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News from the Friends of the Museum

  • 12/01/2022 1:16 PM | John Wares (Administrator)

    An Unlikely Aquarium Friend

    By Ivy Francis

    We often feature the Georgia Museum of Natural History interns and students in On the Nature of Things. Ivy Francis is one of our former superstar interns and lab technicians who had her last semester at UGA clouded over by the pandemic. Thus, I invited her to provide some insights from the job she took for most of the past 2 years, working at the Georgia Aquarium and getting to work with spectacular aquatic friends! Hope you enjoy!

    During college, all I knew was that I liked science and that I did NOT want to do anything business related. I couldn’t imagine myself in a 40 hour a week job, sitting at a desk from 9-5. All I knew was that I wanted something different, but the pieces weren’t even in my brain yet for me to put together and imagine the future. As I narrowed down my search, I took an ichthyology class, just because. As it turned out, fish were more interesting than I had previously thought. 

    Fast forward, my last semester in college was interrupted by Covid-19. At this point, I dreamed of scuba diving and telling someone about the fish taxa present in a reef or river. I scoured the internet and could not find anything worthwhile- just a lot of ecological consulting jobs and “volunteer opportunities”. I figured I could apply to the Georgia Aquarium, where I knew there were a LOT of fish, and stay in town while the virus was still spreading around globally.

    I then became an intern at the aquarium (yes, unpaid unfortunately). I didn’t realize which gallery I had applied for, but it turns out I managed to snag the one spot left that was continuing to have interns: the Ocean Voyager exhibit. If you are familiar with the Georgia Aquarium, you know that this is the massive exhibit with whale sharks, manta rays, and so so SO many other fish species. I had no idea what I was doing (how could I have?), but the team taught me so much about fish and how to take care of them in captivity. I managed to get hired on the team after only 2 months of interning. 

    My daily tasks revolved around feeding the animals and making sure they were all healthy. We began the day with a whale shark feed, then a dive in the exhibit where you were either a safety diver for volunteers that were cleaning in the tank, or diving to feed the whale shark, which has you swimming backwards squirting krill into the mouth of a 30ft whale shark as he follows you. Then, we did some eagle ray feeds, and maybe an animal procedure or two, depending on the day. Next, there was a general broadcast feed for all the fish who wanted to participate, and in tandem Tank the green sea turtle was distracted from those antics with his breakfast of lettuce. After, we did manta ray feeds, another whale shark feed, and tong feeds some days. During tong feeds, animals that did not need to eat every day were fed in many different stations, all at the same time. Some stations include the sharks, zebra sharks, some various species of rays, and the cownose rays (who can be a real pain at the other stations if you aren’t distracting them). Luckily, after all this work is a much needed lunch break! Coming back from lunch, we fed the eagle rays again, did another broadcast/Tank feed, a manta feed, and finally, a final whale shark feed. Whenever there was time, we logged what we did all day and how the animals did during their feeding/training sessions.

    One of my favorite animals there was a lonesome boy cownose ray named Butter. He had to be separated from the hundreds of girlfriends he had in the exhibit because they kept making more and more cownose rays, and frankly there were already enough. He was held in the holding pool to the side of the exhibit, which is a smaller pool where animals go to recover from procedures or if they’re babies. It’s a less stressful/competitive place than the huge tank. Anyways, he didn’t really have a purpose. He didn’t have a place to go, and couldn’t go back to the exhibit either. He just did circles around the edges of the holding pool, 24/7. So, I started to work on getting him to hand feed, and eventually target trained him with an orange ping pong paddle. I could have him do spins and follow me around, it was much easier to catch him for physical exams, and I even started to give him some back and belly pets (which were tolerated but not enjoyed). Eventually, the shark interaction pool at the aquarium wanted to take him because he was so well behaved. Unfortunately, even though he was the best trained ray there (in my opinion), he did not do well in the smaller pool and was a bit too pushy with wanting to participate to get treats… In the end, he ended up going to the offsite animal care facility to one day be prepared for a new home where he would thrive. It was moments like these with the fish that I saw how smart and motivated they could be. It also felt good to build a bond with the animals and help them form behaviors that were mutually beneficial.

