Saturday, May 9, 2015

Seahorse genetics project

        The VLM is part of the lined seahorse SSP (Species Survival Plan), as part of the goal to "cooperatively manage specific, and typically threatened or endangered, species populations" by breeding seahorses at our facility and sharing/exchanging surplus with other institutions involved in the SSP. A major part of any SSP is research and the sharing of information regarding the species as well. Researcher Nancy Ho of the Vero Beach Marine Lab at Florida Institute of Technology heads a project that investigates the population dynamics and genetic diversity of lined seahorses in the wild; a project the VLM supports financially and helps to provide DNA samples from wild seahorses native to our area. 
A male seahorse (notice the pouch) is measured just prior to a fin clipping

        Whenever we are in the field and capture a seahorse, we record our collection location (co-ordinates, body of water) and retain the animal to get a tissue sample when we get back to the VLM. These wild sea horses have their own holding system specifically for this project, so they do not mingle with our captive bred population to insure that we can identify them as wild caught and that they don't interbreed. 


video
Sea horses like to stick together; here 8 of them lock tails on one small plant


        Samples are taken in a painless and non-invasive manner; we simply clip a 2 mm portion off the dorsal fin and save the fin clipping in ethanol. The entire procedure takes less than 30 seconds, causes the animal no pain, no loss of blood, and will grow back in a matter of weeks. The fin clipping is then sent to FIT, where Nancy can extract the DNA and determine what population the sea horses are part of. The wild seahorse can then be released back into the wild. Thus far we have submitted 17 samples for analysis and will hopefully be able to provide many more samples for her research.


Note the long fleshy appendages on their heads and along the backs

        Meanwhile the teenagers from our captive bred population are getting larger each day. They have graduated from Cyclopeeze and artemia to chopped mysis as well. this particular batch is extremely "branchy"(see picture and below); lots of long fleshy appendages, especially around the head. When these teenage horses are large enough and are trained to eat whole mysis from a feeding station, we will put them on exhibit. 
                                                            
Some of these guys are very ornate











                                                                                
                                                                                                                                     

Friday, May 1, 2015

Ruby Throated Hummingbird

Yesterday morning, animal keeper/trainer Carrie Bridgman found a lethargic and seemingly dazed  ruby throated hummingbird inside the River Otter exhibit. She brought the beautiful little creature inside our husbandry building to allow the otters into the exhibit without them having contact with it.  

It was immediately sheltered in a bucket with a baby blanket inside and another covering the top to give it some peace to rest and to hopefully allow it to recover enough to be re-released as soon as possible. I have experience with hummingbirds and volunteered (who wouldn't?) to monitor it's health. The first step being warmth on a cool spring morning and re-hydration - if necessary. As I prepared some warm sugar water for it, I heard it stirring inside the bucket. Knowing the fragile nature of this species and following the first rule of animal care - first do no harm - I wanted to make sure it did not injure a wing, so I immediately took it to a protected outdoors area behind the museum  in case it began to flap around or hopefully fly away; avoiding an injured or broken wing is the immediate concern. The hummingbird was going no-where for the moment, and simply rested with eyes closed. I then wanted to offer some water/sugar mix from a 1 cc syringe in case it needed some fluids. Aquarist Patrycja Lawryniuk thankfully was able to capture the little fella on camera. 

Just out of the bucket; a little subdued but content

It began to take solution slowly at first, but then very greedily. Thankfully the late spring sun came out just at the right time.

The refreshments and warm sun called for a short nap 

After 15 minutes or so of intermittent rest/feeding, it become much quicker moving and more alert. Eventually it took no more solution, looked around rapidly and flew into some nearby columbine.

It seemed to gather strength and become more alert minute by minute...

It then fed in nearly every flower for several minutes...

 flitting around faster and faster, and then it was gone, after a brief but ultimately successful encounter that I wont soon forget.