Exhibit Hall

Now Open on Level 1

This hands-on exhibit hall celebrates the richness of the natural world, with a special focus on the diverse ecosystems of Central Florida. Visitors discover the insects, plants and animals of coral reefs, salt marshes, mangrove swamps and other Florida environments. They learn how living and non-living things interact with each other and their environment.

The dramatic centerpiece of NatureWorks is Florida’s Habitats, a glimpse into the natural world of Central Florida. In this realistic exhibit area, visitors explore the distinctive environments of Sand Pine Scrub, Cypress Swamp, Pine Flatwoods and Sinkhole Lake. There are also ample opportunities for guests to encounter live animals during regularly scheduled presentations.

  • Observe a typical cypress swamp, complete with live alligators
  • See how sea turtles make their nest at the sandy beach
  • Discover the intricate system of roots at the mangrove swamp
  • Watch how bees build their hive, care for young and gather nectar at the BeeHive Encounter


 

In a recent study, scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta found that fire ants form seals so tight that not even water can get through. The researchers say it’s as though the bugs are weaving a waterproof fabric out of themselves. The ants on the bottom don’t drown, and the ants on the top stay dry. Working together, the ants float to safety — even though a single ant alone in the water will struggle to survive.

Fire ants are famous for their construction projects (as well as their burning bites). When they need to, colonies of these insects turn themselves into ladders, chains and walls. And when floodwaters rise, a colony can float to safety by making an unusual boat. The ants hold tightly to each other, forming a buoyant disk atop the water. The ant-raft may float for months seeking safe harbor.

Ants_2

Fire ants and water don’t mix. The ant’s exoskeleton, or hard outer shell, naturally repels water. A drop of water can sit on top of the ant like a backpack.  When an ant does end up underwater, tiny hairs on its body can trap bubbles of air that give the bug a buoyancy boost.

But that’s just one ant. No matter how well it repels water, a single ant doesn’t explain how a whole colony stays afloat. To investigate the science behind the ant-raft, the Georgia Tech researchers went out and collected thousands of fire ants. The species the researchers collected was Solenopsis invicta, which is better known as the red imported fire ant, or RIFA.

The scientists placed hundreds or thousands of ants at a time in the water. A group of ants took about 100 seconds, on average, to build a raft. The researchers repeated the experiment multiple times. Each time, the ants organized themselves the same way, creating a raft about the size and thickness of a thin pancake. (The more ants, the broader the pancake.) The rafts were flexible and strong, staying together even when the researchers pushed the rafts underwater.

The scientists then froze the rafts in liquid nitrogen and studied them under powerful microscopes to figure out how the ants kept everyone safe and the water out.

The team found that some ants used their mandibles, or jaws, to bite other ants’ legs. Other ants joined their legs together. Thanks to these tight bonds, say the scientists, the ants did a better job at keeping the water away than any one ant could do on its own. By working together, thousands of ants can stay alive in the face of a crisis like a flood by using their own bodies to build a boat.

Ants_1


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National Geographic reports that exotic plants may make your yard look beautiful but in the long run they will cause harm to our ecosystems. Dr. Doug Tallamy an entomologist (insect expert) at the University of Delaware explains why having only plants native to your area is so important.

Ever since non-native people started to arrive on America's shores, they've carried along with them trees, flowers, and vegetables from other places. Now there are so many of those outside plant species that they are crowding out the native plants that have lived here since before settlers arrived. This may not seem like too much of an issue until you consider the fact that the type of plants has an impact on other living things in the environment, like insects and animals.

Think of it as a web, which starts with the plants, goes to the insects, and ends with birds. Almost all the plant-eating insects in the United States—90% of them—are specialized, which means they eat only certain plants. When those certain plants aren’t available for the bugs to eat anymore the insects die off. In turn, insects are the food source of birds and when the insect population drops so does the bird population.

Dr. Tallamy points out that, "we cannot let the plants and animals around us disappear," and, "the way to preserve them is to give them food to eat. But when we plant non-native plants, we are clobbering the food web, because then we don't have the insects the birds need to live."

