Cockrell Butterfly Center Spring Plant Sale

Spring is almost here!

Of course it has felt like it for months now, but with all of the rain we have had lately, we should have a good show of blooms. And with the blooms come the butterflies. Most of the time, butterflies get most of the attention, but have you ever thought about creating a moth garden. Why moths? There are approximately 11,230 identified species of Lepidoptera in North America. Almost 90% of those are moths. Now, while most moths can appear small and drab, even serve as pests for some plants, there are some very interesting and beautiful species of moths. For example, Hawk or Sphinx moths (sometimes even called Hummingbird moths because of their large tapered bodies and hovering flight) are large and sometimes showy with interesting, cryptic patterns adorning their wings.

 Their caterpillars look similar to the Spicebush Swallowtail with their large eye spots and chunky bodies.

They feed on a variety of plants, but what I see the most are Tersa Sphinx moths (Xylophanes tersa) because they eat the leaves of Pentas (a very popular nectar plant for butterfly gardens). So think of those Pentas as two plants in one, nectar and host! The adults are seen mostly on white flowers that bloom (or stay open) at dusk. Moon Vine, Cestrum, Jasmine, Rangoon Creeper and Evening Primrose are all recommended as excellent moth attractors!

Most other showy moths like Polyphemus, Luna, Cecropia, IO, and Imperial moths are in the Giant Silkworm family (Saturniida) and do not feed as adults because they do not have mouthparts. Their host plants are trees, mostly Oak and Hickory related species, so it is kind of hard to find their caterpillars. If you do, you are lucky! Some of the most beautiful and impressive caterpillars are from Saturniid moths. The adults are attracted to bright lights at night, so this is a possible way of encountering them.

Polyphemus Moth

The spring plant sale for the Cockrell Butterfly Center is a one stop shop for any butterfly (and moth) plants you need. We will have the standard, reliable plants that every butterfly garden should have, like Porterweed, Mexican Milkweed, Brazilian Pipevine, several Passion vines, Mexican Bauhinia, Pentas and more. This year we also have some different natives to share with you. We will have Salvia azurea (Pitcher Sage), Cirsium texanum (Texas Thistle), Simsia calva (Bush Sunflower), Castilleja (Indian Paintbrush) and Eupatorium greggii (Gregg’s Mistflower). Some non-native, but excellent butterfly plants that we will also have are: Tithonia (Mexican Sunflower), Celosia spicata (Cramer’s Amazon Celosia), several types of Gomphrena (Bachelor’s Buttons) and many many more!

Cramer's Amazon Celosia

The spring sale is Saturday, March 31st, 2012 from 9am to noon. Located on the 7th level of the museum parking garage. We accept cash, check and credit. Come early and bring a wagon!

Enter the “Take a Ride on the Wild Side!” Sweepstakes

Houston is no stranger to severe weather.

Thunderstorm in Northern Oklahoma

Within the past few months we’ve experienced both a drought and flooding.  Hurricanes and ice storms have shut the city down for days. Most residents have a story about witnessing extreme weather conditions, from hurricanes to tornadoes, but never quite like this…

Tornado Alley 3D opens March 9 in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre!

Ride along with filmmaker Sean Casey of the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers series and researchers of VORTEX 2 as they bravely capture dramatic and destructive tornado footage in this fascinating film.

Casey uses a fleet of customized vehicles that can withstand the most threatening weather  – allowing them to go right to the heart of a tornado and even document the birth of a tornado with a 70mm camera.

Tornado Intercept Vehicle

On March 12, you can meet Casey and his Tornado Intercept Vehicle!

From 9:30 – 11 am, the TIV will be parked at the front entrance of the Houston Museum of Natural Science and Casey will be available to meet visitors.  While you’re here, check out Tornado Alley 3D  – showing at 11:40 am, 12:30, 3, and 3:50 pm – Casey will  introduce each film.

Want To Ride in the TIV?

Enter to win a ride with Casey in the Tornado Intercept Vehicle at approximately 4 pm on March 12!

To enter, tell us about your strangest weather experience, your favorite episode of Storm Chasers, or your thoughts on Houston’s weather – just leave a comment on this post between February 23 and March 8!

The winner will be selected randomly and contacted on March 9, 2012.  For official contest rules, please click here.

The winner will be contacted by email – so don’t forget to leave that information in the comment entry field – don’t worry, your email will be kept confidential.

Come Party at the Museum with Party Smarty!

Today’s post is by Alex Pivateau, the Museum’s Birthday Party Manager!

Does your child love to stroll amongst jaw-droppingly gigantic dinosaurs?

Does he or she enjoy exploring outer space in our Planetarium?

Party Smarty

Or perhaps he or she loves to watch butterflies excitedly flap their beautiful wings in the Cockrell Butterfly Center.

If your child loves coming to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, allow us to host their birthday party here for an engaging party they won’t forget!

Party Smarty at the Houston Museum of Natural Science is our birthday party program that hosts fun and educational birthday parties. Children learn about natural history and the world around us in an entertaining and visually stimulating way.

