About Guest Contributor

From distinguished lecturers to scientific scholars to visiting curators to volunteers to leaders in their respective fields, we often invite guest authors to contribute content to our blog. You'll find a wealth of information written by these fascinating individuals as we seek to expand your level of knowledge with every post.

Hey, Texas! Get outside and visit your wild neighbors.

by Melissa Hudnall

Texans! Want to see exotic birds? Look out the window! Want to see 250,000 bats? Just go outside tonight and look up! As a wildlife teacher and outreach presenter for the museum, I’ve had a chance to talk with future generations about the amazing wildlife found in Texas. Usually students think you have to travel to exotic lands to see the really cool animals, and they’re shocked to hear about all of the incredible animals they’ve been living right next to in Texas.

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Texas wildlife artifacts for the mobile classroom. Sahil Patel

That’s why I was excited to see the new HMNS at Sugar Land exhibit Treehouses: Look Who’s Living in the Trees!, because it makes these critters more accessible and feeds a natural curiosity that most children already seem to have about wildlife. After visiting this exhibit, young naturalists may start asking questions like, “Who made those track marks?” and exclaiming things like, “I know what that scat came from!”, which would make any parent’s heart swell with pride. Luckily, Texas is the perfect place to raise a young naturalist.

Look in our trees and under our bridges, and you might have a chance to see the only true flying mammal: bats! (Sorry, “flying” squirrels. Gliding doesn’t count.) Texas has tons of bats. In fact, we have so many that they are often picked up on radar used for weather reports.

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Radar around the Bracken Cave in San Antonio shows a cloud of bats. Every blue dot is one in flight.

Everyone’s heard about the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin and the Bracken Bat Cave in San Antonio, but visit these locations in the winter and you might be disappointed to find they have migrated for the season. Drive just 15 minutes away from the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and you can see bats year round at Waugh Bridge. This bridge has roughly 250,000 Mexican free tailed bats who would love to meet you. Before you go, be sure to get them a Thank You card, because the bats under this one bridge in Houston eat up to 2.5 tons of insects each night!

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This Mexican free-tailed bat might look cute and cuddly, but don’t pick them up like you see in this picture. Being mammals, they can carry rabies. Report any bats that you find on the ground in the day time or behaving strangely. They could be sick.

This is the perfect season to visit Waugh Bridge, as baby Mexican free tail bats test out their flying skills for the first time in early July. Just be sure to watch nearby towers for local birds of prey, such as red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons, who are keeping a watchful eye on these bats as a source of food.

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This peregrine falcon can reach speeds of 200 mph diving to catch its prey. This is a preserved specimen that travels to school with our Wildlife on Wheels program. Sahil Patel

In fact, Texas is a huge birding state. Individuals travel from all over the United States just to see the colorful migrants that pass through here, like Cerulean Warblers, Golden-cheeked Warblers, and Vermillion Flycatcher. Our Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife does a really nice job of highlighting some of the phenomenal birds that pay us a visit, for those of us (me) who do not have the patience for actual birding.

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Vermillion Flycatcher

Another adorable, and partially arboreal animal is the North American Porcupine.

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North American Porcupine

Looking for a kiss under the mistletoe this winter? This rodent is happy to oblige. Porcupines have been known to slowly amble up trees in search of mistletoe and pine needles when their preferred shrubbery is coated with snow. However, you may wish to rethink this close encounter, not only because of their dangerous defensive quills, but also because of their orange teeth.

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The orange coloration of the North American porcupine’s incisors is due to the high amount of iron in their enamel.

These teeth are not orange due to poor hygiene, but rather because of iron found in the enamel. This iron oxidizes, forming a rusty color. It’s the same reason your blood is red.

So Texans, get your wildlife education with HMNS and HMNS Sugar Land, then go out and explore! After all, now that you know their home address, it would be rude to ignore your neighbors…

Geology Rocks! How I got involved with Occidental Petroleum

by Tania Campbell

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Here I am hiking the world famous Permian Reef Trail at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park to study carbonate rock outcrops.

