National Reptile Awareness Day

Post written by Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator.

National Reptile Awareness Day

Do you know your reptile neighbors here in Northern Colorado?

Colorado is home to more than 50 species of reptile (lizards, turtles, and snakes). The majority of reptiles in our state live below 6,000 feet, though there are some exceptions.

In Colorado, there are a variety of environmental challenges that reptiles had to evolve to deal with. Many prairie streams and ponds dry up entirely in the summer, reducing safe water sources; in winter temperatures can drop below zero. Drought in summer is a frequent problem as well. But our reptiles adapt well to arid environments like northern Colorado.

All reptiles are “cold blooded,” or ectothermic: their body temperature is controlled by the temperature of their environment rather than producing their own heat internally. Reptiles regulate their body temperature by moving from shade to sun, changing their body orientation to the sun, or even changing color. They also vary their activity patterns with the seasons.

At this time of year, reptiles are getting ready to hibernate through the cold Colorado winter. They drop their body temperature to just above freezing. Lizards curl up under logs or in crevices for the season. Turtles will burrow underground to get below the frost line, either on dry land or in the mud at the bottom of ponds or lakes. Snakes have communal winter dens that they return to each year. While these animals hibernate, their body process slow down. They live off water and nutrients stored in their bodies, and don’t even wake up to eliminate waste.

Reptiles in Colorado are now facing new problems: human neighbors can make things more difficult for reptiles. Development reduces the habitat and resources that reptiles need to survive. We bring pets like dogs and cats that can hunt and kill native animals. Reptiles may be killed by traffic when they try to warm themselves by seeking out warm surfaces – like asphalt roads, which are often warmer than their surroundings.

Scientists do not know at this time how abundant or wide-spread reptiles are in Colorado, but some species are clearly in decline here. Reptile species listed as of special concern in Colorado are: triploid checkered whiptail; midget faded rattlesnake; longnose leopard lizard; yellow mud turtle; common king snake; Texas blind snake; Texas horned lizard; roundtail horned lizard; massasauga; common garter snake.

Reptiles are key parts in the landscape around us. Reptiles are food for many of the larger predators in the area (e.g. foxes, raptors, coyotes). Many of them also predate on and control the population of smaller animals – often those considered pests by humans – such as insects, rodents, and even prairie dogs.

For National Reptile Awareness Day this year, take some time to appreciate our reptile neighbors. Come visit the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery and see our live reptiles. Or, spend some time in the wild spaces near you and keep an eye out for our scaly friends.

When observing reptiles out in the wild, try to follow these guidelines:

  • Be careful: know what venomous animals live in the area. In Fort Collins area, there is one: the Prairie Rattlesnake. If you do spot one of these rattlers, move away slowly and leave it alone. They will only bite when they feel threatened.
  • Be respectful of all animals and their homes. Give the reptile or other animal space, and move slowly and quietly. Try not to damage the habitat they live in.
  • Do not bring home live animals. Take photographs or draw pictures of them instead.

 

Tara, FCMOD’s resident Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata), is keeping an eye out for a tasty mealworm to eat. Ornate Box Turtles are native to Colorado and are a protected species. They get their common name from the colorful patterns on their shells.

Photo courtesy of  Alexa Leinaweaver.

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World Animal Day

Interview conducted by Alex Ballou, Marketing Assistant.

Happy World Animal Day!

Fort Collins Museum of Discovery interviewed FCMoD Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator, Alexa Leinweaver in celebration of World Animal Day! The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

  1. Hi Alexa! First, tell us a little bit about your role as the Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator here at FCMoD.

Here at FCMoD, my job is to take care of all animals in the Animal Encounters exhibit and make sure they are happy and healthy, as well as coordinate the team that is responsible for their care.

