LIVE ACTION…Corn Snakes are Pipping!

I woke up this morning to this corn snake excitement!  Clearly I need a tripod or something for my phone.  The shaking is a bit annoying, but still the time-lapse video results are pretty amazing to witness.  These are big video files so be patient with the download.

Above you’ve seen a few of Cookie and Brownie’s newest offspring “pipping”. Pipping is the name given to the animal behavior of breaking or tearing through an egg to hatch. Birds and reptiles all “pip” and they all have a special sharp adaptation called an “egg tooth” that sticks out from their snout that is used for this purpose.  Corn snakes and most reptile eggs are soft and leathery so the egg tooth tears the shell so the little snake can peek out into the world.

So far, seven of Cookie’s nine eggs have some sort of “activity” as you can see below.  I am careful not to disturb them because I don’t want to startle the hatchlings causing them to leave their eggs too soon.  It is important that they fully consume their first “meal” before venturing fully out into their shoe box   …. Thanks for the egg yolk, mom! ...


The pebbly looking material the eggs are resting in is called vermiculite.  Vermiculite (available at most hardware stores)  is a natural mineral product that is known for being porous and holding moisture/water.  I use it to help maintain a humid incubator environment.  It is also a friendly first material for the hatchlings to explore once they have bravely exited their egg. Here is one of our first bold explorers.  And yes, she is amelanistic!!

Are you looking closely at the picture and videos????  How many amelanistic babies have you counted?

Remember the word amelanistic “dissected” works like this….  a = not,  melanistic = melanin.  Therefore, not or no melanin in these corn babies. Melanin is a pigment found in animal skin and hair that provides black/brown coloration.  Without melanin corn snakes will be red, yellow and white only.  Their eyes of course will be red instead of black because of the absence of melanin.

It’s not too late to take the poll below! We are waiting on two more eggs….




Survey says… Countdown to Baby Corn Snakes!

Anxiously Awaiting!


It has been 63 days since Cookie laid her second clutch of eggs.  ( Remember the first clutch sadly perished due to mold and heat in the homemade incubator at school 😦 )

This clutch of eggs have been snuggled in the Reptibator at a consistent 85° F and 85% humidity since May!  Two of the eggs shriveled and turned yellow so they had to be removed. There are now just nine viable eggs in waiting.   About three days ago some of the eggs began to dimple inwards which I have read is a sign of hatching soon to come.  I can’t wait!
Join me in anticipating the new hatchlings by completing the poll below.
HINT:  Cookie and Brownie both had an amelanistic mother.  Their dad was a normal. Amelanism is a recessive genetic trait (aa).  This website could help:  Corn Calculator

I’m anxious to see the “answer emerge” soon 🙂
Stay Curious!!

Celebrating “One Giant Leap for Mankind”

Today is the 48th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.  This moment, 9:56pm Houston time is the 48th Anniversary of the first human foot step on the Moon.


At 3:18pm (CT), on Sunday, July 20, 1969,  Neil Armstrong successfully landed the Lunar Module (named the Eagle) on the lunar surface.  Six hours later, Neil Armstrong descended the steps of the landing module.  At 9:56pm (CT), Neil Armstrong became the first human on the moon.  He spoke these famous first words; “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”   Twenty minutes later,  Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the second human to step on the moon.

Armstrong and Aldrin then “unveiled” a plaque mounted on the leg strut behind the ladder that had two drawings of the Earth; the Eastern and Western hemispheres. It remains there today and reads:

“Here Men From Planet Earth
First Set Foot Upon The Moon
July 1969 A.D.
We Came In Peace For All Mankind”

Video of First Steps!

The two lunar explorers spent a little over two hours collecting surface material, planting the American flag and taking photos.  They then climbed back into the Eagle and slept for several hours while their “unsung hero”, Michael Collins, continued to patiently orbit in the Command Module (Columbia).  On Monday, July 21st at 12:54pm Houston time the upper stage of the Eagle blasted off the surface to rendezvous with Columbia.  After a three day return journey covering 200,000+ miles, on July 24, 1969, the three astronauts splashed down just before dawn in the Pacific Ocean 825 nautical miles SW of Hawaii in the Columbia capsule.

Apollo 11 capsule after splashdown

On this day, 48 years ago, Armstrong and Aldrin became the first of only 12 humans (all men, all Americans) to walk on the moon.  Those 12 men are the only humans to ever leave Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and step on another natural object in space.

Mankind has not left LEO since the last Apollo Mission (17) in 1972!  No rocket as powerful as the Apollo missions’ Saturn V has been launched since 1972.   However, those “fun facts” are likely to change in our lifetimes…..

Interestingly, a remarkably similar photo to the one above, appeared in the Houston Chronicle just last week (below).  The photo however was not a celebrating a past NASA mission but instead was from recent NASA maneuvers in the Gulf to practice astronaut exit procedures for the new ORION spacecraft.

Orion capsule testing off the coast of Galveston

LINK: Orion Testing News Story

The Orion crew capsule will launch aboard the new SLS rocket!
Beyond LEO Here We Come!!


A Fish Tale with Teeth!

Earlier this month we were fishing on the more remote “backside” of Southern California’s Catalina Island.  We tied up the bow line of our little boat to a large kelp frond just outside Catalina Harbor to hold us in place around the off-shore “forest”.

Cat Harbor

The water was crystal clear so I could see the bright orange Garibaldi Fish (CA State Marine Fish) and Calico Bass frolicking below.  Nature’s aquarium!

We dropped our fishing line loaded with squid between the kelp stalks hoping to bring a big speckled “Cali” home for dinner.  Instead, we were treated to catching several beautiful California sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher).  A beautiful fish in the wrasse family, the sheephead has some pretty crazy teeth.  The front two incisors look very human like.  The tale of the teeth is obvious from these images of one of the fish we caught. Fingers beware! Carnivore or Herbivore?  You decide.


While reportedly very tasty, this omnivore decided to “catch and release” all the sheepheads we caught even though many were CA Fish and Wildlife “legal” at over 12″ in length.  The California sheephead is classified as a vulnerable species due to overfishing and the relatively long time that it takes them to reach reproductive maturity. Sheepheads are also considered (like the cuter and more celebrated sea otters) to be a critical keystone predator in the kelp forest.  Their specialized teeth allow them to feed on the sea urchins that can dangerously overpopulate and overgraze the kelp.
See Video on Kelp Forest Keystone Species
#NoSheepheadNoKelp  #SavetheKelp

urchin on kelp

I learned a final fascinating fishy fact after observing some very different color patterns in the sheephead fish we caught.  Several of the sheepheads were a beautiful pale pink color (females) but one big one was mostly black with a broad pink stripe (male).  There is a large color variation between the male and female California sheephead that is typical of many animal species (think Peacock!).  BUT those of you observing closely…. may be wondering about the one that I caught with the toothy grin in the picture above. It doesn’t quite look like either of these; does it? Odd?


That’s because my fish is in the process of changing from a female to a male.  What?! Yup, it is changing its sex and has not completed the change fully yet!!  Cool fact…. California sheephead fish are all born female!   When the females reach 12-14″ in length hormones trigger the biggest among them to develop the coloration, square forehead and reproductive parts of a male.   Nature never ceases to amaze!  Get out there and explore.  Share your stories!


Living in Space City brings a responsibility for being informed about manned space missions.  I am on a plane headed to Los Angeles but I fully expect when I land to be quizzed all about the #NewAstronaut candidates that NASA is bringing to Houston/Johnson Space Center for two years of training. Thank goodness for in-flight WiFi.  Watch Live NOW on NASA TV


Totality Awesome!

Hooray!!  Another rewarding school year is now a beautiful memory and it is time to experience the wonder of the natural world up close and personal this summer.  My first blog post for the Summer of 2017 is actually not an experience YET but… a plan.  A BIG PLAN.  A plan that I encourage you all to consider making as well. Quickly.

On Monday, August 21st, our moon will totally eclipse the sun for up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds along a thin pathway of totality that crosses our country from coast to coast. The last total solar eclipse to cross the U.S. covered only a small portion (Pacific NW & Montana) on February 26, 1979 but it was mostly cloud covered.  A cloud free total solar eclipse crossed the continental U.S. on March 7, 1970.  I have vague memories of witnessing this eclipse just outside the line of totality as a 7 year old living in North Carolina.

But, on August, 21, 2017, Mr. Caldwell and I will be directly IN THE PATH of totality for what is being nicknamed “The Great American Eclipse” in the small Oregon town of Madras.  Actually we will arrive there on Friday, August 18th to get into position before the likely traffic jams.Table 1


Being as close to the center line of totality (red line above) is key to experiencing a total solar eclipse.  In the band of totality you will encounter complete darkness as the moon comes between the Earth and the Sun.  Watch this great NASA video for a scientific explanation and safe viewing tips!
NASA Solar Eclipse Video


Positioning for viewing within the band of totality allows you to witness the sun’s awe inspiring corona (outer atmosphere) and the celestial objects that are obscured during the day due to “light pollution” from our closest star, the Sun.  The image below shows the position of the stars and planets that will be visible for the few minutes that our Sun is eclipsed by the moon.

Planets-and-stars-visible-during-totality-as-seen-from-Wyoming-e1477481376419Mr. Caldwell and I spent a fair amount of time researching optimal viewing sites for this total solar eclipse and landed on Madras, Oregon due to its higher probability of clear skies, airfare, lodging economics/comfort, and NASA’s endorsement.  We waffled back and forth between several locations in Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming but are ultimately happy with our choice and now are hopeful for cooperating weather conditions.


We will be camping in a farmer’s field just north of the airport in Madras, Oregon.  Our chosen location is supported as part of a local event called Oregon Solarfest.  Here is the promo video for the location.
Video: Madras Oregon: Solarfest 2017
Maybe we’ll see you there?  Make your plans NOW.

