Pollinating Night and Day

While all pollinators are important and vital to our lives, some are more striking than others such as butterflies and moths   Butterflies are busy pollinating by day and the moths cover the night.  Not many things in life get 24/7 coverage but pollination does!

The success of over 75% of the worlds flowering plants and over 150 food crops in the U.S. depend on pollinators. That tells us about pollinators in general but what do butterflies and moths provide us?

Many of the sweet fragrances we enjoy in lotions, soaps and perfumes come from plants that are pollinated by butterflies. Gardenia, Lilac, and Yucca to name a few.  There are also some edible items associated with these flowers.  For example, bee balm makes a nice tea or jelly, marigolds can also be used for tea. Some of these flowers and plants have edible parts such as some marigolds and day lilies.    There are some medicinal uses too! Marigolds is believed to have antiseptic properties and several plants like Floss Flower and Marigold are mosquito repellents.

If you would like to attract butterflies and moths to your pollinator garden, plant some of the host plants that they like. Vines like pipevine and passion flower are host plants for Pipevine Swallowtails and Gulf Fritillary butterflies.  Herbs like dill, parsley and fennel will attract Black Swallowtail butterflies.  Even trees are host plants such as White Birch, Walnut, Hickory and Sweetgum are host plants for the amazing and beautiful Luna Moth.

What else can you do to attract them? Plant a variety of colors and shapes of flowers and provide a shallow water source.  You can alsolso use natural, pollinator safe pesticides.

Another thing you can do to help promote pollinators is to become a Houston Zoo Pollinator Pal in the Swap Shop. Bring in photos or reports about your pollinator gardens and what pollinators you see there.  You will be able to earn points to trade for cool items in the shop.

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

 

Pollinators of the Dark

There are so many pollinators in the world and each one of them is important.

My favorite pollinator?  Bats!

Bats are known for their excellent pest control and seed dispersal, but many people don’t know they are also pollinators. Over 500 species of plants rely on bats for pollination.  The Lesser Long Nosed Bat and the Mexican Long Tongued Bat are found in the southwestern U.S. all the way to Central America and  are just a couple of the bat species working hard to provide us with some of the things we love.

Bats pollinate many of the fruits and nuts we eat such as avocado, cashew, coconut, mango, banana and guava. They also pollinate the cocoa plant that is used to make chocolate!  Who doesn’t love an animal that helps bring us chocolate?

One of the more interesting plants they pollinate is the amazing Saguaro cactus found in the western part of the country. These cacti are the largest in the United States!  They can live 150 to 200 years and reach heights of 40 to 60 feet.  They are found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Western Sonora, Mexico.

There is another interesting plant bats pollinate that provides a product many people are fond of. The Agave plant! This is the plant that is used to make tequila.  If you have ever enjoyed a tasty margarita, you will certainly want to thank a bat!  The agave is a desert succulent – not a cactus.  It is found in hot, dry climates and requires very little water to survive.  Not only is it a nectar source for bats, it is a food source for other pollinators as well.

How can you support our VIPs (Very Important Pollinators)? Become a Houston Zoo Pollinator Pal! Bring pictures, reports, or drawings of pollinators or your pollinator garden to the Swap Shop.  You will be registered as a Pollinator Pal and earn points to spend in the shop!

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

Become a Houston Zoo Pollinator Pal

What is a Pollinator Pal? Possibly the coolest conservation title ever!

Most of us know the importance of pollinators. Without them, our grocery store shelves and our pantries would be pretty empty.  By some reports, we would lose half of the food in our grocery stores, as well as things like coffee, chocolate and tequila without our pollinators!  Even the clothes we wear would be different.  Cotton that is used to make a lot of clothing relies on….you guessed it…..pollinators.

So, the question is, how can we help them?

First, you can plant a pollinator garden at home. A pollinator garden can be as small as one Milkweed plant in a pot or as large as a full-blown flower bed.  There are a huge number of plants that attract or feed pollinators in every stage of their lives.  Check with your local nursery to find out what native pollinator plants would be best for your area.

Another big help? Use natural products in your garden that won’t harm the bees, butterflies and other pollinators that visit it.  Pesticides can have a huge effect on them.