What can you do to help this situation? It’s simple! "Just Google 'native plants' and your location, and you can find out which plants really belong where you live," says Tallamy. He also suggests getting your children involved with the planting process or even having them, “adopt a bird species in trouble and see if [they] can't plant some things that will attract the insects they need."

Milkweed

Photo Above: Milkweed is a flower native to Central Florida. Monarch butterfly caterpillars dine on Milkweed. A small milkweed patch planted in Spring can produce beautiful Monarch butterflies in the Summer!


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Have you ever heard of a churkey or a turken? It sounds like a mix of a chicken and a turkey but National Geographic reports that it is actually a genetically mutated chicken that appears turkey-like due to a lack of neck feathers. The random mutation was first spotted in Romania hundreds of years ago. In these particular chickens a feather-blocking molecule called, BMP12,  is over produced. The reason only the neck losses its feathers is because the neck is actually the most sensitive part of the chickens skin due to an acid derived from Vitmain A being present there.

Most other genetic mutations cause harm but in this case the BMP12 mutation helps keep these chicken cool! Chickens bred in hot climates do not produce the same quality of meat and eggs that chicken bred in cooler climates do, that means featherless necks not only keep the chicken happier but, the farmers and consumers as well. Due to this fact the churkey trend in catching on! In a case where weird is wonderful, producers in the poultry industry who reside in hot climates such as Mexico, are purposefully breeding these genetically mutated barenecked chickens and seeing lots of benefits but doing so!

Chunkeys


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Two new species of freshwater stingrays have been discovered in the Amazon rain forest! They are being called “Pancake stingrays” because they look like pancakes with tails. The last new Amazon stingray found was in 1987. Researchers have also found a new species of catfish that has a pattern that resembles a jaguar’s spots. This just shows that there are so many species on Earth we have yet to discover!

Don’t forget that we have daily stingray feedings here at the Orlando Science Center, so stop by and watch our local stingrays enjoy a meal and learn more about these interesting creatures!

 

Pancake_Stingray

Misty is an Animal Care Technician at the Science Center and is found in NatureWorks. Animals and Ecology are her passions and she jumps at every opportunity to talk about it. Stop in and say Hello!


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Forest habitats are home to 80 percent of the earth’s plants and animals but only cover 30 percent of the planet’s surface. National Geographic reported the result of a report that was compiled by the nonprofit organization Conservation International for the United Nations’ International Year of Forests. The most threatened areas included have lost 90 percent or more of their original habitats.  The following is a sample of some the threatened areas.

  • Indo-Burma Region- Spanning two million kilometers of tropical Asia, six new mammal species have been discovered there in the past 12 years but only 6 percent of the region is protected by environmental law.
  • New Caledonia- A small set of islands, about the size of New Jersey, located in the very extreme South Pacific, east of Australia, home to five native plant families. Although 22 percent of the land here is protected, 83 percent of the threatened species are not in the protected land.
  • Sundaland- About 17,000 islands in the western half of the Indo-Malayan archipelago, this area includes Borneo and Sumatra, two of the world’s largest islands. Animals such as tigers, monkeys, and turtles are not safe here due to hunting. Also, two species of the Asian Rhino, almost extinct, are found in this hotspot on the islands of Java and Sumatra.
  • The Philippines- Comprised of 7,100 islands in the westernmost Pacific Ocean, the Philippines are known as one of the world’s most biologically rich countries.  However, conservationists fear that the forests of the Philippines are on the brink of extinction due to logging.
  • Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands- These islands off the coast of Africa are home to 8 plant, 4 bird, and 5 primate species that live nowhere else in the entire world. A whopping 50 species of lemur also call this forest hotspot home, including the undeniably cute mouse lemur. Although extensive efforts toward conservation are being made, especially on Madagascar itself, poverty and population growth are threatening the environment through activities like logging, mining, and hunting.

Click Here to learn more about other threatened environments and how you can help.

Madagascar Lemur


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Orlando Science Center • 777 E. Princeton Street • Orlando, Florida 32803 • Phone: 407.514.2000 • Toll Free: 888.OSC.4FUN • Email: [email protected]
  Orlando Science Center is supported by United Arts of Central Florida, host of power2give.org/centralflorida and the collaborative Campaign for the Arts.
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