OHC Curator E.S.Thomas warns about DDT use…in 1948!

Edward S. Thomas

Edward S. Thomas

In doing background research for our new exhibit “Going, Going, Gone? Endangered and Extinct Species”, I was reading through some of Edward S. Thomas’ older newspaper articles. Ed Thomas was the Curator of Natural History from 1931 – 1962 at what was then called the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society (now the Ohio History Connection). He was also a prolific writer and authored a column in the Columbus Dispatch for almost 60 years. Many of Edward Thomas’ columns were reprinted in the book “In Ohio Woods and Fields” published by the Dispatch Printing Co. in 1981. One of his articles caught my eye, not from the title “Beware of the Boomerang!” but from the letters “DDT” that jumped off the page.

In the exhibit we feature Rachael Carson, and talk about how she warned the world about the dangers of indiscriminate use of the insecticide DDT. Her landmark book “Silent Spring” was published in 1962; so why was Ed Thomas mentioning DDT 14 years earlier!? What did he know that wasn’t to be common knowledge for over a decade later? Here are some quotes from his article:

“Applied to window and door screens or to the inside walls of stables, DDT is little short of miraculous in exterminating flies and mosquitoes….But – and note this carefully – neither DDT nor any other insecticide is selective. It destroys good and bad alike and it fails to affect certain dangerous insects. “

DDT insect spray

DDT insect spray

“Here is a homely example: I have been dusting our roses with a “shot-gun” rose dust. Among a number of other things, it contains DDT. DDT is moderately effective against rose aphids, but it is horribly lethal to some of the aphid’s enemies, such as syrphus flies and many near-microscopic wasp-like parasites which feed solely on aphids. Result: the dust has not controlled the aphids on my roses. Aphids on other plants in my garden seem more numerous than usual….I am seriously debating whether I should use DDT on roses.”

“DDT has another serious drawback. It is extremely lethal to fishes, frogs and salamanders and aquatic insects. I must warn against using it in ponds to destroy mosquito larvae unless you are willing also to destroy every other living thing in the pond.”

DDT Spraying“I am especially concerned over a new type of spraying equipment, known as a ‘mist sprayer’, which is capable of spraying tons of DDT or other potent insecticides at high velocity through dense woodland. If used indiscriminately its capacity for harm is limitless.”

“The new insecticides are proving invaluable in combating many specific pests which have previously been difficult to control. But let’s use them sparingly, cautiously, and as intelligently as possible. If we don’t, they’re likely to boomerang – with a bang.”

Not only does he warn us about DDT, 24 years before it was officially banned in 1972, but this article illustrates the value of natural history – of close observation of the natural world. Ed Thomas noted the problem with DDT, and the complexity and interactivity of all species, just by carefully observing the insect populations on his rose bushes.

“Stones in the ears? Really!?” Answer to Freak of the Week #23

Otoliths of the Freshwater Drum fish.

Otoliths of the Freshwater Drum fish.

Often when identifying unknown specimens it helps to handle the objects, to get a feel for the density and texture. In this case it would help; these objects are relatively dense and are mostly smooth (which would help distinguish them from ‘fossil popcorn’, Paul!). Congrats to those who recognized these as otoliths, or “ear stones”, of the Freshwater Drum (also known as the Sheephead ) Aplodinotus grunniens.

Otoliths in humans.

Otoliths in humans.

Most vertebrates have some type of stones in the inner ears. In bony fish there are three pairs; 1 large pair (the sagittae) and 2 small pairs (the lapilli and the asteriscii). The large pair we picture here are the sagittae of the Freshwater Drum. So why do we have stones in our ears!? Yes, we humans have them too! In humans there are lots of very small stones, made up of calcium carbonate, and measuring only 3 – 30 microns in length. These small otoliths rest in a gelatinous membrane covering small hair cells. Motions of the head cause the otoliths to pull on the hair cells which stimulate nerves that signal the position of the head in relation to the rest of the body. The otoliths in vertebrates are used as indicators of gravity, balance, movement, and direction.

