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Berkshire Bioblitz 2017

 

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Its getting closer the 2017 Berkshire Bioblitz!

This year’s Berkshire Bioblitz will be held on on September 16-17, 2017 in Great Barrington, MA at Thomas & Palmer Brook as part of the 50 year celebration of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

Join us for 24 hours of biodiversity immersion! Starting at 12 noon on Saturday September 16th and running through until 12 noon Sunday September 17th.

There will be nature walks with over 20 specialist.

You can join us at any time for as long as you would like. Forest walks, meadow walks and pond exploration will be taking place throughout the day.

The Berkshire Environmental Action Team will be setting up an invasive plant species exhibit. And ask to see one of the biggest oak tree in the Berkshires!!

There will be live animals to meet up close and personal. At dark there will be a moth light experience, bring your camera if you want. We will be going on an “Owl Prowl” in the dark, bring your flashlight.

Follow the signs for parking.

 

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What Do Poison Dart Frogs Eat in Captivity?

Most folks have seen the colorful and enchanting poison dart frog displays in museums. The Berkshire Museum Aquarium has a great one. Go see it if you haven’t already! Did you ever think about what those frogs are eating? Not poison plants or arthropods I can assure you. What they eat are drosophila flies, you know them as fruit flies. These flies, however, don’t fly. They have been bred to not use their wings. There are two species: D. Hydei, they have bright red eyes and D. Melanogaster “gliders”.

John & Scott at the museum have a series of these fruit fly cultures going that once set up, provide and endless supply of food for these frogs. Its a simple but time consuming process and its kind of tricky to do. But I like insects so I figured I could do this for them (since I stole their intern away to be my snail research assistant).

powdered-fly-foodFirst the fly food is measured out into a plastic container. It smells good. There are chunks of dried fruit, oatmeal and specks of anti-fungal and anti-bacteria substrates.

fly-foodThen about 150mls of distilled water is mixed in so that its thick, but not too thick that the flies get stuck in it. Thin, but not so thin the flies drown.

 

fly-culture

On top of that goes excelsior, that curly wood shaving stuff. It is the material that the flies hang out in, mate in and sleep in. Yes, fruit flies, with their short one week life span: sleep. Seems like a waste of time when you only live 7 days, but apparently sleep is a necessity of life. They lay eggs and pupate on the sides of the containers.

ali-flies

Once the colonies are matured, the flies are dumped into a cup with vitamin powder and sprinkled into the terrarium with the frogs. They gobble them up! Its fun to watch.

dart-frog

Because these frogs eat fruit flies and not poison plants or arthropods, they are not poisonous. This is good because sometimes they try to jump out of the tank and we have to touch them. Good to know I won’t get sick or die.

Many of the wild frogs secrete lipophilic (likes oil) alkaloid toxins through their skin. These poisons are a chemical defense from predators. The most poison species is Phyllobates terribilis. Scientists haven’t yet figured out if the frog makes the poisons, or sequesters them (stores them up) in their poison glands from foods that they eat such as ants, centipedes and mites. And we think that because the captive frogs do not eat this poisonous diet, this makes them not toxic. But the science behind this is still waiting to be determined.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Red-Belly Turtles

The Plymouth red-bellied turtle scientific name: Pseudemys rubriventris bangsi is sometimes called the Plymouth red-bellied cooter, and in 1983 it was the first freshwater turtle in the US to be listed as endangered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. This turtle was found only in Plymouth County, Massachusetts and the populations dropped to around 200-300 turtles. The state then stepped in and started a conservation “head start” programs to boost the populations.

Scott and John at the Berkshire Museum (and a bunch of us others) have been raising these turtles since the mid 1990’s. The program takes the hatchlings that are the size of a quarter and so susceptible to predation by raccoons, heron’s, skunks and even bull frogs, and sends them to organizations such as the Berkshire Museum that raise them for 6 months so they are about 6 inches long. They are marked by notches in their shells so each individual can be tracked then they are released back into 20 separate ponds. These turtles take about 2–9 years for males, 6–16 for females to become old enough to mate. That’s a long time. In 2007 the wild populations began to increase. But the rehabilitation program goes on because of predation by skunks and herbicides dumped into the streams and ponds where they live.

