Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 38 Issue 18 • Aug 28-Sept 3, 2008
now in our 38th season

Amazing Animals

Where on Nantucket could you go to see a seahorse?  How about a black widow spider, a milk snake, or an octopus? The Maria Mitchell Association’s Natural Science Museum and Aquarium.

The Natural Science Museum at Hinchman House is home to turtles, frogs, snakes, spiders, insects, and more. These creatures represent species found living wild on Nantucket, and for a few months each summer, they stay in the museum and are used for educational programs.  At the end of the season, most are released and returned to their natural habitats.

A visitor favorite is the Common Snapping Turtle. “These turtles have been around for over 15 million years as a species,” says Museum Director Andrew McKenna-Foster.  “Their close relatives lived with the dinosaurs and even before dinosaurs.”  These ancient “living fossils” certainly look the part, with a bumpy carapace (shell) and lengthy tail.  The Common Snapping Turtle’s scientific name, Chelydra serpentine, describes its long, snakelike neck. Besides an adult specimen, the museum also has a baby turtle and a brood of eggs rescued from a nest dug in the middle of a dirt road.  Visitors can come look at the eggs and guess their hatch date, which should be sometime in late August or early September, and are welcomed to participate in Feeding Frenzy Friday each Friday at 10am.  Museum staff feed the animals, and visitors can learn about each organism’s habitat, feeding behavior, and role in the Nantucket ecosystem.

The Natural Science Museum is open from 10am-4pm Monday through Saturday until September 5.  From September 6 through October 11, the museum will be open on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Maria Mitchell Aquarium’s most famous attraction this summer is an octopus, but there are many other creatures visitors can see, both in the tanks and on the aquariums’ Marine Ecology Walks.

“Now is the time of year that young tropical fish are being found in our seine nets,” says Aquarium Director Bob Kessler. “They get caught as larvae (very young fish) in the warm Gulf Stream waters in the south Atlantic and are swept up here.  We’ve found fish you would expect to see snorkeling in the Florida Keys: Short bigeye, butterfly fish, cowfish, trunkfish, grouper, filefish, surgeonfish, grey snapper, pufferfish, and sennet (a relative of the barracuda).”

The MMA Aquarium will conduct Marine Walks this week at 10 am through the aquariums’ last day for the 2008 season: Saturday, September 5th.  Participants can get an up-close look at sea creatures caught in a seine net by aquarium staff, then touch, sort, and release.  To reserve your space, call the aquarium between 10 am and 4 pm at (508) 228-5387.

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