Sarah’s This and That (1st Installment)

First of all, thanks to Doug and Lisa for allowing me to be a guest blogger!  I am looking forward to the opportunity to provide you with “a little bit o’ this” and “a little bit o’ that” in my affectionately named submission “Sarah’s This and That.”

Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Sarah Caughron, and I am the Lead Educator of Earth and Space Programs here at the Museum of Nature and Science.  I am a Registered Professional Archaeologist with a focus on zooarchaeological remains (animals) from the Southeastern United States.  Confession – I haven’t seen ALL of the Indiana Jones films.  Shame on me.

As you sip your favorite summertime beverage this 4th of July, take a moment to celebrate the birth and life of a noteworthy scientist – Reuben Goldberg. July 4 marks the 128th birthday of American cartoonist and inventor Reuben “Rube” Goldberg.  He is best known for his cartoons that depict complex gadgets performing everyday tasks in convoluted, indirect ways. These contraptions have inspired many television programs, movies, games, and even Rube Goldberg Machine competitions!

Our 5th and 6th grade Spring Break Discovery Camp created its own Goldberg contraption.  You can check it out at our You Tube page.

It’s almost July in Dallas, and there is little doubt that Dog Days of Summer are upon us!  Have you ever wondered about the origin of this expression? The dog days run from July 3-August 11 are actually named after the brightest star in the sky, the dog-star Sirius (sound familiar, satellite radio aficionados?).  Ancient Romans believed that the intense heat felt during this time of year was caused by the intensity of this star coupled with the heat from the sun.  This star is a member of the constellation Canis Major (big dog) and is 50 trillion miles from earth, and this is too far for heat to be felt.  Romans considered the dog days (dies caniculares in Latin) a time of intolerable heat, lethargy, disease, and – oddly enough – mad dogs!

They’re back!  The Yellow-Crowned Night Herons have returned to White Rock Lake and surrounding aquatic establishments near you.  These beautiful, nocturnal birds arrive in mid-late June and build large nests out of sticks high in trees like the American Elm.  You can recognize these birds by their tuff of brilliant yellow plumage coming from atop their head, but you will be hard-pressed to see one during the daylight hours.  These birds can easily be confused with a similar species, the Black-Crowed Night Heron. One major difference between these birds is that the Yellow-Crowned prefer solitary nesting while the Black-Crowned variety nests in large, noisy rookeries.

Walking my new puppy outside at night, I can’t help but notice the sounds of cicadas in the air.  But, if you listen past the noisy cicadas you can hear crickets.  While they can be annoying if trapped in your office or house, they are also useful as a temperature gauge. A cricket’s chirp frequency fluctuates with temperature. What does this mean? You can tell the temperature (in Fahrenheit) by counting the number of times a cricket chirps in 15 seconds. Just add 37 to whatever number you reach, and you have an approximate outside temp!

Like all insects, crickets are cold-blooded. This means that unlike you and me (warm-blooded creatures) a cricket produces little or no body heat of its own. Instead, a cricket’s body temperature tends to match the temperature of its surroundings. Because the metabolism of an insect is proportional to its body temperature, if it is too cold the cricket cannot even move. As the temperature of its environment warms, the cricket’s body also becomes warmer. Its metabolism increases and the insect can move faster.

Well, that is about all I have for July!  I hope you all are enjoying your summer break.  We are increasingly busy here at the museum with summer camps in full swing.  Thanks for reading!
Sarah                                                                                                                                                 scaughron@natureandscience.org                                                                                         972.201.0613 (office)

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