Skip to content

Which Fish Are in the Prairie Ridge Creek? (What Time is it in Nature)

June 6, 2018

This blog post is brought to you by Richa Patel, Prairie Ridge’s YAIO summer intern.  Richa will complete her degrees at NC State in aerospace engineering and political science this fall.  Thanks Richa!

A few weeks ago, a group of volunteers and staff members went electrofishing at the stream at Prairie Ridge Ecostation (read more about that on the post Electrofishing at Prairie Ridge Ecostation!), and we ended up snagging quite a few fish before letting them go. Below are some of the great fish species that can be found in the stream:

Creek Chub (Semotilus atromaculatus)

Creek chubs found in the stream (male, female, juvenile from top to bottom)

Creek Chub found in the stream (male, female, juvenile from top to bottom).  Photo by Richa Patel.

The stream was bristling with Creek Chub.  The ones pictured above were just some of the Creek Chub that we were able to capture that morning. These fish have a dark spot on the front of the dorsal fin where the fin attaches to their body and a dark stripe that runs across their body. Juvenile Creek Chub have an even darker stripe; this stripe can be very light or absent on large adults. Breeding adult males have an orange-red color down their belly and cheeks, a dark bar behind its gills, and large horn-like bumps, or tubercles, on top of their heads that differentiate them from females (you can see one on the top of the male’s head in the above picture!). The ones found in our stream ranged between 3 to 5 inches, but Creek Chub can reach up to 12 inches.

Bluehead Chub (Nocomis leptocephalus)

The only bluehead chub we were able to find that morning.

The only Bluehead Chub we were able to find that morning.  Photo by Richa Patel.

This chub has a gorgeous blue head, which identifies it as a breeding male of the keenly named Bluehead Chub. Bluehead Chub are olive-colored on their upper side with a dusk yellow stripe down their backs. They, too, have large tubercles on their heads (check them out in the picture above!). This was the only Bluehead Chub we were able to find, but it did signal that there was a nest around. Male Bluehead Chub create nests from pebbles, which can be more than 2 feet long, that not only attract female Bluehead Chub, but also other minnows and chubs. It’s a beautiful, productive fish to have in our stream!

 Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

Museum volunteer Brynn Tracy showing off a caught bluegill.

Museum volunteer Bryn Tracy showing off a caught bluegill.  Photo by Richa Patel.

Bluegill is a native sunfish here in the stream; Prairie Ridge does have some introduced sunfish, like the Green Sunfish, but we didn’t get our hands on any of those when we sampled. Bluegills are tall and flat with a continuous dorsal fin, the front part of which is spiny and the back part of which is soft. The fish are an olive green with a yellow undertone and blue and purple colors on the cheek and gill cover (thus the name Bluegill!). This Bluegill was around 5 inches (they can get to be up to 16) and one of three Bluegills we were able to identify that morning.

Yellow Bullhead (Ameiurus natalis)

A well-fed yellow bullhead from the Prairie Ridge creek.

A well-fed yellow bullhead from the Prairie Ridge creek.  Photo by Richa Patel.

This catfish was the largest fish we found! It was around 8 inches long and, as seen above, had to be held very carefully so that volunteer Bryn Tracy avoided getting hurt by the Bullhead’s serrated teeth along its pectoral spine. Yellow Bullheads are differentiated from Black or Brown bullheads by the base of their chin barbels (or ‘whiskers’), which are white or yellow, and by their longer anal fins. This fish locates prey by brushing the bottom of the stream with its whiskers.  The one above in particular had a nice, round belly that indicated it had just found a meal. Check out the whiskers on this one!

These are just some of the fish swimming along in our stream, and we’re always excited when we find more.  Head down to the creek to see what you can find!  However, please note that Prairie Ridge has a strict no collecting policy.  You’re welcome to look at the fish (and plants, insect, birds, mushrooms, and other wildlife) that call Prairie Ridge home, but please leave them where you find them before you leave.

Want to participate in other cool citizen science projects and learn more about the wildlife that lives in Prairie Ridge Ecostation? Keep up with our events on the Museum’s event calendar or our Facebook page!

