Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Whose Scales?

This is another variation on the "guessing game" entries posted in September, October, and November of 2011 (see "Guess Who? Part 1 & 2" and "Birds of a Feather Part 1 & 2" in my archives.)  Please note, instead of posting this entry in two parts, I've posted the answers at the end of this blog.

There are many types of scales.  And, no, I'm not talking about the kind you step on to weigh yourself!  As the body covering on several different types of animals, scales come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, textures, and colors.  Mostly, they serve as a protective outer layer--body armor of a sorts.  Do you know what kind of reptile these scales belong to?:
The next one is pretty easy--also from a reptile:
Reptile scales contain the protein keratin--the same stuff your fingernails are made of.  Look closely, you'll see that this reptile is shedding some of its scales:
Reptiles aren't the only kinds of animals with scales.  Can you figure out what animal has these beautiful scales?:
The last picture shows the scales of an animal you might see fluttering about in our Museum gardens mostly during the spring and summer:

Ready for the answers?....The first picture showed the scales of a yellow-bellied slider (a freshwater pond turtle.)  We have several kinds of turtles displayed in our Museum exhibits--I'll do a feature on them in a future blog.  Visitors can often spot wild turtles on the Museum grounds (we're adjacent to Deer Park Pond.):
 The second picture is of an alligator on display in our Cypress Swamp Habitarium:
The third photo is one of the copperhead displayed in our World of Darkness Gallery.  Look carefully--I was lucky enough to snap this photo as the snake was flicking its tongue in and out:
The fourth photo belongs to a brook trout in our Mountain Cove Habitarium.  The colorful brook trout is the state fish of Virginia:
The last photo showcases the brilliant scales of a tiger swallowtail butterfly.  In order to see its tiny scales you'll need a magnifying lens.  In our hands-on How Life Survives Discovery Center we have a variety of objects you can view with special magnifying scopes, including the scales of a butterfly.:
More off the beaten path in two weeks....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Second Glance

Walking through our Museum exhibits, I am ever intrigued by what I can see when I take a second look at an exhibit--sometimes I'm able to spot something I may have overlooked at first glance.  For example, one of my favorite places in the Museum is the Mountain Cove Habitarium--a lovely 2-story, walk-through exhibit showcasing the mountainous habitats of the western parts of Virginia.  Here's the view from the mezzanine level looking down into the large aquarium on the ground level of the display:

Looking carefully, you'll see three ducks standing on the edge of the water.  This is a close up of one the beautiful green-winged teal ducks that live in the exhibit.  This one is a female:

In our World of Darkness exhibit, people often walk by this one display and don't realize that some of its inhabitants are actually buried in the sand!  Do you see the skate?:

If you're patient, you might see them swim around.  Skates are close relatives of sharks and rays.  Here's the underside of a skate as it glides by the front of the tank: 

In the Virginia's Underground Discovery Center sits a fish tank labeled "Crusty Crustaceans."  There are lots of delightful little critters in this small display:

There are several types of tiny crustaceans in this tank, including some almost transparent grass shrimp that are shallow-water inhabitants of the Chesapeake Bay:

Finally, there's a small display on the upper level of our 2-story Cypress Swamp Habitarium.  Can you find the lizards?  I'll give you a clue:  they are brown, not green in color:

The day I took this picture, the lizards were sunning themselves at the front of the exhibit--one is on the grass and one is basking on the tree branch.  Often they're hard to see--great camouflage!:

So, if you ever get a chance to visit our Museum, take time for a second glance--you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find!  More off the beaten path in two weeks....


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

You Otter be in Pictures!

This edition of "Off the Beaten Path," is very much ON the beaten path for a change!  It features one of our Outdoor Trail's most beloved and popular animals, the river otters.  We have two otters:  our female was acquired as an adult in 2003, our male was born in 2005.

