It’s National Pollinator Week! 🐝

Post written by Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator.

🐝It’s National Pollinator Week!

June 22-28, 2020, is the 13th annual National Pollinator Week!

What Are Pollinators?

Pollinators are animals that move pollen from one flower to another flower of the same species in the first step toward the plant reproducing. While pollinators are primarily insects (bees, beetles, flies, moths, butterflies), there are also some birds and small mammals that pollinate plants too.

More than 70% — and possibly as much as 90%! — of flowering plants are dependent on pollination for creating seeds and fruit. It is estimated that one out of every three bites of food you eat was made possible by animal pollinators!

Many of the animals that pollinate are in decline. Pollinator habitats are shrinking or getting destroyed so they have no space to live or feed. In addition, overuse of pesticides, environmental pollution, and climate change are all adding risks to these animals.

Pollinators in Colorado

In Colorado, we have a wide range of habitats and extreme changes in altitude – different bees will thrive in each area. Because of that variety of habitat, Colorado is home to more than 900 species of bees! There are more than 200 bees in Larimer County alone. The smallest bee in Colorado is the Miner Bee (Perdita salacis) at 3.5mm/0.1in; the largest is the Nevada Bumblebee (Bombus nevadensis) at 26.5mm/1in. Colorado bees are colorful, too! Different species may be the usual yellow and black, or range to red, orange, green, blue, or brown.

Most bees in Colorado (and the rest of the world too) are solitary bees that don’t live in a colony like the familiar honeybee. Most of these solitary bees are ground nesters, digging burrows in the soil or using abandoned rodent burrows. Some of the bees here are cavity nesters, finding holes or cavities in twigs or logs.

In Colorado, bees are responsible for pollinating 80% of the crops in our state.

In addition to bees, other pollinators in Colorado include approximately 250 species of butterfly and more than 1,000 species of moth. There are also 11 species of hummingbird that migrate through the state from April through September.

How can you help pollinators?

Learn more about the pollinators in the space where you live. Spend some time outside and observe the animals that are visiting your garden. What kinds of animals do you see? What colors are they? How do they behave as they visit flowers?

Create good habitats for pollinators around your home. Whether you have acres of land or just a window box, you can help pollinators by offering them food and shelter. Plant a variety of flowering plants (preferably native – CSU has a great example list of native plants for pollinators) that offer food and nesting space. Provide several different kinds of blooming plants near each other, and use plants that have different bloom times, so that flowers are available to pollinators from early spring through late fall. Plant in sunny locations that are protected from the wind.

Don’t “clean up” your yard in the fall. Leave all the dormant or dead plants alone rather than trimming them back for the winter season — cavity nesting bees and other pollinating insects will use them as a safe home during the cold weather. Leave some leaf litter around for butterflies and moths to use as insulation over the winter, rather than raking it all up and dumping it in the landfill. If you can include materials in your yard such as logs or wood nesting blocks, you provide space for species that nest in wood to survive the snow. Leave some of the ground uncovered (i.e. don’t put mulch everywhere) for the native bees that nest in the bare dirt for the winter.

Reduce use of chemicals for controlling weeds and pests, as these can hurt or kill beneficial pollinators as well.

Protect natural habitat.

 Share what you know. Talk to your friends and family about what you have learned about pollinators and how and why you are helping them. Talk to your local and state government about how important it is to protect pollinators.




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Musicians from Colorado

Post written by Eisen Tamkun, Music Programming Lead.

Musicians from Colorado

Colorado has produced some amazing musicians. Explore these groups and individuals! Learn where they are based, interesting tidbits, and more!

Pretty Lights

Band Members (current): Derek Vincent Smith- Born Nov. 25, 1981, Fort Collins, CO

Formed: Boulder, CO 2004

Genre: Electronic

Top Album: A Color Map of the Sun


Formed in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 2002, OneRepublic has won several music awards with many nominations. Including nominations for American Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, World Music Awards, and Grammy Awards.

Band Members (current): Ryan Tedder,, Zach Filkins, Drew Brown, Brent Kutzle, Eddie Fisher, Brian Willett.

Genre: Pop Rock, Pop, Alternative Rock.

Top Album: Native

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats

Currently based in Denver, Colorado. Nathaniel Rateliff grew up in Missouri. When he came to Denver he first formed Born in the Flood (2002-2008), which transitioned into a more stripped down solo focused effort called Nathaniel Rateliff and the Wheel (2007-2014). In 2013, while still preforming in earlier bands and groups, Rateliff began a more upbeat and soulful project with longtime collaborator Joseph Pope III and other collaborators. Thus Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats was born.

Band Members (current): Nathaniel Rateliff, Joseph Pope III, Patrick Meese, Like Mossman, Jeff Dazey, Mark Shusterman, Andreas Wild.

Genre: Soul, Gospel, Folk Rock, Blues Rock, Americana

Top Album: In Memory Of Loss

Gregory Alan Isakov

Currently based in Boulder, Colorado, Isakov originally lived in Johannesburg, South Africa. He and his family immigrated to the US in 1986 and was raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He draws influence from Leonard Cohen, Kelly Joe Phelps, and Bruce Springsteen.