Growth rings in a fish otolith. Photo courtesy of www.marinebiodiversity.ca

Growth rings in a fish otolith. Photo courtesy of www.marinebiodiversity.ca

So why do we care about these weird “ear stones” of fish!? For one thing they can be used to identify fish species. The shape of the otolith is distinctive enough that species can be determined by examining the otolith. They are important in wildlife biology when examining stomach contents of birds and marine mammals to learn about the food habits of these species. They are also useful in archaeology for a couple of reasons. Not only can we identify the species of fish consumed at a site but otoliths are good indicators of the age of the fish, and thus the season that the site was occupied! If an otolith is sectioned and then examined under a microscope, alternating layers of translucent and opaque material can be seen. Like rings on a tree these can be counted to ascertain the age of the fish when it died. Unlike bone, which is laid down and then remodeled (such as in the healing of bones after a fracture) otoliths grow throughout the life of the animal. Once you know the age that the fish died, you can estimate the season of the year by the knowing the approximate date of birth of the fish species.

Otoliths from the Freshwater Drum can be found on beaches today, especially along the shores of Lake Erie. They are called “lucky stones” by some beachcombers. A sulcus, or groove, is on one surface of the otolith and appears as the letter L on the stone from the fish’s right side and the letter J from the left side.

Pharyngeal teeth of the Freshwater Drum

Pharyngeal teeth of the Freshwater Drum

What a cool fish! Not only does the Freshwater Drum have weird ear stones but it has unusual teeth! You might remember that we featured the pharyngeal teeth of the Drum in a previous blog post, and linked to Juli Six’s blog in Archaeology where she discusses these teeth. Click here to read the blog.

It’s Ask A Curator Day!

Curators at museums around the world are taking part in #AskaCurator day!askacurator2.jpg

Dave Dyer and I will be fielding all your Natural History questions from 3-5PM here at the Ohio History Connection. Log in to Twitter and follow @OhioHistory, or find the Ohio History Connection on Facebook and follow the hashtag #AskACurator.


We love talking about our collections and answering questions about the natural world. My field of expertise is birds and reptiles, amphibians, and terrestrial arthropods. Dave specializes in mammals, bones, and fossils.

Ask away! It’s the next best thing to visiting us at the History Center.

What are these!? Freak of the Week #23

Freak of the Week #23

Freak of the Week #23

If you found these unusual “stones” would you know what they are? They are small, measuring about 3/4″ long and about 1/4″ thick. Ponder this over the weekend, and put your best answer in the “Reply” box below. We’ll give the correct answer next week!

Carolina Wolf Spider found in Ohio!

By now you’ve probably heard that the Carolina Wolf Spider (Hogna carolinensis), not found in Ohio since 1963, was re-discovered in Adams County a few weeks ago.

I first heard about it from a coworker, who said the photo accompanying the article depicted something tarantula-like. His perception was that of a frighteningly large and possibly angry spider. His vivid description led me to assume that the wrong picture had been used for the article—there are no spiders even remotely approaching tarantula size in Ohio!

Once I had a chance to read the article, I could see that this certainly was not a picture of a tarantula, and if anything it seems more befuddled than antagonistic. Whatever the species, it is indeed quite an arresting arthropod. What gorgeous flame orange chelicerae!

Photo by Jim McCormac, copyright © 2014

One might more readily believe this lovely animal to be some manner of tropical denizen rather than a native Ohioan, but my initial assumption turned out to be quite false. The photo is not only the correct species, but also THE individual discovered in Adams County! The cord-like device plumbing the depths of his burrow is a borescope, a flexible tube with a light and a camera on the end. Without this invaluable tool the spider may not have been rediscovered at all! The Carolina Wolf Spider’s leg span may approach 3 to 4 inches, making it the largest wolf spider species in North America.

Wolf spiders (Lycosidae) are a family of ground-dwelling arachnids that actively stalk and pursue their insect prey, hence their name.

