They Mite be Giants

The thought of small little animals running around our face cause most people to squirm a bit. As much as I do like the small animals like spiders and beetles, if I think I feel one crawling on my face I’ll very quickly try to brush it off. It’s not them, it’s me.

Now we are going to get into the stuff that makes me squirm. There’s a great skit from Kids in the Hall about the joke of saying – “Hey, there’s a spider on your back!

In the skit, it starts out as an author writing a book called Hey, There’s a Spider on Your Back, which consist of only that line. And every time anyone reads it they think there is a spider on their back. This makes it a best seller and leads to the audio book. But there really are arachnids on your face. Right Now! There are face mites. Like all arachnids they have 8 legs. Different species of mites live in your hair follicles (Demodex folliculorum) and in your sebaceous glands (Demodex brevis), where oil comes out. And at night, after you go to sleep, they come out, mate, and lay their eggs on your face. Are you squirming now? And the next thing you’re trying very hard not to think about is what happens when they poop? Well there you can rest a little easier. They don’t excrete waste the same way we do. They hold it in till they die and then it decays in their body.

You might be wondering why we study these things. Well first off we don’t know a whole lot about them. We think we know what they eat (dead skin and oils), but we’re not sure. More importantly they can help us learn about human migration patterns. D. brevis is Asian population is genetically distinct from its American cousin. But D. folliculorum is the same in both populations.

And that’s just what’s living on the outside of us. Inside we are a fully ecosystem of predators, prey, and parasites. And they’re important to our health. Come join us on November 9 for a lecture on More than Genes: Predators, Parasites and Partners of the Human Body by Dr. Robert Dunn sponsored by the Leakey Foundation. Dr. Dunn is a biologist with the Department of Biology at North Carolina State University.

Sea Rex 3D swims into IMAX!

Explore an amazing underwater universe inhabited by larger-than-life creatures that ruled the oceans millions of years ago in Sea Rex 3D – now showing in HMNS IMAX!.

Mosasaurus hoffmannii skeleton on display at the
Maastricht Natural History Museum,
The Netherlands

Guided by Georges Cuvier, considered by many to be the father of paleontology, viewers learn about predators such as the ichthyosaur, plesiosaur, and mosasaur. These ancient creatures could grow up to 50 feet and could weigh as much as 15 tons.

Learn about the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous eras and how life evolved in the deep oceans of Earth. See a mosasaur battle the Great White Shark’s ancestor and witness the mating habits of the plesiosaur.

You’re going to love the film’s time line of the history of the Earth, showing the evolution of the first single cell organisms to the mammals that evolved and began to walk on land. What I found fascinating is the amount of time each of the dinosaurs ruled the world in comparison to humans. Dinosaurs walked the earth for over 160 million years, while humans have only been around for about 200,000 years comparatively.

Evidence of giant marine predators were first discovered in a mine shaft in the Dutch city of Maastricht in 1770, when the partial skull of a Mosasaurus hoffmannii was uncovered. Sea Rex 3D takes you on a journey from the creation of earth until the meteor that killed off 95% of life 65 million years ago. Don’t miss this incredible story about our planet’s history and the monsters that ruled the sea for over 120 million years.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Sea Rex 3D is now showing in the Wortham IMAX Theater. See show times on our Film Schedule.

Life: A New Series from the Discovery Channel

Morning Dew
Creative Commons License photo credit: Aaron Escobar ♦ (the spaniard)™

Planet Earth was an unprecedented series that took us on an incredible Journey. It unveiled some of the most fantastic sites and most amazing phenomena on our planet. I had to be one of the first to purchase the series and spent many nights curled up on my couch watching episodes. when I heard that Discovery was coming out with a brand new series called “Life”, I was so excited. Then, when I found out that I was invited to a special screening of the first episode at the River Oaks Landmark theater, I was ecstatic! In my opinion, there is no entertainment that provides the drama, excitement, suspense, and even comedy that nature delivers. Plus, what better use for our high definition flat screen TVs than to capture the brilliant colors and awe inspiring scenery of our planet. So, sign me up for more of that!

cheetah1
Creative Commons License photo credit: kevinzim

The first episode of the “Life” series is called “Challenges of Life” and it airs Sunday evening at 8 pm eastern/7 pm central. This is the episode I had the pleasure of viewing! I think it was a great introduction to the series and definitely left you wanting to see more! Discovery masterfully captured on film how the highly adapted thought processes and behaviors of plants and animals allow them to survive on a constantly changing planet. Predators and prey have to think and act fast to either get their next meal or avoid being someone else’s!  Competition for mates is higher than ever, giving rise to some of the most fantastic displays, graceful dances, and fierce battles. I loved how we weren’t only shown predators dominating their prey, but also animals creatively outsmarting their pursuers and barely escaping.

