Food chains link the creatures of coastal ecology

Don’t stick your hand in that shell! You don’t know who might be home. It could be a carnivorous snail or a “clawsome” crab. Take a look at our Texas state shell, the lightning whelk or left-handed whelk, which feeds on bivalves like oysters and clams. Perhaps the snail that makes the shell is still hiding inside, or perhaps the shell is home to a hermit crab. Unlike most crabs, hermit crabs use the shells of snails as homes to protect their soft bodies.

Hermit Crab

Hermit crab taking residence in an empty lightning whelk shell.

Texas is home to some fascinating creatures, and our coast is no exception. In addition to the Gulf side beaches, there are salt marshes, jetties and the bay to investigate. Our coastal habitats are just waiting to be explored, and with the right gear, you can see organisms at every trophic level. (You knew I was going to talk about food chains, didn’t you?) 

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Lightning whelk snail retracted into its shell, operculum blocking the opening.

Most folks will notice some of the upper-level consumers: birds like pelicans and gulls. Who could miss the gull snatching your unattended hotdogs? Or the pelicans plummeting into the water face first to catch fish? Maybe you’ve noticed fishermen along the beach as they pull in small bonnethead sharks. Some animals may require good timing and tons of mosquito repellent to see, like our rare and critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. If you pay attention, there are even rattlesnakes catching mice that are feeding on insects and plants in the dunes!Food Web

As you follow a food pyramid from the apex down to the base, top predators like humans and sharks feed on the organisms in the level below. There you might find the larger bony fish we feed on, like redfish or snapper, and below them you can find some of the crustaceans and mollusks they feed on in turn. Crustaceans, like our blue crabs, stone crabs, and the smaller ghost crabs, often scavenge in addition to feeding on mollusks, worms, or even plant matter. Many of our mollusks are filter feeders, like oysters, pulling algae and plankton from the water. Finally, at the base of the food pyramid, there are the producers. The phytoplankton and algae make their own food with energy from the sun.

A food chain pyramid is a great way to show different types of food chains on one example. I used a pyramid created by my friend Julia and drew examples of food chains from our coast on it. One side has the trophic levels on it and the other three sides have example food chains. What’s on the bottom of the pyramid? The Sun, of course!Pyramid

Coastal ecology isn’t just about sand, shells, and dodging gulls. It’s also about the interactions between plants, animals, and their environment. The plants anchor the dunes, the dunes protect and replenish the beach sand, the sand houses animals like mole crabs and mantis shrimp, and we get to enjoy it when we protect it.

If tracking home beach sand in your shoes, car, towels, and suits doesn’t excite you, our new Hamman Hall of Coastal Ecology may be just the air-conditioned trip to the coast you need on a scorching summer day in Texas. Members, come join us Memorial Day weekend to see wonders of the Texas coastline!

Swords and Shutterbugs: Our Samurai Pixel Party Recap

After-hours at the Museum on March 1, we hosted one of our exclusive Pixel Parties — where we open select exhibits just for photographers (both amateur and professional). For our first event of 2015, we gave photographers access to Samurai: The Way of the Warrior.

And here’s a small sampling of what they gave us in return:

B. Tse photography

B. Tse photography

B. Tse photography

B. Tse photography

scscphotography

scscphotography

Roberto Valerio

Roberto Valerio

Alfred J Fortier

Alfred J Fortier

Nicholas Foster

Nicholas Foster

James Woody

James Woody

Alfred J Fortier

Alfred J Fortier

Arie's Photography

Arie’s Photography

sulla55

sulla55

Reed's Photography

Reed’s Photography

Bethany Tiner

Bethany Tiner

Dwayne Fortier

Dwayne Fortier

Randall Pugh

Randall Pugh

We couldn’t fit all the wonderful photos into this blog post. To see even more photos from this event, please visit our HNNS Flickr Group page.

Girls Exploring Math and Science 2015

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Last Saturday, we celebrated our 10th year of hosting Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) at HMNS! Despite the questionable weather, we had a spectacular turnout! From underwater robots to photobooths, we had it all.

