Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.



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.


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.


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.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 11, 2017 in Uncategorized


What is this?

imageCan you name this creature*?

If not stop by Berkshire BioBlitz June 18th and 19th because this year we re planning an extra event “Berkshire Biological Identification Days”.

This is where YOU are invited to bring unidentified, curious, baffling biological specimens or items like feathers, fossils, eggs, seeds, insects and weird curly things from personal collections and our experts will take a look and see if they can identify the specimen. The specialists will be at the Mt. Greylock Visitor’s Center 4:00 to 5:30p.m. Saturday and 9:00-10:30a.m. Sunday. If we can’t identify the specimen we will find someone who can! And its okay to bring a photo on your phone if you don’t have a specimen.

*This lovely multi-legged arthropod is a forest millipede, Sigmoria trimaculata. Not to be confused with a centipede, that has less legs and poison jaws. This little guy is harmless, eats leaf litter and will tickle your arm if you let it!

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 27, 2016 in Uncategorized


Leopard Slug

leopard slugWhile at the BioBlitz some kids found a big old gastropod Limax maximus: the Leopard Slug. Its Latin name literally means the ‘biggest slug’. This had a leopard pattern, but some are all grey in color. Such a fascinating animal for many reasons.

For starters, these creatures like humans. Yeah, they are almost always found near places people live. And they are aliens, they are not native to America, some think this slug was introduced from Europe, when they were first recorded to be found in cellars in Philadelphia in 1867. From there they migrated across the country. To be fair, other populations may have around the same time been introduced to California.

And although the Leopard slug is a ‘slug’ not a ‘snail’, it is still in the phylum “Mollusca” and it has a shell, you might not notice it at first because the shell is internal. Kind of weird little trick of evolution there. If threatened the animal will pull its head under the shield of its internal shell, like pulling your head into your turtleneck sweater.

Photo of dorsal view of internal shell of Limax maximus. Scale in mm. Locality: N Germany: Kiel. Date: 08-1951.

Photo of dorsal view of internal shell of Limax maximus. Scale in mm. Locality: N Germany: Kiel. Date: 08-1951.

Of course being a slug they makes slime, or ‘mucus’ as scientist call it. If you have the opportunity to pick up one of these bad boy/girls (slugs  are hermaphrodites, being both male and female at the same time) be ready to get sticky. The slime is not easily removed from your skin. But still its worth holding them once in your life, just to say you did. Then you can spend the next hour peeling off the slime like rubber cement glue. Lots of soap and water and nail polish remover should do the trick.

To make things even more interesting, scientists have found these slugs have a sense of home, like homing pigeons. They wander during the night, but will go back to their original crevice they consider home before morning. The diet of these slugs adds more intrigue. They eat detritus, dead leaves and organic matter, kind of boring but useful, but its little known they are also amazing hunters being able to move at 6 inches per minute, and cannibalistic eating other slugs. Think rasping mouth parts on a speeding giant slug–and then try not to ever think it again.

Just look at them in awe–because they are amazing creatures living in your own back yard.

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 19, 2015 in Uncategorized


Berkshire BioBlitz 2015 UPDATE!

bioblitz 2012 063This year’s Berkshire BioBlitz will take place at Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Pittsfield, one of Mass Audubon’s Berkshire Sanctuaries and is scheduled for 12pm Friday June 19th to 12pm Saturday June 20, 2015. Canoe Meadows is part of a wildlife corridor from October Mountain and abundant in flora and fauna.

Scheduled Events:
Fish Program: Friday 1-3pm
Owl Prowl: Friday 8:30 to 9:30pm
Moth Collecting: Friday 9:00 to 10:30pm
Bird Netting: Saturday 9:00am to 11am

Drop in and meet Elia and he will take you out tracking mammals!

Charley Eiseman lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates
Tom Murray author of Insects of New England & New York
Thom Tying author of Snakes of Western Massachusetts

Comments Off on Berkshire BioBlitz 2015 UPDATE!

Posted by on June 15, 2015 in Uncategorized


The Growing Commences

japanese knotweed day 1Every year there are plans to do this: 2015 this is the year. The Japanese knot-weed growth is going to be recorded. How fast does it grow in a day, 2 days a week? Seems like it grows so fast you can see it. You can actually hear it as it pushes up from under the leaves. Yeah, its that fast.

The plan is to record the growth and the rainfall for each day.

Day 1

Shoot height on plant #1: 8mm, height on plant #2: 2mm and 11mm.

Rainfall: 0

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 20, 2015 in Uncategorized


Carbon Cycle and a Dead Cat

carbon cycle 1It was time to learn the carbon cycle in bio class. Two smarty-pants in the back of the class, copied the notes and decided they could now play games. Why not, they got the material. They have good grades. Fortunately I saw this opportunity as a break from my teaching. I handed them the chalk and my notes and said, “Teach.” They taught about carbon moving from the air, to the trees and plants through photosynthesis, then to the animals that ate the plants, and was eventually breathed out the carbon in the form of carbon dioxide.

“Keep going.” I prodded,
“Do we have to draw the dead rabbit?”
“What do you think?”
“Well we have a picture of a dead dog on our phone we found on our way home from school. Can we use that?”
“Heck yeah.”
dead cat bonesThey showed the picture around and explained that the carbon stored in living things is released after death during the process of decomposition.



cat giordonBut there is more to the story. The next day Giordon walks in all geared up carrying a plastic bag. Guess what was in the bag. If you think it was a dead dog, you would be wrong. We examined the carcass through the double plastic bags. It had passed through putrification and was pretty well dessicated. So it smelled sweet as opposed to rancid. We determined by the teeth and claws it was a cat.


Not to be out done by my students, in the area of “grossness’. I brought the carcass home and soaked it in a bucket of water. The fur was stuck hard to the skull so it took all summer for it to finally separate. I fished the bones out with a pair of needle-nosed pliers. Not a bad collection of bones. Some of the spine and ribs are still stuck in the guts, but the skull, leg bones and half the spine can be seen here. Remember some of the body tissue has been released as carbon gas back into the carbon cycle. That is what it is all bones

Comments Off on Carbon Cycle and a Dead Cat

Posted by on September 24, 2014 in Children's Art & Science Classes, Science, science in the parks, Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Blue-tongued Skink

John blue tongued skinkOur class had a visitor from the Berkshire Museum. John from the aquarium brought in the blue-tongued skink.

The blue-tongued skink, Tiliqua scincoides, has a blue tongue as a warning for predators to stay away. It says, “Watch out—I BITE!” Although this one has been raised in captivity and in the past 12 years has never bitten anyone.

The blue-tongued skink can’t make its own energy so it is considered a “heterotroph.” It gets its energy from the food it eats. It eats carbohydrates such as plants, cellulose, and fiber. It eats bugs for protein and for microorganisms to break down lipids and fiber. Its diet is supplemented with vitamins made especially for reptiles. He gets “monkey biscuits.”

We discussed that this reptile, who is native to the deserts of Australia, can store fat and water in its body for long periods of time in order to survive the harsh climate.

He does sleep with his eyes closed and likes to burrow.

Comments Off on Blue-tongued Skink

Posted by on October 5, 2013 in Children's Art & Science Classes, Science, Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , ,