We’ll all go out to meteor when she comes

by Chris Angell

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just fall down to Earth as we orbit by,

‘Cause, baby, you’re a meteor
Heat up the air and start to burn.
Make ‘em go, “Aah, aah, aah”
As you shoot across the sky-y-y!

That’s how the lyrics go, right? Botched culture references aside, make sure to look up into the sky this weekend. Every year about this time, the Earth passes through a cloud of space debris called the “Gemenids”: the remnants of an extinct asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. The showers have been going on all week, but the best is yet to come! The best viewing is supposed to be this Saturday night, so grab a friend and a warm jacket and enjoy the show!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

by Jackie Lebouitz and Chris Angell

We here at the Joseph Moore Museum are pretty big fans of the holiday, so we’ve cooked up some exciting information about a few Thanksgiving staples!

Cranberry Sauce

Ah, Vaccinium macrocarpon…better known as the North American cranberry! I’m sure you’ve had your fix of cranberry sauce at previous Thanksgiving dinners, but have you ever wondered about the origin of these tiny, red, mystical orbs?

Nice berries. Photo courtesy of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers' Association

Nice berries. Photo courtesy of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Association

The cranberry has a rich, tasty history, beginning with its roots in Native American culture. It was commonly used for dyes, medicine, and of course, food. One of its most common uses was as an ingredient of pemmican, a blend of crushed cranberries, melted fat, and dried deer meat. The mixture was used as a dyeing agent and as a medicinal for arrow wounds. The name itself is derived from the Pilgrim word for the fruit, or “craneberry,” as the plant’s flowers resemble the heads of Sandhill cranes. Cranberry cultivation began in 1816 with Captain Henry Hall and blossomed into quite an industry, with cranberries being produced in Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey, and Wisconsin (just to name a few).

From April to November, cranberries are grown in “bogs” of sand, peat, and gravel. The combination of materials is meant to simulate a wetland, the type of habitat in which cranberries are naturally found. The fruit itself grows on vines, similar to strawberries or tomatoes. They also need the combination of acid peat soil and a consistent supply of fresh water in order to properly grow. Even though the list of growth requirements is quite extensive, the United States still manages to produce a whopping 40,000 acres per year. That’s a lot of cranberries!

Because sugar wasn’t available at the time, there was no cranberry sauce at the first Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, the first cranberry sauce was manufactured nearly three hundred years later in 1912.


Turkeys are native to the New World. The familiar wild turkey comes from forests in the United States and Mexico. It’s this species that gives us our domesticated turkey dinners, but there’s actually another species of turkey found only on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. Our own regular turkey is a pretty striking bird, but the Oscellated Turkey completes its puffed out display with iridescent greens and oranges. It even has eyespots on its tail feathers, reminiscent of a peacock.


Oscellated turkey. Photo courtesy of Dick Daniels

Why do we call them turkeys, anyway? It appears the turkey has a bit of an identity crisis, with names that translate as “French Chicken,” “Greek Chicken,” “Peacock,” “Blue bird,” “Great Duck,” and “Peruvian.” It seems that early English settlers thought turkeys looked quite a lot like guineafowl, so they named them “Turkey Fowl” after the country they believed guineafowl were from (although guineafowl are actually native to Africa). The scientific name for turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo, actually translates to: Chicken-Peacock Guineafowl. Around the world, people were unfamiliar with this exotic bird, so they named it after wherever they thought it had come from, giving us names like “French,” “Greek,” and “Peruvian.”

Pecan Pie

Say it how you will — ᴘᴇᴇ-can or pi-ᴄᴀʜɴ — no Thanksgiving feast is complete without a delicious pecan pie. Though not quite as iconic as its cousin the pumpkin pie, this dessert is equally delicious. Pecans are the seeds of the pecan tree, Carya illinoinensis, which is native to the Southern US and Northern Mexico (the pecan tree is the state tree of Texas!). Pecans are actually a type of hickory. The name itself comes from an Algonquin word meaning “a nut requiring a stone to crack.”

The earliest known recipes that put pecans in a pie date from 1886. It seems to be a variation on the similar, but nutless, chess pie popular in the American South. The promotion of pecan pie as a use for Karo syrup in the 1930s brought the pie to nationwide awareness, and it has remained a holiday staple ever since!

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Ode to the Mind

by Chris Angell


I was inspired by the Celebration of the Mind event at the museum to write a poem about how great minds are!


You are made of lots of parts

They’re all important, from bones to heart,

from lungs, to lips, to liver, to spleen!

But what about those parts unseen?


We are more than just organs–it’s true!

Let’s talk about another important part of you.

The thing that makes you one-of-a-kind,

It’s the way you think: it’s called your mind!