These colorful turtles are called red-bellies because their plastron, the underside of their shell has red markings.

Like our local painted turtles, Chrysemys picta, they are omnivores feeding on snails, plants, worms, tadpoles, crayfish, and insect larvae. Massachusetts turtles hibernate during the winter in the mud at the bottom of rivers, lakes and ponds.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2017 in nature, Science

 

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Reptile Movie

I just re-discovered this short film written, filmed, acted and directed by a group of after school students in Dr. Aguie’s after school program with the 21 Century Grant. We planned a longer version for SciTV, but in the end we got this trailer. Not too shabby I have to say. Click on the photo to get the link to the movie.

turtle

 

 

 

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Moth Night

Moth Week officially starts TODAY! Let the fun begin!

moth light 1.3Last night at dusk a group of us went hiking through the fields at Sheep Hill in Williamstown. We were led by the lovely and lively entomologist Brigette Zacharczenko who took a well deserved break from writing her dissertation, to tell us about caterpillars and moths–and all the other cool insects that were attracted to her lights. Thank you, thank you Brigette.

moth night 1.1At the night lights, we didn’t see too many moths, but we did see some very beautiful insects and many, too many for my comfort, giant horseflies (more about those later).

It was great to catch up with Leslie Ann Reed. Every year I invite her to Berkshire Bioblitz. But she has yet to come. As we stood looking at the view at sunset–I understand why she never wants to leave Sheep Hill. Its a magical place.

katydid

mothlight 1.4

 

 

 

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National Moth Week 2016, July 23-31

cecropita caterpillarThis Saturday starts National Moth Week!! And its also the week my bug loving niece (the girl that released earwigs in my bed that time because they were so cute) is coming to visit. Exciting, we are going to be doing some citizen science.

I’ll start the week off collecting caterpillars for her, since she doesn’t arrive until Sunday. She is from the west coast, she hasn’t seen the Eastern Tent caterpillar or the Forest Tent caterpillar. Beautiful creatures. Soft and wonderful to hold and let crawl up your arm. I’m also hoping to find some giant green spiky silk worm caterpillars.

photographing mothsMonday at dark we will be off to Mass Audubon Pleasant Valley to see the moth light demo set up by naturalist Jason Crockwell. This is a super fun time, I can’t tell you how much fun, so go for yourself and find out.

geometrid mothAfter that we will see what we can find on the screen doors. I know the mint green geometrids will be out since the inch worm caterpillars were abundant this spring.

We will record everything we see, either with pictures or just write the names down. Then we will upload the data to iNaturalist.

Its easy citizen science!
If you are thinking, yeah, but so what, what good is this data. It is important? Actually it is. There are several local moth collections from the mid 1900s in the Berkshire Museum database. Scientists could compare the abundance, species, lack of species, new species to this area. It can tell us if our environment is changing, is it cleaner? (I hope so) is it more conducive to wild life? I hope so.) Is the climate warmer? Colder? Hotter? and does this effect the lepidoptera species? All kinds of cool stuff can be figured out using these abundant little creatures. Just think of the classic Peppered Moth, so much was learned from that inconspicuous moth. And there is much more to be learned about liferight in our own backyards.

Do your part! Get out there and participate in Moth Week and make a difference!

 

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Field Entomology/Natural History of the Berkshires

The Field Entomology/Natural History of the Berkshires course starts Tuesday July 5th. Sign up is over BUT we will be night collecting at the Pittsfield State Forest on Wednesday July 6th. This is a free event and open to the public. Get there around dark and be ready to be WOWed! You can find us by following the light.moth collecting

night collecting

 

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