Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Big Thaw...

The Big Thaw: T.REX Alive V

You are cordially invited to celebrate the beginning of spring at The Big Thaw, our 5th annual T.REX Alive Gala Fundraiser.

Join us at the Museum of the Earth on Saturday, May 1, 2010 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. for a delightful evening that we are sure you’ll want to be a part of.

The evening will be catered by an Ithaca favorite, The Heights Cafe. Be sure to enjoy their excellent spreads throughout the Museum as you explore our silent auction. This year, with both our live and silent auctions we invite you to take a piece of the Museum home with you.

The event will also feature a special performance by The Chordials, one of Cornell University's premier a cappella groups. Writer Amy Dickinson (of the syndicated advice column "Ask Amy") will be the evening's guest emcee.

Learn more about the event, take a sneak peak at the auction, and purchase your tickets by clicking here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fossil of the Week

4/28/10 – Freshwater Clam

Freshwater pearl mussels are a large and varied group, today consisting of six families within the taxonomic order Unionoida. Collectively, they are sometimes called naiads or freshwater clams. They are important ecologically (filtering water, providing food for muskrats and raccoons) and economically (as a source of natural and cultured pearls, and pearl buttons and inlay), and are today one of the most threatened invertebrate groups on Earth, having been reduced severely by pollution, dams, and the introduction of non-native species such as zebra mussels. Freshwater pearl mussels have proliferated most especially here, in eastern North America, but approximately 70% of their original 300 species are either extinct or classified as endangered or threatened today.

Unionoida has a long fossil history, back to the Triassic Period, more than 200 million years ago. Here is one relatively new example. This paratype* of Diplodon liddlei, described by Katherine Van Winkle Palmer** in 1941, is from the Pliocene of Ecuador. This fossil is actually a conglomerate of many fossils still embedded in rock. There are several pieces and several more impressions of a high-spired snail (you can see three whorls of one good one just below center on the rock). The Diplodon specimen that we are discussing is the light-yellow crescent-shaped piece along the bottom edge. Only half of the shell is present, but you can clearly see the most important feature of the species (and in fact for its entire family, the Hyriidae) – the wavy radial ribs that form a pretty, complex pattern on the shell. It was collected by, donated to PRI by, and is named for Ralph Alexander Liddle (1896-1963), who coauthored the geological description of this material with Katherine Palmer. Liddle was a geologist from Fort Worth, Texas, who worked for Standard Oil Company.*** He received his AB degree from Cornell University in 1918, having studied under Gilbert Harris. Liddle is perhaps best known for his 1928 book The Geology of Venezuela and Trinidad (J. P. MacGowan, Forth Worth), which was dedicated to Harris.

*The holotype and three additional paratype specimens are also in PRI’s collection. See 10/14/09 - Atrypa aperanta Crickmay for a definition of paratype specimens.

**See 2/3/10 – A Rib-less Wentletrap for more about Katherine Palmer.

***See 4/14/10 – Scallop Bed and 3/10/10 – The Hodson Collection for more about paleontologists working for commercial oil companies.

Text by Paula Mikkelsen

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

MotE Cast

Why Darwin Still Matters by Dr. Warren Allmon


Friday, April 23, 2010

A Field Trip to Fall Creek Gorge...


On Wednesday, April 21, 2010 PRI's Rob Ross, Trisha Smrecak, Richard Kissel, Sara Auer and Chris Besemer lead 50 7th grade girls from New York City on a tour of the Fall Creek Gorge on Cornell's campus. After the gorge tour, the group visited the museum and spent time at stations throughout the Museum. The above picture is just a glimpse of the kind of day it was.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fossil of the Week



4/21/10 – Planktonic Snail

Typical snails, at least in the sea, are usually thought of as rather thick-shelled and lumbering, crawling slowly across the seafloor, grazing on algae or the occasional worm. This snail is absolutely none of that! This is a “heteropod” snail from the Eocene – it was (like its close relatives today) entirely planktonic (drifting mid-water in the ocean currents throughout its life, never settling on the bottom), with an extremely fragile, light-weight shell and a body modified for catching the currents. These and other holoplanktonic snails are sometimes called Sea Butterflies, referring to their wing-like appendages that flap in delicate swimming motions. Notice also how tiny the shell is – only about a half-centimeter across (that’s approximately 3/16 of an inch) – keeping it again very lightweight. In life, the shell and animal were probably almost transparent, as are many members of the zooplankton, to avoid being seen by visual predators such as fish or squid. Assuming that it lived like its congeners today, it was itself a veracious predator, with large eyes to spot likewise delicate prey in dim light and a huge snout equipped with a ribbon of chitinous fang-like teeth. That’s another reason to be transparent – to avoid being seen as one approaches its prey! Good images and descriptions of the remarkable image-forming eyes and sharp teeth of this and other heteropods are found on a Tree of Life webpage (http://tolweb.org/Carinarioidea).

