Category Archives: Science

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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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.





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The Infant

the infant mothThat early little orange and brown flier found last week has been identified. It is a moth. I first thought it was a butterfly for a few reasons, 1. It was out during the day 2. It flew zig-zag like a butterfly 3. It was orange, white and black and moved too fast to get a good look at it. Yesterday after noticing three flying in the forest, one landed on my hand! What luck. It is called “The Infant” species: Archiearis infans, its a geometer moth, AKA an inchworm moth. These little moths overwinter in the chrysalis and emerge late March to early May and fly during the day. So keep an eye out for these little beauties if you are near a stand of birch trees.


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Giddy-up Strange Seahorses

baby seahorsesThe seahorses at the museum had babies. Lots and lots of babies. Most folks are aware that the males are the sex that give birth. An evolutionary anomaly in the animal kingdom. But seahorse reproductive mode even stranger than males giving birth. For all you marine biologists out there who don’t mind doing research without pay–there is some weird stuff going on with these fishies that begs being looked into. Yes they are fish, so they do spawn. The males squirt their sperm into the water, but the females don’t drop their eggs in the water or a simple nest. Nope. They inject them into the males brooding pouch. You have to be quick to see it, research states it takes 5-10 seconds. Interesting, but not shocking. What is shocking is the sperm swim through the water and into the pouch in those mere seconds. How they know where to go no one knows quite yet. Must be some hormone that leads them there. Reproduction is all hormones. But it gets even more weird. There are only about 100 sperm, there are about 100-1800 eggs depending on the species. (There is some research out there that looked at this.) And most of those eggs turn into baby seahorses. Poly-embryology? Lots of twins, triplets, quadruplets? Really what is the story? Well no one really knows because there is no funding for research and who wants to do research for the pure joy of doing research. I hear you all yelling, “Me! Me! Me!”. So someone out there do the research please because this is fascinating stuff.

Meanwhile the babies are getting big. Here is a low res photo I took the other day with my phone. These fry are 4 months old. They are taken from the main tank to a special tank that is room temperature and has anti-bacterial agents added every few days. Many didn’t make it, those R species do it that way, lots of offspring, only the strongest survive. Grow babies grow, and end up to be weird vertical swimming fish we all love.

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Posted by on October 29, 2015 in backyard science, Science


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Yellow Jackets

yellow jacketYellow Jackets. Just those two words together evoke a visceral reaction to swat the air and sweat.

Around here everyone has had a close encounter of the third kind: actual contact. It is never pleasant.

Yellow Jackets are wasps in the genera Vespula and Dolichovespula. They are black and yellow and mean. Okay, that is anthropomorphic, what they are is protective of their hive. I know this first hand. Once I was gardening and was pulling goldenrod when I unfortunately ripped the top off of a nest. A cloud of wasps flew out of the ground and around my head, so thick my vision was blurred. I ran. I swatted. I yelled. This attracted the neighbor’s dog. He was an Irish Wolfhound. He chased me being chased by a swarm of angry wasps. It was like a cartoon.

Once I was out of range I stopped and brushed hundreds of the yellow and black ladies off my body. Amazingly they bit me only 23 times. It felt like 23 matches being touched to my skin. These ladies meant business. The signal was clear–stay away from our hive.

So of course, I crept back around to the nest to see what damage was done. A 4 foot ring 2 feet thick of wasps was circling the nest.Their wing beats could be felt like electricity in the air. Fascinating.

The life cycle of these animals is a little know secret. It goes like this: colony initiation, growth and expansion, production of reproductives, reproductive dispersal, and colony decline.

Everyone seems to know that the “queens” over-winter, but where do the rest of the wasps go here in New England. Its not a nice story if you are wasp. The queens do overwinter. They hide out in the ground, old logs, tree bark, your house. In the spring she starts a new colony since she held the sperm over the winter so she can fertilize her eggs. But she doesn’t have to. Wasps are haplodiploid. That means males develop from unfertilized eggs and are haploid (have half a genome), and females develop from fertilized eggs and are diploid (like you and me, they have half a genome from their mother and half from their father). At first though she does fertilize the eggs and gets females. She starts the nest building but then leaves it to the first offspring to finish.

Most all the members of the colony are females. They are all sisters. They all have modified ovipositers (egg layers) that are stingers. They are the builders, hunters, hive protectors (the Yellow Jack venom is only for protection they do not use it to stun their prey). There may be multiple queens in Yellow Jacket colonies. More power! These yellow and black bullet bugs might seem to be a nuisance to us, but on the flip side they are hunters. They hunt caterpillars, flies (house flies being their main prey), they also drive down fly populations by competing for garbage, dead animal wastes and rotten fruit.

Once the colony is established energy goes into producing ‘reproductive’ female and male wasps. These offspring are sent off to find mates from other colonies and start new colonies.

yellow jackets on appleAs the autumn approaches the colony no longer has a purpose. No more offspring are produced, and the ties that bind no longer feel so tight. So the individual wasps are forging for themselves.This is why you see more wasps in the fall. They seem a little more aggressive, because they are looking at that juicy food you are eating and not thinking about bringing it home to mama and the babies. And she has more time to sit on that apple and suck out the juices. Its the twilight of her life let her enjoy it, soon she will slow down and die. All but the queens, those royal ladies will hole up somewhere and start the whole thing again in 6 or 7 months. Such is the life of the Yellow Jacket.

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Posted by on October 13, 2015 in backyard bugs, backyard science, insects, Science


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Mini Bioblitz with the Berkshire Museum

museum bioblitz 2015This June the Berkshire Museum held a small bioblitz at Onota Lake with Egermont Elementary School students. It was a great day, lots of collecting and sharing. The weather was perfect the kids were well behaved and the teachers were great to work with in the field. Thanks to Joann Batman for inviting Dr. Augie’s to participate.

pond collecting kids collections crawdad collecting pond

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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in backyard science, Berkshire BioBlitz, Children's Art & Science Classes, insects, Science, science in the parks


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