Archive for the ‘fossils’ Category

The first time I went to the New York State Museum in Albany, NY, I was in third grade. I went in someone’s mom’s van (did minivans even exist back then?), full of excitement because we were on our way to see Dinosaurs Alive!, the blockbuster museum exhibition that featured less-than-lifesize, groggy, animatronic dinosaurs. I remember thinking that it was awesome. Things have improved in dinosaur-related entertainment since then (though they’re still lacking feathers) because this puppetry is so much cooler.

Anyway, the second time I went to the New York State Museum was in October of this year, because for the second year in a row, rain thwarted my hopes of doing something autumnal over my birthday weekend, such as apple picking or visiting a Hubble Space Telescope-themed corn maze (not even joking). The museum was a good and dry alternative, and I was somewhat tickled that I was the only native New Yorker among the four of us that went. Seeing various cool things about New York shows me that I do, after all, have some pride in my home, even if it seems like I’m always scheming to get back to the west coast.

Be thankful I got a new phone for my birthday, because this is the last batch of crappy iphone photos and I’ve upgraded to less crappy iphone photos. Anyway, New York has a great history of cephalopod fossils. There was this impressively huge slab of rock festooned with ammonites.


Those, of course, had to be represented in diorama form as well.


The most interesting fossil to me was one I’d never heard of before.Climactichnites is a trace fossil of what is believed to be the tracks from a large, slug-like animal. It may have even been a land-roaming creature because the other features of the rock bearing its fossils show signs that the sediment was terrestrial. The slab of rock with these fossils was also impressively large, and those were some pretty big critters that laid down those tracks.


I especially love how the mystery animal signage lends to a carnival sideshow feel to the exhibit.

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I keep comparing NMNH to AMNH, because I just can’t help it. I’m at AMNH probably about once a month, so I just know it well. Their fossils of vertebrate origins, dinosaurs, marine reptiles, extinct mammals, and animal relatives are truly amazing. I bet they also have a dandy invertebrate fossil collection, but they don’t display it. What a dream it would be to plumb the depths of that museum, open some drawers. Anyway, NMNH doesn’t actually have that many dinosaurs, so guess what that means? Inverts ahoy! Ammonites make the prettiest fossils, I must say.


I’m so glad there’s a hand in here for scale, even if it does belong to Bruce Springsteen circa 1984.


I love this action painting of ammonites getting chomped by a mosasaur.


In addition to going to the Natural History Museum, I also went to the National Zoo! Obligatory panda photo:


The amazing thing is that the National Zoo has a wonderful building devoted to invertebrates. The building is near the komodo dragon, which is also awesome, by the way. All sorts of cool invertebrates are on display in the building including insects, corals, echinoderms, etc, and mollusks, naturally. There were a bunch of nautiluses and one lone cuttlefish together in one tank.


And a Pacific Giant Octopus in another tank, who made a run for it as soon as the camera came out. How cool! I was not expecting mollusks at the zoo; what a bonus. DC loves mollusks!


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A quick post before I head off to Boston tomorrow for the Mystery Hunt. If you’re unfamiliar with this nerdly ritual, you can read up on wiki or listen to the episode of This American Life that featured Hunt. Then you should delve the archives and solve some puzzles! I wish I knew any puzzles that had anything to do with mollusks off the top of my head, but I don’t.

Back to research: I love the journal PLoS One, mostly just because I have access to the articles without having to borrow someone else’s university access. There have been a couple of cool mollusk ones recently.

* How invasive species, including mollusks, affected the mass extinction in the Late Devonian. I had never thought about invasive species before humans came along facilitate those invasions, so this was an eye opener for me.

* How some burrowing clams that live in the Antarctic region may respond to ocean acidification. Indeed, a more acidic ocean stresses them, but there’s some evidence for a mechanism that will allow them to adapt to future conditions.

And of course, a lollusk:

see more Lolcats and funny pictures

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When Mollusks ruled the Earth…

OK, it was dinosaurs, but still. Through some funny circumstances I ended up at the American Museum of Natural History twice this weekend. All of these photos came from a single diorama about the Cretaceous ocean. It’s like mollusk central!

This one is just about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

This ammonite’s biiiiig.