Build your own Pollinator Palace or Pollination Station to provide living space for pollinators. They are a fun way to create a decorative, natural space in your yard.

Now, back to Pollinator Pal. You can earn that amazing title for helping pollinators in your own back yard.  Bring pictures, reports or drawings of your pollinator garden to The Naturally Wild Swap Shop at the Houston Zoo.  You will not only be registered as one of the Houston Zoo’s Pollinator Pals, but you will earn points to spend in the shop as well.

Another way to participate is by posting observations of pollinators seen on zoo grounds on iNaturalist. There is a project titled “Native Wildlife at the Houston Zoo” in iNaturalist.  If you post a pollinator picture to the project and show the Naturalists in the Swap Shop, you can be registered and earn points!

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

Now get out there and look for those pollinators! Before you know it, you will be a Pollinator Pal too!

 

Toothbrush Recycling at the Houston Zoo

Did you brush your teeth this morning? Use floss?  I did!  What do you do with that toothbrush when you get a new one?

We all need toothbrushes but, they cannot be recycled with general recyclables. Over 1 BILLION toothbrushes are thrown away in the US every year!     Here is the good news, the Houston Zoo is offering you an alternative to just throwing it away.  You can now recycle toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, floss containers and toothbrush packaging at the zoo.

Colgate has partnered with Terrracycle to offer a program to turn these objects into school supplies for the Kids in Need Foundation! The items they collect are used to make bags, folders and other supplies.

The Children’s Zoo recently collected items like these from staff for a “Plastic Free July Challenge”. They collected 31 toothpaste tubes, 6 empty toothbrush packages, 4 floss containers and 50 toothbrushes.  That came to 2.5 pounds of plastic that didn’t go to the landfill!  If the Zoo Staff can collect that much in just one month, just think about the impact we could have if we ALL recycle our toothbrushes and dental hygiene items.

Even better news, there is an added bonus. If you bring your items to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop, you will get points to spend in the shop!  It is suggested that you replace your toothbrush every 3 months, so if you are due for a new one this month the timing is perfect!  You can drop off your items in the designated recycle bin in the Swap Shop.  Please cut toothpaste tubes down the side with scissors and rinse out any toothpaste residue prior to bringing them in.  (please note that electric toothbrushes and battery toothbrushes are not recyclable with this program)

Another way to help keep this extra plastic out of the trash is to buy an eco-friendly toothbrush, such as the “Humble Brush” or another bamboo toothbrush which can be found online at humblesmile.org or Amazon.com.

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

Blue Topaz is the Birthstone for December

December has a beautiful stone as its birthstone – blue topaz. It is also the stone for the 4th and 19th wedding anniversaries. It has become the second most popular stone, second only to sapphire. It is also the state gemstone of Texas!

Topaz comes in a wide range of colors, from the colorless white topaz to pinks and blues among others. Blue topaz in nature is rare and when it is found it tends to be a light blue. The vivid blues on the market today are usually created by treating white topaz with irradiation and heat. It is a durable stone with a hardness rating of 8 on the Mohs scale. They can be found worldwide including in South America, Australia and Africa.

Another stone that is often confused for topaz is citrine. Citrine is in the quartz family and is a completely different stone. Citrine is a yellow form of quartz. In the days before modern gemology, it was often mistaken for topaz. Finding a natural citrine is rare. Most of the citrine on the market today is heat treated amethyst. Who knew if you heated amethyst it turned yellow? Citrine has a hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale and the color varies from lemon yellow to reddish brown.

Topaz is a silicate like the quartz family but has a hardness of 8. Topaz also has a wider variety of color. They can come in yellow, pink, green, purple, orange, blue and white which is clear.

Like many gemstones, there is a lot of history and lore around blue topaz.

Blue topaz has long been considered a symbol of love and affection and has been said to aid in one’s sweetness and disposition. In ancient Egypt, it was a symbol of Ra, the sun god. In Europe it was linked to Apollo, another solar being.

Ancient Greeks believed that topaz gave them strength. Other ancient civilizations believed blue topaz to have cooling powers and was used to help relieve burns and cool boiling water. Many believed that wearing a topaz ring would keep death from coming prematurely and would control insomnia and greed.

