This week’s Freak of the Week was stored in a cabinet with the rest of our alcohol-preserved specimens in a standard 8 oz. jar. But what IS it??
Is it an invertebrate? An amphibian? Something else entirely? Hint: they can be found in southern Ohio!
Leave your guess in the comments and we’ll post the answer later this week!
One of my first tasks as a Curator of Natural History was to identify several unknown bird species contained in the Victorian firescreen featured in our Going, Going, Gone? exhibit. This unique item was prepared by “Naturalist, Furrier & Taxidermist” William Thompson of Chester, UK, sometime in the mid- to late 1800s . All but three of the specimens are from the New World.
Two things made this task an interesting challenge: the firescreen’s age (the specimens have faded) and its accessibility (a meter behind a plexiglass exhibit barrier). We can’t restore lost color, but fortunately we do have a good zoom lens!
Our Curator Emeritus Bob Glotzhober laid the groundwork for many of the IDs for this item shortly after its acquisition. I confirmed the ID for several birds, including the large turquoise and rust-colored European Bee-eater near the top, the Rainbow Lorikeet from Australia in the center, and the two shining blue Red-legged Honeycreepers to the upper left and lower right of the lorikeet. However, the IDs of many of the hummingbirds–all of which are male specimens–were still unknown.
Although this species’ ridiculously adorable fluffy white “boots” are not visible on this specimen, only two species of hummingbird sport such distinctive racquet-shaped tail feathers–the other being the endangered Marvelous Spatuletail. The Spatuletail’s “raquets” have a longer and more curved rachis (feather shaft), and it has a violet crown rather than the greenish one we see on the Racket-tail. What other differences do you see?
Another easy ID was this Ruby Topaz.
This specimen’s relatively large size, “long nosed” face and short bill along with its red cap and gold gorget (appearing green at this angle) left no other possibilities. There are two in the firescreen—can you spot them?
Other hummers featured in the firescreen include a Golden-tailed Sapphire…
…the aptly named Tufted Coquette…
…and a stunning Violet-crowned Woodnymph.
But the most challenging specimen by far was this one!
It’s hiding in the shadow of the Hooded Mountain Tanager near the bottom of the firescreen, which made it difficult to see. Flash photography made its otherwise dull plumage appear to glow gold and turquoise.
Without an all-inclusive guide to Neotropical hummingbirds (which I don’t think exists, by the way!) my recourse was intensive image searches on the Internet. The broad rufous tail, iridescent greenish turquoise underparts, small orangey-gold gorget and overall greenish color seem pretty distinctive, but the vastness of the Interwebs failed to yield definitive IDs. I was stumped.
I turned to my colleague and former labmate Dave Slager, a PhD student and curatorial assistant at the Burke Museum in Seattle. Thanks to Dave’s extensive bird knowledge, field work in the Neotropics, and the Burke’s large collection of reference books and specimens from around the world, he was quickly able to narrow it down to two possibilities—either a Scaled or Tyrian Metaltail. Tyrian is more likely given its abundance and wider distribution, but in any case this hummer is almost certainly in the Metallura genus. (Thanks for your help, Dave!!)
What do you think it is?
**There are four birds in the firescreen that can be found in Ohio. Can you spot them? Let us know in the comments!
We weren’t really happy with the title of the event (who can live up to that expectation!?), so I’ll quote Brad here who said it best on his archaeology blog: “I was a little disappointed with the title — “Really Smart Guys Talk About Our Planet.” I would have been happier if, instead, the title had been “Guys Who Have Worked Really Hard to Learn a Lot About Our Planet And Want to Share What They’ve Learned.” I guess I understand why the organizers opted for the shorter title, but I was uncomfortable with being labeled a “Really Smart Guy” as opposed to a hard-working scientist.”
But I think we covered some important and timely issues, so come see the new exhibit and watch the video on YouTube. What is your opinion on these issues? Can we reverse this trend towards another extinction event? What are you doing personally to help the environment and thus species at risk?
Erin comes to us from Ohio State where she received a Master’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Science, and also worked for several years on the Second Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas. She did much of the coordination and editing of this major volume, and also was able to write 10 detailed species accounts. We’re anxiously awaiting the upcoming release of this major undertaking!
