Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.
The lights are strung, the ornaments hung and hearts are all aglow. It could only mean one thing: the most wonderful time of the year is here! Help us welcome winter at our complimentary community celebration, Holiday Happening, on Dec. 5 from 5 to 8 p.m. Now, we don’t like to drop names, but we have some pretty spectacular guests attending this year. Who? We’re glad you asked.
We’ll be rockin’ around the Christmas tree, alright. The University of Oklahoma’s only student-led, co-ed a capella group will be bringing joy to the world, and the Sam Noble Museum, with their renditions of your favorite carols.
The Oklahoma City Ballet
Visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in your head? We know the feeling. Come cure the craving with a dose of dance from the Oklahoma City Ballet. You’ll be dancing in a winter wonderland all night.
The Pioneer Library
‘Twas the night of Holiday Happening, and through the Great Hall, not a child was stirring, a great silence did fall. You’ll want to be sure and pack your listening ears for story time with the Pioneer Library System.
Do you hear what I hear? The talented starlets of the Sooner Theatre will perform songs from the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life and timeless carols, both old and new.
This holiday VIP is taking a little time out of his busy schedule to visit his favorite natural history museum. Children are invited to share their wishes with Santa and even pose for a pic or two!
As you can see, Holiday Happening will be a celebration of Jurassic proportions. Plus, if you bring a toy or non-perishable food item, we’ll enter your name in a drawing for a $50 gift certificate to the Excavations Museum Store, which will be offering discounts during Holiday Happening. So pack your joy, plus a toy, and we’ll see you tomorrow at 5 p.m. for a night of carols and cheer!
Note: Please be sure to frequently check our website and social media in case of a cancellation due to hazardous weather.
We’ve planned a “larger then life” finale for our ITTB series today. You could even say it is a story of Jurassic proportions. There’s a good chance that you’ve seen the object of today’s post if you’ve visited the museum, but before we reveal the paleontology department’s most prized specimen, here is a little backstory:
In 1994, vertebrate paleontology curator Richard Cifelli and his team found four vertebrae of one Sauroposeidon in southeastern Oklahoma. Sauroposeidon fossils are common in Oklahoma, many of which come from a quarry located in Atoka.
Each vertebra of the Sauroposeidon measured four feet or more in length. The bones were so enormous that Cifelli himself was unsure what he had uncovered at first. The name Sauroposeidon actually stems from the Greek word “saurus” (meaning lizard) and the mythological god Poseidon. The names refers to Poseidon’s nickname as “Earthshaker,” implying that the Sauroposeidon's weight and size was enough to move mountains.
Poseidon, god of the sea and maker of earthquakes.
Sauroposeidon seems to be a relative of Brachiosaurus, and like Brachiosaurus, probably held its neck upright like a giraffe, rather than out in front of it like the Apatosaurus. Sauroposeidon would have been much larger than Brachiosaurus, however. Cifelli and former student Matt Wedel believe Sauroposeidon would have been nearly 100 feet long and stood some 60 feet tall. It could have stood flat-footed and looked into a sixth story window. In fact, the Guinness Book of World Records recognizes the Sauroposeidon as the world’s tallest dinosaur.
Unlike other items featured in the ITTB series, which are too fragile for public display, the Sauroposeidon can be seen from just inside the Great Hall, peeking out from the Noble Corporation and Noble Energy Orientation Gallery. When it comes to fossils, go big or go home, right? We enjoyed sharing a glimpse into our collections and exhibits with you and hope this series has inspired you to visit and discover for yourself the specimens and artifacts featured in this series.
We look forward to seeing you soon!
Although Oklahoma boasts of 38 federally recognized Native American tribes, there are just five known Osage speakers in the state. The extreme deficiency of speakers stem from limited educational sources, making every resource invaluable. Being so, the Native American language department’s most treasured item is not a million-year-old fossil or a rare specimen. It’s a notebook.
