On April 5th, EcoReach members, Katie and Ashley, packed up a variety of reptiles and amphibians and made their way to the Athens-Clarke County Public Library for this month’s Teen Event. Katie and Ashley started out with amphibians, introducing students to a Southern toad (Anaxyrus terrestris) and a spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) while discussing the defining features of amphibians and their sensitivity to environmental conditions. From slimy to scales, they moved on to reptiles by first bringing out two charismatic turtle species: the Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) and the Eastern diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin), showing off their durable shells and variable limb morphology that makes them expert forest stompers or swift swimmers! The final group of friends were a series of snakes: an Eastern kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula), a corn snake (Pantherophis gutattus), and a juvenile Northern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon). Many students faced there fear, holding or touching a snake for the first time! Katie and Ashley discussed the role of snakes in the ecosystem and the importance of identifying any snake before approaching it!
All the animals used for this program were education animals from Dr. John Maerz’s lab in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. Learn more about the herpetology outreach they do on their lab page https://www.maerzlab.com/.
On March 29th, EcoReach volunteered at Hilsman Middle School’s Family Science Night.
Our volunteers spent the evening speaking with students, their families, and members of ACC community about EcoReach’s mission statement, our recent events, as well as the charismatic gopher tortoise and armadillo. Only one species of armadillo lives in GA, the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus). Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) live in longleaf pine habitat in the southeast, along with many other vertebrate animals such as striped newt, indigo snake, flatwoods salamander, gopher frog, southern hognose snake, and eastern diamond‐backed rattlesnake. The gopher tortoise makes burrows which also provide shelter to many longleaf pine species, and the gopher tortoise is an important keystone species. Without a keystone species, its ecosystem and inhabitants would be drastically different, or even disappear in some cases.
The visitors at Family Science Night enjoyed their time measuring replicas of these critters and learning about their native habitats in Georgia.
For two Thursdays in a row, EcoReach designed and hosted a booth for Experience UGA‘s 9th grade science fair!
This year, Experience UGA brought the 9th grade classes from Cedar Shoals High School and Clarke Central High School to UGA on March 1st and March 8th, respectively. During their field trips, the students watched Chasing Coral, a Netflix Original Documentary featuring the Odum School of Ecology’s own Dr. James Porter, which documents the devastating effects of climate change on coral reefs around the world. The students also attended a science fair featuring booths from various science departments and organizations at UGA, including veterinarian pathology, microbiology, biological sciences, and EcoReach. The students were allotted about 10 minutes to explore each booth and participate in an activity.
EcoReach’s booth was all about bioassessments of local Athens streams. A bioassessment is the process of determining the health of a body of water using biological indicators, or aquatic organisms. One way to evaluate the health of a stream is to measure the number and type of macroinvertebrates. Some macroinvertebrates are pollution-sensitive, like certain species of stoneflies, caddisflies, and mayflies, and other macroinvertebrates are pollution-tolerant, like midges.
We gave the students a “stream” in the form of a bag that had cutouts of different macroinvertebrates. Each student had a key with information on macroinvertebrate common names and their pollution sensitivity. We then had them fill out a stream bioassessment form and determine the overall health of their stream! EcoReach had fun teaching the students about bioassessments and macroinvertebrates, and the students enjoyed looking at samples of some real macroinvertebrates and racing to fill their forms out before their neighbors. Overall, it was a great event! We love watching young students learn about different STEM fields.
The Boy Scouts were back in town! For over 5 years, EcoReach has hosted the Environmental Science Merit Badge during the Boy Scouts of America’s annual Advance-a-Roma day at UGA. Many merit badges can take up to weeks or even months to earn, but during Advance-a-Rama, the boys are able to meet most of their requirements in a single day! This year, we had 16 Boy Scouts who opted to earn their Environmental Science Merit Badge with EcoReach this year.
The afternoon began with a series of lessons and activities on the Endangered Species Act of 1973, pollinators, oil spills, and the importance of worms! And finally, we ended the day with a lesson and discussion on resource conservation, such as household water usage, and a career panel on environmental and ecology careers. It was a long and busy day, from 7:30am – 3:15pm, but everyone learned a lot abut environmental science and had a great time!
Last Monday during our February public library teen event, we taught the students all about owls and dissected owl pellets!
First, we shared interesting facts about owls; the students already knew that owl feathers are serrated to reduce noise, and that the shape of their faces can funnel and amplify sound waves to their ears. As a group we also talked discussed the different types of prey that owls will hunt, like rodents and small reptiles.
When we began dissecting the owl pellets, the students were very enthusiastic about identifying bones and searching for other clues about their diet. Have you ever dissected an owl’s pellet? If you want to bring this to your classroom, contact us and we can answer any of your questions.
EcoReach designed and hosted its own booth at the fair, which was all about macroinvertebrates! If you haven’t noticed, we love our macroinverts. We had several preserved freshwater macroinvertebrates at our booth, including immature stoneflies, mayflies, and caddisflies, which were all collected in GA. The kids, and adults, were able to use handheld magnifying glasses to observe the critters up close. Our volunteers told the students all about the importance of the macroinvertebrates in freshwater systems, as well as fun facts about their life cycles, ways to avoid predators, and how to locate them in Athens! In addition to the macroinvertebrates, we also had a large poster detailing all about EcoReach’s mission and membership, as well as Ecology jobs and careers.
The kids (and even the teachers and parents!) seemed to really enjoy getting up close and personal with the stream macroinvertebrates, examining them intently with the magnifying glasses. EcoReach volunteer Samantha’s favorite part was telling the kids about the life cycles of the macroinverts. “When I told them about how many of these critters would grow wings and fly away from the stream when they became adults the kids’ eyes would widen, and one of them stepped back slightly and exclaimed, ‘I’m glad they’re not that old right now!’ Overall, it was a fun time!”