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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tail Wagging the Ear?

Nancy Bixler concentrated on cleaning the impressive 6-foot moose today. She’s from Maine, so while she has seen these animals in the wild, it’s certainly a unique experience to walk carefully under and around one to clean the mount.

While carefully documenting the condition of the moose in the Panorama, the team discovered something strange in a moose’s ear: a tail. A tail of a moose, stuffed into its ear! Ron Harvey surmised that the moose lost its tail, and an employee decades ago thought it might get lost. So they stuffed it into the ear, and then years passed.

Other not so strange finds have included two dead bats. Once every few years, a bat sometimes crawls into the exhibit from the attic of Dyche Hall. These bats, which have probably always lived in the museum’s attic, are small brown bats about the size of an adult’s hand. At some point years ago, these two became stuck in the exhibit, and no one knew.

Monday, March 17, 2014

King of the Mountain

King of the mountain

Conservation assessment team member Tara Hornung hails from Colorado, so rocky surfaces and mountains are familiar terrain. Today we could see her scaling the surface of the Panorama’s “mountain,” the plaster, wood and wire form on which several mountain goats, bears and birds are displayed.

“It’s not like rock climbing,” she said. Instead of granite, she moved across plaster edges that threatened to crumble if she went too close to the edge. What might look solid to museum visitors peering in is often a loosely supported structure underneath.

But while working on the mountain goats, she had a good view of the Panorama from up high. Visitors waved from the Panorama overlook on the 6th floor. “It looked like I was king of the mountain for a while today.” If the king of the mountain wore a protective suit and held a vacuum cleaner, anyway.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Improvise!

Panorama conversation project

One of the challenges has been to figure out how to plug in the special vacuum units that the conservation team is using. Unlike a home, these can’t be plugged in and then drag a cord across the floor. A cord could damage the plants, or even snag an animal mount.

To solve this puzzle, exhibits director Bruce Scherting went up into the attic above the Panorama. Using outlets near the Panorama’s upper lights, he plugged in extension cords and fed them thirty feet to the floor. But that led to another issue: the cords might chip the paint at the top of the exhibit if staff pulled them along the surface. Pieces of hose, cut into two-foot lengths and eased over the cords turned out to be the perfect solution. The hoses hooked on the lip of the exhibit and dangled the cords to the floor, where sandbags held them in place. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Yoga Moves

Panorama convervation project

One of the most challenging aspects of working inside the museum’s Panorama exhibit is its fragility. In fact, Ron Harvey has described it as “working inside a painting.” But instead of straddling the brushstrokes of Van Gogh, the assessment team is carefully maneuvering across plaster “rocks,” along narrow foot paths, and between animal mounts.

Nancy Bixler described the work as physically demanding and requiring a three-dimensional consciousness.

“It looks easy from the outside, but it is a huge challenge,” she said. “You can’t lean on anything and you must keep your balance as you move around the animals and plants.”

The team wears Tyvek suits, booties, and respirators over their street clothes to protect against particles in the air that may include arsenic or lead.  With every step, they must assess where their feet will fall, and make sure that they don’t step on the dried grasses — one misstep and the grasses turn to dust.

The contorted positions would make anyone sore at the end of the day. Perhaps we should consider yoga sessions in the Panorama to stretch out at the end of the day?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Panorama Conservation Assessment

Panorama conservation project

Today we welcomed the first members of the our conservation assessment team to the museum. There have been meetings about safety, protocols and troubleshooting. The team will be led by Ronald Harvey, owner of Tuckerbrook Conservation of Lincolnville, Maine. He and his associates, together with KU museum studies students and volunteers, will survey the state of each of the Panorama’s animal mounts, plants and backgrounds. They will lightly clean the animals, which have endured years of exposure to fluctuating temperature, humidity and light.  The onsite assessment is scheduled to be completed Friday, April 4, and will result in a report about the exhibit’s condition by July.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Watch for Snowy Owls in Kansas, Missouri this winter

Snowy owls — known to Harry Potter fans and birders alike - are making an appearance in Kansas and Missouri this fall and winter.

The owls, which reside most of the year in Canadian tundra and arctic environments, periodically move south in search of food. Their main food source, lemmings, is more scarce this year. At least 8 of the two-foot-tall iconic birds have been spotted in Kansas so far.

The public is encouraged to let the KU Natural History Museum know if a snowy owl is noticed in their area. The museum has provided a gallery of images of snowy owls for reference.

Typically, adult male snowy owls are all white, and adult females have feathers that are "barred" with brown tips. Immature males and females both start out with the barred feathers, but the males become more white as they age. Another way to tell determine sex is to look for white feathers at the back of the head, which can indicate that the bird is male.

