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Bringing Research to Light

February 18, 2011

The Research Staff of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences includes experts in a wide variety of scientific disciplines who conduct exciting research investigations, maintain and expand the Museum’s natural science Research Collections, and participate in the Museum’s public education and outreach mission.  Check this blog often to learn about all of the great science happening at the Museum!

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Where Did My Summer Go?

August 10, 2018

Written by Ty’Shonna Sims

This Summer I had the opportunity to intern at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in the Paleontology Unit. This internship was funded by a National Science Foundation: Collections in support of Biological Research (NSF: CSBR) grant. Throughout the summer I have learned a lot!

Being “behind the scenes” in the museum is so amazing, I’ve learned many things and have dealt with various kinds of specimens. From re-housing invertebrate and vertebrate specimens, to cleaning dinosaur bones to help mitigate pyrites disease, how to take two dimensional pictures of specimens in the Paleobotany collection, and how to make three dimensional models of specimens through photogrammetry. Here are a couple of things I found interesting this summer!

Photo of a large tooth of Carcharodon Megalodon NCSM: 9545. The tooth is the gray-ish triangular-shaped object in the center of the image. It is sitting on a black, rectangular piece of foam, and the background is a grayish-white table surface.

A large tooth of Carcharodon megalodon NCSM: 9545

This picture is cool! Look how big that tooth is and it is super sharp. The tooth belonged to a Megalodon shark. Megalodon sharks were one of the largest predators that ever lived. Their large, serrated teeth would have enabled them to eat large fish and other sharks as well as whales.

Photo of Cretaceous crabs NCSM: 4946, NCSM: 5974 Avitelmessus grapsoideus. The crabs are the the grayish-brown objects in the center of the photo. They are sitting on a black rectangle of foam. The background is grayish.

Two Cretaceous crabs NCSM: 4946, NCSM: 5974 Avitelmessus grapsoideus.

This invertebrate must have been delicious. But I’m allergic! Avitellmessus grapsoideus is an extinct species of Cretaceous crab. There are over 4500 species of crabs most of which live in coastal areas. Some crabs like the Japanese spider crab can live to be 100 years old. Some things that are called crabs like “hermit crabs” and “horseshoe crabs” are not actually crabs.

A photo of two crabs showing their undersides. The crab on the left is a male, the crab on the right is a female.

Male (NCSM 5974) and female crab (NCSM:4946) Avitellmessus grapsoideus. These are the same crabs that were in the previous photo.

This summer I was taught how to tell this difference between a male and female crabs. This is a picture of the two Avitellmessus grapsoideus specimens flipped over. If the midsection of the abdomen is narrow, then it is a male. If the midsection of the abdomen is wide, it’s a female. Which makes sense because many female crabs carry their eggs. So, in this case the crab on the left is a male and the crab on the right is a female.

Photo of a large fossil tortoise shell. The turtle shell takes up most of the photo and is the large domed-shaped object sitting on a black rectangle.

Photo of a large fossil tortoise shell.

This tortoise shell is HUGE! It looks like a huge puzzle that someone had to put the pieces together.

Photo of one side of the skull of an Edmontosaurus NCSM: 23119. The skull takes up most of the photo.

One side of the skull of an Edmontosaurus NCSM: 23119.

Edmontosaurus which means “Edmonton Lizard”. This skull is really cool! I like it because someone has cleverly cut out a picture of an eye and placed it on the specimen, so it’s literally looking at you. This was a slow-moving dinosaur but had senses helped it to avoid predators. Edmontosaurus was a herbivore but as big as this is, it looks like if people lived at the same time as dinosaurs (which of course they didn’t), it might have wanted to eat humans too!

Having been an intern here this summer really puts into perspective of how wonderful this world is and how many things I never knew existed. There are still new fossils and species of live organisms yet to be discovered. I truly recommended doing things that are out of your comfort zone because I did and I learned a lot.

Ty’Shonna Sims’ internship was funded by a National Science Foundation Collections in Support of Biological Research (NSF:CSBR) grant awarded to the Paleontology Unit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

 

3-D Modeling of Museum Fossils

July 30, 2018

Written by Neha Patel

This summer, during my National Science Foundation: Collections in Support of Biological Research (NSF: CSBR) internship with the Paleontology Unit at the North Carolina Science Museum I learned many things. But, I think the most interesting thing that I learned was photogrammetry. Photogrammetry is the process of creating a 3-D image of a fossil. The fossil that I focused on for this project was a Gonioclymenia sp. (NCSM 8403).

Photo of the top surface of NCSM 4803 Gonioclymenia sp. The image shows a coiled shell and a scale bar

View of top surface of NCSM 4803 Gonioclymenia sp.

Before delving further into the process of photogrammetry, let me first tell you about the wonderful fossil itself. Gonioclymenia sp. is from the Devonian period which lasted from 416 million years ago to 358 million years ago, during the Paleozoic Era. This fossil is an ammonite. Ammonites are now extinct, but they are part of a group of marine mollusks known as cephalopods.

Photo of a reconstruction of what a Devonian ammonite might have looked like. There is a gray coild shell in the center of the image and some pinkkish-gray tentacles coming out of the shell. Image was copied from http://www.bgs.ac.uk/discoveringGeology/time/Fossilfocus/ammonite.html

Image of what an ammonite may have looked like during the Devonian Period. Photo copied from http://www.bgs.ac.uk/discoveringGeology/time/Fossilfocus/ammonite.html

The biggest reason I became so interested in this fossil is it is a very pretty, shiny specimen. This specimen was originally found in Morocco, and prior to its arrival in the Paleontology Collections had been prepared, trimmed and polished. This type of ammonite is commonly sold in fossil and rock shops and this one came to the museum via a private donation.

Photo of the underside of NCSM 4803 Gonioclymenia sp. Images shows a coiled black and gray ammonite with a rectangular scale bar.

Underside of NCSM 4803 Gonioclymenia sp.

The process of creating a 3-D image is actually quite time consuming. In order to accomplish it correctly, the first thing I had to do was take pictures of the specimen. I did this is using a light box and a professional camera. In this case, I used a Canon Mark II camera, along with a Fotodiox light box. Also, since this was a larger fossil, I used a regular lens as opposed to a macro lens.

Image of both the light box and camera used to create the 3-D model.The lightbox is the black rectangular object on the left of the image. The camera is the black object to the lower right of the image.

Image of both the light box and camera used to create the 3-D model.

In order to correctly create a 3-D model of the fossil, I had to take pictures using a tripod at three different heights; from the top of the light box, from the middle of the light box, and from the bottom of the light box. This is done so that the fossil is visible from all vantage points. I had to do this for both the top and the underside of the fossil.

Image of a woman wearing dark pants, a dark shirt, and a baseball cap taking a picture of the fossil using the tripod and the light box.

Image of me taking a picture of the fossil using the tripod and the light box.

The most tedious part of this entire process is I had to rotate the fossil on a turntable about 10 to 15 after every photo is taken until the fossil has been turned a complete 360º. It’s definitely monotonous and can get boring, but that’s the price we pay in order to have something cool to show off in the end.

Image of NCSM 4803 Gonioclymenia sp. on the turntable. The fossil is the gray and black coiled object in the center of the photo. It is sitting on a round turntable that has been covered in newspaper.

Image of NCSM 4803 Gonioclymenia sp. on the turntable

Finally, once all of the pictures had been taken, I transferred them to a program called Agisoft PhotoScan Professional. I then used this program, through various complicated steps that I will not bore you with, to generate the 3-D image of the fossil. Instead, I will include the link to the final product that you may want to take a gander at! Just click on the following link to view this pretty, shiny fossil in all its 3-D glory: https://skfb.ly/6AvKp

Neha Patel’s Internship is funded through a National Science Foundation Collections in Support of Biological Research (NSF: CSBR) grant to the Paleontology Unit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

 

Scouting Exploration through Citizen Science

March 12, 2018

The newest merit badge, Exploration, encourages Boy Scouts to discover new things about their world through hands-on research, be it fieldwork or lab work. This mission is shared by the citizen science movement, where scientists partner with citizens to collect data and run research projects. If scouts start teaming up with citizen science projects we could not only check-off a lot of merit badge requirements, but also make important contributions to a range of scientific questions.

The key requirement of the Exploration merit badge is to plan and carry out an expedition. While the term “expedition” brings to mind dog sled teams marching towards the North Pole, there are plenty of options close to home, and the citizen science community is a great way to find the right project.

As a scientist and Assistant Scout Master, I saw the Exploration merit badge as a perfect opportunity to bridge the gap between scouts and citizen science. We joined North Carolina Candid Critters, a project where volunteers run camera traps to help study wildlife.   The project provided training, loaned us cameras, and offered GPS points on public land where they needed cameras run.

Our troop signed up to run camera traps at Elk Knob State Park. The protocol involves strapping a camera trap to a tree and leaving it there for three weeks; our expedition involved two backpacking trips to the park, one to set the cameras, and a second to pick them back up. These trips required extensive planning, not only the normal camping and food preparation, but also lugging extra gear, learning how to use the camera traps and GPS, and deciding who would set the various cameras scattered across randomly selected points in the park.

As with any good exploration, the work wasn’t easy, and we had to overcome night-hikes, rainstorms, and freezing temperatures. We learned that hiking to points off-trail is a lot harder than hiking on trails, and that contour maps are your friend.

scout_night_march

The best part was finally looking through the memory cards to see what animals we caught on camera. We used a computer program to look through the pictures, identify the animals, and then upload all the data to the Candid Critters project where they double-checked our IDs and saved our pictures and data in the Smithsonian’s eMammal project.

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By looking at the pictures we discovered some interesting things about the mammals of Elk Knob State Park. First, they have black bears; curious bears that sometimes munch on camera traps. Second, we found two species only found in the most mountainous parts of North Carolina: red squirrel and Appalachian cottontail. We got lots of other species on our cameras including deer, gray squirrels, turkey, and humans.

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We learned even more once we downloaded our data from the eMammal site and started making graphs and comparisons. We wrapped up the merit badge with a trip to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences where we analyzed data and wrote a report. For example, we found that bears were surprisingly nocturnal, that deer were the most common species, and that Elk Knob State Park had higher diversity of species than two more developed areas close to our home in Raleigh. In addition to our own discoveries, these data will also be used by scientists in the Candid Critters project, and possibly by others who access it through the eMammal database.

This project represented the best aspects of citizen science: it gave non-experts a first-hand look at the scientific process, it allowed them to make their own discoveries, and it also generated high quality data useful for future research.

I hope our project will also serve as an example for other scouts interested in the Exploration Merit badge by showing how citizen science projects can help provide the ideas and opportunities for discovery. It’s not just camera traps, scientists all around the world are launching projects that need help from the public to make their discovery, from cats to rats, birds to bees, stars to Mars – there’s so much more that needs exploring! [by @RolandKays]

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New Paleontology Cabinetry Installation Completed!

September 11, 2017

Written by Jacob VanVeldhuizen, Paleontology Collections Technician

Picture of newly installled white cabinets.

Installed row of new cabinets.

It is with great pleasure that I say we have finally finished installing the new cabinetry in the paleontology collection. It took us six months and eight days to remove approximately 350 old specimen cabinets and install 142 new specimen cabinets in their place. Both the removal and installation process ended up being simpler and took a lot less time than expected.

Picture of a newly installed cabinet without a center divider. Inside the cabinet are boxes containing fossils

Larger cabinet without center divider.

The old specimen cabinets were removed by having someone push a cabinet from a row onto the forks of a forklift. The forklift then lowered the cabinet and set it on the ground where a separate group of people maneuvered the cabinet into a holding area. The old cabinets then remained in this holding area until a museum looking for cabinets came and got them or were taken to State surplus to be sold. Once a row of cabinets was removed, the old wooden base was chopped up and thrown out. The area was then swept and vacuumed.

Picture of a larger cabinet with center divider. Inside the cabinet are boxes containing fossil clams.

Larger cabinet with center divider.

After cleaning the area, a row of new specimen cabinets was installed. First, we had to install the larger cabinets, which were easy to move around with a pallet jack as they came with a metal pallet base. These pallet bases also meant that we didn’t have to install our own separate base for the new cabinetry to sit on.

Photo of three summer interns using an orange pallet jack to install a new large cabinet (left side of image).

Summer interns Elizabeth Altier, Mark Reyes and Chilea Dickson installing one of the larger cabinets.

The trickiest part of installing the larger cabinets was making sure that the row they were creating was straight. This required a lot of measuring, line drawing, eyeballing, and rearranging before the row was finally set. Next, we had to install the smaller cabinets on top of the larger cabinets. This involved using a group of people on the ground to push the cabinet on to the forks of a forklift.

Picture of a woman sitting on a yellow and black forklift giving a "thumbs up." On the front of the forklift is a smaller cabinet. e

Lilly Ridley from Facilities using a forklift to help us install one of the smaller cabinets.

The forklift then lifted the cabinet to the top of the row where a separate group of people caught and maneuvered the cabinet into place. The smaller cabinet was then secured to the larger cabinet using a series of self-tapping screws. Overall, it took about a day and a half to remove and install a row cabinetry.

