The goliath bird eater spider has been making the news recently, after the appearance of a “puppy-sized” specimen surprised a scientist out for a nighttime walk in a Guyanese rainforest. Said the scientist Piotr Naskrecki, “When I turned on the light, I couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing.”
What he found was the goliath bird eater (Theraphosa stirmi), one of the biggest spiders in the world, and one of the stars of the American Museum of Natural History’s Spiders Alive! exhibition.
Learn all about the impressive goliath bird eater.
In the main Ichthyology Lab, recently collected fish specimens sit on a cart waiting to be identified, catalogued, and added to the collection.
Captured #InsideAMNH by samthecobra
You Are Here with Astronaut Chris Hadfield -
In this new podcast, join astronaut Chris Hadfield for a description of an orbit around the Earth, from launch to landing, as described and documented in his latest book, You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minute.
Learn more and download this podcast on iTunes.
@karim.mustafa photographs the Museum’s iconic Barosaurus from below. #InsideAMNH
Gray fox and opossum - October Afternoon, Eastern Tennessee
A gray fox (ground)and a Virginia opossum (tree) are feeding upon ripe persimmons in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Both animals are omnivores—they eat plants and animals.
Both species are nimble tree climbers as well, yet have different adaptations for the task. Gray foxes shinny up trunks by gripping with their forelimbs while pushing with their hind paws. Opossums climb with the help of an opposable toe on each hind foot, as well as a prehensile or “grasping” tail.
The gray fox and Virginia opossum may look similar, but they represent two fundamentally distinct groups of mammals.
Foxes are placentals, like humans and most mammals today. Mothers have long pregnancies, nourishing their fetuses through a placenta. Newborns are relatively large and robust, sometimes walking within hours.
Opossums are marsupials, a group that also includes kangaroos and koalas. Pregnancies are so short that newborns are barely more than embryos. The tiny babies crawl to a teat using strong forelimbs and nurse for many weeks to complete development. Like many marsupials, Virginia opossums protect their young with a pouch, or marsupium.
This diorama is located in the Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals.
This month marks the publication of Opulent Oceans: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library (Sterling Signature, 2014), the third in a series showcasing the spectacular holdings of the Rare Book Collection in the Museum Library.
Written by Curator Melanie L. J. Stiassny, the book includes essays about pioneering biologists who studied marine life, and showcases a variety of scientific illustrations that brought new discoveries to a growing audience of experts and laypeople alike.
We recently spoke with Dr. Stiassny, who is Axelrod Research Curator in the Department of Ichthyology, about her experiences researching the book.
Q: Are there any particular favorites among the scientists you feature?
A: One of my favorites is Johann David Schöpf (1752–1800) who was an iconic example of a polymath, adventurer, and humanitarian. He was a medical doctor, as so many of them were, fascinated by natural history, paleontology, weather patterns, botany, geology—everything. His travels through post-Revolutionary America were an amazing feat of courage and discovery.
Q: What surprised you in preparing the book?
A: I could not find a single volume in the Museum’s Rare Book Collection containing the work of a female marine naturalist. I did manage to find a few women doing great stuff but unacknowledged by the scientific community of their time. There was one botanist, William Henry Harvey (1811–1866), who went to great pains to single out and thank the women who had contributed to his work. He is a favorite too!
Q: What was your personal take-away?
A: Tremendous respect for the extraordinary courage and commitment of these early marine explorers. When I am in the Congo, we have satellite phones. We go to a cybercafe once a month. They were out there for years with no communications, suffering diseases, shipwrecks—and think what they did. They traveled, wrote, did so much, and then died at 30 or 40. Schöpf was 48! I’m in awe of what they accomplished. I also felt a camaraderie with their excitement in discovery and drive to understand the natural world. That mission and excitement is very much the same for curators today. The great majority were with big museums. Their names are on the specimen jars; our names are on the jars. There’s remarkable continuity, despite our advanced technology. They had the same driving force. The same camping out under the stars.
Read the full Q&A on the Museum blog, and pick up your own copy of Opulent Oceans!
