Spider venom!

Last year, we talked about spiders and their benefits to nature. Today, we revisit spiders to talk about a very interesting trait they have – their venom. Almost all 46,000 spider species have venom. Fortunately for us, there are only a very few that can actually harm people. In our area, there are only two types of spiders of concern: the black widow and the brown recluse spider. Black widows are distinctively black and have a red or orange shape on the back of their belly while brown recluses tend to have a violin-like shape on the back of their thorax.

Spiders primarily use their venom to paralyze prey so they can eat it. The venom is injected into the insect through the spider’s fangs. Spider venom usually is one of two types. Certain spiders produce neurotoxins, which attacks the nervous system of the prey. Other spiders produce cytotoxins, which help in turning the prey into liquid form. This makes it easier for the spider to consume it. In many ways, spider venom is not that different from snake venom.

If you would like to watch a spider eat, we invite you to our public feedings on Fridays at 4:30 pm to see our Texas brown tarantula (Aphonopelma hentzi) eat in his exhibit. Usually the venom will not be seen, but you can be assured the spider is using it to eat its food!

Left: Our Chilean rose hair tarantula eating a cricket. A venom drop, in white, can be seen on the right side of the mouth.

World Lizard Day

skink
Green anoles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Lizard Day was celebrated on Aug. 14. Herpetologists, pet owners, and nature enthusiasts commemorate this special day every year by increasing awareness about these amazing scaly animals, learning more about them and showing them appreciation. Here at River Legacy, we join in that celebration by sharing our knowledge of them and inviting you to appreciate them.

There are around 6,000 species of lizards alive in our world. Together with snakes, they form a group of reptiles known as the Squamates. They are cold-blooded, scale-covered animals that have generally four legs, ear holes and eyelids. The latter three characteristics are mainly what distinguishes them from snakes. The largest lizard in the world is the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) found in Asia and the smallest one is the dwarf gecko (Sphaerodactylus ariasae) found in the Caribbean.

In Texas, there are several species of lizards. Here at River Legacy, the most common include several types of skinks (Family Scincidae), the Texas spiny lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus), the green anole (Anolis carolinensis), and the Mediterranean gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus). While the Mediterranean gecko is not a native to the area, the other three are.

The Science Center’s wildlife ambassadors include skinks, green anoles and a bearded dragon. You can also spot anoles, Texas spiny lizards and skinks as they dart across our trails. This is the time of year they are out and about. You can find them on top of decaying logs or basking on a fence, bench, or tree trunk.

 

Beavers at River Legacy!

River Legacy is home to lots of very well-known mammal species such as bobcat, raccoon, squirrel, and armadillo. But, did you know that the North American beaver (Castor canadensis) also lives here? Here are some cool facts about one of River Legacy’s most secretive mammals.

  • Beavers are the second largest members of the rodents, after the South American capybara. They can weigh up to 71 pounds!
  • Beavers have an extra thick layer of fat under their skin. This helps with insulation from very cold water.
  • Beavers are incredible architects! They are able to construct their homes in rivers, streams, and/or lakes using twigs, mud, sticks, chewed-on trees, and other similar materials.
  • Beavers can remain underwater for up to 15 minutes!
  • Beavers can use their tail to slap it on the water to warn other beavers nearby of potential danger, such as predators.

Beavers are largely nocturnal. The best way to find them during the day is during the dawn hours. Walking the trails close to the Trinity River or Snyder Creek during this time could provide you with the wonderful experience of seeing a beaver! We’ve even spotted one in our pond recently at River Legacy Living Science Center!

Learn more about the beaver and other animal architects during our NEW Animal Architects Summer Class in July. Spaces are still available for the class which meets July 9-13 and July 16-20. Sign up online at www.riverlegacy.org or call 817.860.6752, ext. 102 to enroll today!

World Environment Day

Today, June 5th, the world celebrates World Environment Day! Since 1974, on this day, the United Nations has encouraged and promoted awareness and ways we can all help to take care of the environment.

