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Paleontology Collections Move: Invertebrates Part 2: Re-boxing

March 7, 2017

In between shipments of new cabinets, we finally have some time to start re-boxing, and relabeling our specimens. You might be thinking, why bother? Aren’t your new cabinets all archival? They are, but a lot of the boxes the specimens are in and some of the labels are not. In the Invertebrate Paleontology Collections this can lead to Bynesian decay or “Byne’s disease.” Byne’s disease occurs when acidic vapors react with calcium carbonate. As some, most or all of you know, a lot of invertebrate shells, tests, or other hard parts are composed of calcium carbonate. Over time, non-archival boxes or non-archival labels reacting with water vapor (we do open our cabinets and humidity is a problem in NC) can give off acidic vapors, which in turn can cause decay and deterioration of our invertebrate specimens. So we are re-boxing and relabeling with archival materials. But there is more to it than simply swapping boxes.

Photo of fossil crayfish in non-archival boxes sitting in their old wooden drawer. Labels all akimbo.

Crayfish fossils in their old cabinet and boxes. Note the labels are all akimbo.

Jacob and I have been using our fossil crayfish collection as a means to work out a re-housing protocol that we can then use for all the specimens in the Paleontology collections. Jacob will be presenting a poster on this in April at the Association for Material and Methods in Paleontology (AMMP) meeting.  As illustrated below, steps include checking to see if specimens need repair, treatment for Byne’s or pyrite disease, or additional preparation. Our crayfish specimens need preparation which one of our volunteers, John Adams, is doing a spectacular job of.

Photo of John's hands as he prepares a crayfish fossil using an airscribe.

John doing the delicate task of preparing one of our crayfish fossils.

Prep work takes time, so in the interim we’re checking to see if the current box and labels are archival. If not, then it’s time for re-boxing and relabeling.

Photo of a man sitting at a table full of fossil crayfish specimen and tubs of pre-cut foam.

Jacob starts the task of swapping non-archival boxes for archival boxes and adding foam to separate matrix vials from specimens.

We’re also adding archival foam to the box to either cushion the specimens or to separate them from matrix samples, or from other specimens in the same box. Because these crayfish fossils are being used as a part of a research project, we are making an effort to keep the matrix that comes off during preparation. But we don’t want the matrix vial rolling into, and potentially damaging, the crayfish.

Photo of three crayfish fossils in archival boxes with foam separating them from their matrix vials.

Crayfish fossils and matrix vials in archival boxes with archival labels and foam to prevent damage.

Frequently, we don’t write specimen numbers on specimens until after preparation. There are many reasons for this including, the likelihood that the number will be etched off. Mind you this can lead to chaos if the people preparing the specimens don’t keep labels with specimens. With the crayfish specimens we’re numbering the specimens after preparation and are trying not to write directly on the specimen. So we’re painting a small stripe on the surrounding matrix on which we can then write the specimen number.

Photo of a woman's hands painting small white stripes on the back of crayfish fossil. On the table are two specimens that have already been painted.

Trish paints small white stripes on the back of fossils specimens. Once the paint is dry, she’ll write the specimen number on the painted stripe.

As you might imagine, none of this is a particularly quick process, but I think you’ll agree the results are worth it.

Photo of several fossil crayfish in white archival boxes with foam separating them from their matrix vials.

Crayfish fossils all nicely re-housed in archival boxes in their new cabinet.

 

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A Few Words About Words

February 24, 2017

Scientists, you’ve got to love us. We use a whole lot of big words to describe everything, even ourselves. For example, I’m a paleontologist (someone who studies fossils), a geologist (someone who studies the Earth), and a taxonomist (someone who spends way too much time classifying organisms according to their presumed natural relationships). If you’re a taxonomist like me, it means whenever you work on a new group of organisms, you need to learn a whole new vocabulary. It’s kind of like learning a foreign language. Ever wonder where these words come from and why they are necessary? Well…I’ll tell you.

I’m currently working on a group of organisms known as entocytherid ostracods (seed shrimp… though technically they aren’t shrimp… don’t get me started). Entocytherid ostracods are ectosymbionts of other crustaceans… Just stop with the jargon already and get to the point!

Photo of a gravid female of Dactylocythere daphnioides, an entocytherid ostracod from North Carolina displaying its ruffled skirt. The balck arrow points to the ruffled skirt, the red arrow points to the egg mass.

Gravid female of Dactylocythere daphnioides, an entocytherid ostracod, which was removed from a crayfish from North Carolina, displaying its ruffled skirt.

One of the new words I’ve recently learned is “amiculum”, which comes from Latin, meaning a mantle or cloak. So why not just use mantle or cloak? Well, there’s a story behind that. Back in the day, 1955 to be exact, Horton Hobbs Jr. described a particular piece of anatomy seen in adult female entocytherid ostracods as the “ruffled skirt.” Though other authors, Crawford (1959), Hobbs and Walton (1960), followed suit, a problem arose in 1961, when Hobbs and Walton discovered an entocytherid “species” with a decidedly “unruffled skirt!” These authors explain it this way …”it seems inappropriate to refer to it as an unruffled, ruffled skirt. Although neither the minute structure, nor its function is understood, to aid in the preparation of future descriptions we propose that it be designated the amiculum (L.-a mantle).”

Photo of a gravid female of Donnaldsoncythere donnaldsonensis from New York displaying a decidedly unruffled skirt. The red arrow in the center of the image points to the egg mass, the black arrow to the left point to the "unruffled skirt."

Gravid female of Donnaldsoncythere donnaldsonensis removed from a crayfish from New York displaying a decidedly “unruffled skirt”.

Thus the term amiculum is now part of the entocytherid vernacular, which is probably a good thing because there are several genera of entocytherid ostracods whose adult females have neither an unruffled ruffled skirt, nor a ruffled skirt. In fact some wander around with no skirts at all. Oh the humanity!

Photo of a gravid female of Entocythere reddelli from North Carolina showing its amiculum, which for my mind is sort of a combination of ruffled and unruffled skirt. The red arrow in the center of the image points to the egg mass. The black arrow to the left points to the amiculum.

Gravid female of Entocythere reddelli removed from a crayfish from North Carolina showing its amiculum, which for my mind is sort of a combination of ruffled and unruffled skirt.

Though I admit I find this all very entertaining, I find it even more fascinating that to this day, over a half century later, we still don’t know what the purpose of this structure is. The ammiculum is only seen in adult, usually gravid (full of eggs), females. Not all entocytherid genera have this structure. Though it sits in the same portion of the carapace (shell) as the copulatory complex of the males, it is highly unlikely the amiculum is the female equivalent, because mating/impregnation seems to occur before this structure is developed.

Photo of a gravid female of Uncinocythere occidentalis from Oregon. This specimen has lots of egg masses, but isn't wearing a skirt (amiculum). The red arrow in the center points to the egg masses. The black arrow to the right points to the empty space where the amiculum would be if it had one.

Gravid female of Uncinocythere occidentalis removed from a crayfish from Oregon. This specimen has lots of egg masses, but isn’t wearing a skirt (amiculum).

I have plenty of unsupported theories on the subject, but all are pure speculation. Ask me if you’re interested. But I can say entocytherids are weird, and gravid female entocytherids are particularly peculiar. There is one genus, Entocythere, where adult females not only develop an amiculum, they also grow what I like to call an extra “happy hand” on their antennae. What’s the point in that?

Photo of a gravid female of Entocythere reddelli from North Carolina showing its extra "happy hand" on its antenna. The red arrow near the bottom center of the image points to the extra "happy hand" on the antennae.

Gravid female of Entocythere reddelli  removed from a crayfish from North Carolina showing its extra “happy hand” on its antenna.

References

Crawford, Jr., E.A. (1959) Five new ostracods of the genus Entocythere (Ostracoda, Cytheridae) from South Carolina. Publications of the University of South Carolina (III, Biology) 2, 149–189.

Hobbs, Jr., H.H. (1955) Ostracods of the genus Entocythere from the New River system in North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Transactions of the American Microscopical Society 74, 325–333.

Hobbs, Jr., H.H. & Walton, M. (1960) Three new ostracods of the genus Entocythere from the Hiwassee drainage system in Georgia and Tennessee. Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science 35, 17–23.

Hobbs, Jr., H.H. & Walton, M. (1961) Additional new ostracods from the Hiwassee drainage system in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Transactions of the American Microscopical Society 80, 379–384.

Moving Right Along: Invertebrate Paleontology Collections Move Part 1

February 17, 2017
Photo showing thousands of bivalve shells.
Photo showing thousands of bivalve shells.

Bivalves! You want ’em, we got ’em! One box of the many thousands of Invertebrate Paleontology specimens we are moving into new cabinetry.

The NCSM Invertebrate Paleontology Collections contains approximately 58,000 specimens, all of which are moving thanks to a National Science Foundation Collections in Support of Biological Research Grant to the NCSM Paleontology Unit to replace deteriorating cabinetry with archival cabinets.

To do this, we have to move specimens out of old cabinetry, place them into holding cabinets, remove the old cabinets, install new cabinets, then move the specimens into them. Seems simple enough…kind of.

Photo of a woman in the foreground with her hand on a box containing invertebrate specimens, while the man in the background places specimens into a drawer.

Madison and Jacob transfer specimens of Anomia from a cart into holding cabinets.

Nothing is ever that simple. When we removed the row of old cabinetry that was lined up against the wall, we discovered the backs of the old cabinets had been rusting. Time for a bit of elbow grease…and an overnight delay to give the wall time to dry.

Photo of a man crouched on a step ladder with his gloved hands reaching into a bucket (foreground), while in the background another man with a ponytail is washing a wall.

Jacob and Jens washing the wall.

Cabinetry install time! Using palette jacks and with the help of NCSM Facilities folks, we got the first row of invertebrate cabinets installed in about a day.

A split photo. On the left, a man uses a palette jack to move a large white cabinet. Onthe right, a man in a forklift places an upper cabinet with the help of a standing man (left) and a woman (right).

On the left, Jacob uses a palette jack to place lower cabinets. On the right, Jacob, and Lilly help Jeremy place an upper cabinet.

Then it was time to move the specimens again! Bivalves lots of bivalves. This made all of us hungry for clam chowder.

Photo of three carts full of fossil clam specimens (foreground) and a chair and cabinetry (background)

Three carts full of Mercenaria. The genus Mercenaria is still around today. These clams are also known a quahogs, and make a nice chowder or baked stuffed clams.

In under a week we managed to remove an entire row of old cabinets, wash and dry a wall, install new cabinets and fill them with invertebrates. The Invertebrate Paleontology Collection is generally arranged taxonomically, but we do have some cabinets set for site specific collections. In this part of the move we’ve rehoused Protista, Porifera, Bryozoa, Brachiopoda, Cnidaria, and the bivalve part of Mollusca, as well as several site specific collections.

Photo of boxes containing bryozoans.

Boxes of beautiful bryozoans.

Though this is somewhat back breaking and mind numbing work, it has been nice to see specimens I haven’t seen in years. Please stay tuned for future installments.

Photo of a snail encrusted with oysters and worm snails. There is a specimen label in the foreground.

Three specimens for the price of one! From one of our site collections” cabinets. here we see Siphocypraea, encrusted by Serpulorbis (a worm snail) and an oyster. This is one of the many specimens whose taxonomy will be updated in our database. As Sirpulorbis is now considered to be Thylacodes.

 

New Cabinetry Has Arrived

February 6, 2017
Photo of new cabinets (white) inside the back of a semi-trailer which is parked on the loading dock.

