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Family Nature Exploration Program Yields “Unusual Find”!

By Robin M. Lee,  MA, Education Coordinator, Schrader Center — Nature Wonder Programs offered through the Schrader Environmental Education Center (SEEC) are designed to foster an interest and knowledge of the regional environment while strengthening the relationships of family members to nature. This summer,  a weekly family hike for the littlest naturalists and their families is being held every Wednesday at 12:30pm. Each week local families and visitors of Oglebay Park take advantage of this opportunity to explore a habitat in the Park with a backpack and staff member of the Schrader Center.

Last week’s group hiked down to the stream and found an unusual creature hunkered down in the muddy creek bank. Identified by its dome shaped carapace (top part of the shell) by two brothers visiting from out-of-state, it was a large box turtle (terrapene) or box tortoise,  land living “turtle”.  Not uncommon in the woodlands of the Eastern United States (and parts of Mexico), the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) can live to be over 50 years old!

What made our box “tortoise” so special was the large size and its location, as it was submerged completely in the mud, no head or feet to be seen, only it’s easily identifiable carapace visible.  Great care was given to dig out the turtle for closer observation as its head and tail were completely under the mud.  Finding which end was the head of the box turtle was important to prevent a possible pinch. Box turtles have a hinge in their plastron (bottom part of their shell) that can close and pinch, like a door, to protect it from natural predators (mammals like minksskunksraccoons, dogs and rodents, and also birds like crows and some snakes which are known to kill box turtles.

Once the turtle’s head was exposed, one of the young nature explorers, 6-year-old Oliver, a visitor to the Park, said, “It’s a boy turtle”! When asked why he thought it was a boy, he stated that the turtle has a red eye color, which he had learned at a nature day camp in his home state.  Oliver was correct, as eye color is one of the indicators of a box turtle’s gender.  When asked if anyone knew how old the turtle might be, everyone gathered around to learn to count its scutes  (scales) on its carapace (top).  We used a magnifying glass and counted 30 or more rings in one scute. While this method is a good indicator for an estimate of age, it is not always accurate to the exact year.

After observing, and naming, our 30-year-old plus turtle “Boxy”, we released him pointing him toward the woods. Box turtles are one of the most “neglected” species of reptiles in the United States.  While seemingly easy to maintain in the warmer months after finding one, box turtle’s nutritional requirements for storing fat to get through hibernation can be very tricky….and if awakened after they hibernate, they can starve to death.  Many box turtles die annually by unintentional neglect in captivity.  You cannot “fake out” a box turtle. They already know daylight is getting shorter and the nights are getting cooler and should be looking for their perfect winter home within the next month. So, a true naturalist, one who explores, observes, records and respects nature, lives by this rule of thumb: “When it doubt, let it out!”

Get your little naturalist out and join us for the LAST HIKE OF THE SEASON this Wednesday, August 22 at 12:30pm at the Schrader Center! Call us at 304-242-6855 for more information.

Monarch Metamorphosis

Here at the Schrader Center we get to see a lot of cycles.  The weather cycles of winter, spring, summer and fall bring with them ever-changing environmental events.  We celebrate the signs of spring with our Maple Sugaring event, seize summer with our collection of camps, say aloha to autumn with our annual R.E.A.P. program, and withstand the winter with pre-school day programming and free Saturday Scavenger Hunts.  Currently we are capturing an up-close view of one particular process – the life cycle of a monarch butterfly.

The evolution of a monarch butterfly takes about 30 days in its entirety.  The four-part process starts with an egg, and the relationship between monarchs and milkweed begins.  Depending on the temperature, it can take the egg 3 to 5 days to hatch into the second stage of the monarch’s cycle:  the caterpillar.  Monarch caterpillars constantly consume food (the milkweed plant) and produce frass (caterpillar solid waste) until they shed their exoskeleton, also called their cuticle, four times.  This shedding is once again individual to environment, and this pre-pupation can take 14-18 days.

