Archie the Wandering T-Rex Celebrates his Birthday

Guess what guys, it’s my birthday and I got to celebrate it at Disney World! A year ago I was officially adopted by my HMNS family and since then have had the greatest year of my life! This past year has been full of adventure, fun, and new experiences as I have had the opportunity to travel to amazing new places and try new things. When I was first adopted, I thought I was one lucky dinosaur, but I had no idea how lucky I really got. I belong to the greatest, most amazing family! From trips abroad to Europe and the Middle East, to exploring the beauty of our National Parks here at home, immersing myself into life at the museum, and celebrating my birthday in the most magical place on earth, my new family has literally shown me the world.

mickeyarchie
On my very first adventure I crossed the pond and rambled around London a while before taking the Chunnel to Paris. The sites were amazing! I also spent an amazing week in Germany visiting excavation sites with our Adult Education program (sorry, too busy exploring for photos!).

archie big ben

archie eiffel tower

I then jotted off to attend with the 2016 Special Events Conference in Orlando, Florida where I learned all about the newest and most popular trends for the year. I was super excited to hear that one of the colors of the year was Serenity Blue! What do you think, do you think I resemble a certain color of the year? Immediately after the conference I rushed off to Saudi Arabia where I had the chance to train an awesome group of people on what we do in the museum and how we do it! King of the lab! (shhh, let’s keep that between us)

archie show

archie theater

This year we also celebrated the 100 year birthday of our national parks with our new Giant Screen Theater movie, National Parks Adventure 3D. After watching this incredible film, I got inspired to check out a few of our parks myself! I started with visiting Big Bend National Park and checking out the cool local fossils. I then flew up to Maine to explore Acadia National Park and saw my first lighthouse! A little later in the year I decided to really go for it and strapped in for a road trip spanning 3 states and 8 more national parks!

archie park 1archie park 2archie park 3
 While traveling has been amazing, there is so much to see and do right here at home at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I have spent time with our awesome group of volunteers learning all sort of fascinating information spanning from mummies to gemstones! I even checked out our Cockrell Butterfly Center and got up close and personal with a moon moth.

archie gemstone carvingarchie butterfly
This has been an absolutely amazing year, and I can’t wait to get started on the next! Who knows where I will go and what I will learn next. There’s still so many exhibits here at home I haven’t explored yet, and I can’t wait to get started.

If you would like adopt your own dinosaur friend to join you on your amazing adventures, you can visit our store where Archie’s friends live.

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Sports Science: Olympics Edition ‒ Gymnastics

Every four years, the eyes of the world shift towards a global competition, complete with feats of strength, determination, talent and teamwork. The Summer Olympics are back, and I could not be more excited. The following post is one of three about some of my favorite events.

The spotlight was on Gabby Douglas four years ago in London, as the American led the “Fierce Five” to a Gold Medal in the team gymnastics competition and earned Gold again in the individual all-around competition. This go-around, Douglas has taken a backseat to Simone Biles, a resident of Spring, TX and the favorite to win the individual all-around competition in Rio de Janeiro.

One of Biles’ best events is the balance beam, in which she has won individual Gold Medals at the World Championships the last two years. To earn the most points in this event, the gymnast must risk the most while avoiding a slip or fall.

OU Gymnastics at TWU - Beam

Maintaining your balance in everyday life is a case study in the physics concept called center of gravity. The center of gravity of an object is the singular point where all the components of the forces of gravity acting on the object balance out. If you grab a pencil and try to balance it on your finger, the point where it does not fall off either side is its center of gravity. The center of gravity of the human body is around the belly button; as long as the body’s center of gravity is over the person’s feet (or whatever part of the body is touching the ground), the person will remain upright.

high wire 2

The concept of center of gravity is how tightrope walkers stay on the rope. Usually, a tightrope walker will hold a long stick perpendicular to the rope; this spreads out the total weight and lowers the center of gravity of the person, making it more difficult to be knocked to one side. It’s much more difficult to knock over a bowl than a tall glass. As a result of the lower center of gravity, tightrope walkers have a generally easy time walking across!

However, this trick does not work on the balance beam. Biles and other gymnasts must have complete control of their center of gravity to keep from falling over to one side, and the space they have to balance over is thinner than the width of most people’s feet.

An Olympics regulation balance beam is five meters long but only 10 centimeters wide and held 125 centimeters off the ground. There is very little room for error. Simple maneuvers like turning 180⁰ can go horribly wrong with a slight movement. More complicated maneuvers like handsprings and free aerial cartwheels (both part of Biles’ routine at the 2016 Pacific Rim Championships) require hours of meticulous practice to avoid a fall.

OU Gymnastics at TWU - Beam

To complete those maneuvers, Biles relies on the concept of angular momentum. This is the idea that a spinning object will keep spinning at the same rate unless acted upon by an external force. Basically, for the optimum spin on a handspring or cartwheel, the gymnast must rotate around her center of gravity. If she does so, she will continue the spin all the way round until coming back into contact with the beam.

With some natural talent, hours of practice and the help of some physics, Biles and Team USA is in prime position to bring home Gold Medals galore!

Gymnastics events at the Rio Games begin Aug. 6 and conclude Aug. 16.

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Happy National S’mores day!

Happy National S’mores day! Do you love s’mores but don’t have a campfire to make one? Try these great ideas from Café Natalie, one of our exclusive Museum caterers.