What I love about this phalanx of squids is that the front two are three dimensional and the one in the back is not. Hats off to the diorama painter.

Such cool variety, all hanging out by that big ammonite’s tentacles.

AMNH is really a great place to go if you want some great fake mollusk sightings (plenty of real shells, though!). I’m clambering to see some real live mollusks, but I’m not sure when my next chance for that will be.

All of the above faux mollusks were in just one of the many dioramas in the Hall of Ocean Life. Perhaps the most well known diorama in the hall is the Squid and the Whale. I couldn’t get a photo of it because it’s shrouded in darkness–I love that about it, it’s actually very easy to miss because of just how dark it is– and I was armed with only my flashless iPhone, but thankfully flickr saved the day, as usual.

the squid and the whale
(photo: Cpt Obvious)

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Well, I’m posting during the day, but here’s a photo I took of a chambered nautilus at the New York Aquarium earlier this summer. They have them in a darkened tank with this red lighting, so photography was difficult for my feeble skills. What I came away with is like this nautilus’ indie synth pop album cover.

Now, for the links!

1. The big thing this week is definitely the Census of Marine Life. There’s a lot to dig into on their site, but I started with the incredible image gallery, and I loved the slide show in the Times. My favorite new-to-me creature is the Flamingo Tongue Snail.

(photo: Nick Hobgood)

2. This news blip cracked me up. I’m not sure why it’s newsworthy that a church blesses animals, but I do find the image of dogs, cats, and a snail “lining up” to be really funny. Here in NYC, the snail would have been totally cut in line by all the other animals for being too slow, and probably would gotten a lot of nasty insults slung its way.

3. Yucatan Octopus get its own origin seal. It’s like champagne, but for octopuses.

4. Expose a baby snail to platinum and it won’t grow an external shell (sometimes, under certain concentrations). This study has implications in how slugs may have evolved from their externally shelled ancestors.

5. Fossilized mollusk trafficking! Serious business.

6. I have a momentous birthday coming up next week. If you’re wondering what to get me, this porthole with pink tentacle is still in stock!

7. An octopus in captivity lays eggs! I sure hope they are successful in hatching them. What a treat for visitors at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre!

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I went to the American Museum of Natural History yesterday, for the New York Paleontological Society’s first meeting of the ’10-’11 year. This is also my first year as a member. I’m constantly itching to get out of the city, and when I was both a youngster in the Adirondacks of NY and a college student in central NY, I loved smashing rocks open and being the first human to shed light on a fossil. I’m quite sure I’ll still enjoy it, especially if it means I get to invest in a purple hard hat. Plus, plenty of chances to meet some really ancient mollusks!

The meeting went for longer than I had anticipated, but I did get to run around the museum for about an hour before it closed. I found a hallway with an impressive mollusk collection that isn’t labeled on the floor plan, which I will report about later, but there’s also this most excellent fossil in the Grand Gallery.

This is a magnificent ammonite fossil, about two feet across and iridescent as all get out. The nacre of the shell fossilizes into a mineral called aragonite. It’s considered a gem (the other two gems that derive from life are opal and amber. 2/3 mollusks!) The fossil was donated to the museum by the company that promotes ammolite (see what they did there?) as a gemstone, so it’s half smarmy marketing, half unbelievably gorgeous fossil.

Ammonites are cephalopods who met their demise at the same time as our dinosaur friends. They are indeed useful fossils, since it’s always great to know where the sea used to be, and also the genus Perisphinctes is a good index fossil for the Jurassic period.

My other favorite thing in the gallery that housed the ammonite is the spider silk tapestry. Over a million wild golden orb spiders contributed their silk to this project, and it’s completely stunning and unique in the world. Since the spider can’t be domesticated, this isn’t a viable fabric on any scale, but what I wouldn’t give to see what it feels like.

spider silk
(photo: Angela Rutherford)

Just how sticky is it?

Lastly, I spotted this on my walk home from work today:

After enduring the hottest summer on record in New York City, this was the welcomest, welcomest sight. I’ve never anticipated winter quite so much in my life. I may come to regret that when I’m slogging through the dirtiest slush imaginable come January, but I will stand by it for now.

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