futuro nos da la oportunidad de volver a imaginar un futuro más sostenible, comenzando en nuestro propio hogar.

Esta exhibición especial estará presente hasta el 8 de enero de 2023.

¡Los esperamos!

Experience Earth Matters: Rethink The Future at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery

Visita La Tierra importa: Repensar el futuro en el Museo del Descubrimiento de Fort Collins

September 17, 2022 – January 8, 2023

*September 17 is a preview day for members only.

This exhibit is made possible with generous support from:

Esta exhibición ha sido posible gracias al generoso apoyo de:

Sponsors (5)
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Upcoming Events at the Museum

In coordination with our special exhibition, Earth Matters, on display until January 8, 2023, Fort Collins Museum of Discovery presents programming that supports the mission of connecting our communities.

Our special programming includes a range of topics, and we have worked to gear events toward audiences of all ages. Please visit this page and our events calendar to learn about programs and events to join throughout the run of the exhibition.

See Programming

Earth Matters is sponsored by Odell Brewing Co, Hewlett-Packard, and Kaiser Permanente

October 20 | The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend: Recognizing and Working with Natural Enemies of Insect Pests with Dr. Whitney Crenshaw | 7 – 8 p.m.

Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, from CSU’s Entomology Department, will share his vast knowledge of our area’s smallest inhabitants to help you understand how you can use their natural behaviors to minimize insects’ more destructive impacts on your life and home. Registration is required.

October 21 | Carnival of Souls – 60th Anniversary Viewing Party | 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.

Join us for a special viewing in the OtterBox Digital Dome Theater of the cult classic film Carnival of Souls, just in time for Halloween! More information and tickets can be found here.

October 22 | Learn Cheesemaking with Rachel Wildman | 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Rachel Wildman, Farmer’s Market Coordinator of CSU’s Extension Service, will demonstrate the ins and out, curds and wheys of delicious cheesemaking in the Learning Lab. Registration is required.

November 5 | Tom Cech in the OtterBox Digital Dome Theater | 2 – 3 p.m.

Colorado has been in the most serious drought in 1,200 years, and our growing population is stretching limited water resources. What are the impacts of Colorado water law on this unprecedented period in our state’s history? Tom Cech will provide insight and perspective on these critical issues for the Front Range of Colorado. Cech is the recently-retired director of the One World One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Sustainability at Metropolitan State University in Denver. Registration is required.

November 15 | CSU Bug Zoo | 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

The Colorado State University (CSU) Bug Zoo will present information at the museum, focusing on their mission to bring a deeper appreciation for arthropods through hands-on learning. CSU Bug Zoo is part of the college’s Agricultural Science Department. The event is free with museum admission.

November 17 | Meet The Raptors | 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

The Rocky Mountain Raptor Program will be on site with live raptors and information to share about the animals, their habitat, and conservation efforts. Since 1987, RMRP has served the northern Colorado region through raptor rescue, rehabilitation and research, and conservation education. The event is free with museum admission.

November 17 | Radon: The Health Risks and Solutions with Karen Crumbaker | 7 – 8 p.m.

Join CSU Extension Service Agent in Agriculture and Natural Resources, Karen Crumbaker, in FCMoD’s OtterBox Digital Dome to learn the real impacts of radon exposure and practical measures you can take to protect yourself from its effects. Registration is required.

December 3 | CSU Bug Zoo | 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

The Colorado State University (CSU) Bug Zoo will present information at the museum, focusing on their mission to bring a deeper appreciation for arthropods through hands-on learning. CSU Bug Zoo is part of the college’s Agricultural Science Department. The event is free with museum admission.

December 10 | Black-footed Ferret Clone Day | 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Learn more about our black-footed ferrets, as well as the wonderful birth story of the first-ever cloned BFF Elizabeth Anne as we celebrate the wonders of conservation. The event is free for all to attend.

December 15 | Some Like It Hot: Sun Loving Plants for Your Fort Collins Yard with Alison O’Connor | 7 – 8 p.m.

Blessed with a sun-drenched yard? Join Alison O’Connor of the CSUExtension Service to learn how to make sun-friendly perennial, tree, and shrub choices for a beautiful, more sustainable yard. Registration is required.

This page will be updated as we share more programs.

Find our Earth Matters Press Release.

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Changing Animal Names

By Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator, Fort Collins Museum of Discovery

There has been a lot in the news the last couple years about renaming mountains, parks, and monuments, acknowledging the history of colonialism and slavery in the U.S. that has become enshrined in everyday names. This rebranding trend has not been limited to bridges or buildings, but has been applied to animals too. 

Biologists use a naming system for newly-described living things called “binomial nomenclature”, which was invented by Carl Linnaeus in the 18th century. Each species has a unique two-part name in Latin that links it to other related species. Think Homo sapiens (Human) and Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthal). For animals, these scientific names are overseen by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN).  

Animals often have a second name, or “common name”, that’s often a little easier to say or remember than the Latin. You may find it easier to remember or talk about the Western meadowlark as it sings in a nearby field, then to call it Sturnella neglecta. Non-specialists often use common names, but they can change for a given species, depending on language and region, and are not overseen in the same way as the scientific names. An animal will have only one Latin name, but could have several common names. 

Much of the early naming of plants, animals, and other organisms happened during times of European colonizing and exploration. The most practical way to name a new animal is to use descriptive terms in both the Latin and Common versions of the name. However, species can and have be named for nearly any impractical reason as well. Many have been named for people, such as the sponsor of a scientific expedition, someone’s spouse, a popular politician. Some animals have even been named as jokes, like the Agra vation beetle. (The entire Agra family of beetles is pretty silly.) There’s also a lot of cultural references, like the beetle Agathidium vaderi, named for a resemblance to Darth Vader’s helmet! 

A lizard native to the western U.S., known as the Common small-blotched lizard, was named for Howard Stansbury in 1852.

As our society evolves to be more inclusive, however, some terms in both common and Latin names for animals are becoming problematic. Species have also been named using language or assumptions that are offensive to us now, often exploiting the knowledge and resources of indigenous people and people of color. Many of the people once considered worth honoring with an animal named for them are now not seen in the same way. A small sample of some of the problems:  

  • A lizard native to the western U.S., known as the Common small-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana, was named for Howard Stansbury in 1852. Stansbury, in addition to being an explorer with the Army Corps of Engineers, also played a role in a massacre of over 100 Timpanagos Native Americans in Utah. 
  • A beetle discovered in 1937 in caves in Slovenia and Italy was named to honor the new German chancellor at the time, and is still known today as the Hitler beetle, Anophthalmus hitleri. This beetle is currently at risk of extinction, due to obsessive collection of specimens by neo-Nazis.  
  • A bird formerly known as the McCown’s longspur (Rhynchophanes mccownii) was named in 1851 in honor of Confederate general John P. McCown. Its common name was changed in 2020 to the Thick-billed longspur (a neutral, descriptive name). (Note that the Latin nomenclature has not been changed, and still enshrines McCown.) 
  • In 2021, the moth Lymantria dispar has been renamed the Spongy moth (referring to what its eggs look like), instead of using the ethnic slur “gypsy”. Given this insect is considered a pest in the U.S., using a neutral name rather than a slur makes discussion of eradication of the insect less associated with the discrimination and genocide experienced through history by the Romani people. 
  • The invasive hornet Vespa mandarinia, when it first appeared in the U.S. in 2019, became commonly dubbed the “Asian Giant Hornet” as well as the “Murder hornet” in the media. While it is native to parts of Asia, the fears about this hornet fed into xenophobic, anti-Asian sentiments (as well as general fear and indiscriminate slaughter of hornets, bees, and similar insects). In July of 2022, the Entomological Society of America renamed this animal the Northern giant hornet.  
A Thick-billed Longspur on the plains of Colorado

There are many more examples of animals bearing names that are hurtful. While it is no small challenge to identify all the common and Latin names that should be changed, to come up with alternative names, and to implement all the changes, doing so would be a way to welcome minority groups into a love of wildlife. By taking on this project, the scientific world could be more accurate in how we describe the animals around us, using names that are descriptive of an organism’s appearance, behavior, preferred habitat, or some unique characteristic. Naming an organism after another person (especially someone objectively horrible like Hitler) or using insulting or inaccurate words tells us much more about the person doing the naming than it does about the organism itself. The language we use to describe the living world around us should build a better, more inclusive community. 

Learn more about animal names and some re-naming efforts in the U.S.: 

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National Pollinator Week is June 20 – 26. Here’s why pollen is so important.

By Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator, Fort Collins Museum of Discovery

Pollination is one of the most important things that happens in the natural world and without it, life on Earth would look very different. Here are key points that I would like to share out.

What is pollination?

Many plants use a technique called pollination to reproduce. The plant produces pollen, which must be transferred to another flower of the same species. Once pollination happens, the plant can make seeds, which grow into new plants.

Plants need some help to get pollen moved around, since they don’t move on their own. Only 20% of plants manage to get pollinated with only wind or water as a vector. The vast majority of flowering plants require an animal to help: a pollinator.

What are pollinators?

Many species help pollinate plants: bees, wasps, beetles, flies, moths, butterflies, hummingbirds, and bats.

In Colorado, our most common pollinators are: more than 250 species of butterfly, 946 species of bees, and more than 1,000 species of moth.

Why should you care about helping pollinators?

Humans depend on plants for many things. A small sample:

  • Take a deep breath. Feel that good clean air in your lungs? Plants consume carbon dioxide, which is a poison for us, and produce oxygen, that we breathe.
  • Eat a strawberry. Many fruits and vegetables we enjoy depend on pollination.
  • Have a glass of water. Plants can filter pollutants from water, making it safer for humans to drink.
  • Heal your pain. Many medicines, like aspirin, are derived from plants. Humans have been using plants to heal themselves for thousands of years.
  • Look at your house, or a building nearby. Chances are, it’s largely made of wood and other plant-derived products.
  • Wash up. Many soaps, shampoos, and other cleaners are made from plants.
  • Get dressed. Many fabrics, like cotton, linen and bamboo, are made from plant materials.

How can you help pollinators?

There are two big threats to pollinators that you can help with.

Many species that act as pollinators are in decline due to something called habitat loss. The environment that these animals evolved to live in is decreasing, largely due to human activity. Any time a suburb is built where there used to be wild lands, the animals that depend on it will die. What can you do? Look up native plants and add them to any landscape you can, so that pollinators have space to live alongside humans. In Fort Collins, try planting prairie wildflowers, like chocolate daisies, in your flower beds instead of cultivated flowers from somewhere else in the world. Have a native plant like yucca in a pot on your balcony. Tell your friends and neighbors to do so too. Remind your representatives that we need to make space for our wildlife neighbors.

The other big factor affecting many pollinators is the common use of herbicides and pesticides. Many of these have been found to affect species that we actually like. In the news recently (spring 2022) is a common herbicide, glyphosphate, that turns out to kill bees as well as the intended weeds. What can you do? Read about any herbicide or pesticide and find out what else it’s going to do, and if you must use it follow the directions precisely. Or, use other ways of controlling pests such as trimming or removing infested plants by hand.

Pollinators at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery

Check out the honeybee colony featured in our Animal Encounters Zone. These bees form a thriving colony that go out and collect nectar – and pollinate flowers – every day. Come see them hard at work!

More museum resources about pollination:

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Getting to know turtles on World Turtle Day

Written by Willow Sedam, Animal Care Technician

Did you know May 23 is world turtle day? If you didn’t, now you do – why not take a moment to shell-eborate one of the more unusual reptile species we share our planet with? Remember, you can view our ornate box turtle at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery anytime!

A snapping turtle from 1966, taken from the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery's archive.
A snapping turtle from 1966, taken from the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery archive.

So what makes a turtle a turtle?

Turtles are reptiles, and ectotherms, or cold-blooded animals. Like snakes, lizards, and crocodiles, they can’t generate body heat the way mammals do. Instead, they rely on the environment to regulate their temperature, moving into warmer or colder areas to suit their needs.

Because of their cold-blooded nature, most turtles prefer to live in warm climates, from toasty deserts to jungle rivers to tropical seas. But there are turtles living right here in our very own snowy Colorado, too! How do they do it? By digging far enough into the earth in winter that even the frost can’t reach them. In a kind of statis, they wait out the cold months, and emerge again when the weather warms. Probably something we’ve all wished we could do, too.

It’s a common misconception that all turtles can swim.

It’s a common misconception that all turtles can swim. Take the ornate box turtle (one of those Colorado natives we were talking about), which prefers life on land and is highly adapted to digging into dirt and leaf litter. Unlike streamlined aquatic turtles, box turtles have big boxy shells! 