One of our missions at River Legacy is conservation and preservation of the lands around the Trinity River. While not everyone can be involved in taking care of the forest, there are a few steps that you can take at home to be good stewards of the environment, especially on this very special day:

  • When doing laundry, try using your washer and drier only when you have a full load. You can help conserve water this way!
  • When watering your yard, do it in the early morning when it is cooler. If you do it in the middle of the day, the water will evaporate quickly. This is especially true during this hot season.
  • Try taking shorter showers as to conserve more water and replace your shower head with a low flow shower head!
  • Drink out of reusable water bottles versus plastic! Plastic takes thousands of years to decompose.
  • When at the office or school, try printing double-sided as to conserve paper. The less paper we waste, the less trees we are wasting.
  • Disconnect electrical appliances. Having them plugged in only uses up electricity. For example, your TV or computer when you’re not using them.

Starting in the Fall, we will have a new program dubbed Conservation Saturdays. This program will be centered around specific things we can do to help conserve natural resources such as water as well as all aspects of the forest. Stay tuned for more information in the next couple of weeks!

Celebrating Turtles At River Legacy!

This past Wednesday, May 23rd, the world came together to celebrate World Turtle Day. Did you know that turtles, just like snails (make sure you read the last post about snails!), are born with their shells? Contrary to how they are shown in some movies, turtles are not able to get out of their shells. In fact, their ribs are fused into them. In addition to having a really good way of protecting themselves, turtles are also among the oldest living reptiles. There have been records of turtles making it past the age of 100!

River Legacy is home to a wide variety of turtles. The island in the middle of our pond at River Legacy Living Science Center can have tons of turtles basking on a warm Summer day. Usually, red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) can be seen basking together. In addition, three-toed box turtles (Terrapene carolina triunguis) and the similar ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata) may be spotted in wooded areas of our trails. Make sure also to pay a visit inside the Science Center and see the three-toed box turtle in exhibit. If you visit the Discovery Room, you can take a look at more red-eared sliders, a river cooter (Pseudemys concinna), a spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera), and a common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina). These last two could also potentially be seen in the pond and/or creek as well.

Spiny softshell turtle
Red-eared slider

The Spectacular World Of Snails

Snails (Phylum Mollusca, Class Gastropoda) are among the smallest animals at River Legacy. They are often not noticed and, therefore, unappreciated. However, they play a very important role in the environment as decomposers. They feed on dead plants, mushrooms, trees and animals. Some even feed on empty shells from other snails, tree sap and animal feces. While that may sound gross, it is very important that those things are consumed so that those wastes do not accumulate and start damaging the ecosystem.

Snails also help out with the calcium cycle, since they retain calcium in their shells. Once they are eaten by many animals (opossums, beetles, millipedes, etc…), that calcium passes to those predators and so on, onto the next ladders of the food chain.

There are roughly 60,000 species of snails in the world. This number includes slugs as well as marine snails. They are very slimy, which allows them to stay moist. The need to retain moisture makes them a big fan of water and rain, especially.

So far this Spring, we have had alternating periods of rain and dry, hot weather. Next time it rains and the forest becomes very moist, look for snails walking around on different surfaces. A popular place to look for snails at the Science Center is the pedestrian bridge at our western entrance, coming from Rose-Brown-May Parkway. Another place where snails are frequently seen after a rain is the wall on the ramp to our western entrance, just adjacent to Mike’s Garden. If not, any boulder or log in the forest will probably have some. In addition, we encourage you to sign up your children for classes this upcoming summer (classes like Slime Sleuths, Animal Sense-Abilities, PSI: Pond Scene Investigations, among others). Snails will be an important topic in those classes and students may even get the opportunity to touch and hold snails. For more information on how to sign up, you can visit our website at www.riverlegacy.org/summer-classes.

 

Ferns!

Bluntlobe cliff fern (Woodsia obtusa)

Most plants that exist in the world today belong to the seed-producing plants, either flowering plants or cone-bearing plants. However, did you know that there is a diverse group of plants that produce a different reproductive structure called the spore? These are the ferns. Consisting of about 11,000 species worldwide, this group is very ancient. Fossil evidence suggests that this group has been around since the late Devonian period (roughly 350 million years ago!). Here at River Legacy, some ferns find a perfect home.

Let’s now go back to the characteristic that sets these plants apart from the more common plants: spores. A spore is basically just a different way of plant reproduction. In essence, they function like seeds but they form in a separate manner. Rather than being associated with a fruit or a cone, these form on the underside of fern leaves or leaflets. They are significantly smaller than seeds and much more fragile. They are found in clusters called sporangia, which in turn form structures called sori that are seen underneath the leaves of a fern. When spores are released, they give rise to an intermediate plant stage called a gametophyte before becoming an adult fern.