  1. What inspired you to begin working with animals?

I can’t remember a time that I was not fascinated with caring for animals. As a kid I would go back to the field behind my house and catch grasshoppers, and be thrilled when they peed on me! When I look back at my childhood education I would find a new animal to be fascinated with, and keep adding more and more animals until I cared about all of them. My aunt bought me a subscription to ZooBooks and that only enhanced/expanded my love for animals.

A few years ago when I was moving to Colorado, I was looking for something that would get me away from the stress of my previous job. So I found a place to volunteer taking care of animals and it was a good way to stay centered and present — because you have to be if you are working with an animal. So that evolved into working with FCMoD.

  1. Tell us a little bit about the Animal Encounter exhibit, what kinds of animals do you encounter in this exhibit?

We have quite the variety of animals. We have everything from reptiles to amphibians to mammals to arthropods in the exhibit. We have a large variety of animals in the encounter exhibit. However, fun fact, the animals available are all able to be pets. We are not a zoo, so we do not have endangered or large animals in the animals encounter exhibit. That said, we do have some exciting and exotic animals.

Our most familiar are the rats. We have 5, and they all look different. We also have fish, insects, turtles, snakes, frogs, geckos, scorpions, etc. All of our fish are local. And my favorite is the whip scorpion because it shoots vinegar out of its butt! It’s the same as white vinegar as in your house and there is no stinger, but his aim is good so, if he feels there is a predator messing with him he aims for their eye.

Our goal is to keep all animals as comfortable as possible when cleaning. The most risky to work with animals include the whip scorpion, regular scorpion, and the assassin bugs. For all of these we keep them calm and have protective gear that we wear.

  1. Mammals, reptiles, and amphibians – oh my! How do you think the Animal Encounters exhibit fits into FCMoD’s vision, which is to inspire inquisitive thinkers and encourage responsible stewardship of the future?

I think any exhibit where you get to see animals that you do not usually see in everyday life is awesome. This exhibit at the museum is a great way to get all our visitors thinking about the world that they live in. Certainly now, I go out and see so much more because I know the animals to look for around in the mountains, city, etc. This sort of perspective creates a bigger world to live in. It allows for imagination and inspires us to care about the environment and for the animals.

“It allows for imagination and inspires those to care about the environment and for the animals.”

  1. Are there any programs associated with the Animal Encounters exhibit?

There are various programs associated with the Animal Encounters exhibit, including Meet the Animals, as well as school programs and summer camps. When school groups come in they can have a special time where we bring out the animals and let the kids get a closer look and sometimes pet the animals. Then we have our animal-themed summer camps, such as Animal Adventures. This camp includes a trip to the Lee Martinez farm and presentations of our animals in the Animal Encounters exhibit. Meet the Animals is a free gallery program offered every third Sunday of the month from 10 am to 1 pm. This program again, allows families and museum guests to get a closer look at the animals. Lastly, our animal-themed birthday parties are also quite the hit! Sometimes we even allow the birthday kid to handle the animal (depending on the child and the animal).

  1. What is your favorite part about working with animals at the museum?

My favorite part about my job is that it is my job to spend time with the animals – handling them, socializing them, and making sure they are well. I also get to snuggle with the rats. I get paid to hang out with the rats!

  1. What does a typical day at the museum looks like for you?

My team and I arrive a few hours before the museum opens. There are typically about 3-4 people working in the animal zone. We clean, feed, and observe the health of the animals, and then clean up to get ready for our visitors for the day.

  1. How do you think museums, like FCMoD, can continue to communicate, educate, and inspire positive action for animal care and conservation?

The first step is having the animals there to let people learn about them and be connected to the wild world. Also having school programs where kids come in and become the experts, to tell their friends and family about something like meeting a tarantula. Getting kids and adults interested in the world around them is the beginning. This creates awareness and increases interest. The second step is to get people angry. If you see and connect with an animal and you know their home is in danger — for example, once they are angry that frogs’ habitat in the Amazon is burning down — then they will have the motivation to do something about it. If you do not care you will not be willing to take the next step to protect the animals.