Electrofishing at Prairie Ridge Ecostation

May 26, 2018

This blog post is brought to you by Richa Patel, Prairie Ridge’s YAIO summer intern.  Richa will complete her degrees at NC State in aerospace engineering and political science this fall.  Thanks Richa!

On the beautiful, warm morning of May 23, volunteers and staff gathered at Prairie Ridge Ecostation for an exciting event: it was time to survey the creek! Prairie Ridge is home to a small stream that, thankfully, despite the past day’s heavy rain, still remained accessible and rich with fish.

This morning, staff members who work in the Ichthyology (or fish studies) Unit, Gabriela Hogue and Lindsay Abrams, helped lead the event. After we all switched into rubber boots and walked down to the stream, their intern Connor Neagle put on an impressive looking battery backpack. This, they explained, was to help us catch fish.

YAOI Intern Connor Neagle wearing backpack generator for electrofishing.  Photo by Richa Patel.

This super cool technique involved using the battery on Connor’s back to create a current that passed through the positive (anode) and negative (cathode) electrode rings on the end of the rods he’s holding. Those rings are placed into water and, when the battery is turned on, the field of electricity the device creates in the water causes fish to swim towards the anodes before becoming stunned and floating belly up. No worries! This paralyzation only lasts for a few seconds, just enough time to nab the fish, before the fish are up and swimming again.

(Note: Don’t try this at home! Our staff members are trained professionals with the proper permits to legally electrofish.  Recreational use of electrofishing is both illegal and dangerous.)

A fish is netted in the water.

A fish is netted in the water.  Photo by Richa Patel.

Quite a few fish were snagged during this event, with Gabriela and volunteer Bryn Tracy (the creator of the aforementioned backpack battery) doing an excellent job teaching us about each type of fish, key identifying factors, and interesting sets of behavior. Citizen Science Unit staff member Chris Goforth, our resident aquatic bug expert, also wowed the group with bugs she found during the expedition: mayflies and damselflies and even her first dragonfly at the creek!

Paralyzed fish are collected from the stream when the generator is turned off.  Photo by Richa Patel.


Gabriela Hogue, the Museum's fish collection manager, shows off a creek chub.

Gabriela Hogue, the Museum’s fish collection manager, shows off a creek chub.  Photo by Richa Patel.

The fish are so interesting, they deserved their own post. Want to know more about some of the fish living in the Prairie Ridge Ecostation stream? Make sure to check our next blog post: Which Fish Are In the Prairie Ridge Creek?

Thank you to all of the volunteers and staff members who came out and made it a fun, educational morning. Cool stuff is always happening at Prairie Ridge Ecostation!  Keep up with events on the Museum’s event calendar or our Facebook page.

Scouting Exploration through Citizen Science

March 13, 2018

Research & Collections

The newest merit badge, Exploration, encourages Boy Scouts to discover new things about their world through hands-on research, be it fieldwork or lab work. This mission is shared by the citizen science movement, where scientists partner with citizens to collect data and run research projects. If scouts start teaming up with citizen science projects we could not only check-off a lot of merit badge requirements, but also make important contributions to a range of scientific questions.

The key requirement of the Exploration merit badge is to plan and carry out an expedition. While the term “expedition” brings to mind dog sled teams marching towards the North Pole, there are plenty of options close to home, and the citizen science community is a great way to find the right project.

As a scientist and Assistant Scout Master, I saw the Exploration merit badge as a perfect opportunity to bridge the gap between…

View original post 573 more words

City Nature Challenge 2018 is coming soon!

March 1, 2018

CNC18_SecLogo-FULL smallIf you’ve been following along with the citizen science program at the NCMNS, you likely heard a lot about the City Nature Challenge last year.  In 2017, the event was a national event with 16 US cities competing against each other to see who could document the most species on iNaturalist over a 5 day period in April.  While the Triangle Area unfortunately didn’t win, we did take 6th place overall and took home the gold for the eastern US.  We finished with 200 participants, close to 8000 observations, 1335 species, and three local prize winners.  Not bad for a metro area with 1/10th of the population of the top 5 cities!

