Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.


Inside the Treasure Box: Week Eight

On Monday, we asked our Facebook friends to solve a little ITTB teaser in preparation for today’s post: “This type of bird is also the name of a county in central Oklahoma.” Think you know what it is? Our Facebook friends certainly do. Today we’re talking about the wildly-plumed, internationally known kingfisher.

Kingfishers are a group of brightly colored birds that are famous for catching fish by swooping down from a perch, as shown in the video above from BBC Wildlife. They are found all over the world, but the largest number of species is found in Africa. The Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima) is the largest kingfisher in the world, usually between 16.5 and 18 inches, and is a resident breeder over most of Africa south of the Sahara Desert. 


A Giant Kingfisher from the SNOMNH ornithology department

For comparison sake, the African Pygmy Kingfisher (Ispidina picta) is the second smallest kingfisher, usually measuring in around 4.75 to 5.11 inches. This species is only slightly bigger than its closest relative, the African Dwarf Kingfisher (Ispidina lecontei). Unlike most kingfishers, they are insectivorous and found in woodland and savanna terrains away from water. 


An African Pygmy Kingfisher from the SNOMNH ornithology department

Both of these specimens were donated by Jack Hill II, a student of curator Gary Schnell. When he was a child, he and his father collected these birds in Ethiopia in the 1970s. How’s that for father-son bonding? What’s so unique about these specimens is that, thanks to Jack Hill II, the Sam Noble Museum now houses the largest and second smallest species of kingfisher in the world. What do they look like side by side? We’re glad you asked.


Giant Kingfisher and African Pygmy Kingfisher side by side

So, what’s in store for next week, you ask? Well, dust off your time machine because we’re going back 455 millions years. That’s right, 455 million years. Just let that sink in for a moment. Though it may come from a long-gone era, this specimen was actually found not so far from home. Any guesses as to where? Tune into Facebook Monday and tell us what you think for this week’s teaser!

Inside the Treasure Box: Week Seven

It’s slimy. It’s creepy. It’s just in time for Halloween. This week we’re diving down into a world unseen, to the murky and mysterious dwelling of Oklahoma’s more aquatic residents. We’re not talking catfish and bass, here. Oh no. We’ve got something far more exotic in mind, something coiled in chills and thrills. Brace yourself for the American eel.


An American eel specimen from our ichthyology department

Although the American eel, Anguilla rostrata, is a widespread and common fish species of the Atlantic and Gulf drainages of North, Central and northern South America, it is currently rare in Oklahoma. Eels are catadromous fishes, meaning they spend part of their life cycle in the ocean and the other part in freshwater. American eels spawn in the ocean. The larval eels drift in currents to the mouths of large freshwater rivers where they migrate upstream to feed in freshwaters before returning to the ocean as adults to carry on the circle of life.


Juvenile eels

Due to their poor eyesight, eels most likely depend on their sense of smell to find prey. American eels are nocturnal and therefore do the bulk of hunting at night. Unlike other fish, the American eel’s scales do not overlap in an organized pattern, but rather occur irregularly across the body. Despite these minute scales, the American eel appears to be “naked” because of a mucous layer that coats the body.


A mucous coating creates a slimy look

Although American eels are currently rare in the state, as mentioned above, they were once fairly common in the large rivers of Oklahoma, particularly in the eastern part of the state. However, the construction of impoundments has hindered their migration. As a result, their population has been declining in Oklahoma since this specimen was collected from the Kiamichi River in southeastern Oklahoma in 1973, and prior to this photograph, had not been opened since that date.


The Kiamichi River, photo courtesy of www.oklahomaroadtrips.com

They were once fairly common in the large rivers of Oklahoma, particularly in the eastern part of the state, but the construction of impoundments has hindered their migration. As a result, their population has been declining in Oklahoma since this specimen was collected from the Kiamichi River in southeastern Oklahoma in 1973, and prior to this photograph, had not been opened since that date.


Dr. Marsh-Matthews, ichthyology curator, uncoils the eel for a close-up

The American eel certainly isn’t our most adorable specimen, but there’s just something compelling about that creepy-but-cool stare. Next week we’ll be trading the slime and scales for feathers and flight, so don’t miss out. Now that you’ve had a chance to see the American eel in all its glory, we have a question for you: chilling or thrilling? Join the conversation on our Facebook page!

Inside the Treasure Box: Week Four

Last Wednesday, we suggested that you brush up on your prehistoric history for today’s post. You did, right? Perfect. For today’s ITTB, we’re going back in time. Way back in time, to the formation of the bygone supercontinent Pangea.