The third part of the process is the pupa stage.  Also known as “the hanging J,” the caterpillar will spin a silk button to suspend itself,  fastened upside down.  The chrysalis will form and become firm and this “jade green jewel” dangles for about 10 days before a butterfly begins to break through.   The fourth and final factor then forms.

The butterfly emerges but its wings will not expand.  It must push hemolymph, butterfly blood, into its body for another hour or two before the wings will work.  The butterfly will then depart from its former dwelling and fly away.  You can see this entire process at the Schrader Environmental Education Center, as well as view our Monarch Rabble Butterfly Display and Memorial, and explore on your own in our butterfly garden. – By Sara Fincham, Schrader Center Customer Service Representative

Family Nature Camp Offers Something for Everyone

Bring your family and join in the fun with the opportunity to camp together at Oglebay Institute’s Mountain Nature Camp on the weekend of Aug. 24-26, 2012.  As a mother and nature educator, I am looking forward to this opportunity to join other families at OI’s Mountain Nature Camp near Terra Alta, Preston County, WV for a weekend of camping and outdoor play.

Schrader Environmental Education Center naturalist, Greg Park, will be on hand as well as nature educators and other families for a weekend of outdoor fun in a comfortable, safe environment. The Family Camp weekend will offer programming suitable for beginner outdoors people and seasoned naturalists alike.

Facilities include a bathhouse and a small lodge with a dining room and lounge. Campers arrive Friday evening for check-in, set-up, dinner and campfire. Saturday will include a wide range of activities for beginners and experienced outdoors people including nature instruction, hiking, fishing, canoeing, camping gear demonstration, outdoor creative play and campfire. One additional activity will be provided Sunday morning before check-out. Each family will leave with a small gift to help them play outside!

Cost is $75 for each parent with a child and $25 for each additional child. Oglebay Institute members pay $65 for parent with a child and $20 each additional child. Call the Schrader Center at  304-242-6855 to register.

This camp rounds out the host of the Schrader Environmental Center’s camping and nature education programs including Nature Day Camp (https://sites.google.com/site/seecndc/), Junior Nature Camp (www.juniornaturecamp.org ) and Mountain Nature Camp (www.mountainnaturecamp.org ).

Natasha Diamond has a B.S. in Wildlife Resources and a Master’s in Public Administration. Her love for wildlife, the outdoors and for helping children and families experience them, has led her to her most recent projects; program director for Oglebay Institute’s Junior Nature Camp and Mudpie Magic, an outdoor play and learning group for children and families in the Morgantown area. She also serves as full-time adventure guide for her two children, ages 6 and 3. www.wildplacesopenspaces.wordpress.com

From Egg to Butterfly

ImageAbout five weeks ago, I was gifted a potted Tropical Milkweed plant (Asclepias curassavica). Upon inspecting the plant I noticed a tiny Monarch egg. Monarch eggs hatch in approximately 4-5 days and are about the size of a pin-head. Once hatched, the tiny caterpillar, no bigger then 1/16th of an inch, set to devouring the milkweed leaves. Monarch caterpillars eat exclusively milkweed plants because they contain cardiac glycosides. These toxins do not hurt the caterpillar, but cause it to have a bitter taste. The bitter taste lasts the entire life of the Monarch and helps it to avoid predation.

Within two weeks, my caterpillar had grown to 2 inches long and was ready to form his chrysalis. To grow that quickly, caterpillars have to shed their skin up to five times before they can pupate, or become a butterfly. When caterpillars are ready to pupate, they find a solid surface from which they can hang upside-down. The caterpillars then produce a silk button, anchoring them to the surface. It takes about 24 hours of hanging in this “J” shape before the skin of the caterpillar splits open and the chrysalis emerges. The chrysalis hardens after an hour or two and turns a light green color with dots of gold. My Monarch was a chrysalis for roughly 10 days. On the tenth day, the chrysalis began to darken. After several hours of darkening, I was able to see the folded wings of the butterfly inside. Finally, the chrysalis cracked open and the Monarch was able to crawl out and begin drying his wings. Monarchs take a couple of hours to fully unfurl and dry their wings and when mine was ready, I watched him fly away. This particular Monarch was a male. One can tell a male from a female Monarch by the spots on a male’s hind wings.Image

My butterfly has quite a trip ahead of him! Monarchs migrate each year to Mexico for the months of November through February. Starting in March, they begin migrating north and breeding along the way. Each generation of Monarchs travel a bit farther north, with each season yielding roughly four generations. So the butterflies that migrate south this fall are actually the great-great grandchildren of the ones that migrated here in the spring. Keep an eye out in your own yard for Monarchs as they pass through on the way to sunny Mexico. –By Erica McGrath, Schrader Center

A.B. Brooks Nature Follower and Friend Visits Schrader Center

We had a wonderful visitor today that tied present-day to our past.  Mr. Edwin R. “Ted” Spears of Wheeling came in to visit the Schrader Center and reminisce about the walks that he participated in with Mr. A.B. Brooks.  Alonzo Beecher Brooks was Oglebay Institute’s original naturalist from 1927 – 1944, and he started many traditions that we sustain today.  The current Astronomy program and Mountain Nature Camp were born from the foresight and efforts of Mr. Brooks, as well as the nature walks that Mr. Spears proudly participated in during the mid-1900’s.

Mr. Brooks had such a big following for his nature walks that the A.B. Brooks Nature Center was built in 1954 to provide shelter to nature program participants. That building stood for nearly 50 years before the Schrader Environmental Education Center was built in 2000. The Schrader Center pays tribute to Mr. Brooks by continuing his commitments through a Thursday evening volunteer-administered Astronomy program at 9:00pm and morning Guided Nature Walks every Tuesday at 10:00am. The Brooks Bird Club was named in recognition of Mr. Brooks, as well as Oglebay’s A.B. Brooks Discovery trails—the same trails that Mr. Brooks used during his notable time as naturalist.

Mr. Spears also knew Henry Stifel Schrader, a founding member of Oglebay Institute who presided over the dedication of the A.B. Brooks Nature Center.  As a tribute to Mr. Schrader’s commitment to both the company and the community, the Schrader Environmental Education Center is named in his honor.  The Schrader Center recognizes both remarkable men and the legacy they left.  Mr. Spears, 92, was accompanied by Mary-Bess Halford, librarian at Bethany College for 16 years. For more information about our Tuesday morning Nature Walks and Astronomy program, please call the Schrader Center at 304-242-6855.  – By Sara Fincham, Schrader Center Customer Service Representative.

Campfires, Astronomy & Moths at the Schrader Center!

By Jake Francis, Director of Environmental Education – For those of you that were unaware, last week was National Moth Week.  National Moth Week was a nation-wide push for hobbyists and scientists to survey moths anywhere, from porch lights to national forests.  Though the Schrader Center’s moth night was rained out last Thursday night (and has been rescheduled for this Thursday), we have been able to do a several very fun and informative moth nights at Camp Giscowheco as part of our Junior Nature Camp program!  Yesterday evening we were treated to a couple colorful moths at Giscowheco including the Ailanthus webworm and the Grape leaffolder, and some other interesting species such as a possible Walnut sphinx moth and an unidentified underwing moth.

Interestingly, the Ailanthus webworm is primarily diurnal (active during the day), when it feeds on nectar with its straw shaped proboscis.  This morning, Miss Robin’s  Budding Naturalists found 15-20 Ailanthus webworms feeding in the butterfly garden on a mint plant (pictured).  We will be posting pictures from our upcoming events here so keep your eye on this blog, or better yet come out this Thursday to the Schrader Center for campfire, astronomy and moths at 8pm! Call us at 304-242-6855 for more information.