Junior Naturalist Adventure begins this month

Junior Naturalist Adventure begins this month

Who’s ready for our Junior Naturalist Adventure? This exciting new activity will launch at the Museum on Saturday, August 27th, during Science Saturday. As Education Programs Manager, I am always looking for ways to increase the interactivity of our exhibits and create fun, hands-on experiences for our guests. When we think of natural history museums, ‘interactive’ and ‘hands-on’ are not always the first words that come to mind. So, how can we fix that?

Education Assistant Martin Morones talks about the Museum’s role in education

Martin Morones speak with a group of school children in the Heritage Gallery.

Martin Morones speak with a group of school children in the Heritage Gallery.

I work as the Education Assistant for the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. What does that mean? Well, I get to work on some amazing projects that take me both outside and indoors. I started working for the Museum in September of 2015 to work on the Eco Ambassadors: Fifth Grade Pollinator Gardens project. With Todd Weston, the Museum’s Education Specialist, we taught over 700 5th Graders from 11 elementary schools in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District (MPUSD) about native plants, pollinators, and about the need to create native habitats for them. Part of this program was for students to build native plant gardens on their campus; and it was enjoyable to watch them take ownership of it. 
In January 2016 I started to help Todd with our Watershed Explores program in partnership with the Monterey Peninsula Regional Parks District (MPRPD). We visited K-5 classrooms from Marina to Carmel and taught about watersheds and how our local watershed provides water to the Monterey Peninsula. After our classroom visits, the class took a field trip to Garland Ranch Regional Park. We hiked around the valley floor and down to the river. During the trip, we looked for different examples of life and thought about how organisms interacted with the watershed. At the river, students caught and observed macroinvertebrates, such as Mayflies and Damselflies. The students loved using a sampling net to catch the animals and they got ecstatic if one of them caught a trout fry or tadpole. 
During breaks from our programs with MPUSD and MPRPD I have been fortunate enough to work with school groups in the Museum and was able to share a piece of everything we have to offer. I did talks about monarchs, birds and about predators and preys. I also led the school groups on scavenger hunts through the Museum. 
This spring I have been busy planning and producing the activities for the Museum’s Summer Camp. We will have eight, one-week long camps with different topics each week. The camps range in age from 4 to 12-years-old and range in topics from Art and Nature to Physics and Chemistry. This year we also have a week dedicated solely to girls and science! It should be a fun summer. 
I have enjoyed working with the Museum so far and I am excited to see where the future here takes me.

 

Monarchs at the Museum

Monarchs at the Museum

The primary focus of our monarch gallery is, of course, on western monarch butterflies, but the exhibition also showcases other local butterflies. While researching them, I became entranced by the diversity between different species’ eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalises. 

Top 12 exhibit items - ranked by Museum staff

Our staff took a few moments to reflect on their favorite exhibit items and here's what they had to say:

  1. Beverly Bruno - My favorite exhibit at the Museum is the Native Plant Garden, specifically our huge buckeye tree. It is a wonderful space for events and I love utilizing it when I can.
     
  2. Emily Gottlieb - I love the new geology cases. The models of the radiolarians are my favorite things in the museum right now. Rads are so tiny, but they can tell us so much information about the Earth's past, plus they’re beautiful!
     
  3. Annie Holdren - My favorites are the glass models of butterfly life cycle stages - eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalises - displayed in the Monarch Gallery. In fact, I like them so much I'm planning a blog about them.
     
  4. Jeanette Kihs - I love our refurbished insect and butterflies display and how close visitors can get to the specimens. Where else can you do that? The display was refreshed almost entirely by a volunteer, and when I pass it by, I'm reminded of the dedication of our volunteer corps. We have awesome volunteers.
     
  5. Stacey Limone - I call my favorite Museum exhibit “The Bobcat, Fox & Bunny Exhibit” - because they seem to be arranged with personality as a group of friends, similar to how I would set up my collection of stuffed animals across my bed when I was a kid. At the same time, they seem in their own worlds. The bunny is washing its face, the bobcat is chasing a butterfly, etc. Also, every time I close the Museum and shut off the lights, they are the last creatures I see when I walk down the stairs. This reminds me of “The Waltons” TV show. At the end of every episode the siblings called good night to each other in the dark. I sometimes say, "Good night Mary Ellen, Good night Jim-Bob!" It makes me happy.
     
  6. Martin Morones - My favorite exhibit is of the bobcats batting down the moth. Even though they are wild, they have similar characteristics of our domesticated cats at home.
     
  7. Deanna Sinsel - My favorite is the sand vial case. I love the idea that someone took the time to collect the sand, store them, and catalog them. I love the penmanship on the vials. It’s becoming a lost art.
     
