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Below The Surface

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Head Start Baby Softshell Turtles at ECHO for the Winter

It seems like just a few weeks ago, we had remnants of summer weather in the Lake Champlain
Basin. Late hatching turtles still had a shot to head into the Lake and nearby rivers before cooler fall days
New arrivals: baby spiny softshell turtles. 
triggered the instinct to hibernate. Steve Parren, a rare species biologist with Vermont Fish and Wildlife in the Wildlife Diversity Program, a man with a passion for spiny softshell turtles, had been monitoring nest sites, incubating eggs, hatching out and releasing youngsters. But, he was running out of time and out of workable weather. It was too cold to release any more turtles. It was time to call ECHO. On October 16th, Steve delivered 14 baby spiny softshell turtles to ECHO for over-wintering. Though it is possible to induce hibernation in captive turtles, instead, these quarter-sized, cuties will be kept in 65-75F degree water, fed daily and given a “Head-Start” on life when they are released in June.



video
VIDEO: New arrivals explore their new home at ECHO.

With only two to three hundred adult spiny softshell turtles in Vermont, this shy, elusive species needs help. Our children and their children have a right to see these turtles when they’re adults. The spiny softshell turtle needs habitat protection and programs like Steve’s work by protecting nest sites and nestlings. ECHO’s support of the “Head Start” program, now in its seventh year, is important for the vulnerable babies that also need help from everyone who lives in or enjoys the Lake Champlain Basin.  Come see the babies while they’re here this winter at ECHO. See them up close and personal and learn what you can do to help them remain part of a balanced ecosystem for future generations to enjoy.

Links to media stories:

COOL MOVES Gets You Moving!

I was so excited when we unpacked our newest exhibit, "COOL MOVES: The Artistry of Motion," in September because this exhibit was all about motion and physics!


COOL MOVES highlights the active, dynamic, and fun physics of bodies-in-motion. This is one of the most dynamic traveling exhibits ECHO has hosted since I've been here - I've seen adults and children play in this exhibit for hours! When you visit this exhibit you'll see that the exhibits are moving and so are our guests!  In fact, the exhibit requires you to move, either to set things in motion or to make noises and patterns.

For example, the COOL MOVES exhibit has a Theremin. What is a Theramin? It's a musical instrument that you play, not by touching it, but by moving around it, near it, changing your proximity to it, but never physically coming in contact with it. Wave one hand and you can change the pitch of the instrument, move the other hand and raise or lower the volume. It uses radio frequencies and the proximity of the user to create sounds. Another fantastic aspect of COOL MOVES is the gyroscopic art station. Here, you can set two pendulum-like gyroscopes in motion and create one-of-a-kind works of art that you can take home or share on our art wall. I've witnessed people staying at this station for a long time.


One of my favorite components of Cool Moves is the Bernoulli table. I'll readily admit that I spend more time playing with moving air and various objects than the average adult, but it is hard to resist the excitement when you float a ball in mid-air by directing air, not up, but side-ways. Using the same principles that keep airplanes aloft, you direct air to keep small beach-balls floating.  Speaking of air, you have the opportunity to control mini-tornado too!  You determine the vortex of wind, whipping up a partially enclosed column speeds to see what kind of tornado you can make. You can even stick your hand to play in the whirlwind.

While the wind whips around outside and the temperatures drop, we invite you to come down to ECHO and warm up by moving around and exploring the amazing physics of motion and the artistry it creates!

COOL MOVES will be at ECHO through January 6!

Photos courtesy of Ecotarium. 


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sea Stars and Gametes

NOTE: This blog was written by Caitlin Elizabeth Furlong Blake, a History Major working toward a Certificate in Museum Studies from Connecticut College. She lives in Milton, VT and has been connected to ECHO as a member, intern or volunteer since she was 9 years old. She will be interning at ECHO through December 2013.

A sea star releases gametes at ECHO
photo: C. Blake

As an Education Intern at ECHO, I spend a lot of time at the Champlain Sea Tank where there are animals that represent the kind one would have found over 13,000-15,000 years ago when Lake Champlain was a salt sea.  Animals in the Champlain Sea Tank include sea anemones, horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs and sea stars among others.

While at the sea tank it’s pretty easy to notice if something different is going on with the animals inside. Occasionally I'll notice that a sea anemone has moved from its usual spot or that a hermit crab has switched shells. A few weeks ago I noticed something really amazing with one of the sea stars! It was shooting out little strands of, for lack of a better term, goo.  I was intrigued and immediately collected a sample and looked at it under a microscope- curious about what it might be. As it turned out, the sea star was releasing gametes!

I was lucky enough to catch a little video while at the tank.
Click here to view the video: http://youtu.be/wzx_NiE2Rm4

In big, science-y terms, gametes are mature male or female germ cells usually possessing a haploid chromosome set and capable of initiating formation of a new diploid individual by fusion with a gamete of the opposite sex. Whoa, that’s a mouthful. In simple terms, gametes are the reproductive cells of a living thing- in humans you might know them as sperm or eggs. Our sea star was trying to make baby sea stars! How would this create a baby sea star? Well, when two sea stars want to make a baby sea star, they release gametes (sperm or eggs) into the water. By chance, if a sperm and egg meet they might create a baby sea star.

The next time you’re at ECHO, observe all of our amazing animals and ask about their behaviors. You never know what you’ll see and our animal ambassadors are always up to something!