Think of a turtle’s shell like a knight’s coat of armor. Their shells protect them from danger, allowing some species to entirely retreat inside their shells when threatened. But unlike a knight with his armor, turtle shells are actually a part of their body. The base of their shell is actually bone – ribs and vertebrae that have fused together to form the framework for this amazing adaptation. And while the framework is all bone, on the outside, they’re covered in a surprisingly familiar material. Take a look at your fingernails – that same keratin that makes up your nails and hair is what covers a turtle’s shell in hard segments called scutes. And yes, it’s pronounced “scoots”.

While many species of turtle are herbivorous, eating exclusively plants, there are still some species which live on a carnivorous diet of fish and insects. Plenty of turtles don’t discriminate, either, opting for an omnivorous diet which consists of both plants and animals. 

But some turtle species are picky – really picky. Leatherback sea turtles only eat jellyfish!

Turtles are all over the place, including on land and in the sea. They eat plants sometimes, and bugs sometimes, and occasionally both, or neither! At least all turtles have that hard, keratin-covered shell in common, right?

Not quite. Have you ever heard of softshell turtles? This family of turtles swapped their hard scutes out for a layer of leathery skin, giving them a unique look among their order. But why trade away the protection of a hard shell? These turtles opt for speed instead of armor, and a leathery shell gives them some of the protection of a hard carapace without sacrificing speed.

As it turns out, turtles come in all shapes and sizes

Who knew there were so many different kinds of turtles out there? Next time you’re walking along the edge of a pond, or taking a hike through the woods, keep an eye peeled for something small and beshelled. It might be digging in the dirt, sunning itself on rocks, swimming in open water, or buried in the mud; it might be hunting minnows and shrimp, or just nibbling on dandelions, or maybe even looking for jellyfish – because, as it turns out, turtles come in all shapes and sizes!

Glossary of World Turtle Day Terms

Ectotherm – An animal that is not capable of generating its own body heat.

Vertebrae – The bones that make up your spine.

Keratin – A tough material that makes up the hair, nails, and horns of animals.

Scute – A hardened plate of keratin or bone.

Herbivore – An animal whose diet consists of plants.

Carnivore – An animal whose diet consists of other animals.

Omnivore – An animal whose diet consists of a mixture of plants and other animals.

Carapace -The top half of an animal’s shell. Can refer to the shells of arthropods like crabs and scorpions, or those of turtles. The underside of a turtle’s shell is called a plastron.

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Mind Matters Returns September 25th!

It’s time to continue the conversation. FCMoD is proud to announce the return of the groundbreaking exhibition Mental Health: Mind Matters this fall!

Mark your calendars to visit Mental Health: Mind Matters, slated to open September 25, 2021 and run through January 2, 2022. This thought-provoking special exhibition provides informative and hopeful experiences to help open the door to greater understanding, conversations and empathy toward the challenges of mental health.

Presented in English, Spanish and French, visitors of all ages will explore hands-on experiences that bring you closer to the facts, feelings and issues surrounding this topic that touches so many of our lives.

When you visit Mental Health: Mind Matters, you can peer into mini dioramas of important moments in mental health history. Play a quiz show to test your knowledge of common misperceptions about mental illnesses. Hear what it’s like to experience psychosis and feel what it’s like to be unable to ignore your surroundings. Watch heartfelt videos where individuals talk about their personal experiences living with mental illnesses. Write down your worries and destroy them in the Worry Shredder. Pick up a family and group conversation guide to continue the conversation with your closest networks. Visit the resource center to learn about local resources and services in Northern Colorado to share with someone you know or better your own mental health.

Stay tuned as the exhibit nears for more information about programs and workshops to help continue the conversation beyond Mental Health: Mind Matters.

Interested in supporting this exhibit and other special exhibitions? Contact FCMoD’s development team at mallison@fcmod.org for ways to support the museum.

Mental Health: Mind Matters was produced for North America by the Science Museum of Minnesota in collaboration Heureka, The Finnish Science Centre and advised by National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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FCMoD Squad Applications Now Open!

Do you love music? Do you love engaging with your community? Join us and go behind the scenes of the local front range music community. The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery is excited to announce the first year of the FCMoD Squad!  

What it means to be in the FCMoD Squad:  

The FCMoD Squad are individuals between the ages of 15 and 19 who are interested in becoming more involved within The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, the Fort Collins music scene, and their community.  

