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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“Music Therapy! What’s that?!”

Tune In For Music Therapy

Clap along if you feel like you know what MT’s do. Someday, people will know what a music therapist actually does. Scratch that! TODAY is the day!

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is defined as the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music therapy, an established health profession, uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs in an individual and group setting. Music therapy can be used across the lifespan of those with varying diagnoses. In short, music therapists use music to help individuals work on non-musical goals. (Image: Northwestern University, 2018)

Oh, Oh It’s Magic…

There is a difference between music AS therapy and music IN therapy. Music AS therapy is a broad use of music to appeal to a wide range of behaviors, emotions, and well-being. Music used AS therapy is not directed at a specific outcome, and it is frequently used by those who consider themselves music therapists but have not been formally trained. Music IN therapy is music used to achieve a specific goal or set of goals. Music IN therapy consists of different techniques based on the best evidence available. Those that use music IN therapy are highly trained both in music and in therapeutic techniques. Until the middle of the 20th century most music therapy practice followed the music AS therapy model. It has only been in the past 60 or 70 years ago that we see more attention paid to music IN therapy.

(Ali Blackwood Illustration)

Follow the yellow brick road….for a degree in music therapy

         (Image: AMTA website)

Music therapists that receive a bachelor’s degree or higher, have to complete an approved program at a university or college, including a clinical internship of 1200 hours. Then they are allowed to become credentialed (Music Therapist-Board Certified) through the Certification Board of Music Therapists. Music therapists not only study music, but they also study psychology and medicine. The music therapy field is an evidence-based profession with a foundation in research. Music therapists don’t simply play songs for people or play music in the background. Music therapists complete a full assessment to determine individuals’ strengths and weaknesses, develop non-musical goals and objectives, create a treatment plan that can help with the transfer of skills to their daily lives, and continue to evaluate the needs and progress of each client through the entirety of the therapeutic process.

Where, oh where can you find an MT? At 35+ settings!

  • Medical facilities
    • General hospital settings
    • Hospice
    • Oncology
    • Physical Rehabilitation
    • Home health agencies
    • Out-patient clinics
    • Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities
    • Partial hospitalization
    • Children’s hospitals or units
  • Geriatric facilities
    • Adult day care
    • Assisted living
    • Geriatric facilities (not nursing)
    • Geriatric psychiatric units
    • Nursing homes
  • Developmental centers
    • Group homes
    • Intermediate care facilities
    • Community day treatment programs
    • State institutions
  • Educational facilities
    • Children’s day care/preschool settings
    • Early intervention programs
    • Schools (K-12)
  • Mental health settings
    • Child and adolescent treatment centers
    • Psychiatric hospitals
    • Community mental health centers
    • Substance abuse programs
    • Forensic facilities
    • Inpatient psychiatric units
  • Private practice settings
    • Music therapy clinics
    • Clients’ homes
    • Providing contract services in any facilities previously listed
  • Other settings
    • Diagnosis-specific support groups
    • Wellness and prevention programs
    • Work in music retailer setting

Benefits of music therapy…let me count the ways…

Music therapists can work with individuals who have a variety of needs that could include medical, learning and academic, mental health, rehabilitation, developmental, communication, or wellness. The populations in which music therapists work with range from premature infants to older adults. There are numerous ways music therapy has been found to address the needs of those in an individual or group setting. The areas include, but are not limited to:

  1. Labor and Delivery – relaxation; support of birthing process
  2. Premature Infants – improved feeding behavior and weight gain
  3. Neurological Disorders & Brain Injury – protocols that activate neurological responses in support of cognitive, motor, communication, and social objectives
  4. Chronic Illness & Oncology – music + coping techniques to assist with pain management and stress reduction
  5. Mental Health – provided opportunities to explore and process therapeutic issues
  6. Medical and Surgical Tests/Procedures – reduce anxiety and improve treatment response
  7. Healthy aging & Optimum Performance – provide music programs based on theories of personal growth, awareness, and learning
  8. Developmental Disabilities & Autism Spectrum – teach cognitive, motor, social, communication, and daily living skills
  9. Substance Abuse and Addictive Disorders – use introspective techniques such as songwriting and lyric analysis to aid clients’ transition from denial to determination in recovery process
  10. Physical Disabilities and Sensory Impairments – music incorporated into rehabilitative treatment to allow frustration to yield to fulfillment
  11. Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia – access individuals’ past to trigger short- and long-term memory, decrease agitation, and enhance reality orientation
  12. Hospice and Bereavement – help guide individual and/or loved ones in life’s processes

                                                               

              (Image: Kora Leith Blog)

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Mindful Mondays: Do Animals Feel Emotion?

