Friday, March 18, 2016

Where Have I Been? SAS Update: Kruger

Hello all, it's been awhile.  Talking about it isn't always my style (Zayn reference), but today it is.  I've been on the study abroad program called Semester at Sea since the fifth of January, and I will continue to be sometime into May.  Access to the Internet is very limited, but I do have a little bit of wifi to spare here in Kruger National Park in South Africa, so I thought that I might share with you guys some of the things that I've gotten to do and see in the last week or two!
A wild Burchell's zebra (Equus burchelli antiquorum) in Kruger National Park!
To get from India to South Africa, we crossed the Indian Ocean, during which time we saw lots of marine life!  Below is a picture of one of the two sea turtles that I spotted during this portion of the voyage.
About halfway through the passage, we stopped for a day at the island nation of Mauritius, a small volcanic island that was once home to the flightless pigeon, the dodo.  It was a beautiful day, I had a Field Lab with my Marine Biology class, so we went and explored one of the mangrove areas on the coast of the island, and then went snorkeling at one of the coral reefs!
One of Mauritius's beautiful beaches.  You can see mangrove trees in the right of the photograph.
Mauritius was a very beautiful and green island, reminded me a lot of Hawaii, which to be honest is the only other random island I've been to in the middle of the ocean, so I guess that makes sense.   
Dolphins are not too uncommon, especially once we get towards the shores of whatever our next port is.  I actually saw a lot of marine life the closer we got to Cape Town, whose waters are very productive.  Saw several large pods of dolphins, a few seals, and two sharks, as well as a large number of birds (but alas, no penguins, at least not yet).  
A leaping seal.
A species of hammerhead shark, right next to the ship!
Below is a picture of my friend, Michael Collett (Big Mike) on one of the mountains surrounding Cape Town.  For much of our first day in South Africa (three days ago), we went and explored Cape Town, and I also got to poop into the natural history museum to check out their paleontology section!
Myself next to a mounted skeleton of the spinosaurid Suchomimus, attacking a juvenile Jobaria, a type of long-necked sauropod.
On my second through fourth days in South Africa (the fourth actually being today), we flew to Kruger National Park to do a safari!  I haven't downloaded my pictures from the second, full day yet (we saw a lot of cool animals yet), so these are just from our two or so hour safari on the first night!
A small herd of zebra and impala (Apyceros melampus).
A sassy impala. 
I forget what this animal is called, but I think our guide said it was called a giraffe.
A water monitor!
I've still got a lot ahead of me too, a few more days in South Africa, a few days in Ghana and Morocco, and a few weeks in the United Kingdom and Ireland, not to mention the transit days between those ports!  Probably won't be able to blog again until I get back home, so you'll just have to satisfy yourself with these fourteen pictures for the next two months or so.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Summer at the Morrison Natural History Museum

