by Paige Brown, Museum Blogger-in-Residence
Whether you are 9, 19, 39 or 89 years old, your summer plans might include a few days at the neighborhood pool or nearby water park. Who doesn’t love water on a sweltering summer day?
A trip to the pool is fun in the sun, but it also carries responsibilities for both kids and adults. Just listen to Graham Snyder, emergency physician at WakeMed Health & Hospitals since 2002, who talked at the SECU Daily Planet Theater during Innovations in Health Day at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Drowning is the number one cause of traumatic death of children under the age of 5 in the United States. It surpasses other causes of traumatic death including handguns, burns and car accidents. That is the bad news. The good news is that drowning is 100% preventable.
“85 percent of kids who drown have never had their first swim lesson,” Snyder said during his talk on Saturday, June 15.
Drowning isn’t best prevented by staying away from the pool. Quite the opposite: training to be a strong swimmer, and staying smart about safe swimming conditions, are the best forms of prevention.
“The best defense against drowning is parental and life guard vigilance and learning to swim,” Snyder wrote in a WakeMed blog post on drowning in May, 2013. “If a parent can overcome fear and get swim lessons for their child, they will break the cycle of fear and reduce the risk of drowning for generations to come. Drowning is a silent but devastating tragedy for families. It takes normally takes several minutes to drown, but it can happen silently right in front of your eyes.”
Both kids and adults should also be aware of the true signs of drowning. Unlike many drowning scenes in the movies and on TV, the traumatic experience is often silent and unrecognizable by those who haven’t learned the signs.
“Drowning does not look like drowning,” Snyder said. “When kids drown they are totally silent.”
Drowning is almost silent, like the sound of someone choking only able to occasionally suck in air. A person who is drowning, especially a child, does not want to sink, so they push as hard as they can with their arms and their legs under the water. Because they are pushing down instead of flailing their arms out of the water, the only visible sign of their distress is a head bobbing up and down in the water.
“As they get more and more tired and their head slips beneath the water, a horrifying fear kicks in and they surface enough to get a breath,” Snyder wrote in his blog post. “Then, down they go again.”
Countless of times, Snyder said, parents and other adults mistake a child who is drowning for a child who is playing a game under water, bobbing up and down silently. On top of the fact that drowning doesn’t look like drowning according to our perceptions of what it might look like — someone flailing in the water in obvious distress — it can be nearly impossible to see a child bobbing up and down underwater in even the clearest of pools when lots of people are splashing and kicking up the water.
“Only fools rush in,” Snyder said.
According to Snyder, the first option for making a safe water rescue, especially if making a rescue in the ocean or flowing river, is to grab a stick or pole to help someone out of the water if they are close by. People who are drowning resort to their instincts, instinctively grabbing and holding onto anything nearby that is stable and floating. If the person who is drowning is too far away to reach with a stick or pole, the second option is to the throw a life jacket, float, basketball, or anything else that floats.
“You wouldn’t think that something like a basketball could save the life of someone who is drowning, but it absolutely can,” Snyder said.
The third option, “Row,” is to get into a boat, canoe, raft, or other floating structure to go to the drowning person’s aid. Only as a last resort should you physically jump into the water, especially deep or fast-flowing water, to save someone who is drowning. Such a rescue method can require tremendous strength and strong swimming abilities.
Learn more about pool safety by reading blogs posted at http://wakemedvoices.org/, and also consider investing in personal floatation devices. Also, Snyder warns, if you own a pool, install a pool alarm, fencing and pool side door locks to keep children out the pool when they are not monitored.
by Paige Brown, Museum Blogger-in-Residence.
If you’ve ever jumped up from a chair or a car seat that was too hot because it had been exposed to the summer sun, you might be familiar with the fact that dark-colored materials absorb more heat than light-colored materials. Your black t-shirt or dark-colored leather car seat absorbs more heat from the summer rays than does your white t-shirt or tan-colored car seat.
While you might never have had the pleasure of walking on top of a glacier in Greenland or Antarctica, if you’ve experienced the enhanced heat absorption of dark materials in the sun, you already know something about what is making glaciers melt so quickly in today’s climate. Along with warming of our planet’s climate attributed to both natural forces and man-made greenhouse gas emissions, a black substance called cryoconite is causing glaciers all over the world to melt more quickly today than in the past.
