Tell me about Saturday Summer Nights.
On Saturday nights, we're thrilled to be open extended hours to give Tucsonans a chance to see and learn about desert plant life and animal life after dark. In the summertime, pretty much everyone lays low until the sun goes down. Nighttime is when animals come out. Insects are more visible, and it's a beautiful time to be outside and in the desert. The pathways have low lighting, the stars are incredible and the evening breeze is kind of nice.
So what are some of the creatures that a visitor out there on a Saturday night might meet?
A highlight is Cat Canyon, where we have the ocelot and the wildcat, who are moving around. The beavers are likely to be swimming and diving, as well as the river otter. And in the grasslands, the mountain lions are out. They're looking at people, they're moving around, you can actually see them on the prowl. A lot of the time when people come out, they're up on their little ledge and staying out of the sun, but at night, they really start moving. If I were to bring my nephews out, would it be all right if they came in the exhibit and petted the mountain lion?
Do you like (your nephews)? I'm relatively fond of them. So that wouldn't be such a hot idea?
No, there are no hands-on exhibits with the animals, although there are some up-close interpretations with the docents that bring out some of the larger birds. The Harris hawks will come out, the barn owl will come out, and the docents have scheduled interpretations where they're at designated spots around the museum grounds and they can answer questions and look at the birds up close.
So how about some of these venomous insects?
The docents are equipped with black lights on sticks that they can shine at various areas of the pathways, on the rocks just off the pathways, and they can find scorpions. And because scorpions glow a bright phenomenal green under the black light, you can see lots of natural occurrences of scorpions. And then other bugs and insects are attracted to these black lights. So it's kind of not only what we have on exhibit, but what naturally occurs in the desert. You can experience that as well and have the docents there to explain what you're seeing.
And the snakes are out as well?
The snakes tend to be a little more active. On our first Saturday night, I was actually amazed to see all of the snakes that were just cruising around in their exhibit space. The Gila monster was out, and he was walking around in his space.
Just as an aside on the subject of rattlesnakes: I have a friend who, when he's out there in the desert and comes across a rattler, likes to poke it with a stick. Is that good idea?
The best thing to do when you encounter a rattlesnake in the wild is to just back away from it and let it have its space.
So the poking is frowned upon?
The poking is not good. It's not safe for either of you.
OK. So there are also some astronomy exhibits?
The first two weekends in September, the Arizona Dark Skies Association will be giving a series of lectures throughout the evening from the outlook. And on the last two weekends in September, Starizona is going to bring out telescopes.
And then you have the Desert Discoveries program?
That's over in the earth sciences area, where we have a replica of an underground cave where they have a fossil dig. The kids can go through and unearth some fossils. It's a hands-on exhibit for kids. And then we have the replica of the sonorasaurus over in that area. And then after dark, they do a florescent mineral dig, where they will put florescent minerals into the dirt, and then kids can have black lights on and dig through and find the florescent minerals.
What about Bats Incredible?
That's a special feature in which the docents have a special monitor that allows them to pick up the radar and the echoes from the wild bats that naturally travel over the desert. They're attracted to our riparian exhibits, so we have our docents set up in that area, and as the bats go overhead, you can hear the frequency that the bats are on. They have an extensive exhibit on which bats are seen in this area, which are migratory, about their nature and their habitat.
Do we have vampire bats? Only in the movies.
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