In Africa, healing rituals with topaz were practiced establishing communication with the spirit realm.

Some notable blue topaz includes -The El Dorado Topaz is the largest faceted gemstone in the world at 31,000 (yes, that’s 31 thousand) carats. The American Golden Topaz is a whopping 22,892.5 carats and is on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

There is often blue topaz for trade in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. Don’t know about the shop? Click here for more information.

Christmas Shopping in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

Ah, November. Cooler weather coming in, pumpkin spice everything and dreams of turkey and dressing.

Of course, you know what that means………CHRISTMAS IS COMING!!   It’s time to start thinking about travel plans, gift lists, family outings and more.

Not only are the adults among us thinking in terms of gift buying, but the kids are too. That might cause an issue.  Unless your kiddo has saved allowance and birthday money since he or she was born, they may not have a lot of resources.

We have an alternative. They can shop in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop and they won’t need cash!

How? The Naturally Wild Swap Shop is designed for people of all ages to bring in things they find in nature.  They can bring rocks, minerals, fossils and shells among other things. (click the link below for more information)  As many as three things per person can be brought in a day.  These items will earn points based on how unusual they are and what condition they are in.  Knowledge points can also be earned if they can tell us about their item.  When you trade, you can also earn extra points for having items from our Take Action list.  That includes reusable bottles and bags, pictures of recycling, sustainable seafood and more.  Then, those points can be spent in the shop!

What kinds of things can you get with your points? There is a lot to choose from!  Rocks, minerals, shells, even cut gemstones.  The shop has items ranging from 5 points to 50,000 points so there is something for the spender and the saver alike.

In the rock and mineral section, you might like the geodes or the rose quartz. If mom or dad is a fossil fan, the kids might want to get them an ammonite or a fossil sea biscuit.  There are shells in a multitude of colors, shapes and sizes for them to pick out someone’s favorite color shell as a gift.  For those who have saved up some points, we even have cut gemstones in amethyst, aquamarine, citrine and more.

While trading is now open to all ages, the younger of our traders may be more likely to want to shop with points to make their holidays merry. We hope to see you in the shop soon.

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

The Naturally Wild Swap Shop adds it’s 10,000th Trader

On October 15, 2017, The Naturally Wild Swap Shop in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo reached a huge milestone. We registered our 10,000th trader!

The honor was awarded to Maya Rojo. She is 4 years old and was so excited!

The Rojo family includes Oscar, Vanessa and of course, Maya.   Oscar is originally from El Paso and Vanessa is from McAllen but they made their way to Houston as soon as they could and have lived here for over 17 years now.  They are proud Rice and University of Houston alums.  Maya herself is a native Houstonian.

The Rojo Family are long time lovers of nature and the Houston Zoo. The Houston Zoo is just one of the places they go to fulfill their need for nature.  Their love of the outdoors has taken them to Brazos Bend, Huntsville State Park, Yosemite and more.

Following her parents lead, Maya is also a lover of nature. Her favorite animal is probably her dog Teddy, but she also loves finding garden insects – specifically praying mantis and lady bugs.  She loves pelicans and has had some great morning sightings at Huntsville State Park.  She will be soon going to visit her Tito and Tita in Corvallis, Oregon and hopes to see some wild turkeys when she is there.

They all learned about the Swap Shop during a presentation in the Children’s Zoo and had come in multiple times before Maya actually signed up and made her first trade. They had made a trip to Galveston and searched for shells to bring in.  Maya found some beautiful clam and oyster shells.  They also learned about jellyfish  careful to avoid stepping on them while hunting for shells.  Her shell treasures earned her points to spend in the Swap Shop and as a part of her award as 10,000th trader she also received 1,000 points along with a certificate and an amazing insect display!

Mr and Mrs Rojo had some wonderful things to say about the Swap Shop in response to Maya’s award.