Squad members will: 

  • Work behind the scenes in music events such as Sonic Spotlight https://www.sonicspotlight.org/, FoCoMX https://focomx.focoma.org/, and more. 
  • Actively provide insight into current and future museum exhibits, programs, and events.
  • Participate in outings to other community groups and organizations.  

Responsibilities of a FCMoD Squad Member:  

  • Attend meetings on the 2nd Thursday from 6:00pm- 8:00pm at FCMoD and at least one monthly activity/tour.
  • Actively engage and contribute in meetings and activities. 
  • Inform the Squad through email, text, or call if unable to attend a meeting with valid reason such as an illness, extracurricular activity, school event, or other circumstance.  
  • Embody the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery Mission and Vision. 
    • Mission: The museum creates meaningful opportunities to learn, reflect, and have fun through hands-on and collections-based explorations in science and culture. 
    • Vision: To inspire inquisitive thinkers and encourage responsible stewardship of the future. 

To Apply:

Applications are open to Fort Collins/Front Range residents ages 15-19. Submissions will open July 12th ending on August 1st, with interviews to follow. Members will serve a total of nine months from August to April, with a maximum of two terms. 

Visit www.fcmod.org/fcmod-squad to apply! Questions? Email Nick Duarte, Curator of the Music & Sound Lab, at nduarte@fcmod.org.

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Hiss and Tell: All About Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches

Ever wanted to know more about the animals we have here at the museum? Grab a snack, and take a deep dive into the world of Madagascar hissing cockroaches from the comfort of your own home!

Madagascar hissing cockroaches are, you guessed it, native to Madagascar! Like all cockroaches, Madagascar hissing cockroaches (or “hissers” as they are sometimes called) are scavengers, which means they eat just about anything they come across. In the wilds of Madagascar, they mostly eat dead plant matter, from fallen leaves to rotten wood and decaying fruit. Here at the museum, they’re fed a scrumptious mixture of fruits and vegetables, and for a protein-boosting treat, their favorite: dog kibble!

Madagascar hissing cockroaches (right) live peacefully alongside giant cave cockroach adults (lower left) and nymphs (upper left) at the museum.

Unlike many species of cockroach, Madagascar hissing cockroaches are wingless. Instead of being able to fly away from predators, they have to rely on running and hiding. But what happens when this isn’t enough to keep them away from danger? That’s where the hissing comes in!

When threatened, these cockroaches make a loud hissing noise, like that of an angry cat or snake, that makes them sound much bigger and scarier than they actually are. Their strategy hinges on their would-be-predator becoming scared or surprised by this sudden noise—while cats and snakes hiss as a warning of an incoming attack, hissing cockroaches are otherwise defenseless, and have to make a run for it as soon as they get an opening.

But hissing cockroaches don’t just hiss to defend themselves. Amazingly, they actually have a number of distinct hisses they use to communicate different things to each other. Both male, female, and juvenile cockroaches will hiss defensively and in alarm, but there are two other hisses that only males use: the male-to-female courtship hiss, and the male-to-male dominance hiss.

Male Madagascar hissing cockroach at the museum, with visible “horns” on the dark-colored pronotum above the head.

While these cockroach’s bark may be worse than their bite, they can still pack a punch, at least when it comes to fighting other cockroaches. Speaking of dominance battles, male hissing cockroaches will often fight amongst themselves to establish a social hierarchy, and figure out who gets the best spot on the log or the best food.

But dominance displays between male cockroaches go beyond simple hissing. Male hissers can be differentiated by females from their “horns”, distinctive twin bumps on their pronotum (that’s the shield-like segment on the back of their head). They use these horns much like rams do—by headbutting other males in a display of strength. The male hissing cockroach will attempt to “bulldoze” under his opponent, knocking him off of his perch. However, the funniest part of a Madagascar hissing cockroach dominance battle is definitely the pre-fight posturing. In an attempt to intimidate the other male and end the contest before it begins, the cockroaches will wiggle their butts aggressively at each other. So scary!

Female hissing cockroaches, on the other hand, keep to themselves much more than the males, and will only hiss when they feel threatened. Unlike most species of cockroaches, Madagascar hissing cockroaches are ovoviviparous, which means that their young develop inside of eggs that stay within the mother’s body for the duration of their development. This differs from mammalian pregnancy because there is no direct placental link between the young cockroaches and their mother, but the end result is quite similar: Madagascar hissing cockroaches give live birth to their young, never actually laying their eggs before they hatch. They can give birth to anywhere between 15-40 baby cockroaches at a time!

