Who has purple teeth, and why!? Freak of the Week #32

Reddish-purple teeth - Freak of the Week #32

Reddish-purple teeth – Freak of the Week #32

The other day Erin Cashion and I were looking at the skull of this small critter and Erin said “You know, this would make a good Freak of the Week”. So here it is! The photo below shows the toothrows of the skull. The scale in this photo is in millimeters, and thus the total length of the skull of this species is less than one inch. This is not some exotic animal from far away but it lives right here in Ohio! So what animal is this and why does it have stained teeth!? Put your best answer in the Reply box below.
Occlusal view of the skull. Photo by Phil Myers, Univ. of Michigan.

Occlusal view of the skull. Photo by Phil Myers, Univ. of Michigan.

“Venoms, poisons, and the organisms that make them!” – Open House

Museum of Biological Diversity Open House

Museum of Biological Diversity Open House

Mark your calendars now for one of the coolest events in Ohio natural history – the annual Open House at OSU’s Museum of Biological Diversity! With a title like “Venoms, poisons, and the organisms that make them” who can resist attending!? It will held be a week from Saturday, on Feb. 7, 2015 from 10 AM – 4 PM. The Museum is located at 1315 Kinnear Rd. The event is free! Parking is free!

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!

It’s a first rib! Answer to F.o.W. #31

First rib of a Beaver.

First rib of a Beaver.

Seahorse. Photo by Jonathan Zander.

Seahorse. Photo by Jonathan Zander.

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.

First rib (left) of a Beaver and a more posterior rib from the same individual. Scale is in centimeters.

First rib (left) and a more posterior rib from the same individual. Scale is in centimeters.

So the next time you run across one of these weird ribs you can tell your friends “Hey, it’s one of those seahorse ribs!”.

Upcoming Program: Ancient Quarries & Amphibians of Flint Ridge

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!





It’s the youngest old sloth known!

Megalonyx skeleton at Orton Geological Museum.

Megalonyx skeleton at Orton Geological Museum.

Many of you have probably seen the articulated Jefferson’s Ground Sloth skeleton that’s on display at OSU’s Orton Geological Museum. Even if you haven’t been to Orton Hall (and shame on you for that!) it might still look familiar to some of you. This specimen was on exhibit at our museum from about 1979 through the early 1980′s, when the Orton Museum was under renovation. Not only is this the first mounted skeleton of a Jefferson’s Ground Sloth, and the first record of this species from Ohio, but a research paper just came out with another interesting fact about the specimen. A new radiocarbon date now makes this skeleton the youngest known Jefferson’s Ground Sloth!

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.

Early photo of the Megalonyx skeleton at Orton Hall. Note that the museum used to have a second floor!

Early photo of the Megalonyx skeleton at Orton Hall. Note that the museum used to have a second floor!

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!

A fossil seahorse!? Freak of the Week #31

Freak of the Week #31

Freak of the Week #31

Here’s this week’s Freak, a little late. Hoped to get it out last Friday but a couple deadlines held it up. So what is this!? A fossil seahorse!? Note that this is pretty small, only about 1-1/2 inches long, and that it is from Ohio. Put your answer in the Reply box below, and we’ll give the correct answer on Friday.

It’s a Speckled Alder Catkin! Answer to FoW #30

Another view of FoW#30

The answer to our holiday Freak of the Week was provided by Becky. Although we picked this because of its superficial resemblance to a pine cone, once the scale is evident you can see that it’s not a pine cone after all! (The scale is in square centimeters.)


These woody structures are actually catkins from a Speckled Alder, Alnus incana. This specimen was collected from our OHC site, Cedar Bog!  These catkins are the female part of the alder. Once they have been pollinated, the catkins dry out and release tiny seeds in a similar way to a pine cone.

Immature catkins on live specimen

Nice job, Becky!



Going, Going, but not Gone! Exhibit extended!

Specimens of Threatened and Endangered species, in the Going, Going, Gone? exhibit.

Specimens of Threatened and Endangered species, in the Going, Going, Gone? exhibit.

If you haven’t had a chance yet to see the exhibit “Going, Going, Gone? Endangered and Extinct Species“, you now have more time! The closing date for the exhibit has been extended through April 26, 2015. But don’t wait until spring to see it. If you are looking for a fun indoor activity to do during the winter, now you’ve found it!

-Learn about the “Big Five” extinction events, and see actual trilobite tracks!
-Why was Ohio so important in the Passenger Pigeon story?
-See rare specimens of extinct birds from Ohio.
-See the hide of a Polar Bear and the skull of a Grizzly Bear.
-Learn how a boy from Columbus grew up to help save the Atlantic Puffin!
-Wonder at the uses of animal skins and products in the past. Is that really a whole bird on an 1880′s wedding hat!?
-Learn about choices you can make today to help protect endangered species!


How do you turn a tortoise popsicle into a beautiful museum piece?

After decades of a quiet existence in captivity and a series of failed breeding attempts, the last known Pinta Island Tortoise, famously known as Lonesome George, died unexpectedly in his paddock on June 24, 2012. He was only 100 years old—still young for a giant tortoise, as their life span commonly reaches 150 years and can exceed 200.

Lonesome George in his enclosure, 2010


Once a species goes extinct, often the only way its story can be told is through museum exhibits and taxidermy. It takes a talented—and courageous!—taxidermist to tackle the monumental task of producing a lifelike replica of an extinct species. In Lonesome George’s case, the task was not only to recreate a species, but an individual’s character as well.

The process of producing a mount of Lonesome George was undertaken by master taxidermist George Dante. All told the process took 19 months and over $30,000. Getting the proper permits and documents to import Lonesome George into the U.S. for preparation alone took nine months! Check out the slideshow documenting his journey here.

The video below explains how Dante, with the help of scientists, ecologists and other taxidermists, turned Lonesome George’s frozen posthumous remains into a masterpiece that evokes George’s unique personality. This process lies within the realm where art and science intersect, and exemplifies why art and science need not be at odds—and also why museums are still relevant and important institutions in the Age of Information.


Lonesome George was on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City from September 19 – January 4, 2015. There is public desire that Lonesome George go on a world tour, and the people of the Galapagos want him to return to the islands of his origin; but for now it appears that he is headed for Ecuador’s capital, Quito.

What do you think? Should Lonesome George go on a world tour, be displayed in Quito, or go back to his home in the Galapagos? Let us know in the comments!



Winter Freak of the Week, FoW #30

Freak of the Week #30

Freak of the Week #30

Here’s something a little different for this week’s Freak of the Week. This is a specimen from our herbarium collection (just for you Emily!). Think about this one over the holidays, put your answer in the Reply box below, and we’ll post the answer in early January.
Another view of FoW#30

Another view of FoW#30