Volunteers Prep for Pantex Science Bowls
Pantexans and their friends are busy preparing for what some would call their favorite Pantex event.
More than 150 volunteers will serve as officials for the regional Science Bowls sponsored this month by Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC (CNS).
Pantexans (from left) Kayla Mendoza, Gabriel Chacon, Howard Thompson and Nathan Escarcega prepare to “buzz in” during a mock Science Bowl round.
The volunteers are employees from the Pantex Plant and NNSA Production Office, as well as West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) faculty and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Pharmacy students. Even a few Pantex Plant retirees will be on hand as moderators, science judges, scorekeepers and timekeepers.
Students from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Pharmacy learn the Science Bowl rules and practice during a mock round to prepare for the upcoming regional competitions.
Thirty-eight teams will test their skills in the Feb. 7 competition for middle school students. Thirty-one teams, some from as far away as Lubbock and Higgins, will face-off at the Feb. 21 high school competition.
As part of CNS’s commitment to education, it will donate $1,000 to the science programs of the winning schools. Winners also receive an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl®.
Wild Pantex – All Grown Up
Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
Jim Ray, wildlife biologist, holds "Pink-and-Green" and her brother, "Pink-and-Red."
In the "they grow up so fast" category, I am able to share photos of "Pink-and-Green" from when she was a kitten, and just recently, now a 3 year-old. "Pink-and-Green" is a daughter of our original female bobcat – the "Eastside Female."
"Pink-and-Green" was first captured in October 2011 as a 9.7-pound kitten. She was captured again in August 2012, this time weighing 17.2 pounds. At that point she was fitted with a G.P.S. satellite collar and was tracked until I remotely dropped her collar using a laptop, a special wand, and a unique code that activated a "spring action" release. At that time, she was two years old and accompanied by a couple of kittens.
"Pink and Green's" tale includes a prolonged relationship with her mother. Although not undocumented in the species, this cat continued to occupy her mother's homerange as an adult. In fact, a trail cam photo shows a photo of her mother, a young kitten, and "Pink and Green" in the same photograph. However, the core activity areas for the two adult cats were separate, thus the overlap the two adult females was minimal. In general, female bobcats are highly territorial and homeranges only minimally overlap.
The photo below was taken on December 11. At that time, "Pink-and-Green" was accompanied by two kittens. This is her second if not third litter. West Texas A&M University and Pantex studied bobcats on and around Pantex from 2006 to 2013.
"Pink-and-Green" at age three.
Wild Pantex - Wintertime Rattlesnakes
Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
For more than a decade Pantex and West Texas A&M University studied the ecology of our resident prairie rattlesnakes. We captured hundreds of them and marked them with subcutaneous microchips.
Around 40 of them carried radio-transmitters, which we carefully surgically implanted into their body cavity. These snakes then went about their business, and their transmitters allowed us to follow them around and learn more about their behavior and general ecology. We quickly confirmed the location and characteristics of winter dens, or hibernacula as they are referred to scientifically. Prairie dog holes are an obvious choice, as are sinkholes associated with old landfills and pipelines. Hibernacula must be deep enough that the snakes can escape freezing temperatures, and most animal burrows (ground squirrels, woodrats, etc.) evidently do not meet this requirement – snakes moved to dens of more significant depth prior to the onset of the coldest weather.
Rattlesnakes cannot be subjected to freezing temperatures; thus, as the nights get colder in the fall they begin to use burrows at night to escape this danger. After a few light freezes (usually in October or November), they make a quick trip back to the den in which they will spend the winter.
From our research, we learned that rattlesnakes can be on the surface during every month of the year. Rattlesnakes are cold-blooded and have a need to bask in the sun, and thus warm to the point that all tissues and organs work properly. In fact, chances are pretty good that some snakes will surface to bask in the sun anytime during the winter that temperatures exceed the low 50s, especially provided there are clear skies. At warmer temperatures, the snakes can actually bask even under cloud cover.
One aspect of wintering snake ecology that we did not get to was how many snakes might congregate in these dens. Just from experience, we think most Pantex hibernacula host up to a dozen or two snakes, but the prairie rattlesnake is known to congregate in numbers in the hundreds. I have seen as many as five or six basking around a den entrance at once. Oftentimes, the 9-inch young-of-the year will be coiled up on the backs of larger snakes.
Hibernacula receive historic use, and it is believed that the young snakes follow the scent of the older, experienced snakes to the dens. In our area, outside of prairie dog colonies, winter dens may be scarce and thus limit rattlesnake populations. Here at Pantex, snake populations from large areas oftentimes end up in a single available winter den, thus making that den site very important to the snakes of that area.
So what does this all mean? Well, I hope you enjoyed the ecological aspect of this blog. But, if it is just the safety aspect that you are interested in, be sure to be very observant when you are working or otherwise out in the field when wintertime temperatures warm.
A prairie rattlesnake basking on a warm fall day on the edge of its winter den.
Pantexans Spread Twice the Holiday Cheer
Pantex volunteers are spreading holiday cheer this week during two celebrations for local organizations.
Pantexans helped residents and staff of Martha’s Home celebrate Christmas at a party Tuesday sponsored by Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC (CNS). About 55 guests enjoyed food, music and family photos. Each woman and child received a gift from Santa.
For more than 25 years, Martha’s Home has provided shelter for homeless single women and mothers with children.
The festivities will continue Thursday at the Ussery-Roan State Veterans Home Christmas party sponsored by CNS. About 300 residents, staff and their families will all enjoy food, music and family photos. Santa will present each resident a new bath robe and hand out candy canes to the children.
When asked what gift the staff would most appreciate, they said a lift to help raise bedridden residents. CNS representatives will be on hand to present the veterans home with a $3,000 donation for the purchase of the equipment.
The Amarillo facility provides long-term care to nearly 120 Texas veterans and their spouses.
CNS Sponsors Thanksgiving Lunch for Senior Center
Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC sponsored a Thanksgiving lunch at Hilltop Senior Citizens Center in Amarillo, Texas.
Pantexans and Hilltop staff, along with volunteers from the Potter County Deputy Sheriff Association and Vista College, served the traditional Thanksgiving fare. About 500 Hilltop members, family and community friends enjoyed turkey, ham, cornbread dressing, vegetables and an assortment of cakes and pies. Staff members even delivered meals to about 40 homebound seniors.
This is the sixth year Pantex has sponsored the meal.
Founded in 1974 by a group of African-American seniors, Hilltop Senior Citizens Center offers daily meals and activities to a population diverse in age and race. Many of the center members are on fixed incomes and enjoy coming to the center to play games and attend classes.
Members of Hilltop Senior Citizens Center and community friends enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving lunch provided by Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC.