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Dispelling the Daddy Long Legs Myth

“Daddy Long Legs are one of the most poisonous spiders, but their fangs are too short to bite humans. But if they could, they would be deadly.”

daddylonglegsHave you heard this common myth?  This creature has long held on to this untrue legacy. While the Daddy Long Legs or Harvestman is in the Order of arachnids, having eight legs, so do scorpions, mites and ticks. True spiders have two segments or body parts; the cephalothorax (Greek for head-body) and the abdomen or gut. The abdomen of true spiders also has spinnerets for producing silk for web making.  Daddy Long Legs (of the Order Opiliones) have a fused cephalothorax and abdomen, or a single body part, and do not possess spinnerets. They do not produce silk and webs.  If you see one in a web it has probably fallen victim to a true spider.  Other differences are that Opiliones have no venom glands in their chelicerae (mouth parts), where true spiders have both fangs and venom.

Daddy Long Legs or Harvestman are opportunistic, and may eat other small insects but their primary diet is that of a decomposer, eating dead plants and fungi and sometimes dead animal material. That is why you will find them under dead logs and in other dead forest and garden debris. Since they lack venom glands, fangs or any other mechanism for chemically subduing their food, they do not have poison and, by the powers of logic, cannot be poisonous from venom.

How do Daddy Long Legs defend themselves from their predators? There are two ways besides outrunning them. First, in their limited arsenal of self-defense is the art of distraction.  If a leg is lost (some species may have the ability to throw off their legs) the separated leg will twitch for a few minutes. Some species’ legs have been recorded to twitch for up to an hour. The twitching is an adaptation designed to hold the attention of the predator while the Daddy Long Legs escapes to safety. A final defense found in some types of Daddy Long Legs is their ability to secrete a substance with a strong odor from their abdomen to discourage the predator. This secretion may be poisonous if eaten.  I could not find any studies on how many or much of this substance a mammal would have to consume to be affected.

In summary, you are safe to capture and observe Daddy Long Legs to your heart’s content and should not suffer any negative consequences, as long as you do not eat them!  –By Robin Lee, Education Programming Coordinator

Spring Trip to Terra Alta with OI Naturalists

Spotted Salamander

Spotted Salamander

Oglebay Institute naturalists will be taking a weekend in early spring (between Feb. 16-Mar. 16, 2013–depending on weather) to visit our camp at Terra Alta, WV in search of mole salamanders and wood frogs.

Mole Salamanders, including the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) and the Jefferson salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonium), spend most of their lives underground, thus relatively little is known about their life histories. These are large-lunged salamanders (4.5-7.5 inches), much larger than the Allegheny dusky salamander common in Oglebay Park. If timed right, you can catch them traveling to temporary seasonal ponds (vernal pools) where they lay their eggs. They make this trip on nights the temperature rises above 50 degrees and rain melts the snow. They emerge from the ground and migrate en mass to the vernal pools. They are especially intolerant of changes in forest cover and only bury themselves in mature forests with vernal pools nearby. Luckily, we have two pools like this in close vicinity to OI’s mountain camp.

Wood frogs, on the other hand, are more visible throughout the year, and they are the first frogs to breed. They use the same pools as the mole salamanders, and are a good indicator of mole salamanders about to emerge. To find the two amphibians, one must hike along in the woods until hearing a sound similar to a duck quacking. That “quack” is actually a wood frog in a vernal pool. If you return at night, and are lucky, you may find many mole salamanders and frogs breeding.

Jefferson Salamander

Jefferson Salamander

The public is welcome to participate in this migration. But be warned — participants must be flexible in scheduling and  “hard core” campers and hikers! It is likely to be snowy, rainy and cold, and the camp will not be opened for the season yet. That means no running water, heat or prepared food. The Lodge at the camp will be open for sleeping, but participants will need to haul in their own water and bring their own food (which can be cooked using our propane range). Necessities for the trip include decent rain gear (jacket, pants, boots); multiple layers; a headlamp; a good sleeping bag; and good spirits!

The dates for this trip are EXTREMELY weather dependent. As such, any interested participants can be added to our email list and will be notified of the trip on the Monday before we leave. The trip is free except for organizing your own transportation and food, and is an uncommon adventure for even the most experienced naturalists. To RSVP, contact Jake Francis (jfrancis@oionline.com) or Greg Park at the Schrader Center at 304-242-6855.

Winter Activities for the Whole Family

seec king snakeIf you’re in need of something to do over the long months of winter, look no further!

Trek on up to the Schrader Center to participate in many of our fun, family outdoor and indoor activities over the winter! Not only do we have native snakes, turtles and fish that you can see and touch, we have an interactive video game that features a hike in Oglebay’s forest through the eyes of salamander, and even includes a boss fight with a snake! Or, you can fly over the forest on the wings of dragonfly.marcus2

On the first Saturday of the month from 12-4pm, families can discover more about the natural world by participating in our Scavenger Hunts that are free to all ages. Our children’s playroom is always open and filled with puppets, books, puzzles and games that are nature-focused. For the littlest naturalists, we offer youth programs like Preschool Days and Budding Naturalists every other Friday that teach children to act in a caring and responsible way towards their environment, themselves and others with hands-on educational activities.

