What’s Blooming at River Legacy?

After a week stuck indoors from the snowstorm that hit us mid February, we are all excited to see some first glimpses of spring. While some plants may have suffered from the cold, we are seeing a lot of plants that benefited from the precipitation. Come to River Legacy and see if you can find these 5 plants that are blooming NOW!

Eastern Redbud

1. Redbud. This plant is a member of the legume family which means it grows bean pods. The flowers that are blooming now will bloom for a total of 2-3 weeks and are a bright magenta color that becomes a light pink over time. When the red bud’s leaves emerge they are heart shaped, look reddish and slowly change to a dark green and are about 2- 6 inches long. If you plant this tree in your yard you can attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and honey bees!

Wood Violet

2. Wood Violet. This small flower can be seen directly off of the trail and comes in many different shades of purple, blue, and even white. Wood violets have heart shaped leaves that are a good source of vitamins A and C. However, don’t eat the wood violets you see in the park because eating the wrong plant can cause some serious illnesses!  

Bedstraw on pant leg

3. Bedstraw. This plant is very abundant and is in the same family as coffee! Bedstraw, commonly called catchweed, has tiny hooks that act like Velcro. If you get close enough to this plant while walking by it may hitch a ride on your pant leg or your dog’s hair. 

Mexican Plum

4. Mexican Plum. This tree has snowy white flowers that appear in clusters before the leaves develop. While the flowers resemble snow, the blooming of this tree in March has traditionally meant that for Texans winter is over! Phew, that’s good news! *wipes sweat off brow* Like the name of this tree suggests, there are plums that ripen in late summer that are great for attracting birds and fruit eating mammals.

Golden Groundsel

5. Golden groundsel. This plant is one of the earliest bloomers of the year. If you come to River Legacy Living Science Center you will notice plenty of these yellow flowers in our parking lot now! When this plant goes to seed it forms a white fluff that helps disperse the seeds, like dandelions. Because of this, it is said that the botanist who named this flower was reminded of their grandpa and so the golden groundsel is often referred to as “Old Man.”

Some of these gorgeous blooms can only be seen for a few weeks so make sure to get out and stop by River Legacy to experience these spring blooms!

Samantha King
Naturalist

What’s Up with Tarantulas Having Bald Butts?

Brazilian Black and White Tarantula
(Nhandu coloratovillosus)
shows off two bald patches on abdomen where urticating hairs have been flicked

If you have visited River Legacy Science Center recently and had the opportunity to see the 100 arachnids in The Art and Science of Arachnids traveling exhibit, you may have noticed some tarantulas with bald patches on their bottoms (aka abdomens). What could the reason for this possibly be?

A lot of animals have defense mechanisms; opossums play dead, lizards lose tails, even humans have fight or flight reactions to avoid danger. When you think of a tarantula’s defense mechanisms your first thought is probably their bites and/or venom. However, they also have urticating hairs located on their abdomen. Urticating hairs are thorny bristles that can be flicked by the back legs that can then lodge themselves in the attacker’s skin and cause an allergic reaction. One way these hairs are used is as a passive defense. Tarantulas place the urticating hairs in the egg sac to protect it from other arthropods looking for a snack. Urticating hairs are also used as an active defense against predators. When used for active defense, the tarantula uses its back legs to flick the hairs from the abdomen into the air thus forming a flying cloud of ouchie! If these predators are unlucky and any of the hairs make contact with their skin it can cause an uncomfortable rash. This rash is meant to deter predators from eating the tarantula. When tarantulas molt to grow in size the lost urticating hairs are replaced along with any legs that may have been lost!

Mexican Red Knee Tarantula
(Brachypelma smithi) 
has all urticating hairs intact

When you check out The Art and Science of Arachnids exhibit, you may notice that not all of the tarantulas have this bald patch. While some of the tarantulas have a calmer temperament and simply do not flick the hairs as often, there are also some that do not have any hairs to flick. Tarantulas can be divided into two groups; old world and new world. This classification refers to the parts of the world the tarantulas come from. Old world being from Asia, Australia, Africa, and Europe, and the new world being North and South America. The classification also refers to a few other characteristics, including those urticating hairs we talked about. Almost all new world tarantulas have urticating hairs and old world tarantulas do not. 

If you haven’t had the opportunity to see The Art and Science of Arachnids exhibit, there is still time! This limited-time exhibit runs until February 27th, 2021. Want to learn more about another arachnid we have on this exhibit? Check out the Nature Notes blog post on scorpions and why they glow!

Once in a Blue Moon

Full Moon Photographed From Apollo 11 Spacecraft, www.nasa.gov

The year 2020 has been remarkable for many reasons, but especially for stargazers and astronomers alike. This year we have had/will have 13 full moons, two being super moons, and one which is a blue moon on Halloween! 

Let’s break this down a little more. On Halloween, October 31st, there will be a full moon. The timing of a full moon on Halloween only happens every 18-19 years! One might even say it happens once in a blue moon… This year’s full moon on Halloween is also considered a blue moon. Unfortunately, that does not mean the moon will be tinted blue. The term blue moon has to do with timing. Moon cycles are 29.5 days long, so there is usually only one full moon each month. However, sometimes months are longer than 29 days, so it is possible to have two full moons in one month. That second full moon of the month is considered a blue moon.

