Saturday, December 6, 2014

Cleveland Museum of Natural History

I hadn't been to this place since I was a toddler. This statue of Stegosaurus at the entrance is likely among my earliest memories. On this occasion, it was in the snow, an unlikely prospect in the Morrison 155 Ma.

The mount of "Jane" the juvenile tyrannosaurid in the entrance lobby was new to me.

One of the first halls one can visit upon getting inside the museum (and one that I still have memories of from my toddler years) places an emphasis on human interaction with the environment. The very first exhibit here introduces visitors to "the most dangerous animal" and some of its historical victims, such as the passenger pigeon...

... and the Carolina parakeet.

The rest of the hall showcases ecosystems from around the world, integrating information on both native cultures and wildlife. Many individual objects that I held memories of turned out (understandably) to be smaller than I remembered them, but these exhibits that towered to the ceiling retained much of their fabled grandeur.

A selection of our summer birds that spend their winters in South America.

A dynamic mount of a leopard going after a springbok, while other African animals look on.

A depiction of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem.

Appropriate for the occasion (as I was visiting over Thanksgiving break), some turkeys as examples of native wildlife.

The exhibit case showcasing the Everglades.

A black bear mounted investigating a turtle.

Display on the mound-building Native Americans in Ohio.

In addition to mounted specimens, a detour takes one outdoors where live specimens of local species are exhibited. This is a red-shouldered hawk, a fabulously patterned Buteo that is, in my experience, often first heard before being seen.

A pair of barred owls.

A great horned owl.

A living representative of the Thanksgiving theropod.

Not turkeys, but turkey vultures and an American crow, in my opinion two of our most underappreciated native birds.

A barn owl.

Some river otters.

A northern raccoon.

A red fox.

This coyote was quite lively.

Stopping for some fruit snacks.

A pair of sandhill cranes.

Back inside the main building, the fossil hall is up next. Here is a mastodon.

Across from it, a mammoth for comparison.

Saber-toothed cat trapped in between.

Traveling further back in time, an oreodont.

Further still, Gastornis.

A famous match-up dominates one half of the hall (the other is given to Allosaurus and Haplocanthosaurus).

... Right.

A mosasaur suspended from the ceiling.

A cast of the London Archaeopteryx with an above-average life restoration.


One of the stars of the show, Dunkleosteus.

Here is its fossil skull.

This shrew and platypus are part of a large display depicting the extant diversity of life.

At this point I began neglecting photography, which was a shame because there was also a nice temporary exhibit on proboscidean evolution open during my visit that in retrospect I could have taken pictures of.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fan art on the Day of the Dead

Surprised and honored to have been given a nod by the new Dinovember project by Tricia Arnold (also known as Babbletrish)! Here is her depiction of Skull integrating himself into current celebrations, presumably as an appeal to broader culture in a bid for popularity to further his eternal quest.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Spinosaurus: Lost Giant of the Cretaceous

Took the chance last week to visit the temporary Spinosaurus exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.

The first part of the exhibit showcased the history of Spinosaurus discoveries, accompanied by explanatory clips that I assume are part of the upcoming Nova episode on the new Spinosaurus find.

The exhibit is well illustrated by Davide Bonadonna. His various depictions of the Kem Kem ecosystem can be seen, not only as part of the signage as this one is, but also as backdrops for the displays.

The centerpiece of the exhibit, naturally, is the reconstructed skeleton of Spinosaurus, based on newly-described material and mounted in a swimming pose, menacing a model of the sawfish Onchopristis.

The short legs in the new reconstruction of Spinosaurus that have been the source of much controversy.

The reconstructed forelimb of Spinosaurus.

A close-up of the skull.

The distinctive sail.

The foot of Spinosaurus with a cormorant skeleton for comparison. No, Spinosaurus is not the only semi-aquatic dinosaur.

Part of the jaw with a gharial skull. Something of a shame that they didn't have any Suchomimus material for contrast, however.

Surrounding the mount were displays featuring certain contemporaries of Spinosaurus, highlighting the ubiquity of predators in this unusual ecosystem. Here are the crocodyliforms Laganosuchus (back) and Elosuchus (front).

A model of the giant coelacanth Mawsonia.

A model of the pterosaur Alanqa was suspended from the ceiling. The lighting made it difficult to get a satisfactory photo.

The head and skull of Rugops. Its portrayal as a scavenger was somewhat bothersome, especially as one of the lines of reasoning given for that interpretation were its small arms. I am aware that evidence for a predominantly scavenging lifestyle in Rugops has been suggested, but there is little reason to assume obligate scavenging in any terrestrial animal, which should have been made more clear.

A skeletal mount of Deltadromeus, with a speculative skull.

The head and skull of Carcharodontosaurus with a maxillary fragment below.

In the guestbook tucked in a corner of the display area, a comment lamenting the lack of Aegisuchus indicated that Nick Gardner had visited the exhibit not long before me. Alas, I did not end up running into him.

As the exhibit closed down for the end of the day, I headed toward the other reason I had been at the museum that night: a talk by Nizar Ibrahim and Paul Sereno was being given there. Ibrahim started off with a history of Ernst Stromer's research on Spinosaurus and his own experiences discovering the new material. Sereno then followed up with a presentation about the semi-aquatic adaptations seen in Spinosaurus. Audience members already familiar with the paper and news reports on the new Spinosaurus were probably unlikely to have gained much new information from the talk, but both Ibrahim and Sereno were entertaining speakers and it was nice to hear their take on the findings in person.

Upon leaving the building, I passed by the life restoration of Spinosaurus that is just outside the museum.