ScarvesAnd, for the shoppers in the family the Holiday Art Show & Sale, featuring local artisan’s hand-crafted items in a variety of artistic styles is the best place to find one-of-a-kind holiday gifts.

If you can’t make it to the Schrader Center over the busy holidays, here are some ideas for fun, simple crafts that you can do with kids of all ages. They’re easy to do, require minimal supervision and will help get you and the kids in the holiday spirit. Be creative and remember to utilize recycled items around your house such as old ribbons or ties, twisties from bread bags, pine cones from your yard, old socks or material and metal cans.

Enjoy the winter days!

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.

Lady bug…wait…Butterfly…no, wait…Lightning bug!

To begin our day we worked on saving our newly planted trees by adding blue tubes to the top of their protective coverings to stop deer from eating them. We covered up Red Oaks, American Beeches, and Sugar Maples; we didn’t have to cover up the cherries because the deer leave them alone due to the cyanide that is produced in that family of trees.

During our hike we found a lightning bug, which we were unable to identify. We used www.discoverlife.org to find out it was in the genus Photuris. The Photuris lightning bug was consuming another lightning bug likely of the genus Photinus. Female Photuris lightning bugs are able to mimic the blinking patterns of other female lightning bug species to lure in males and consume their faces (and the rest of their bodies). A quick fact is that you can tell different species of lightning bugs apart by the flashing pattern of their abdomen.

After we identified the lightning bug, we went farther down the trail. Walking down the creek, we discovered a mole… a disoriented mole… a “rolly” mole.  The mole was rolling around in the road and was almost hit by two cars.  Brave and courageous Erica walked into the street and saved the mole by putting it in her shoe and transferring it to a safer location.

Our hike ended with a visit to the waterbot located in Waddel’s Run, you can see the data we collected at www.waterbot.org, select the waterbot labeled 0015.

On our way back to the Schrader Center we discovered that our rolly mole had rolled away. ~Jr Rangers Trail Team

Ohio Queen Snake Topic of BBC Meeting

Queen Snake, courtesy of the Ohio Division of Natural Resources (http://www.dnr.state.oh.us)

The Brooks Bird Club will hold their monthly meeting this Tuesday evening,March 20 at 6:30pm at the Schrader Center in Oglebay Park. The topic of discussion will be A Study of Ohio Queen Snakes with Mark Waters, MS, PhD from Ohio University Eastern.

Join us for good food and good conversation!

Schrader Center: Kid-Friendly Fun

The thing I find the most meaningful about my day-to-day duties at the Schrader Center is when I get to happily be hands-on. I like being able to not only promote our programs, but to get to participate in them. I like to interact with visitors and ensure they get to personally know the Schrader Center. That’s why, last summer, after a family had come to visit the Center and stayed to let their kids cavort, I was stunned to be told, “I had no idea this place was kid-friendly.”

Sure, our building is a green building and nationally recognized for its sustainable architecture, and that’s a perspective we are proud of. Yes, our history is rooted in A.B. Brooks, Oglebay Institute’s original naturalist and the first person to graduate with a forestry degree, whose nature walks were so wonderful that they drew a capacity crowd. Clearly we have a variety of public programs that cater to kids, but that’s certainly not all we offer. Any time someone stops by just to browse or pass the time, or decides to come in just because we’re open, without knowing what we do or who we are, I try to make their visit personal.

Any time a child comes through the door, I want to show them all we have to see. I don’t want them to just look at the turtle in the tank, but to get to hold him, know his name and never forget that he can live in both land and water. I want them to be able feed him a worm and say, “Wow!”, when he eats it, and then laugh because he’s so shy that once it’s in his mouth he turns his head away from the tank to eat all alone. I want them to find the toad that is hibernating and listen to it sing its song. I want them to feel that a snake is not slimy and to feed the birds. I want them to want to come back.

One particular beautiful little boy that I have the privilege of playing with every week is Marcus. He and his family are new to the area; they came from Colorado, and are still touring the town. The Schrader Center is one stop that they have found to be fruitful for them. Every week Marcus comes and calls out for me. He helps me with all the animals – I get to watch him giggle as the toad uses his tongue to catch the worms we find to feed it, see excitement exude from his eyes when we read the books that populate our kiosk, and exercise his imagination when he plays with the puppets.

We can be called a lot of things: Schrader Center, Nature Center, Environmental Education Center. We can be called a green building. A lot of people even get us confused with the zoo! What I think you’ll find at the top of that list, though is that we’re extremely kid-friendly. Come and see for yourself!

By Sara Fincham, Customer Service Representative and special programs facilitator at the Schrader Center