Written by Willow Sedam, Animal Husbandry Staff

Mindful Mondays: Do Animals Feel Emotion?

Throughout history, humans have been asking questions about the natural world. But there’s one we keep coming back to with endless curiosity: do animals feel?

The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras was an early ponderer of this very question. A vegetarian, Pythagoras believed that animals and humans had the same souls, and should be treated equally. He was even known for going into markets and purchasing live animals, only to set them free. But Pythagoras’s ideas were controversial – the later philosopher Aristotle created his own theory, a ranked view of nature that put humans at the top and the lesser, “irrational” animals below them. For Aristotle, and many thinkers who followed in his footsteps, the idea of animals having souls or feeling pain, let alone emotion, was a strange one.

 

But is it really that odd to imagine that animals might feel emotions like we do?

 

After all, it’s not hard to find instances of animal behavior that appear to be driven by emotion. Take your dog to the vet or start up the vacuum cleaner around him, and you’ll see a response that looks a lot like anxiety, fear, or even anger. If animals appear to feel negative emotions, couldn’t they feel positive ones as well? Might they feel a similarly wide range of emotions to ours?

Elephants and whales have both been observed behaving unusually around dead herd members, guarding the bodies of fallen friends for days, or carrying deceased calves with them for miles. And great apes have even been able to communicate their own emotions to researchers. Koko, a gorilla who had been taught sign language, responded “Bad, sad, bad, frown, cry, frown, sad, trouble” when learning her adopted kitten had died.

Koko with her kitten, photo from the Los Angeles Times

 

It’s no surprise that these animals – some of the smartest in the world – would be able to feel; but it’s not just the big-brained mammals like us who display signs of emotion.

 

Parrots and crows are exceptionally bright birds, and their intelligence seems to extend to the complexity of their emotional lives as well. Crows have been known to form bonds with humans who feed them, and grudges against those they don’t like. They will even bring gifts to humans they like, and teach other crows to attack those they don’t. And parrots can get so bored in captivity that, without anything to occupy their clever brains, they will develop compulsive behaviors similar to neurosis in humans, such as plucking out their own feathers.

Some fish have even been observed to exhibit individual personalities. In a study where new and possibly dangerous things were introduced to a school of fish, some fish would approach aggressively, some curiously, and some would simply hide. Each new item saw the same fish approaching in the same manor – the aggressive one continued to act aggressively, the shy one continued to act shy. Each fish had their own unique temperament!

And let’s not forget invertebrates – those animals without a backbone like insects, worms, and squids. You might not think them very smart or emotionally deep, but you would be doing them a great disservice. Octopuses are renowned for their intelligence, despite their short and solitary lifestyle. Captive octopuses enjoy playing with humans – and will attack ones they don’t like. They’re smart enough to get bored, and smart enough to escape their tanks looking for something more interesting. That’s a lot of complexity for an animal so closely related to slugs.

 

So, problem solved: animals do feel, and they feel quite a lot! …Right?

 

Unfortunately, the scientific jury is still out in this case. While there are plenty of behaviors that we observe in animals that might look like what we think of as emotions, we can’t exactly ask a lizard how it’s feeling. So, we rely on assumptions – assumptions that could be wrong.

The biggest problem we face when trying to answer these questions about animal emotions is called anthropomorphism, the action of projecting human traits onto animals, plants, or even inanimate objects. It’s a bit like seeing faces in clouds – they’re not really there, but we’re so used to looking for them that we conjure them up anyway. While an action or expression might mean one thing to a human, it could mean something completely different to another animal. While humans smile when happy, chimpanzees bare their teeth as a threat display. And while a dog wagging its tail may be excited or happy, a cat wagging its tail is definitely not. It’s easy to misread these behaviors and displays, and easier still to project a human idea of an emotion onto an animal who may experience the world in a vastly different way from us.

 

But just as it is important not to project our own emotions onto animals and their behavior, it’s important, too, to not assume that animals are mindless or emotionless drones. It’s tempting to think that animals experience less than we do – that they don’t feel pain, sorrow, or joy. But nature has proven time and time again that intelligence and emotion come in all shapes and sizes. And hey, it doesn’t hurt to be kind – to your human and non-human neighbors.

 

To stay informed on the latest Mental Health: Mind Matters programs and experiences, visit the Mind Matters webpage and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Don’t forget to tag us in your experiences when you visit the museum to help us #MakeItOk. 