Band Members (current): Gregory Alan Isakov

Genre: Contemporary Folk, Indie Folk, Country Folk

Top Album: This Empty Northern Hemisphere

The Lumineers

Based in Denver, Colorado. The original two founding members Fraites and Schultz began writing and preforming music together in Ramsey, New Jersey in 2005. They were influenced by musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty.

Band Members (current): Wesley Schultz, Jeremiah Fraites

Genre: Indie Folk, Folk Rock, Americana

Top Album: The Lumineers


Duo from Boulder, Colorado. They took their name from the area code of Boulder, 303.

Band Members (current): Sean Foreman, Nathaniel Motte

Genre: Synth-pop, Crunkcore, Trap, Electronic Rock, Alternative Rock

Top Album: Streets of Gold


Denver band, formed in 1997. They take their name form the Russian word devotchka (девочка) meaning “girl”.

Band Members (current): Nick Urata, Tom Hagerman, Jeanie Schroder, Shawn King.

Genre: Gypsy Punk, Dark Cabaret, Indie Folk, Indie Rock

Top Album: A Mad and Faithful Telling

Big Head Tod and the Monsters

Formed in 1986 by three Columbine High School students. Began

touring clubs in Denver, Fort Collins and Boulder until they built up a following across Colorado and the West. Started touring extensively dubbing their van the “Colonel” who drove over 400,000 miles.

Band Members (current): Todd Park Mohr, Brian Nevin, Rob Squires, Jeremy Lawton.

Genre: Rock, Blue Rock, Alternative Rock, Funk Rock, Southern Rock, Country Rock, Folk, Jass-Fussion, Jam Band.

Top Album: Sister Sweetly


From Denver, Colorado, Tennis formed in 2010. The husband-wife duo debuted their album Cape Dory in 2011.

Band Members (current):Patrick Riley, Alaina Moore

Genre: Indie Pop, Dream Pop, Surf Pop, Lo-Fi

Top Album: Yours Conditionally

Yonder Mountain String Band

Formed in Nederland, Colorado 1998 this progressive bluegrass group played their first show at the Fox Theater in Boulder.

Band Members (current): Ben Kaufmann, Dave Johnston, Adam Aijala, Allie Kral, and Jake Jolliff.

Genre: Progressive Bluegrass, Country, Jam Band.

Top Album: Elevation

The Fray

The Fray originate from Denver, Colorado in 2002. They achieved worldwide fame with their song “How to Safe a Live”.

Band Members (current): Isaac Slade, Joe King, Dave Welsh, and Ben Wysocki.

Genre: Rock

Top Album: How to Save a Life


Educational opportunities like this are supported in part by Bohemian Foundation.

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The Pollinator You Know: The Honeybee!

Post written by Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator.

The Pollinator You Know: The Honeybee!

When most people hear about pollination, the first thing they think of is the honeybee.

The oldest bee that scientists have found so far was in Myanmar, encased in amber and dated at 100 million years old! Bees that old were hunters, eating other insects. At some point they started visiting flowers for nectar and pollen, changing into the honeybees that we know and love.

Honeybee colonies have been kept in man-made hives since Ancient Egypt and have been important throughout human history. In addition to being delicious as a sweetener in food, honey can be used to make mead (an alcoholic drink), which works as an antiseptic. It has even been used to embalm mummies! Beeswax can be used in making many products, such as candles, soap, cosmetics, and waterproofing. Honey and bees are so important that people have named their children after bees. Deborah and Melissa both mean “bee” in different languages; Pamela derives from a word for “honey”.

When Europeans colonized the Americas in the 17th century, there were no native honeybees. Native Americans tribes at the time kept and traded other kinds of bees. European settlers brought the Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) along with their familiar crop plants when they moved to the Americas. As we have expanded across the planet, humans have deliberately expanded the range of the Western Honey Bee, and it is now found on every continent in the world except Antarctica.

Healthy Honeybee Colonies

In a healthy honeybee colony, you can see thousands of individual bees. Most of what you see are the worker bees, which are females that cannot lay eggs. There are usually 10,000-50,000 workers per colony. The workers care for the queen and young, defend the hive with their stingers, build comb for the young honeybees and the honey, and collect food. There are also drones, which are the male honeybees. There are about 1,000 drones in a given colony. Drones have no sting, do not forage for food, and cannot defend the hive. Their only purpose is to mate with the queen. There is only one queen bee in the colony. She is larger than all the other bees, and usually has a circle of worker bees around her (her “court”) that take care of her, bringing her food and cleaning her. The queen is the only individual who can lay eggs, and can lay as many as 2,000 eggs per day!

The worker bees leave the hive and may fly up to two miles away from their home to find food. They seek out flowers and collect nectar, which is a sugary solution that flowers produce in order to attract pollinators. The worker bee then returns to the hive and performs a dance to indicate to her fellow workers where she found food. The collected nectar is transformed into honey and may be consumed by any of the adult bees or fed to the young who cannot yet fly to find their own food. The honey can also be harvested by humans.