  1. Ok, random question, but if you could be any animal, what would it be and why?

I would want to be some kind of bird, maybe a Corvid. Specifically, a crow or magpie. Other than having the ability to fly, these birds are very smart and clever. It would allow me to have my wits about me while also having fun. These birds can solve puzzles that I could never solve. For example, a crow can understand how a street light works by dropping a nut that needs to be opened during the red light. And once it’s green the cars run over and open the nut. They go back down during the next red light to get the food they need. Isn’t that amazing?

“I can’t remember a time that I was not fascinated with caring for animals.”

  1. If you could have a conversation with every visitor in the Animals Encounters exhibit, what is the one thing you’d definitely want to know from them before leaving?

I would want to know what animal they connected with the most. It is so personal – which one and why. I want to know what people connect with and if there is any way to provide more information to create a greater proactive response to the animals. That way I can enhance the experience or help to inspire them in the future.

 

Thank you to Alexa for her time and talents at FCMoD! We hope the next time you visit you enjoy the Animal Encounters exhibit!

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Happy #PollinatorWeek!🐝

Post written by Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator.

🐝Happy #PollinatorWeek!

What Is Pollination?

Pollination is the process of bringing pollen (male sex cells) from one plant to the flower (female organ) of another plant of the same species. This is how flowering plants reproduce and evolve. When pollen is transferred to a flower, that flower is fertilized and develops seeds and fruit.

Flowering plants have co-evolved (developed along with) their pollinators over millions of years. Plants have several varied ways of attracting their pollinators. Some use visual or scent cues, many offer food, and some can mimic or even trap the animal pollinator. These techniques can be specialized to an individual animal species, or aim to attract a broad range of pollinators.

Less than 20% of flowering plants are able to achieve pollination without an animal to help.

What Is A Pollinator?

Animals that assist plants in reproduction are called pollinators. The most common include ants, bats, bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, flies, moths, small mammals, and wasps. Most pollinators are insects – there are estimated to be 16,000 different species of bees alone, all of which play an important role in pollination of plants around the world.

Why Is Pollination Important?

Plants are vitally important to human survival. All plants use up carbon dioxide, which animals (including humans) exhale, and produce oxygen, which we breathe. Flowering plants help purify water. Plants also prevent erosion, decreasing damage from events like floods or avalanches, and they improve the quality of the soil. The water cycle also depends on plants to release water into the atmosphere.

Pollination allows plants to survive. Most plants require a pollinator to reproduce themselves and maintain genetic diversity. Pollinated plants also develop fruits which provide food to a wide variety of species, including humans.

Nearly all fruits and vegetables that you eat have to be pollinated by animals before they develop into something we can eat. Visits to our agricultural fields from pollinators results in both more flavorful food and higher crop yields. In the U.S., the value of pollination done by animals is estimated to be $10 billion each year. Globally, that value comes to more than $3 trillion! Without pollinators and the task they do, humans would have a lot of trouble surviving.

Learn More:

NPS: Pollinators

US Fish & Wildlife: Celebrate National Pollinator Week

USDA: Our Future Flies on the Wings of Pollinators

Smithsonian: How to Protect Your Local Pollinators in Ten Easy Ways

 

Bumblebee (Bombus fervidus)

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Photos courtesy of Alexa Leinaweaver

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New Fishes!

Post written by Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator.

New Fishes!

We have new fishes in our Animals Encounter Exhibit at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery!

Our fish are all from the Cache le Poudre River watershed and are indigenous species. The American Fisheries Society (AFS) at the Warner College of Natural Resources, part of CSU, has partnered with FCMoD to provide us with native Colorado plains fish species.

Come visit the museum to see our new fishes!

The species now living in our tank are:

  • Creek Chub (Semotilus atromaculatus)
  • Fathead Minnow (Pimephales promelas)
  • Longnose Dace (Rhinichthys cataractae)
  • Johnny Darter (Etheostoma nigrum)
  • Common Shiner (Luxilus cornutus)

Members of the American Fisheries Society sample the Poudre River watershed for fish.