Full moons may sound like a spooky sight, and they can even cause some interesting animal encounters. Imagine you are outside at night going for a walk in the woods and you see a bright blue/green glowing animal creeping across the forest floor. You may think you are seeing some alien life form, but it’s actually just a scorpion! 

Scorpions under UV light. Credit: Lizardguy/Flickr

So why on earth would a scorpion need to glow? To answer that question you need to understand scorpions and their lifestyle. Scorpions are nocturnal predators that hunt for their food at night. When there is a full moon, scorpions can be seen glowing, which is actually fluorescing. Fluorescing is when the molecules become excited by energy, usually from a light source, and then the molecule relaxes back to its ground or “normal” state. This phenomenon can be recreated with scorpions during the sunny hours of the day by using a UV light. There are a few theories as to why scorpions fluoresce under the moonlight. Some scientists think that the glow may help scorpions find each other. Another possibility is that scorpions use it like sunscreen. However, the leading theory being developed by California State University arachnologist Carl Kloock, is that the scorpions use their fluorescence as a way to tell if they should go out and hunt or not. If scorpions are really desperate for a meal, then they will hunt regardless of the moonlight outside. However, if the scorpion is not particularly hungry and there is a full moon out, they may decide to stay hidden and avoid the moonlight. But none of these theories have been fully proven, so your guess is as good as ours!

If you are interested in seeing a scorpion fluoresce then be sure to come see our new traveling exhibit, The Art and Science of Arachnids, featuring 100 live arachnids! Exhibit opens December 1. Click here to learn more!

Daphne the Opossum

Daphne, June 2020

Here at River Legacy, we are a home to many animals that cannot be released into the wild for one reason or another. Our newest animal ambassador, Daphne the opossum, is no exception. 

Before we get into Daphne’s story, we should cover some opossum basics first. When baby opossums are born they find their way into their mother’s pouch. Yes, you read that correctly! Opossums have pouches and they are the only marsupial in North America. Those babies will stay in the pouch for 55-60 days and then they climb out and ride on the mother’s back for 4-6 weeks. Daphne was about three month old when she would have been riding on her mother’s back and unfortunately, was attacked by a dog. Thankfully, Daphne survived due to the great care given to her by some amazing rehabbers. However, Daphne did lose the external part of her ear and an eye on her right side. Daphne doesn’t let it slow her down, as she is very curious and loves to climb and explore. 

Daphne, September 2020

Daphne has earned the nickname “Hou-daphne” (like Houdini). The next morning after Daphne arrived, our Naturalist found her enclosure empty with the latches still in the closed position. After searching the entire animal room, Daphne was safely found on the second shelf wrapped up in a pouch inside a box and sleeping soundly. Since the incident, we have made sure that her enclosure is “opossum” proof and she has not wandered out again! Daphne was only 5 months old when she came to River Legacy on June 9th and was small enough to squeeze out of her enclosure. Daphne isn’t so small now and is growing fast from all the yummy treats she gets. Daphne’s favorite treats are boiled eggs, cheese sticks, and grapes. 

Opossums are misunderstood by many and are sometimes treated poorly by people. Opossums play a really important role in the ecosystem because they eat about 5,000 ticks every year, and if you didn’t know, ticks can cause some pretty harmful disease in humans. Opossums very rarely get rabies due to their body temperature being slightly lower than most other mammals. Opossums also eat venomous snakes and are immune to the venom that they inject through their bites. The next time you see an opossum, now you’ll know a bit more about them and the important role they play! We hope you get to meet Daphne soon!

What You Might Not Know About Venom

Snake venom is a substance that is injected via fangs into the body that can cause harm and sometimes death. Snakes use venom to help defend themselves as well as to demobilize their prey. There are a handful of venomous snake species in North Texas that we all keep an eye out for when walking the trails here at River Legacy. In North Texas alone there are several venomous snakes including the coral snake, several different rattlesnakes, cottonmouth aka water moccasin, eastern copperhead, and the broad-banded copperhead. 

Certainly, getting bit by a venomous snake is the opposite of beneficial, but do you know that copperhead venom is being used in today’s research as a treatment for cancer? You read that right! There can be a beneficial side to the venom that we do our best to avoid at all costs.

There are reports dating back to the 1930s of copperhead venom being used to treat cancer. Cancer is a well known disease that happens when the cells that make up our body “loose control” and over replicate and grow, causing tumors that can cause other health problems. Snake venom works by stopping the clotting/clumping of blood cells and also hurting the nervous system. The proteins in copperhead venom have been shown to prevent cancer cells from attaching to other cells. The venom has also been shown to decrease the formation of new blood vessel cells in breast cancer in mice studies.

The research doesn’t stop with copperheads; many other venoms are being looked at for treatments for other diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and strokes. So while venomous snakes may scare you next time you see one, you will be reminded of the important role that they have in our lives other than being free rodent control! 

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6162746/