Students explore Memorial Park ecosystem

Russian tortoise Dandelion roams around Memorial Park with a balloon tied to his shell.

Mackenna Moralez photo

Russian tortoise Dandelion roams around Memorial Park with a balloon tied to his shell.

Bioblitz, an event held by the biology department at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, was held in Memorial Park on Saturday, Sept. 23. Open to students and the Platteville community, Bioblitz encourages participants to interact with the environment and learn more about the different animals in the area. John Peterson, assistant professor of biology and coordinator of the event, was inspired by biologist E. O. Wilson.

“E. O. Wilson had a video that inspired me to provide access to what we already have here on campus to students, faculty and families in the community,” Peterson said.

The inspiration that Peterson took away from Wilson resulted in the UW-Platteville’s second Bioblitz. Peterson and other faculty members hope to see the event continue and become an annual event.

“This is an opportunity for the department and for the university to have a signature public outreach event,” Peterson said.

Bioblitz is an event that brings people together in and out of the department for a function that allows people of all ages to interact with the environment. This year’s Bioblitz was led by Peterson with assistance from seven other biology faculty members and Animal House, an independent study program that works with animal care.

Biology senior Leah Wiegman is the lead share of Animal House and is in charge of outreach activities as the head of the organization. Wiegman was in charge of watching over Dandelion, a male Russian tortoise. The speed of tortoises on land is a misconception, which is why Dandelion had a balloon tied to the outside of his shell. Dandelion is a young tortoise and his age can be identified by looking at the rings on the shell, but Dandelion’s shell isn’t quite that simple to observe.

“You can usually tell by counting the rings around the shell but after being in captivity for two to three years, the growth rate changes,” Wiegman said.

Animal House also brought other animals, such as tadpoles that are developing into fully-grown frogs and the organization’s ball python. Students, faculty and families could hold the python and see it up close.

Two biology seniors, Logan Steinhoff and Kailee Fiorello, interned with Trout Unlimited last summer and tested streams for the health and population of the fish in Wisconsin. Steinhoff and Fiorello displayed their fish catching skills by stunning them and grabbing the fish by hand before they regain mobility after a few seconds. Participants were then able to handle the fish.

Participants could also get right into the ecosystem. Students, faculty and families waded through the creek with nets to attempt catching creatures on their own or to cool off on a warm morning. Other than playing in the creek, participants got out of the sun to observe small insects and crawfish at the picnic tables under the pavilion at Memorial Park.

John Peterson also serves on the sustainability committee on campus that encompasses students and faculty. This group pushed for Bioblitz to be continued.

“Students on the committee thought that Bioblitz was a great idea and their main goal is using the campus as one of our laboratories,” Peterson said.

With the push coming from other students and the opportunities that Bioblitz presents, this event could easily be an outreach to the Platteville community for years to come.