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Recognize Brilliant STEM Minds this Black History Month

Join us this Black History Month in recognizing brilliant STEM minds and their ongoing contributions and impacts to everyday life by: Exploring virtual resources for celebrating Black scientists, engineers, and innovators, past, present, and future Discovering...

Why Teachers Want Virtual Field Trips to Stay

Blog first published on American Alliance of Museums website. On a virtual field trip, students search their screens for signs of movement as they try to spot the elusive macroinvertebrates lurking in a pond water sample. A grid appears over the screen with the...

Gourmet Greens

Jul 30, 2019

Blackberry brambles that feed PacSci's resident stick insects.

Four months ago, we began an experiment. It started with a bundle of blackberry brambles. PacSci’s Living Exhibits Manager, Sarah Moore, would spend hours scouring her neighborhood for greens to feed our resident stick insects. For such notoriously slim bodies, walking sticks eat a lot; they require new branches to devour every week. Harvesting their meals was a labor of love—emphasis on labor. We needed a solution that could provide a consistent volume of accessible vegetation. The Animal Care and Horticulture teams stepped up to collaborate on a promising sustainability initiative. There was no guarantee that it would work— science is always an ongoing process rather than a destination—but here we are today with a bountiful, homegrown buffet!

When the project first took root, we had to decide what to grow, how much, and where to grow it. Blackberry bushes were the chef’s choice for entrée, but we have also added rose, oak, goumi, and others to the menu. Raising a wide variety of plants has multiple benefits: it helps keep up with the volume and it satisfies some of the pickier insects.

PacSci’s terraces provide particularly good growing conditions since, on average, the terrace is about ten degrees hotter than the rest of our campus. Blackberry brambles grow quickly and all three species of stick insects enjoy them. The Australian Stick insects are the choosiest of the bunch, while the Vietnamese stick insects will demolish anything. The large New Guineas especially love to chomp down on the thick stems of rhododendron. Next time you’re admiring the beautiful rhododendron blossoms around PacSci, you know who’s helping to keep them well trimmed!

The biggest challenge will be the changing seasons. Our animal care specialists are already exploring ways to accommodate the plants’ natural dormant cycles during winter. One option is freezing, but freezing an oak branch with all its leaves attached takes up considerable space. By tackling this challenge now, we’ll be prepared for whatever whims next winter brings.

Caring for a menagerie of insects and other animals comes with both trials and rewards. On your next visit, ask our animal care specialists about their own experiences with the walking sticks and other creatures—we love to share our stories. Be curious! You will learn something that you didn’t know you wanted to know. For example, did you know that stick insects hate the taste of fennel? Now you do!