Summer has come and gone once again, and it was a record breaking year for the Morrison Natural History Museum!  We were completely swamped with visitors every day of the week, and everyone at the museum had a blast meeting and talking with everyone who came in to visit us!  We had several very fun events that we were involved with, and tons of amazing experiences as well.  Here are just a few of the fun events from the summer!
Matthew Mossbrucker and Dr. Robert Bakker on the balcony of the museum, posing for a picture for their Reddit AMA in June.
In June, the Director and Chief Curator of the Morrison Museum, Matthew Mossbrucker, starred in the National Geographic special “T. rex Autopsy.”  To celebrate his success, Greg and Meredith Tally, co-owners of the Best Western Denver Southwest Dino Hotel, decided to throw him a big party at the hotel’s bar, Paleo Joe’s.  It was a great get together for all of the people involved with the museum!
Volunteers, family, and friends all congregate at Paleo Joe's for the premiere of "T. rex Autopsy," starring Matthew Mossbrucker.  
Museum Coordinator Doug Hartshorn rocks the scrubs.
One of the most exciting (and delicious!) dinosaur cakes I have ever seen, made special in honor of Matthew's National Geographic program.
As a follow-up to both Matthew's "T. rex Autopsy" program, as well as Dr. Robert Bakker's program entitled "Dino Death Match," the two paleontologists did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), with the help of Foundation Board member Greg Tally, our go-to guy for social media and press.  To prove that you are who you say you are, all people who do an AMA are required to upload a picture with them holding a sign with "Reddit" on it.
Dr. Robert Bakker and Matthew Mossbrucker posing in front of Stan, our Tyrannosaurus rex skull cast, for the AMA.
Dr. Robert Bakker and Greg Tally in front of the Morrison Natural History Museum trying to figure out the best place to take the AMA picture.
Dr. Bakker and several stuffed dinosaur plushes. 
Matthew Mossbrucker and Greg Tally on the balcony of the museum.
We are pretty excited about our recently renovated gift shop, as well!  We started our in-house renovations of our gift shop and front office in December 2014, and completed the project in February 2015.  Ever since then, we've had a ton of fun going through different catalogues and websites, selecting our favorite dinosaur merchandise for sale in our shop.
Tons of used and new dinosaur books line our shelves, and we have a nice little reading nook for those who want to take a load off and peruse the selection,
There's always some sort of activity in the gift shop!
While going through some old files, I came across some old historical photos of the museum building.  Originally in the way of the C-470, the old museum building was moved through the town of Morrison, and put up on stilts where it is today.  Then, the lower level was built underneath.  It was originally built in the 1950s by the Cox family.  The building was moved in the late 1980s, and first opened its doors on October 22nd, 1989.
The museum building, hanging a left onto Colorado Highway 8.
Driving up Colorado Highway 8.
The museum building in its present position, prior to the building of the lower level underneath the historic cabin.
Our live reptiles have been doing great, and you can see all of them on display at the museum.  Most Fridays, our Curator of Live Animals Ann Sarg feeds the herps, which is always very entertaining to watch.
One of our volunteers, Alex Kalinowski, helped me get this shot, a reference to the mosasaur scene in the new Jurassic World movie.
This shot does an excellent job of showing off Herkimer's tongue.  Herkimer is our Dumeril's monitor lizard (Varanus dumerilii), and always a pleasure to observe.  His forked tongue enables him to home in on prey.

