Your Favorites: Top 10 Videos of 2010!

It seems like just yesterday we were wrapping up the 100th anniversary of the Museum’s founding in 1909 – and here we are already, at the end of 2010. We had some big news this year – from a big, stinky flower to the discovery of a new, rare fossil that’s set to go on display in a brand new paleontology hall in 2012 (which just goes to show, there’s always something to look forward to).

Here’s a look back at the biggest stories of the year!

Some caveats:

The list was created based on stats from Vimeo, the site we use to host the videos played at hmns.org and on our blog. We also post videos at YouTube and occasionally on Flickr, but those stats aren’t counted here, since the rankings are similar.

Stats cited were pulled on Dec. 14, but we trust that year-end interest in what’s already posted won’t change the ranking too much.

Videos posted at the beginning of 2010 (such as the videos related to the Magic exhibit) have had most of the year to acquire views. Videos posted towards the end – like our announcement of the Dimetrodon fossil our paleo team discovered in late November (which also made the cover of the Houston Chronicle!) – should indicate a level of interest far greater than the actual ranking since the views were accrued over a much shorter time period.

Without further adieu, here are the top 10 videos of 2010! (If you can’t see the videos in-page, you can click the title links to visit the Vimeo page for each.)

1. Lois the Corpse Flower [The Series]
Posted July 6 – 23 | 57,471 views

So, Lois the Corpse Flower was kiiind of a big deal here at HMNS over the summer. And as such, videos related to Lois – counted individually – made up most of the top 10 (#s 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 & 8). Since listing them in this order would make for more of a “Lois recap” than a post that gives a good idea of what people were most interested in this year, I decided to lump them all together. You can see all 8 of them at the links above; I’ve also included a few of my favorites embedded below.

The first video we posted about Lois was also by far the most popular,
with 22,100 views since July 6 making it the official #2 on this list.

And who could forget:

A song for Lois! Written and performed by Kelsey Williams,
one of the museum’s summer Ecoteen volunteers.

2. Magic! at HMNS
Posted Feb. 5 | 25,100 views

Developed by HMNS and on display from Feb. 26 – Sept. 26, the Magic! exhibit featured authentic artifacts from Robert Houdin, Harry Houdini and other famous historical magicians – plus live performances from contemporary magicians.

My favorite part was the exhibit design itself, which cleverly created a magical atmosphere through special touches like cases that float in mid-air. Your favorite part was, apparently, this video – which, when the Lois videos are not counted together, comes it at #1 for 2010.

Don’t want the magic to end? Never fear: check out our magic blog series.

3. Genetics of the Silk Road Mummies
Posted Aug. 17 | 6,485 views

Our Silk Road exhibit features two astonishingly well-preserved mummies that both died along this passage thousands of years before scholars originally believed the route was in common use.

In this video our curator of anthropology explores the genetic research performed on mummies from the silk road which resulted in an even bigger surprise.

It’s not too late to see the Silk Road mummies for yourself:
Secrets of the Silk Road is on display at HMNS through Jan. 2, 2011.

Get in-depth information about the Silk Road exhibit, as well as the latest discoveries, in our Silk Road blog series.

4. Plant Sale! At the HMNS Greenhouses
Posted March 24 | 3,500 views

Twice a year, our Cockrell Butterfly Center staff empty out our greenhouses and host a plant sale where aspiring butterfly gardeners can get host and nectar plants for their home gardens – and learn the best ways to attract butterflies to their yard. Along the way to a flutter-filled garden, they create crucial habitat for local Houston butterflies.

Get a peek into these events in the video below with Nancy Greig, director of the butterfly center.

Want to see more? Check out our Flickr set of photos from a recent Plant Sale.

Inspired? Come to our next plant sale event!

5. Rare, Nearly Complete Dimetrodon Found
Posted Dec. 3 | 3,273 views

Our Paleontology team, led by Dr. Robert Bakker, has been excavating a famous red beds fossil site for the past several dig seasons. They’ve found many fascinating fossils and uncovered reams of new data about how creatures like Dimetrodon – the T. rex of it’s pre-dinosaur time – and Xenacanthus, a prehistoric shark, lived.

At the end of November, they hit the mother lode: an articulated, almost complete Dimetodon giganhomogenes. It’s exceedingly rare to find such a well-preserved specimen – you can get a sneak peek below – see it unearthed and in person when it goes on display in our new paleontology hall in 2012!

Follow the team’s progress in the blog’s Paleontology section.

6. Richard Hatch: Cups and Balls [Magic Exhibit]
Posted Feb. 10 | 2,870 views

The best part about the Magic exhibit was the live performances – and if you were lucky, you caught Richard Hatch working with his specialty, the cups and balls (the world’s oldest illusion). In case you weren’t lucky, we caught it on tape, below.

Missed the Magic exhibit? Check out our Flickr set.

