Friday, July 11, 2008

Week Two

This week we started Geo-referencing the horse collection. We concentrated on four main locations: Lusk, Ainsworth, Mongolia, and Skinner’s Quarry. To maximize the benefit of these fossils it is important that our information is as complete as possible. Knowing the precise location where a fossil was found is just as important as the fossil itself. It is the task of the interns this summer to fill in as much information about the locations of finds as possible. Country, State, and County are crucial pieces of information to have but they are not always stable in their definition. Determining the latitude and longitude of a locality is an excellent way to ensure that future generations will know precisely where a specimen was found. This is being accomplished by consulting Google Earth, Topozone, and other web based applications that make this endeavor possible and easier than ever.

On Wednesday we were treated to a tour of the Ichthyology Department. They are currently receiving shipments of fish from the Congo where a team of scientists are collecting and conducting research. The Ichthyology Department utilizes a few methods of specimen preservation. The most common is alcohol which allows the entire specimen to be preserved, some specimens are stored in skeletal form, and some are cleared and stained. An enzyme is injected into the fish that turns all tissue clear and stains are used to color the bone and cartilage. This allows one to view the skeletal morphology without visiting the bug room first! The most interesting specimens shown were the Tetra skull with huge teeth, the Tiger Shark jaw, an Electric eel, a Marlin skull, and two gigantic Coelacanth specimens. The female specimen here at AMNH was responsible for settling a long running debate on the development of this unique species. She was carrying 5 pups when she was collected, showing that Coelacanths do not lay eggs but give birth to live young. These finds are crucial in contributing to our understanding of life strategies employed by species and ultimately of their evolution.

We are picking up the pace a little bit each day as we line the drawers on the third floor. It seems a daunting task at the moment as we are still coming up with new ways to increase our speed without causing damage to the fossils. A good lesson in patience and perseverance.

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