Minds let you dream and think and plan,

and contemplate and understand.

Where have the hidden numbers gone

in your folded paper flexagon?

What is a torus, and how–if you please–

can I make one with string and beads?


Your mind can get tricked. That’s a fact,

As we learned in Tony Truitt’s magic act!

I still don’t know how those rabbits swapped

from hat to hat without jumping out the top…


But all in all, your mind is great,

So give it some thanks, it’s never too late.

With all it does, I hope you’ll find

We all should always celebrate the Mind!

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Spooky Spiders?

by Jackie Lebouitz

It’s just about that time of year again when the public dresses up in a variety of quirky and bizarre costumes with the intent of receiving the sugary confection known as candy.

Ah, Halloween. Please take a moment to lift your eyes from the monitor and take in a breath of fresh Halloween air.

Refreshing, wasn’t it?

Well, today, I’d like to give this blog a focus on one of Halloween’s most notable mascots – the spider. While spiders have a reputation for being creepy, it’s important to understand that looking a certain way doesn’t make something automatically dangerous. In fact, spiders have a long history of being pretty cool. Apart from keeping to themselves, they have an important role in controlling the populations of a lot of insect species. They especially like to tear into some tasty mosquito-meat. Before you say, “ya mosquitoes are dumb but like spiders can kill u,” please note that mosquitoes are accountable for over 725,000 annual deaths worldwide*. Spiders, though? Naw, man. A 2008 paper reported an average of only 6.5 people in the U.S. dead as a result of spider bites. Other countries are seeing similar statistics. In Australia, a group of scientists followed 750 cases and found that there hasn’t been a single death caused by spider venom since 1979. That being said, spiders can bite if provoked (though it’s certainly not their first mode of defense), and if you’re noticing a severe reaction, you should probably get that checked out by a medical professional.

But in other news, check out this SWEET ORBWEAVER that changes color in the fall! It’s commonly known as the Halloween spider.

Screen shot 2014-10-29 at 5.43.52 PM

And in other, other news, we have two new additions to the biology department – Matilda and Crystal.

Grammostola porteri (Matilda)

       Grammostola porteri (Matilda)

Grammostola rosea (Crystal)

          Grammostola rosea (Crystal)

These lovely ladies were a donation from Zoe Wolfe and her mom. Matilda is currently taking up residence in Chris Smith’s office, while Crystal’s new home is a couple doors down at Kim Wills’. They can both be found on the first floor of Stanley Hall, so definitely take the chance to visit!


*Mosquitoes are vectors for various diseases such as malaria and dengue, which are the REAL cause of death here.

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A Digital Museum!

by Chris Angell

In September, we announced that the Joseph Moore Museum had received a generous grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This $149,000 grant will fund student work in digitizing the museum’s vertebrate collections over the coming 3 years.

Many people don’t realize that only about five percent of the specimens owned by most museums are on display in the exhibits. The rest are preserved and stored as an archive that can be used by researchers of all kinds. The Joseph Moore Museum is no exception, with bird, mammal, reptile, insect, fossil, and archeological collections stored away in its collections room. With help from the new grant, museum employees are bringing our vertebrate (bird, mammal, and reptile) collections into the 21st Century: digitizing them with “metadata” (like date and location collected, weight, sex, etc.) so scientists can learn from our specimens no matter where in the world they live.

I asked Wallis Bland, a sophomore projected biology major working in the collections, to tell me a little about her experience digitizing our specimens:

What does digitizing the collections entail?
It means we go through each drawer one by one, and make sure every specimen has an much information as possible in our online collections. At some point these will all go up on the web so people can look through what specimens we have.

Why is digitization important?
It’s a second record for us. We have paper records of everything, but by doing digitizing it we can double check that everything is where it’s supposed to be. And when someone goes through the digital records they can now have exactly where each piece of a specimen is. If your looking for the skull or skin of a specific creature, you know exactly what drawer it’s in as well as who prepared it, the original collector, etc.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
I really like being able to go through all the mammal specimens, especially foxes and rabbits. Basically I really like knowing what we have down in the collections and being able to take care of all of them. Also all the really soft animals make me happy!

What experience have you gained working in the collections? Are you interested in museums as a career?
I’ve become much better at being organized and writing notes in a way that other people can follow. Any decisions that I make regarding the specimens and the way they are cataloged needs to be written down, in case the decision was the wrong one and needs to be found and fixed. I am interested in working in museums, either teaching or working in museum libraries and archives, so this is the perfect position for me.

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Mouse Science

by Jackie Lebouitz

There’s a fun, new preschool program at the Joseph Moore Museum! Mouse Science, based on the books by Ellen Stoll Walsh, aims to delight and entertain young’uns while still being a great opportunity for education.

What’s it all about?