Honeybee colonies normally survive for several years, going dormant in the winter cold and then becoming active in the warmer months. During favorable conditions (an abundance of food), the hive will create “daughter queens,” and the old queen and much of her colony will relocate to make room for the new queens.

What is happening with the FCMoD colony?

Fort Collins Museum of Discovery has had a bee colony in the Animal Encounters exhibit for our visitors to watch and enjoy since the exhibit opened. However, our colony has collapsed several times since then. Each time we have obtained a new colony from our professional beekeeper.

There are a lot of environmental factors that can negatively affect a honeybee colony, and a lot of colonies around the world are struggling and collapsing right now. There are some pesticides that are worse for bees, especially the class of pesticide called neonicotinoids. There are diseases and parasites that can affect a colony. Climate change may also be playing a factor with bee colonies dying.

What our beekeeper thinks may be happening to the honeybee colony here at FCMoD is that the bees may have found a flower source in the area that has been sprayed with a certain kind of pesticide. They collect the nectar and pesticide, then carry it back to the colony and tell their sisters where to find more. The bees eat the poisoned nectar and honey, and die.

How can we stop honeybee colony collapse?

There are a lot of different pesticides that people use to control weeds and to get rid of bugs they don’t like. But since we do like the honeybees and the honey they make, we need to make sure that we use pesticides that won’t hurt the bees. Pesticide application can be done at night when bees are not foraging. Additionally, making sure not to apply pesticides to blooming plants will help prevent bee deaths.

Like all animals, bees need good quality and abundant food. We can plant native flowers at our homes so honeybees and all the native Colorado bees have healthy and nutritious food sources.

We should also look for ways to reduce our impact on the environment around us, improving the lives of all animals that we share our environment with. Find reusable products instead of single use items you throw away. Turn off the lights in empty rooms. Compost. Take shorter showers. Each of us can have a huge positive impact on the wild animals that live around us.

Learn more about how pesticides can affect bees and other wildlife:

EPA Tips for Reducing Pesticide Impacts on Wildlife

National Pesticide Information Center: Protecting Wildlife from Pesticides

Learn about native plants you can use in your garden:

Colorado Native Plant Society plant lists

Find out how to reduce your impact on the environment:

World Wildlife Fund’s Tips for Reducing Your Environmental Impact

Can you spot the queen bee in this picture? She is larger and a slightly different color.

The FCMoD honeybee colony, in Spring of 2018.

Photos courtesy of Alexa Leinaweaver

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Daily Discovery: Celebrate our State Fossil- Build Your Own Stegosaurus/ Descubrimiento en casa: Celebrando el fósil oficial de Colorado – Crea tu propio estegosaurio

Post written by Angela Kettle, School Programs Coordinator.

Daily Discovery: Celebrate our State Fossil – Build Your Own Stegosaurus

Did you know that the Stegosaurus was named Colorado’s state fossil in 1982? Build your very own Stegosaurus using household materials. Then, discover a little bit about how the Stegosaurus lived!


All supplies are optional. Use what you have!

• Air dry clay or play-doh for the Stegosaurus body
• Cardboard or paper plates for the Stegosaurus plates
• Construction paper for the Stegosaurus spikes
• Glue or tape
• Markers
• Paint


1. Build your Stegosaurus! Be innovative with your materials, and use the graphic to help guide you! Here is one way you could build your stegosaurus:

  • Did you know that the Stegosaurus was around 21 feet long and 30 feet tall in real life? Since we’ll be making a model in this activity – or a smaller version of the original — decide how big you want your Stegosaurus to be for this purpose.
  • Use play-doh to make the body. The Stegosaurus is known to have a small skull, short upper limbs, broad feet, and a  relatively long tail.
  • Use the cardboard to make the Stegosaurus’s plates. The plates are mostly triangular. Press these cardboard plates into the Stegosaurus body in an alternating pattern. (Fun fact: did you
    know that no two plates from the same Stegosaurus are  identical?)
  • Cut down your construction paper. Use the pieces to make 4 spikes. Press these spikes into the Stegosaurus tail.
  • Paint or color your Stegosaurus if desired.

2. Behold your 3D Stegosaurus creation!

Questions to Ponder:

1. How might a Stegosaurus use its plates? What about its spikes?Why do you think?

2. Stegosauruses have very small, flat teeth. What other animals have flat teeth? What do you think Stegosaurus was eating based on its teeth?

3. Study the picture of the Stegosaurus, along with your 3D creation. Based on its anatomy (how it is structured), how do you think a Stegosaurus would look when it moved?

4. Research your answers here.

References and Additional Information:

Povid, K. (n.d.). A Stegosaurus brought to life. Natural History Museum.

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2019). Stegosaurus. In Encyclopedia Britannica.

Want to download these directions? Click here for a handy PDF!

Follow along with our Daily Discovery! Click here for all activities that you can do at home.

Educational opportunities like this are supported in part by Fort Fund.


Traducido por Károl de Rueda y Laura Vilaret-Tuma.