Strawberry dart frog
Creative Commons License photo credit: sly06

The makers of Planet earth show you everything from cheetahs finding a new way to hunt, to flying fish, to the amazing perseverance of the little strawberry poison dart frog. I was pleased to also see an insect that I know relatively little about, the stalk eyed fly. I have to admit, I even found what these flies do to compete for females, well, weird! I really don’t want to give too much away. This episode promises a series full of wonder and surprises, I was even surprised by the narrator. I can’t wait to see the others! If you liked the Planet Earth series I hope you’ll tune in or at least set your DVRs to the Discovery channel at 8 pm eastern. I know I will!

Hug-A-Bug, This Saturday!

Spring is almost here (thank goodness!) and soon Houstonians will be working in their gardens like busy little bees. You can fill your garden with some wonderful plants from our annual spring plant sale, which will be held on April 10th. Before then, however, you can take the opportunity on Valentine’s Day weekend to learn about the world of beneficial insects at Hug-a-Bug! Put those pesticides down because your garden will love you, if you love bugs!

Stop And Smell The Flowers
Creative Commons License photo credit: I Shutter

Pests can be a pain in your garden, but Mother Nature has a plan. This is where beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, come into play. Pesticides can harm creatures of all walks of life, not only targeting the pests, but beneficials such as butterflies and bees, not to mention defenseless animals such as frogs, toads, and lizards. They can also leave residue on your plants. Biological control is the most eco-friendly and effective method. Here are a few beneficial insects you’ll meet at Hug-a-Bug, and you can even purchase for your own garden.

LadybugsAhh ladybugs – beautiful, peaceful, and fierce predators! Most people are under the impression that these cuties of the bug world feed on nectar, but they are actually hungry for blood – aphid blood! Ladybug larvae and adults feed on plants pests, especially aphids. If aphids are in short supply, they will go after other soft-bodied pests such as whiteflies. At Hug-a-Bug, we will be giving away vials of ladybugs for you to release in the butterfly center or even in your garden at home!

Green Lacewing - Chrysoperla carnea
Creative Commons License photo credit: yaybiscuits123
Green Lacewing

Green Lacewings Not familiar with these guys? Well, pay attention to your front porch light at night and you might notice these dainty little bugs flying around. The adults have a green body with large, lacy looking wings – hence the name! The adults are harmless pollen and nectar feeders while the larvae, like ladybugs, munch on soft-bodied plant pests.

Parasitic Wasps When most people hear the word wasp they think of red wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets. These are of course not favorable to people because of their nasty stings. But the vast majority of wasps go completely unnoticed by people. They are tiny and parasitic on other arthropods. Each species has a specific host, whether it is a type of caterpillar, aphid, mealy bug, scale, or whitefly. These tiny wasps have no stinger and buzz about protecting our plants from pests.

Afican Praying Mantis
Creative Commons License photo credit: SMB(spidermanbryce)

Praying Mantis You know this is one of my favorite bugs! Highly intelligent, expressive and thoughtful, they are just fascinating! Most people know the praying mantis because of its distinct appearance. They may not be quite as beneficial as some of the more specialized predators, but they are a friend to your garden none-the-less. If you don’t like larger bugs such as caterpillars or grasshoppers munching on your foliage, these are for you!

Mother Nature is truly incredible! For every plant’s pest, there is a predator or parasite out there to keep them in check. If you let nature run its course in your yard, you will have a very healthy little ecosystem to observe and admire.

If you need any help, all of these bugs can be purchased in large quantities from many places including Rincon Vitova, a pioneer in biological control.

I hope you will come join us at  Hug-a-Bug this Saturday, February 13 in the Cockrell Butterfly Center from 11 to 2 to learn more about these fascinating beneficial insects and see them up close and personal. There will also be fun crafts and games for the kids and a chance to talk to the butterfly center’s very own staff of entomologists and horticulturalists. We hope to see you there!