Citizen Science Saves the Day!

Just recently, our Curator of Vertebrate Zoology, Dr. Dan Brooks, co-presented a poster at the North American Ornithological Congress in Washington, DC about an invasive species of goose present in the United States. In true HMNS fashion, the study enlisted the help of ordinary people, who happen to have a passion for Biology. They call it “citizen science” when lay persons help professional researchers in their studies. The study we’re covering was of the ecology, behavior and reproduction of invasive Egyptian geese (Alpochen aegyptiacus).

 

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Photo Courtesy of Kelly

Egyptian geese are native to Africa, but are invasive throughout Europe, and parts of North America. One of the purposes of the study was to help demonstrate the importance of continuing to research and monitor the effects populations of these geese are having here in the U.S.

The potential ecological and economic effects suggested by the study include aggression toward native species, hybridization, eutrophication (which is a form of pollution caused by an excessive richness of nutrients in a body of water), agricultural damage and aircraft strikes.

 

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Photo Courtesy of Kelly

 

A questionnaire was designed and distributed via internet list-servs, birdwatching festivals, birdwatching clubs, and word of mouth. Citizen scientists completed and returned Information on the questionnaire that was often supported by photographic evidence and other forms of proof.

The results showed that Egyptian geese do not migrate vast expanses, they mainly moved short distances, if they even changed their location. Antagonistic behavior toward native species was not common, however there was one confirmed report of hybridization with a duck.

 

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Photo courtesy of Susan Young

 

The study determined that these geese were generalist in their diet, but did have a high reliance on humans. Of course, since humans are everywhere, this reliance is more of a boon to them than anything else. The study also found that goslings attain 50% of their adult size after the first month, are nearly full grown after 2 months, and disperse from their natal site at a little more than two months of age. A relatively quick growth spurt!

This may sound like simple observations to some, but the importance here lies in formally observing a very large number (sample size) of these animals in order to assess patterns and trends. Many people may notice that the geese at the local pond don’t go anywhere in the winter, but they do not realize the number of ponds inhabited by these geese, or the amount of damage to that can happen when a group of these birds takes up permanent residence.

With research like this, made possible by citizen science, institutions like HMNS can help encourage better management of our environment.

For more information related to this subject, be sure to check out our Hall of Texas Wildlife, which has exhibits, on invasive species, as well as endangered and rare species of animals found in Texas.

Sharks are now oversharing…but you will want to follow them!

half-mount2-blogYoung or old, nature lover or couch potato—everyone has some fascination with sharks.

HMNS is bringing in some great opportunities to learn about these predators who have dominated the oceans for millions of years. Leading shark researchers will be at HMNS during the next two weeks to share the latest information on our local sharks in the Gulf of Mexico and the grand-daddy of them all, the great white.

On February 25 marine biologist Dr. Glenn Parsons from Ole Miss will share the findings of his 40-year career of researching shark behavior, ecology and physiology in the Gulf of Mexico, which harbors about 65 species of sharks. Sharks here are exposed to both natural stressors including changes in water temperature and oxygen availability and anthropogenic stressors that are caused by humans, pollutants and fisheries.

This is Katherine getting her and tag checkup aboard the OCEARCH vessel.

This is Katherine getting an ultrasound and tag checkup aboard the OCEARCH vessel.

Unprecedented research on great white sharks and other large apex predators will be presented by shark researcher Dr. Greg Stunz of the Harte Institute and Texas A&M Corpus Christi with OCEARCH founder and expedition leader Chris Fischer on March 4. In order to protect the species’ future while enhancing public safety and education, researchers with the OCEARCH collaborative are now generating previously unattainable data on the movement, biology and health of great white sharks. The images they will show on the Wortham Giant Screen will be insanely amazing.

Of course you can also get up close and personal with two different shark species at the Museum in the Shark! touch tank experience, where biologists will share shark tales and shark tails.

HMNS Distinguished Lectures

“The ABC’s of Sharks: Attacks, Biology and Conservation
Glenn Parsons, Ph.D., Ole Miss
Wednesday, February 25, 6:30 p.m.

“Great White Sharks, Tracking The Ocean’s Apex Predator”
Greg Stunz, Ph.D. and Chris Fischer, OCEARCH
Wednesday, March 4, 6:30 p.m.