Photo of the team installing one of the smaller cabinets on top of a larger cabinet. A man in a blue shirt is using a yellow and black forklift to lift a white cabinet onto other white cabinets.

The team installing one of the smaller cabinets on top of a row of larger cabinets.

After a row of new cabinets was installed, the fossils then needed to be transferred to their new homes. This was by far the most time consuming and arduous task of the cabinetry installation process. The transferring of fossils required moving nearly 147,000 specimen’s drawer by drawer. Some of these drawers were packed with numerous small fossils, each in their own individual box, while others had large and extremely heavy ones. Once a row was filled with transferred fossils, we moved on to the next row and repeated the process.

Photo of a man in a green shirt pushing a cart full of Pliocene whale ear bones (foreground), next to woman in overalls leaning against white cabinets.

Summer interns, Elizabeth Altier and Mark Reyes, moving a drawer full of Pliocene whale ear bones to new cabinetry.

Next Up: Rehousing. Now begins the task of rehousing the fossils using archival materials and boxes. This task will also help us look for and treat fossils in the collection that are suffering from Byne’s and pyrite disease, a subject for a future blog post.

Trish and I couldn’t have completed this new cabinetry installation without the help from these fine folks: Elizabeth Altier, Khai Button, Chilea Dickson, Madison Dillard, Mark Reyes, Lilly Ridley, Dick Webb, Michael Burch, Janet Edgerton, Jeremy Jones, Aaron Giterman, Lindsay Zanno, Lisa Herzog, Haviv Avrahami, David Button, Jason Bourke, and Jens Kosch. Thank you for all your help!

Lastly, if you or someone you know would like some old specimen cabinets let us know. We have approximately 98 cabinets left up for grabs. Email myself or Trish if you are interested.

This project, the Paleontology summer interns and the Paleontology Collections Technician are fund by a National Science Foundation: Collections in Support of Biological Research (NSF:CSBR) Grant to the Paleontology Unit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

 

Solar Eclipse 2017, Great Cosmic Connection

August 31, 2017

It seems safe to say that nothing brings a nation together like a total solar eclipse. For the many months leading up to August 21, 2017, people across the United States geared up for what was for many a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness a total solar eclipse. For the first time in 99 years a total solar eclipse would cross the entire Continental US, giving Americans the rare chance to unite under a cosmic event.

We are lucky planetary voyagers on Earth, residents on, as far as we know, the only planet in our Solar System that, due to perfect geometry in the Sun-Earth-Moon, experiences a total eclipse of the Sun, enabling the Sun’s atmosphere — the solar corona — to glow outward from the disk of the Moon.

Like many others around the country, this was my first total solar eclipse, viewed from Sylva, North Carolina, a small mountainous town in Western NC, just within the 70-mile-wide swath of totality crossing from Oregon to South Carolina. Two multimedia staff facilitated our live-streaming of the event from the Southwestern Community College campus, enabling us to bring the experience of totality back to our Daily Planet Theater in Raleigh. (Raleigh experienced ~93% totality.)

Museum livestream set-up on the Southwestern Community College campus (Photo: Matt Zeher)

Museum livestream set-up on the Southwestern Community College campus (Photo: Matt Zeher)

The excitement leading up to the eclipse, the enormous generation of public interest and engagement made possible by social media and online news sites, was likely more than for any other celestial event, and a rare moment when astronomy and the cosmos can connect millions of eager people. Even as a scientist, I too marveled at the Moon’s on-schedule — to the second! — arrival at the edge of the Sun, precisely the time and place predicted by meticulous calculations of  astronomers throughout history.

Our team came equipped with multiple cameras and AV equipment, and a Hydrogen-Alpha solar telescope, through which all but the wavelengths for hydrogen are filtered, rendering the Sun a gleaming orange ball. With a good eye (and some magnification), solar prominences can be seen looking like “fuzz” along the edges of the Sun.