This is Atlanta eocenica, named by PRI’s second director, Katherine Van Winkle Palmer*, in 1937 in her massive, 730-page monograph, “The Claibornian Scaphopoda, Gastropoda and Dibranchiate Cephalopoda of the Southern United States.” It is the holotype** (PRI 3383) from the Lower Claiborne Formation (Eocene) at Moseley’s Ferry, Texas. At the time of its description, it was the only Atlanta species known earlier than the Miocene (therefore the oldest Atlanta in the fossil record), and was the only one known with sculptured early whorls; the significance of this last character is not really known. Most species of Atlanta today are cosmopolitan in tropical and subtropical seas, that is, they are pretty much found worldwide in warmer waters. The Tree of Life website has a very complete description, with beautiful images, of all of the living species of Atlanta (see http://tolweb.org/Atlanta/28752), presented by one of the world’s experts on this group, Dr. Roger Seapy at California State University, Fullerton.

*See Fossil of the Week 2/3/10 – A Rib-less Wentletrap for more about Katherine Palmer.

**See Fossil of the Week 8/19/09 - Cerithium gainesensis for a definition of "holotype."

Text by Paula Mikkelsen

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Celebrate Earth Day with the Museum of the Earth

Earth Day

Earth Day Programming
This Earth Day celebrate the planet with Museum of the Earth!

Saturday, April 17

Join us at Syracuse's Rosamond Gifford Zoo's Party for the Planet.

Thursday, April 22 - Noon
PRI's Trisha Smrecak will give a lecture "Climate Change: Past, Present, and Future" at TC3 in Dryden, NY.

Thursday, April 22 - 6 p.m. reception, 6:30 p.m. lecture
An evening lecture at the Museum of the Earth entitled "The Revolution in Sustainability Education" by Peter Bardaglio, senior fellow at Second Nature, a non-profit committed to the promotion of sustainability in higher education. Tickets $10. Learn more by visiting our website.

Saturday, April 24 - 10 a.m. to Noon
Earth centric activities for the whole family at the Museum of the Earth

Satruday, April 24 - Noon
A special Natural History at Noon lecture in the Museum Classroom given by PRI's Warren Allmon, Rob Ross, and Trisha Smrecak, authors of the new book Climate Change: Past, Present, and Future. The book will be available for purchase and a book signing will occur after the talk.

All Earth Day events at the Museum of the Earth are made possible by the continued generosity of Wegmans!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Scandal at the Museum of the Earth...


Join us at the Museum on Saturday at noon to learn the scandalous details of the Philandering Housewrens! Yes, you read that right -- birds that cheat! We hope you can make it!

"Philandering Females: investigating the potential benefits of extra-pair mating in housewrens" with Anna Forsman, Cornell University

House wrens, like other socially monogamous birds, form pair-bonds between males and females for the purpose of rearing offspring. However, both sexes have been found to engage in extra-pair copulations with other individuals, resulting in broods of mixed paternity. Males benefit directly through increased number of offspring sired, whereas females do not because of limitations on the number of eggs she can produce and care for at any given time. Therefore it has been hypothesized that females may instead gain indirect genetic benefits from extra-pair males that increase the quality of the resulting offspring. In this talk I will discuss the results of my Master’s work investigating condition and immune responsiveness of nestlings in relation to paternity in a population of house wrens breeding in central Illinois.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Did You Know?

This week is the National Environmental Education Week (EE Week)! What a great thing. It really is important to celebrate the environment. EE Week is celebrated annually the week prior to Earth Day. Earth Day is celebrated around the world on April 22. What are your plans?

Here's what's happening at the Museum of the Earth:

Earth Day

Earth Day Programming
This Earth Day celebrate the planet with Museum of the Earth!

Saturday, April 17

Join us at Syracuse's Rosamond Gifford Zoo's Party for the Planet.

Thursday, April 22 - Noon
PRI's Trisha Smrecak will give a lecture "Climate Change: Past, Present, and Future" at TC3 in Dryden, NY.

Thursday, April 22 - 6 p.m. reception, 6:30 p.m. lecture
An evening lecture at the Museum of the Earth entitled "The Revolution in Sustainability Education" by Peter Bardaglio, senior fellow at Second Nature, a non-profit committed to the promotion of sustainability in higher education. Tickets $10. Learn more by visiting our website.