Madagascar hissing cockroaches are unique in the insect world in a lot of ways, and it’s hard to decide which of their crazy adaptations is the strangest. But there’s one question we still haven’t explored: how do they make those loud hissing sounds? While most insects that make noise do so by rubbing parts of their body together, Madagascar hissing cockroaches actually use their spiracles (the cockroach equivalent of lungs). By pushing air out of the spiracles lining the side of their abdomen, they create audible vibrations in the air, making noise in basically the same way that we humans do when we talk!

Next time you’re in the museum, be sure to check out the Madagascar hissing cockroaches and say hello. While they may look quite different from you and I, we have more in common with them than you might expect!

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Animal Love Languages

Animal Love Languages

Love is in the air, and humans aren’t the only romantics in the world. Today we’re looking at the courtship rituals of the animal kingdom!

Do you know what your love language is? Is it words of affirmation like a sweet letter, quality time like a romantic night in, receiving gifts of flowers and jewelry, acts of service, or physical touch like a hug or a cuddle? Humans have different ways of showing affection, and so do animals. But instead of things like poetry, romantic getaways, and chocolates, animals have their own unique love languages. Which animal love language do you relate the most with?

The Singer
Much like the romantic poet, some animals like to shout their love from the rooftops. Frogs, birds, crickets, and even whales use their songs to attract mates, constantly trying to out-do their competition with the loudest and most attractive voice. Frogs even have regional dialects – members of the same species may have different croaks if they have originated from different places where their local songs are slightly different. And in places where there are several different species of frogs all singing at once – like in Florida, where the invasive Cuban tree frog has been introduced into the territory of native American green tree frogs – the frogs will purposefully alter their croaks to differentiate between species and avoid confusion.

The Dancer
But maybe you’re more of a visual person. There are plenty of animals whose main courtship rituals involve elaborate dances and displays of beautiful fur and feathers. But some animals forget the flashy outfits and just focus on their moves. Hirtodrosophila mycetophaga is a species of australian fly which performs mating displays on shelf mushrooms. The males wave their wings around and perform a dance – but only on lighter-colored fungi, as these mushrooms act as a better backdrop for their performances. On darker fungi, they blend in too well, and females pass them by!

The Show-off
Not to be outdone, some animals go all in, with song, dance and color! Take the peacock spider: while you may be familiar with this small jumping spider’s namesake and its colorful plumage, this arachnid goes a step further and incorporates sound and movement into its mating display.

While displaying their brightly-colored abdomen, they wave their legs in an elaborate dance and create deep rumbling vibrations while they perform. The males who put the most effort into their displays, including both the dancing and vibrating, are more likely to get the girl.

The Collector
Some animals speak the love language of gift-giving. Native to New Guinea and Australia, bowerbirds build elaborate ‘bowers’ from nature to attract mates. First, the male Bowerbird gathers sticks and arranges them into an upright structure, often in the shape of an arch or an avenue. Then, he populates his bower with brightly-colored objects. These can be shells, flowers, even pieces of plastic and metal that he finds. Some bowerbirds even have favorite colors, and will collect only pieces that fit into their preferred color scheme! When she’s ready to find a mate, the female bowerbird tours the bowers of all the local males, and chooses the bird with the best crib to be her mate.

The True Romantic
But maybe you’re a real classical romantic. You want long walks on the beach, hand-holding, and slow-dancing. Don’t worry. Not everything is about flashy displays. Some animals like to take it slow, and build up deep bonds with their mates. Seahorses have an elaborate courtship process, with each step of the ritual being repeated again and again, often over the course of days. First, they meet and change colors, brightening in turns at each other. Then they grab hold of the same anchor-point and spin around each other in an elaborate dance with many distinct moves and steps, including leaning away, pointing, quivering and spinning. Finally, they end their dance by floating up through the water column together. While they might only be fish, seahorses are quite the romantics – they mate for life, and their specialized tails, used to anchor themselves to coral and seaweed, also allow them to “hold hands” with their significant other.

Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at FCMoD!

Post written by Willow Sedam, Live Animal Husbandry Team Member

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