6 Things I Learned at the Science Café

Science Cafe_2013-14.pdf

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Each year, the local chapter of Sigma Xi, a scientific research society which several School of Science faculty members belong to, hosts a series of informal get togethers (the Science Café) designed to “bring scientists and community member together to explore scientific topics in a pubic, accessible, and relaxed venue.”

“Our catch phrase is ‘Food. Beer. Science,'” said Dr. Jay Amicangelo, associate professor of chemistry.

They had me at food. Beer sealed the deal.

So last night, my 10-year-old-daughter, a budding biologist, and I attended the November Science Café at Calamari’s Squid Row, a bar and restaurant in downtown Erie, along with 50+ other people. Many were college students, probably earning extra credit, judging by the note taking I saw going on but there were also several families with kids there.

Last night’s topic was “Wildlife at Presque Isle” and the presenters were Ray Bierbower ’05 (a Behrend grad)  and Brian Gula, Environmental Education Specialists at Presque Isle State Park.

The pair clearly love their jobs. Their enthusiasm for the park, nature, and wildlife was evident and infectious.

As an avid runner and Erie native, I’ve run every inch of that park more times than I can possibly count and, yet, last night, I still learned some things I never knew.

1. Lake Erie, which is the shallowest of the Great Lakes (210 feet at its deepest point),  has more consumable fish than all the other Great Lakes combined.

2. There are typically 6 to 9 coyotes on the park and 40 to 60 deer, and that is a manageable number. There have been as many as 14 coyote and more than 100 deer, which is too many.  Cars, more than guns, tend to cull the herd.

3. Presque Isle Bay is home to a “living fossil.” The bowfish is the last of its species, which thrived about 150 million years ago. It has a lunglike swim bladder that opens to the throat, allowing it to breathe air.

4. One of the ugliest species in the lake has a deceiving cute name. The mudpuppy, which lives its entire life underwater, is distinguished as the only salamander that makes a sound—a dog-like barking.

Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus).  Walhonding River just below 6-mile dam.

Photo from OhioAmphibians.com

5. People let all kinds of animals go free at Presque Isle. The rangers have found everything from a skate , a small stingray-like fish, to alligators to pot-bellied pigs to pet rabbits, birds, cats, and dogs.  Most of them die.

6. Auto/animal deaths are frequent and are a really good reason to drive the posted 20 m.p.h. speed limit at the park. Three of four fox kits born last year were killed by cars. The mother was eventually hit by a car and killed, too.  The rangers don’t blame motorists.  “There are 4.5 million visitors to the park every year — that’s a lot of cars to dodge,” Gula said. Beirbower added that he’s had many near misses even when driving 10 or 15 miles per hour. That said, they still wish motorists would slow down and keep an eye out for wildlife when driving around the park.

The Science Café was just what Sigma Xi intended it to be — a low-key, informal, but informative scientific “lecture” in non-intimidating environment.  My daughter and I enjoyed it equally.

Mark your calendar now for the remaining Science Café presentations. On the menu:

February 13, 2014 — “Meat, Bacteria and Antibiotics: A Recipe for Concern”  — at Calamari’s Squid Row.  (Hmm…methinks few may order dinner that night.)

March 20, 2014 — “Debunking ‘Bones'” at Voodoo Brewery in Meadville, Pa. (I hear this place is absolutely worth the drive down I-79).

Science Cafe_2013-14.pdf

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