But you won’t just find Erin working away at her computer, she also comes to us with a wide variety of field experience. After graduation she worked for 5 years as a seasonal field technician, at locations such as Maine, California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Hawai’i, and Australia! This extensive field experience will be helpful when working at the numerous OHC sites that have a natural history component.
Originally from New Mexico, she received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from New Mexico State University. Never one to miss out on an opportunity, Erin volunteered her time at the Vertebrate Museum at NMSU where she learned taxidermy to preserve bird skins, and worked in the skeletal collection and fluid-preserved specimen collection.
Erin not only has experience in research, field work, and museum techniques but has abilities in the variety of other areas important in curatorial work such as organizational skills, database management, artistic ability, presentation skills, and working with people. And if you hear a bird call that you don’t recognize, she can tell ya what it is! You’ll see her contributions in this blog from time to time, and if you see her at the Ohio History Center or out at one of the sites be sure and say “Hello”!
We had no correct guesses to this week’s Freak of the Week, so here’s Bob’s answer:If you answered the larva of a Tiger Beetle, you are right on! Specifically, it is the larva of a Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle (Cincindela hirticollis). The sand grains show that this animal is very tiny, and the two large eyes prove that it is not a burrowing spider – which would have either 6 or 8 eyes.
Ohio has twenty species of tiger beetles, a few of which are wide-spread and common. All tiger beetles are predacious – both as larvae and as adults. The larvae burrow into the sand with just the tip of their head at the sand’s surface – exposing only their eyes and their mouth parts. They lay waiting for a small insect to come scurrying by, then dart out and grab them. If you are an ant or other small insect, they are indeed a “tiger.”The adults of the Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle are brown to brownish-green, or in some regions even green, with distinctive marking on their elytra (wing coverings) and stiff hairs around their necks. The adults measure about 10-15 mm long – so the larvae are really very tiny (see the concealed one barely visible in the circle above and right of the mating pair). Adult tiger beetles are swift, running predators of other insects. Many people are familiar with the common bright green Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (the only bright green tiger beetle in Ohio), whose life style is very similar. They sometimes run off or fly off as you approach them, landing a short distance away.
Hairy-necked Tiger Beetles have a continent-wide distribution, from sandy beaches on New York’s Long Island, all the way to Pacific coast of Oregon. Within this huge range however, they are restricted to sandy beaches of larger lakes as well as ocean coastal beaches. In Ohio, they are listed as State Threatened and across their range they are described as “populations in decline.” One of the biggest threats is disturbance of beach habitats. Especially problematic is the custom of driving ATVs and four-wheel vehicles along the beaches that they inhabit. In this regard, they are like the endangered Piping Plover – which pits beach driving fishermen against the welfare of the animal. On a nature preserve like Sheldon’s Marsh they are well protected.
Bob Glotzhober, Curator Emeritus of Natural History
OK. I hope this might be a challenge for many of you – but one that perhaps some of you might be able to hit upon. This photo was taken a year ago June at Sheldon’s Marsh State Nature Preserve, which is in Erie County about two miles west of Huron, Ohio.
Clue #1. Most of what you see are sand grains.
Clue #2. Count the number of eyes, which will tell you what it is not.
Bob Glotzhober, Curator Emeritus of Natural History
Imagine their surprise when the staff of the Human Resources office of the Ohio History Connection looked out of their windows on Tuesday and saw a large adult black bear looking back at them! However, there is no cause for concern since these bears are actually very well-done taxidermy mounts that are on their way to the “Recent Acquisitions” display case. Black bears have returned to Ohio after being extirpated for many years, and are now listed as a state Endangered Species. Thus these bears are ambassadors for our new exhibit “Going, Going, Gone? Endangered and Extinct Species” which is now open at the Ohio History Center. These bears were collected by Mr. Shirley Robey in White River, Ontario Canada from 1978 – 1981. They were donated to us by the Robey Family in 2013.
Come see the newest exhibit at the Ohio History Center: “Going, Going, GONE? Endangered and Extinct Species”!
Planning Your Visit
Slither on in and see “Going, Going, Gone? Endangered and Extinct Species” at the Ohio History Center in Columbus from July 2, 2014, through Jan. 4, 2015. Museum admission is $10, $9/age 60+, $5/ages 6–12 and Free/age 5 and under. Ohio History Connection members enjoy free admission. For more information about the exhibit click here or call 800.686.6124.