Cryoconite is powdery windblown dust made of a combination of small rock particles, soot and bacteria. The dark dust, which is spread over glaciers in Greenland and other icy areas of the world by wind and rain, is composed of mineral dust from warmer regions of the world, rock particles from volcanic eruptions, and soot from fires, the emissions of our cars and coal-fired power plants. While many of the materials in cryoconite are natural materials, human activities based on coal use have increased the amount of black soot in cryoconite since the substance was first discovered in 1870. The increasing amount of black soot in cryoconite has caused glaciers to darken in a phenomenon scientists call “biological darkening,” as the gritty substance builds up on snow, glaciers and icecaps. While clean white ice helps to reflect the sun’s rays, soot-containing cryoconite increases the absorption of heat by the ice surface, making snow and glaciers melt more quickly.
The combination of global warming and biological darkening of glaciers due to cryoconite build-up is creating a vicious cycle of glacial melting. As glaciers melt more than normal, the water normally trapped inside the ice flows into the sea and global sea levels rise. With sea level rising, people living in coastal environments, for example on the coastal plain of North Carolina or along the coast in the Gulf of Mexico, are at risk from flooding and losing their land to the ocean.
Cryoconite does other strange things to the ice. As the black substance causes the ice surface to melt, it causes round melt holes filled with water to form. As the cryoconite sinks and creates a black layer at the bottom of these holes, the holes continue to melt deep down into the ice. The holes also harbor bacteria and other small organisms that produce energy and contribute to the growth of the holes.
Cryoconite Holes, Greenland.
World-renowned photographer James Balog and other scientists who study glaciers around the world have played an important role in documenting cryoconite build-up and glacial melting in scientific evidence and photographs.
If you want to learn more about what is making glaciers melt, and what cryoconite holes look like, check out James Balog’s documentary film “Chasing Ice.” The film is both beautiful and heart-wrenching, showing how glaciers of enormous proportions are being melted largely by human influences.
You can also learn about what ice tells us about the climate by interacting with the exhibits on the second floor of the Nature Research Center.
by Paige Brown, Museum Blogger-in-Residence.
If you guessed ‘their proboscis” for what butterflies have in common with straws, you are right! The butterfly proboscis is a slender, tubular feeding structure that works like a straw through which a butterfly drinks its food. When the butterfly first emerges from its pupa or chrysalis, its proboscis is actually in two parts that are later brought together and fused to create a structure that is hollow on the inside, like a straw.
The butterfly’s proboscis is made up of muscles, nerves (for the butterfly to feel things with), and breathing organs. When the two parts of the proboscis in the young butterfly are fused or “zippered” together, a hollow channel remains open on the inside. It is through this hole, like a straw, that the butterfly sucks up liquids and small particles extracted from flowers, for example.
And, somewhat similar to a very small straw, liquid is brought up into the butterfly’s proboscis by capillary action. Capillary action is a process by which water can flow through very small channels on its own, even against the force of gravity, thanks to the “sticking” force between water molecules caused by hydrogen bonding.
When the butterfly isn’t feeding, its proboscis is kept curled up near to its body, as shown in the picture above. But when the butterfly is feeding, it extends its proboscis through hydrostatic pressure (pressure produced by balancing fluids across a membrane) in order to sip nectar from flowers, as shown in the picture below.
How cool! Engineering at work for biology! Next time you sip sweet juice through a tiny straw, think of butterflies!
Want to see these butterflies in real life? Visit the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ Living Conservatory on the 4th floor of the Museum’s main building!
By Paige Brown, Museum Blogger-in-Residence.
How much do you REALLY know about raccoons?
If you missed it, our science comedian extraordinaire Brian Malow interviewed Arielle Parsons of the Nature Research Center’s Biodiversity Lab during one of today’s SECU Daily Planet talks! Parsons, a research technician at our Museum, is a wildlife biologist with experience in predator management and endangered species conservation. Today, inside the giant Daily Planet, she talked about raccoons!
Do you think you know a lot about our furry nocturnal companions? Try to answer these questions that Parsons asked during her talk! Then, you can check your answers at the bottom of this blog post!