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The GEMS event includes two sections – community booths and student booths. Our community booths are hosted by local STEM organizations. They present STEM activities or demonstrations to young students and they talk about how they got their STEM careers. This year, the Subsea Tiebeck Foundation brought an exhibit called SEATIGER. It’s a giant tank containing an underwater ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) for students to learn about how STEM is involved with the offshore and subsea industries. GEMS also included fault line activities, polymer demonstrations, and astronaut dexterity challenges from some of our other community booths!

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In addition, GEMS hosts student booths. As a student booth, students present a project relating to science, technology, engineering or math to peers as well as adults. Every year we award the top three projects with prize money for their school, club or Girl Scout troop. This year we had some exceptional projects! Third place went to Girl Scout Troop 17492 for their project, The Human Battery. Like true scientists, these fourth grade girls had to reconstruct their experiment after their first attempt failed. Luckily, they reconstructed their experiment, and found an alternative way to power a battery using lemons instead! The second place team was another group of Girl Scouts, Troop 126005. Their project, POP! The Power of Programming, examined the intricacies of computer programming and each of the girls designed their own small program too! First place went to Jersey Voltage, the Jersey Village High School Robotics team. The team built a robot that could throw a ball, and they demonstrated their robots talent by playing catch with some GEMS participants! They plan to use their winnings to take their robot to a robotics competition in Texas or Louisiana!

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We hope that everyone that joined us at GEMS 2015 had a great time! If you took some photos in our smilebooth, you can see them here!

Join us at GEMS next year on Saturday, February 20, 2016!!

“On the Trail” Children’s Heritage Excursion

iStock_000010269280webJust in time for the rodeo, little cowboys and cowgirls can learn how the American cowboy shares ways of life with the Bedouin and the Native American. These nomadic cultures are featured when the Archaeological Institute of America, Houston, presents a “Children’s Heritage Excursion” on Feb. 28 and March 1, 2015 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on the opening weekend of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

“Heritage Excursions” developed by the Archaeological Institute features tours to cultural sites around Houston. We wanted to include children! We devised this particular tour so that families can visit three cultures under one roof at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

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As you enter the Museum, Saluki dogs will greet you to acquaint you with an ancient breed beloved by the Bedouin. Hands-on activities for children will compare the nomadic life of the Bedouin people to the Native American tribe of the Comanche and the Texas cowboy – two of the nomadic cultures of Texas. All three groups share similar needs of nomadic people such as portability of their belongings, tent shelters as protection from the natural elements, a need to hunt for food, and a reliance on animals for transportation and companionship.iStock_000001796814web

Be sure to arrive early! Early arrivals will have the chance to see a team erect the Bedouin tent at 9:00 a.m., the covered wagon being brought into the Museum at 9:30 and then watch as a Native American group erects the tipi beginning around 10 a.m. Attendees will really have an understanding of how nomadic groups traveled and what was involved in the creation of encampments.

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Celebrate the rodeo at the Museum!

  • Tour a Bedouin tent outfitted by the Saudi Consulate, a Native American tipi, and a cowboy covered wagon from the American Cowboy Museum to discover shelters. 
  • Excavate at prepared archaeological digs to discover how archaeologists learn about the past
  • Participate in crafts and science activities
  • Visit ‘cultural corners’ to see demonstrations of horse gear, cowboy roping, and Native American arrow head construction and drumming.
  • Discover animals used by nomadic groups for hunting and protection. See a raptor and pet Saluki dogs, a ancient breed and a living antiquity

Raptor

Dr. Carolyn Willekes director of the event is a renowned expert on the archaeology of the horse, particularly the Arabian horse. Dr. Willekes is in charge of educational outreach at Spruce Meadows in Alberta, Canada, one of the world’s largest horse shows and also participates in educational activities at the Calgary Stampede, one of the world’s largest rodeos.

This event is generously underwritten by Aramco Services Company
with additional assistance from the Royal Consulate of Saudi Arabia and the
American Cowboy Museum.