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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Daily Discovery: Endangered & Forgotten

Post written by Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator.

Daily Discovery: Endangered & Forgotten

National Wildlife Day is September 4, 2020! To celebrate, let’s explore some of the less well known endangered species in Colorado.

We hear a lot about endangered species these days, as the climate changes around us and human activities challenge wildlife survival. Often the articles and advertisements you see feature fuzzy and adorable animals like the Giant Panda or the Sea Otter. Here in Colorado, our featured endangered wildlife tends to be appealingly majestic, like the Grey Wolf (whose reintroduction to Colorado is on November’s ballot for 2020) or even FCMOD’s beloved Black-footed Ferrets. These are species that definitely deserve attention – but there are many more of our wildlife neighbors that need our attention and help that may not be so cute or exciting. There are so many ignored species in the world that are in difficult or dangerous situations thanks to habitat loss, pollution, water loss, and many other human activities.

Here are just a few of our Colorado wildlife neighbors in need:

Least Tern (Sterna antillarum), Federally Endangered

The Least tern is the smallest member of the gull and tern family. They’re only 9 inches long. They nest in the summer on sandbars along major rivers in the central U.S., including in Colorado. This bird was listed as federally endangered in 1985. A lot of nesting habitat in the U.S. has been lost to the birds because of the ways that humans have changed the river systems: dams and reservoirs; introduction of invasive plants; stabilizing river banks, hydropower, and diverting water.

Bonytail Chub (Gila elegans), Federally Critically Endangered

The bonytail is a freshwater fish that lives in the Colorado River basin. It can grow up to 2 feet long and can live up to 50 years. It was added to the endangered list in 1980, and is now the rarest big-river fish in the Colorado. The bonytail, along with numerous other fish species in the Colorado, suffered drastic population declines after the construction of Hoover Dam and other human projects that divert water from the river and change how the water flowed and pooled. These fish also suffer from competition from non-native fish species that humans have introduced into bonytail habitat. At this time, there is no self-sustaining wild population of these fish, and human-run hatcheries are all that maintains the species.

North Park Phacelia (Phacelia formosula), Federally Endangered

The North Park Phacelia only exists in one place in the entire world: the North Park area in Jackson County. It likes to grow on bare slopes and eroding rocks in ravines in the North Park area, where few other plants are able to survive. This phacelia was listed as federally endangered in 1982. It is threatened by livestock, off-road vehicles, commercial and residential development, and petroleum exploration. It also suffers from the loss of pollinating insects in the area, which it depends on to reproduce.

You may be wondering what you can do to be a better neighbor to these species, and the other species in our beautiful state that are threatened or endangered. Here are some steps that you can try:

Educate yourself. Learn about the different kinds of wildlife that live in Colorado with us, and what kinds of things we humans are doing that are putting them at risk.

Take action. Think about how much water you use, or whether the plants in your yard are native or invasive. Consider how much energy you use leaving on lights in an empty room, or streaming your favorite songs rather than downloading them. Look at how much gas your vehicle uses, or how many plastics or other petroleum products you use on a daily basis. Even a small change you can make in your own behavior can be a help to our endangered neighbors.

Talk to your friends and family about why this wildlife is in danger, and why it’s important to you. Your friends and family care about your thoughts and opinions. Help them to understand how important it is to help all.

Contact your representatives in government. These threatened and endangered species do not have a voice in our government, but you do. If you are old enough, vote for candidates that pay attention to wildlife. But at any age, you can make your voice heard! Make sure that your representatives know how important it is that we are good neighbors to all the wildlife in Colorado, in the country, and in the world.

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

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Daily Discovery: Storytime in the Home – Over in the Grasslands Zebra Puppet Craft

Post written by Lea Mikkelsen, Early Childhood Coordinator.

Daily Discovery: Storytime in the Home – Over in the Grasslands Zebra Puppet Craft

Follow along with FCMoD’s live stream Storytime in the Home: Over in the Grasslands– On an African Savanna. Then gather your supplies to make a zebra puppet from a paper bag!