Saturday, April 24 - 10 a.m. to Noon
Earth centric activities for the whole family at the Museum of the Earth

Satruday, April 24 - Noon
A special Natural History at Noon lecture in the Museum Classroom given by PRI's Warren Allmon, Rob Ross, and Trisha Smrecak, authors of the new book Climate Change: Past, Present, and Future. The book will be available for purchase and a book signing will occur after the talk.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fossil of the Week



4/14/10 – Scallop Bed

This is a fossil scallop, or rather three scallops, all of the species Pecten macdonaldi described by Axel Olsson in 1922. It is from the Miocene of Gatun, in Panama’s Canal Zone.

The most interesting thing to me about this specimen is that it is a snapshot of part of a scallop bed - three specimens are resting one on top of another, captured in this position by the lucky process of fossilization. Empty scallop shells (and other bivalves) often collect in undersea swales (“valleys” in the sand plain) after the animals have died, a remnant of large congregations of scallops that hang out together when the scallops are alive. Baby scallops, which are planktonic at first, need to sense chemical signals from the shells of adults (either living or dead) in order to settle and metamorphose into juvenile scallops. One unfortunate thing about the commercial scallop industry in this country is that it usually puts its shell waste (after living scallops are collected by trawl, brought ashore, and the scallop meat is removed for market) into landfills instead of returning them to the scallop grounds. It is obvious why they do not do this – lugging the empty shells back out to sea would cost time and fuel. However, over time, fewer and fewer scallop shells lie on the sea floor, making it harder and harder for planktonic scallop larvae to cue on a place to settle. As a result, many of the larvae die before they find an acceptable place to settle. In this way, many scallop fisheries have already been depleted to the point that harvesting is no longer commercially viable.

Pecten macdonaldi is treated now as a subspecies of Flabellipecten gatunensis, a scallop distributed in Miocene and Oligocene deposits from Mexico through Venezuela. Its proper name nowadays is therefore Flabellipecten gatunensis macdonaldi (Olsson, 1922). Taxonomists put parentheses around the author’s name and original date of description to signify when a species is now placed in a genus (the first word in the taxonomic name) other than that originally used. Why was it moved from Pecten to Flabellipecten? Well, taxonomists often redefine genera and families, usually based on new collections and/or new analyses. Originally, the genus Pecten literally included all scallops, but at some point, some expert decided that Pecten should be restricted to scallops of a certain appearance, and so other genera were created for scallops that did not fit that revised description. Scallop taxa (genera and species) are most often distinguished on the basis of overall shape and inflation of the shell, the relative shape and size of the two “ears” or auricles, and the characteristics of the radial ribs – that is, whether the ribs are wide or narrow, spiny or smooth, closely or widely spaced, etc. This species is relatively flat (not greatly inflated), with ears of equal size, and low, smooth ribs with relatively wide interspaces. Scallops are one of the largest families of Bivalvia (the molluscan class containing clams, oysters, scallops, mussels, and their relatives), and one of the most popular, with brightly colored, large shells to delight the eyes of professional malacologists and collectors alike.

This specimen in sandstone, a paratype*, was collected during Axel Olsson’s fieldwork in Panama and Costa Rica as part of his duties with Sinclair Exploration Company, in cooperation with the Costa Rica Oil Corporation. Remember that Sinclair Oil Corporation is the one that uses a sauropod dinosaur silhouette on their logo. Sinclair was founded in 1916, so this exploration work was very early in their history – the company was only a few years old. Sinclair is still in business, based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, and still uses the green dinosaur – dubbed “Dino” – on its corporate logo. As frequent readers might recall, oil companies once employed paleontologists and relied upon fossils to identify likely places to drill for oil – such was apparently the case here. Olsson spent most of his career in the petroleum industry.** This scallop species was named after Dr. D. F. MacDonald of the Sinclair Exploration Company, who was probably part of the expedition, perhaps even its leader. The original description of this species was published in Bulletins of American Paleontology when its founder, Gilbert Harris (who would found PRI in 1932), was still a geologist at Cornell University; Olsson received an Associates Degree from Cornell under Harris’ guidance in 1913.

*See 10/14/09 - Atrypa aperanta Crickmay for a definition of paratype specimens.

**See Fossil of the Week 11/5/09 - Echinocaris punctata for more about Axel Olsson.

Text by Paula Mikkelsen

Friday, April 9, 2010

This Weekend at the Museum of the Earth...