Tickets & more info: www.hmns.org/lectures


Need to keep up with a busy shark who is always on the go?
Now you can stay connected to your favorite shark via a phone app, Twitter and Facebook!

shark-tracker-app-iconOCEARCH’s Global Shark Tracker app lets you observe the navigational pattern of sharks that have been tagged with satellite tracking technology all for the purpose of shark conservation.

OCEARCH facilitates unprecedented research by supporting leading researchers and institutions seeking to attain groundbreaking data on the biology and health of sharks, in conjunction with basic research on shark life history and migration.

OCEARCH is a leader in open source research, sharing data in near-real time for free through the Global Shark Tracker, enabling students and the public to learn alongside PhDs. The Landry’s-developed STEM Education Curriculum, based on the Global Shark Tracker and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), is being launched for grades 6-8 in the fall of 2013 nationwide.

Over 50 researchers from more than 20 institutions have collaborated with OCEARCH to date with over three dozen research papers in process or completed. Research expeditions are conducted worldwide aboard the M/V OCEARCH, which serves as both a mothership and at-sea laboratory. Utilizing a custom 75,000 lb. capacity hydraulic platform designed to safely lift mature sharks for access by a multi-disciplined research team, up to 12 studies are conducted in approximately 15 minutes on a live mature shark. Powered by five Cat engines, the M/V OCEARCH is capable of Global Circumnavigation.

Here are screenshots showing the favorite hangouts of Wyatt, Sam Houston and Madeline—a few sharks in our neighborhood. 

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Photo From You: Insect Identification

 A Mole Cricket
photo provided by Rachel Drew

Hello again, dear readers and bug lovers! I was very pleased to discover this week that we recieved a photo all the way from Virginia Beach, Virginia. This one can be a real head-scratcher for those of you who have never seen one before, which is probably most of you!

I first happened upon this insect in college while collecting insects in a huge parking lot at night. I saw some sort of large insect jumping and flying for several feet at a time. When I finally caught up to it, I was honestly taken aback by what I saw. It was a mole cricket; an insect that spends nearly its entire life underground, only coming to the surface to forage at night. So, Rachel Drew from Virginia Beach – that is what you found on your livingroom floor! Now, let me tell you a little bit about these odd – looking creatures.

Mole crickets make up the family of orthopterans (grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets) called Gryllotalpidae. These crickets are made for digging, and if you look at them closely, their head, thorax, and front legs really do make them look just like a mole! The rest of their body looks more like a normal cricket. Their front legs are equipped with little claws which help them dig and construct their tunnels. These claws are called dactyls and their number and arrangement help scientists differentiate between certain species.

Most species have well developed wings which can carry them for about 5 miles during their mating season. They are also very good swimmers. Mole crickets are omnivores, and they will will feast on worms, insect larvae, and roots underground as well as grasses at the surface. I’m not sure which species is pictured here, but more than likely the Southern mole cricket or the tawny mole cricket. It looks as if it may be immature due to the lack of well developed wings. These two species are most common in the southern part of the country. Unfortunately, they are both introduced species and can be considered pests in some areas. These little guys are harmless, however, and for those who are lucky enough to spot one, a really great photo opportunity!

Well, thank you so much for sending in the great photo Rachel, and for reading about us in Virginia! This insect will always hold a special place in my heart as one of the weirdest looking things I’ve seen! As always, Happy bug watching!

Want to learn more about insects? Keep reading.
Check out an insect that spends the summer singing.
Costa Rica: bug geek paradise.
Mantis maaaaadness!

Science Doesn’t Sleep (8.21.08)

LED
What does this sound like?
Creative Commons License photo credit: yuri_koval

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

A new population of a species of rare leopards has been discovered in the forest in Borneo – providing new hope for this endangered species.

By analyzing Oetzi the Iceman’s clothing, scientists have discovered that the famous Neolithic man favored fashions made from sheep and cattle – indicating he was a herdsman. Their technique could have an impact on today’s fashion industry.

Can you hear light? New research thinks you can do anything you put your mind to.

Couldn’t afford a satellite for Christmas last year? Not to worry – they’re getting smaller – and cheaper.

Proof that you never know what you’ll find on eBay: a scientists bought a fossilized bug online and it turned out to be a previously unknown species of aphid.