Let’s go back about 310 million years ago, in what is now the state of Rhode Island, where the landscape once supported lush, tropical forests. Leaves from the tropical vegetation would fall into the mud and be buried. Over time, as the mud turned to rock, the leaves left imprints in the form of fossils. The specimen below, from the paleobotany/micropaleontology collection, illustrates just that.

The imprint of a a Pecopteris leaf

Now, during this time, continents were colliding to form the supercontinent Pangaea, and these massive collisions very slowly stretched and bent the Rhode Island rocks caught in between. Usually, stretching and bending destroys fossils, but if the stretching is not too great, fossils survive to provide evidence of what happened. Such is the case with this specimen.

The supercontinent Pangea

 In this rock, we see the imprints of distorted Pecopteris leaves on the surface. Some leaves are short and wide, while others are long and narrow. Upon measuring, we find the long leaves are about 3.3 times longer than short leaves, and the wide leaves are about 3.3 times wider than the narrow leaves. With this evidence, we know the rocks were stretched to over 300 percent of their original size.

The stretched imprint

Pretty fascinating, don’t you think? We certainly do. Now, we’ve got another amazing specimen lined up for next week, but we’re not telling! It involves an exceptionally rare insect and a little etymology. Think you know what it is? Jump over to our Facebook page and give us your best guess, then tune in next week to see if you’re correct! Now, it looks like you’ve got brainstorming to do. We’ll meet you here next week. Same place, same time.

Inside the Treasure Box: Week Three

Finally, it’s Wednesday! We know you’ve been on the edge of your seat waiting for today’s #ITTB. Well, you’re in luck. Today’s artifact, submitted by the ethnology department, has quite a rich and far-reaching history. You won’t be disappointed.

Today’s Inside the Treasure Box selection comes from far across the Atlantic Ocean. This gorgeous mosaic dates to the 2nd century AD and hails from the House of Cilicia at Seleucia Pieria, the harbor of ancient Antioch in Turkey. Archaeologists from Princeton University excavated much of this ancient city in the late 1930s. This mosaic served as the flooring of a triclinium, or dining room, and it represents a personification of the Roman territory of Kilikia, or Cilicia.

Traditionally, in a triclinium, there are three couches arranged in a U-shape along three walls of the room to produce an open area in the center of the room, used for serving food to guests. The area underneath the couches would be decorated with relatively simple designs while the central area of the triclinium would often feature the most elaborate portion of the mosaic, to be the focal point of any banquet.

Want to know the best part about today’s selection? Unlike many of our other ITTB gems, which are too fragile or rare to be placed on display, this Turkish mosaic has a permanent home just outside the Brown Gallery.   Coincidentally, the Brown Gallery is also the home to our newest exhibit, Masterworks of Native American Art. This exhibit features the latest chapter in Native American fine art, highlighting works from 1960 to the present. 

A selection from the “Masterworks” exhibit

With such exquisite culture right around the corner, a trip to the museum is a must for you and your kin. But before you grab your keys and head on over, there’s one last thing! Don’t forget to tune in next week for part four of this eleven-week series. We’re not giving anything away, but you might want to brush up your history, starting with 310 million years ago. That should keep you busy until next week, right? Good. We’ll see you on Wednesday!

Inside the Treasure Box: Week Two

We told you today’s edition of “Inside the Treasure Box” would be big, and that’s no bull. In May 1995, the largest recorded American bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana, in North America was collected from Bishop Creek in Norman, Oklahoma. Although specimens tend to shrink slightly during preservation, this bullfrog was just over eight inches long and weighed two pounds in life. Crazy, right?

In 1996, a retired University of Oklahoma professor, Victor Hutchison, and two of his students wrote an article recording the frog’s size, which was then published in the Herpetological Review, an academic journal for professionals in herpetology. Hutchinson and his students also mailed a  submission to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Unfortunately, the record was beat in 1999 by another American bullfrog found in Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. This frog, collected in 1942, came in at a whopping 8.66 inches long and continues to hold the record for largest American bullfrog in North America to this day. If the specimen from Bishop Creek had been selected by Guinness, it would have been the Sam Noble Museum’s second world-record holding piece, the other being the Pentaceratops skull currently on exhibit.

You want to see more, right? Of course you do! We’ve got all kinds of prehistoric, slimy and brightly-plumed treasures headed your way, so stay tuned as we make our way through the best of the best from each of our eleven collections. Remember, “Inside the Treasure Box” is an eleven-week blogging series, so be sure to pencil us in for the next few Wednesdays. Got it? Good. It’s a date.

See you next week!