Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Museum of Vertebrate Biology

I first got a hint of some major skeletal presence when I walked by Science Building 2 the other day. When you look up at the second floor window, a large whale skeleton is looking out at you. Apparently this is just a baby whale.

I met with Professor Luis Ruedas who teaches classes on Mammalogy and other subjects and is in charge of the Museum. He said that he is 'one among equals' in taking over directorship of the museum. He said that the collection is stored in different rooms at the moment due to construction in the building. There are thousands of specimens. I asked him if he prepares any of the articulations - no, he doesn't. But he has provided smaller specimens to the collection.

We headed down to the basement to where the collection is stored. The room was full of cases with sliding drawers, with skulls stacked above and below. Professor Ruedas noted that the collection is an animal version of an herbarium or library, with its own system of classification. He said there are many, many specimens that still need to be classified. I asked if he has lines of graduate students ready to prepare the specimens. He said no, "No one is interested in that anymore. It's basically just me that's does it [prepares the specimens]." I asked if there is another way to get the information that the specimens provide, and he said no, there is no other way to get the information. In fact, while we were talking, he was gathering specimens, presumably to take out to a class.

Professor Ruedas pointed out an elephant skull, and then mentioned that there is a 30' whale "buried at the beach" that PSU professors will go back to one day to dig up. He said this is a method they will use to get the bones cleaned off - just leave it in the ground for five years or so. He described another method that can be used for smaller specimens - first take off as much fur and flesh as possible. Then give the bones to flesh-eating beetle larvae to have them clean off the rest of the flesh. Then the bones can be boiled.

Once the construction in Science Building 2 is completed, the specimen collection will be brought up to a room on the second floor. Then people who want to study or view the specimens can see them by appointment. The larger articulations are available for anyone to view in the second floor lounge area.

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