    After almost two years of working at the Georgia Aquarium, I did decide to pursue a completely different career in real estate. To be transparent, the aquarium did not provide a livable wage in Atlanta, so instead of working myself to the bone, I decided to pursue a more lucrative career. The good news is that this career gives me the time to be able to volunteer to dive at the aquarium, so I still get to see the animals in Ocean Voyager whenever I want. I also get to dive in other smaller exhibits throughout the aquarium that I was not able to dive in previously due to my strict schedule while I worked there. 

    I am grateful for my college professors that helped me figure out my passion for science and animal care. Although it did not end up being a long term career path for me, I am thankful to have identified it and that I am able to volunteer my time to maintain my relationship between me and my passions. 

     


  • 08/22/2022 8:11 PM | Anonymous

    Meet the Beetles!

    by Robert Wyatt

    One of the most famous quotes regarding biological diversity (and theology) is that of the eminent British population geneticist J. B. S. Haldane, who was asked (in some versions of the story, by wags in a London pub) what could be inferred about the Creator from study of the natural world.  His response: "an inordinate fondness for beetles."

    Indeed, the high diversity of beetles (Order Coleoptera) stands out as extreme, with some 350,000 species described, making them the largest group of animals on Earth.  Some estimates range even higher, exceeding 1.5 million! . In the United States alone there are more than 30,000 species.

    As boys growing up in North Carolina, my friends and I had a favorite nighttime activity in the summer: searching for and catching large beetles.  We regularly patrolled parking lots at local shopping centers that had unshielded bright lights atop tall poles.  We also searched with great success at public playgrounds with lighted tennis courts or ball fields.

    Among the most prized specimens were the Eastern Hercules Beetle, Green June Beetle, Stag Beetle, and Rhinoceros Beetle.  Having no proper nets or other entomological supplies, we did our catching using hands and jelly jars.  Without realizing it, we were setting ourselves up well for later science classes that required an insect collection.

    But all of this is to lead up to a recent discovery of a beetle that I had never seen before:  the Eastern Eyed Elater (or Click Beetle).  This beauty happened to land on my hummingbird feeder on 30 May 2021.  At first I was dismayed because I initially thought what I was looking at, from a distance, was a dead juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

    As I got closer, I realized that it was a very large (about 40 mm long) beetle.

    Alaus oculatus (Elateridae) is black but is dotted with silvery white scales, which are arranged on the thorax so as to delimit two large, dark "eyes."  These eyespots presumably confuse or frighten potential predators.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaus_oculatus)

    As a secondary deterrent, like all click beetles, A. oculatus can suddenly catapult itself out of danger by snapping its back and shooting into the air.  Here is a link to a video showing clicking and flipping: 

    The larvae of click beetles are known as "wireworms," and some are serious pests of agricultural crops.  But the larvae of A. oculatus are predatory on other beetle larvae, especially Cerambycidae, and have been documented in cage experiments to consume more than 200 cerambycid larvae each!  Adults are said to not eat much, but their diet consists of nectar and plant juices.  So maybe that's how it ended up lying on my hummingbird feeder hoping for a drink of sugar water.

    I held my visitor (in a jelly jar!) for a few hours to observe its activity and feel and hear the click.  Supposedly, when placed on its back, the beetle should immediately click to right itself.  But my beetle instead "played dead," drawing in its legs and antennae and remaining still.  For some reason clicking would occur when simply held in my (predatory?) hand.

    Dr. Robert Wyatt obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his doctorate from Duke University, both in Botany with a minor in Zoology.  He spent most of his career at the University of Georgia, where he was a Professor of Botany and Ecology for more than 20 years.  He has served on the Board of the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Natural History for more than 15 years, including five as President.