Today we got our snacks ready to go to the zoo, but also packed a ziplock full of clam and oyster shells.  Our little one, Maya would be going to the swap shop to earn her first points.  She received a big surprise being named the 10000th trader. To commemorate the milestone, the staff made her a certificate and presented her with an amazing display of three beautiful beetles.  That was the obvious reward.  The less tangible one was the affirmation of our little 4-year-old lady’s hard work in writing her journals, collecting specimen etc. that the staff gave her.  We often, as do many others, tell her that those women and men in charge studied a lot to know so much about animals.  What they didn’t study but what is instead either a part of someone or not is the willingness and desire to affect this little generation of nose-picking, curious goofs.  There were 9,999 registered traders before Maya and countless more families that benefit from this knowledgeable and kind staff that time after time has been just pure class with so many of us.  From our little troop, a sincere thank you to Suzanne Jurek who came up with the idea to celebrate the 10,000th, Sara Riger for answering so many questions from so many with skill and to Angie Pyle for making the Children’s zoo so special.  Amber Zelmer, Wendy Morrison, Julie LaTurner, Brian Stuckey, Stephanie Turner, Kimberly Sharkey, Megan Paliwoda, Lisa Cariello all who we’ve seen throughout the zoo, from petting goats, learning about animal upkeep etc. From the McDonald’s observatory, Yosemite to Brazos Bend or Huntsville State Park, we’ll all keep encouraging our little ones to keep digging, asking questions.  That is in no small part due to you all.  Once again, thank you for being a part of our daughter’s life since she was tiny. Oscar, Vanessa and Maya

The Rojo family are involved in charity here and in Mexico. They have a small charity in San Miguel de Allende that focuses on academic support.  They also like creating a sense of community with some efforts in the Houston area.

They love coming to the zoo specifically what they consider to be the dynamic areas including the Swap Shop. They consider the Naturally Wild Swap Shop a connection to the outside world and for one, their Maya loves it.

We are so grateful that the Rojo family has shared their little Maya with us. We value every one of our 10,000 traders and love sharing our time and knowledge with each one of them.

Want more information about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here.

The November Birthstone

November – Is it Citrine or is it Topaz?

For years, those of us – including me – who have November birthdays knew that topaz was our birthstone. Now most birthstone lists say citrine.  Which is it?  Actually, it is both!  While citrine and topaz are different stones, they are both considered to be the birthstone for November.

So, how are they different?

Citrine is a yellow form of quartz. In the days before modern gemology, it was often mistaken for topaz.  Finding a natural citrine is actually rare.  Most of the citrine on the market today is heat treated amethyst.  Who knew if you heated amethyst it turned yellow?  Citrine has a hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale and the color varies from lemon yellow to reddish brown.

Topaz is a silicate like the quartz family but has a hardness of 8. Topaz also has a much wider variety of color.  They can come in yellow, pink, green, purple, orange, blue and white which is clear.

Topaz can be found in Russia, Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and the U.S. Most citrine is found in Brazil but it can also be found in Russia, France and Madagascar.

There is a lot of history and lore about both stones.

Some of the largest cut gemstone pieces throughout history have been cut out of topaz. Ancient Egyptians believed that topaz received its golden hue from the sun god Ra. Golden Topaz was said to change color in the presence of poisoned food or drink.

Citrine has been said to aid in urinary, kidney and digestive diseases. It was also believed to ward off evil thoughts and protect from the effects of snake venom.  In ancient Greece, citrine was popular between 300 and 150 B.C.  It was also used to adorn weapons by Scottish weapon makers in the 17th century.    Queen Victoria loved citrine.  With the attention and admiration citrine received her parties, it became a part of shoulder brooches and kilt pins in Highland attire.  Even now, it is considered an essential part of the tradition.

What were some of the more notable stones? The Luxembourg Royal Family citrine and pearl tiara and earrings, the citrine and diamond tiaras by Cartier for the coronation ceremony of King George VI in 1937 and Kate Middleton’s citrine drop earrings.   The El Dorado Topaz is the largest faceted gemstone in the world at 31,000 (yes, that’s 31 thousand) carats.  The American Golden Topaz is a whopping 22,892.5 carats and is on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

In the Naturally Wild Swap Shop, you can trade for citrine and topaz both!!

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

The Children’s Zoo’s Personal Artist

Have you ever noticed the amazing art work on the keeper chat sign in the Children’s Zoo?

