You don’t have to go far to celebrate Earth Day all year!

{ save the earth }
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ana Santos

Earth Day was last week, and the world united to be green-conscious for one day. But many of you may want to do more. Here are some easy, eco-friendly ideas for your own garden so you can remember earth day all year long…

Can I compost this? A site about items to help those of us just getting started composting so we know what can hurt and harm our compost.

How can I recycle this? Get creative if something is made of a material not recycled by your city.

Capture yummy rainwater for your plants during the heat of summer with this rainwater collection system. I have a storebought rain barrel (it is currently completely full from our recent storm) and the faucet at the bottom of the barrel is perfect for filling up my watering can to give my plants a drink.  

Reuse your newspaper to mulch your garden. I haven’t tried this one myself but several sources say it works especially well for vegetable gardens… which is also a green hint if you can grow your own salad!

At this point I can use the herbs in my herb garden to make my own salad dressing (here’s one to try) but the best I can do for the rest of the salad is buy local at the farmers market near my house. If you live in Houston you should definitely take advantage of one of the many farmers markets; the produce is second to none, and with our long growing season, you can access many items during their usual “off season.”

Worms
Creative Commons License photo credit: Яick Harris

My next project at home is vermicomposting… more on that later! Talk about Creepy Crawlies!!

Last but certainly not least… you can sign up your 8 and 9 year old friends for “It’s Easy Being Green” during Xplorations Summer Camps here at the Houston Museum of Natural Science! Nicole blogged about some of the cool activities they’ll be working on to make their homes a greener place!  

… and if you planted a tree this year in honor of earth day don’t forget to water it!

Creepy Critter Cameo – Caecilian

Smoke Tinged Halloween Moon
Creative Commons License photo credit: peasap

Halloween is by far my favorite holiday.  I love that everyone, young & old alike, can dress up as just about anything from the classic witch to the random Roman column I spotted at last year’s Spirits & Skeletons.  Each year is a new opportunity to unveil yourself as a superhero, an Indian princess, a mad scientist, or even a hideous monster. 

Let’s focus on this last costume – the monster – the creepy, skin-tingling costume that never fails to invoke fear deep within us.  Why do we insist on wearing a scary costume?  Humans (and animals) have instinctual fears, a natural survival technique to avoid possible near-death situations, which includes dangerous animals.  Perhaps by dressing up as these scary beasts we can overcome our fears. 

Where does the inspiration for these beasts come from?  From nature, of course!  We see films or photos of animals in real life and can create a whole new monster with the help of our highly over-active brain, especially when watching a scary movie alone, at night, in the dark, with a full moon out, and possible werewolves ready to pounce at any moment!  Yikes!  Let’s take a look at one creepy critter that resides here in the Museum – the super-slimy Caecilian!

We have a Mexican Burrowing Caecilian (pronounced sə-sĭl’yən) , Dermophis mexicanus, a legless amphibian from the order Gymnophiona.  They live underground in Central Mexico and can grow up to 2 feet long.  Their diet primary consists of small invertebrates, including termites and earthworms.  After an 11-month gestation period, they give live birth (most amphibians lay eggs) to between four and eleven young.  When presenting this amphibian to students, we discuss how is it different from other vermiform animals such as worms and snakes.  The kids usually determine that it has a backbone (worms are invertebrates) and that it is slimy, not scaly (reptiles have scales and are not slimy).  Our caecilian is a very shy, quiet animal that also happens to enjoy attempting great escapes.  I think it’s a rather cute amphibian!

Our Mexican Burrowing Caecilian

There are over 150 species of caecilians, ranging along the tropics from South America to Africa.  They may be a dull grey or brown or even brightly colored purple, pink, orange, or yellow.  Most lack tails and all have tentacles, a specialized chemosensory organ near their nose that helps them to locate prey.  Many caecilians are nearly sightless, some without any eyes at all.  They may be aquatic, terrestrial, or fossoriallike our Mexican Burrowing Caecilian.  Depending on where they live, caecilians may be oviparous (egg-layers) or viviparous (live-bearers). 

Warning!! Here comes the creepy flesh-eating part of our story!!

In the womb, the developing caecilian embryos have specialized fetal teeth that allows them to stimulate secretions from the oviducts of their mother, providing the young with nourishment.  In another species, Boulengerula taitanus, an oviparous caecilian from Southeastern Kenya, the newborns also have specialized teeth to eat the skin off the back of their mother!!  The skin is regenerated every 3 days for the young, providing a nutritious meal.  Research has also found that a female may take care of young that aren’t biologically hers, a term called alloparenting.  However, this is a costly to the “nursing” female.  Check out this BBC video to experience these flesh-eating, super slimy critters in action.  Truly a fascinating animal worthy of mention at Halloween.

Boulengerula taitanus

To see more super scary, awe-inspiring yet repulsive critters for the Halloween season, check out this fun blog I found while researching tigerfish and then again while looking for caecilians: Ugly Overload!