Question: There is only one species of raccoon. Answer: False! If you live in the United States, the raccoons you might be used to seeing roaming about your yard at night belong to the species known as the Northern Raccoon. However, there are two other species of raccoons. The pygmy raccoon is an endangered species that lives in parts of Mexico. The crab-eating raccoon (which indeed eats crabs and other crustaceans!) lives in Central and South America.
Question: Raccoons wash their food. Answer: False! While raccoons are often seen dipping their hands into water as they sit next to a stream, they are not washing their food. According to Parsons, they are actually using sensory organs on their paws, which are more sensitive when wet, to “feel” their food in order to be able to tell what it is and whether it is good to eat!
Question: Raccoons are smart. Answer: True! Raccoons are known to be very smart. While scientists haven’t been able to test their IQ levels necessarily, scientists have observed that when given enough time, raccoons in the lab can “pick” many of the complex locks that are used to secure them into their cages!
Question: All raccoons out in the daytime have rabies. Answer: False! While raccoons are known to sometimes carry rabies, not all raccoons carry the disease. You should always be cautious around these animals, especially if you see one out in the daytime acting strangely. However, many raccoon mothers venture out in the daytime to forage for food while their babies are still young.
Question: Raccoons eat anything edible. Answer: True! According to Parsons, most raccoons will eat pretty much anything that they can get their paws on that is edible. When Parson is doing research in the field, she feeds her raccoons marshmallows!
Question: Raccoons’ black mask helps them see at night. Answer: False, but scientists are not sure. Most research confirms that raccoon’s black masks help to scare off predators. However, Parsons and other scientists still think that the black fur around their eyes might help raccoons to see better at night by reducing glare, or light reflections.
Question: Raccoons make different calls, or vocalizations. Answer: True! Raccoons make 13 different vocalizations, or sounds, that are used to scare predators away, to signal distress, or to call others, among other uses.
Question: Raccoons make good pets. Answer: False! Raccoons are wild animals. Although some people have tried to make them into pets, raccoons can get into trouble biting through furniture and tearing things up in the house! Raccoons can be very aggressive, and in some places it is actually illegal to keep a pet raccoon.
A Story of the Formation of Carolina Bays by Paige Brown, Museum Blogger-in-Residence.
An aerial view of the Atlantic seaboard from Florida to New Jersey, especially if you are privy to super-human infrared vision, reveals a series of rather extraterrestrial-looking oblong depressions in the landscape. What look like crater holes in the landscape are filled with water, sand and/or vegetation. These natural, elliptical depressions in the land, bordered by rims of sand, are known as Carolina Bays, thanks to the bay trees (as in the bay leaves you might use in your beef stew) and other rich wetland vegetation that often grow inside them. Carolina bays vary significantly in size, while as oblong circular structures they are typically aligned in a particular direction depending on their location. The egg-shaped Carolina bays on the Atlantic Coastal Plain typically have one end pointing northwest and the other southeast. Some of the more familiar Carolina bays in North Carolina include Lake Waccamaw, the largest of the Carolina bay lakes, and Jones Lake. While these bays are filled with water, other Carolina bays have been drained, by either human or natural forces, and are now filled with vegetation and wildlife.
While many of the natural Carolina bays are familiar state park attractions, the origins of these “pocks” on the land surface are rather mysterious. Some might say they bear a resemblance to lunar craters, the cup-like depressions on the surface of the moon caused by impact events. The Carolina bays themselves have been called “otherworldly,” with claims that the wetland depressions might have been created once upon a time by a great meteor shower.
However, says Dr. Lee Phillips, associate professor of geology at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, while fantastic and otherworldly stories of science might gain lots of attention, especially in the news, real science often provides much simpler explanations. Phillips gave a talk about Carolina bays at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on Saturday, June 1, in the Windows on the World classroom on the 3rd floor of the Museum’s main building. Phillips talked about the climate conditions that have helped form and shape Carolina bays throughout the centuries.
The Carolina bays were first recognized in the 1800’s. With the advent of aviation and human flight, scientists were able to get a better view of the extent of Carolina bays along the coast of North Carolina from the air. Since that time, scientists have suggested many different hypotheses as to what caused the formation of these natural depressions rimed with sand. These hypotheses range from the work of extraterrestrial meteors, to the action of wind on sand structures, to the work of both wind and wave action on the loose sediments of the coastal plain.