There is one keeper in the Children’s Zoo responsible for that beautiful art. Her name is Nikki Blakely and she has been with the Houston Zoo for 4 years.  Her career here started with a part time position in April 2013 and she was promoted to full time in October of 2015.

Nikki is a primary keeper in our Ambassador Animal Building and takes care of  a wide variety of animals.  The Zoo’s Ambassador Animals are the animals you see at presentations, events and on Zoomobiles.   She is also a primary trainer on several animals, including one of her favorites, Luna the Virginia Opossum.

While Nikki isn’t the only Zookeeper with artistic talents, her art is what you are likely to see as you enter the Children’s Zoo.  We always have our Keeper Chat sign out in front of the Naturally Wild Swap Shop to let guests know what the Children’s Zoo chats are for the day.   (Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here form more info) As you can see, Nikki has used both flora and fauna for her inspiration.  She has also used her talents on some of the enrichment for the animals.

Nikki has been coming to the Houston Zoo her whole life.  Unlike many of us, she is a Native Houstonian.  She even stayed true to Texas as she chose a college.  She attending University of Houston and Texas A & M University earning a degree in Biology.  She has raised many animals at home too!  She has had horses, fish, birds and even chickens.  Currently her pets include a ball python, 2 cats and a dove.

What would Nikki like everyone to know about her job as a Zookeeper?  She says the job is very rewarding and in more ways than just being with the animals.  It has given her an outlet for connecting her artwork with guest enjoyment to make her job even richer.

The next time you are visiting the Children’s Zoo, take a look at the keeper chat sign.  And if you see Nikki on grounds, say hi and let her know how much we all appreciate what she does.

Augmented Reality Sandbox comes to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

What is Augmented Reality Sand? To describe it in one word – Awesome. In fact, if you come into the Swap Shop and we aren’t at the desk, check to see if we are playing in the sandbox.

It was developed by University of California Davis’ W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences and was supported by the National Science Foundation.  It combines 3D visualization applications with a hands-on sandbox exhibit to teach about earth science concepts.   It uses a computer projector and a motion sensing input device (Xbox 360 Kinect 3D camera).  By changing the levels of the sand, the Kinect detects the distance to the sand below and elevation is projected on the sand, complete with color and contour lines.  Already sounds amazing doesn’t it?  Ever wish you could create your own lake on a hot day?  Or build a mountain to climb?    You can even hold your hand out about 2 feet above the sand surface and the program will simulate rain.  The rain will drain into the lowest lying areas in the sand.  Watersheds, mountains, lakes, rivers.  You can make them all!

If we are in a drought, freshwater is not being added to the watershed. A watershed is an area of land which drains to a specific point.  (such as the Clear Lake watershed or the Armand Bayou watershed) That lack of rain causes lots of problems.  Let’s start with our drinking water.  We need it for survival – I mean how would we even make coffee in the mornings??  Then, think about our lawns and all the plants around us.  They all need water to survive too. So, do our pets and wild animals – birds, rabbits, squirrels, etc.  The issues don’t stop there.  If there isn’t freshwater from rainfall coming into the watersheds it can even have an impact on the bay.  If enough freshwater isn’t coming into the bay from the watersheds, the salt (or salinity) goes up.  That change in salinity can have an adverse effect on plants and animals both.  One example is that oysters cannot thrive in a salt level that is too high.  And, oysters are big business on the gulf coast.  Water is critical to all forms of life – both plant and animal.  Understanding water cycles and how a water shed works is fundamental to protecting that valuable resource.

And the other side of that same coin – floods. We are well versed in flooding in our area, aren’t we?  What have we seen when hurricanes bring a storm surge?  Or when a tropical storm stalls out in our area?  Sometimes the drainage can’t keep up and the watershed has more water than it can handle.  The rising water can not only cause damage to property but, sometimes even lives are lost.  Flooding invades areas that animals would normally be living in causing them to lose their habitat and can cause problems with all the plants around us and leave us stranded.

The goal of the Augmented Reality Sandbox is for our guests to learn about topography, the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas, levees and more. We want to raise public awareness and increase understanding and stewardship of freshwater ecosystems.  We hope you will come by and check out the new sandbox.

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

Click here to learn more about Augmented Reality Sand and even find out how to build your own.

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