On the Twelfth Day of HMNS…Discover The Woodlands Xploration Station

It’s the 12th day of HMNS today – and I hope you’ve enjoyed the series of videos and ideas for fun this holiday season at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. For all the ideas in one place, check out the 12 Days of HMNS web site. Have a lovely holiday!

The Museum District in Hermann Park isn’t the only place you can visit the Houston Museum of Natural Science – we’ve got a satellite educational facility in The Woodlands, too! It’s worth the trip just for the amazing array of dinosaurs you can see there. A cast model of Stan the T. rex guards the entrance (probably the only place you can see a dinosaur in a shopping mall); you can also see one of the world’s largest juvenile Triceratops, Raymond; a fighting Protoceratops and Velociraptor; and a full sized Acrocanthosaurus skull.

In the video below, site manager Nancy WeHunt takes you on a fascinating tour of this unique facility, from the live frogs to exotic insects and much, much more.

The Woodlands Xploration Station is just one of the fun and fascinating options for families, from the Houston Museum of Natural Science. In a take-off of everyone’s favorite holiday classic, The 12 Days of Christmas, we’ve got 12 ideas for fabulous family fun this holiday and we’ll be sharing the possibilities here every day until Christmas Eve. Best of all, most are activities that last past the holiday season – some, year round. You can also check them all out now at the spiffy new 12 Days of HMNS web site.

Visit the 12 Days of HMNS web site to
look behind-the-scenes this holiday;
click each small box to explore different videos.

Check out the first eleven days of HMNS:
On the first day of HMNS, explore The Birth of Christianity.

On the second day of HMNS, shop for Sci-tastic gifts.

On the third day of HMNS, meet Prancer the reindeer.

On the fourth day of HMNS, discover the making of The Star of Bethlehem.

On the fifth day, move it, move it with Madagascar 2 in the Wortham IMAX Theatre.

On the sixth day, hunt dinosaurs with Dr. Bob Bakker.

On the seventh day, look inside the human body in BODY WORLDS 2.

On the eighth day, meet the HMNS Entomologists.

On the ninth day, peer into the Gem Vault.

On the tenth day, explore the cosmos at the George Observatory.

On the eleventh day, go on the Quest for High Bear.

On the Eighth Day of HMNS…Meet the Entomologists

There is never a shortage of cool jobs at HMNS – fossil hunter, bug chef, snow wrangler just to name a few – but Erin and Laurie, entomologists and chief caretakers for all our live insects – are probably in pretty stiff competition for the all-time coolest job award.

On top of raising exotic insects like giant katydids and Madagascar hissing cockroaches and caring for butterflies from chrysalid to conservatory, they also get to experience the awesome combination of kids + creepy crawlies with their Bugs on Wheels program. In the video below, they’ll take you behind the scenes of the Cockrell Butterfly Center and through their typical day – from feeding the insects to getting the butterflies ready to flutter - plus show you some amazing insects up close.

You can see their creepy crawlies – and the beautiful butterflies – at a visit during a visit to the Cockrell Butterfly Center. The walk-through tropical rainforest habitat makes a nice burst of springtime in the winter and it’s perfect for families with kids of any age. 

The Cockrell Butterfly Center is just one of the fun and fascinating options for families at the Houston Museum of Natural Science during the holiday season. In a take-off of everyone’s favorite holiday classic, The 12 Days of Christmas, we’ve got 12 ideas for fabulous family fun this holiday and we’ll be sharing the possibilities here every day until Christmas Eve. Best of all, most are activities that last past the holiday season – some, year round. You can also check them all out now at the spiffy new 12 Days of HMNS web site.

Check out the first seven days of HMNS:
On the first day of HMNS, explore The Birth of Christianity.
On the second day of HMNS, shop for Sci-tastic gifts.
On the third day of HMNS, meet Prancer the reindeer.
On the fourth day of HMNS, discover the making of The Star of Bethlehem.
On the fifth day, move it, move it with Madagascar 2 in the Wortham IMAX Theatre.
On the sixth day, hunt dinosaurs with Dr. Bob Bakker.
On the seventh day, look inside the human body in BODY WORLDS 2.

Bug Geeks

Report from the yearly gathering of bug geeks…

I recently got back from the annual “Bugs in Bondage” conference held in southern Arizona.  The actual name is the more politically correct “Invertebrates in Education and Conservation,” recently updated from the original “Invertebrates in Captivity” – thus the humorous nickname.  But for those of us who have attended for many years (this was the conference’s 15th consecutive year), the nickname will always come first to mind. 

This is a great conference.  Who goes?  It’s a fairly small group, about 125-150 people, including representatives from most of the US facilities that display live insects and/or butterflies, as well as those who supply insects and butterflies to our facilities.  Several international attendees often participate as well – especially from Canada and Mexico but also from as far away as Scotland, Costa Rica, Singapore, and Malaysia. 

Hosted by the Sonoran Arthropod Studies Institute (SASI), it’s a week of workshops, collecting field trips, formal and informal presentations and roundtable discussions - with a strong social aspect as well.  The “Insect Trivia” contest is one of my favorite rituals; the photography contest is always fun, too; and of course, nothing can beat the final banquet.  Outside the meeting room, several vendors set up their wares – whether live arthropods, insect books, toys, and jewelry or collecting equipment.  As an example, BioQuip has a large display and also helps to sponsor the conference.

It may seem crazy to meet in southern Arizona in the middle of the summer, but the time (late July/early August) was chosen for a reason.  Although it’s hot and sunny during the day, this is “monsoon season” in the Sonoran desert, a time when – most days – clouds build up late in the afternoon, followed by dramatic lightning storms that are accompanied by brief but torrential rains. 

Shortly after nightfall, it is usually clear again (the stars are great there in the desert skies).  Because of all the rain at this season, the desert is teeming with plant and insect life.  It’s a great time to find cactus longhorn beetles, giant centipedes, vinegaroons, sunburst diving beetles, jewel beetles, and much more.  Some participants go blacklighting almost every night, choosing a spot off the beaten path and setting up a white sheet with UV and mercury vapor lamps to draw in flying insects.  I’ve seen sheets completely covered with moths, including some large and spectacular ones, along with tons of beetles, adult ant lions and owl flies, and much more.  

This year, a former colleague and I led a workshop on “plant identification for entomologists.”  One of my favorite workshops in the past was one on “cooking with bugs” – we made a number of dishes using different insects and then served them at the icebreaker that night!  The talks I most enjoyed this year included one on leaf cutter ants, another on a monitoring program for the endangered burying beetle, and one on how to keep and display bumblebees

The other attendees are fun, unique people brimming with knowledge and experience – along with some “newbies” who are there to learn the ropes.  We all come away from the conference full of new ideas for displays, new arthropod possibilities, and a sense of community.  It’s not often you can be in a room of over 100 people where every one is a major insect enthusiast (aka bug geek)! 

Are you a bug geek? Learn more:
What butterfly are you most likely to see in the wild?
Could you raise a tiny baby mantis?
Discover the Black Swallowtail.