The Osage language, native to Oklahoma, is a member of the Dhegihan branch of Siouan languages and is related to Kansa (Kaw), Quapaw and Omaha-Ponca. With only a handful of speakers, these languages are severely endangered and none have adequate documentation. However, one remarkable document from northern Oklahoma offers hope for the future of the Osage language.
Robert (Bob) Bristow grew up in Pawhuska, Oklahoma and was interested in languages and Osage even in high school. He married into an Osage family and learned to speak the language fluently. He took copious notes from Osage classes and interviews with Osage elders during the 1970s. These notebooks are filled with vocabulary items, sentences, stories and tribal history.
He additionally jotted down snippets of conversation, plays on words and other humorous quips overheard. As an amateur artist, Bristow illustrated his notes with images of cultural items and doodled Osage ribbon work patterns. His handwritten notes for an Osage Dictionary became the backbone of Carolyn Quintero’s Osage Dictionary (OU Press 2010).
Carolyn Quintero’s Osage Dictionary
Bristow’s work is accurate, easy to read and contains the richest documentation of Osage in the 20th century. His notebooks continue to be invaluable to the Osage Nation Language Department and to scholars of Osage, Siouan, and language and cultural diversity in general. As you likely know, the Sam Noble Museum stores a unique combination of cultural and prehistoric artifacts, which is why next we’ll be visiting the last remaining department, paleontology.
You certainly won’t want to miss our last ITTB post next Wednesday, so mark your calendars! It’s going to be a finale of Jurassic proportions.
Some 455 million years ago, long before the wind came sweeping down the plains, Oklahoma was nothing more than a fragment of the ocean floor. A diverse array of marine life inhabited the waters above the future United States and left behind a rich prehistoric past. How do invertebrate paleontolgoists know all of this? Though these early sooners may be long gone, their skeletons remain.
Trilobites embedded in limestone
This specimen, from the invertebrate paleontology department, is one of several slabs of limestone crowded with complete skeletons of the trilobite Homotelus. Trilobites are extinct marine arthropods that disappeared roughly 250 million years ago. In case you need a refresher, arthropods are a classification of animals with segmented bodies and external skeletons, like scorpions, crabs and butterflies.
The Asian forest scorpion is an example of an arthropod.
The trilobite specimen shown above is important to scientists because it provides a snapshot into the behavior of these arthropods. Complete skeletons of trilobites are rare, as they would normally fall apart quickly after death. It is highly unusual to find hundreds of skeletons clustered together this way, as a result. Invertebrate paleontolgoists believe that the trilobites may have gathered in large numbers to spawn, much like modern horseshoe crabs along the east coast of the United States.
It’s also important to note that geography played a prominant role in the recovery of this specimen. Geological evidence indicates that the embedded trilobites were buried very quickly by mud, possibly by a storm close to shore that would have stirred up the sea floor and carried mud-laden waters offshore. After the storm waned, this mud was likely dumped on the sea bottom, burying the trilobites. Nearly 455 million years later, scientists discovered their skeletons, still intact, buried in the Ordovician rocks of the Criner Hills in southern Oklahoma.
The Criner Hills are in Carter County, Okla.
Thanks to this discovery, invertebrate paleontologists now have a unique glimpse into the life of extinct animals. They also know that the reproductive behavior of trilobites resembles modern marine arthropods. Of course, you don’t have to look 455 millions years into the past to see Oklahoma’s astounding contributions to history. In fact, next week we’ll be looking at a more recent group of Oklahomans. Can you guess who?
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.
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!
Today begins an eleven-week blogging journey, a journey unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Stick with us, and we’ll take you behind the scenes for a first-hand look at the best of the best from each of our eleven collections. Curators and collection managers carefully chose the most significant and/or unique item from their collection, and one by one, we will reveal them to you. We hope you’re ready, because it’s going to be one exciting, international, world-record-breaking journey. Welcome to “Inside the Treasure Box”.