Each month, the program will focus on a featured mouse book. After the stories, kids will get to participate in fun, engaging activities that will teach them about color, shapes, math, and much more.


The Joseph Moore Museum


1:00 – 2:00 pm on the 4th Tuesday of every month

This month’s book will be Mouse Paint, where kids can explore color through a number of exciting and informative games.


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Fold the Flock

by Chris Angell and Jackie Lebouitz

On Monday, September 1st, over fifty people came together at the Joseph Moore Museum to learn about and commemorate the loss of the passenger pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius. Exactly 100 years earlier, on September 1st, 1914, the last known passenger pigeon, Martha, died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo.

The situation was strikingly different when European settlers first arrived in North America. Passenger pigeons were reported to make up forty percent of all land birds on the continent, with populations along the East coast and as far West as the Rocky Mountains. When these billions of birds migrated in their huge flocks, they sometimes eclipsed the sun! In fact, these migrations gave the birds their common name “passenger” from the French word passager, meaning “passing by” (not to be confused with the messenger or carrier pigeons used to send messages before the invention of radio—those were domesticated rock pigeons, the kind you find in cities all over the world).

Because they were so abundant, passenger pigeons were a popular cheap source of meat. Hunting and deforestation quickly devastated their populations. Although nineteenth-century conservationists did try to call attention to the plight of the passenger pigeons, most people found it absurd that such an abundant animal could be under threat from our actions. Yet, by the 1890s they had nearly disappeared, and at the turn of the century, the only known passenger pigeons were a group kept in captivity at the University of Chicago. And in the fall of 1914, they were gone altogether. The swift demise of this one-countless bird was a bucket of cold water to the conservation movement in the US. If passenger pigeons could go extinct, what else could?

To commemorate Martha and her long-gone brothers and sisters and to raise awareness about the importance of looking after the plants and animals we share our planet with, thousands of individuals and organizations all over the world are working together to “Fold the Flock.” Each person attempts to fold as many origami passenger pigeons as they can. At our Fold the Flock event on September 1st, visitors learned how to fold pigeons and discussed the importance of remembering species like the passenger pigeon. They even had a visit from Martha herself! Over the course of the evening, we folded 119 pigeons. Even our museum fairies got in on the action by making a few little birds of their own.

On the Fold the Flock website, you can watch the ever-increasing number of origami pigeons made worldwide. They’re already more than halfway to their goal of one million pigeons. If you would like to contribute to the flock and learn more about passenger pigeons, come visit the Joseph Moore Museum or go online at www.foldtheflock.org.

Just some reasons to help us understand why conservation is so important

A group of students fold passenger pigeons to commemorate the passing of Martha

The fairies wanted to join in on the fun, so they put up some of their own origami pigeons!

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Talking the Talk

by Emily McGrew

As scientists, we often get caught up in the day-to-day concerns about experimental controls and reading the next chapter for class, so we don’t take time to think about our context in the wider fields of biology, science and the world.

After a long day of presentations on very specific research topics, the speakers gathered together with the audience to discuss how ecology and evolutionary biology fit into a broader context.

The moderator illustrated his first question with a diagram showing how the effects of climate change get passed on to systems that humans rely on, causing an alteration in human behavior. He wondered if there was a way to proactively change human behavior to prevent this chain from functioning, instead of reacting when it does.

Overall, the panel’s response dwelt on communication. In order to change human behavior, people must be informed. Twitter especially, but also other social media sites, came up as a great way to connect with other scientists and their work. It seemed like many were using Twitter as something analogous to an open source publication network.

In terms of communicating to the public, methods for talking to journalists about complex scientific research and concepts were discussed. Outside of the traditional channels of journalists, though, there wasn’t much covered. Whether this reflected the limited time available and the fluidity of the conversation or a lack of ideas on communicating with the public was unclear, but the failure to piece together the use of social media and communication with the public at large is a vital piece of the puzzle that was missing from the conversation.

In the course of this discussion, an audience member raised perhaps the most contested perspective of the afternoon. He asked if the failure of the traditional scientific spokesman, in the tradition of Jacques Cousteau and C. Everett Coop, was to blame in the radical decrease in overall appreciation of science in the public sphere and articulated a desire for a new man to take up the mantle.

The gasps and furious whispers were audible as he wrapped up his comment, and immediately the rebuttals began. Among many objections to his position was the counter that there are still spokesmen for science, among them Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Another objection I would raise is that science does not need a single spokesman; it needs a wider variety of scientists, all of whom can connect with the public and be excited about science with them. A lone white man is no longer the best way to tell the story of science. Women, people of color, and collaborations all speaking about science are the components that will diversify the scientific experience and allow everyone to find a way to connect with science.


To defuse the furor that erupted after the spokesman comment, the moderator moved the discussion to the forward-looking topic of advice for younger scientists (especially exciting the undergraduates in the room). The panel’s advice ranged from the academic, taking more statistics and computer science courses to better understand the tools of a modern biological laboratory, to the practical, being able to break your research down into chunks that your (non-scientist) grandmother can understand. Other useful tips included actively trying to connect other scientist’s research to your own and asking questions, as well as gaining experience as a science writer as well as researcher.

The panel was, overall, informative not only about the specific field of science the symposium focused on, but also about how scientists communicate with each other and the public.






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Highlights from the Symposium Talks

by Leah Everitt, Elisabeth Sorrows, and Emily McGrew

Our favorite talks from the University of Michigan’s Early Career Scientist Symposium on March 29:

Leah: Cool Cow Genes

My favorite talk at the symposium was entitled “From the Aurochs to the Anthropocene: domestication and global movement of cattle in the past 10,000 years”. This talk focused on cattle genetics and when bovine were domesticated. I found it really interesting to hear that bovine were actually domesticated in two different places around the same time. Because of these two distinct domestication events there are marked morphological differences between the two different types of domestic cows. But the most interesting thing to me was how the data was analyzed. They took DNA from different groups of cattle and determined how much of their DNA was from each of the two domestications. By doing this they could map where different groups of cattle had come from and how they had moved across continents. They have done similar studies like this in humans and I thought it was so cool that they were now doing this in other animals.

Elisabeth: “Climate-induced shifts in flowering phenology: demographic consequences and community-level responses” from Amy Iler

Dr. Amy Iler’s presentation was titled “climate-induced shifts in flowering phenology: demographic consequences and community-level responses”. Dr. Iler started off by discussing how scientists often focus on when plants started flowering, when the snow first fell and melted. She showed that the ranges of start times for an event are is not the only important piece of data to record. They must also record the end and the peak because it is important to see how the whole range is and if the whole range shifts. however the whole range does not have to uniformly shift, the first date, last date, or peak could shift. For many years people have recorded the first snow-melt but this is not as accurate, so Dr. Iler looked at the runoff to be a more accurate representation of snow-melt. Dr. Iler was focused on looking at the plants. She found that the amount of time the flowers were in bloom had been extended by a month over a significant period of time. Even though the flowering period had been lengthened the number of flowers that were recorded each year stayed the same.

Emily: “Synergistic interactions between eutrophication and climate change: implications for water quality in lakes” from Cayelan Carey

Cayelan not only had a cool topic, but the techniques she utilized in her presenation made everyone sit up and pay attention. To get into her research question, she presented the idea that the combined effects of global climate change and increased nutrient pollution synergistically interact to increase cyanobacterial algal blooms in freshwater lakes. After explaining this idea, an enormous, bleeding, gaping zombie appeared as her next slide. Cayelan waited for the laughter to die down before calling out the “synergistic interaction” theory as a “zombie idea, preying on the brains of unsuspecting grad students”. Her research focused on debunking the synergistic interaction idea. She used a combination of historical studies and current experiments to investigate the factor most strongly correlated with increased cyanobacterial blooms. Through these analyses, she identified water column mixing as the most indicative factor of increased algal blooms. When different layers of water are allowed to mix, the number of algal larvae pulled up from the bottom of the lake increases and leads to population explosions. However, the current trend in water column mixing is actually trending to more stable lakes with less mixing, and therefore fewer algal blooms. Cayelan very effectively “killed” the zombie idea of synergistic interaction leading to increased algal blooms, through careful research and engaging presentation.


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Overall Impressions of the Symposium

by Leah Everitt

I thought that the symposium was a fantastic experience overall.  Each person in the group liked different talks that we went to.  It was great talking with everyone afterword about the different things they found interesting because they were excited about that subject.  I think that the discussion we had in the car on the way back where we went over all the talks and what we liked and didn’t like really made us all synthesize the information we had learned.

In my opinion the panel discussion at the end of the conference really tied all of the different talks together and put them into a greater context.  The talks covered everything from plant diseases to ancient DNA so being able to talk to these researchers about how they thought of their research in the broader categories of Ecology and Evolution really brought everything together.

Apart from the talks I think that it is also important to mention that in between these talks we had time to ask researchers and other scientists about their research and careers.  In particular I was very interested in doing this because I am planning on doing graduate studies in biology.  It was amazing to have the opportunity to talk to people a few years ahead of me on a similar path to one I am about to take.

In conclusion if I were presented with the opportunity to go to another symposium even on a topic that I wasn’t very interested I would still go.  The talks are interesting, tying the research into a broader context really reminds you why you study science and meeting people in your field can really help to define what path you would like to take.

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