Monday, January 24, 2011

Leadership Institute for Nature, Kids, and Stewardship

Are you a high school student in Billings? Interested in nature, kids, and land stewardship? Then apply for LINKS, the Leadership Institute for Nature, Kids, and Stewardship at the Audubon Center. Click HERE for more information.

Awesome Arachnids

Over sixty people participated in a fantastic Weekend Wonders Family Program yesterday at the Audubon Center. The program was led by Amy Weidlich who is working on her Master's degree at MSU-B in the Biological Sciences department. She is studying northern scorpion (Paruroctonus boreus) populations on the rims northwest of Billings for her thesis project, and is a an expert on scorpions. Amy brought several scorpions and spiders with her for the families to look at during the program. In the photo below, her son, Josh, is holding their pet tarantula for kids to see up close. At one of the stations, students of all ages drew and labeled the parts of a spider as they learned about spider anatomy.
In the photo below, one of the scorpions (no longer living) is lit up under a microscope for closer identification. Students also had the opportunity to examine several dead spiders with the microscope in order to identify their body parts. In a dark room at the Center, Amy used a black light to show students how the scorpions light up (fluoresce). Scorpions fluoresce because they have a fluorescent protein in their exoskeleton. This is how Amy finds her study species: she hikes the rims with her black light at night until she sees a scorpion's fluorescence. It is not known why they possess this adaptation; more research is certainly needed on this unique creature.

The most exciting moment of the day was when Amy fed crickets to two live scorpions. The crowds watched in awe as the scorpion grabbed the cricket with its pedipalps (front pinchers) and then lifted its tail to inject venom into the cricket. The venom killed the cricket, and then the scorpion had a feast for lunch. Scorpions only need to eat once every two - three weeks. These scorpions hadn't eaten since the New Year so they were very ready for a meal of crickets!

Northern scorpions can sting humans, but it would not hurt much more than a bee sting. As many as 1,500 species of scorpions have been described worldwide, but only about 30 of these are considered dangerous. The bark scorpion, found in the desert Southwest, has venom strong enough to cause severe symptoms in humans.