7. Archaeopteryx: Tour the Exhibit with Pete Larson
Posted June 7 | 2,205 views

Archaeopteryx is the earliest bird known to science – and it’s a classic example of an evolutionary link between two groups of animals, first discovered just two years after Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution in 1859. Pete Larson led the team that excavated Sue, the most complete fossil T. rex yet found, making him one of the world’s most famous paleontologists.

Put them together, and you get a pretty fascinating video. Walk through this stunning paleontology exhibit with Pete in the video below.

Want more? Read all about Archaeopteryx – and the world this animal inhabited 150 million years ago – on the HMNS blog or, see more videos with Pete in our Archaeopteryx album on Vimeo.

8. The Principles of Magic
Posted Feb. 5 | 2,047 views

Watch closely as Scott Cervine, visiting curator for our Magic! exhibition, reveals the Principles of Magic.

9. John Carney: The Invisible Coins [Magic Exhibit]
Posted Feb. 10 | 2,038 views

Where did they go?

10. Lois: The Documentary [Preview]
Posted Sept. 10 | 1,281 views

From the non-stop webcam coverage to the crowds here to see Lois around the clock to the weddings taking place at the height of Lois’ bloom and the “mystery tweeter” behind @CorpzFlowrLois – this summer was an extraordinary one for the Museum, and we created a documentary to capture the madness. Preview it below – you can purchase the full version online or in the Museum Store. All proceeds benefit HMNS Educational programs!

So, that’s the Top 10 of 2010! We can’t wait to see what the new year brings – we hope you’ll stick around and share it with us. Happy New Year!

Ghosts of the Whydah [Real Pirates Exhibit]

Today’s post is brought to you by our guest blogger Alice Newman. Alice is a volunteer at HMNS and a contributor to our magazine, the Dashing Diplodocus.

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Photo by jjsala, on Flickr.
Taken during an HMNS Flickr meetup.
Interested in attending a future event?
Follow the discussions on the HMNS Flickr Pool.

Ghosts, witches, and devils are haunting our halls! No, they aren’t left over from Halloween, rather, they are the spooky tales that accompany the exhibit Real Pirates.

In The Narrow Land, a collection of Cape Cod folk tales, author Elizabeth Reynard relates how young Sam Bellamy met golden-haired Maria Hallett beneath a blossoming apple tree in the Wellfleet cemetery. The two became lovers, and when Sam sailed to scavenge treasure from Spanish shipwrecks off the coast of Florida, he promised to return and marry her. Unsuccessful in his quest, Sam turned to piracy, eventually commandeering the Whydah, which wrecked in a terrible storm within sight of Maria’s hut. According to legend, Maria looked desperately for Sam’s body among more than one hundred that had washed ashore. Locals say she still searches for Sam; her mournful wails can be heard echoing off the Eastham cliffs. Some believe she had been “ruined” by Sam, and, in revenge, caused the Whydah to be destroyed by selling her soul to the devil in exchange for Sam’s. Others say she was a witch, who danced and sang madly along the shore and lured the Whydah to its harrowing doom.

And what of Sam Bellamy? In the fall of 1717, the same year that the Whydah went down, a mysterious, dark-haired stranger arrived in Wellfleet. He appeared to be anxiously waiting for someone and became a regular visitor to the cemetery and tavern that Maria and Sam had frequented. Though he had no job, he was well dressed and always had ready money. He died in his sleep three years later, beneath the same apple tree where Maria and Sam had first met; a belt of gold was found around his waist.

Spirits associated with the Whydah continue to linger nearly three centuries later. Barry Clifford, discoverer of the Whydah’s remains, recounts in his book, Expedition Whydah, how the start of his 1998 exploration was plagued with constant, often inexplicable obstacles — engine problems, an undermanned crew, GPS malfunction, heavy fog, a shark encounter, and more. While their salvage vessel was positioned over the wreck site, a crew member using a hand held radio clearly heard a voice over the open receiver repeating, “We want your boat… We want your boat…” Were the pirates of the Whydah trying to protect their treasure? The treasure hunters poured most of a bottle of rum into the water over the wreck site area and shared the rest in a symbolic drink with the pirates.

Their troubles ceased, and that season turned out to be one of their most successful, with the explorers ultimately finding the ship’s wooden hull.

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Photo by jjsala, on Flickr. Taken during an HMNS Flickr meetup.
Interested in attending a future event? Follow the discussions on the HMNS Flickr Pool.

Maria Hallett has not been at rest, either. During the 1998 expedition season, a shaken patron at a restaurant in Wellfleet stated that he had seen a ghost of a young, blonde woman in the restroom. He quickly left the restaurant after signing his name, Bellamy, on the credit card slip.

Have the ghosts of the Whydah escorted the artifacts of their ship to our museum? If you find yourself visiting on a late tour, you might just want to keep a pint of rum handy to steady your nerves, or to appease the ghosts of the Whydah!

Bibliography

Clifford, Barry and Paul Perry. Expedition Whydah. New YorkL HarperCollins 1999.
Reynard, Elizabeth. The Narrow Land, 4th ed. Chatham, MA: The Chatham Historical Society, 1978.


Giant African Millipedes are back!

