Big Ol’ Salamanders (and a Big New one, too!)

by Chris Angell

This week, the discovery of a new Triassic amphibian species has made headlines across the ‘net. Touted as “a Triassic terror” and “super salamander,” Metoposaurus algarvensis was a six-foot-long aquatic beast that lived in Portugal alongside some of the early dinosaurs. It probably ate mostly fish and may have lived like a modern crocodile. Despite the hype surrounding Metoposaurus, this “super salamander” is not the biggest (or the most interesting) extinct amphibian we know of!

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Metoposaurus algarvensis by Marc Boulay

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Frog eggs by Tarquin at the English language Wikipedia

Before we go any further, let’s be clear about what animals we’re talking about. Amphibians (from the Greek for “double life,” due to their life cycle that spans both land and water) are vertebrates with four legs and moist skin, which return to water to breed. Unlike reptiles and birds, whose eggs are covered by a protective shell, amphibian eggs are jellylike and usually have to stay wet to survive. Frogs and salamanders make up most of today’s amphibians, although there is a third, lesser-known group called the caecilians.

Metoposaurus belong to a group of early amphibians called Temnospondyls, whose relationship to modern frogs and salamanders is unclear. They may have been the ancestors of modern amphibians (or it might have been another group called Lepospondyls). But what is clear is that 250 million years ago, Temnospondyls were fearsome creatures!

A six-foot long salamander might sound huge, but Metoposaurus was far from the biggest amphibian during their heyday. The longest amphibian to ever walk the Earth (or rather, swim the rivers and ponds) was the Brazilian Prionosuchus, a 30-footer, which looks strikingly similar to today’s gharials. Coming in second is the 16-foot-long, Australian Koolasuchus, with its flat, rounded head. “Suchus,” in both of their names, comes from the Greek word for crocodile, referencing their size and lifestyle.

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Prionosuchus by ДиБгд

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Diplocaulus by Dmitry Bogdanov

Probably the most striking extinct amphibian is Diplocaulus, from Morocco: a three-foot-long Lepospondyl with a boomerang shaped head. Nobody knows for sure why its skull was shaped this way. Maybe it worked like an airplane wing, generating some lift as Diplocaulus swam through the water. Or perhaps it was defensive: you would have to have a pretty big mouth to swallow something with a head like this!

There were some pretty big and crazy amphibians in the past, but don’t worry! We’ve still got a few gigantic salamanders of our own. The appropriately named “Giant Salamanders” are a family that can be found in Asia and the United States. The American species, the hellbender, can reach up to two feet in length and can be found from New York to Mississippi and as far west as southern Indiana. But the Asian giant salamanders put ours to shame! The Chinese giant salamander, the largest living salamander species, can be up to six feet long! Unfortunately these salamanders are highly endangered due to habitat destruction and overhunting for use in Chinese medicine.

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Giant Chinese Salamander by James Joel

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Bats emerging

We have a new visitor at the Joseph Moore Museum, a little brown bat that emerged on campus a little too early. Have you seen bats around recently?

IMG_9391IMG_9397 The fluctuating temperatures may cause some bats to come out of hibernation early and some bats arouse during the winter months to hydrate at infrequent intervals. In particular, bats who are suffering from white nose syndrome may especially need hydration. Many bat populations are experiencing drastic declines from white nose syndrome and a recent study found evidence that dehydration may play a role in increasing mortality from white nose syndrome.

If you find a bat, to keep the bat and yourself safe do not touch the bat with your bare hands. Also, do not force your bat out into the cold.  In this cold weather the bats will freeze almost immediately if let outside. They will fare a lot better once overnight temperatures are sustained at ~40 degrees. Call the Animal Care Alliance (765)488-1342. They are located at 4101 National Rd. West Richmond, IN. We’ll be sending our bat visitor their way too! Overnight, our public safety was able to coral the bat safely into a carrier, where there is water and a comfortable branch for resting.

 

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Joseph Moore Museum Open House

The Joseph Moore Museum will be open from 10am-5pm February Saturday 25. Only 5% of the Joseph Moore Museum Collections are in the museum come see behind the scenes in the collection rooms.

There will be skinning demonstrations, cool new games like Senat, face painting, the opportunity to try eating bugs and much more. These opportunities will be occurring throughout the day Saturday February 25.