One of the advantages of working here is that I can visit the animals often and observe their behavior.  (Sometimes visitors are perplexed when they find the otters curled up taking a bit of a "siesta," especially during the hot summer months....Otters are supposed to be "playful," right?  Well, yes, they are--just not 24/7!)

Anyway, otters are tremendously well-adapted for an aquatic life style.  With their streamlined body, webbed feet and long rudder-like tail, otters are virtual acrobats when swimming. 

Their dense oily fur looks plush when dry:

Compared to what they look like fresh out from a dunk in their pond:

Otters are carnivores that eat mainly fish, but will also eat crayfish, crabs, amphibians, turtles, and even insects.  Check out his teeth--definitely "carnivore" teeth (in case you're curious, I snapped this photo as he was yawning!): 

They do spend some time grooming their fur, which is always fun to watch:

Well, its nap time for the otters... So, that's all for now!  More off the beaten path in two weeks.  Oh, by the way, my friend Jody Ullmann found a great Otter Spotter website that has lots of great info about all kinds of otters--enjoy! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Birds of a Feather Part 2

Hope you had fun guessing what birds the feathers belong to!  Let's see if you were right....The first photo was of a turkey's tail.  Did you know that Benjamin Franklin wanted to make this critter our national bird?

Speaking of our national bird, it is of course the bald eagle, which was the second mystery photo--the big clue was the white tail feathers:

However, bald eagles generally don't get their white head and tail feathers until they are about 4 or 5 years old.  Here's what our eagle looked like when he was younger:

The third mystery photo showed off the brilliant plumage of a male wood duck.  These kinds of ducks will nest in tree cavities in swamps and along wooded ponds:

The fourth photo is of a regal looking great blue heron.  This photo shows a wild heron flying off the roof of our Outdoor Aviary.  Hmmm...perhaps it's attracted to our own great blue heron that we have on exhibit?  In any case, this wild heron can frequently be seen wading along the shallow banks of the pond on our Museum grounds.:

The last one was a bit difficult to figure out, so I'll give you another has large eyes to help it hunt at night:

Yes, it's a barred owl!  This barred owl is one of our educational program animals, and in this photo, the owl is held by educator Claire McLeod.:

Hope you enjoyed the guessing game!  I'll post my next blog in two weeks....

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Birds of a Feather Part 1

Well, it seems everyone liked the "Guess Who?" blog I did on September 21st (see my archive)--so I thought I'd do an avian version this time.  Like before, the pictures below show only parts of each animal.  The first is an easy one:

The second one is fairly easy, too:

The next one is a bit tricky:

Can you guess what bird these feathers belong to?:

Finally, this is probably the most difficult one:

Good luck!  Hope you have fun with before, answers posted in two weeks!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tag, You're It!

My friend and colleague, Judy Molnar, is our resident butterfly expert--in fact you might call her the "queen of butterflies."  Starting in late September and going until nature runs its course (usually by the end of October or early November), Judy raises monarch caterpillars.  Each caterpillar sheds its skin 5 times before turning into a chrysalis.

After about 10-14 days, the adult emerges and is ready to escape the cold of winter by migrating to Mexico. In the photo below, before releasing the butterfly, Judy places a small numbered tag on the underside of the right lower wing which identifies that specific butterfly and also lists the Monarch Watch phone number and e-mail address.

She also records data such as whether the butterfly is a male or female, and also the date, time and location where she releases the butterfly.  Can you tell whether this butterfly is a male or female?

Hint:  a female has thicker black lines on her wings, a male has thinner black lines, and if you look very closely, you'll see two small black dots on his lower wings. Yes, the butterfly pictured above is a male!

Once a butterfly is released, it may fly off quickly, or it might linger on the Museum grounds for a couple of days, feasting on nectar--gathering energy!--before is sets off on its incredible journey to Mexico.  On average, migrating butterflies travel at about 10-15 mph for 6-8 hours each day.  On a good day with favorable winds, a monarch might be able to travel up to 400 miles per day!  Here's a photo of a newly tagged monarch on our Museum grounds.