New cabinetry arrives at the loading dock.

The new cabinetry for the Paleontology Collection has arrived! Shipment one of four arrived on February 1 and with help from Facilities Management staff we were able to move all of the cabinets down to the collections range on B-Level in one day.

Photo of Jacob (man in black) using a redpallette jack to move a large white cabinet into the collections.

Jacob uses a palette jack to move one of the new cabinets into the collections.

Photo of a man using a forklift to place a cabinet onto other cabinets. In the foreground a man in black and grey admires the other man's forklift prowess.

Using a forklift, Michael Burch carefully places the top cabinet into the Paleobotany row. Jacob stands back and admires Michael’s forklift prowess.

We are also happy to report that as of Friday February 3 the Paleobotany collection has been completely transferred into the new cabinets.

Photo of a man in gray pants standing on a ladder bolting cabinets together.

Safety First! Jacob bolts a top cabinet to the bottom cabinet so when we pull out the specimen drawers, the whole thing doesn’t come crashing down on us.

One of the lingering concerns for us was how the spacing of the fossils would work when transferring from old cabinets into new ones. After transferring the entire Paleobotany Collection, drawers in undivided cabinets can hold an equivalent of 2-3 drawers of old cabinets, while drawers in divided cabinets can hold an equivalent of 1-2 drawers of old cabinets. This is fantastic news, as this means the total space for the collection will grow allowing more fossils to be collected for research!

Photo of a man looking happy that there is still room in the cabinetry for more specimens.

Jacob is delighted the Paleobotany move is complete and that there is plenty of space in the cabinets to add more specimens.

Next Up: Transferring the Invertebrate Paleontology Collection. The rest of the available cabinets from this first shipment will be used to rehouse a good portion (almost all) of the Invertebrate Paleontology Collection. Check back for future updates.

Photo of a man in a red shirt getting ready to hand a small specimen to a woman who is standing on a ladder.

Jacob and Madison start the process of moving specimens from the Invertebrate Paleontology Collection into holding cabinets.

This blog was written by Jacob Van Veldhuizen, Paleontology Collections Technician. New Cabinetry is funded by a National Science Foundation Collections in Support of Biological Research Grant.

Paleontology is on the Move

January 31, 2017

Hello! My name is Jacob Van Veldhuizen and I have been hired on to help the Paleontology Unit move the collection into new cabinetry. The Paleontology Collection is currently housed in non-archival, inadequately sealed, metal-sheathed wooden specimen cabinets that are slowly disintegrating and produce harmful acidic off-gasses which can give the cabinet an awful smell. Last year the Paleontology Unit was awarded a National Science Foundation/Collections in Support of Biological Research (NSF/CSBR) grant to transfer the paleontological collection into archival, steel cabinets and to re-curate the collection using current conservation best practices.

Image of tables with specimens that needed to be put away

Tables full of paleontological specimens that needed to be put away before the new cabinetry arrives.

The first set of cabinets are due to arrive in early February. When I was brought on in November, it was clear that a lot of things had to be accomplished before the move could begin. In preparation for this move, work tables had to be cleaned, several pieces of furniture had to be sent to surplus, loose specimens needed to be placed back into cabinets, and the reprint library had to be moved to a more suitable location. Once all that was completed, collections inventories were taken, temporary storage cabinets were established, a portion of the geology collection was moved to make room for the paleobotany collection, and a workflow illustrating how the specimens would be transferred from the old cabinets into the new cabinets was established. Suffice it to say, a lot was completed in first three months.

Image of Jacob Van Veldhuizen (in white T-shirt) handing paleobotany specimens to Madison Dillard (standing on ladder).

Madison Dillard (paleontology volunteer) and Jacob Van Veldhuizen moving the Paleobotany Collections into holding cabinets.

As of today, I am happy to report that the collection is ready to move into new cabinetry. As the move progresses, it will be interesting to see how spacing of the specimens in the new cabinets compares with that of old cabinets. Will specimens take up more, less, or the same amount of space? Check back in a couple of months to see the progress of the move.