The Sun seen through our H-alpha solar telescope prior to the eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. Solar prominences can be seen at ~11:00. The photo was taken with a Sony alpha-6000 against the eye piece. (Photo: R. Smith)

The Sun, seen through our H-alpha solar telescope prior to the eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. Solar prominences can be seen at ~11:00 in the image above. The photo was taken with a Sony alpha-6000 against the eyepiece. (Photo: R. Smith)

As the Moon changed from a thin to an ever-larger black crescent creeping across the Sun’s surface, approaching inevitable totality, excitement was palpable in the gathered crowd.

partial_before2

Beginning of the eclipse at ~1:06 pm ET, as seen through a white-light filter. Sunspots are faintly visible along the midline of the Sun, and some clouds are seen darkening the solar surface. The photo was taken with a Sony alpha-6000 against the telescope eyepiece. (Photo: R. Smith)

In spite of the beautiful views of the encroaching eclipse through telescopes, approaching totality was evident in other, equally spectacular observations. Unusual crescents on the pavement and other surfaces, projected through the leaves of trees (nature’s pinhole cameras) appeared all around us. Some forward-thinking folks brought their own pinholes by way of colanders, cardboard boxes, or other contraptions, expanding the number of miniature eclipses — windows to our solar system — that surrounded our feet.

The partial eclipse projected onto the street through spaces in the leaves. (Photo: R. Smith)

The partial eclipse projected onto the street through spaces in the leaves. (Photo: R. Smith)

One of the most memorable observations was the dimming of the light to an eerie level, not quite like the light during twilight or dawn, but strange and unearthly. As the sky dimmed, the temperature started dropping (as much as 10 degrees or more!), and the shadows remained strangely sharp, unlike what one experiences with clouds or coming dusk. Crickets started chirping, and anecdotes of odd animal behavior were later reported by numerous observers across the country; a nearby friend reported that her little mules took naps during maximum eclipse, and local deer stood quietly in nearby fields. I wondered, what were my animals doing at 93% totality?

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I wonder, what did Giovanni, one of my little donkeys waiting back at home, think during the solar eclipse?

Strange dimming of the sky and surroundings just before totality in Sylva, NC. (Photo: R. Smith)

Strange dimming of the sky and surroundings just before totality in Sylva, NC. (Photo: R. Smith)

During those final seconds before totality, all looked skyward with eclipse glasses on, waiting for the view to grow dark, that long awaited moment when we could remove our safety measures and peek with our unaided eyes at the Sun itself. Clouds seemed to hover nearby but didn’t encroach on the view from where we stood, giving way to arguably the most spectacular natural phenomenon I have ever personally witnessed. The sky was a dark blue/black and the Sun hovered like a jewel, its atmosphere — the solar corona — streaming magnificently outward. It was like peeking beyond our own protected planet to something cosmic and awesome, a connection to the universe beyond.

No regrets remain for taking a few seconds from looking up to snap this view of the total eclipse, taken with a Sony alpha-6000. (Photo: R. Smith)

No regrets remain for taking a few seconds from looking up to snap this view of the total eclipse, taken with a Sony alpha-6000. (Photo: R. Smith)

Equally striking was the sense of planetary connectedness that extended beyond just the personal viewing of an amazing cosmic event. The sharing of images and experiences across the nation just after the eclipse, and continuing to now more than a week past the event, seemed particularly unusual in its single shared viewpoint: the total solar eclipse was spectacular, and even those who experienced the partial eclipse could feel part of a larger community of onlookers. There were no discernible alternate sides to the singular sentiment that this was a phenomenon not to be forgotten.

View of the total solar eclipse from Sylva, NC. The solar corona shines outward from the eclipsed disk of the Sun, and the pink of solar prominences from the Sun's chromosphere are visible (Photo: Matt Zeher)

View of the total solar eclipse from Sylva, NC. The solar corona shines outward from the eclipsed disk of the Sun, and the pink of solar prominences from the Sun’s chromosphere are visible (Photo: Matt Zeher)

Like no other natural phenomenon I can recall, this total solar eclipse connected us to our star, our solar system, our environment, our communities, and (this time) to a uniquely American experience. At ~ 2 minutes in length, we are further reminded of the dynamic nature of the planets, how they are not static orbs hanging fixed in space but rather move in specified orbits about the Sun, with moons that in turn orbit their home planets. We are rarely able to witness this directly, simply by looking up, but rather do so by more indirect connections to the cosmos, such as day-to-night regularity, seasons, and the occasional meteor or comet passing by.

During the total eclipse, we see the entirety of the Moon and Sun passing each other, cosmic travelers themselves. As the eclipse passes, dropping a seemingly alien veil on our planet for a moment, we are reminded that the comfortable habitability of Earth is the lucky result of being in the perfect spot in space, and it is fleeting.

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The Museum’s live stream of the total solar eclipse can be seen anytime by visiting our livestream link.

Radical Re-Boxing!