  8. Paul Van de Carr - My favorite exhibit item would have to be "Leucothea," the jade sculpture by Don Wobber. It's incredibly beautiful, and I love how visitors are drawn to it and can't resist touching it.
     
  9. Mary Martha Waltz - I love the exhibit case with the bobcat, foxes, and rabbits. I see at least one of them each day while walking in Carmel Valley.  I never get that close to them, so I love seeing their coloring, shape, and markings in the Museum.
     
  10. Ann Wasser - The bird collection. People are blown away that there are that many birds in Monterey County.
     
  11. Todd Weston - My favorite display right now is the gynandromorphic (half male and half female) monarch butterfly. I think it's a great example of how amazing and interesting nature can be.
     
  12. Patrick Whitehurst - As a fan of old mad scientist movies from the 1940s and 1950s, the whale eyeball in the jar of denatured alcohol is one of my favorite items. It’s a little creepy, but fascinating at the same time.

Orchids in Del Monte Forest

Orchids in Del Monte Forest

Walk the trails of Del Monte Forest this summer, and you may find a wild orchid in bloom under the Monterey pines. The one you’re most likely to see is Yadon’s rein-orchid (Piperia yadonii). It’s named after Vern Yadon, a botanist, Director Emeritus of the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, and also member of the Forest Open Space Advisory Committee.

Shell collection arrives at Museum

Shell collection arrives at Museum

In October, shells of every shape and color, size and distinction, hailing from all over the world, arrived at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. The collection, part of a large donation from Richard Anderson, constitute years of diligent work on the part of the Anderson family. The collection (called The Fern Georgia Anderson Shell Collection) is so large, in fact, that it took a moving truck to get them all to the Museum. 

Confessions of a LiMPETS intern

Confessions of a LiMPETS intern

I am the LiMPETS intern based at The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. For those of you that don’t know, LiMPETS (Long-term Monitoring Program and Experiential Training for Students) is a unique program that combines citizen science and environmental education for students and community members in California’s National Marine Sanctuaries. In 2011, the Museum began coordinating LiMPETS for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  

Objects with Stories: One Brown Pelican

Objects with Stories: One Brown Pelican

Today’s object with a story is a pelican. To be more precise, it’s the taxidermy mount of a California brown pelican. At what point in its life and after-life did it become an object? While touching lightly on that philosophical question, I’ve undertaken a search for the identity of this particular pelican—and through it find threads leading to the story of its species.

Nature Notes: Sooty Shearwater

Nature Notes: Sooty Shearwater

Have you ever wondered what inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds? The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that thousands of crazed sooty shearwaters were regurgitating anchovies, flying into buildings and dying in the streets in August 1961. This event, along with a short story written by Daphne du Maurier, inspired the thrilling movie. Scientists examined the stomach contents of sea turtles and shorebirds from samples that were saved at Scripps Institute of Oceanography and almost 80 percent of the plankton the animals were eating were diatoms that produced domoic acid. This toxin causes confusion, disorientation, scratching, and even death. 

A Tree and a Chair

A Tree and a Chair

In 1602, Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino discovered and named a number of features along the California coast. He and the members of his fleet were probably the first Europeans to see these sites. They camped under a prominent oak tree near what is now Monterey's Lighthouse Avenue tunnel, adjacent to the present-day Lower Presidio Historic Park. Fast forward 167 years, to 1769, and another Spaniard, Garpar de Portola, sailed up the coast. One of his traveling companions was Father Juan Crespi, for whom Pacific Grove's Crespi Pond is named. The following year, Portola returned, this time with Father Junipero Serra. (Serra is scheduled to be canonized by Pope Francis on September 23rd, 2015.) 

LiMPETS data can assist in disasters

LiMPETS data can assist in disasters

More than a week has passed since the southern California oil spill that dumped more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil into the Santa Barbara Channel. In that time we have seen an unprecedented response by our state, federal and non- profit agencies to not only clean up the oil, but to address animal welfare. According to a May 27th report from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife 16 boats are at work performing cleanup operations.

From My Perch at the Welcome Desk

From My Perch at the Welcome Desk

The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is in its 131st year. Just under one year ago, I joined our guest services team upon earning my degree in visual and public arts from California State University, Monterey Bay. From my perch at the point of welcome to the public, my inner anthropologist has been inspired through directly experiencing our museum’s role in the community.

The LiMPETS Experience

The LiMPETS Experience

How does a sea anemone eat? What time of year are the most pacific mole crabs found on the beach? How do you tell the difference between flattened and slender rockweed? These are not questions from last night’s Jeopardy episode or this year’s AP biology test. These are questions that real students ask while they collect real data in the field as part of the LiMPETS (Long-term Monitoring Program and Experiential Training for Students).