We’re taking part in this fun citizen science event again this year, and the stakes are even higher!  The competition is going international, so we’re up against over 60 cities this time, some located in the hyperdiverse tropics.  This means we need all hands on deck for this event – we likely need over 20,000 observations to win!

Eastern worm snake

Eastern Worm Snake, photo by iNaturalist user @caroline322

How can YOU help?  It’s easy!  Take photos of any living creature you see (avoid pets and people please!) in the Triangle Area from April 27-30, and submit them to iNaturalist via their smartphone app or their website.  That’s it!  Any photo taken with the Triangle Area during the event will automatically contribute toward our totals, so no need to specify the project for this one.  Note also that the “Triangle Area” for this event is quite large and includes Henderson in the North, Fayetteville in the South, Rocky Mount in the east, and ends just shy or Burlington in the west.  Not in the Triangle Area?  Cabarrus County is also participating in the City Nature Challenge and has a lot of fun activities in the works!  They’re competing against us, yes, but don’t we all win if one of the North Carolina teams wins?

Ruffle lichen

Ruffle lichen, photo by iNaturalist user @coatlicue

You can participate in the City Nature Challenge in the Triangle Area solo by visiting any outdoor area during the event, but we’re also planning group walks and other activities to help get you involved.  We’re working on scheduling biodiversity talks and a few downtown nature walks at the NCMNS on Friday, April 27.  Visit our City Nature Challenge table at the SciTech Expo on Saturday, April 28 or take a walk with a naturalist at Prairie Ridge Ecostation.  Sunday, April 29, we’ll have outdoor activities at Prairie Ridge where you can get to know the local wildlife a little better as you participate.  Other non-Museum outdoor sites are planning CNC activities in the Triangle Area as well.  We’ll list them all as they’re finalized on the Museum’s event listing and on the City Nature Challenge Triangle Area project on iNaturalist.

So, get those camera lenses cleaned and your batteries charged.  The City Nature Challenge 2018 Triangle Area will be here before you know it!

Citizen Science in 2017: A Year in Review

January 31, 2018

2017 was a great year for citizen science at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences! Check out some of the accomplishments we made over the past year.

Armpit and Earwax Microbes

We have already processed samples from more than 76 people. Thank you to those who have participated so far! We plan to hold more sampling events in 2018 and we are particularly looking for participants with dry (white, flaky) earwax. These people have two copies of the dry variant of the ABCC11 gene, and we’re excited to see how having this genotype changes the kinds of organisms that live on your skin.

fox camera trap imageCandid Critters

With the help of our amazing volunteers collecting and uploading data, we have been able to survey close to 1,500 locations around the state, resulting in over 600,000 photos from 84 counties! White-tailed Deer and Eastern Grey Squirrels are still the two most commonly detected species, adding up to 58% of all animal detections.


Cheese Alive!

We have processed more than 20 different kinds of cheese and we are currently collecting many more to process in early 2018. This project is looking at the microbes that give cheeses their distinctive flavors and how your ancestry may play a role in which cheeses you particularly love.


CitSciScribe participants completed 4 projects, or about 20,000 transcriptions, in 2017. Wow! Thanks so much to our returning users, and to our 100 new users in 2017 as well. We also participated in WeDigBio, an international data transcription event, again in 2017 by taking CitSciScribe on the road. We look forward to participating in WeDigBio again in 2018 and to all the new users we’ll recruit this year!

Dragonfly Detectives

Dragonfly Detectives was offered at 17 sites across North Carolina in 2017 and got close to 300 kids involved in dragonfly citizen science. Several participants presented the posters highlighting their results at BugFest 2017. They enjoyed being dragonfly experts during the year of the dragonfly at BugFest!

Dragonfly Swarm Project

The Dragonfly Swarm Project gathered information on close to 500 swarms from 20 countries in 2017. While swarms reported in the US and Canada still dominate the reports coming in (not surprising since the website it in English), it’s always exciting to add new countries to the list. These international reports are further evidence that dragonflies swarm all over the world, not just in places that have annual dragonfly migrations.