We look forward to welcoming you to FCMoD to experience this amazing exhibit!  

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Mindful Mondays: Animal Enrichment

Written by Willow Sedam, Animal Husbandry Staff

Mindful Mondays: Animal Enrichment

Just like us, animals can get bored. Have you ever been bored stuck inside on a rainy day? Imagine if you lived your entire life in your house –  many animals kept in captivity in zoos, aquariums, and even our own homes do spend their whole lives in one place. And without proper enrichment, animals can get bored quickly!

 

So, what is enrichment?

Behavioral, or environmental, enrichment, is anything that makes an animal’s life more interesting! It could be training a dog to sit and stay, or giving an octopus a complex puzzle to solve. It can be rearranging an animal’s cage for a change of scenery, or introducing new and exciting sounds or scents to them.

 

At the museum, we have our own animals – from black-footed ferrets to tree frogs – who all need enrichment. But enrichment comes in all different shapes and sizes!

Our colony of domesticated fancy rats are smart, omnivorous foragers, and need lots to do to keep their brains working. One day, they might get a new toy or a hiding place like a tunnel or wicker ball in their enclosure. The next, they might get peanuts hidden inside of cardboard tubes that they have to sniff out and chew open to get to. One of the keys to enrichment is variability – if an animal gets the same kind of enrichment at the same time every day or week, the novelty can wear off. Switching up enrichment styles and schedules is as important as the enrichment itself!

 

But enrichment isn’t one size fits all. Every animal is different, and so are the things we give them to keep them interested and excited.

 

The museum’s ornate box turtle, Tara, isn’t very good at sniffing out treats or chewing open cardboard boxes, so her enrichment takes a different form. She gets walks – inside the museum when the weather is cold, and out in the big backyard when it’s warmer. She loves her walks, and spends her outdoors time digging, hunting ants, and finding rocks to carry around in her beak. And even Tara likes treats – though instead of peanuts, she gets mealworms, which she chases down and gobbles up! To figure out what kind of enrichment an animal needs, we have to think about what our animals would be doing in the wild; Tara is actually a Colorado native, so spending time foraging in the Big Backyard is the perfect enrichment activity for her.

But what happens when animals don’t get the enrichment they need? Like us, bored animals can become frustrated, restless, or even depressed. They can get lethargic and low-energy, pick fights with other animals in the same cage, or pace the same path over and over again. Enrichment is important for animals of all shapes and sizes, from lions and tigers to little turtles like Tara.

 

Want to try giving your pet enrichment? There are lots of different ways to, and you might already be doing it without realizing! Training your dog to sit and stay, or playing catch-the-string with your cat are some easy ways to get your pet’s mind and body active. You could also introduce your pets to new (pet-safe) foods, or interesting and novel scents. Or, rearrange their cage, move their bed, and hide their toys in new places around the house. You can even make your own puzzle feeder: take a shallow box, cut holes of various sizes in the top, and sprinkle in some treats. See how your pet thinks through the problem to get to its prize – does it fish the treats out with a paw, shake the box until they fall out, or tear it open to get to the food?

There are tons of different fun enrichment projects you and your pet can work on together – so next time you’re feeling bored, consider designing a new toy for your furry (or slimy, scaly, or feathered) friend. You just might discover that it’s just as enriching for you as it is for them!

 

 

To stay informed on the latest Mental Health: Mind Matters programs and experiences, visit the Mind Matters webpage and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Don’t forget to tag us in your experiences when you visit the museum to help us #MakeItOk. 

We look forward to welcoming you to FCMoD to experience this amazing exhibit!  

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Mindful Mondays: DIY Fidget

Mindful Mondays: DIY Fidget

A fidget is an object that can be fiddled with to expend some energy and help the brain focus on the task at hand! Make your own to help you remain calm in stressful situations, or to help you focus when doing homework or another task!

Supplies:

  • Craft stick or popsicle stick 
  • Chenille stem (any color)
  • 6-8 pony beads
  • Painters tape or washi tape

Instructions:

  1. String the beads on to the chenille stem.
  2. Lay the stem on the craft stick and bend the ends of the stem around the ends of the stick.
  3. Use a piece of tape to attached the chenille stem to the craft stick. Make sure your tape covers the ends of the chenille stem so they don’t poke anyone!
  4. Keep your fidget handy, and use it to keep calm or maintain focus!

 

Each mind matters. Taking care of our mental health is important to all of us – everywhere and always. Learn more by visiting FCMoD’s special exhibition Mental Health: Mind Matters, open through January 10th.

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