New Measures will be performing at 2 pm.

There will be planetarium shows at 10:30 am, 12:30 pm, 2:30 pm, and 4:30 pm.

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Daylight Savings Time

Daylights savings time, linked to the long days of summer, is approaching quickly! On March 8th, most of the US, Canada, and Europe, along with a few countries in South America, Africa, and the Middle East, will be losing an hour of sleep on Saturday night in exchange for a later sunset (and sunrise). Interestingly, it is primarily western countries that partake in daylight savings. This skewed geographic distribution is likely a result of daylight saving’s history. The modern manifestation of daylight savings time was implemented by Germany and Austria-Hungary in the midst of World War I as a way to conserve coal. The European allied powers and neutral European countries joined that year. Russia followed in 1917 and the US followed in 1918. After the war, though, daylights savings times was mostly abandoned. Indiana, split between time zones, has an interesting history of involvement in daylights savings time. Until 2006, most of Eastern Standard Time Indiana did not observe daylight savings; now the entire state follows daylight savings. Today, daylight savings is primarily a throwback to the patriotism of World War I, but is also a way to maximize that after work daylight.

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American World War I propaganda.

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Dr. James Berry

By Elisabeth Sorrows and Lydia Lichtiger

Dr. Jim Berry, who has been collaborating with John Iverson for over 40 years on mud turtle research, came to measure turtle skulls in the Joseph Moore Museum, which houses an extensive mud turtle collection. Dr. Berry received his Ph.D. in biology and wrote his dissertation on mud turtles. Mud turtles specifically interested him because he grew up collecting them in southern Florida, and because no one else was studying them. After a number of years of research and dealing with conservation legislation, he was told that he should look at working as a lawyer. He became an environmental lawyer. He is now a retired lawyer and is enjoying teaching biology. He has written The Environmental Law and Compliance Handbook and Wetlands: Guide to Science, Law and Technology.

Jim studies the skull morphology of turtles and the environment the turtles live in. Some of his research has found that a group of mud turtles that live in temporary water bodies in the southwestern US and northern Mexico have flat and lightweight skulls.

He came to measure the skulls because they get more reliable data when one person measures all of the skulls. It is an extensive process, particularly for one person, as they take around 25 measurements of each skull. He has worked to put his work online for others to see but has not been able to use other museums online databases because they have not studied the specific turtles skulls that he is interested in.

Mud Turtle Hatchling

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Squirrel Appreciation Day

by Jackie Lebouitz

Hey, did you guys hear the news?

Today marks one of the nation’s more obscure holidays – Squirrel Appreciation Day.

Founded in 2001 by Christy Hargrove of Asheville, North Carolina, the day is meant to celebrate the lovable, furry scamps known as squirrels. Now, you may be surprised to learn that we have an abundance of squirrels on Earlham’s campus. Or maybe not. Either way, the rather large ones with the grey fur and rust underbellies are known as fox squirrels, or Sciurus niger. We here at the Joseph Moore Museum want to express just how much we love these guys, so we put together a list of fun, squirrelly facts. Be sure to share them with your friends the next time you encounter one of the cute, bushy-tailed rodents.

  •  Fox squirrels are not only the largest species of tree squirrel found in Indiana, but the largest in all of North America. Wow!
  • They are generally not very skittish around people, which makes them easy to approach.
  • These squirrels can mate any time during the year, and they reproduce in tree cavities.
  • They can be seen eating and burying black walnuts (the fruit from Juglans nigra) in the fall.
  • Populations have been decreasing due to the local deforestation of old growth habitats.
  • They have flexible ankle joints, which allow them to rotate their feet by 180 degrees. This trait allows them to hang from trees and climb upside down.
  • Like most other squirrels, they are notorious for raiding bird feeders.
  • They build their nests, or “dreys,” out of twigs and leaves, and use them for shelter and to rear their young.
  • Females begin to have babies at six months old, and their young are able to properly scale trees just after ten weeks.
  • The genus Sciurus stems from the Greek words skia (shadow) and oura (tail) and literally translates to “shadow tail”

So, remember to show your appreciation for squirrels this week by taking pictures, writing poems, or just saying “thank you.”

And just for fun (because that’s what we’re all about), here’s a cool video of a barking fox squirrel.

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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.

Turkey

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.

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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.

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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!

Note

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

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