Mingling with Manatees

What is the most lovable sea mammal in the world? There are so many it is hard to pick, but at the top of the list is the Manatee. I once had the opportunity to swim with a baby manatee in Crystal River, Florida under the guidance of Snorkel with Manatees, a company that provides boating trips to visit these creatures in their natural habitat.  From the boat, we could see the air bubbles from the manatee’s nose as it came to the surface to breath. This told us it was time to slip into the water. Once in the water, our group of four tried to be as still as possible by floating on the surface. All of a sudden, as I was peering through my mask, the manatee surfaced in front of me! This baby was as big as us! She was just as curious about us as we were about her! We all hung out with her for a while as she dove up and down and played on the boat ladder!  Her mom eventually came back to get her. Words just can describe what an awesome experience this was!    IMG_1168 copy

Manatees are very unique and are considered a ‘strange’ species because they belong to a small and unusual group of herbivorous mammals that live underwater- herbivorous aquatic mammals. Evolutionary biologists are interested in manatees because they are an evolutionary link to the more common land-grazing mammals such as the elephant. Scientist can also trace their evolutionary lineage to grass-eating land mammals that lived at least 50 million years ago!

IMG_1149 copyManatees live in the warm shallow rivers, bays, canals and coastal areas and are also known as ‘sea cows’.  They prefer water above 68 degrees Fahrenheit and will rarely be found in water below that temperature.  A day in the life of these gentle creatures consists of slowly swimming, eating, and resting. Manatees usually swim at a speed of 5 miles per hour, however they can swim 15 miles per hour in short bursts.  Believe it our not, manatees have fingernails and if you could see an x-ray of a front flipper, it looks very much like the bone structure of a human hand.

As a herbivore, manatees eat water grasses, weeds, and algae. A manatee can eat a tenth of its weight in just 24 hrs. Manatees weigh anywhere from 440 to 1,300 pounds (lbs.) which would translate to eating anywhere from 44 to 130 lbs. of aquatic grasses, weeds, and algae every day! For comparison, do you think you eat a tenth of your body weight in 24 hours? Human beings typically eat 4 lbs. per day on average.  If you weighed 70 lbs. that means you would eat 7 lbs. of food!  Humans definitely don’t eat as much as manatees!

The Florida Manatee is probably the best known species, but Manatees can also be found in the marshy coastal areas and rivers of the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Amazon Basin, and West Africa. The Amazonian Manatee, unlike some other species of Manatee, never ventures into salt water. In Puerto Rico you can kayak with manatees in Salinas Bay. While kayaking, you mainly see and hear their noses breaking through the water to breath.  Once they take a breath, their noses valves that close to keep the water out while underwater. Don’t you wish your nose could do that too?IMG_1191 copy

Manatees are classified as endangered animals which means we don’t have many left in the wild and that they are protected by laws to help sustain and increase their population. There are an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 manatees living in Florida waters at this time. Manatees are vulnerable to motor boats and fishing nets. In Florida, there are signs reminding boaters to be on the look-out for manatees as to avoid accidental collisions with this slow moving creatures.  Learn more as to how you can help the manatees at the Human Society website and the Save the Manatee Club started by singer Jimmy Buffet and former US Senator Bob Graham. Remember if your wastewater drains to a river…where do rivers go?  You got it- they drain into oceans! Using environmentally friendly cleaners and using your drains and toilets for only the intended purposes, are two things you can do that help many aquatic habitats stay healthy including the mantees’!

Look for “Manatee Math” coming to a Science Bug Blog post soon!

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Summer of the Toads

I never encountered as many toads as I did this summer. I knew they were not frogs because toads have bumps on their skin and most frogs have smooth skin. My cat, Sebastian even found an American Toad under our deck. I immediately thought something was wrong with the toad (see photo below), since it had some brown slime coming from it’s mouth!


I later learned that toads have the ability to secrete a poisonous slim when they are scared.  This toad also puffed itself up to look bigger.  This is another part of their defense strategies.