Photo by Sandra Hargraves

 

Members of the American Fisheries Society sample the Poudre River watershed for fish.

Photo by Sandra Hargraves

Johnny Darter

 

Common Shiner

Common Shiner

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Birds in the Big Backyard!

Post written by Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator.

Birds in the Big Backyard!

Happy National Bird Day!

National Bird Day in the United States has been celebrated every January 5 since 2002, honoring and bringing attention to our native, wild birds. Nearly 12% of the 9,800 species of birds are endangered or threatened, often by human behavior or structures. Humans take over and change the habitats birds need to survive and find food.

Birds are a kind of animal that has evolved for flight from a group of dinosaurs called theropods (which includes Tyrannosaurus Rex). They have a skeleton that is strong and lightweight; they have a beak instead of teeth (which are heavy); they have feathers and wings; and they lay eggs. Some species of bird have lost the ability to fly and now run, jump, or swim – but they all have the same original adaptations. Birds can vary tremendously in size, from the bee hummingbird (the smallest at only 2 inches!) to the ostrich (the biggest at 9 feet tall!). Birds live on every continent in the world.

This year for National Bird Day, take some time to watch and appreciate the wild birds living around us. In addition to being beautiful, they are useful as well: they pollinate plants, spread seeds, and some of them even clean up dead animals. If you don’t have a good spot near where you live or work, come by Fort Collins Museum of Discovery (FCMoD) and spend some time in our Big Back Yard. We have many birds that live here that you can enjoy watching.

Tips for bird-watching:

  1. Where can you watch birds? Nearly anywhere! You can find birds in any open green space or water. At FCMOD, we have many bird feeders in the Big Back Yard that attract a lot of birds. Our local birds know that we provide a reliable source of food and there are almost always avian visitors.
  2. Look around in every direction. Look at the ground, under bushes, up in trees, or soaring in the sky. Birds can be anywhere! Also listen. You may hear birds that you can’t see.
  3. Learn about different kinds of birds so you can figure out what you are seeing. Different species can be distinguished in many ways – color and pattern; size and shape; song; behavior; habitat. When you are looking at a bird, try to notice as much detail as you can. Is it bigger or smaller than a common bird you know, like the American Robin? Are you in woodlands or by a lake? What is the bird doing?
  4. Be quiet and move slowly when you’re watching birds. Birds get easily startled by loud noises or sudden movements, and will fly away to safety. Birds also hear better than humans do.
  5. Be patient! If you are still and quiet for a little while, birds will eventually move from cover into a space where you can see them better.
  6. Try pishing. Pishing is a small, squeaking noise that you can make by either kissing the back of your hand, or whistling the word “pish” through your closed teeth. Small birds may be attracted by the sound.

Equipment that might help:

  1. A good pair of binoculars. You will enjoy looking at birds much more if you can see them up close! We have some binoculars you can use at FCMOD.
  2. Bird Identification Guide. There are many excellent books and websites, as well as bird ID apps for your phone.
  3. Put up a bird feeder by your home. At the museum we have many feeders with a wide variety of food types, as different species of birds eat different things. Different bird foods include sunflower seeds, suet, hummingbird nectar (sugar water), millet, thistle seeds, and fruit.

Remember to always be respectful of both wildlife and other people when you’re out birdwatching.

Check out the American Birding Association Code of Ethics for guidelines. And thank you to Wild Birds Unlimited for their support of our Big Backyard birds!

Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata)

Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura)

Black Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)

Photos courtesy of Alexa Leinaweaver.

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All About Animals!

Post written by Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator.

All About Animals!

Saturday, Dec. 15, animals are taking over all of Fort Collins Museum of Discovery! Come to the museum and learn more about all of these amazing creatures at Museum Takeover: Animals. 