A Night at the Museum of the Earth
Friday, April 9 - Saturday, April 10

Have you ever wondered what happens at Museum of the Earth when the lights go out at night? Now you have a chance to find out! Come join us for a slumber party full of fun and educational activities. The night includes a flashlight tour through the Museum, a scavenger hunt for a chance to get up close and personal with our specimens, and more before you snuggle in for the night under our Right Whale skeleton! We will provide bedtime snacks and breakfast in the morning. You provide a sleeping bag and a sense of adventure!

Members: $30 for children, $20 for adult
Nonmembers: $40 for children, $30 for adult
Ages 5-12 welcome, 1 adult per 3 children
Register Today by emailing batman@museumoftheearth.org

Creation Talk Back
Creation
(The Movie) at Cinemapolis with a Talk Back with PRI's Dr. Warren Allmon
April 9, 2010
7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Join Dr. Warren Allmon at Cinemapolis in Ithaca for a screening of the movie that some creationists DON'T WANT YOU TO SEE! After the showing Dr. Allmon will be leading a discussion on how Darwin reconciled his theories with his faith and family. Warren is the Director of the Paleontological Research Institution and its Museum of the Earth and he is also the Hunter R. Rawlings III Professor of Paleontology at Cornell University.

For more information and admission prices please visit: www.cinemapolis.org


Cayuga Archaeology in Your Backyard
Saturday, April 10
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Jack Rossen, Associate Professor & Chair, Anthropology, Ithaca College

Ten years of archaeological research around Cayuga Lake is revealing new information on the Cayuga lifeway and the Haudenosuanee (Iroquois) Confederacy. This talk describes excavations conducted at an early Cayuga village dating between A.D. 900 and 1100. This work is most important for promoting collaborative research with Native people, countering politically motivated historical revision and supporting repatriation of human remains and artifacts from museums. Included with Museum admission.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spend the Night at the Museum?

A Night at the Museum of the Earth

Friday, April 9 - Saturday, April10

Have you ever wondered what happens at Museum of the Earth when the lights go out at night? Now you have a chance to find out! Come join us for a slumber party full of fun and educational activities. The night includes a flashlight tour through the Museum, a scavenger hunt for a chance to get up close and personal with our specimens, and more before you snuggle in for the night under our Right Whale skeleton! We will provide bedtime snacks and breakfast in the morning. You provide a sleeping bag and a sense of adventure!

Members: $30 for children, $20 for adult

Nonmembers: $40 for children, $30 for adult

Ages 5-12 welcome, 1 adult per 3 children

Register Today by emailing batman@museumoftheearth.org

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fossil of the Week


4/7/10 – Lobolith

Think you know crinoids? Well, here’s one that you might not know about. This is a lobolith from the Silurian-Devonian boundary (ca. 444 million years ago) of Oklahoma. A lobolith is a float at the surface of the ocean – kind of like a bobber that a fisherman would use – from which a stalked crinoid hangs, upside down, spending its life as a pelagic organism. This makes perfect sense – what better place to gather plankton, than hanging freely in the water? It is unusual but not rare for normally-benthic organisms to have a close relative in the plankton. Gastropod (snails) have one – the Blue Ocean Slug, Glaucus atlanticus, is a pelagic nudibranch or sea slug.

Most crinoids (Phylum Echinodermata, Class Crinoidea, AKA “feather stars”) – both living and extinct, and either stalked or sessile – are flower-like benthic animals that filter-feed from the bottom of the ocean, usually attached by a holdfast to a rocky perch with their feathery-armed “crowns” extended into the water column, capturing plankton as it drifts by. [FYI - Some crinoids are not as sedentary as you might think, and have been observed to “walk” from rock to rock.] Planktonic crinoids (family Scyphocrinitidae) occur almost worldwide at the Silurian-Devonian boundary formations of Europe, Asia, North Africa, and North America. These are the only known pelagic members of the Crinoidea, past or present. This specimen, which is approximately 3 inches (75 mm) in width, has been halved – the surface facing you is part of the interior, showing several of the spaces inside the lobolith that were filled with gas or air to provide buoyancy.

You might ask, how did this adaptation evolve? The answer is: we do not know for sure. One hypothesis is an intermediate “pseudoplanktonic” stage or a crinoid that lived attached to floating driftwood; we have such fossils and they were also really, really huge – stalks 20 meters (60 feet) long with crowns one meter (3 feet) in diameter. Fossil evidence also suggests that the life history of lobolith-bearers includes a juvenile that remains attached to its parent until its lobolith is of sufficient size to float independently. Another obvious question is: why wasn’t this life strategy successful enough to persist until today? Again we do not know for certain, but it could have something to do with the evolution of fishes, which experienced their greatest radiation in the Devonian – perhaps floating crinoids were just too delicious to endure!

