CSU Scientists and Students Help Bring New Animal Exhibit to Life at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery

A new live-animal exhibit featuring 17 species of crawling, flying and swimming critters opens Tuesday, March 18 at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, where Colorado State University students, scientists, and faculty are chipping in as caretakers and consultants for amphibians, arthropods, fish, mammals and reptiles.

The new exhibit is meant to introduce visitors to species and their vital roles, to highlight the need for conservation, and to spark scientific curiosity, museum officials said. It features animals including Colorado native tiger salamanders, orangespotted sunfish, and Woodhouses’s toad, – as well as fascinating creepy-crawlies, including tarantulas, leopard geckos, “Dumbo” rats, honeybees, and even a ball python named “Slinky.”

Three of CSU’s eight colleges are contributing expertise to the museum’s new animal displays: the College of Agricultural Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and Warner College of Natural Resources.

In its partnership with Warner College, the Museum collaborated with graduate students in CSU’s American Fisheries Society Student Chapter on the design of new fish and amphibian displays.

The aquatic animal exhibitions feature colorful Colorado species including the tiger salamander and orangespotted sunfish, giving visitors the chance to learn about the amazing native species swimming and crawling around the state.

“Aquaria exhibits give visitors the chance to see beneath the water’s surface and learn about animals that inhabit Colorado’s watery environs,” said Jon Wardell, a grad student in CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources. “Amphibians are in decline across the country, and many native fish are at risk due to habitat loss. We hope the aquatic displays will help educate and excite visitors about Colorado’s diverse underwater ecosystems that need to be conserved.”

Graduate students in AFS provided the museum with volunteer assistance on aquatic habitat designs tailored to each species, scientific counsel on animal and plant species selection, and also worked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to provide native fish for the Museum’s educational displays.

“Being face-to-face with these types of creatures allows people of all ages to discover something new and to develop a profound connection with different species,” said Laura Clough, a CSU veterinary student. “It teaches them a sense of compassion for all living things that they can’t learn anywhere else.”

Veterinary students will pay regular visits to the museum to observe and care for animals as part of their training in avian, exotic and zoological medicine.

Also supporting the effort are CSU arthropod experts – people who know all about the little things in life. Things with exoskeletons, segmented bodies and jointed appendages, like millipedes, scorpions and cockroaches.

“The gorgeous arthropods featured in the exhibit are a great way to get people thinking more about bugs, which might combat some of the irrational fears people have and get them learning about the good and bad impacts that arthropods have on agricultural systems and human ecology,” said Peter Forrence, an entomology research associate in the CSU College of Agricultural Sciences.

Forrence and well-known entomology professor Whitney Cranshaw have helped develop live and preserved arthropod displays at the local science museum; they have counseled the museum about proper identification, habitat, care and educational messages.

“This collaboration is a great example of how CSU and our college can help educate the community where we live and work,” Forrence said. “Helping people understand how important insects are to our ecosystem is just one of our many goals.”

The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, at Cherry Street and North College Avenue, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. For more information: www.fcmod.org.

In fall 2012, the museum moved to its new facility on the city’s north side. Four new exhibits are planned under the themes of science and history; the first is the live animal exhibit, Cheryl Donaldson, museum director, said.

“We are excited about the new project, and we are glad CSU is involved. Our partnership makes available so many resources for both education and animal care,” she said.

Posted on March 17, 2014 by Bryony Wardell