I’ve worked as a production geologist for 11 years for Occidental Petroleum, and while that is a long run with one company in the energy industry, it has gone by fast. I remember being introduced to rocks in middle school, but by the time I was in high school, I was more interested in marine biology. I then went on to successfully complete a dual bachelor’s degree in marine science and geology, which laid the foundation for understanding carbonate rocks and basic geologic principles, starting me down my path as a production geologist.

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The Miami Circle, where American Indians carved a circular structural support out of bedrock limestone.

The first community project I got involved in that I attribute as a catalyst to my geology interest was working with an archaeological site called the Miami Circle. Approximately 2,000 years ago, American Indians used the bedrock limestone to carve out a perfect circle to support a structure. As a volunteer I only found a few animal artifacts, but I was most interested in the exposed limestone.

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A sample of core that has been cut and slabbed after it was taken from the subsurface in a well. A geologist will describe the rock types and features observed, and other interpretative data is combined to make geologic models and maps.

There are so many different kinds of specialties in geology that sometimes it can feel overwhelming trying to figure out what you want to do. I kept an open mind and set off to learn more with a master’s degree at a different school. It is highly recommended that geologists have their master’s if they want to work in the petroleum industry. I studied hydrogeology and petroleum geology for my master’s, which has helped me work better with team members from engineering backgrounds and develop further in my core profession of doing reservoir characterization. My role involves describing and modeling the layers of rock in the subsurface to predict the most favorable areas for continued secondary and tertiary hydrocarbon recovery.

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Hiking with other geologists through the canyon cuts to map the rock types and observe vertical stacking of the layers of carbonates and siliciclastics.

I am extremely thankful for my education and the career opportunities that have brought me to a place where I enjoy coming to work. Every day there is a different problem to tackle. Sometimes it requires communicating with engineers and understanding other types of non-geo data, or sometimes I need to go on a field trip to an outcrop or a core lab to visualize what the rocks could look like in the subsurface. Or Maybe that day I make maps of the reservoir. It is forever changing in the geology profession.

About the author: Tania Campbell is a production geologist with Oxy Permian Enhanced Oil Recovery, a global corporation partnered with the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) program to help educate girls through hands-on science activities and outreach.

Because Work is Ruff: Take Your Dog to Work Day at the Museum

by Victoria Smith, HMNS Executive Assistant

 

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Here at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, we love all animals, not just extinct ones. When we heard it was Take Your Dog to Work Day, we thought that sounded like fun. . . maybe a little too fun considering how many pre-historic bones are here. Since letting Fido roam free in the paleontology hall could be a bad idea (and by bad, we mean “potentially devastating to years of scientific research”), we decided the next best thing was to take pictures and show the world, that, yes, our pets love science as much as we do! Employees were encouraged to dress their pets in geeky, museum or science-related costumes, and the winner would receive prizes from the geek-chic line of pet products in our Museum shop. It was hard to pick just one winner, but we decided one little dog proudly embraced his role as a Museum Employee Pet.

 

Some people might think entomologists are nerds, but we think Celeste Poorte’s job as our Butterfly Rearing Coordinator is to help creatures find their inner beauty.  It is something she also does with George, her hairless and semi-toothless Chinese Crested dog, who may, in fact, be a bit of a nerd.

Some people might think entomologists are nerds, but we think Celeste Poorte’s job as our Butterfly Rearing Coordinator is to help creatures find their inner beauty. It is something she also does with George, her hairless and semi-toothless Chinese Crested dog, who may, in fact, be a bit of a nerd.

And here's what she won!

And here’s what she won!

 

There are so many great employee pets, we decided to share a few more.

Esteemed Anthropologist Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout has studied quite a few bones and skeletons, a love he shares with his dog Sparky (who isn’t afraid to wear his heart—or femur--on his sleeve)

Esteemed Anthropologist Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout has studied quite a few bones and skeletons, a love he shares with his dog Sparky, who isn’t afraid to wear his heart—or femur–on his sleeve.

Kenneth Collins has been with the Museum for almost 20 years.  He’s the Sugar Land Facilities Manger now, but he got his start taking tickets for the Butterfly Center.  His dogs stay true to his roots.