Natural North Carolina

Natural North Carolina had a great year! Over 14,000 observations were added to the project, helping us get closer to our goal of documenting all the plants, animals, and fungi in North Carolina. We also gained 126 new participants in 2017! Over 7000 of the observations made last year were made during the City Nature Challenge, a national competition to see which city could document the most species over a 5 day period in April. Raleigh came in 6th place behind the cities in Texas and California. We’re looking forward to participating in the newly international City Nature Challenge in 2018, so look for more information about the event coming soon.

Variation in house sparrow eggsSparrow Swap

Forty bluebird nestbox monitors across 15 states participated in Sparrow Swap in 2017. Together they removed and swapped over 750 House Sparrow eggs to study House Sparrow management strategies and the use of House Sparrow eggs as indicators of environmental contaminants.

Coming Up in 2018

2017 was a great year, but 2018 is looking great so far! Check out some things we have coming up this year:

The Genomics Research Lab, in collaboration with Rob Dunn’s lab at NCSU, will be studying the microbes in fermented foods in 2018. More info coming soon!

CitSciScribe is getting a facelift! We’re adding new document formats this year, including handwritten materials for the first time. Look for a dragonfly project soon. We’re planning to participate in WeDigBio again in October 2018 as well, so be on the lookout for more information about that event in the summer or early fall.

The City Nature Challenge is taking place April 27-30, 2018. Join us as we show the rest of the WORLD how amazing North Carolina’s citizen scientists are! We’re planning to have talks at the Museum, a table at the SciTech Expo, scheduled walks with naturalists, and are partnering with other organizations and sites to bring you even more great things during this event. The schedule hasn’t been finalized yet, but we’ll post details on the Musem’s City Nature Challenge listing on the event calendar so you can follow along as we add new activities.

And finally, we’re launching a new project soon, Sound Around Town! This project will have you recording sounds you encounter in your everyday life. We’ll keep you posted so you’ll know when the project is open to your participation!

Thank you to everyone who participated in NCMNS citizen science projects in 2017. We hope to see you again in 2018 as we share another great year of citizen science!

Shake Your Winter Blues Away with Citizen Science!

December 30, 2017

Special thanks to Julie Hall for contributing this post!  Julie is a citizen science educator based at Prairie Ridge Ecostation and coordinates the Dragonfly Detectives citizen science education program.  Thanks Julie!

birder with spotting scopeDo you ever feel a little blue in winter due to diminishing sunlight and your favorite plants and animals lying dormant or hibernating for the season? I do, but there is hope! Spending time in nature is scientifically proven to help with the blues, and many citizen science projects will get you outside. As a bonus, you’ll be collecting data for scientific research that will help shape the Earth’s future. Read on to learn about citizen science projects you can participate in at Prairie Ridge or your own backyard TODAY, no science degree required!

eBird has volunteers record the presence or absence of bird species and bird abundance by submitting a checklist of birds observed over a period of time. You can stay in one spot or hike a few miles to do this, the choice is yours. My favorite bird watching spots at Prairie Ridge are the balcony of the Outdoor Classroom and the bird blind at the pond. You just never know what you might see!*

iNaturalist participantiNaturalist enables you to help document the biodiversity of life by recording any living thing you see by taking a photograph and submitting it. The photo can be accompanied by an identification, or you can get help from other iNaturalist users to identify what is in your photo. This project is a great way to learn new species!*  Contribute to the Museum’s biodiversity project by sharing your observations with the Natural North Carolina project within iNaturalist and help us document all the plants, animals, and fungi in our state!

Natures Notebook participantsNature’s Notebook takes volunteers outside to regularly record observations of plants and animals to generate long-term data sets used for scientific discovery and decision-making. At Prairie Ridge, volunteers to make weekly observations of the changing patterns of individual trees on the property along the “Prairie Ridge Tree Trail.”

Information gathered from these projects builds the foundation for a better understanding of plant and animal distribution across our planet Earth. As citizen scientists, we are generating long-term data sets used for scientific discovery and decision-making. We are helping to “Save the Earth” and, by getting outside to do it, our own health benefits!

