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Celebrating Moths During National Moth Week

July 30, 2016

This year marks the fifth annual National Moth Week and the Museum celebrated once again with its annual Moths At Night program at Prairie Ridge. Each year, we invite the public to take advantage of a series of attractive lights, baits, and educational talks to learn more about moths, make some observations, and share those observations with citizen science projects.

visitors checking out moths at one of the blacklights

We typically have bad luck with this program and have had a big storm just before or during the event each year, but this year we had no rain and a warm night with no moon. As a result, we had some particularly excellent moths!

About 55 participants ranging in age from about 5 to retired adults attended Moths at Night this year and were treated to a variety of exceptional moths. We saw many of our usual moths, such as the Rosy Maple Moth:

Rosy maple moth

… the Tan Wave:

Tan wave

…. and the Elegant Grass Veneer:

elegant grass veneer

Rosy Maple Moth caterpillars feed on maples (as their name suggests!), Tan Waves feed on goldenrods and oaks, and Elegant Grass Veneers are found feeding on grass in lawns. Given how many of the host plants we have at Prairie Ridge, it’s no wonder that there are so many of each of these species represented in our National Moth Week observations.

Some moth species are not spotted every year, but have appeared more than once at past events. One excellent example is the Beautiful Wood Nymph:

Beautiful Wood Nymph

This moth is thought to mimic bird droppings as a defense against predators as few things are interested in eating bird excrement. Its caterpillars feed on Virginia Creeper and grapes, both of which are available in abundance near the location where we set up the lights. The Black-bordered Lemon is another occasional visitor:

Black bordered lemon

This moth happily feeds on crabgrass as a caterpillar, so you find it in grassy areas. Not surprising that we find them at Prairie Ridge!

The Rosy Maple Moths are often the most gaudily colored moths we see during Moths At Night, and are generally popular with visitors. This year, however, we saw other large and/or colorful moths that were even more exciting! We had several Virginia Creeper Sphinx moths appear throughout the program and ended the evening with half a dozen at the lights:

Virginia creeper sphinx

This is the first time we’ve recorded Virginia Creeper Sphinx moths at Prairie Ridge, but they are relatively common. We also have quite a lot of Virginia Creeper, their caterpillar host plant, near the classroom building. Perhaps the poor weather in past years could explain why we haven’t spotted this moth before now?

The most exciting find of the night was spotted at the very end of the event, a Small-eyed Sphinx:

Small-eyed sphinx

This is another large moth species, and another first for Prairie Ridge. This species feeds on a variety of trees, including Black Cherry and Serviceberry. We have both species on the grounds, so although this was an exciting moth to see, it was definitely in a place where we might expect to see them.

By the end of the night, we’d documented over 40 moth species at Prairie Ridge! The data we collected (photos, date, location, and time) have been uploaded to our Natural North Carolina project so that we can share our moth sightings with scientists and other people who are interested in moths. Several visitors also took photos of moths at Prairie Ridge this year and were planning to share them with Natural North Carolina, so our moths should be well represented in this year’s National Moth Week dataset!

If you’d like to get involved in National Moth Week, there’s still time! The event runs through Sunday, July 31, so flip on your porch light tonight or tomorrow and make some observations of your nocturnal visitors. Simply looking at moths is great, but to make your observations more useful, consider snapping a few photos and sharing them online. We’d love for you to share your photos and observations with our Natural North Carolina project online at http://inaturalist.org/projects/natural-north-carolina. We hope to see some fabulous new moth observations there before National Moth Week is over!

Beautiful Belize!

July 20, 2016

Join the Educators of Excellence on the Tropical Ecology Institute!

Tropical Ecology Institute

Jaw-dropping. Inspiring. Beautiful. Exhausting. All in the best way possible. Listen with us as we describe our first day’s journey on the Tropical Ecology Institute as a symphony of sounds.

Early morning alarms, excited chatter, and discussion about what everyone packed started our day from Raleigh through Miami to Belize City!

The sounds of laughter and Belizean accents greeted us after we made our way through customs to hugs from our new friends, tour guide Nathan, driver Bruce, and two amazing Belizean teachers, Ryan and Sherret.

With no time to waste we loaded onto the bus to begin exploring. Our first stop: the Community Baboon Sanctuary (interesting fact: howler monkeys are locally called baboons). The brief sound of silence accompanied the sounds of the forest as we devoured stewed chicken, rice and beans (not to be confused with beans and rice), potato salad, fried plantains and fresh pineapple and watermelon…

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Introducing the NC Science Museums Grant Program

July 6, 2016

The competitive North Carolina Science Museums Grant program is one of the many ways that the State of North Carolina invests in sustaining and advancing one of the most diverse and widespread networks of science museums in the country. These museums are critical resources for schools and communities in providing learning experiences in and out of the classroom that enhance science literacy.