“There is a lot of evidence that these things have no causal links to impact craters,” said Phillips during his Saturday talk. “We don’t find any meteor fragments whatsoever. There is no evidence of extraterrestrial material within a Carolina bay. It would have to be a HUGE meteor shower coming in and spraying many landscapes simultaneously to produce the observed similarity in orientation of these bays across the range of their occurrence. So that doesn’t make any sense.”
So what does make sense, according to scientific data collected by Phillips and others, for the origin and formation of Carolina bays? Phillips and other researchers who study the Carolina bays have used core sampling techniques, radioactive carbon dating and other dating techniques to find out how old the Carolina bays are. They have also constructed small-scale physical models of the bays in the laboratory to see how water and wind forces might have formed these bays in landscapes dominated by loose sediments and sand.
What Phillips and other researchers have found can officially lay to rest outlandish hypotheses of Carolina bay formation involving meteor showers and large whales. The Carolina bays vary rather significantly in their ages, ranging from 130,000 years old to 8,000 years old or less. They do not date from a single specific time period, meteor shower or other discrete event. The dates of Carolina bay growth also correspond to times when the earth was relatively warm and free of ice, when wind and lapping Atlantic water could deposit and shape sand on the North Carolina coastal plain. The Carolina bays seem to have formed predominantly in flat landscapes composed of sand, sandstone, limestone and other sedimentary materials.
From his research on Carolina bays, Phillips has found evidence that Carolina bays were formed as wind swept over sandy landscapes and lakes on the coastal plain. Late Pleistocene winds sweeping up and around the Atlantic coast from the south shaped lakes sitting in sandy landscapes into ovals. These elliptical structures ended up being oriented differently depending on the direction that the wind was coming from.
Phillips has also found that the times when Carolina bays formed and grew seem to correspond to climate transitions in Earth’s history, or times when the climate was changing. For example, Phillips and his group dated one sand pit at Jones Lake to 8,500 years ago, or a time when a cold snap reduced vegetation on the coastal plain of North Carolina, and wind blew and deposited sand easily across the landscape. On the other hand, Carolina bays seem to stop growing when sand is held down by rich vegetation, such as when the bays are drained of water and filled with vegetation. Available sands on the Atlantic coastal plain appear to be critical for the formation of Carolina bays.
“It is amazing to think about this landscape without all the pine trees,” Phillips said. “The evidence that we have from the research that I’ve done and what many others have done supports a mechanism of formation of Carolina bays dominated by the movement of sand by wind and water.”
So much for meteors from outer space. The Carolina bays, with their associated rich wetland ecosystems, were formed by the simple action of wind and water on the sedimentary landscape of our continent’s coast. Now that we understand how they were formed, it is equally important to preserve these natural land structures in the future. Unfortunately, largely due to farming activities, fewer than half of North Carolina’s natural Carolina bays still remain. Some bays have been drained, while others have gradually eroded away. Carolina bays act as natural reservoirs for water, which in turn promote boggy vegetation and rich wetland ecosystems. And these structures are not only important as wildlife refuges; the rim sands that border the bays are important sources of climate history for geologists and other scientists.
Who knew Saturday science could be so fun, and so environmentally important?
by Paige Brown, Nature Research Center Blogger-in-Residence
Intelligent. Strong. Social.
These characteristics are probably some of the traits we can all associate with chimpanzees, especially male chimpanzees, at least from what most of us know about them in movies, the media and museums. Those of us who know a bit more about the primate kingdom might know that chimpanzees are apes, that they form dominance hierarchies in their communities, and they are known to make use of plants and sticks as tools to fish for termites in termite mounds, for example.
Hunting. Cooperation. Sharing. Protection. Warfare.
These chimpanzee behavior characteristics might not be so familiar to us, precisely because these behaviors have rather puzzling origins. However, according to Ian Gilby, co-director of the Jane Goodall Institute Research Institute at Duke University and wild chimpanzee behavior specialist, group hunting and meat-sharing among chimpanzees have indeed been confirmed by data collected at Gombe, Tanzania, where Jane Goodall started observing chimpanzees over 50 years ago. Gilby spoke at the Daily Planet Café on Thursday night during a Science Café at the Nature Research Center.
