The Birthstone for February is Amethyst

Amethyst is the birthstone for February and is also the gemstone for the 6th and the 17th anniversary of marriage.  While my birthday isnt in February, I do love the rich purple color of amethyst and my birthstone, citrine, is even in the same family as amethyst

Who has a February birthday? Rosa Parks, Babe Ruth, Jennifer Anniston, Abraham Lincoln and more.

Amethyst Geode on display in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop
Amethyst Geode on display in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop
It is a purple variety of quartz but, the color can range from a light pinkish violet to a deep royal purple.  It is a durable and lasting stone with a rating of 7 on the Moh’s hardness scale.  This makes it an excellent option for jewelry.  Amethyst can be found worldwide.

There is plenty of history and lore around this beautiful stone. While it is considered a semi-precious stone today, it was a “Gem of Fire” and considered a precious stone in ancient times – at times in history worth as much as a diamond.  During the middle ages, amethyst stood for piety and celibacy and was therefore worn by members of the clergy.  It was believed that wearing an amethyst ring would keep them well grounded in spiritual thought.   In a similar story, during the renaissance, amethyst stood for humility and modesty.

Polished Amethyst

Through history amethyst has also been worn by travelersto protect them from treachery and surprise attacks and it was also believed that it would keep soldiers from harm and gave them victory over their enemies.

Amethyst has been included in royal collections all over the world from ancient Egypt to the British Crown Jewels.   Ancient Egyptians believed the stone would guard them against guilty and fearful feelings.  Rumor also has it that amethyst was a personal favorite of Queen Catherine the Great of Russia.

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. even has an amethyst that weighs 400 pounds!

Cut Amethyst Gemstone

While the Naturally Wild Swap Shop doesn’t have amethyst as large as the Smithsonian has, we do have amethyst for trade. You can get polished stones, amethyst geodes and even cut gemstones ranging from 150 points to 8,000 points.  There is also a beautiful amethyst geode cathedral on display.

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information.

Helping Monarch Butterflies at Home

Many of you know that the Houston Zoo staff works on many conservation projects in the field.  Our staff travels to Africa, Panama, Galapagos Islands and more to help save animals in the wild.  Recently, two of our staff members, Rodney Honerkamp and I, went on a different kind of conservation trip.  A monarch conservation visit right in our area!

Demi and one of her beautiful Monarchs
Demi and one of her beautiful Monarchs

We were privileged to go to the home of Houston Zoo Asante Society members, Ron and Demi Rand in Pearland.  Demi raises and rescues monarch butterflies and has all stages of their life cycle from egg to adult.  A lot of her time is spent tending to the many plants in her gardens that feed the butterflies and bees that visit her yard.  Her gardens have two types of milkweed, among other pollinator host plants, and have attracted at least six different types of butterflies, multiple species of bees and even moths at night.

Monarch eggs ready to hatch
Monarch eggs ready to hatch

 

 

 

 

 

Why is the work Demi does for monarchs so important?  Butterflies, along with bees,

bats and other animals, are pollinators.  A huge percentage of all the food we eat, the cotton used to make our clothes, even coffee and chocolate rely on pollinators.  Without pollinators we would lose all those things and more.  This year alone Demi has tagged and released over 1,000 butterflies.  The tags are

a small sticker placed on the wing and the information on the sticker is sent to Monarch Watch.

Recently, Houston Zoo staff and volunteers took part in field work on grounds tagging monarchs.  They tagged 23 monarchs this season!  That means there are 23 more monarchs that can be tracked on their 3,000 mile migration to Mexico.

Monarch caterpillar ready for a close up
Monarch caterpillar ready for a close up

Monarch Watch is a non-profit, education, conservation and research program based at the University of Kansas.  They have information on tagging monarchs along with biology and rearing.  They provide information about gardening for monarchs and conduct research projects on things like larval monitoring and monarch flight vectors.

There are several other resources you can use to learn more.  In addition to Monarch Watch, check out TVbutterfly.org to learn about a monarch way station that one of Demi’s “Monarch Sisters”, Dr. Amy Harkins has built at the Tuscany Village Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation in Pearland, TX.  Monarch Gateway  monarchgateway.org and the International Butterfly Breeders Association butterflybreeders.org are also great sites.

Facebook has some groups dedicated to monarchs also like the group The Beautiful Monarch.

