Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.
Holiday shopping can be tricky. Instead of trolling the mall for a handful of generic gifts, why not get something a little different this year? As you already know, Excavations the museum store is prime for finding odds and ends that your family and friends will love.
What do Einstein, Darwin, Marie Curie and Nikola Telsa have in common? They all want to be underneath your Christmas tree. Four out of four scientists agree: bobbleheads make fabulous presents.
For the Sci-Fi Fanatic:
Who doesn’t love Dr. Who? More importantly, who doesn’t love this fantastic disappearing tardis mug? No one will ever forget who gave such a wonderful gift.
For the Proud Okie:
Show your Oklahoma pride with this rustic Scissor-Tail Flycatcher coaster. Feel free to grab the wooly mammoth and Apatosaurus matchers while you’re here! All good things come in a set, you know.
For the Christmas-Lover:
Nothing says Christmas quite like an ornament. Excavations has ornaments of all shapes and sizes: wool foxes, glass figurines, ornately painted and plastic dinosaurs for the kids. I guess you could say we’re a one-stop ornament shop.
For the Young at Heart:
I bet Rumble the OKC Thunder mascot would love one of these bison hand puppets for Christmas! Not a Thunder fan? There are also dinos and lions and beavers. Oh my!
Mark your calendars for red-hot savings from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, as Excavations hosts it’s annual holiday sale. Draw for your discount of 15-40% on your entire purchase!
Remember, museum members always receive 20 percent off all purchases at Excavations. No membership? No problem! Sign up now and start saving. Excavations is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. We look forward to seeing you soon!
P.S. Santa told us that museum memberships are going to be a hot gift this year.
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!
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?
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!
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!
This week we’re leaving behind elegant mosaics and million-year-old fossils as we venture into the creepy, crawly world of invertebrates. Even if insects send a shiver up your spine, keep reading! Today’s post covers a unique blend of entymology and invertebrate history that may just knock your socks off. Let’s get started, shall we?
One of the most important and interesting specimens in the recent invertebrates department is the preserved holotype specimen of the beetle Huleechius marroni, which was described by former curator Harley Brown in 1981. Let’s pause here and review some vocabulary. A holotype is an extremely valuable specimen because it is the official specimen linked to the first named individual of the species. For example, say someone stumbles upon a wolf for the very first time, and a team of scientists decide to call it Canis lupus. That very dog is now a holotype for the entire species, meaning it is the specimen for which all wolves are named. That’s the Huleechius marroni beetle.
This beetle is part of the group of beetles known as the Elmidae, or “riffle beetles”, a group that is found throughout the world in freshwater streams. The larvae of these beetles are often found feeding on submerged wood, and the adults can swim on the surface and under the water. Impressive, right? This specimen was collected and described from San Carlos River, east of San Carlos, Arizona. Actually, in Arizona, there is an endangered subspecies of this beetle known as the Marron’s San Carlos riffle beetle (Huleechius marroni carolus.) This subspecies can only be found in one very specific location in Arizona, which makes it an exceptionally rare species.
Hopefully you’ve learned a thing or two from today’s post, and we know you’re just dying to impress your friends with this newfound wisdom. Of course, there’s plenty more where that came from! For fun facts about the supercontinent Pangea, check out last week’s post. Then be sure to mark your calendars for next week’s ITTB! We’re traveling deep into the heart of Mexican history, and we’re bringing you along for the ride.
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.
After reading stories like “Digging Deep for Leadership” and “Step Outside Ordinary,” we know that you’re itching to sink your hands into the red dirt for a fossil hunt of your own. We also know that you’ve secretly dreamed of being a paleontologist since seeing Jurassic Park in 1993. Well, we have good news for you, Mom and Dad: Fossil field trips aren’t just for kids.
Now, it’s your turn.
Join the Sam Noble Museum’s invertebrate paleontology curator, Steve Westrop, and museum staff on Friday, Sept. 20 and Saturday, Sept. 21 for an unforgettable journey into Oklahoma’s Paleozoic past. Explore life in Oklahoma’s ancient oceans through an informative talk on Friday evening and close-up look at some of the museum’s finest invertebrate specimens.
Participants discover a Trilobite
On Saturday morning, we will depart from the museum at 9 a.m. and travel in university vans to Whitemound, where you will find a variety of marine fossils that you can take home. That’s right, finder’s keepers. Don’t worry about the tools, because we’ve got you covered. Just bring a sack lunch, snacks, comfortable shoes and plenty of water.
Participants gather at Whitemound
Advanced registration is required, and the deadline to enroll is Friday, Sept. 13. The trip costs $60 for museum members and $70 for non-members, though ultimately the experience is priceless. Because, really, how many opportunities will you have in your lifetime to unearth a prehistoric fossil with your bare hands?
Don’t wait. Enroll today.
To many, science may seem to be a strictly objective discipline, black-and-white and void of emotion. Sure, it takes passion, but science is seldom regarded as possessing sentimentality. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Through its ability to reveal passions and spark inspiration, science has proven its ability to resonate on a most intimate level, as illustrated by Vicki Jackson and 150 drawers of seashells.
It all began on Sunday, July 28, 2013, when Jackson visited the Sam Noble Museum, carrying with her some 2,700 carefully boxed seashells. The collection was not hers, but her late father’s. Although Jackson’s generous donation of the collection to the museum’s recent invertebrates department is in and of itself a marvelous tale, it is the story behind the shells that makes this gift extraordinary.
Jackson believes that her father, Perry Yates Jackson Jr., began collecting shells after attending the Naval Academy many years ago. Since then, his compilation has expanded to include shells from both familiar and exotic locals: Hawaii, Florida, Virginia, California, Texas, Haiti, New Guinea, The West Indies and Seychelles, among others. The global nature of the collection stems largely from Perry Jackson Jr.’s service with the United States Navy.
“The Navy allowed him to go all over the place, and wherever they docked, if he had the time, he would shell hunt. It was almost a form of meditation,” Jackson explained.
Perry Jackson Jr. was not only an avid collector, but also a dedicated organizer. Until his passing in 1998, he maintained a meticulous catalogue of each and every item he recovered. According to Katrina Menard, curator of the Sam Noble Museum’s recent invertebrates collection, this degree of care is almost as rare as the shells themselves.