About Christine

Christine manages the live animal collection, teaches weekday dissection labs and summer camp classes, and presents Wildlife on Wheels programs. It has been said that she is "usually carrying something interesting."

Pinchers, stingers and claws, oh my.

Scorpion in Question
Creative Commons License photo credit: furryscaly

“How do you count scorpions?” Well, carefully is the best answer. The same can be said for any animals with either pinchers, claws, or really sharp teeth. That pretty much covers the majority of our animal collection here (except for the amphibians).

The next question that pops to mind is: why would you count scorpions? Like many institutions that maintain animal collections, an inventory is essential and often required by law. Check out this article from the Seattle Times on the London Zoo, when they were taking inventory of their collection.

While our collection is much smaller, we still have to keep proper notes and update our inventory list. It just seems a bit tedious when you are trying to count roaches. Prolific, fast-moving roaches. See how many you count in the picture below and then imagine what happens when you scare them.


Roaches! by gifninja

Aerial shots of our Roach Dome – a simulated
home environment exhibit in the Butterfly Center,
where we house numerous cockroaches for display.

This is a test…

This is a test…


And so is this…

No really – the skeleton of a sea urchin is called a test. Sea urchins are one kind of Echinoderm. And “echinoderm” is not some new spa skin treatment; it means “spiny skin” and refers to the phylum name for sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and all of their salt-water buddies.

At HMNS, we maintain a few living sea urchins in addition to the ones we have preserved for class use. If you haven’t been to the Museum lately (or maybe you have, but didn’t notice the tank), there is a salt water tank in the Grand Hall that houses the sea urchins, lightning whelks and horseshoe crabs we use in our Outreach program, Wildlife on Wheels. The sea urchins we currently have are of two kinds: Variegated or Short-spined Urchins (Lytechinus variegatus) and Pencil Urchins (Eucidaris tribuloides). While they are related, they are very different in appearance. The Short-spined looks more like a pin cushion and the Pencil Urchin looks more like pretzel sticks stuck to a ping-pong ball.

Live Short-spined Urchin

Their different appearances give us clues to their behavior and lifestyles. You will often see our Short-spined Urchin clinging to the side of the tank with shells and bits of rubble stuck to it. These urchins are more active during the daytime, and the most favored theory is that they use the small pieces of shell or rock as sun protection (like a hat to prevent excessive UV exposure.) Their spines are rather sharp and a great defense. Not that there are predators in the tank, but the horseshoe crabs have been known to roll the urchins around, sort of exploring the other occupants of the tank. We keep telling them the urchins are not toys, but they haven’t really caught on yet.

Live Pencil Urchin The Pencil Urchins move very little, so if you visit the tank on your way in and stop by on your way out, they are likely to be in the same place. They often go unnoticed in the tank. These urchins have very blunt spines (hence the “pencil,” though I’d like to see one named the Pretzel Urchin). More active at night, they spend their days holed up in rocks to avoid predators. Once they wedge themselves in, it is very difficult to remove them; far easier to move the rocks in our case.

If you want to learn more about sea urchins and their fellow echinoderms, check out your local aquarium or library!

Up Close and Blurry

I love nature magazines. In fact, it would be accurate to say that I am addicted to nature magazines, even ones for the kiddies (their pictures are just too cute!) I enjoy those photo contests that seem to appear in them periodically. You know, where there is a close up of an animal or a plant and you are supposed to guess what it is. Well, I arrived at a Wildlife on Wheels program early and had my camera with me so I got a little shutter happy. If you haven’t tried those photo puzzles before, here is your chance. These are some of the photos I took along with a clue; see if you can guess which animal it is. Please be kind, I am not a photographer, just a novice with some time on my hands.

 

photo credit: cbattan

A toothy smile a mile wide,

lurking underwater I hide,

sneaking slowly toward a ‘beest,’

in Africa we love to feast.

Answer


photo credit: cbattan

Soft and downy I may be,

through Australian bush I speed,

I’ll get bigger just you wait,

at 6 feet tall my strides are great.

Answer


photo credit: cbattan

An extreme mammal to say the least,

upon termites and ants I feast,

unlike the others I lay eggs,

though for kisses no one begs.

Answer


photo credit: cbattan

Loud and raucous describes me well,

like most of my family I can tell,

bold and beautiful also apply,

it’s in the Amazon I’d rather fly.

Answer


Science Mystery: What came out of the Bearded Dragon’s Nose?

photo credit: cbattan
 Merlin, our bearded dragon

You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose. Even if your friend is a Bearded Dragon.

I have been working with reptiles for quite a while now and have seen some weird things. But one of the weirdest happened during Summer Camp. Our bearded dragon had just shed the majority of his skin except for a few pieces around his mouth. It was actually one of the campers who noticed another piece of skin protruding from the beardie’s nose. It had sand on it and we couldn’t tell if it was coming out or stuck into his nose, so we picked at it and out it popped.

It was bizarre looking, kind of stringy, and surprisingly long – just over a centimeter. As it turns out, we were a little hasty. Since our beardie wasn’t having any difficulty breathing, we could have left the nostril shed alone as it would have come out on it’s own (if you are properly caring for your dragon). Our dragon is none the worse for having “picked” his nose but we definitely won’t do that again since the sensitive linings of the nose could have been damaged.

photo credit: cbattan
 What are you looking at?

I like learning something new every day – and this definitely qualified as a new thing. So like Shel Silverstein‘s sharp-toothed snail – don’t pick anyone’s nose, you never know what’s in there.

Learn more about Bearded Dragons! Check out our posts on baby beardies born at HMNS.