Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's the final countdown...

As our seventh week comes to a close we say goodbye to Karen who is leaving us on Saturday to head back to school (KAREN WE MISS YOU ALREADY!!). With the realization that the end is in fact drawing near we are remaining upbeat and are continuing our productivity!

We are still working on the sixth floor but have made surprising progress and our goal is to complete the floor before our eight weeks come to a close. We have come across a few drawers which will need special attention and are to be done similar to the proboscidean specimens we were rehousing from the second floor. Many of the specimens this week have been Perissodactyls, mostly rhinos and rhino like creatures, but we have had a few strangers like Amphicyon ingens, the largest bear-dog show up. To date we’ve rehoused a total of 182 specimens and with each day that number grows!

Georeferencing continues and is still going well; most of us have completed the first wave of finding country, state and county (or whatever the equivalent may be) and have begun the second wave which is finding latitude and longitude and in some cases township and range. Most of the localities require much research but others have wonderful notes both on the cards and with the specimens themselves (this is an important lesson for all you budding or current scientists TAKE GOOD FIELD NOTES!!). Google Earth is also a valuable tool as well as Earth Point which helps with finding the township and ranges.

The element descriptions are winding down and most of us have finished our drawers. Once all the drawers are finished we’ll have completed descriptions for a grand total of 17,605 specimens! It seems just yesterday we took on this daunting task and now in the final stages we feel quite accomplished!

The tour this week was of Extreme Mammals, and extreme they were! Our first lesson was what makes a mammal a mammal? It turns out all mammals share at least three characteristics NOT found in other animals they are: 3 middle ear bones (the malleus, incus, and stapes), hair, and the production of milk through mammary glands.

Notably, an important theme throughout the exhibit is convergent evolution. This occurs when two unrelated species have similar biological traits; in other words they evolve to resemble one another but in very different ways.

A great example of this is the wing seen in birds, bats and pterosaurs; they all use it to fly but in each case the bones of the skeleton have been modified in very distinct ways.

The entrance to the Extreme Mammal exhibit is quite impressive! Upon entering you are greeted by a life size replica of Indricotherium, which you then walk under to access the rest of the exhibit. By having the opportunity to walk beneath this specimen you are able to gage just how massive these creatures were! It turns out they measured a staggering 16-18 feet at the shoulder, with their closest living relatives being rhinoceroses.

The exhibit also boasts a wonderfully preserved specimen of Darwinius masillae (fondly named Ida), a primate from the Eocene (about 47 million years ago) from Messel, Germany.

Other interesting and extreme specimens include:

  • Diprotodon, the largest marsupial to ever live!

  • Glyptodonts, which are related to armadillos, and lived during the Pleistocene of South America, eventually migrating up to North America during the Great American Interchange. Some of these guys could grow to the size of a VW bus!

  • The giant ground sloth, also of the Pleistocene

  • Chalicotheres (Moropus elatus), very interesting clawed ungulates the lived during the Eocene to Miocene
  • Ambulocetus natans which is the “walking whale” lived about 49 million years ago and was about 10.5 feet long, it’s closest relation is whales and hippos

  • Uintatherium which lived between 40-30 million years ago in North America and stood 5 feet at the shoulder

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