Many people don’t realize it, but southern Ohio was once one of the largest iron-producing regions in the nation. This area, known as the Hanging Rock Iron Region (HRIR), stretched from northern Kentucky up through Jackson, Vinton, and Hocking counties of Ohio. By the time of the Civil War, Ohio had established 69 iron blast furnaces and produced more than 100,000 tons of iron each year. The iron from Ohio was important for the manufacture of cannons and ammunition for the Union Army during the Civil War.It’s hard to imagine that in the vicinity of these old furnaces, where today we see thick second-growth forests, the hillsides were almost completely stripped of their trees. The furnaces required massive amounts of lumber; for charcoal, which was added to the combination of ore and limestone (used as a flux) to produce the raw iron, and for the fires that often kept the furnaces working 24 hours a day. The furnaces employed hundreds of people, working the furnace, cutting the timber, and hauling ore and lumber to the furnaces with oxen and horses. But by 1900 almost all of the furnaces in Ohio had closed. Some of the land that was once completely stripped of trees and where the air was acrid with smoke is now beautiful second-growth forest of oak and hickory. The area around Hope Furnace is now made up of Lake Hope State Park and Zaleski State Forest, and there are two nature trails to enjoy in the forests around OHC’s Buckeye Furnace. Keep your eyes out for the glass-like pieces of slag on the forest floor, a reminder of Ohio’s prominence as an iron-producer in the 19th Century.
If you came across these objects, what would you think!? They were found in southeast Ohio, are heavy, have a smooth texture, and sharp edges. The scale is 6 inches, so these are fairly large but they can be much smaller. Who would you call to get them identified? An archaeologist, geologist, or…? Put your best guess as to what they are in the Reply box below and we’ll give the answer in a few days.
We’ve already talked a bit about the weird world of shrews in the last Freak of the Week blog post, and noted how they eat approximately their entire body weight in food every single day. Shrews have such a high metabolism that they need to eat almost constantly. Most will starve to death if denied food for even half a day! The heart rate of one species, the Masked Shrew, has been recorded at 800 beats a minute, faster than that of the hummingbird.
Anyway, like most mammals shrews have two sets of teeth during their life, a deciduous set (often called “baby teeth”) which are replaced by a permanent set of teeth. However shrews, being the oddballs that they are, lose their deciduous teeth while still in utero and thus are born with a full set of permanent teeth! So not only are they voracious eaters but they only have one set of useable teeth for their entire eating life. If their teeth wear down to the point of being inefficient for chewing, they would then starve to death. So the shrews’ solution to this problem is make the teeth as strong as possible, and they do this by incorporating iron into the cusps of the teeth. This is seen in the dark reddish coloration on the teeth.Surprisingly, studies have shown that the pigmented enamel on shrew’s teeth is not really harder than the non-pigmented enamel, but it is more wear-resistant. Also, the non-pigmented enamel will also wear down more quickly than the enamel with iron in it, thus sharp edges are created where the two meet. This is also seen in rodent incisors, where the pigmented enamel on the front of the incisors wears less quickly then the softer dentine behind it resulting in a sharp chisel-like tooth. Remember that one species of rodent, the beaver, can cut down trees with it’s incisors! The studies on shrews show that the iron density is the highest on the teeth, and parts of teeth, that are the most prone to fracture and excessive wear.
Reference: “Elemental analysis of Soricine enamel: pigmentation variation and distribution in molars of Blarina brevicauda. S.G. Strait & S. Smith, Jour. of Mammalogy, 87(4):700-705, 2006.
Several people knew that these stained teeth belonged to a shrew. This is one of those things in nature that once you’ve seen it, you never forget it! This is especially true for Rochelle. When we worked together in Montana she single-handedly cataloged thousands of shrew specimens. She’d probably like to forget shrews but probably never will!
So what is a shrew? Some people see this small mammal and assume it’s a rodent, but it’s actually quite different. Shrews are in the mammal Order Soricomorpha, formerly part of the old Order Insectivora, but are still commonly known as “insectivores”. Their diet does indeed include a lot of insects, but they also eat worms, snails, seeds, fungi and even other small vertebrates. They have a voracious appetite and will eat close to their own body weight in food every day. I’ve talked to researchers who have live-trapped shrews but find that the one surviving shrew in the trap has consumed the other individuals! Compare our common Short-tailed Shrew to the beautiful native mouse, the White-footed Mouse (photos). Mice are in the mammal Order Rodentia.
The Short-tailed Shrew is unusual, even in the freaky world of shrews, because it is one of the few mammals that is venomous! It’s salivary glands produce a toxin which the shrew uses to help subdue prey species such as worms and small vertebrates! The toxin can kill small animals and can deliver a painful bite to humans who try to handle the animal. The toxin flows along a groove formed by the lower incisors and is injected into the prey when bitten.
