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


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.

The Croaking Crisis

When you think of endangered species, you may draw to mind pictures of Giant Pandas and Black Rhinos, but would you ever picture a bullfrog from your own backyard? According to Save the Frogs, an American public charity dedicated to preserving these amiable amphibians, 2,000 amphibian species are threatened with extinction and may not survive the 21st century.

The last Saturday in April is now internationally known as Save the Frogs Day, a day of bringing awareness to this pressing matter. This year, the Sam Noble Museum’s herpetology collection manager, Jessa Watters, traveled to Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Oklahoma City to celebrate Save the Frogs Day with seven kindergarten classes, while teaching them a thing or two about preservation.

imageWatters teaching students about frog endangerment.

According to Watters, a quarter of the world’s amphibian populations are in decline due to habitat pollution, pet trade, pesticides and an amphibian fungal disease known as chytridiomycosis. Pet trade poses one of the largest threats as frogs are taken from their natural environment and improperly cared for in artificial habitats. On the flip side, problems arise when frog owners release unwanted pets into the wrong habitat, which can create a domino effect of difficulties in a given ecosystem.

Of course, this is a lot of information for kindergarteners to absorb, so Watters focused on teaching the students the basics of herpetology: What is an amphibian? How is it different than a reptile? Is it better to be camouflaged or poisonous as a frog? Watters and the children then drew and colored pictures of frogs while discussing the importance of taking care of the environment and the animals that dwell in it.

imageThe students coloring their favorite frogs.

 At the end of the day, each student took home a 3D paper frog as a reminder that every day should be Save the Frogs Day.