Supplies:

  • White paper lunch bag
  • Black construction paper
  • White craft paper
  • Black crayon
  • White crayon
  • Glue stick
  • Scissors
  • Googly eyes (or use paper to cut out eyes)

Instructions:

  1. Place all your supplies on a clear surface with plenty of room to work.
  2. Put the paper bag on the table with the bottom of the bag facing up (see the picture). You will want to be able to put your hand inside and move the bottom of the bag like a “mouth”.
  3. Cut out an oval shape from the black construction paper and glue it to the folded edge of the bottom of the lunch bag to make the zebra snout. Use a white crayon to draw a mouth and nostrils.
  4. Draw two triangles on the white craft paper with a black crayon. Use the scissors to cut them out and then glue them to the bag where the zebra’s ears will go.
  5. Cut out a rectangle shape from the black construction paper and cut fringe on one side for the zebra’s mane. Glue it between the ears.
  6. Tear strips of black construction paper and glue them to the bag to make stripes.
  7. Then glue the googly eyes above the snout where the eyes should go.
  8. Put your hand in your zebra puppet and imagine you are on the African Savanna!

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 Buell Foundation. Their support helps make access to early childhood education at FCMoD possible for everyone in our community.

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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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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: “If You Love Honey” Bee Headband Craft

Post written by Lea Mikkelsen, Early Childhood Coordinator.

Daily Discovery: Storytime in the Home – If You Love Honey  Bee Headband Craft

Follow along with FCMoD’s live stream Storytime in the Home: If You Love Honey: Nature’s Connections. Then gather all your supplies to create this adorable honeybee headband. Buzz Buzz!

Supplies:

  • Yellow and Black craft paper
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Glue
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Yarn
  • Hole punch

Instructions:

  1. Place all your supplies on a clear surface with plenty of room to create.
  2. Cut a long strip of yellow craft paper.
  3. Cut a second strip of black craft paper and cut that into small bee stripes.
  4. Glue the black bee stripes to the yellow strip of craft paper leaving some yellow bits in between.
  5. Punch a hole in the ends of the strip and thread the yarn through to use as a tie.
  6. Curl one end of each pipe cleaner to make a small ball.
  7. Tape the pipe cleaners to the inside of the headband where you want each antenna to go.
  8. Tie your headband on and do a honeybee dance! BUZZZZZzzzz!

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.

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Daily Discovery: Storytime in the Home – The Prairie That Nature Built Black-Footed Ferret Puppet

Post written by Lea Mikkelsen, Early Childhood Coordinator.

Daily Discovery: Storytime in the Home – The Prairie That Nature Built Black-Footed Ferret Puppet

Follow along with FCMoD’s live stream Storytime in the Home: The Prairie That Nature Built. Then work together with an adult to make this Black-Footed Ferret puppet! Black-Footed Ferrets (BFFs) are an endangered species and an important part of the prairie ecosystem. You can learn more about them here!

Supplies:

  • A popsicle stick
  • Black or green beads
  • Glue
  • Craft paper (White, Black, Pink, Green)
  • Pencil
  • Scissors

Instructions:

  1. Place all your supplies on a clear surface with plenty of room to create.
  2. Ask an adult to help you find some pictures of BFFs on the internet for inspiration!
  3. Use a pencil to draw the shape of your BFFs head and ears on the white paper then cut it out. (This one is about 2 ½ inches from ear to ear and 1 ¾ inches from top of ears to chin.)
  4. Cut out a mask (an upside down U shape) and a nose (a rounded triangle shape with the point down) from the black paper and glue them down.
  5. Use the pink paper to cut out ears (half circles) and a small pointy mouth (a very small flat triangle) and glue them down.
  6. Use black or green beads for eyes. A BFF’s eyes appear green at nighttime.
  7. Glue your BFF to the popsicle stick.
  8. Cut out a round burrow for your BFF to live in! Make a small slit in the burrow to let your puppet pop in and out. Decorate your burrow with grass or other prairie features. Have fun!

BONUS: Here are some activities from Dawn Publishing that relate to The Prairie that Nature Built. Here is a coloring page! Build your own bird feeder!

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 Buell Foundation. Their support helps make access to early childhood education at FCMoD possible for everyone in our community.

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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: fcmod.org/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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