Welcome to the HMNS Animal Alcove: Where the wild things are

You’ve seen the animals on display in our African and Texas wildlife exhibits. While realistic, none of these mounts actually slither, wiggle or do much of anything, really.

But HMNS has a live animal collection that much of the public never even sees. These animals are not on display, but used to educate at our outreach programs. Outreach programs like Wildlife on Wheels (WOW) give students a unique and hands-on opportunity to learn the basics of animal life.

I was fortunate enough to take a tour of the Animal Alcove that houses more than 40 of the animals used in the outreach programs. Right when you walk into the room, you feel like you have stepped into a completely different environment. In fact, this is exactly what the staff in charge of these animals is shooting for.

My first thought was, “Does the Museum have any snakes?” Absolutely we do! The Museum houses both venomous and nonvenomous snakes ranging from a rattlesnake to a bald python. One of the newest snake residents at the museum is a rainbow boa. This particular boa is a female, and she is known to the staff as being a bit of a diva — which is her right, considering how pretty she is.

The Museum also has an in-house baby American alligator. The alligators that come through the Museum do not stay here long. The Museum has a foster program through Brazos Bend State Park and houses these alligators until they begin to mature and then they send them back out into their natural habitats.

Even though the snakes and reptiles were the first animals I asked about, they were not the first animals that caught my eye: that would be two green-cheeked conures. These two little guys are very beautiful to look at and they are also very charismatic. But be careful! These little guys draw you in with their charm and pretty feathers and then reward you with a little bite on the finger. They are a good example of the look-but-don’t-touch rule.

However, they are not the only birds that call the museum home. There are also two ring-necked doves. These love to be petted and held and will even make little laughing sounds for visitors.

Moving away from scales and feathers, let’s talk about the furry friends here at the museum. There are several adorable mammals here that can make you smile. There is a short-tailed opossum, two ferrets, and two degus, in addition to a sweet black rabbit.

The degus were my personal favorites. Degus are rodents, but they are more closely related to chinchillas and guinea pigs than they are to rats and mice. These two will greet you at the door of their cage begging for treats and will even crawl out onto your hand for some petting and loving. Then when they have had enough attention, they are happy climbing onto their exercise wheel for a little cardio.

In contrast to that were the two ferrets on the other side of the room. Both of these laid-back fellows were fast asleep in either a hammock or the corner of their cage.

All of these animals were very interesting, but I am one who picks favorites. My favorite member of the live animal collection at the museum is the axolotl.

I know, you’re thinking, “What on earth is that?!”

An axolotl is a salamander that is closely related to the tiger salamander (which you can also find at the Museum). What is so interesting about the axolotl is that it resembles a tadpole more than it does a full grown salamander.

Even though you may not have heard of an axolotl, you might already have an idea of what it looks like. Toothless, the black dragon from the movie How to Train Your Dragon, was modeled after an axolotl! If you look below, you can see the striking resemblance:

Meet our Axolotl!

Wildlife on Wheels turns muse for these talented artists from Johnston Middle School

When HMNS’ Wildlife on Wheels hit Johnston Middle School on Feb. 14, it wasn’t for your run-of-the-mill presentation.

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School

Our live animal presentations are anything but average, but this one was particularly fascinating: The students in Christina Gutierrez’s art class got to draw the wildlife they met, and their completed work is something special:

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School
Taryn Tsujimoto, 8th grade

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School
June Chen, 8th grade

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School
Melanie Montiel, 8th grade

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School
Courtney Collier, 7th grade

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School
Jamie Wright, 8th grade

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School
Leah J. Schultz, 8th grade

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School
Caroline Hamilton, 7th grade

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School

A student examines a baby alligator

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School

This toad had trouble sitting still, so kudos to this kiddo for capturing his essence.

Outreach programs like Wildlife on Wheels, Bugs on Wheels, Science on Stage and others are bookable as part of an on-site field trip — or they can pack up and come to you. For more information on our Outreach programs and to learn how you can book a live animal presentation for your school or organization, click here or email us!

Tree frogs! Serpents! Monkey-eating birds! Peel back the layers of the rainforest with our new Wildlife on Wheels

Our latest wild and wonderful Wildlife on Wheels (WOW) program focuses on the animals of the rainforest — from tree frogs and slithering snakes to millipedes and rainbow boas.

photo 5WOW presenters break down the layers of the rainforest — the forest floor, understorey, canopy and emergent layers — and impart the important role rainforests play in contributing to our natural resources.

photo 1

For example: Did you know that more than half of the world’s plants, animals and insects reside in the rainforest? Its vitality is crucial to the world’s oxygen supply, and its rich plant life is the source of lots of modern medicines.

photo 6Using live animals and specimens, HMNS educators also teach students about the rainforest’s unique quirks. For example: Did you know that 50 percent of rainforest rainfall never even hits the ground?

photo 2

HMNS Wildlife on Wheels programs can be booked as supplements to a field trip or delivered straight to your school for an in-class presentation.

For more information on the Rainforest Wildlife on Wheels or other Outreach programs, click here!

 

Spotlight on Outreach: Embrace the oddballs with the Vertebrates version of HMNS’ Wildlife on Wheels

When you want to see a degu, an African Burrowing frog or an echidna, where do you go? You’re probably thinking the Zoo, or maybe on the National Geographic channel.

So where do you go to touch a degu, an African Burrowing frog or an echidna? Would you believe . . . a natural science museum? Even better, would you believe the museum could bring these fascinating creatures to you?

HMNS Outreach: Wildlife on Wheels

The best way to understand the different vertebrates is to meet them!

HMNS has a plethora of outreach programs that do just that. One of our most popular (and my favorite) outreach programs is Wildlife on Wheels. The Vertebrates theme can bring the aformentioned live fuzzies, squishies and stuffed pokies to schools, scout meetings, church groups, festivals or anywhere a group wants to learn. I love seeing the looks on kids’ faces when we present slick amphibians like salamanders or show them the actual size of an emu’s wing.

One of the best parts is having kids (and the occasionally squeamish adult) touch our live animals. You can see the excitement, trepidation and — hopefully! —understanding on their faces as they interact with something they may have only seen in a movie.

HMNS Outreach: Wildlife on WheelsA frog makes friends.

The Vertebrates theme brings an array of back-boned animals — both stuffed specimens and live creatures — up close and helps people make connections. Because the Vertebrates theme covers all five Vertebrates groups, it’s easy to illustrate the similarities and differences between fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

It is also, I think, our loudest theme — but what can you expect with live birds in tow and tons of inspired kiddos? Even our toads will sometimes get in on the “chorus” if you hold them just right!

HMNS Outreach: Wildlife on WheelsWildlife on Wheels students examine some of our specimens

It seems like a simple enough idea, but we can also adapt the program for different age groups. We love to talk about cool stuff, like what we call “the Rule-Breakers.”  By “rule breakers,” I mean those animals that don’t seem to fit in our carefully constructed categories.

Think about egg-laying mammals like the echidna. What about snakes that have live birth? Consider the endangered sawfish, a family of rays that traverse both fresh and salt water. How about a fish with lungs? There are so many oddities and so little time.

I love our Vertebrates topic. You can simplify the program and use it as an introduction to back-boned animals, make it an energizing refresher, or even make the first scientific connections in a child’s mind.

Ready to learn more about HMNS’ outreach programs or book your own visit from our critters? See it for yourself!