Text by Paula Mikkelsen

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Notes from the Field -- Sara Auer

It's important as staff members of PRI to make sure we get out into the field. In light of all the attention on the Marcellus hydrofracture horizontal drilling debate I've been trying to learn about the geology of the Marcellus Shale. Yesterday I finally got to see it for myself at the Seneca Stone Quarry (with prior permission of course). The Seneca Quarry is a very interesting mix of limestone, sandstone, shale, and even an ash layer here and there from pre-historic volcanic eruptions. The Marcellus Shale sticks out with its striking black coloring, which is due to its high organic content. The shale has many color gradations from lighter-less carbon rich to dark black bands. Some of pieces of the shale that I picked up even had lenses of pyrite or fools gold inside. For me at least, I can read all the geology papers in the world but they don't sink in until I can actually touch what it is I'm reading about. Here's a few pictures so you can see what I saw!

Myself at and outcrop of Marcellus Shale


A view of the Seneca Stone Quarry.
Marcellus shale is visible in the foreground while the wall in the background is limestone.


Marcellus Shale-up close and personal with a rock hammer for scale.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Dino Bunny?

Look who's ready for tomorrows Dino Eggstravaganza at the Museum of the Earth -- none other than Cecil himself!!!!



He's already decked out for the occasion. Do you like his bunny ears? (Special thanks to Cecil's good friend Alicia for making him those super special ears!)

Are you ready for tomorrow? Got your basket? Here are some Dino Egg Hunt Tips:

  1. Wear clothes with pockets -- this way you can stuff yourself full with eggs after your basket is full!
  2. No pushing -- there are 100s of eggs hidden throughout the Museum you will find tons. (I promise that you will get a prize no matter what!)
  3. Have Fun! How often do you get to go on a hunt for dinosaur eggs? I'm guessing not often -- so enjoy it. I know I will!
See you tomorrow...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fossil of the Week




24 March 2010 – Irregular Heart Urchin

Echinolampas nuevitasensis, named by Norman Weisbord* in 1934 is this week’s fossil of the week. It is the shell of a sea urchin (Phylum Echinodermata, Class Echinoidea). The shell, called a “test,” of a sea urchin, living or extinct, is roundish and in life bears many small spines. The word “urchin” is an old name for a hedgehog – the connection seems clear! Urchins move quite slowly, on a series of tiny tube feet run by a hydraulic like circulatory system. They graze on marine algae using shelly mouthparts that are located in the center of its bottom side. Sea urchins are preyed upon by sea otters and fish, and humans harvest them for their “corals” or “roe” (ovaries + eggs), which are served as a delicacy in many parts of the world.

This is an irregular urchin (meaning asymmetrical), more properly called a sea biscuit or heart urchin. Living representatives of this type of urchin burrow below the sand. The five-fold symmetry of echinoderms (called “pentamerism”; most evident in a starfish) is expressed in an urchin as the five rays faintly visible on the test. The earliest sea urchins date back to the Ordovician Period (450 million years ago), but many of the oldest fossils are merely isolated spines or pieces of test from crushed individuals.

This specimen (PRI 3829) is the holotype**, from the Upper Eocene of Camaguey Province, Cuba. It is 54 mm in greatest diameter, or a little over 2 inches. It was originally described in Bulletins of American Paleontology, volume 20, no. 70C. Nuevitas, which this species is named after, is a port city on the northeastern coast of Cuba. [Hint: the “-ensis” at the end of the species name tells us that it was named after a place. It literally translates as “from.” So this is the Echinolampas “from Nuevitas.”]

*See Fossil of the Week 11/24/09 - Arca zebra abisiniana for more about the author Norman Weisbord.

**See Fossil of the Week 8/19/09 - Cerithium gainesensis for a definition of "holotype."

Text by Paula Mikkelsen

A Dino Eggstravaganza?



DinoEggstravaganza
Saturday, April 3
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Join us for a Dino Eggstravaganza! Bring a basket and go on a Dino Egg hunt in the Museum.
  • Egg Hunt for children under 5 in the Ray Van Houtte Museum Classroom
  • Egg Hunt for children 5 and older in our permanent exhibition space
  • Experiments and a touch table in the Borg Warner Gallery
This event made possible with support from Egner Architectural Associates. Learn more about the event here. Included with Museum admission, free for members.