Sometimes, you pick up a hitchhiker
Sometimes, you pick up a hitchhiker

The day we went to visit Demi and Ron, we were able to watch as 11 Monarchs were tagged and released.  This was the reward after weeks of hard work for Demi.  She collects eggs she finds on her milkweed and rinses them in a 5% bleach solution to combat the OE parasite (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) that has been attacking monarchs.  This parasite does the most damage in the pupal stage.

Pollinator garden information
Pollinator garden information

The affected butterflies can have difficulty emerging or fall to the ground before they fully expand their wings. It takes 4-5 days for the eggs to hatch and then she needs to be sure the caterpillars have plenty of milkweed to eat.  The caterpillars will eat voraciously for 2 to 3 weeks then they will pupate into their chrysalis.  Demi monitors the chrysalis closely over the 7 to 10 days it takes for the butterfly to emerge.  Once they emerge they live in a protected enclosure until they are dry and their wings are fully stretched out.  At that point she is able to tag them and release them.  If any emerge with issues that prevent them from flying, she has a special enclosure for those butterflies so they will have nectar readily available.

 

Dr. Amy recording the information from the tags
Dr. Amy recording the information from the tags

How can you help?  Plant your own pollinator garden!  You can even work towards having it registered with Monarch Watch as a monarch way station.  It will be a place for the migrating monarchs to stop and refuel on their journey south. If you don’t know what to plant, just stop by our conservation stage at the zoo.  It is to your right as you come in.  You will find signage about native plants to attract butterflies.  Simply take a picture of the sign and take it with you to the nursery where you buy your plants.

This Monarch has its tag and is ready to go
This Monarch has its tag and is ready to go

You can also get involved at the Houston Zoo.  Take a picture of your pollinator garden at home and bring the pictures to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop.  You will be registered as a Pollinator Pal and receive points to spend in the shop.  Also, be on the lookout for pollinators on zoo grounds.  If you get a picture of a pollinator on grounds you can also bring that to the Swap Shop for points and be registered as a

Pollinator Pal.  Show the Naturalist in the shop the picture and tell them which of the zoo’s gardens you saw it in.  Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

Critically Endangered Fish in the Swap Shop

Cichlids come in many colors
Cichlids come in many colors

The next time you visit the Naturally Wild Swap Shop, check out our newest residents. We have received 3 critically endangered Lake Victoria cichlids (Haplochromis perrieri) from the New England Aquarium.  Lake Victoria is one of the great lakes of Africa and it is the third largest lake in Africa.  Several factors have contributed to the decline of this species in the wild.  One of the biggest issues is the Nile Perch.  Nile Perch were introduced to Lake Victoria in the 1950’s.  This non-native species had a population boom in the 1980’s which coincided with the decline of Haplochromis perrieri from the lake.  Sadly, the Haplochromis perrieri haven’t been seen in the wild since the 1980’s.

Lake Victoria Cichlid
Lake Victoria Cichlid

In general, cichlids are very popular with fish enthusiasts. There are many varieties with a huge range of colors to choose from.  There are well over 1,000 cichlid species in the wild and it is estimated that there are several hundred species in Lake Victoria alone.

Cichlids are only found in tropical and subtropical zones of Africa, the Americas and Asia.  In Africa, they are found mostly in the lakes of the great rift valley in east Africa – Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika and of course, Lake Victoria.  They vary in size from the smallest at 1.4” to the largest species at 28-32” in length.

What are some of the most interesting things about cichlids?  These fish can change color to reflect their mood – such as aggression, stress or being ready to spawn.  They live in very different habitats including rocky shorelines, sandy or muddy bottoms or shores with and without vegetation.  Most cichlids are omnivores, eating things like mosquito larvae, tiny crustaceans and worms.  Some are pure carnivores and specialize in hunting smaller fish.  There are also cichlids that are strictly plant or algae eaters.  Some cichlid species are mouth

Cichlids provide lots of variety and color to your fish tank
Cichlids provide lots of variety and color to your fish tank

brooders.  Mouth brooders hold eggs in their mouths to hide them from predators.  Even after hatching, the babies are allowed into the parent’s mouth if they are in danger.