Any North Carolina science center or children’s museum that meets eligibility requirements may apply for an award.  Awards range from $50,000 to $75,000, based on each applicant’s county tier designation. Applications will be accepted on a two-year cycle.

This cycle’s Eligibility forms will be due no later than midnight on July 31, 2016.

Once eligibility is determined, eligible parties will be allowed to submit an Application Form.

For more information, please see the NC Science Museums Grant Program website.

Hello, Jupiter!

July 5, 2016

Research & Collections

This year’s July 4th holiday was a special one for planetary science, as the NASA spacecraft Juno, entered the dense atmosphere of our solar system’s giant, Jupiter. After 5 years and traveling nearly 550 million miles, Juno reached Jupiter at nearly 130,000 miles per hour, poised to orbit the planet 32 times, gathering unprecedented data on Jupiter’s atmosphere, magnetic, and gravitational fields, all lending clues to how it formed about 4.57 billion years ago.

Artistic rendering of Juno entering Jupiter's orbit (Credit: NASA). Artistic rendering of Juno entering Jupiter’s orbit (Credit: NASA).

Scientists think that Jupiter may have been the first planet to form from the swirling disk of gas and dust from which Earth and the other 6 planets formed, as well as the asteroids, comets, and other debris that makes up our current solar system. Juno’s science will help unravel the detailed composition of Jupiter’s atmosphere which hold clues to its formation history, including how and where it…

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CitSciScribe – Available Online Now!

June 17, 2016

The following was contributed by Lindsay Roupe, Project Manager for Ichthyology at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. Thanks Lindsay!

On Saturday, June 11, we officially launched CitSciScribe, the latest citizen science project at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. We had the project website available to visitors on computers in the Visual World iLab on the 3rd floor of the Nature Research Center for people who wanted to dive into transcribing for the first time. Several people came by throughout the day to register for a project account and transcribed data and meet the project creators.

showing visitor the project website

One of our transcription stations in the Visual World Investigate Lab. Photo by Chris Goforth.

In addition to transcription stations, we set up educational carts throughout the museum to get the word out about CitSciScribe and provide a behind-the-scenes look at our collections. Various specimens from the Museum were on display at the stations, including an alligator skull, shark jaws, venomous and non-venomous snakes, and some interesting fish. We also shared a behind-the-scenes video with footage taken in our collections and research labs for a unique look into the museum’s natural history collections. We will release the full video on the CitSciScribe site in mid-July!

cart presentation

Kids loved the alligator skull we had on display at one of our carts! Photo by Lindsay Roupe.

Thank you to everyone who participated in our CitSciScribe launch event and made it memorable. So far over 700 records have been transcribed and we are looking forward to watching CitSciScribe take off! And if you didn’t make it to our launch event last weekend, no problem. You can still get involved through the project website at http://citsciscribe.org.

Happy transcribing!

You can check out tweets from our launch day on Storify! Please consider using #citsciscribe to share what you’re doing with the project on social media.

Arrival at Yellowstone National Park

June 16, 2016

Yellowstone Institute

Greetings! The annual Educators of Excellence Yellowstone National Park Institute got off to a relaxing and smooth start. The group was filled with excitement yet maintained calm and relaxed attitudes as we traveled. Our flights were on time and we were able to spend a bit more time getting to know one another during our extended layover in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Upon arrival in Bozeman, the weather was refreshingly crisp and a welcome contrast to the hot and humid weather of our home state of North Carolina. Once we picked up the rental vans, we were off and running! While trekking toward our destination, team members began to be on the lookout for wildlife. Our first sighting was a red-winged blackbird who seemed rather full of himself, showing off his bright red shoulders (or epaulettes) for all of the world to see. We continued to see different types of wildlife including…

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Yellowstone, here we come…

June 15, 2016

Follow a group of extraordinary educators to Yellowstone National Park, June 15-23, 2016.

Yellowstone Institute

Students are gone, grades are in, classrooms are cleaned up – school just finished a few days ago for most of the group. And tomorrow, each of us will have the opportunity to leave the bustle of everyday life behind and step into a completely different environment. Before dawn, we’ll gather at the Raleigh-Durham airport and board a plane bound for Montana. Before the sun sets at 9:11 pm Mountain Time, we will be in Yellowstone, America’s first national park. It’s an opportunity to take a deep breath, both literally and figuratively, and recharge our educator batteries. It’s a chance to gather first hand knowledge to bring back and share with North Carolina students. We can’t wait to get there!

The group is excited about many things – observing wildlife in its natural habitat, hearing the rumble of a geyser as it erupts, absorbing scenic mountain vistas, and discovering lots of…

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