Sunday, May 30, 2010

Spring SKIP Week 5: Thieves, Sneaks and Trickery!

Park staff Alida and Morgan joined the SKIP crew again this week to tell us a whole lot of things about biodiversity, which is really just a fancy way of saying "a variety of living things." We quickly learned that adaptations and interesting ways that different organisms reproduce go a long way toward ensuring there are lots of different species on Earth, which is a very good thing.

Alida and Morgan started off by telling us about cowbirds and how they have a tricky way of reproducing. Basically, they observe the nests of other species of birds and then sneak in and lay an egg when the mama bird pops out for some food. Mama bird returns and ends up raising a cowbird with her own brood. Cowbirds are often bigger than the original nesters, so they tend to gobble up most of the mama's energy, putting her own babies at a disadvantage. This was all demonstrated using SKIP babies and a big cowbird baby (volunteer Jane), with Alida as a mama phoebe.

We also learned about pumpkinseed "sneaker" fish. Pumpkinseed males fan pebbles away on the bottom to make a nest. Then they work to attract females, who come along and lay their eggs. Since the bigger, stronger pumpkinseed males attract the most females, the smaller males don't often get a chance to reproduce. These smaller males will mimic females (not usually by wearing wigs, though!) and hang around until a real female comes along, then sneak in to fertilize her eggs while the bigger male isn't looking.
Next up we heard about the red trillium, which is pretty to look at but smells like rotten meat! This scent attracts flies that want to lay their eggs in the "meat." Instead they end up searching around on the smelly flower, indadvertently collecting pollen and spreading it to other smelly red trilliums as they continue to hunt for the source of the "delicious" smell. Camryn made an excellent fly in the demonstration with Alida and Morgan.

We learned about other creatures with interesting adaptations, too, such as fireflies and the underwing moth, which has brightly coloured underwings used to scare predators. Next we played a firefly murder mystery, which was a modified form of tag. Each player got a firefly card: some male, some female and some large (photuris) and some small (photinus).
When told to freeze, everyone found a partner and compared cards. Males and females that were the same size were safe, as were two males that were the same size or two females that were the same size. Photuris females, however, tend to devour smaller fireflies, though, so in that case there would be a "murder" and the smaller player would fall down in a heap!

After the game we divided into four groups and set out for different starting points around the Lally Homestead site for a scavenger hunt. Each team had lists of things to look for in different areas, such as a great blue heron, mushroom, woodpecker holes, dragonfly, yellow flowers, common mullein, elm tree, white pine tree, milkweed, ants and much more. Everyone had a great time discovering items from the list and also wrote down a number of interesting finds that weren't listed.

Afterwards we reconvened at the clubhouse for a great snack provided by Pat. A big thank you to Alida and Morgan for their interesting and informative program, along with Skipper Pat and volunteers Jane, Judy, Beth and Steph. Next week Tim will be back to take us on a tour into the past!

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