Friday, July 25, 2014

Week 5

Collections tour

Materials used for the preservation of AMNH's giant squid

This week's collections tour led us through the Invertebrate Zoology department. Their collections manager gave a spirited tour of the vast and diverse collection. Some highlights included enormous scarab beetles, bedbugs, butterflies, a deep-sea isopod, and a giant squid! We even got to touch one of the squid's tentacles. After which, we agreed that we will never again voluntarily touch a giant squid tentacle. It's convenient that they are elusive creatures!

Another highlight of the tour was seeing Alfred Kinsey's collection of 7.5 million gall wasp specimens. That's right: Alfred Kinsey, of Kinsey Report fame. It turns out that the iconic American sex researcher began his career researching gall wasps, and that his immense collection is now housed at AMNH.

As we do in most of our tours, we also talked about problems in collections management. Like in many other biological collections, dermestid beetles are a problem in the dry invertebrate zoology collections. Because the anti-pest chemicals previously used in AMNH collections were discontinued for potential safety issues, collections managers have recently needed to find new ways to deal with pests in their collections. Another issue, in the alcohol collections, is evaporation. Rubber seals on old jars often degrade, allowing for alcohol to rapidly evaporate, leaving samples desiccated.

Continuing with the Warthin Project

Work Desk
Four of us were working on the Warthin project this week. As was mentioned in last week's blog, over 500 additional specimens were found in the old collections and need to be added to a project that was started last year.

Assigning new AMNH numbers

We organized the specimens from each original box, alphabetizing and rehousing the slides.We also assigned new AMNH catalog numbers to each slide and entered information listed on each slide into the Panorama database. Next week Courtney will compile all of the slides that were processed and organize them for long term storage.

Digging for Information 

Researchers dug these fossils out of the ground years ago, but us collections interns still have some "digging" of our own to do. Many of the collections we're working with have been disassociated from their original publications. Finding the publications in which species were originally described has been a very interesting part of this project, from an institutional history standpoint. Sometimes it's like solving a mystery!

Some collections have original correspondence associated with them which helps to understand how to curate the specimens. It's fascinating to read historic typewritten correspondence between researchers and museum curators. Many of these letters include information about exactly which specimens were sent to the museum, what paper they were published in, and why they were sent.

Another obstacle in researching our specimens is language! Interns this year have worked with papers in German, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch. Thankfully, our scientific consultant, Ellen Thomas, is a polyglot. She has been able to help us out when language gets in the way of understanding how to organize and catalog our specimens.

Preserving these collections as historical artifacts as well as scientific specimens is a large part of our work. We catalog these fossils as they are originally published, even if their species names have been revised since then. From a historic standpoint, it has been fascinating to see the changes in scientific methods and publications over time.

As you read, it's been another busy week in the microfossil collections. We'll be back soon with more exciting news and information!

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