This post was written by Jacob Van Veldhuizen, Paleontology Collections Technician.

Remembering Dr. Paul Tucker

September 14, 2016

When I first took the job of Curator of Geology at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, the Geology Collection and I were housed off-site in Cary, NC, about 20 minutes from the museum proper. One spring day, I had a visitor who dropped in to ask if I wanted to see his collection. There were some specimens in the trunk of his car. Normally I get more requests for this than I can accommodate, but this guy was friendly and insistent. It was springtime and I didn’t feel like working.

The first specimen was a chunk of pegmatite from the Crabtree Emerald Mine, shot through with emeralds. It was the size of a small cantaloupe. The second piece was a large gold nugget from the Reed Gold Mine. Later we were able to trace its provenance to a German museum, probably where John Reed was mailing gold back to family in Germany. That was how I met Dr. Paul Tucker.

Paul was a professor in the Textiles Department at North Carolina State University, more or less retired when I met him. One of his lifelong avocations was collecting the minerals of North Carolina. In this pursuit, he combined an in-depth knowledge of the state’s mining history with an encyclopedic memory of famous collecting sites. His choices were uniquely dramatic or beautiful, each worthy of museum display. He would laugh that he couldn’t stop working because he was still buying minerals.

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Kyanite from Balsam Gap, discovered by Luther Thomas.

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William Earl Hidden’s business card, Photo by Jeff Scovil.

What a collection! I described parts of it in an article for Rock & Mineral in 2008 (Volume 83, September/October). Micromounts of twinned monazite. Pegmatite minerals from Spruce Pine and Hiddenite. Emeralds from every locality in the state. Corundums, rubies and sapphires from obscure and well-known localitites. Pseudomorphs of all sorts. A gigantic specimen of Luther Thomas’ gem-quality kyanite, in matrix. The crown jewels were the Reed Mine gold nugget, and William Earl Hidden’s business card, with the “first crystal of hiddenite found in place” inserted through the card. I would have given up the entire collection for just those last two items.

I convinced Paul to exhibit his collection at the Museum of Natural Sciences, a 2005 exhibit titled Treasures Unearthed. Reviewing his collection (four times in all) required locating the plastic box containing the specimens, cutting the duct tape holding it closed, pulling out the bubble wrap or plastic wadding protecting the inner box, opening that box by cutting the tape, removing more protective wrapping, and gently removing the treasure within. The process was invariably rewarding, revealing a beautiful specimen each time. It would be measured, photographed, and notes taken on its significance and importance. Then the process was repeated in reverse with much plastic and tape before going on to the next box. Paul and I had a lot of fun with that. He had even more fun with a game called “stump the curator.” The hands-down winner was a golden euhedral muscovite so fine that the sheets were not visible from the side. The hexagonal crystal shape was subdued, so it appeared to be four-sided crystals. He enjoyed fooling me immensely, even more so when one of my textbooks contained a very similar picture of euhedral muscovite.

rutile-presentation

Quartz crystals on rutile, the iconic image chosen for Treasures Unearthed. Photo by Jeff Scovil.

The exhibit itself was a success, with Paul more than anyone. He photographed everything, and visited the exhibit regularly. Afterwards, he decided that his collection should come to us. He could not afford to give it to us outright, but he made us a bargain basement price. SAS Institute purchased the entire collection, including mining memorabilia, and donated it to the Museum of Natural Sciences in 2006. It now forms the nucleus of the exhibits on the second floor of the Nature Exploration Center. Other portions of the exhibits from Treasures Unearthed live on in the Colburn Earth Science Museum in Asheville, and the McKinney Geology Teaching Museum at Appalachian State University in Boone.