Congrats to Aaron for nailing these two identifications, the Eastern Massasauga (also known as the Swamp Rattler) and the Sandhill Crane! These are indeed dwellers of Ohio wetlands, but the other thing I was looking for is that they are both listed in Ohio as Endangered Species. We have endangered species on the brain here at the Ohio History Connection, since our new exhibit “Going, Going, GONE? Endangered and Extinct Species” opens on Wednesday of this week! Come see these two specimens and many more, including rare specimens of extinct species and many endangered or threatened species from the state. And learn what you can do to help the environment and slow down the current rate of extinction. For museum hours, admission, and other information visit: www.ohiohistory.org
By Bob Glotzhober, Curator Emeritus, Natural History
Editor’s Note: Going, Going, Gone? Endangered and Extinct Species is now open at the Ohio History Center. Learn more here.
Next week the Ohio History Connection opens a new exhibit about extinct and endangered animals, titled “Going, Going, Gone? Endangered and Extinct Species”. One small part of that exhibit deals with people making a difference, and one of those people is retired high school teacher and herpetologist Doug Wynn.
Doug has spent many years studying Ohio’s Timber Rattlesnakes – a State Endangered species. His studies and the efforts of those working with him continue to provide vital information about these interesting snakes. The life history and habitat information gained provides critical information that can guide management decisions for the Ohio Division of Wildlife and the Ohio Division of Forestry.
This past Wednesday I had the privilege of joining Doug and several other biologists in the field in Southern Ohio to look for rattlesnakes into which he has inserted radio-telemetry transmitters. Four such snakes are checked once or twice a week by Dennis Case and his wife Rita. Angie Boyer, an endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, had joined us too, and Dennis gave her instructions on using the telemetry receiver to track down a rattlesnake. Our group included Doug, Dennis, Rita, Angie plus Doug’s long-time field companion John Birkhimer and myself.
After about an hour of climbing up and down steep forest hillsides following the transmitter’s signal, we finally spotted the targeted Timber Rattler. It was a beautiful, yellow phase male which apparently had just molted during the previous week since last seen. It was sitting in the open on the hillside and was very, very calm. Previously, when captured to surgically insert the transmitter, it measured at 54 inches long and weighed nearly five pounds – much larger than a “typical” Timber Rattlesnake – but still smaller than a record 72 inch long one recorded elsewhere in the literature.
We watched this snake for at least 20 minutes – during which time it never moved a muscle, and flicked its tongue out only once. It was certainly a lot calmer than we were! I snapped a ton of photos and regretted not having my tripod with me. We had been working with on-again, off-again rain showers all morning, and while it was not raining while we were with the snake, the sky was still dark. Notice the raindrops sitting on top of the snake!
Doug has done this sort of work with a special class of high school students in the past, so he was well prepared to outfit us. Snake bites are very, very rare in Ohio, and lots of folks hike in Timber Rattlesnake habitat with never even seeing one, let alone getting bitten. But then, we were hoping to get close to one – and sometimes they are much better camouflaged than the male we found – or hiding in thick vegetation. To be safe, Doug fitted us with snake-proof leggings, or snake gaiters. These have a layer of Kevlar between the nylon, which reportedly can stop the penetration of rattlers’ fangs. I did not particularly want to test their effectiveness, but was glad to have them.
So why bother studying and trying to conserve rattlesnakes? Some folks would much rather see them totally eliminated after all. I feel sorry for people who feel that way, as all snakes – even the venomous ones – are an important part of the ecology of a natural ecosystem. Furthermore, they are beautiful and fascinating creatures. Knowing they are “out there” when you hike in the woods makes the trip more exciting and makes the woods seem wilder. We don’t always know all the benefits of any particular species—but we do know that research on snake venom promises insight into several important medical advances. The famed National Geographic photographer, Joel Sartore (see www.photoark.com ) sums it quite well, saying: “It is folly to think that we can destroy one species and ecosystem after another and not affect humanity. When we save species, we’re actually saving ourselves.”
The Timber Rattlesnake still survives in a small handful of places in southern Ohio. Thanks to people like Doug Wynn, it’s not gone yet. But we are losing species at an alarming rate. Please come and see the exhibit at the Ohio History Center – “Going, Going, Gone?” and learn more about species that have been lost, species that are still hanging on, and also success stories about species that have been saved from extinction. The exhibit opens to the public on Wednesday, July 2nd. Museum hours and admission fees can be found at: www.ohiohistory.org