Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Eye See You

You may have figured out by now that I really like guessing games!  And, from comments I get from readers and also from blog stats, it seems the "guess who" entries are the most popular.  I won't disappoint you today--my theme is "animal eyes".  The answers are posted at the bottom of this blog (no peeking!)....

Let's start off with an easy one....can you guess what animal has this eye?:
What animal has this eye?  Clue, the "circle" to the left is actually its ear:
Okay, this is a tough one:
This eye belongs to an animal that is a favorite among Museum guests:
This eye is easy to guess if you look at a small clue to the left of the eyeball at the edge of this photo:
Last one...from something soft and furry:

So....think you have them all figured out?  The first eye belongs to an alligator.  Many thanks to my friend Karl Rebenstorf for letting me use the following photo.  Karl is a fantastic nature photographer as well as a dedicated Museum volunteer, and a generous mentor--he inspires me and has always graciously answered all my photography questions.  Thanks Karl!
Many thanks to my friend and colleague, Travis Land, Herpetology Curator here at the Museum for his assistance getting the close-up of the bullfrog eye.  A bullfrog can be found in the display at the entrance of the Piedmont Mountain exhibit but it's really hard to see.  So, Travis helped me get a close-up shot of one of our program animals as a "stand in"-I'll keep working on the exhibit bullfrog photo and will post it when I can get a good shot:

The next eyeball belongs to a gag grouper, a large fish (about 2 feet long) found in our Chesapeake Bay Aquarium.  Younger groupers have more pronounced silvery gray ring-shaped spots--as fish age, their coloration tends to look faded or lighter:
Also in our Chesapeake Bay tank, is the loggerhead sea turtle--a favorite of many guests, and, I must admit, one of my favorites, too!:
Did you find the clue?  It was a heat-sensing pit near the eye that belongs to a rattlesnake on display on the lower level of our two-story Mountain Cove Habitarium.
The last eye is from a rabbit--it's one of the animals we use in our educational programs.  On the day I photographed him, he was in our Animal Exercise Area located on the Outdoor Trail.  He was being tended by long-time curatorial volunteer Vicky Lippolis--thanks Vicky!
Hope you enjoyed this entry.  "Eye" will post again in two weeks!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Berry Interesting

So far, I've posted many entries focusing on animals, but this time I want to highlight some plants you can find at the Virginia Living Museum.  Specifically, I'll show off some brilliantly colored berries found on the Museum's grounds during the fall and winter.

But first, the safety message:  Although berries are pretty to look at, please do not touch, pick, or eat any of these kinds of berries!!!  Most of these berries are edible by wildlife--indeed, they're an important winter food source for many animals--but they can make people very sick.  Enough said....

If you are interested in a quick botanical definition:  a berry is a fleshy fruit developed from a single ovary (a reproductive part) that helps produce the plant's seed.  Technically, some of the "berries" listed below aren't true berries--but all are basically some type of seed-bearing fruit.  (For example, rose hips are classified as "accessory fruits" because the fruit develops not only from the ovary, but from surrounding plant tissue as well.)  Anyway....

In September I took photos of American Beautyberry shrubs (also called American Mulberry.)  Their berries are tightly clustered in clumps along the stem, and the weight of the berries lets the stems drape in graceful arcs of vibrant purple color.:
A lot of berries on the Museum grounds are bright red in color.  There is the familiar Holly berry (which can be found in many different varieties or "cultivars"):
Pictured next is the bright red fruit of the Hawthorn tree, which is a member of the rose family:
You can see how similar the hawthorn berry looks to its rose counterpart--these are rose hips from the Virginia Rose:

Perhaps my most favorite red-colored berry is from the Winterberry shrub.  In the fall, berries form and present a lovely contrast with their still green leaves.  When the leaves drop in early winter, the berries stand out with their vivid color, and in the photo below makes a nice accent next to our waterfall--which got cold enough to freeze during the first week of January.:

Last, but not least, are the tiny (1/8th of an inch) blue-grey berries from the wax myrtle shrub that form in lumpy clusters along the stems (of female plants only.)  These berries, along with their evergreen leaves, are aromatic when crushed--very similar to bayberry, hence its other name "southern bayberry."  The shrubs grow near salt marshes and freshwater wetlands along the Atlantic coast and provide a food source for many animals, especially birds.  During colonial times, candle makers would to use wax myrtle berries as a source of wax (granted, a much more labor intensive task compared to using the larger bayberry!)

So there you have it--some brilliant spots of winter color from the Virginia Living Museum!  I love to watch plants as the seasons change--so in the spring, I'll post a blog on the many native wildflowers blossoming at the Museum.  If you enjoy "plant watching" as much as I do, then I highly recommend the US-based Project Budburst whose goal is to get people (everyone!) involved in ecological research by sharing their observations of plants as they change through the seasons.  Many thanks to Chris Lewis for turning me on to this wonderful "citizen science"-based website!

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