Descubrimiento en casa: Celebrando el fósil oficial de Colorado – Crea tu propio estegosaurio

¿Sabías que el estegosaurio fue nombrado el fósil oficial del estado de Colorado en el año de 1982? Crea tu propio estegosaurio utilizando materiales que ya tienes en casa, y ¡descubre un poco más sobre cómo vivió este dinosaurio asombroso!

Artículos necesarios:

Todos estos materiales son opcionales. Puedes usar lo que tengas disponible en casa.
• Arcilla o plastilina (para el cuerpo de estegosaurio)
• Cartulina o platos desechables/de papel (para las placas)
• Papel de colores (para las púas)
• Pegamento y/o cinta adhesiva
• Marcadores
• Pinturas


1. ¡Construye tu estegosaurio! Sé innovador/a con tus materiales y utiliza la imagen a continuación como guía. Sigue estos pasos para construir este dinosaurio único:

  • ¿Sabías que el estegosaurio medía 6.2 metros (21 pies) de largo y 9.1 metros (30 pies) de alto? Para esta actividad, tú decide el tamaño que quieras. Tu dinosaurio puede ser pequeño, mediano o muy grande.
  • Una opción es utilizar arcilla o plastilina para moldear el cuerpo del estegosaurio. Esta creatura es conocida por su cráneo pequeño, extremidades delanteras muy cortas, patas anchas, y una cola larga y rígida.
  • Utiliza la cartulina o platos desechables para formar las placas. Estas son mayormente triangulares. Presiónalas contra el cuerpo de tu estegosaurio en dos hileras. Dato curioso: ¿sabías que ningunas de las placas de un estegosaurio eran idénticas una de la otra? ¡Todas eran diferentes!
  • Corta tu papel de colores en formas puntiagudas para hacer cuatro púas, y presiónalas contra la cola de tu estegosaurio.
  • Si quieres, pinta o colorea tu modelo. Como mencionamos antes, todavía no se sabe de qué color eran estos grandiosos animales, así que puedes pintarlo y decorarlo con tus colores favoritos y de la manera que quieras.

2. Cuando esté completamente terminado, ¡admira tu propio modelo de estegosaurio en tercera dimensión hecho por ti mismo y muéstraselo a tu familia!

Y hablando de estos dinosaurios, ¿puedes contestar a estas preguntas?

1. ¿Para qué crees que un estegosaurio usaría sus placas? ¿Y sus púas? ¿Para qué servirían?

2. Los estegosaurios tenían dientes relativamente pequeños con facetas planas. Basándonos en la estructura de sus dientes, ¿qué crees que este dinosaurio comía? ¿Hoy día, cuáles otros animales tienen sus dientes así?

3. Estudia la imagen del estegosaurio que está más arriba, y también tu propio modelo. Observando su anatomía (su cuerpo/estructura) ¿cómo crees que estos animales se movían?

4. Investiga tus respuestas aquí (enlace en inglés para el National History Museum):

Referencias y más información:

Povid, K. (n.d.). A Stegosaurus brought to life. Natural History Museum.

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2019). Stegosaurus. In Encyclopedia Britannica.

¿Te gustaría descargar esta actividad? Haz clic aquí para obtener un archivo PDF.

Para encontrar actividades, ideas y mucho más descubrimiento en casa, ¡síguenos!

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BFFs: Black-footed Ferrets or Best Friends Forever

Post written by Kim Fraser, Black Footed Ferret Program Coordinator.

BFFs: Black-footed Ferrets or Best Friends Forever

The Black-footed Ferret (BFF) (Mustela nigripes) is the only ferret native to North America and lives on the short grass prairie of the Great Plains. BFFs are members of the Mustelidae family which is often referred to as the weasel family, and includes mink, badger, marten, otter, weasel, fisher, wolverine, and domestic ferret. They are nocturnal, solitary, require large expanses of landscape, and spends their whole life on prairie dog colonies. In the prairie dog burrow systems they seek shelter from predators and weather, eat, sleep, and raise their young. Over 90% of their diet is prairie dog and they eat over 100 per year. BFFs are called fossorial predators, meaning they hunt underground. Their home range is in 12 Western states including Canada and Mexico. Considered one of the most endangered mammals in North America it has been federally protected for over 40 years.  The BFF Recovery Program is one of the most successful recovery programs with over 50 State, Federal, Tribal, NGOs and private landowner partners that all participate in recovery efforts.

Why should we protect black-footed ferrets?

In 1974 when the Endangered Species Act was enacted the Black-footed Ferret was in the top 10 species listed for protection. No one knew then how difficult or easy saving a species from extinction would be. Today, we know recovering an endangered species involves many partners, time, and effort. Since the ESA became law some species have had survival success and some have not. Many people have asked is it worth it?  Is preventing the extinction of an iconic species like the black-footed ferret worth the effort? The answer is yes, it is worth it, and here’s why. The BFF is an important member of the prairie ecosystem and their presence indicates a healthy habitat that supports many other species. Without black-footed ferret conservation efforts, prairie dogs and other associated species such as burrowing owls, swift fox, mountain plovers, ferruginous hawks, prairie rattlesnakes, and many others could easily succumb to current threats. So by conserving black-footed ferrets, we have to conserve prairie dog habitat and that saves an entire ecosystem and its inhabitants that call the short grass prairie home!