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1

Up until a few years ago, there was never any shortage of an amazing arthropod, known as the Giant African Millipede, around here. They are an absolutely breathtaking bug! Imagine a roly poly type of creature and add about 6-10 more inches of length and about 200-250 more legs! African millipedes (Archispirostreptus gigas) hold the title for the longest millipedes in the world. They are capable of reaching a length of 15.2 inches! They are sought after, not only for their size, but for their incredibly docile personality. They’re so cute and fun to watch! They make wonderful display animals because they spend most of their time above ground feeding and resting. They are voracious eaters and are often seen munching away at their food. They are a favorite among visitors. Volunteers enjoy handling them and giving our guests an up close and personal look. Unfortunately, we haven’t had them around here for a couple of years. The USDA halted the importation of these millipedes for a few reasons. You would only be able to acquire them if you had the appropriate permit, which we do, but finding a supplier was a huge challenge. After about two years missing them, we are happy to welcome them back!

One fast critter.
A Giant Centipede
Creative Commons License photo credit: graftedno1 

Millipedes are often confused with centipedes, another long, leggy arthropod. It is very important to know the difference because centipedes can be dangerous. The differences aren’t very subtle. Centipedes are morphologically similar; they have a head with one pair of antennae and a trunk made up of many segments. The major difference is in the legs. Centipedes (centi=100; pede=legs) have one pair of legs per body segment and the legs seem to originate from the sides of the body. Their legs are longer, thicker, and more muscular, allowing them to move very quickly. Their first pair of legs are modified and have become a pair of claws that are capable of injecting venom. All of these characteristics make them efficient predators that feed on anything from tiny insects to small mammals, depending on the size of the centipede of course. A very large centipede can harm a human with its potent venom. Small ones are not a threat. Like most arthropods, centipedes are shy and non-aggressive, but it’s important to know the difference so you don’t mistake one for a harmless millipede and try to handle it. Another feature that might give them away, if it’s difficult to see the legs, is a pair of appendages on their last segment. They resemble another set of antennae, possibly a defense mechanism to throw predators off of which side their head and poison claws are on. Millipedes don’t have these.

Millipedes are a diverse group of arthropods, ranging in size from 5 mm to 10 inches or more, like our giant African millipedes. Unlike centipedes, most eat decomposing organic matter. Their body segments are thinner and more numerous and each one bears 2 pairs of small legs. Although millipede means 1000 legs, the record is 375 pairs, or 750 legs! The legs originate from the bottom of the body so they cannot be seen from the top, like centipede’s legs. They are very slow moving. Their defense mechanisms are simple. First, they curl their bodies into a spiral to protect their legs. They can also secrete a chemical from pores along the sides of their bodies. This chemical varies from species to species, but it is meant to deter, gross out, or harm a would-be predator. Most of these chemicals are not harmful to people but will stain skin and clothes.  Once a millipede grows accustomed to being handled, they will not produce such secretions very often.

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Our new Millipedes
Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1 

We hope to have our new batch of African millipedes around for a long time. This is highly probable considering that they are very easy to care for and they can live about 5 to 7 years as adults. If you would like to see these incredible millipedes on display, come on by! Unlike some of our shy residents, these are always visible to the public! You can always keep an eye out for their smaller native cousins as well, they’re just as interesting to watch.

Until next time, happy bug watching!


Invest in CDs: A Christmas Story

Data Dump
Creative Commons License photo credit: swanksalot

In a society that is occasionally inundated with free CDs (and now DVDs) from many different vendors plying their software, sometimes it’s good to sit down, gather them all together, and recycle them.

In the Christmas spirit I have another shiny idea. And that is reusing CDs as holiday decorations. During my college years (long ago in the Early Middle Ages), my roommates and I decorated a “Christmas” tree with CDs. We made sure that the shiny, reflected side was out so that the tree would shine (but not like Roger Young). However, being a poor college student living off dish rag soup and being allergic to real Christmas trees, it was not a real Christmas tree Charlie Brown. It was, however, a plastic fichus which I still have today*.

But decorating a Christmas tree is not the only thing you can use CDs for. There was one crafty individual that made furniture from AOL CDs although it does not look as comfortable as the iron throne. You can also use them in packing presents to help confuse children that are especially good at puzzling out what is wrapped under the tree. While the weather outside is frightful, and when you’re near that fire that is so delightful, you could put candles on the CDs to add to the ambiance (NOTE: always be careful and responsible when using fire). If you add some string and holiday colored markers you could make some nice hanging ornaments. CDs can even serve as coasters for hot chocolate and wassail.

All this to say, it’s the holidays! Enjoy food, friends, and family. Lets all be thankful for what we have and ready to give without hesitation to those around us. And ready to use what we have been given to the best of our abilities. Including old CDs. Send us your ideas and pictures of your creations.

Happy Holidays Y’all!

*Now that I’m out of college and gainfully employed, we have a real fake Christmas tree which we will put out as soon as we unpack that pile of boxes we have left sitting there for a year.