Kenneth Collins has been with the Museum for almost 20 years. He’s the Sugar Land Facilities Manager now, but he got his start taking tickets for the Cockrell Butterfly Center. His dogs stay true to his roots.

To become an HMNS Concierge, you need to be knowledgeable about various Museum topics.  Lourdes Martinez has earned her place on the team, with a little help from her chiweenie Chico, whose interests include Egyptology and paleontology.  At the end of the day, they like to unwind catching up on Doctor Who.

To become an HMNS Concierge, you need to be knowledgeable about various Museum topics. Lourdes Martinez has earned her place on the team, with a little help from her chiweenie Chico, whose interests include Egyptology and paleontology. At the end of the day, they like to unwind catching up on Doctor Who.

What does it take to learn the finances of a world renowned institution?  A lot of studying, hard work and maybe graduating at the top of your class, like this vale-dog-torian who is ready to join Jill Lee in the Museum’s accounting department.

What does it take to learn the finances of a world-renowned institution? A lot of studying, hard work and maybe graduating at the top of your class, like this vale-dog-torian who is ready to join Jill Lee in the Museum’s accounting department.

Victoria Smith is an Executive Assistant at the Museum, but at home she gets assistance from Captain Tripod McStumpy who is always willing to lend a paw (but only one).

Victoria Smith is an Executive Assistant at the Museum, but at home she gets assistance from Captain Tripod McStumpy who is always willing to lend a paw (but only one).

Karen Whitley plans birthday parties at the Museum, but it's not all fun and games.  Or is it?  Her cats get in on the fun with the ultimate game of cat and mouse.  Checkmate!

Karen Whitley plans birthday parties at the Museum, but it’s not all fun and games. Or is it? Her cats get in on the fun with the ultimate game of cat and mouse. Checkmate!

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Kelly Russo is our Director of Online Media which means she has to follow proper rules and protocol . . . unlike her dog Wynnie who is quite the rebel.

Kelly Russo is our Director of Online Media which means she has to follow proper rules and protocol . . . unlike her dog Wynnie who is quite the Jedi rebel.

Have no fear, Coco and Loki are here, with their trusty sidekick Sheila George, Manager of Online Media at the Museum.  If your online media needs to be managed, just send the bat signal and Sheila George will be there, with her trusty sidekicks Coco and Loki.

Have no fear, Coco and Loki are here, with their trusty sidekick Sheila George, Manager of Online Media at the Museum. If your online media needs to be managed, just send the bat signal and Sheila George will be there, with her fearless superdogs.

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Martine Kaye will go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure your corporate group has a great visit to the Museum.  She hasn’t welcomed anyone with a parade and fireworks yet, but her dog Cleo thinks it’s a great idea.

Martine Kaye will go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure your corporate group has a great visit to the Museum. She hasn’t welcomed anyone with a parade and fireworks yet, but her dog Cleo thinks it’s a great idea.

One Night Only HMNS Film Screening: Queen of the Sun

When you sit down for a meal, at least one out of every three bites you take is thanks to a pollinator, and that’s not just fruits and veggies. The animals that produce meat, milk, eggs and other animal products must be fed as well, and that feed often starts with flowering plants.

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To produce fruits, vegetables and seeds, about 75 percent of flowering plants require pollination. Birds, bats and some small mammals serve as pollinators, but most, about 200,000 species, are insects. These plants create not only $20 billion annually in U.S. products consumed by humans, but feed an entire ecosystem, and urbanization and pesticides are threatening the pollinators that help them grow.

Learn more about pollinator concerns and the lives of honey bees at the Houston Museum of Natural Science with a screening of Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us?, a one-night-only event tomorrow, Tuesday, June 23 at 6 p.m. Enter the world of the honey bee colony with Dr. Nancy Greig and the HMNS beekeepers as they join scientists and farmers to discuss the current global bee crisis, and share ways to bring these critical pollinators back into a balance with nature.

For advance tickets, visit www.hmns.org/lectures or call 713.639.4629. Check out the Pollinator Partnership to learn more about preserving pollinating species.