Why should people care and help save this species from extinction?

Maybe it’s because BFFs capture the imagination that there’s this rarely seen and secretive animal living on the short grass prairie underground. And even though it is one of the most endangered mammals, most Americans will never have the opportunity to see a live BFF.  It’s like a fairytale character of the prairie that represents the wild, and people are passionate about the wild and fascinated about the animals that live there.  When folks learn about BFFs they are amazed that something so cool lives right in their backyard- in America.  We all know about other species that are in trouble across the globe, like elephants, tigers, chimpanzees and rhinos. And it is good to care about what happens to all species on our planet because we are a global living place. Every day we hear about how these other species are doing and how we can help them and that’s important.  But here is an animal that makes its home right here, it belongs to us as Americans as one of our native species. We should care and protect BFFs so they will remain part of the wilds of North America.  One way to help save BFFs is by learning all you can about them.  Because by learning you will come to care about them, and when you care, you will want to help save them. So you see by caring and helping to save them from extinction you are being a BFF or Best Friend Forever not just to black-footed ferrets but to future generations so they too will have BFFs living wild and free on the prairie.


The museum is proud to have two black-footed ferrets on-site in partnership with the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center. You can see what our BFFs are up to while we’re closed via our Ferret Cam:!

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Amazing Amphibians

Post written by Willow Sedam, Live Animal Husbandry Team Member.

Amazing Amphibians

Did you know that amphibians were the first animals to live on land? Or that they swallow by blinking and pushing the backs of their eyes into their throat?

Today, we’re looking at the amazing world of amphibians!

What is an amphibian?

Toads, frogs, and salamanders are all amphibians. While amphibians are a wide and varied class of animals, they all have a few things in common.

Amphibians have slimy skin which they can breathe and drink through and has to be kept damp at all times. Amphibians lay squishy, shell-less eggs in water. And they all start out life as aquatic larvae, later metamorphosing (like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly) into their adult form, growing legs and shedding their tails!

Because water is so important to amphibians, they are often found around ponds, streams and marshes. But spending so much time in water means they can often be the first animals affected by a change in water quality. Amphibians can be the first warning that something is wrong with an environment, as they are very sensitive to pollutants, and a decline in amphibian populations can be a clue to scientists that something is wrong. But when amphibians are doing well, that means the environment around them is, too – which is why they are such important animals to learn about and protect!

At the museum, we have four species of amphibians on display, two of which are native to the US, and one that can be found right here in Colorado!

Fire-bellied toad

Despite being called toads, these Eurasian amphibians are technically frogs – you can tell by their long legs and preference for swimming.

These amphibians display two interesting types of coloration at once: camouflage, which blends them into their environment, and aposematism, which warns predators that they might be dangerous. Much like poison dart frogs, fire-bellied toads are brightly colored to warn predators that they are toxic. However, while poison dart frogs are bright all over, fire-bellied toads limit their bright warning coloration to their bellies. When a predator looks down on a frog, it sees only the green and black camouflage on its back, and might not notice it. But if the frog is threatened, it can rear up on its back and show off it’s bright belly that acts just like caution tape and says: stay away from me!

This behavior, called an unken reflex, actually gets its name from fire-bellied toads and the German name for their species, Unke.

Southern toad

Our southern toad is actually more of a southeastern toad, hailing from the warmer and wetter parts of the American east coast, from North Carolina to Mississippi. These amphibians are true toads – warty, with short legs ill-equipped for swimming and jumping but built perfectly to dig. They actually have claw-like spurs on their back legs that help them build burrows to stay safe and moist when the weather gets too hot, too cold, or too dry for them.

Like all amphibians, they lay their eggs in open water – about 3,000 of them per season! After only a couple of days, these eggs hatch into tadpoles, which undergo metamorphosis when they’re barely half an inch long!

Tiger salamander

These salamanders are a Colorado native and can be found in marshes and ponds right here in Fort Collins! But they’re not picky about where they live – they’re actually the most wide-spread salamander species in North America, ranging from Canada all the way to Mexico! Their name comes from the yellow and black splotches on their skin, which look a little bit like tiger stripes. Like tigers, they are also ferocious predators – even if they don’t look like it. When they emerge from their burrows to hunt, they look for anything they can eat – worms, spiders, and beetles, even frogs and smaller salamanders are all fair game!

Our salamanders at the museum get so excited during feeding time, that sometimes they’ll even try and bite their caretaker’s fingers! Unlike frogs, salamanders actually have teeth – lucky for the people feeding them, they aren’t very sharp.

White’s tree frog

These Australian frogs are very popular in the pet trade because of how calm they are around humans – even wild frogs will find their way into people’s sinks, laundry roo

rooms, and bathtubs, no matter if they’re occupied!

Unlike some frogs, White’s tree frogs do not have long sticky tongues that they use to catch prey. Their preferred method of hunting is close-range. Once they’re close enough to a bug or other tasty morsel, they lunge at it with their mouth open wide and scoop it up into their gob with their hands.

