Archive for April 5th, 2010

Lambkin in Space, part 2

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Space Shuttle Discovery lifting off this morning (photo courtesy of NASA)

Back in November, we blogged about astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, set to become the first Fort Collins High School graduate in space. Well, early this morning, Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off and carried the first Lambkin into orbit (two Lambkins, actually: Metcalf-Lindenburger, and a stuffed FCHS Lambkin mascot named Clyde!).

The mission, Discovery’s 38th flight, is carrying a crew of seven, including two other rookie astronauts besides Metcalf-Lindenburger (the last rookies who will fly on the Shuttle). The flight is scheduled to last 13 days and will deliver a multi-purpose logistics module called Leonardo, that will be attached to the International Space Station temporarily and then returned to the shuttle’s cargo bay. Leonardo is packed full of supplies, new crew sleeping quarters, and science racks that will be moved into the station’s laboratories.

Metcalf-Lindenburger is a member of the 2004 class of Educator-Astronauts, and her duties on this flight will include educational activities focusing on robotics and promoting careers in science, technology, engineering and math. We will be following the mission closely here at the Museum, and you can too:

Mission page:

NASA’s teacher and student resources, and activities related to robotics:

Springtime shedding

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

The weather’s getting warmer, and most of us are finally peeling off the layers of sweaters, scarves, hats and coats that were our winter second skins.

Well, it turns out we’re not the only organisms shedding some layers. Here at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center, quite a few residents of our live animal collection have been doing some shedding of their own.


Here’s Leonardo, our Leopard gecko, during a shed cycle.

All herptiles (reptiles and amphibians) shed their skin, and Leonardo is no exception. We can always tell when Leonardo is getting ready to shed – he turns white! You can see in the photo how much brighter his new skin (in the middle of his body) is compared to the white, loosened skin he’s sloughing off.

And once he’s shed his skin? He usually eats it. It sounds gross, but it’s a good idea. A lot of energy went into loosening and shedding his skin, and by eating it Leonardo can get some of that energy back. Also, in the wild bits of shed gecko skin are a clue to predators that there’s a yummy snack nearby, so it’s important to get rid of the evidence.


Leopold, one of our giant African millipedes, has also gotten rid of some old skin.

It may look like two millipedes in the photo, but there’s only one: Leopold (white), accompanied by his old exoskeleton (dark).

When arthropods (which include millipedes) shed their skin, it’s called molting. Unlike the thin, flexible skin that most vertebrates have, arthropods have an exoskeleton, or outer skeleton. Because it’s a hard outer casing, the exoskeleton doesn’t flake off in bits. Rather, millipedes (and insects, spiders, crabs, and other arthropods) grow until they no longer fit in their exoskeleton, the exoskeleton splits, and the animal crawls out. In the photo above, Leopold’s abdomen (back end) is still coming out of his exoskeleton.

Many arthropods are white after they molt. As their new exoskeleton is exposed to the air, it hardens and darkens. And what happens to the old exoskeleton? Leopold will eat it (yep, there’s a theme here).


Slinky, our Ball python, sheds his skin every three weeks or so. When Slinky is ready to shed, his skin color becomes duller and his eyes turn foggy. The color change is because Slinky’s skin is lifting away from his body – even the eye caps that protect his eyes!

Like Leonardo, our gecko, Slinky’s skin usually comes off in sections. Since Slinky doesn’t have any limbs to help him remove his old skin, he uses the friction of his body rubbing against other objects (and rubbing against himself) to remove the skin.

Click here to see a video of Slinky shedding while coiled up inside his rock. Slinky didn’t eat that skin – he much prefers rats.

All photos by Michelle Brannon, Animal Caretaker

April 2010

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