Photo by Bob Barber, copyright © 2008

Like most spiders they have eight eyes, but four are especially well-developed.  They are capable of great bursts of speed, but climb poorly. As fall approaches wolf spiders can sometimes be found taking shelter in homes and garages, where they hunt down the insect pests in your house. So if you see a fairly large spider scurrying across your floor, don’t worry! Wolf spiders are reluctant to bite and their venom is not dangerous to humans, so with gentle handling they can be safely relocated outside, if desired.

It’s unlikely that you’ll find a Carolina Wolf Spider in your house anytime soon, however. The species was re-discovered in remnant prairie habitat within the Edge of Appalachia Preserve system in Southwest Ohio. According to the US Forest Service, less than 0.01% of Ohio’s original prairie habitat remains. Prairies support an immense number of rare plant and animal species, from orchids to butterflies to bobolinks to bison, so protecting prairie habitat has an “umbrella” effect. Prairies are vastly underappreciated, yet they provide incalculable ecological services—chief among them, the prevention of soil erosion and evaporative water loss. Unfortunately, almost all of North America’s remnant prairie has been converted to agriculture, and untold volumes of topsoil have been lost as a result. Indeed, the Nature Conservancy states that prairies and grasslands are the world’s most imperiled ecosystem.

While greatly reduced in acreage from its former splendor, it is encouraging that Ohio’s prairies are still hale enough to support the return of this important predator.

In closing, I’ll share one more thought. While researching this blog post, I discovered that the above photo above had been cropped. Here is the original:

Photo by Jim McCormac, copyright © 2014

I wonder if my co-worker would have perceived the spider in quite the same way if he’d seen this photo instead.

Now that you’ve seen it, did your perception of the spider change?  Let us know in the comments!

 Jim McCormac of ODNR is one of the three naturalists who re-discovered this impressive arachnid. I highly recommend that you read Mr. McCormac’s full account of the encounter here.

Free talk on “Magnificent Monsters of the Ice Age”!

MagnificentMonstersIceThis coming Saturday, September 13th, Bob Glotzhober, Curator Emeritus of Natural History, will be presenting his popular talk “Those Magnificent Monsters of the Ice Age.” It will be free to the public, at the Hurt/Battelle Memorial Library at 270 Lilly Chapel Road, West Jefferson, Ohio at 10:30 a.m. He will certainly talk about the “monsters” that fascinate so many people, but he’ll spend more time with some of the lesser known extinct animals like the Giant Beaver and the Stag-moose. A skeleton of the Stag-moose was excavated by three OHC staff near Medina in 2008 – and it has some huge tooth marks on the bones. Bob and Dr. Greg McDonald are still trying to build sufficient evidence for the predator that they think ate (and perhaps killed) this 1,000 pound relative of the modern moose – and Bob will share their evidence to date for this theory. Bob will end the talk with a discussion on theories as to why these “mega-fauna” disappeared at the close of the Ice Age. Should be fun – come join us!

“Going, Going, Gone?” featured in Metro Parks publication



The Executive Director of Metro Parks, John O’Meara, wrote a thoughtful article about the loss of the passenger pigeon in the Autumn 2014 issue of Parkscope. He discusses our exhibit “Going, Going, Gone?” and mentions Buttons, one of the world’s last passenger pigeons and the centerpiece of our exhibit. Here’s an excerpt from the article. To see the entire article click here.

“The centennial of the death of the last passenger pigeon should serve
as an important reminder to us all that we share our habitat with many
other species. Let’s work together to create better habitat for humans and
wildlife. Let’s work together to prevent the loss of another species like the
beautiful passenger pigeon.”

Thoughts on the Passenger Pigeon

Martha - the last passenger pigeon.

Martha – the last passenger pigeon.

