What has eight legs and is coming to a school near you? “Awesome Arachnids” from HMNS!

In 2015, The Cockrell Butterfly Center will be making a couple of new outreach programs available to classrooms all over the Houston area. One of which was given to kindergarten students at St. Francis Episcopal School in December, and it was a hit, Awesome Arachnids!

For almost 10 years, we have been fascinating kids with “Amazing Arthropods”, a program that introduces students to members of the major classes of arthropods, mostly insects. We always include a tarantula to represent arachnids and can get quite carried away with talking about them. Unfortunately, we are only afforded about 5 minutes per presentation to do this. This frustrated me, as arachnids are one of the most feared and misunderstood classes of arthropods, but they are also SO COOL! So, the idea of Awesome Arachnids was born!

In this presentation, Entomologists from the Cockrell Butterfly Center will introduce you to some of our most interesting eight-legged creatures and explain the features that make them different from their six-legged cousins and other relatives.

Have you ever wondered what a tarantula feels like? Have you ever seen a scorpion change color right before your eyes? Can you even name any other types of arachnids? Don’t worry, that’s what we’re here for!

Here is a sneak peek at some of the stars of our show…

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Rosie, a Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula, is one of two terrific tarantulas you can meet during the Awesome Arachnids program!

Rosie and Peanut, 20 and 10 years old, respectively, are two of our special tarantula ambassadors! They will help ease you into the world of spiders – one of the most feared types of animals on the planet. As many as 55% of females and 18% of males in Western society are estimated to have arachnophobia – a fear of spiders and other arachnids. Although spiders are venomous, and venom CAN cause people harm, more often than not, a spider is harmless to us. No one helps illustrate that point better than Peanut and Rosie, with their furry appearance and docile nature. We will teach you all about spiders; which ones are ok, which ones to avoid, and how they help us way more than they could ever harm us.

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Vinny the Vinegaroon may look scary, but he’s really a shy guy with a very unique defense mechanism!

Vinny is a bizarre looking creature, one that most people have never come across before! Vinegaroons, also known as whip scorpions, inhabit tropical and sub-tropical areas all over the world. They have no venom glands, so cannot bite or sting. They are very shy, spending most of their time underneath rotten logs or rocks. At night, they hunt for insects, worms, and slugs. They help us control cockroach and cricket populations. Why are they called vinegaroons? Well, you’ll have to meet Vinny to find out. Once you meet him, you’ll want to meet more bizarre looking creatures like him!

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Pinchy the Emperor Scorpion is one of the largest scorpions in the world!

Scorpions are another arachnid that most people fear, and for good reason! That intimidating looking stinger can pack quite a punch! Fortunately, the venom in their sting is formulated to act on other invertebrates, so it is USUALLY not dangerous to us, but can be quite painful! Emperor scorpions, like Pinchy, have very mild venom, no more severe than a bee sting. They are also more likely to pinch with their large, strong claws than sting, hence the name! Scorpions are incredible animals and have many characteristics that set them apart from other arachnids. Want to know more? We’ll be happy to share with you!

Children will be allowed to gently pet arachnids which pose no threat to their safety, such as the tarantulas. Necessary precautions are taken by the presenters to ensure the safety of the children and the animals at all times.

So there you have it! Hopefully we’ve whet your appetite for more fun facts and stories about these fantastic creepy crawlies! If you’re interested in bringing Awesome Arachnids to your school – just email us at outreach@hmns.org, or give us a call at 713-639-4758!

Museum mysteries: What happens to the combs in the coin funnel? Yes, the combs.

In the Museum’s Grand Hall is a coin vortex, and amongst the other wacky things we do around here, the Youth Education Department is the custodian of said vortex. We like numbers, charts and graphs, and so we have a tendency (some might call it a compulsion) to keep track of weird sets of information.

It’s no secret that HMNS is one of the most-visited museums in the United States, but we wanted to see just how well-visited HMNS actually is. Knowing that Houston is a huge metropolitan city with a great deal of international travelers, we decided to keep track of the non-American coins that showed up in the vortex, as that would give us a pretty good record of either where people came from or where they were headed.