August 10, 2017

Written by Chilea Dickson

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to be an intern for the Paleontology Unit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, a program funded by an National Science Foundation: Collections in Support of Biological Research (NSF: CSBR) grant. Throughout this phenomenal period of time, we re-boxed plenty of fossils.

Photo of many fossil mollusks in non-archival boxes

Multiple fossil mollusks in their original non-archival boxes

Why do we re-box fossils?

Re-boxing is done to help better preserve fossils. It consists of a few steps. First, the fossil was carefully removed from the original box. Next, the box was checked with a pH marker; a small mark is made on the inside of the box. If the mark was purple then the box was archival, and the fossil could remain in the original box.

Photo of a mollusk fossil in a non-archival box with a pH testing pen beside it.

A small fossil in its original non-archival box with the pH testing pen beside it.

However, if the mark turned brown, then the box was not archival. In this case, the specimen needed to be re-housed into an archival box. Archival, meaning that the boxes are acid-free. It’s good to be in an acid-free box because otherwise acids from the box could react with the specimens causing them to deteriorate. Some fossils were boxed together with the same catalog number on one label. But, some fossils were housed together with many labels with many different numbers which were paper clipped together and put in the same box.

Photo of many mollusk fossils in a blue non-archival box with many labels paperclipped together.

This is a non-archival box which contained several fossils with several labels. These specimens needed to be separated and individually re-boxed.

These fossils needed to be separated into different archival boxes. One time I had to separate a box of many fossils into 83 different boxes! This task was tedious (to say the least) and took about two hours! But, it was very rewarding when I finished!

Photo of several small mollusks separated into individual box by catalog number and re-housed into archival boxes.

All of these specimens were originally in one box. Here they are individually separated by catalog number. Look at all the boxes! They fill almost an entire drawer!

The extremely interesting thing about this process was that I got to not only view, but also handle hundreds of fossils, which if it had not been for this unique experience I never would have seen! Actually being “behind the scenes” of the museum, how amazing is that!

Photo of a woman's hand, a label and a fossil mollusk.

This shows me matching up the catalog number with the label prior to putting the fossil into a new archival box.

It truly puts into perspective how extraordinary this world is and how there are so many amazing things out there already known and so many more waiting to be discovered! You never know what you may find or encounter!

Photo of several small mollusk specimens with individual labels in multiple archival boxes.

The result of separating several small mollusk specimens which were originally in one box with multiple labels!

“Breath-Taking” Brachiopods

July 13, 2017

Written by Chilea Dickson, Paleontology Summer Intern

As a biology major at Shaw University, I was very eager to participate in the NSF funded Paleontology internship at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Coinciding with my study of living organisms, I was able to step beyond the “grave” to see the history of the living through paleontology, which is the study of fossils. Paleontology has always been a fascination of mine, however, I have not had any exposure to it. But this was my opportunity! The first day of my internship, I was introduced to brachiopods (which I had never even heard of before!)

Photo of a brachiopod

Looks like a clam right?! Wrong! It’s a beautiful brachiopod!

What is a brachiopod?

Photo of a brachiopod

Look at the very intricate design of this fascinating creature!

Brachiopods are the only members of the phylum Brachiopoda and are a clade of protostomes, meaning the mouth develops before the anus in the embryonic state. Brachiopods look similar to clams, but their anatomy is quite different. Brachiopods have hard shells, with two unequally sized valves. The larger valve is the pedicle valve and the smaller is the brachial valve.

Photo of a brachiopod showing the two unequally-sized valves.

Notice how the pedicle valve overlaps the brachial valve.

Their shells are hinged at the back end, while the front area can be opened for feeding, or it can remain closed, for protection. Brachiopods have a fleshy stalk at their back end called a “pedicle” which is used to attach to a substrate.

Photo of an extant brachiopod showing a fleshy stalk (upper center) known as a pedicle.

An extant brachiopod. The lovely structure that looks similar to a tail is actually the pedicle. This specimen is part of the NCSM’s Non-Molluscan Invertebrate Collection.

These marine organisms were abundant in the Paleozoic era (about 251-542 million years ago). Brachiopods, though less common, are still around today. But think about how long these animals have been around and what they might have lived through. Wow! Brachiopods bring a whole new meaning to “survival of the fittest!”

Photo of two Paleozoic brachiopods

Brachiopods were around before dinosaurs!!!

Chilea Dickson’s internship is funded by a National Science Foundation Collections in Support of Biological Research  (NSF/CSBR) grant to the Paleontology Unit at the North Carolina  Museum of Natural Sciences.