Can’t make the 2017 solar eclipse?  You’re young!  You can wait 7 more years.  The next one passes right over the GREAT STATE!


Dive In…Every Full Moon

Fitting and timely with our Dive Into Five LC theme this year,  NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, have recently teamed up to introduce exciting educational videos about our ocean.   Inspired by the tidal connection of our Earth’s ocean and the moon, every full moon, NOAA Ocean Today releases a new episode.  The video series began with our October full moon releasing a 6 part episode on Ocean Exploration and Bioluminescence.  Only two episodes (October & November full moons) are available so far.  Series are designed around a different ocean theme each month.  The videos are short and very well done as many of them were originally designed for kiosks for the ocean hall of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.   We were able to enjoy just some of the short videos released on the October full moon about bioluminescence as we studied exothermic chemical reactions.  Please try to watch them all!
Ocean Today Every Full Moon

bioluminiesenceThe November 14th Supermoon brought the release of Ocean Today’s second and most recent episode, an excellent 7 part series on Marine Debris. trash_talkWe were first introduced to this topic last year when our classmate, Rafa, developed a power point presentation that he shared with the LC on the problem of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  His presentation introduced us to a young man, Boyan Slat, determined to solve the problem of this marine debris.  Here is the link to Boyan’s 2013 TedX talk that we watched last school year..
Boyan Slat on TedX

boyan-slat-le-sauveur-des-oceans-paris-match Below at the link to Boyan’s website, interested students should be pleased to see that since 2013 Boyan has had great progress on his plan to clean up the ocean plastics.  I encourage you to click around the website…. Careers??
The Ocean Clean Up – CEO Boyan Slat

The next two NOAA Ocean Today series will release on December 13th, with the last supermoon of 2016, and on January 12th, the first full moon of 2017.    I hope to share some bit of the January series on Ocean Acidification as a follow-up to our recent Chemistry unit learning about acids and bases.  Mark your full moon calendar to catch up with the release of these new episodes!   I hope a second season is in the works 🙂


Supermoon Monday!

Just want to make sure our LC5 scientists and their families enjoy what the natural world is serving up this weekend!   Starting tomorrow night you will not want to miss the opportunity to view Earth’s natural satellite.  I know some of you have some spectacular telescopes that should come in handy but the rest of us will be treated as well to a fantastic view of a supermoon as the weather forecast appears to be clear.  A supermoon is when the moon is both full and at perigee (an orbital position closest to Earth).  The official perigee point in time will be Monday morning at 6:52am right before moonset in the west.  If you are up early Monday morning for work or school look west for a special site.

This is a great explanation from NASA on the science behind the occurence we have the opportunity to enjoy :))     NASA Rocks Supermoon Explanation!

Maria…. we are counting on you!

Maria's Full Moon June 20, 2016

Happy Hundred!

Today, August 25, 2016, is the 100th birthday of the founding of our country’s National Park  Service (NPS).   On this day in 1916 President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill into law to create an organization to care for the National Parks.  The mission for the NPS was “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

At that time we had just 12 national parks including our first, Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872 under President Ulysses S. Grant.  Today we have over 400 national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House all managed by over 20,000 National Park Service employees and rangers.

In honor of the NPS’s 100th birthday, Google has put together an INCREDIBLE collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. PLEASE click on the following link from your Google Chrome browser to experience five great national parks: Bryce Canyon, Kenai Fjords, Carlsbad Caverns, Dry Tortugas and Hawaii Volanoes.  Start by DIVING IN to the Dry Tortugas 🙂

The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks


How many national parks have you visited?


It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane … It’s the Perseids!

perseidWAAAAAY cooler than a bird or a plane …. a meteor shower!!   This summer’s Perseid meteor shower is expected to be more prolific than most.  The Perseids occur regularly in August as Earth’s revolution passes through the dust and debris left behind by 1992’s Comet Swift-Tuttle (This comet with its elongated elliptical orbit won’t pass by Earth again until 2126!) Most Augusts you can be expected to see around 50 meteors per hour.  This year, astronomy experts are predicting 150-200 meteors per hour!

The best viewing will be after midnight, after our waxing moon sets and the sky is darkest. I have already been treated to a view of a few of the early meteors so it is not too soon to start watching.  Take any opportunity you have starting NOW to patiently watch the night sky. However, the Perseid light show is expected to peak after midnight on Thursday (8/11) until dawn on Friday (8/12).  I plan to go to bed early and set my alarm for around 2:00am. It’s summer!  Why not?

Find the darkest place you can away from light pollution.  The best way to view is to lie on your back and look straight up.  I grab a lawn chair and a pillow 🙂  The more sky you can see (less trees!) the better.  Try to watch with family or friends to make it fun.  Give your eyes at least 30 minutes or so to adjust to the darkness.   If anyone gets a great photograph(s) please share.

Must Read…TIPS for VIEWING!

If you miss the chance to get outside and see with your own eyes this spectacular event, you can check out NASA’s UStream video footage later…

Link to NASA Video of Perseids

I wonder what a meteor shower looks like from the ISS?