These frogs are also very unique for the way they protect their delicate amphibian skin. They secrete a goo from their skin that is antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal, allowing them to stay safe and free from disease even when they’re living in places that are mucky and full of germs. The virus-fighting ability they possess is so impressive, it’s even being studied for use in human medicine!

Amphibians are amazing animals, coming in so many different shapes and sizes. From legless, soil-dwelling caecilians to flying tree frogs, they all play an important part in our ecosystem!

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Meet Tara, FCMoD’s Ornate Box Turtle!

Post written by Willow Sedam, Live Animal Husbandry Team Member.

Meet Tara, FCMoD’s Ornate Box Turtle!

Have you met our Ornate Box Turtle, Tara?

Ornate Box Turtles are a species of box turtle native to the great plains of the midwest – including Colorado! Our Tara was a wild turtle who was taken in by the museum after she was hit by a car and her shell was cracked – look closely and you can see the places where the scutes (the separate bits of hard keratin covering a turtle’s shell) are scarred from her injury.

But how do cold-blooded animals – who can’t warm themselves up on their own like we can – survive the harsh Colorado winters we get if they don’t have a museum to live in?

When it gets cold, reptiles will go through a process much like hibernation, called brumation. Unlike hibernating animals, who are asleep for the whole winter season, brumation only occurs in cool temperatures, and if it warms up enough, even in the middle of winter, brumating animals will wake up, go about their business, and go back to brumating when it’s cold again. In the wild, Ornate Box Turtles spend most of their winter cuddled up in a nice pile of soil, deep enough below the ground that frost can’t reach them.

And while Tara lives inside the museum, where it’s the same warm temperature all year-round, she will sometimes brumate, too! Even though she’s not having to hide away from the cold, she can tell that it’s time for her to brumate because of how short the winter days are.

But Tara is a true Colorado native, and once it warms up, she’s ready to go outside. As part of her care, the Animal Encounters team take her out for regular walks for exercise and enrichment. You wouldn’t think a turtle of all things would need walking, but what Tara lacks in speed she makes up for in energy and determination.

Sometimes she spends her time walking around the museum indoors, especially if it’s still a little chilly out for a cold-blooded animal like her. But her favorite walks are outside walks – in the museum’s Big Backyard! She’ll spend as much time as she can exploring the yard, digging in the dirt, and doing her best to sneak away from her caretakers, often by blending in with rocks and bushes like a camouflage master.

Ornate Box Turtles are opportunistic omnivores – meaning they’ll eat just about anything they can find, including plants, bugs, and even carrion. When Tara’s out in the backyard, she likes to forage for extra snacks, trying to catch and eat any ants and beetles she sees. While we see a tiny, cute, turtle, many bugs see a hungry predator! But the funniest thing she likes to do when she’s out on a walk is to pick things up in her beak. She does it with rocks, sticks, and bark chips – she’ll search around for the perfect something, pick it up, and just hold it in her mouth while she wanders!

So next time you’re out enjoying the warm weather, keep an eye out for Colorado’s native reptiles who may also be soaking up the sunshine! You might even see one of Tara’s cousins out in the wild, eating ants and basking in the sun.

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Aw – Rats!

Post written by Willow Sedam, Live Animal Husbandry Team Member.

Aw – Rats!

Ever wonder what it would be like to live in a museum? For the critters who are a part of our Animal Encounters exhibit, living in a museum is just a part of their daily life!

Our mischief (a group of rats) of four fancy rats are the only mammals in the Animal Encounters exhibit at the museum. They are an important part of our mission to educate the public about animals and how they crawl, slither, and skitter in-and-out of our daily lives. Our rats travel regularly through the museum to meet people as part of the live animal presentations and events to help educate the public about life on earth. But what do they do when they’re not helping educate the public?

At the museum, the rats’ morning starts around 8:00 am, when the Animal Encounters staff come in to take care of all the animals before the museum opens. They’re usually all fast asleep in a big fuzzy rat pile. They are not very happy to be woken up – but they need to come out of their enclosure so that the staff can clean it and make their breakfast.

Once they’re up, each rat gets put in their own brightly-colored exercise ball and is set loose in Animal Encounters for their morning exercise – although each rat treats their “exercise” time differently, as some prefer to find a quiet corner to nap in, while others like to run around and sniff everything they can.

Each rat is named after their distinct and varied appearances. Black and White is a white rat with black markings, and the busiest, always running around hiding food in her favorite food-hiding spots. Black Rex is named after her fur – rex is a name for animals bred to have soft and curly fur – and her fur is definitely soft, but because it’s so fluffy, it’s always sticking up in crazy directions! Blaze is a white rat with a gray “blaze” marking down the top of her forehead, who loves to snuggle and take naps. And Brown is your typical brown-furred rat, and the most adventurous of the mischief, always spending her exercise time exploring the museum and bumping into people’s ankles.

Rats are nocturnal, which means they’re most active during the night, and prefer to spend their days sleeping – something you might have noticed if you’ve been to the museum and seen them all curled up in a sleepy pile. However, once they’re done with their morning exercise and back in their enclosure, sleep is far from their minds, because it’s time for breakfast!

