Archive for December, 2010

Feeding Time, GIggy-Style

Giggy here, Fernbank’s unofficial dinosaur mascot. You might recognize me from my many adventures throughout the museum, but recently I played another role—assistant animal care coordinator.

In addition to the permanent collection of animals used for educational programs, Fernbank is also currently home to a few friendly creatures in the WATER special exhibition. And like all animals (ahem, and stuffed dinos), they need to be fed.

I tagged along with Fernbank’s Environmental Education Specialist, Becky Facer on this task. First stop—picking up the food. No, we didn’t head to a grocery store or a fast food joint. We went to a storage area on Staff Level to pick up crickets and meal worms. (Note: even though I’m a meat-eater, crickets give me the heebie-jeebies.)

Armed with food (crickets and meal worms), a step stool and a mister, we headed to the special exhibition gallery. The tetras were fed first, receiving fish flakes that smelled, well, fishy. We then used a sponge on the end of a long stick to wipe inside of the tank down. (What? They don’t clean up after themselves?)

WOW! The mudskippers are next. They are my favorite, with those bulging eyes on top and the way they flap and flutter around the tank. We fed them mealworms.

Finally, the leopard frogs. There are six adults in this tank, but they are nocturnal (they sleep during the day) (hey, I think I’m part nocturnal!), so they were hiding under the moss. But the tadpoles! So. Many. Tadpoles. Too many to count. The tadpoles are fed special algae pellets.

Then came the crickets for the adult frogs. (Eeeee, crickets!) It was cool to see the adult frogs scamper out of their hiding places for food. And to think, all those little tadpoles could be full-sized frogs.

We are going to need more crickets.


December 22, 2010 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Our Favorite Holiday Traditions

Inspired by Fernbank’s new holiday exhibition Winter Wonderland: Celebrations and Traditions Around the World, we asked staff and volunteers to share their favorite holiday tradition. Here are their responses, in their own words.

“My tradition is a new one, started in 2007, after experiencing a grueling chemo/radiation protocol for cancer during the holiday season. I bake a variety of cookies, wrap them in a box with a bow and deliver them to the office of my oncologist and her staff at a local hospital. I wear a big red velvet Santa hat with jingle bells so they can hear me coming. The look on everyone’s face when I walk thru the hospital is priceless. The smiles I get when I walk thru the door to the doctor’s office brings me so much joy. We pass around hugs and the cookies and catch up with each other, grateful for the blessings we’ve experience. I stop by the infusion center on my way out to visit with the “newbies” who are going thru what I went through. Amazing how a small box of home-made cookies can mean so much!”
Joey Potter, Graphic Designer

“Every year my mother buys me a chocolate filled Advent Calendar for Christmas. The best part is that she usually forgets to give it to me until about the middle of December, so I get to spend a day “catching up” on my calendar and eating chocolate; it’s a pre-Christmas treat!”
Mandy Gee, Assistant Manager of Member and Volunteer Services

“I’m half-Dutch, and when I was younger I would always celebrate Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas). It is celebrated on December 5th. I would go the Atlanta Holland Club’s and De Molenwiek’s Sinterklaas celebration and see him arrive by boat. Then he would give all of the kids presents. We also got large chocolate letters of the first letter of our first names. They still have Christmas on the 25th, but it is separate.”
Veronica Sondervan, FUN Volunteer

“Christmas is super fun with my family; it’s really about eating. We all love to eat and drink good wine. My dad always makes a standing rib roast with his special béarnaise sauce that he will go on and on about. But seriously super good. He always plans a nice bottle of Cab or Zin to go along with the meal perfectly (again bragging on about the success of the pairing). My mom always uses holidays as a means to try some new Southern Living dish or dishes really. I’m always sure to bring lots of Tupperware because I am most excited about going home with the leftovers!”
Allison Fry, Director of Beverage Services

“My husband and I exchange one Christmas ornament every year. It’s a tradition we started our very first holiday together, and we try to pick something that will make the other smile or is symbolic of that year. Just in case you’re curious, yes there is a dinosaur ornament on our tree!”
Kristy Richardson, Family Programs Specialist

“My favorite holidays are Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha; Eid-ul-Fitr is the end of Ramadan and Eid-al-Adha ”Festival of Sacrifice” start after Hajj the two major holidays for Muslims. As a child, Eid day was heaven on earth for me. We all wore new clothing. All the children would ambush the adults for money (Eidi or Salami) which we would receive as a token of love in that blessed day. I would not keep the money for very long, using it in the following days to buy candies and sweets to share with all my friends. As an adult I do not feel that same child like Eid-day joy anymore, but my mother still keeps the tradition of giving me money. For two days out of the year, I am back to being that carefree child spending my small amount of money to buy sweets to share with my friends and family.
I have to mention that I also enjoy Thanksgiving. It seems to be the only holiday that can be celebrated by any race or religion. It gives the sense of universal family values and thankfulness for even the minor things in life. I also enjoy driving the empty streets with very little traffic the day before.”
Shafali Akhtar, Special Projects Coordinator

