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Category — Conservation

Say Cheese! Plant Movement Revealed Through Time-Lapse Photography

The Plant Division at CREW is now using time-lapse photography to capture the growth of plants in vitro. Using a digital SLR camera, we program the camera to take a photograph of the plants every 30 minutes.

Camera set up for time lapse photography

Camera set up for time lapse photography

In general, it takes about two months before the test tube plants need to be subcultured onto fresh media. Now we can condense weeks of growth images into a 1-minute video. Watch the awned meadowbeauty (Rhexia aristosa), a flowering perennial from the Eastern United States,grow!

We initially observed the plants responding to the daily 16-hour light/8-hour dark cycle in the growth chamber. The leaves of the plants appear to “pulse” upward as the light automatically turns on each morning. The “sleep movements” of plants are well documented in terrestrial settings, but until now we had not observed them in plants grown in vitro at CREW. Time-lapse photography has also been a useful tool in comparing different types of media. We photograph a single species on different media to detect changes in growth patterns depending on the medium.

To date we have completed time-lapse videos of three species. The goal is to create a video for every species in the growth chamber. Since a single sequence can take up to six weeks to complete, we have our work cut out for us to create videos for the 35 to 50 species in the growth chamber!

(Reprinted from the Fall 2015 CREW Review)

March 2, 2016   No Comments

Take the Plunge for Polar Bears and Lower your Thermostat by Two Degrees

Join us in celebrating International Polar Bear Day by taking Polar Bear International’s Thermostat Challenge to save energy for polar bears—and then make it a habit.  At the Cincinnati Zoo, we believe in being responsible with our natural resources, which includes reducing our carbon emissions on behalf of future polar bear – and human – generations to come!

thermostat-challenge-1

Did you know that heating and cooling account for roughly half the energy consumption in an average home? If every American adjusted their thermostat by just one degree, it would save as much energy as the entire state of Iowa uses in a whole year!

Berit the polar bear takes a plunge of her own! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Berit the polar bear takes a plunge of her own! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

When we burn fossil fuels like coal and gas for energy, those activities release more and more carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. This buildup of carbon acts like a thickening blanket around the earth, trapping in excess heat and disrupting our climate. As global temperatures rise, the amount of sea ice available for bears is continually reducing. Polar bears require sea ice for efficient hunting of their primary prey, seals. On average, it takes 45 seals a year to feed one adult polar bear. Without sea ice, polar bears will decline in range and numbers, making them vulnerable to extinction in the future. The key here is that our community’s daily activities have an impact on the Arctic and the animals that live there. In order to ensure that these wildlife and wild places will be thriving years down the road, it is our responsibility to take action now and reduce the amount of carbon our societies create.

Berit the polar bear thanks you! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Berit the polar bear thanks you! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

So join us in saving polar bears by turning your thermostat down two degrees this winter, and encourage your family and friends to do it, too. It will give you a good excuse to pull that Snuggie out of the closet and wear those new fuzzy slippers you got over the holidays.

February 27, 2016   No Comments

Sloth News: A Mate for Moe and Sloths on the Go in Costa Rica

A Mate for Moe

If you’re one of Moe’s super fans, you may notice an empty tree in the Zoo’s Discovery Forest where the two-toed sloth would normally be. Where did Moe go? Don’t worry, she’ll be back soon…from her honeymoon!

That’s right! Moe will be off exhibit for a short while, snuggling up with a new mate named Twix. On short-term loan specifically for breeding purposes, Twix came to us from the Racine Zoo and will return once the honeymoon is over. A special off-exhibit honeymoon suite has been outfitted to set the mood, complete with a palm frond canopy and rainforest sounds.

Moe awaits her new mate in the off-exhibit "honeymoon suite"

Moe awaits her new mate in the off-exhibit “honeymoon suite”

Twix awaits his introduction to Moe

Twix awaits his introduction to Moe

While Moe is “on vacation”, her exhibit space is being upgraded and expanded with new trees and vines that will allow her more room to move around and explore once she returns to the Discovery Forest.

If all goes as planned, Moe will give birth to a single 12-ounce newborn 10 months later. With fully formed claws at birth, the youngster will cling to the fur on Moe’s belly for six months or more and remain with her for at least a year as young sloths do in the wild.

Sloths on the Go in Costa Rica

Meanwhile in Costa Rica, several young sloths that have been rescued and rehabilitated by Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR) and The Sloth Institute (TSI) are making their way back into the wild with help from the Cincinnati Zoo. Last September, two of the Zoo’s Interpretive Animal Keepers traveled to Costa Rica to help TSI prepare for the sloth releases. Soon after, TSI initiated the release process for two sloths, Ellen and Kermie.

Ellen and Kermie are both two-toed sloths. Ellen arrived at the KSTR rescue center when she was about three or four months old. She was found on the beach alone with no mother in sight. Kermie was rescued when he was a mere newborn (less than one week old). He was found on the ground with a twin brother that sadly never made it to the rescue center alive. Both Kermie and Ellen have spent almost their entire lives together and they are now almost three years old. They are very bonded and spend most of their time together. They sleep together every day and have even been observed breeding!

Kermie takes it easy (The Sloth Institute)

Kermie takes it easy (The Sloth Institute)

Before venturing straight back out into the wild, the young sloths first spent some time acclimating to the forest in a 20X20X20 ft pre-release enclosure. Here they can climb and explore their new environment while still being provided shelter and food. TSI spent hours every day collecting leaves from the forest for Ellen and Kermie to eat so they could learn what to forage for when they are out on their own.

The next big step was to open the enclosure door, allowing Ellen and Kermie the opportunity to move freely between the pre-release enclosure and the wild as they choose. Over time, the hope is that they become more and more self-reliant and eventually stop returning to the enclosure at all.

Ellen exploring the treetops (The Sloth Institute)

Ellen exploring the treetops (The Sloth Institute)

Both are fitted with VHF tracking collars (funded by the Zoo). This way TSI staff can monitor the sloths around the clock and record their behaviors, postures, tree choices, food choices, and so on. TSI collects similar behavioral data on wild sloths in the area with which they can compare the behavior of the released sloths. This will let them know how the released sloths are faring in the wild and if they are acting like wild sloths.

Wilbur is one of the wild sloths being studied (The Sloth Institute)

Wilbur is one of the wild sloths being studied (The Sloth Institute)

With Ellen and Kermie well on their way back into the wild, the next sloths beginning this transition are two-year old Monster and one-year old Piper. Both three-toed sloths, Monster came to the rescue center as an orphan at just two weeks old; she was found crying and trying to cross the street on her own. Piper was rescued clinging to another young sloth after they had fallen down a rocky cliff onto the beach at high tide. Piper was about four months old when he was rescued. They have been learning the new sights, sounds and smells of the forest in their pre-release enclosure and the door is scheduled to open in about a month. They will be fitted with tracking collars and monitored in the same manner as Ellen and Kermie to assess the success of their release.

Meet Monster. Perhaps she was named for her monster claws? (The Sloth Institute)

Meet Monster. Perhaps she was named for her monster claws? (The Sloth Institute)

Here's Piper! (Photo: The Sloth Institute)

Here’s Piper! (Photo: The Sloth Institute)

Can you find Monster here in her pre-release enclosure? (The Sloth Institute)

Can you find Monster here in her pre-release enclosure? (The Sloth Institute)

This is the first time hand-raised sloths have been released back into the wild. Long-term monitoring is important to determining its success. It will also help us learn more about the natural ecology of sloths and provide insight into how to overcome the challenges they face in the wild.

Stay tuned for more sloth news as we keep our fingers crossed for Moe and Twix here at the Zoo and Ellen, Kermie, Monster and Piper in the wild.

February 22, 2016   3 Comments