One of the native ferns at River Legacy is the bluntlobe cliff fern (Woodsia obtusa). This fern grows in very moist habitats and is usually found on rocky surfaces, ledges, or slopes very close to a stream or another body of water. As you walk the trails at River Legacy Living Science Center, specifically the ones close to Snider Creek, see if you can spot this fern!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earth Day Is Here!

Earth Day is an annual celebration that occurs worldwide on April 22nd. Starting in 1970, the purpose of this day is to celebrate our planet and all of the organisms with which we share it and to raise awareness about the importance of environmental conservation. Earth is a really unique but fragile planet. To date, it is the only planet where life can be found and that makes it all the more important to take care of it.

Here at River Legacy, we are celebrating Earth Day a little early. Our annual Earth Day festival is going to be this Saturday, April 14th from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. We invite you to come and celebrate with us. There will be crafts, games, animal explorations, nature walks, and many more fun activities. It is free admission and all ages are welcome!

On Earth Day itself, be sure to visit the trails at River Legacy Park and appreciate the plants and animals that make River Legacy Park their home. River Legacy Living Science Center will not be open that day but the park will be. To get acquainted with the wonderful wildlife you might expect to find as you explore, we encourage you to read previous posts in this blog!

                                                             

Mushrooms All Around Us

Shelf Mushrooms
Jack-o-lantern Mushrooms

Mushrooms are really interesting organisms. They are neither plant nor animal but rather belong to an entirely different kingdom of life called fungi, which actually also includes pathogens (such as athlete’s foot), molds, and yeasts. Despite being very distinct, they do share characteristics with both animals and plants. They are sessile like plants but do not produce their own food, something they have in common with animals.

The mushrooms themselves are really only the spore-producing (fruiting) body of the organism. Lurking beneath the mushroom is a network of filaments that compose most of the fungus. They are very important decomposers and can also be a great food source for a lot of animals. Spring is a really good time to find mushrooms because they start appearing everywhere once there is enough water around. Here at River Legacy, there are many species to be found, from oyster mushrooms to turkey tail mushrooms, jack-o-lanterns, puffballs, shelf mushrooms, carbon ball mushrooms, and many more. As you can see, mushrooms are a very diverse group and some can be quite beautiful. We invite you to come out to the trails at River Legacy this spring and look for mushrooms growing in the forest!

Spring!

Flowers blooming

Spring time is here! Spring officially started on March 20. This is the time when the landscape will be changing slowly but surely. Expect to see more flowers blooming, deciduous trees regrowing their leaves, and more green overall. Reptiles and amphibians will start to come out more and more. This will likely mean an increase in the number of turtles found walking on the forest floor or on logs, in ponds, creeks, and other bodies of water as well as an increase in lizards found on trees, logs, and fences. This can also mean more snake sightings and encounters. Please refer to earlier posts in this blog for what to do if you see a snake. Different birds will also start to appear across River Legacy as spring migration is beginning to take shape.

The reason for all these changes mainly have to do with temperature differences and water and food availability. Spring time brings about much warmer temperatures. This indicates to certain animals that their brumation (for certain cold-blooded animals) and hibernation (for certain mammals) times are over. Warmer temperatures also awake certain plants from their dormancy. Normally, spring also brings more rain, sometimes in the form of storms. Water helps with seed germination, causing more plants to start appearing. More plants mean more food for herbivores, which means more food for omnivores and carnivores as well.

Spring is a perfect time to enjoy and learn about nature with us at River Legacy Living Science Center. We invite you to all of our spring events coming up:

  • Our FREE Earth Day festival is Saturday, April 14 from 10 am to 2 pm . This is a family festival, open to the public, where you can learn much about Earth Day and why conservation is important while enjoying nature walks, crafts, activities and hands-on demonstrations.
  • Nature Walks are held on the second Saturday of every month and are great opportunities to explore the seasonal plant and animal changes in the park. Our next Nature Walk will be Saturday, May 12th. Space is limited, so please call 817.860.6752 to reserve your spot.
  • We are partnering with the Arlington Water Utilities Department to host a rain barrel making workshop from 6 to 8 pm, May 8 at River Legacy Living Science Center. This program covers the basics and benefits of rainwater harvesting and the effects stormwater has on the environment. Participants will learn how to collect and utilize rainwater at home and have the opportunity to construct their very own 55 gallon rain barrel. Cost is $50. Register online here.