Rats are omnivores, much like humans, meaning they eat meat and plants. In the wild, rats will eat just about anything – including agricultural crops and discarded human food. At the museum, we offer them a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, greens, and rat kibble, to make sure they get all the nutrients they need. But just because rats are omnivores, doesn’t mean they don’t have standards! Our rats have favorite foods just like we do: they love sweet potatoes and curly lettuce the most. Just like us, they also have a least favorite food, like squash – they’ll leave it completely untouched in their food bowl, even when everything else has been eaten!

Rats are very smart animals, and need enrichment to live happy lives in captivity. Enrichment is a term for anything that is provided to animals to keep them from getting bored – like interesting treats, puzzles, and new toys. At the museum, we have several strategies for changing up the rats’ routines to make sure there’s always something interesting going on. They get food treats, from peanuts hidden around their enclosure, to blocks of alfalfa hay, to cute little rat-sized “hamburgers” made of seeds and dried fruit. They also get new toys like wicker balls and salt licks regularly – and every so often they get new hammocks, tunnels or houses to cuddle up in. Every time they go back in their enclosure after their morning exercise, there might be something new and exciting waiting for them!

By the time the rats have had their exercise, gotten their home cleaned, and finished eating breakfast, it’s usually close to opening time. Once the museum is open again you can come in and see exactly how the rats spend the rest of their busy rodent day. And they’ll be just as excited to see you as you are to see them!

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World Wildlife Day 2020: “Sustaining All Life On Earth”

Post written by Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator

Happy World Wildlife Day!


Wildlife, while traditionally meaning all non-domesticated animals in an area, has expanded to mean all the fauna, flora, and other kinds of life. All species have evolved to be dependent on each other. Sustaining all kinds of life on our planet can only help the human race survive and prosper.

Some individual species are so vitally important to an individual ecosystem that they are considered to be a keystone species. So many other kinds of life depend on the keystone species that it would have a disproportionate effect if it should be removed from the ecosystem.

Colorado has amazing diversity in its wildlife. With the massive changes in altitude from the Rocky Mountains down to the Great Plains, the wildlife that live here have adapted to a wide range of micro-climates. With the variety of ecologies in the area, there are many keystone species that keep the whole system healthy. Some local examples include:

In the Mountains: Aspen trees

Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) are, for many, a symbol of the Rocky Mountains. They cover 20% of Colorado’s forested land, or 5 million acres.

Aspen are a keystone species, supporting many birds, insects and mammals throughout the year and creating a highly biodiverse ecosystem. Because aspen love sunlight, groves are more open and bright than an evergreen forest. More variety of plant species can grow in the understory below an aspen grove. Additionally, as aspen are short-lived (70-150 years), they quickly add nutrients back into the soil around where they fall. Aspen propagate both with seeds and via cloning. A grove of clones can send up tens of thousands shoots per acre – which many grazing animals love to eat. Aspen shoots are actually higher in fat than many plant species, making it an especially important winter food source for deer and elk. The white bark of the aspen tree can also be used by many species as a food source in winter (elk, deer, beaver, rabbits, voles, mice, etc.), and year-round by a wide variety of insects. Several kinds of woodpecker, chickadees, nuthatches, kestrels, owls, and wood ducks will nest in the aspen.

Aspen trees are unfortunately in decline throughout the Rockies, up to a loss of 60-90% depending on the local climate. The primary cause is believed to be human behavior. Human efforts at fire suppression have allowed conifers to spread into aspen groves, shading the aspen and preventing them from thriving in the sunlight they love. Fire is also a natural part of the aspen’s life cycle: as the older above-ground aspen declines in health it should be cleared out by fire, prompting new sprouts. Without the fire, the sprouts are fewer and grazing animals have more impact on the grove. As the Aspen trees decline, hundreds of species will suffer.

In the Prairie: Prairie Dogs

Prairie dogs (genus Cynomys) are a group of intelligent, burrowing rodents – actually a kind of ground squirrel – native to North American Grasslands. In Fort Collins area, you will see the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus). Prairie dog colonies will dig a complex maze of burrows as their colony’s home for breeding, raising their young, and hiding from predators, maintaining the town over several generations.

Prairie dog activities change the grassland ecosystem that they live in; they are often labeled “ecological engineers” for the way they shape the world around themselves. Burrowing will actually alter soil chemistry, as well as aerating the soil. Their grazing (both above and below ground) affects the plant life they live in, encouraging more diversity of plant species and plant productivity. The soil becomes richer in nitrogen and more fertile, supporting both more plants and a wider variety of insect life. Because of the positive effect prairie dogs have on the soil and the plant life above, grazing animals (including domestic cattle) often prefer to eat in the middle of prairie dog towns as the forage is better. Prairie dog burrows provide shelter and nesting habitat for many animals, including black-footed ferrets and burrowing owls. Prairie dogs are also a vital food source for a wide variety of predators: hawks, owls, ferrets, coyotes, badgers, bobcats, and rattlesnakes.