  • 08/09/2021 8:08 PM | Anonymous

    Dear all, the summer is just heating up and so is the new academic year. Look for lots of news coming from Friends soon including more information on our 2022 Celebration!

    This week, a contribution from one of our summer GMNH interns, Ben Frick!

    What did our interns do this summer? An inside look by Ben Frick, working with John Wares

    I spent my summer with the crayfish – that is to say among their preserved remains – in the aquatic invertebrates collection of the Georgia Museum of Natural History Annex. My overarching task for this summer was to renumber, reorder, and relabel approximately 740 individual jars of crayfish specimens, a mission which at the time of my acceptance seemed deceptively simple and straightforward. It so turned out that I was incorrect in my initial assessment of the collection’s misleading façade, and I ultimately spent about 8 weeks trying to interpret the cryptic handwriting of one Dr. Chris Skelton and his colleague BD Bennett, both men whom in my mind have become notorious for their tendency to cram as much information as humanly possible into the smallest space available on their labels.

    Please do not be misled, I wholeheartedly enjoyed my time at the Annex this summer, and my work in the collections became a weekly routine that allowed me some time to contemplate my existence or catch up on podcasts if I so chose. Though my task may have been tedious, I found myself often looking forward to my time at the Annex not only for that time to think, but to see my fellow interns, Claire and Bella, whom I had the pleasure of coming to know throughout the course of the summer. Though initially I only interacted with them sparingly due to my collection’s isolated location, I soon found that tedious work is often more fun in the company of others who might share in that tedium. Thus, I often found myself hauling my cart of ethanol-saturated invertebrates to the loading deck, where the two girls could usually be found scrubbing whale bones and recording data. I enjoyed the conversations that we had, though they may not have been entirely curation-related, and I especially enjoyed occasional input from curator Nikki Castleberry, who seems to have a never-ending supply of stories to tell. I think that If I had to choose highlights from my time at the Annex, the relationships I helped to build and the stories I heard would certainly be at the top of the list.

    Of course, this isn’t to say that my internship with GMNH was non-educational or boring in any way, quite the contrary in fact. If anything, my time at the Annex was incredibly demonstrative of the need for programs like curation internships, especially within the realm of natural history. The reality of the situation is that for collections like those housed at the Annex, care and personal attention are scarce at best. Though they certainly do try with all of their might, the existing curation staff at the Annex are woefully short for time to spend on tedious work like mine, an unfortunate side effect of which is that many collections go untouched and uncatalogued for years at a time. Extensive collections like those at the Annex require careful and specific curation, both which for the moment only interns and volunteers have the capacity to spare. Moving forward, I will make every attempt to persuade my fellow life- sciences majors to help at the Annex, and I myself will likely still offer assistance when asked on account of my affiliation with John Wares outside of the Annex.

    I am writing this having just concluded my curation assignment, and I find myself looking back on this summer with a feeling of satisfaction. I value the experience in curation I’ve gained from this internship immensely, and I feel that I have a newfound respect for the time, effort, and dedication that museum curation can require of a person. I will likely pursue similar internships in the future – perhaps even in a different GMNH collection – and may even consider pursuing an actual position with GMNH or another museum further along down the line. I feel that if more people shared an experience similar to mine we might collectively better see the value in the preservation of natural history, through both lenses of future research and preservation for its own sake – a form of respect for the natural world in my view. The proliferation of that sense of respect and interest in the natural world are, in my mind, critical to the health of our planet now more than ever before, and I know no way better than experiential learning to foster such a long-lasting appreciation. At the very least, I know that the museum certainly always could use extra hands, minds, and aspirations, especially those belonging to someone who would like to make a difference. 

Friends of the Georgia Museum of Natural History
Natural History Building
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602
Phone: 706-542-1663
Email: info@gmnhfriends.org
Georgia Museum of Natural History

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