“My favorite holiday tradition is sitting in front of the Christmas tree at my mom’s house every year having our family photos made on Christmas Eve. There are always tons of people, big laughs, small arguments and ultimately the exact same photos!”
Michele Kresge, Manager of Member and Volunteer Services

“When my family assembles on the night of Christmas Eve, together, we read A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. It is a remarkable memoir of his family life at Christmas—and the extraordinary preparations that lead up to Christmas morning. Somehow, all the characters represent some member of my family, even including their beloved pet dog Queenie. It’s a story of pure love, kindness, generosity, wonder, family and home!”
Susan Neugent, President and Chief Executive Officer

“My favorite holiday tradition comes from my family’s celebration of New Years. For every strike of the bell at midnight we eat one grape. They’re called “las doce uvas de suerte” or the 12 lucky grapes. They’re a symbol of prosperity for the next year and really yummy! Though, one year, I mixed it up and told all my friends to shove all 12 in their mouths at once at midnight… Haha oh well!”
Tanya Wise, FUN Volunteer Intern

“Decorating the tree is a very special time for us. This is usually done Thanksgiving weekend so we have a month to enjoy the tree before Christmas. A fire softly burning, hot spiced cider or hot chocolate to sip on, cookies hot out of the oven for munching, and Christmas music playing all set the stage for a fun evening decorating the tree.”
Brenda Berry, Executive Assistant

As for me, my favorite holiday tradition, whether it’s Christmas, Independence Day or Halloween, is spending time with my family and friends. I see the holidays a the perfect excuse to “unplug” and slow down to take time to take stock in and appreciate the people I have in my life that I care so much about. It’s also a time to remember those that I have lost and be grateful for the time I did have with them. (But Christmas cookies are a close second!)
Deanna Smith, Director of Marketing

If you have a tradition you’d like to share, please e-mail it along with your full name to and if we get enough responses, we’ll share those in a future blog post.

December 14, 2010 at 4:30 pm Leave a comment

Some Animals Eat “Weird” Food

I often get the question “What do you feed the animals?” That question is quite loaded, because there’s more than just food preparation required for some of the animals. In their natural habitats, animals can eat many varieties of foods. Some of them have specific food requirements (like carnivores eat meat, herbivores eat plants), but others are opportunistic in their food consumption (like scavengers eat whatever they come across). In captivity, their diets can be stricter, as animal keepers can’t always hunt down the specific foods their animals would have in the wild.

Many of our lizards eat a variety of produce, from collard greens to squash to kiwi fruit. The local farmer’s market often has a nice selection of exotic foods our animals might find in the wild. More challenging to find, many of our animals also eat meat. We can purchase things like seafood and chicken from the local grocery store, but they don’t usually keep insects and rodents in stock for consumption. Instead, rodents for our snakes, lizards and turtles are ordered from companies that specialize in ‘feeder rodents’ for pets. One reason we rely on rodent suppliers is they control the health of the rodents and insure they’re not infected with bacteria that could harm the animals eating them, or the handlers feeding them. We could set out humane traps and attempt to catch the rodents we need, but many mammals in nature tend to carry germs from their habitats and other chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers that people use to treat crops and lawns. These chemicals and germs can be very harmful to animals. Our rodent-eaters are fed pre-frozen mice and rats that have been thawed and warmed. Some prefer to ‘grab’ their rodents from a branch or under a log, but others prefer their food to move. To reinforce their hunting habits, our keepers use a long set of tongs to hold the rodents and move them around to entice the snakes.Once they’ve grabbed the food, our snakes are left to eat and digest before they can join us for animal encounters. Due to the strength of our snakes, keepers must be extra-careful to keep themselves and the snakes safe during feedings. Some of the snakes are moved to separate enclosures during feeding times for safety.

Some of our animals like the lesser tenrec, geckos and tarantula eat mostly insects. The insects we maintain include crickets and mealworms. Much like the hazards of wild-caught rodents, insects can carry harmful pathogens and commercial chemicals, so our live insects are ordered from companies that specialize in farming insects for animal consumption. Our insect eaters are also hunters, so we sometimes leave the insects in their enclosures to hunt, or feed them with tongs to insure each animal is getting ample food. The variety of insects we maintain is not as broad as our animals would find in natural habitats, so we also supplement their diets with vitamins (either fed to their food, or added to their food). These vitamins may be powder form, or prepared diets that provide extra nutrients absent in the food we can easily provide.

All animals have to eat something. Though many of them prefer rodents and insects over pizza and burgers, animals eat foods that keep them healthy. Some animals chooses fruits and veggies like people do, others prefer hunting animals we might consider pests.

Lynn Anders, Animal Care Coordinator

December 13, 2010 at 3:34 pm Leave a comment


At Fernbank Museum, there’s much more than dinosaurs and giant-screen films. Even with our website, e-newsletters, Facebook pages and Twitter updates, there’s still a lot we’d like to share with you. This blog is an opportunity for the people that keep Fernbank running and constantly expanding, to share stories from their point of view. We hope you’ll enjoy these first-hand, behind-the-scenes glimpses of what goes into keeping a world-class natural history museum running. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback on these stories, to hear your personal experiences and hear any suggestions for topics. Happy reading!