In our 90-minute party format, your child chooses a specific theme, and we focus his or her party around that theme. 20-30 minutes are for welcoming guests, while kids do crafts and activities. 30 minutes are allotted for either a tour of the dinosaur hall, entry to the Butterfly Center, or a movie in the Planetarium. Then we come back to the party room to eat cake and sing Happy Birthday!

Party Smarty Gift Bags

Each HMNS birthday party comes with a decorated party room (with special focus on the theme of the party), 6 6-ft tables, table covers, chairs, two parking passes to our garage, and a party coordinator who is in charge of supervising crafts, leading the tour, cutting/passing out cake, and transporting items to and from your car. Balloons, silverware, invitations and thank you cards are available for an extra fee.

We also have add-on presenters to help enhance the party to be even more fun and memorable! We have balloon artists, face painters, magicians, exotic animal presenters, and chemistry demonstrators who can come in to the party to create an extra fun time.

Party Smarty Presenter

We host parties both at our main location downtown and our branch in Sugar Land.

Please call 713-639-4646 or e-mail us at birthdays@hmns.org for more information about our birthday party program—Party Smarty!

Every Grain of Sand: Shale gas and Hydraulic Fracturing

We all hear about shale gas being the next big thing in energy, but what is it?  The quick retort is that it’s gas in shale, but what does that mean? The gas is a natural gas so it is a series of hydrogen and carbon linked in gaseous forms.  This includes gases like methane and ethane, but what about the shale?

Shale Rock

Shale is a type of rock with a low permeability mix of mud, clay, and other minerals such as quartz.

If natural gas hits a shale layer as it migrates to the surface, it can become trapped in the shale.  A shale play is an area where shale gas is being produced or where companies are looking for shale gas.

The shale plays are located through out North America.  The Marcellus play covers 600 miles throughout the Appalachian Basin.  It ranges from New York, through West Virginia, and down to Tennessee and could contain 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (about the energy equivalent of 83 billion barrels of oil).  The Barnett shale formation is in north central Texas.  It spans from Montague to Hamilton and Jones to Dallas Counties, with one of the major concentrations located in Tarrant County. The Barnett may hold 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Shale gas is considered an unconventional resource which means that to extract the gas there needs to be more done than simply putting in a vertical well.  To get the best bang for the buck, you need to drill through the shale formation horizontally and then add force and pressure to break up the shale.

Shale gas is a great example of how new technology and a new way of looking at old things can bring about great change.

Shale gas wells have been in production since the 1820’s, but because it was too expensive to remove the gas from the shale, we let it lie.  Because of the properties of shale, production of shale gas wells remained extremely low up to the begging of the 21st Century.  By then technology and economics had caught up with the resource.

Natural gas is mainly used to create electricity and heat. In colder climes, the use of natural gas to create heat varies inversely with the outside temperature (as it gets colder more gas is used to make the inside of my house warmer). The natural gas used in power generation has consistently gone up every year.

US Natural Gas Total Consumption

Natural gas also burns much cleaner than coal.  From 2000 to 2009, gas from shale went from 1% of the total gas production in the United States to 14%.  That’s a huge jump in just a few years.

In 2005 the United States imported 15% of the natural gas it consumed.

It had been predicted that by 2030 we would increase imports to 20%, but because we knew where to find the shale gas, the necessary technology matured, and the economics came into line, by 2030 we should be importing only 1% of the natural gas we use.  In fact there is enough gas in all the different plays to last us 150 years at 2009 consumption rates.

With any new technology there are always concerns that it could negatively affect the environment.  The largest concerns come from the way the shale formation is broken up in the well.  Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking (not be confused with other types of frack, is a process that uses a solution almost entirely of water which applies pressure to the rock and causes it to break.   If you have paid any attention to the news, you’ve probably heard of some controversy over fracking.  There are concerns that fracturing the shale formations is allowing the groundwater to become contaminated.  Some water wells and groundwater that are near shale gas wells have become contaminated with gas and other chemicals that are used in the shale gas well.

This, however, seems to come from improper well completion, spills on the surface, and evaporation of hydraulic fracture fluid that was open to the environment. None of this contamination comes from the fracking. Shale gas occurs well below ground water and aquifers.  An aquifer may run down as much as 600 ft or more, but the shale gas is another mile or more below that.  However the EPA is currently conducting tests on different wells, both gas and water, to see what is really going on. Their report is scheduled to be out at the end of the year.

Another concern is the amount of water it takes to frack a well. It can take up to 5 million gallons of water to finish one well.  If the well has poor access to local water, then the water will have to be trucked in from elsewhere.

Should we allow the fields of this resource to lay fallow?

Should we rush in and irresponsibly develop the resource?  The answer to both is “no”.  It is an energy source that we will need to maintain and improve our lives, but we should be mindful and develop it responsibly.  As we harvest the plays, we must make sure that we are not creating even more problems down the road.  Shale gas will play an important role in our energy, environmental and political future.