The U.S. State Department recognizes 195 independent countries around the world. Currently we have confirmation that coins from 68 independent countries were used for some fun with physics in the coin vortex. The percentage of coins to countries is a little tricky, however, because there are 33 countries that are currently dependencies (they use another country’s money as their own), so it is totally possible that someone from the Caicos Islands stopped by to check out the new Morian Hall of Paleontology and threw a quarter into the coin vortex (because Caicos Islands residents use U.S. currency). The world will never know.

So who do we know has been to visit? Below is the list of countries that we definitely have coins from…so far. If you don’t see your country represented, drop us a coin the next time you are at the Museum!

Ever wonder what we do with the coins from our coin vortex? Find out on today's blog!
Pretty well represented, no?

Cayman Islands
Costa Rica
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Hong Kong
Saudi Arabia
South Africa
South Korea
Trinidad and Tobago
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
United States

A question we frequently get is, “What do you do with all that money?” The answer? A lot.

Ever wonder what we do with the coins from our coin vortex? Find out on today's blog!
Sometimes we use the money to pick up other money.

One hundred percent of the U.S. currency was being donated to the Capital Campaign, but the Campaign ended recently with the completion of the new Dan L Duncan Family Wing. We now donate 100 percent of the funds to support the mission of the Museum — educational programming.

So what about the non-U.S. currency? The other stuff that shows up in the coin vortex is divided into several categories: Magnetic Coins — which get used in various ways for summer camps, weekday labs, and sometimes ExxonMobil Teacher Tuesdays; Non-Magnetic Coins; Car Wash Tokens – which never seem to work at any car wash; and Stuff That Doesn’t Roll, which we mostly keep around for our own personal amusement.

Ever wonder what we do with the coins from our coin vortex? Find out on today's blog!
The Stuff That Doesn’t Roll category.

For your own fun with physics, try some experiments the next time you are at the Museum:

  • Compare a quarter and a dime: Which coin rolls faster?  Which coin drops down first?
  • Do the ridges on the edge of the coins seem to make a difference in the speed of the coin?
  • Can you get the coin to roll without using the ramp?

See you soon!

Teachers Cutting Up in the Classroom?

Life is beginning to get “back to normal” in the basement of the Museum post-Ike.   I’ve missed listening to the constant hum of children in our hallways – it really seemed like a different place without them.  I’m enjoying listening to the school groups right now, buzzing outside my door as I peruse the great photographs we took at our Exxon Mobil Teacher Workshop last night and write my blog.

The teacher training we had last night was awesome!  We were lucky to have a super-fun group of teachers.  They discovered how dissection is not just for “big kids” anymore.  We had teachers that teach pre-k and teachers that teach high school, and everyone left with great hands-on experiences and ideas for their classrooms.

The fun began by learning the anatomical terms you need to know for dissection.  Check out how teachers learned these tiresome terms in an amazingly fun way!  What a better way to excite your students than letting them bring a stuffed animal from home to label with fancy science terms?  Do you know where your posterior is?  I’ll give you a hint, I bet your sitting on it right now!

Then came the pickles.  Say what?  Yes, pickles.  Teachers practiced using dissection tools such as scissors, scalpels, tweezers, and probes, as they dissected a jumbo pickle.  Look at what a rockin’ job this teacher is doing with this pickle.  Don’t laugh, I bet you can’t find the dorsal side of a pickle!   

Did you know you can dissect a flower?  All you need is a flower and your bare hands.  Check out the flower parts this teacher is finding.  Do you know a petal from a pistil? 

Then things really got juicy, no, really, they did.  Squids for everyone!  Teachers got their own squid to dissect as Nicole Temple (Director of Youth Education) dissected a larger fresh squid from the Asian Market.  The teachers in this picture look very engaged.  Hey, check out the size of the chromatophores on this squid!

The teachers finished up the night by quickly dissecting an egg.  These smart teachers now know their albumen from their chalazae.  Can you say the same for yourself?