“I’ve always been interested in how animals interact with one another,” Gilby said during his Science Café talk. “Cooperation is particularly interesting, because it is a puzzling thing. A lot of people might be surprised to know that chimpanzees actually hunt monkeys, eat them, and unfortunately tear the carcasses apart and share the meat with other members of their community.”
But why would chimpanzees help each other? Why would they share meat from a monkey kill? Why do they hunt in groups, and why would multiple chimps participate in a risky group hunt if they could simply bum meat off of other individual chimpanzee hunters?
“A group hunt is a risky, energetically expensive thing, to climb into the trees and catch a money that is trying to get away, is big, has canines and will bite you,” Gilby said. “If you could somehow get meat from one of your pals, without actually taking a risk yourself, why would you do it?”
In order to investigate this question, Gilby and colleagues have been in the process of collecting years’ worth of observational data in the field, following chimpanzees around in the wild to observe their behaviors. Gilby has collected more than 4 years of observational data on chimpanzee hunting behavior in the field.
A key finding from his long-term data collection, Gilby says, has been the finding that while hunting among chimpanzees is a group effort, key males, known as “impact hunters,” are highly influential within the group.
“We are finding with the chimps that there is a real variation in how cooperative individuals are, and how prone to risk-taking they are,” Gilby said. “What I think is one of my most exciting discoveries is what I call impact hunters; these are certain males who are just really gung ho hunters. For some reason, they have a different threshold, and they go after the monkeys before anyone else does. But when they do that, what they are doing is actually changing the equation for all the other chimps.”
Gilby’s discovery of an impact hunter phenomenon in chimpanzee behavior was featured in a 2008 Harvard press release and a 2008 Animal Behavior journal article. According to this research, chimpanzee hunting behavior is significantly predicted by individual variation in hunting motivation, with hunts rarely occurring in the absence of “impact” males. These gung ho males act as a catalyst to cooperative hunting. In other words, less gung ho chimpanzees are more likely to participate in a hunt once the impact male has jumped into the trees and started attacking a group of monkeys. This is because at this point, the chance of a second, third or fourth chimpanzee catching a confused and distraught monkey is improved.
“These individual differences have a cascading effect on whether or not other individuals hunt,” Gilby said. “It is not necessarily a coordinated action.”
So, chimpanzees may cooperate in a hunt as a result of mutual benefits, but critical impact male individuals play a role in creating low-cost opportunities for others to beneﬁt by joining a hunt in progress.
“When a party of chimpanzees encounters a troop of red colobus [monkeys], the impact hunters tend to be the first to hunt,” Ian Gilby said in the 2008 Harvard press release. “By doing so, they dilute the prey’s defenses, thereby reducing the costs of hunting for other chimpanzees.”
So what next? Gilby is now interested in studying the genetics that might lie behind some male chimpanzees being more risk-taking, more gung ho hunters than other chimpanzees. Just as in humans, individual differences in chimpanzees’ genes, in their DNA, could account for complex group behaviors.
So are chimpanzees being nice when they help others in hunts and share pieces of meat? While the jury is still out on the origins of cooperation and social behavior, many chimpanzees may participate in what looks like cooperative behaviors out of self-interest: they are more likely to succeed once impact hunters have made the first move.
Want to learn more about cooperative chimpanzee behavior? Visit the Jane Goodall Institute Research Center website, and the Visual World Investigate Lab at the Nature Research Center in the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, where you can watch videos of chimpanzees hunting in the wild.
Summer is nearly upon us, marking the onset of hot sunny days under crystal-clear skies. What better way to usher in the new season than observing, up-close, the reason for the season — our star, the Sun. We are now in the midst of a particularly fabulous year for catching the Sun spewing amazing activity our way!
While we could never survive a trip to the Sun, being incinerated long before reaching our destination, we can observe the Sun in fine detail from telescopes on Earth and in space, and even right here in Raleigh through an observing extension of the Astronomy & Space Observation Lab at the Nature Research Center (NRC).