Our new cichlids are found I Lake Victoria over sand and mud in the littoral or shoreline zones.  They can reach a total length of approximately 2.5 inches.  The females are primarily gray with some black markings, while the males of the species show more color.  They are hunters, eating fish for their diet.  They are also mouth brooders and hold the eggs in their mouth until they hatch.

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

Nature Journals Made Easy

Have you ever been out in nature and found something you thought was amazing?  Ever wish you had a way to get your kids more engaged with nature?  The Houston Zoo has a way to help!

Nature journals are a great way to explore and learn about nature.  Kids (and adults too!) can write about, sketch, or paint things seen in nature.  It is a great way to document what you have seen and you can even go back later to research if you want to learn more about a particular item.

Journal pages from Scratchmadejournal.com
Journal pages from Scratchmadejournal.com.

There is a wonderful website and blog at scratchmadejournal.com  with a lot of great information on nature journaling.  The author  even has some printable pages to get you started!  Click here to check out her awesome blog and get some amazing ideas about nature journals.  She includes examples, recommendations on supplies, and a list of places to find more help and examples.  Included on her blog are posts geared towards nature journaling specifically for kids.  You don’t have to be a award winning artist or write like a novelist – just record what you see and add sketches as you see fit.  And the more you journal, the better they get!

Even a simple drawing can enhance your Nature Journal
Even a simple drawing can enhance your Nature Journal

Do you know the best benefit to nature journals?  Kids 18 and younger can bring their nature journals to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop to earn points!  The points can be used in the shop to get some amazing things like bones, shells, minerals or even a re-usable bag that kids can take home and enjoy.  Need more information on the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here to learn more.

Texas Pollinator BioBlitz

The first ever Texas Pollinator BioBlitz will be taking place from October 7th to October 16th.  This is a statewide effort to observe and identify as many pollinators, and pollinator habitats as possible and the Houston Zoo will be participating!

How can you participate at the zoo?

Monarch Butterfly
Monarch Butterfly

First, take pictures of any pollinators you see and the plants you see them on around the zoo. Some of the pollinators you might see are butterflies, honey bees, and bumblebees.  Then, take those pictures to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop and you will be registered as a Pollinator Pal and will receive 50 points to spend in the shop.  Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

Second, you can share your photos or videos of the pollinators on Instagam or iNaturalist. On Instagram, posts should include #SaveThePollinators.

Why are pollinators so important to us? They make our daily lives better in so many ways!  Without pollinators we would lose much of the fruit and vegtables we eat every day.  We would also lose chocolate,

Cotton
Cotton

coffee, tequila even cotton.  Our meat would be effected too because we would lose the plants that the cattle and other animals eat.

 

Come out to explorer your Houston Zoo and help us save pollinators.

Can you count toad eggs?

There are multiple animal exhibits in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. One of them is home to two Houston Toads: Tina Toad and her friend, Mr. Toad.

The Houston Toad is one of Texas’ most imperiled species. Its range was formerly known to include 12 counties in Texas, but it is now only in a few counties in east-central Texas.  The largest remaining populations are found in the Lost Pines region of Bastrop County.

The Houston Zoo has a 1200 square foot Houston Toad quarantine facility, managed by two full-time

Tina Toad's egg strand
Tina Toad’s egg strand

Houston Toad specialists, that serves as a location for the captive breeding and head-starting of wild Houston toad egg strands for release. Part of the Houston Toad specialist’s job is to count the eggs in each egg strand!

The egg strand after it has been counted
The egg strand after it has been counted

Look at the pictures in this post. What you are seeing is a picture of one of Tina the Houston Toad’s egg strands.   The version with the white dots is an example of how the eggs are counted and marked as they go through the photo of the egg strand.

We recently had a contest in the Swap Shop to guess how many eggs were in the strand. The total in the strand, according to the toad keepers, was 8,533.  Our closest guess was from Isabel S. who guessed 8,600.  For her expertise in counting toad eggs, she received 100 points to spend in the Swap Shop!

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information.

Penny Makes Her Move

Well, my plan worked! I have moved into a beautiful new room in the Ambassador Animal Building!   I have directed

Look at this awesome cat tree!
Look at this awesome cat tree!

my staff…..I mean the zookeepers, on what to put in my room and how to arrange it.

I have cat trees, boxes, kennels, and lots of toys. So many things to keep me happy and busy.  And, the keepers talk to me and keep me company all the time. I feel so regal in this new spot that I am considering wearing my tiara.