 

What do we mean when we are talking about animals?

What do you picture when you hear the word “animal”? Some people think of living things that move, but that are separate from human beings. Some imagine the specific kind of animal they know best, such as a pet.

“Animal” actually refers to a large family of living things that are related to each other and share similar characteristics – including humans. We are still discovering new species of animals in the world, so we don’t know exactly how many there are. However, scientists estimate there are around 1.2 million different kinds of animals!

All animals are multicellular; have to eat food of some kind rather than generating it themselves; breathe oxygen; and are able to move themselves around (motile). Animals are generally bilaterally symmetrical, and most animals have specialized tissue, or organs, in their bodies.

 

How scientists differentiate between different kinds of animals:

There’s a lot of variety in kinds of animals in the world. Scientists have come up with many different ways to distinguish one species from another. Some of these techniques include: What does the animal look like (size, color, number of legs, etc.)? Where does it live (on land or in water)? What does it eat? What kind of structures or organs does it have in its body? Try and think of some other ways you could tell different animals apart.

 

Of the estimated 1.2 million different species, 80% of them are arthropods! This group includes spiders and insects. There are also approximately 32,000 different kinds of fishes. Mammals, which we may think of first when we hear “animal,” have some 6,000 different kinds. Humans, dogs, and cats are all mammals.

You may have heard about the difference between vertebrate and invertebrate animals. Vertebrates (like humans) have an internal skeleton, whereas invertebrates do not. Many invertebrates have what is called an exoskeleton, and they have a rigid shell on their outside that has to be shed as the animal grows. Some animals (like jellyfish) have no skeletal structure at all!

Animals have several different ways of obtaining food, and scientists can classify animals by how they eat. Predators kill and eat a prey species – imagine a wolf pack hunting and eating an elk. Parasites feed on their prey species without killing it. Herbivores (animals that eat only plant matter) are actually defined as a parasite. Imagine an elk eating grass, or a tick sucking blood from that elk: both are parasites. Finally there are detritivores, who eat bits of decomposing organic matter. Many insects, such as roaches or millipedes, will eat this way.

 

Extreme animals:

  • Biggest (by weight): Blue whale
  • Tallest: giraffe
  • Longest: Bootlace worm
  • Fastest: Peregrine falcon
  • Most poisonous: Poison dart frog
  • Most venomous: Box jellyfish
  • Best vision: Bald eagle
  • Able to see the most colors: Mantis shrimp
  • Most Deadly (non-human): Mosquitos

 

Animals at the museum:

The museum has several animals on display in the Animal Experience, but they all come from just two families: Arthropods (insects, arachnids, etc.) and Chordates (amphibians, reptiles, mammals, etc.).  Take a moment to compare the different kinds of animals we have. How do they move differently? Do they have an internal skeleton or an exoskeleton? Each of our animals requires different kinds of food, as some are predators, some are parasites, and some are detritivores. See if you can guess which is which! What else do you observe about the FCMOD animals?

Animals in your own life:

Take some time to appreciate the animals you see every day! If you have a pet, take good care of them and show them some love. Come to the museum and see our more unusual critters, and sign up for one of our animal programs. Or, take a walk outside and enjoy spotting some animals in the wild.

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Reptile Awareness Day

Post written by Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator.

Happy Reptile Awareness Day!

What makes a reptile a reptile?

Reptiles are vertebrates with scaly, with dry, water-proof skin. They generally lay eggs with leathery shells, unlike the hard-shelled eggs of birds. Reptiles are poikilothermic, generally termed as “cold blooded,” which means they maintain their body temperature through external sources of heat such as basking in the sun. Reptiles that live in northern latitudes – such as those native to Colorado – will become dormant in winter: their bodily processes slow in the cold.

There are four orders of animal that make up the class Reptilia: Testudines (turtles), Squamata (lizards and snakes), Crocodylia (crocodiles and alligators), and Rhynchocephalia (tuataras). Turtles and crocodiles first appeared on earth along with the dinosaurs!