Judy recommends that if you spot a tagged butterfly, take a photo of the tag then call the phone number listed on the tag or send an e-mail to Monarch Watch (based at the University of Kansas.)  Your data will help scientists understand movements of migrating monarch butterflies.  Because of this tagging program, scientists have learned that monarchs overwinter in various sites in Mexico.  If you're interested learning about this monarch tagging program, more information can be found at the Monarch Watch website.  The Journey North website is also a great site where you can learn more about monarchs as well as help contribute data as a citizen scientist. For more information about monarch tagging at the Virginia Living Museum please check out our website.  Many thanks to Judy for sharing her expertise and knowledge about monarchs!

More "off the beaten path" in two weeks...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Guess Who? Part 2

Hope you enjoyed the last entry of close up "animal parts."  Were you able to guess which animals they belong to?  Here are the answers:

The first photo was pretty easy--it was the tail of a raccoon.  I took this picture of one our exhibit raccoons as it was climbing a tree--they are excellent and fast climbers!

The second photo was the tail of a five-lined skink (a kind of lizard) that was sunning itself in our outdoor amphitheater--they would only let me get so close before skittering off under the amphitheater seats and nearby shrubbery.  The bright blue tail will fade as a skink gets older.  Also, if grabbed by a predator, the tail can break off, hopefully giving the skink a chance to get away, and eventually the tail will regrow.

The third photo showed off the beautiful scales of a box turtle spotted by my colleague, Judy Molnar.  The turtle was traipsing its way across one of our outdoor paths.  We occasionally find wild turtles such as these wandering through our museum grounds--not surprising since our grounds provide an excellent natural habitat for many kinds of wildlife.

The last photo of an animal's ear was perhaps a bit more difficult to figure out, so, I'll give you another clue--it has a tail with an interesting texture:

Think you have it figured out?  We have two of these marvelous creatures on exhibit on our Outdoor Trail.  A favorite of many of our visitors, these animals are the largest type of rodent we have in North America.  Sporting many adaptations for an aquatic lifestyle--webbed hind feet, a broad tail, dense water-repellent fur, and the ability to close off their nose and ears while swimming underwater--they are excellent swimmers.  They are famous for their ever-growing teeth used to eat their food, as well as to cut down trees in order to make lodges and dams.  If you guessed this animal is a beaver, you are correct!

More "off the beaten path" photos in two weeks....

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fungus Among Us Update!

(Update to the Update:  After I posted this entry, I had the good fortune to meet an amazing mycologist, Dr. Tom Volk, professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse.  Check out website is well worth exploring!  He has a great FYI page as well as a "Fungus of the Month" page and my favorite, the "Holiday Fungi" page.  Many thanks Dr. Volk!)

Today it looked like mushrooms had erupted just about everywhere on the Museum grounds--it seemed like a veritable "myconian invasion!"  So, I couldn't resist posting this as an update to my September 7th "fungus" entry.  For those of you not living in this area--the weather here has been rainy, relatively warm and very humid--perfect for fungal growth (and hordes of mosquitoes!)  I found beautiful clusters of mushrooms, especially at the base of trees:

My colleague, Rock Moeslein, spotted these stinkhorn mushrooms.  When I photographed them, there were flies attracted to the slimy tips of the fungus:

I was amazed by the bright colors of some of the mushroom caps:

As well as this ethereally translucent mushroom:

I found these "turkey tail" fungi along the path near the Museum's entrance:

These small mushrooms look velvety on top with a delicate "fringe" around their edges:

But the most impressive mushroom display was this 20-foot "fairy circle" of mushrooms--my friend Julia Horton is standing in the center to show scale.  She is 6-foot tall--and this is not a "trick" photo!

Hope you enjoyed the photos.  By the way, I'll still post the answers to my previous "Guess Who?" (Sep. 21st) blog on my normal schedule--look for it on October 5th.