Though it may not look extraordinary, this is our most important NYC mineral, according to Jamie Newman (@jamienamnhorg) Collection manager at the Museum. The “Subway Garnet” was found in 1885 on 35th Street and Madison Avenue. Shot by @jnsilva #InsideAMNH
Autumn is in full swing, and the Northeast US is a riot of colors. What causes this seasonal change? We’ve got the answers to all of your fall foliage questions here:
WHERE DO LEAF COLORS COME FROM?
Leaves are green in the summer because they contain a great deal of the pigment chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is necessary for the process of photosynthesis, which plants use to make food.
Chlorophyll is not the only pigment in leaves, but during the summer there’s so much of it that no other colors can be seen. Leaves also contain carotenoids—yellow, orange and brown pigments that give color to such foods as carrots and bananas. In the fall, some leaves produce red pigments called anthocyanins, which are also found in fruits like cranberries and blueberries.
WHAT TRIGGERS A LEAF TO CHANGE COLOR?
As autumn approaches, days become shorter and nights grow longer. Trees respond to the decrease in sunlight by slowing down production of the green pigment chlorophyll. As the amount of chlorophyll drops, yellow, orange and brown pigments (carotenoids) become visible. In some trees, dwindling light levels cause other changes inside the leaf. For instance, the concentration of sugars often goes up, which causes the formation of red pigments (anthocyanins).
DOES WEATHER AFFECT AUTUMN COLORS?
Only a little bit. Although some people assume that leaves change color in response to cooler weather, it’s really the shorter days of fall that signal to trees that it’s time to prepare for winter. But weather does affect the intensity of leaf color. Seasonably warm and sunny fall days combined with cool (but not freezing) nights seem to produce the most stunning autumn colors. In addition, fall colors can be delayed by a severe summer drought.
DO LEAVES ON ALL TREES CHANGE COLOR?
No. Trees like pines, spruces and firs are “evergreens”—their leaves are always green. These trees generally have tough needle-shaped leaves that can withstand cold weather. In fact, individual leaves on evergreens can stay on the tree for several years.
ARE CERTAIN COLORS ASSOCIATED WITH A PARTICULAR KIND OF TREE?
Yes. The chart below lists some common trees and their typical fall leaf colors.
BEECH: Yellows and Tans
DOGWOOD: Deep Reds
OAK: Reds and Browns
RED MAPLE: Bright Reds
SOURWOOD: Deep Reds
SUGAR MAPLE: Orangish Reds
Can’t get enough fall foliage? Check out our Pinterest board Autumn at the Museum.
@dave.krugman got a behind-the-scenes look at these pinned longhorn beetles, part of the Invertebrate Zoology collections. #InsideAMNH
This fearsome 17-foot-long Xiphactinus audax is ready for #FossilFriday!
Alive during the Late Cretaceous (about 85 million years ago), Xiphactinus and its relatives were large predators with strong jaws and many teeth. Xiphactinus swam in the great inland sea that covered most of North America at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs. This specimen was collected in Lane County, Kansas.
Find Xiphactinus in the Hall of Vertebrate Origins.
This week’s peek into the archives shows the process behind diorama creation. “Matthew Kalmenoff painting background for Oak Hickory Group, Forestry Hall" was photographed by Robert Elwood Logan and Alex Jin Rota in 1956.
See many more behind-the-scenes photos on our Digital Special Collections website.
The elephant in the room.
Photographed in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals by JMSuarez_ for the #InsideAMNH collaboration.
Today is #NationalFossilDay!
The evolution of sharks can be traced back over 400 million years, and the most famous extinct shark is Carcharodon megalodon, whose jaws hang in the Museum’s Hall of Vertebrate Origins. This animal, which lived in the seas 10 million years ago, easily dwarfed modern great white sharks.
Photographed by samthecobra for #InsideAMNH.
Happy #NationalFossilDay! Can you tell which of the above are dinosaur teeth? Below are the answers.
Clockwise from top:
All are fossils except, technically, the T. rex tooth at the top, which is actually a cast of a real tooth. The rugose corals (also known as solitary or horn corals) are very often mistaken for dinosaur teeth but are older than the oldest dinosaurs, having gone extinct around 250 million years ago (the oldest known dinosaurs are around 230 million years old).
Learn more on the Museum’s Division of Paleontology website.