Prairie dogs numbers are vastly reduced from their historic populations. Many people believe that prairie dogs are pests, damaging crops or putting domestic animals at risk, and have actively persecuted the animals (e.g. target shooting, poisoning). Humans have also taken up most of what was originally prairie dog territory for agriculture and suburban sprawl. Between 1900 and 1960, 98.5% of prairie dog habitat was lost. Additionally, humans accidentally introduced the bacteria that caused the plague to spread, which can quickly wipe out entire colonies of prairie dogs. Even if you agree that they are pests, the loss of prairie dogs to our grassland ecosystems would have an enormous negative effect on hundreds of other species.

Celebrate World Wildlife Day

Celebrate World Wildlife Day this year by learning more about your local wildlife! Explore one of our many beautiful natural areas and observe the way that the wildlife interacts with each other. Or, visit the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery this weekend and see our Natural Areas Exhibit. Watch the Ferret Feeding Frenzy at 2:30 on Saturday or Sunday! This is not for the faint or squeamish of heart…

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National Bird Day: Winter Birds

Post written by Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator.

National Bird Day: Winter Birds

Weather changes, snow is falling. But when you look out your window, there are still a bunch of birds hanging out. Which birds are here in the winter, and how do they survive?


Migration is a strategy that many animals use to cope with seasonal changes. Generally migration seems to be triggered by birds following their food supply or seeking a new type of food, as well as seeking more comfortable weather conditions.

We are most familiar with migration from an area closer to the poles in summer, and toward the equator in winter. This is known as Longitudinal Migration, as it is on a north-south axis. Migration distance can range from thousands of miles each way to only a short distance. While we mostly think of birds leaving Colorado for warmer weather, we get some migrants coming to stay here from much further north. Some examples of birds that migrate to the Fort Collins area for winter:

  • The Dark-eyed Junco spends its summers breeding in Canada and Alaska, and moves down into the continental United States during winter. Juncos are easily recognized by their behavior, hopping around the ground seeking food, and the black and white flash of their tail when they take flight. They are colloquially known as “Snowbirds”.

  • The Rough-legged Hawk breeds in the Arctic, but winters in the U.S. and southern Canada. It gets its name from the fluffy feathers covering its legs – an excellent adaptation for a bird that spends its summers in the Arctic as well as for our snowy Colorado winters.

  • Most Bald Eagles spend their summers further north in Canada and Alaska. They will migrate into Colorado in winter where they breed, usually January through March. (We do have some year-round resident bald eagles in the area as well.)

There are also birds that migrate a short distance, but for a big change in altitude: Altitudinal migrants. Most of the altitudinal migrants in the U.S. are in the American West, thanks to our Rocky Mountains. Many of us humans have experienced the dramatic difference in weather and temperature between the plains and up in the Rockies.

  • Most Prairie Falcons winter in the Great Plains, hunting Horned Larks and Western Meadowlarks. In summer, they move up to 11,000 feet in search of abundant ground squirrels and pikas.
  • The Townsend’s Solitaire spends its summers in the mountains, then moves to lower elevations in winter. They switch food sources from mostly insects in summer to fruit, mostly juniper berries, in winter. They can get extremely territorial over their chosen patch of juniper trees, defending them against solitaires and other bird species.

  • Immature Mountain Chickadees are known to migrate to lower elevations. However, once they are old enough to select a breeding territory, they will generally stay there year-round. (It can be very challenging to distinguish them from our usual Black-capped Chickadees who stay in Fort Collins area year-round. Look for a white “eyebrow” on the Mountain chickadee that the Black-capped lacks.)

Other Adaptations for Winter Survival

For us humans, it seems logical to escape the cold and snow by going south for warmer weather. But birds have amazing adaptations to help them survive weather that we find daunting.

  • Feathers are the best insulation we know of. Imagine curling up inside a cozy down overcoat – birds have one naturally! They can retain heat by fluffing out their feathers, trapping more air underneath to keep them warm. Birds like chickadees or wrens fluff up so much that they look twice as fat in winter! Many birds, like the American Goldfinch, will also change out their sleeker, brighter summer coat for a thicker, drabber winter one. They get better camouflage as well as better insulation.
  • Some birds, like crows, will cluster together and share body warmth. Smart birds like crows and other corvids can also communicate about food sources and predators.
  • Many birds will also plan for the winter by putting on fat. It acts both as insulation to keep warm and as an energy source if hunting for food doesn’t go so well.
  • Birds are also good at predicting when the weather will turn bad and a blizzard is coming. They will eat extra food in advance of the storm, then hunker down and save calories for body heat while it snows.
  • Several species will change what kind of food they eat. The Townsend’s Solitaire and Prairie Falcon, described above, are great examples. Some birds will also stash food in preparation for the cold – if you have a birdfeeder that gets extra busy in fall, some of your avian visitors are probably caching food for later.

Birding in Winter

Celebrate National Bird Day this year by spending some time outside, looking at our seasonal visitors! But remember, winter can be a difficult season for any wild animal. Keep your distance so they don’t waste their precious energy flying or running away from you when you get too close.

Photo courtesy of  Alexa Leinaweaver.

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