Perhaps I will wear my tiara
Perhaps I will wear my tiara

My next door neighbor is Peanut, the Aardvark. She is a very pleasant neighbor.  In fact, she sleeps most of the day so she is no bother at all.  Denver the Macaw gets a little loud sometimes, but that’s ok too.  I can handle it – even though I might have to have a talk with him at some point.  There are chinchillas, rabbits, birds, and reptiles here too.  I have some amazing neighbors.

I still get to go out in the zoo.  My handlers bring me out on my leash to visit and see zoo guests. I also get to go to presentations and classrooms.   I still go to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop from time to time too.

I will miss getting to say hello to the regular traders at the Swap Shop, but this new room is amazing!

The beautiful Penny in her new room.
The beautiful Penny in her new room.

Don’t forget about me.   I sure won’t forget about you.  I still love all my pals that come to the Swap Shop.  When you are at the zoo, keep your eyes open.  You never know where or when you will see me.

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

Penny checks out the building

Penny looks around the Animal Ambassador Building

Well.  This looks pretty nice in here.  I wonder who will be living in this room?  I have heard it is called the Ambassador Animal Building.

Look! Some of  the animals have started moving in!  Ernie the North American Porcupine is here.  So is Fiona the  Flemish Giant rabbit.  These guys are getting some really nice spaces to live in.  The building has room for all the Ambassador mammals and a whole separate room for the Ambassador reptiles.  There are going to be some amazing birds in here too.  A Kookaburra, some parrots and even a roadrunner.  Staff and volunteers can take these animals to classrooms, presentations and special events.

pennyaab2
Checking out the corner room

Just look at this corner room.  No one has moved in yet.  I could totally live here.  I could turn that space into a kitty paradise.  Oh, I am envisioning cat trees, toys, my own furniture.  Yes, I can see it now.

And look outside!  Is that our own exercise yard?  With a pool?  This building is amazing!

The Exercise Yard
The Exercise Yard

That settles it!  I am finding a way to move in.

Spotlight on Species – Otters!

On July 16th, from 10AM – 3PM, the Houston Zoo will be celebrating a Spotlight on Species (SOS) all about otters!

Did you know that there are 13 different species of otters and that several of the species are endangered?

Did you know we have otters right here in Texas?

Come and learn about Texas otters and otters around the world.  Meet our North American River Otter and

Asian Small-clawed Otter
Asian Small-clawed Otter

Asian Small Clawed Otters that call the Houston Zoo home.

The SOS will take place in both the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo and the Natural Encounters building.  There will be lots to learn along with activities and fun for the whole family.    There will be tables with information and education materials along with special Meet

the Keeper chats at both locations.  It is also going to be Snow Day at the Zoo, and our North American River Otter, Belle, will be

North American River Otter

getting snow to play in!

The Naturally Wild Swap Shop will be participating too!  Any nature reports or nature journals on otters brought in on the day of the SOS will receive DOUBLE points!  Also, if you take the electronic pledge that day to go plastic bag free and come tell us in the Swap Shop, you will earn you 25 points.  If you take the pledge you will also be entered in to a drawing for one of two special otter experiences.

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here to learn more.

Penny Cat sees something new

Hi everyone.  Penny the cat here.

Something big is happening behind the scenes in the George P. McGovern Children’s Zoo!  I can hear a lot of noise and see a little movement behind the fence, but I can’t quite figure it out.

I really wanted to go check it out, so I got one of my handlers to take me over to see what is going on.

Look at that new building!
Look at that new building!

You won’t believe it!  The building that houses the animals that go to events, presentations and classrooms is being re-done!  So much construction!  The building is being expanded and there will be lots of room for the ambassador animals to live.

I am a little jealous.  Those guys are going to have so much space and such a nice new building.  Being the Princess Kitten that I am, I think I deserve a new spot too, don’t you?  A cat like me should be living in luxury.

 

I am going to have to start working on a plan…….

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Don't miss this great event!Spring is coming, and so is Houston’s rainy season! This year you could save $$$ and protect the health our Bay by using a rain barrel! Go to galvbay.org/hzrbw and sign up to attend our Houston Zoo Rain Barrel Workshop (sponsored by LyondellBasell) on Saturday, April 8th! ... See MoreSee Less

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Dont miss this great event!

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