American toads also have special glands, called paratoid glands, which look like bumps on their head. These glands produce a foul-smelling, toxic chemical. This is another defense mechanism that keeps predators from trying to eat it.

Toads start their life in the water and then spend the rest of their lives on land.  Toads change from a tadpole to a toad. Some species can do this in only 12 days while others need a full year.  When a young toad grows, it’s skin does not grow, so it needs to shed its skin. Ever wonder why no one has brought in a toad skin for show and tell?  Toads actually eat their old skin!

Toads also like to bury into the dirt during the hottest parts of the day or for protection. They can dig backwards with their hind legs.  Imagine my surprise to dig up this little toad in my flower garden. The dirt was moving and then a Bufo Americanus Toad hopped into the woods. It is very well camouflaged in this picture.  Can you find it?


Engineering a Ski Chair at Mt. Wachusett!

At Wachusett Ski Mountain we held an engineering competition. Skiers and boarders in grades K-7 participated! Contestants were asked to design a model of gondola (for a lift) from paper and see how much weigh it could hold. Contestants were then challenged to re-design their gondola in order to have it hold more weight. We used marbles to add weight to the chairs. The only requirement was that they could not use more than one 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of construction paper. They were offered three different types of tape (clear, masking, and duck tape), Popsicle sticks, string, and aluminum foil.

First time builders:
First Place: Camryn: 144 marbles
Second Place: Tim and Jack: 137 marbles

When it came to engineering a better chair the second time:

First Place: Caleb was our master at holding the most weight: 812 marbles

Second Place: Nick was our innovator, being the first to venture on his own: (308 marbles).

 Honorable Mention to: Brendon, Nico, Logan, Genevieve, JP, Owen, Andrew, Brady, Nora, and KiKi! Great job everyone!!!! For those of you, who took stuff home….we anxiously, await your results!

Dolphins of Tampa Bay

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Ever wonder what it would be like to see dolphins in their natural environment? Well, if you head to the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Florida you can sign-up to go on a tour of Tampa Bay and perhaps see the dolphins for yourself.  On 95% of the bay tours dolphins are spotted.  That is because approximately 500 bottle nose dolphins make Tampa Bay their home.  The average water depth of Tampa Bayis about 12 feet which is a just a little deeper than a backyard in-ground pool. Yet these dolphins are able to survive and thrive in these waters despite that Tampa Bay is also home to one of the busiest seaports in the southern United States.

Behind the Scenes with the Penguins

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I have always loved penguins, but the more I learned about them, the more I realized how interesting they are from how they can act like a dog when petted, be identified, and what we can all do in our daily lives to help save theirs!

Did you know that most penguins, including these live in warm climates?

Watch the video and learn from the Jason, the biologist who cares for them, what adaptations help them do so!

October 24th The NEW Catch the Science Bug Episode Debuts on PBS RI

On the set at the Pawtucket Water Treatment Facility


“To: Faucets, From: Clouds” will have make its very first television debut on PBS Rhode Island on Sunday, October 24th at 10:30 am

This episode is all about the remarkable trip that water makes from clouds all the way to your faucets.  Along the way we meet the engineers and technicians who help clean our drinking water at the Pawtucket Water Treatment Facility.  We learned that being able to supply water for a city is no small feat!

Category: Events

Catch the Outdoor Bug

You maybe wondering what we are up to at Catch the Science Bug these days? Right now we have a very exciting project in development, called Catch the Outdoor Bug!

The project involves saving a small but very unique forest. It is unique because it is a second-growth old forest that contains a wooded wetland.

Not only do we want to save it but we want to share it with you! After the forest is bought and permanently preserved, we will start teaching environmental education programs in the forest and offer FREE science activities to help you explore nature!

This forest is awesome and contains many different types of plants and a few animals. To help fund this project, please go to the Share Our Dream page to donate. On the donation page, please write TREES for the “Purpose”.  The trees thank you and so do I! !