We kept in touch after the exhibit. He was one of the few people who had an open invitation to visit any time. I would run into him at the grocery, or mineral shows, or on the exhibit floor, and we would catch up. He always had news from the mineral collecting community. I came to expect voicemail messages on my office phone, usually two or three in a row, left late at night, finishing conversations we had started earlier. An awful thought once crossed his mind, that I might slice up a specimen for research. He had my cell number, so at 11:30 one evening I reassured him that I would never cut up exhibit quality minerals, even in the interests of science.

Paul Tucker had only one requirement for all of the exhibit: that his name be kept out of it. He wanted to be totally anonymous.  I don’t think I have a picture of Paul, just one of his hands holding a polished slab of emerald-rich pegmatite from the Crabtree Mine, shown at the top of this page. I did not learn of his death until some months after it happened. In keeping with his love of privacy, there was no obituary, and no memorial service. He is survived by his wife, Lynn Tucker.

There were many facets to Dr. Paul Tucker. He loved to travel, especially in North Carolina, along well-loved paths to mineral shows, to duck decoy exhibitions, and to the pottery centers of the state. He loved puttering in his yard and growing wild flowers. He was friendly and very slow to anger. The only time I saw him annoyed was in a discussion over rainproof textiles.  His quiet persistence was very well-known to mineral dealers all over the United States. His visits were always an event. Paul was a reliable source of good advice, pushing me into writing for Lithographie Press and for Rocks & Minerals. My life is better because of Paul Tucker, and the world is poorer without him. The Geology Collection of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences owes him a great debt for his lifelong work.

 

 

Hello, Jupiter!

July 5, 2016

This year’s Independence Day holiday was a special one for planetary science, as the NASA spacecraft Juno successfully entered the dense atmosphere of our solar system’s giant, Jupiter, yesterday at 11:53 PM, EDT. After 5 years and traveling nearly 550 million miles, Juno reached Jupiter at nearly 130,000 miles per hour, poised to orbit the planet 32 times, gathering unprecedented data on Jupiter’s atmosphere, magnetic, and gravitational fields, all lending clues to how it formed about 4.57 billion years ago.

Juno enters orbit around Jupiter

Artistic rendering of Juno entering Jupiter’s orbit (Credit: NASA).

Scientists think that Jupiter may have been the first planet to form from the swirling disk of gas and dust from which the rest of the solar system formed. Juno’s science will help unravel the detailed composition of Jupiter’s atmosphere which hold clues to its formation history, including how and where it formed relative to Earth and the Sun.

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Mission scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory celebrate Juno’s successful arrival at Jupiter (Credit: NASA/JPL)..

Unlike Earth and the other terrestrial planets, Venus and Mars, Jupiter is a “gas giant,” composed mostly of Hydrogen and Helium, and may have a rocky core. Juno will closely examine the rollicking storms in Jupiter’s clouds, including its mysterious Great Red Spot that has been shrinking over the several centuries since its discovery.

hotspot_cover_1280

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is one of the mysteries that Juno will explore during its 20-month science phase (Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Telescope Science Institute).

Jupiter’s largest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, were discovered by Galileo in 1610, and imaged in detail first by the Voyager mission — twin probes launched in 1977 and now heading to interstellar space — followed by the Galileo flyby in 1995.

Juno will study Jupiter’s atmosphere and (possible) core in unprecedented detail, hopefully unraveling many of the mysteries surrounding fundamental processes during solar system formation, including that of planet Earth. As an observational astronomer interested in the  earliest chemical pathways of planet formation, I am particularly eager to learn what Juno uncovers in the depths of Jupiter’s primitive, roiling atmosphere.

Here you can watch Juno approach Jupiter and the Galilean moons in this time-lapse capture by one of Juno’s imagers:

The mission will end in 2018 with Juno taking a nosedive into Jupiter’s atmosphere in a planned maneuver of final demise, similar to previous mission terminations.

In the meantime, we will stay tuned for Juno’s exciting new discoveries! You can watch the NASA’s Juno mission trailer for a brief yet informative and entertaining overview of the exciting science to come!