Friday, May 27, 2011

Critters Among Us

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Critters Among Us

Lilly and Squeakers are best friends and cage mates. They live in a four story condominium that was custom made for them and furnished with ladders, hammocks, and the finest of bedding. They get room service everyday with their favorite foods (corn, cheese, cheerios, lettuce, carrots, seeds, etc.). The two female rats are among the many critters that inhabit Port Discover.

Did you know that rats have personalities? Squeakers is a thief while Lily is a hoarder. The thief who was the first to move in is fatter than the hoarder. At first they didn’t have much to do with each other and slept in separate hammocks. Then one day when the center was opened one hammock was empty, and we thought someone had escaped. On second inspection, they were both in the same hammock on the top floor. Ever since that, they usually are found napping together.

Although sometimes reluctant, adult and kid visitors to the center enjoy holding the long tailed pets. The rodents use their tails to control their body temperature because they cannot sweat. A rat’s teeth are always yellow upon maturity and don’t stop growing until the animal’s death. Both of these characteristics make the creatures unappealing to some people. Once you understand them, you might accept them.

Rats have been proven to make a laughter like noise which is unable to be heard by the human ear alone when tickled and to dream while sleeping. They have terrible eyesight so you’ll rarely see them in the middle of a room where their whiskers aren’t touching the wall.

Normal lifespan for the friendly creatures is 3 years with the oldest having been 7 years and 4 months. Females can produce 1-20 babies every month until the age of 2. That’s a potential of 460 offspring.

Neighbors of the rats are a Cope’s gray tree frog, a toad, some Madagascar hissing cockroaches, Bess beetles, a variety of fish, and most recently 3 freshly hatched chickens.

The North Carolina Extension Service provided us with an incubator and some fertilized chicken eggs. We then set everything up so that the hatching process could be seen on our website. After 3 days we had 3 noisy chicks and lots of visitors to share in the excitement.

The next big animal event will be the creation of butterflies in the front window of the center. Right now the caterpillars are feasting on the parsley planted for their enjoyment. We await the day when beautiful butterflies appear for our enjoyment.

The emphasis on hands-on science at the center has reached a new level with the installation of the Kids Grow Garden. Lots of big and little hands have made the thriving garden a reality over the last month. A wide variety of vegetables and herbs live in the transformed downtown area. Both animals and plants live in endless varieties among us and bring us immeasurable joy.

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