Douglas Iris: Nature Notes from the P.G. Museum of Natural History

White and purple Douglas iris in the Museum’s native plant garden (photo by Annie Holdren)

White and purple Douglas iris in the Museum’s native plant garden (photo by Annie Holdren)

In the early 1830s, somewhere near Monterey, David Douglas collected the first botanical specimens of what’s now known as the Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana). This species is the most extensive of all California irises, ranging in a narrow coastal band from Santa Barbara County through central Oregon.
The Douglas iris blooms in colors ranging from pale cream to deep purple, marked with yellow and white blazes. The flowers’ color range is caused by genetic mixing (hybridization) with other iris species. Some iris hybrids have resulted from crossing naturally in the wild; many others have been hybridized in the nursery trade. 
Of course, genetic mixing occurs through the plants’ sexual reproduction. But when you see a large clump of iris, that patch probably reproduced asexually through runners (rhizomes). It’s a clone, and may be hundreds of years old.
An unusual white Douglas iris grows in the native plant garden of the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. According to Vern Yadon, Director Emeritus of the Museum, he collected the plant decades ago from the Del Monte Forest. A resident showed him a white iris patch growing near the end of Congress Road in a place now covered by paving. Yadon identifies this white iris as a kind of albino (known as “albiflora”), resulting from the expression of a recessive gene. Have you seen any white Douglas iris growing wild in the Del Monte Forest? The Museum would like to make note. 
If you are interested in seeing the myriad colors that all wildflowers present, don’t miss the 54th annual Wildflower Show (held April 17-19 at the Museum).

 

How do you count monarch butterflies?

       Every year thousands of butterflies spend their winters on the California Central Coast. The monarchs have just begun to arrive in Pacific Grove, and our first count of the season was conducted earlier this week. There are currently 200 monarch butterflies in the Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary. More and more monarchs will continue to arrive each day until the population peaks around Thanksgiving. Last year our count at the peak of the population was over 13,000 monarchs.  One question both staff and volunteers are often asked is, How do you count them all? It seems like an almost impossible task, however, hundreds of people throughout California, spend time counting these butterflies at their different wintering sites every year.

      If we were to capture and count every single monarch butterfly, it would take all day, and we would be disturbing the butterflies and their habitat. Instead, we use estimation. To count the monarchs, we follow the counting protocols that were not only taught to our organization, but to anyone who wishes to help count the monarchs at any of the wintering sites from San Francisco to San Diego. The Xerces Society, an organization that promotes the protection and conservation of invertebrates, and California Polytechnic State University’s Monarch Alert program are two organizations that help train California volunteers.

        So, how do we count? We look at the monarchs in small clusters. A cluster is a group of 3 or more monarchs that are close together. A cluster can be large, and it can be difficult to see the individual butterflies within a cluster without the help of binoculars or a scope. Clusters can range in size from 30, to a few hundred or even a thousand monarchs. We do not count every monarch in a cluster, as this would take too much time and lead to fatigue of the counter. Instead, we count a small section of that cluster and use it to estimate how many total monarchs are in a particular cluster.

Monarch Cluster

      For example, if we were to count the cluster pictured above, here’s how we would go about it. It’s rather large, so we would count an area of 10 monarchs – which we’ve gone ahead and highlighted in red below.

Monarch cluster count of 10

           After we’ve counted 10 individual monarchs, we look at how big of an area 10 monarchs takes up in that cluster.

Monarch Cluster group of 10

         Then we estimate how many times that group of 10 would fit throughout the rest of the cluster.

Monarch Cluster 30 groups of 10

           For this cluster we estimated that our original group of 10 fits in this cluster a total of 30 times, which means we estimate there to be 300 monarchs in this particular cluster. Wow. That’s a lot of monarchs in one small area. We would then go and count the rest of the clusters found in the Sanctuary.

            The largest cluster we had to count at the Sanctuary last year was one that took up an entire branch of a pine tree and have over 4,000 monarch butterflies.

            As you can imagine, it still takes a while to count the monarchs this way. When you stop by the Sanctuary later in the seaon, you’ll see there are lots of monarch clusters to count. Also, if you’ve been there on a warm afternoon, you’ve seen the monarchs flying around everywhere. There’s no way we can count the monarchs if they’re flying around, so counters have to get up early, and arrive at the Sanctuary at sunrise, when the monarchs are still too cold to move. If the counters aren’t properly equipped with enough coffee, sometimes they can be just as immobile as the monarchs they're there to observe.

        It’s a lot of work, but it’s really rewarding to get to spend the early morning hours with the monarchs.