We’ve decided to kick off our new series with one of the rarest mammals in North America, straight from our mammalogy department. The black-footed ferret is an endangered species and was declared extinct in the wild in 1979 and again in 1986. However, the recovery of the species from a few individuals, that were discovered by chance thanks to a Wyoming rancher’s dog, resulted in successful captive breeding populations and reintroductions and recovery in several states.
"Historically, black-footed ferrets were found throughout the Great Plains, including Oklahoma, from Canada to northern Mexico," said Janet Braun, mammalogy staff curator. "Secretive and active only at night, they are extremely dependent on prairie dogs, both for food and burrows. Significant decrease in prairie dog colonies, conversion of grasslands to agriculture and disease contributed to the extinction of this species."
A close-up of the black feet for which the species is named
Today there are more than 1,000 individuals living in the wild in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Arizona. Only 5 specimens are known from Oklahoma, and as it is now extirpated (meaning it has disappeared from the area) in the state, this specimen is one of Oklahoma’s most rare mammal specimens in collections. This specimen was collected July 25, 1928 just one mile east of Norman.
Be sure to stay tuned for week two’s “big” reveal by following our blog and connecting with us on social media. By big, we mean one of the biggest in the world. You won’t want to miss this. What’s that, you say? You’re on the edge of your seat? Well, we’re not usually into making deals, but if blog receives 1,000 visits OR receives 10 new followers by Friday, Sept. 20 at 3 p.m., we may just be inclined to release a teaser. A “big” teaser.
Orphaned collections are a growing concern for natural history institutions worldwide. An endangered or orphaned collection is any considerable body of material, which is or soon may be no longer regarded as of value in its present ownership. According to the American Association of Museums, every year more institutions, agencies, corporations, and individuals divest themselves of their collections. When this occurs, “orphaned” collections need to be “adopted” by an existing natural history collection.
In November of 2011, Eugene Young, a professor in the Agriculture and Life Sciences department at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Okla. contacted the Sam Noble Museum about the possibility of adopting an orphaned collection from the A.D. Buck Museum.
Originally called the Yellow Bull Museum, the A.D. Buck Museum’s science exhibits included mounted specimens of birds and mammals. Sam Noble Museum curator Gary Schnell and collection managers Marcia Revelez and Tamaki Yuri traveled to the A.D. Buck Museum to view the specimens. Upon further inspection, the team found many specimens that had been on loan from the Sam Noble Museum.
A total of 14 specimens were loaned to A. D. Buck in 1961, including an adult grizzly bear, all still in good condition. Most of the collection’s Oklahoma birds and mammals were found in the early 1900s, such as the marsh hawk, in 1910, and a Pintail, in 1913.
Many of the specimens in the A. D. Buck collection are significant to Oklahoma’s history, such as the Spotted Skunk found in 1934 in Kay County, an area that had no previous record of having that species before the 1990s. After evaluation, a crew returned in December to pack up the collection of birds and mammals and bring them to their new home at the Sam Noble Museum.
The A. D. Buck specimens are not the first collection the museum has adopted. Recently, the museum’s Department of Mammalogy adopted approximately 26,000 mammal species from the University of Memphis Mammal Collection.
“It’s an ongoing goal for the museum to aid orphaned collections,” Revelez said.
Natural history collections play a vital role in understanding cultures, habitats, biodiversity and more. They safeguard specimens, inspire, educate, and tirelessly continue the research and study of various sciences. We welcome back our mammals and birds that have been on loan for so many decades and will always strive to maintain and preserve Oklahoma’s rich natural history.
It’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week and the prefect time to talk about those people in the museum that make such an impact on staff, visitors and the community: our volunteers.
Every year, the museum dedicates this week to honoring volunteers for the hours they dedicate to natural history, to servicing the community and providing personal knowledge, assistance and experience to our visitors and staff.
In 2011, 161 volunteers dedicated 16,291 hours to the museum through their work as docents, with children in the Discovery Room or with staff behind the scenes.
I’d like to share a link with you to a new web page created for identifying Oklahoma fossils, www.CommonFossilsOfOklahoma.snomnh.ou.edu.