If these projects don’t appeal to you, don’t worry! Over 2,000 citizen science projects currently exist – simply pick one, read the protocols, and get started. To find out about more citizen science projects specific to location and/or topic, check out SciStarter online. Get out there and be a hero, become a citizen scientist today!

Interested in becoming a citizen scientist at Prairie Ridge? Join us on Saturdays from 10:30-11:30am for Citizen Science Saturday!  You’ll learn how to do a citizen science project while taking a leisurely walk during this drop-in weekly program.  Meet us by the entrance kiosk on any upcoming Saturday if you’d like to attend!

Monitoring Environmental Change with Picture Posts

December 5, 2017

The Museum first opened Prairie Ridge Ecostation on the west side of Raleigh in 2004. The grounds used to be a part of an NCSU cattle pasture, so the site was nothing like what you see today when the Museum took it over!  Over several years, the prairie was planted, the Outdoor Classroom was installed, the Nature Neighborhood Garden was planted, the pond was created, and a variety of other features were added to make the grounds what they are today.  Prairie Ridge is now a haven for wildlife in Raleigh and attracts things that might not make much use of the area otherwise, such as Bobcats, Painted Buntings, and River Otters.

It’s fun to look back on the development of Prairie Ridge over time and see how much the facility has changed. Happily, we’ve been involved in a citizen science project since 2007 that allows us to do just that!  Picture Posts is a project that monitors environmental change in an area.  The project asks people to place posts topped with a octagonal guide on their grounds, then use the guide to photograph the site in a standardized way.  A Picture Post submission consists of 9 photos, one taken on each side of the octagon (in landscape format, zoomed all the way out), starting on the side facing north, and one photograph taken by laying the camera on top of the post and photographing upwards.  These 9 photos give you a good idea of the area over 365 degrees as well as the canopy cover at the site of each post.  By taking photos of the same area in the same way over and over, you can get a really great idea of what a site looks like and how it changes over time.

Prairie Ridge has four Picture Posts, one on the Forest Trail, one on the deck of the Outdoor Classroom (currently out of commission due to recent repairs), one in the Jesse Perry Arboretum, and one in the prairie. By including four very different habitats in our Picture Post submissions, we’re able to track the changes that have occurred as new features are built, attendance patterns change, and management is applied.  Volunteers collect the data about once a week (with some gaps here and there as staff and volunteer changes have occurred), so we have a really excellent series of photos illustrating Prairie Ridge as it’s grown since the posts were installed.

So just how HAS Prairie Ridge changed since 2007? Let’s take a look at some photos!

The Nature Neighborhood Garden was quite new in 2007, Prairie Ridge had no solar panels or wind turbine yet, and the area around the garden was treeless. Today, we generate our own power and the garden is a thriving demonstration of how you can plant native plants and have a gorgeous garden that also attracts wildlife:View from the classroom picture post

The forest has matured! In 2008, when the photo on the left was taken, the trees were a lot closer to the post than they are now:

Forest picture post, looking upward

It’s amazing the trees have grown so quickly near the post! Other areas of the Forest Trail were more mature when this post was installed, but this area is clearly one of rapid growth.

The Arboretum was newly installed in 2008, and many trees have been added to the area since. It’s a site of very obvious change between then and now:

Arboretum picture post view

The trees that were present initially have grown significantly, many more trees have been added to the Arboretum, and the whole area is a lot greener than it used to be.

The prairie also shows a lot of maturation between 2008, when the photo on the left was taken, and 2016, when the photo on the right was taken:

prairie picture post view

The prairie started off slowly and needed a lot of help in the first several years to get it going. Now, it’s a thriving community of grasses and wildflowers that supports a wide variety of wildlife!  Prairie Ridge has a growing list of species that make use of the grounds as the prairie, the Arboretum, and the forest continue to mature and change.

Though we haven’t used our Picture Post data ourselves to answer any research questions yet, these data are useful to a variety of researchers who are studying landscape changes, management, phenology, greenness indices, and other topics. We hope to correlate our data with the increase in bird species spotted on the grounds and how the management of the prairie (mowing and burning) influence our mammal populations.  In the meantime, we’ll keep collecting and uploading our Picture Post data and look forward to the interesting questions these data will help us answer soon!