If you spot such a bird and have the opportunity to take photos of it, please fill in this contact form to let ornithologists know about the sighting. Thank you!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fellowships for Ecological Genomics Symposium

From KUCR.... STUDENT TRAVEL FELLOWHIPS AVAILABLE TO ATTEND "GENES IN ECOLOGY, ECOLOGY IN GENES" SYMPOSIUM

http://www.ecogen.k-state.eduThe Ecological Genomics Institute at Kansas State University is pleased to announce that funding is available to support student fellowships to attend the 7th Annual Ecological Genomics Symposium (November 13 to 15, 2009, in Kansas City). Registration Information and details are available at www.ecogen.k-state.edu/symp2009 . The student fellowships are available through an award from the National Science Foundation with the goal of increasing the cultural and scientific diversity of young scientists (i.e., undergraduate and graduate students) attending the symposium. All applicants must be U. S. citizens or permanent residents. Application Deadline: Tuesday, September 29, 2009. Please follow the application procedures below that are also posted to: http://ecogen.ksu.edu/downloads/FellowshipApplicationInformation.pdf. The following application materials are required:

  1. Contact information including mail and email address and phone.
  2. Title and abstract for a poster presentation to be presented by the individual receiving the fellowship.
  3. Brief (one-page) statement of academic interests, career goals and/or how attending the Ecological Genomics Symposium will help reach these goals. In this one page statement, please indicate how inclusion of the student will increase diversity of the group participants. Please be sure to include your race and gender status.
  4. One letter of recommendation to be submitted under separate cover from the student’s faculty advisor. The letter should indicate how inclusion of the student will increase diversity of the group participants and can be sent by e-mail to dmerrill@k-state.edu. Applications packages can also be mailed to: Doris Merrill, Program Coordinator Ecological Genomics Institute Division of Biology, Kansas State University 104 Ackert Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506-4901

Questions can be directed to Doris Merrill at (785) 532-3482 or dmerrill@k-state.edu. Deadline for submission: Tuesday, September 29, 2009.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Quest for the Holy Holotype

While working on a detailed phylogenetic revision of a group of trilobites, I ran into a particularly problematic taxon known only from one small, severely broken specimen. Due to various taxonomic issues with which I won’t bore the readers of this blog, this particular problematica required further study. After a bit of detective work I managed to piece together that the trilobite had been collected in the far off land of Ottawa, Ontario. I quickly organized a trip and headed off into the great white Canadian north with my collaborator in this study, Gerry Kloc from the University of Rochester. Admittedly, late October is a less than ideal time to do field work on the Canadian Shield, but we were filled with an excited optimism that helped to fight back the biting cold. Plus the coats and gloves helped, too. 

Unfortunately, Ottawa had changed a great deal in the 100 plus years that had passed since the holotype had been collected and the original collection site was presently covered over by a brand new housing complex. After a few days of collecting in contemporary beds along the Ottawa River, a brief search through the stratigraphic collections at the Geological Survey of Canada, and an uneventful trip to a local rock quarry, we only ended up collecting a few paltry scraps that could potentially belong to the same species.

Determined to get something positive out of this trip, we left Canada and headed to a quarry in Watertown, New York with abundant undescribed material. Our collecting was quite fruitful... until the owner of the quarry informed us that we needed to leave immediately because people were hunting on the property.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Greeted by Evening Chill

While Diana and Malena headed out on another night walk, Dan, Choru and I set up the mercury vapor light trap again in front of my cabin. As we tied the white sheets, and turned on the light, the wind was picking up speed. We had been warned that a “friaje”, a cold polar wind coming up from Patagonia, was heading our way. Despite the wind, the number of insects coming to our sheet was low, the diversity was still good, with some unusual specimens we had not sampled before.

At midnight, the friaje was firmly here: the wind was gusting (it seemed gale-force) with heavy rains pelting down. In the dark of my thatch-roofed cabin, I curled into a foetal position under the thin blanket while the temperature dropped from 90°+ to about 55°!  I hope my little wooden cabin, with its lower solid half walls, upper screening, and thatched roof will last the night. The plop-plop of rain leaking through, the gusting wind, the thunder, and the occasional crack and crash of breaking tree limbs ensure that I am alert and attentive all night long. -Caroline

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Grant to Support 2011 Peru Expedition

ToucanetThe Andes are especially rich in frugivorous birds, like this Blue-banded Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus coeruleicinctis)

Forest Forest in the Rumichaca Region, Ayacucho

Graduate student Peter Hosner and collection manager Mark Robbins received notification this week that they have been awarded a National Geographic Society Research and Exploration Grant to continue Ornithology's work in the Andes of central Peru. The grant will fund a field expedition to survey and elevational transect through high elevation grasslands, elfin forests, cloud forests, and rainforests in the vicinity of Rumichaca, Ayacucho. Ayacucho is biologically one of the most poorly known departments in Peru. The Andes hold tremendous avian diversity, including birds with exotic names such as Mountain-Toucans, Flower-piercer, Thistle-tails, and Sun-angels. Steep forests of the Andes are often dark, wet, and cloaked with clouds.