Another shot of Herkimer and his fantastic forked tongue.
Not only does he have a forked tongue, but he has a third eye on the top of his head, just like his extinct Cretaceous cousins, the mosasaurs.  The third eye is used as a little bit of extra warning, in case a predator tries to sneak up on him from above.
On top of our monitor lizard, the museum is currently home to a trio of snakes, a milk snake, garter snake, and bull snake.
This is our milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) Sylvia, one of our friendliest museum ambassadors.  Milk snakes, like all of our museum snakes, are non-venomous, although they have evolved to mimic the venomous coral snake, such as the eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius), the main difference being in the pattern of the colored bands on the snake's body.  "Black on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, friend to Zack."  In this shot, you can see Sylvia is partially illuminated by a "Rainbow on the Ceiling," which at that point in time temporarily became a "Rainbow on the Ceiling and the Milk Snake."
Jeffy, our western terrestrial garter snake (Thamnophis elegans) is as elusive as ever, but occasionally will make a rare appearance, immediately swamped by paparazzi and onlookers.
Jeffy, the western terrestrial garter snake (Thamnophis elegans).  Unlike many other colubrid snakes, garter snakes actually give birth to live young!
Aunna Thomas is one of our volunteers who helps out taking care of our live reptiles on Tuesdays.  Here, Aunna is handling Jim, our enormous bull snake (Piutophis catenifer sayi) who, despite his size, is really quite friendly, and makes a great museum ambassador as well!
Several times over the summer, we had a wild bull snake stop by and say hello.  Here, the snake pays a visit to our outdoor Dig Pit, where kids can dig around for real fossils and a dinosaur skeleton!  Despite having no arms or legs, many snakes are quite capable at digging.
Here we have one of our three adorable little western box turtles (Terrapene ornata ornata).  I've learned over the years that if you point at them too close to the glass, they will sometimes mistake your finger for a worm, and do their very best to make a snack out of it.  But don't worry, in all our years with our box turtles, we've never had any confirmed fatalities associated with a turtle attack.
In the picture below, Curator of Live Animals Ann Sarg talks with a tour group from The Gardens at Columbine in Littleton.  Ann feeds our collection of live animals almost every Friday, and it's always a treat to watch!
Our clean-up day and volunteer barbeques are always a big success, and this year was no exception.
Several of our volunteers created brilliant shirts in order of the director.
Volunteer Bryan Turner and director Matthew Mossbrucker talk fossils in the Paleo Lab.
Speaking of the museum volunteers, it's always important to emphasize just how critical to our operation the volunteers are!  Without them, the museum experience simply would not be the same, and we are always indebted to them for their service.  Below is a picture of our volunteer board, which features most of our currently active volunteers.  Since our volunteers come and go, and we always have new volunteers as well, inevitably I fall behind in updating the board.  Following that are pictures of only a few of our volunteers.
Max Todd, an excellent tour guide and paleontology interpreter.  Max is standing next to our Pteranodon skeleton cast in our Cretaceous Colorado exhibit.
Eron Richmond, one of our paleo technicians, who helps up slowly uncover secrets of the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation that have been locked away for nearly 150 million years.  Eron is gesturing towards some of those very bones, including bones from an ancient sauropod.
Jill Hutchison, another one of our paleo technicians.  Jill also helps out a lot at the front desk, checking visitors in and getting them oriented to what they will see in the museum.  Here, Jill poses next to our allosaur skull cast in our Jurassic Exhibit.
Chenoa Ellinghaus, our resident paleo-artist.  Chenoa also works with me at the Best Western Denver Southwest Dino Hotel.  Our Tylosaurus skull cast is seen in the foreground.
One of Chenoa's current projects is a line of paleo-plushies called "Paleo Pals."  Chenoa recently released the first of these plushies, Andy the Anomalocaris, pictured below.  Check out the Paleo Pals website by clicking HERE, and enjoy a brief description of the plush in the video below, featuring Dr. Robert Bakker, Chenoa Ellinghaus, Matthew Mossbrucker, and Greg Tally.
Chenoa's fantastic new plush, Andy the Anomalocaris!
Here, Chenoa Ellinghaus and Matthew Mossbrucker prepare for a film segment for Chenoa's Kickstarter video in our Time Garden, which you can enjoy in its entirety below.

Everyone here had a great summer, and we look forward to having an incredible fall and winter as well!  Here's just a few more pictures from the summer.
Our allosaur skull cast in our Jurassic Exhibit.
Our enormous wooden reconstruction of an Apatosaurus ajax, out behind the museum.  Unfortunately, we ended up taking this down at the beginning of the summer.
Dr. Robert Bakker and Doug Hartshorn investigate one of our blocks of Late Jurassic, Morrison Formation rock from Quarry 5, right in Morrison.

My friends Zach Evens, Mona Kamath, and Masaki Kleinkopf came up with me to visit in August, which was a ton of fun!
Our cast of the skull of the North American lion (Panthera atrox), on display in our Ice Age Colorado exhibit.  The North American lion is the largest cat known to science, an enormous feline the size of a modern polar bear!
On an historic day, a rainbow was projected on the ceiling of our Cretaceous Colorado Exhibit from the water in Herkimer's tank.  Here, you can see our Pteranodon skeleton cast dramatically backlit by the rainbow.
The scouring rush (Hippochaete hyemalis) flourished in the Jurassic Garden, out in front of the museum.  It's quite likely that the diet of Stegosaurus and other Late Jurassic herbivores would have included something similar to this scouring rush.
Dr. Robert Bakker poses in front of the museum sign with several dinosaur plushies.
Our Uintatherium skull cast, on display in our Ice Age Colorado exhibit.  This enormous mammal lived during the Eocene Epoch, and despite it's deadly-looking fangs was an herbivore!  The tusks, as well as the six ossicones on its head, almost certainly served a role in attracting a mate, like modern walrus and giraffes.
Several members of the Model T Association of Colorado came by in their cars for a tour, which was a very fun day in the parking lot!
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