As we just passed the 100th anniversary of the death of the last known passenger pigeon, Martha – who died on Sept. 1, 1914, it gave me pause to think a bit more about passenger pigeons. One thing that has gnawed at me when researching passenger pigeons, when regarding the incredibly huge numbers of birds that made up passenger pigeon flocks, is just how could this number of birds be biologically sustainable!? The great number of birds is well-documented and is presented in detail in our exhibit “Going, Going, Gone?”, including quotes from witnesses who said the sky was blackened for days by flocks of passenger pigeons flying overhead and estimates of flocks numbering in the billions of individuals! This just doesn’t seem sustainable! How can the environment support this many birds? Why weren’t there more predators preying on the birds and helping to limit the population?

One theory is that the birds in the mid-19th Century were in a peak population in a long-term cycle of large booms and busts, similar to Snowshoe Hare and lemming population cycles. But another theory was suggested in a recent on-line article in National Geographic News by Carl Zimmer. He states that maybe the pigeon population exploded when Europeans drove the Native Americans out of the birds’ range. What do you think!? Read the article here. His also discusses the real possibility that we can bring the passenger pigeon back, by “de-extinction”. But should we!?

Artist Drew Ernst visits the Collections!

"Sadness and Alcohol" by Drew Ernst, 36 x 48, oil on aluminum

“Sadness and Alcohol” by Drew Ernst, 36 x 48, oil on aluminum

Last October we published a blog about another use of the natural history collections, as an inspiration for artists. Once again we have an artist in our midst, basing their work on our collections. Working away in the narrow aisles of the natural history collections, between the large shelves holding mammoth bones and the cabinets of freeze-dried fungi, is Drew Ernst. He is an accomplished artist who has exhibited across the United States. Drew is a modern, contemporary, figurative painter (example at left) however he decided to make a foray into natural history. He is using OHC bird specimens for a series of oil paintings. It’s fascinating for us to watch Drew transform a blank canvas, or in some cases an aluminum board, into an amazing painting of one of our specimens!

Speaking of artists, be sure to stop by the Ohio History Center to see the upcoming exhibit “Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart”. He was an Ohio painter who was born on a farm in Union Township near Kalida, Ohio, attended Ohio Wesleyan University and spent most of his professional career in Columbus. This exhibit in the third-floor Library Gallery and first-floor Spotlight Gallery features a selection of Burkhart portraits, self-portraits, prints and mural studies from throughout his career. The exhibit will be open from Sept. 3, 2014 – May 31, 2015.

Drew beginning painting of the Northern Harrier

Drew beginning painting of the Northern Harrier

Drew with finished painting

Drew with finished painting

Northern Harrier, by Drew Ernst

Northern Harrier, by Drew Ernst

You Can Support Ohio History While Shopping at Kroger

Don’t forget to register your Kroger Plus Card to support Ohio History! The more you shop, the more rewards you earn for history. Kroger rewards

Last year, our staff, volunteers, members and friends raised over $2,100! Register your Kroger Plus Card today and Kroger will donate a percentage of your purchases to benefit the work of the Ohio History Connection.

Best of all, the only cost is a few minutes of your time. All participants must re-enroll each year to make their purchases eligible for community rewards.

Here’s the 5 easy steps to support Ohio History!
1. Go to www.krogercommunityrewards.com
2. To find the nearest participating Kroger store, please select “View participating Columbus, Ohio stores” or “View participating Cincinnati, Ohio stores.” Please note that Kroger’s Columbus Division has participating stores throughout the central, northwest, and southeast region of Ohio. Kroger’s Cincinnati Division has participating stores throughout the southwest region of Ohio.
3. Select your location and register with your Kroger Plus Card.
4. When asked which nonprofit you would like to support, enter the organization number: 84059.
5. Shop at Kroger and use your Kroger Plus Card at the register.

Be sure to register today to make all your purchases eligible. Help us get the word out by sharing this great opportunity with your friends and family.
It’s easy… just shop, swipe your card and earn!

Need help? Feel free to contact Doug Sweeney at 614-297-2342 or dsweeney@ohiohistory.org