Reptiles live on all continents except Antarctica.

 

Meet FCMoD’s Reptiles:

Ball Python (Python regius)

 

Our Ball Python, named Slinky, is approximately 20 years old.  The oldest Ball Python on record lived to be 40 years! The species is native to sub-Saharan Africa. Ball Pythons often burrow underground to stay cool in the African heat. They also may cool themselves in pools of water.

This python is named “ball” because when threatened, it curls into a ball for protection, hiding its head and neck (the most vulnerable parts) in the middle of the ball. Ball Pythons are also called “Royal Pythons,” as there is a story that royalty in Africa would wear the snakes as jewelry, because the camouflage pattern on their scales is so beautiful.

 

Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornate)

Our Ornate Box Turtle, Tara, is a species native to Colorado and the Great Plains. She eats fruit and vegetables – she loves pear the most! – and insects. Turtles don’t have teeth, but instead a sharp beak that they can use to crunch through an insect’s exoskeleton or bite into a tough root.

Turtles have a shell that protects them from predators, made from keratin (the same thing our fingernails and hair is made from!). It is attached inside to their spine and ribs. Tara and other turtles (though not tortoises) are able to pull their legs and head completely inside the shell when threatened.

In a cold Colorado winter, Ornate Box Turtles will dig a hole in the ground and hibernate to survive.

 

Leopard Geckos (Eublepharis macularius)

Our two Leopard Geckos are native to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of northern India, where it is dry and rocky. It can get very hot there during the day, so they generally stay in the shade or in burrows while the sun is out. They are active at dawn and dusk when the temperature is more comfortable. As winter in that area can get quite cold, these geckos will stay underground the entire time and hibernate.

Leopard Geckos will hunt for insects, spiders and scorpions, as well as other lizards. A fascinating fact about them is that they are immune to scorpion stings! These reptiles keep their food reserve in their tails, which is why the tail looks so large compared with other lizards. When they are threatened by a predator, they can even drop their tail completely! The predator will be distracted by the tail while the gecko gets away. The tail eventually grows back.

Geckos use their tongues to clean their eyes. They will also use their tongues to figure out what is in the environment around them.

 

How you can celebrate Reptile Awareness Day!

  • Take some time to learn about reptiles! There are some amazing species out there, and the more we know about them the better humans and reptiles can live together.
  • Visit FCMoD and observe our reptiles in our Animal Encounters exhibit! Observing a reptile will help you understand and appreciate these amazing creatures.
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Meet our new millipedes!

Post written by Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator.

We have a new exhibit up in the Animal Encounters zone: Millipedes!

The name “millipede” comes from Latin and means “thousand feet”. Millipedes have two pairs of legs for each body segment and usually more than 20 segments – which is a lot of legs! – but no millipede has actually been found that has 1,000 feet.

Millipedes eat vegetables, fruit, decomposing plants, and will even eat poop from other animals. They are the cleaning crew for the animal world!

These arthropods will curl up into a spiral or coil when they feel threatened. They can also burrow underground to find protection from predators, as well as food and cool temperatures.

There are a few different kinds you can find in our tank:

Florida Ivory Millipede (Chicobolus spinigerus)

The Florida Ivory millipede is native to the American Southeast (Florida, Georgia, Alabama). They are smaller and black-and-white striped.

American Desert Millipede (Orthoporus ornatus)

The American Desert Millipede is native to the deserts in the American Southwest. This species comes in several colors, depending on where they live and what colors keep them camouflaged and safe. The dark red-brown millipedes in the tank are also called Sonoran Millipedes, as that color tends to be found in Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert. The brown and gold millipedes are also known as Texas Gold Millipedes, as they are found in – you guessed it – Texas.

Come see FCMoD’s millipedes during our open hours and stop by for our monthly series, Meet the Animals!

 

 

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