Why is a venomous mammal even more interesting today!? Because tomorrow is the annual Open House at the Museum of Biological Diversity at OSU, and the theme this year is “Venoms, poisons, and the organisms that make them!” Click here to see my blog post about the Open House.
Why do some shrews have stained looking teeth? Tune in early next week for the answer! See you at the Open House tomorrow!
Here’s a few other interesting stats regarding the impact of museums, from the American Alliance of Museums:
•Museums employ more than 400,000 Americans.
•Museums directly contribute $21 billion to the U.S. economy each year. They generate billions more through indirect spending by their visitors.
•78% of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural or heritage activities. These travelers—including visitors to museums—spend 63% more on average than other leisure travelers.
•Museums serve every community; about 17% of museums are located in rural areas with fewer than 20,000 residents. Other museums reach these communities with traveling vans, portable exhibits and robust online resources.
•Only a small (and shrinking) percentage of America’s museums receive federal funding of any kind.
So continue to enjoy, learn from, and support our museums!
Here’s a blub from their website:
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,
— For a charm of powerful trouble.
(Wm Shakespeare, Macbeth)
“Shakespeare’s recipe for the witches in Macbeth is fiction, but plants and animals are in fact the source and inspiration for the most potent poisons and medicines. The complexity of these chemicals is matched only by the complexity of behaviors, anatomies, and biologies that organisms have evolved to deploy these natural weapons.
On February 7, 2015, join us at the Museum of Biological Diversity’s annual Open House as we explore venoms, poisons, and the organisms that make them. Come explore nature indoors at the Museum Open House! Hands-on activities for kids and adults. Live animals. Treasure Hunt. Special displays. Tours of the collections. Lots and lots of fun!”
Last year’s Open House saw a visitation of 2,240 people in just 6 hours! This is a testament to how popular their collections are and to how fascinated people are with natural history. It’s a good way to enjoy seeing lots of unusual specimens on a cold winter day!
Well it’s obviously not a seahorse! It’s a first, or most anterior, rib of a Beaver (Castor canadensis). But there is a slight resemblance between the head, neck, and tubercle of the rib and the head of the seahorse. When identifying animal bones, the ribs start looking pretty much alike after awhile but the first rib of a mammal usually jumps out at you. It tends to be shorter and straighter than the other ribs (photo below). Often ribs are not identifiable to species, but the unique shape of the first rib of this Beaver led to a quick identification.
Be sure to check out this upcoming program at OHC’s Flint Ridge Ancient Quarries and Nature Preserve on April 10 from 6:30-8:30. Part of the Amphibians of Licking County Program Series, this program is likely to yield some very good finds, as early April is the best time to see our native amphibians as they emerge from hibernacula and make their way to vernal pools and wetlands to breed.
Flint Ridge offers a way to appreciate Ohio’s natural history as well as its archaeology. Ancient Native Americans came to Flint Ridge to quarry flint 1-2 thousand of years ago, but today it provides vital woodland and wetland habitat for a variety of frogs and salamanders, as well as other native Ohio plants and wildlife.
Flint Ridge is about 45 minutes due east of Columbus, 4 miles north of I-70 exit 141. Please drive carefully on your way home afterwards, especially if it’s been raining–you may see frogs and salamanders crossing the roads!
The paper was written by Greg McDonald, a long-time contributor to Pleistocene mammal research in Ohio and probably the world’s expert in giant ground sloths, Tom Stafford of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, and Dale Gnidovec, Curator of the Orton Geological Museum and good friend to Natural History at OHC! Click here to read the paper.
It hadn’t been possible to radiocarbon date this specimen previously, since it would have required drilling or cutting into the surface bone to get to uncontaminated bone for dating. However a break-in to the Orton Museum in early 2012 led to damage of the specimen, and the silver lining to this unfortunate affair was that one of the broken bones of a front foot provided clean interior bone which was now available for radiocarbon dating. The date came back from the lab at 11,235 ± 40 14C yr BP (=13,180–13,034 cal yr BP) making it the youngest date for a specimen of the Jefferson’s Ground Sloth.This skeleton was found near Millersburg, Holmes Co., Ohio in 1890. It was a partial skeleton, so the missing bones were sculpted and it was articulated for display at the Orton Museum.
Did you know that the Jefferson’s Ground Sloth was first described in North America by a Mr. T. Jefferson in 1799? He wrote a paper titled “A memoir of the discovery of certain quadruped bones of the clawed kind in the western parts of Virginia“. By the way, the author “T. Jefferson” is Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States! When he wasn’t tinkering around with things like writing the Declaration of Independence and being a Founding Father of the United States, he had a strong interest in vertebrate paleontology. In fact, when he sent the Lewis and Clark expedition out across North America he instructed them to be on the lookout for living examples of mammoths and mastodons!