Did you know these delicious treats are named literally for “some more”?

smores 1

Campfire Cones

1 Cup Mini Marshmallows
1 Cup Chocolate Chips

  • Mix marshmallows and chocolate chips and fill cones
  • Wrap cones in foil packet and place on the top shelf of grill away from heat and cook for 3-5 minutes

smores 2

S’mores Crepes

1 Cup Flour
2 Eggs
1/2 Cup Milk
1/2 Cup Water
1/4 tsp Salt
2 tbsp melted butter
1 cup marshmallow creme
1/2 cup chocolate chips

  • In a large bowl, combine flour and eggs while slowly adding in milk & water
  • Add butter and whisk until smooth
  • Head a lightly oiled small pan or griddle over medium high heat
  • Ladle batter into pan and spread batter into thin layer
  • Cook for about 2 minutes on each side
  • Allow crepes to cool before spreading a thin layer of marshmallow creme and adding chocolate chips
  • Broil for 1-2 minutes and fold before serving 

Our exclusive full-service caterers are trained in the policies and procedures of the Museum – making your event-planning process effortless. Each caterer is full-service and can customize your event to meet your specific needs. Learn more…

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Home Is Where The Heart Is

They say, “home is where the heart is”, and in my case that is true. However, home is also where you say things like, “Don’t kill that Black Widow. I need it…,” or “So………do you have any plans for that dead armadillo?

My parents live on a working ranch, complete with cows and buzzards, hay rakes and snakes. This affords me the opportunity, after chores are done and frankly sometimes during, to go science-ing.

Here’s everyone getting ready for vaccinations and the bovine version of OFF!

Here’s everyone getting ready for vaccinations and the bovine version of OFF!

This last visit, when various assignments were being discussed and doled out, I jumped on the wood pile. The premise of this chore was that a gate was left open or a latch broke somewhere, allowing the cows through a fence and into the yard around the house. Cows, being kind of curious by nature, ended up everywhere. One of those wheres landed the cows between the workshop and the wood pile because the cows wanted to scratch on all those log ends sticking out. Unfortunately for my parents, a 1,400 pound cow determined to scratch an itch is no match for a metal pipe rack and stacked wood and so over it went. Fortunately for me, critters live in wood piles….

My mom’s instructions were clear: make the wood pill neat. My instructions to my nephew and my sister-in-law were also clear: don’t smash anything good. The first new friend we found was this guy.

Who has eight legs and two pedipalps and is HUGE? This guy…

Who has eight legs and two pedipalps and is HUGE? This guy…

He is some species of wolf spider and he was GIGANTIC. This guy ended up getting some soapy water thrown on him because I wanted to pin him out (and he was also terrifyingly large), but everyone else we caught got to live.

spider 2The next new friend we found was a cousin to that wolf spider. I collected her because she has this beautiful blue egg sack. When we got her back to the Museum and put her in her new apartment, she was hungry! Several snacks later, she settled down under some leaves for a nap. (Update: She is loving living at the Museum! She has rearranged the furniture and plumped up a bit in anticipation of the arrival of her brood. Wolf spiders are great moms, so we will take some pictures of her and the fam once they arrive!)

black widowNow about the time I said, “Man, I’m super bummed we haven’t found any black widows,” this little lady showed up. I was super excited because we have been making some efforts to collect for an upcoming exhibit called Death by Natural Causes. She is a beautiful, fully grown Latrodectus mactans. How can you tell that she is fully grown? The juveniles have a red strip that runs down the back. When the spiders molt, the strip gets shorter and shorter until all you have is the tell-tale hour glass.

spider 3The next log I picked up, after scooping up the Black Widow, had this sweet little girl on it. What’s that you say? It’s a Brown Recluse? Why, yes it is. Both the Brown Recluse and the Black Widow have a bad reputation. Yes… both can potentially cause humans some problems, but they will also go above and beyond to avoid people if at all possible. Generally, the only time they bite is if they get pinned by a finger or arm or foot and are trying to defend themselves. You be nice to them; they’ll be nice to you.
spider 4At this point, I ran out of collecting containers but the day had just begun! The next critter that crawled out from under a log was this little Triatoma sanguisuga. Commonly known as kissing bugs, this little guys is possibly a vector for Chagas. There have been a number of studies initiated of late to keep track of Chagas transmission, but there isn’t a lot known about where it is and what it is infecting because most states don’t require anyone to keep track of the confirmed human cases.

The fastest new friend we made, and the only one we didn’t collect because I didn’t have the right parts with me, was this little guy. He was at the bottom of the pile eating all the critters we were trying to collect. He zipped out and under the rack when we disturbed the log he was under. My parents have lived on their ranch for about 15 years. In that time I have only seen four snakes: One was the little ribbon snake below, the second was a smaller version of this ribbon snake we saw the same day under a pile of hay, the third was a juvenile water moccasin sunning in the tank and the fourth was a coach whip. Conclusion: Snakes are good at hide and seek.

spider 5Later that day, after chores were done, we were sitting on the back porch with a Lone Star to cool off and this friend stopped by for a visit. Cicada nymph molts are generally what people know or see of Cicadas in Texas, although you are probably familiar with the noises they make as well. You will find the molts attached to tree bark or the brick of your house, split down the back. During their two to five-year life span, these cicadas spend just a couple months in the form you see in the picture. They are big but they are also 0% harmful to humans. They just want to chill out with you while you share a beer.

cicada

Also on the porch wanting to join the party? This female ox beetle. How can you tell it is female? The guys have these cool horns on their thorax that make them look like little beetle-y triceratops. Ox beetles live just a couple of months and are active during the summer. Their main job is recycling plant matter into compost, but that mostly happens in the larval form when they are just little, white, C-shaped grubs. They do fly in the adult form and, while it can be a little scary to unexpectedly find a big, brown, two-inch bug all up in your business, this guy is not harmful to humans at all. If you see one out, it is probably just cruising for a rotten log to lay some eggs.

ox beetle

The last critter of the day was this armadillo who met with an untimely death the night before when he ended up with the pool. As part of the shady, after chore discussions I asked my dad what he planned on doing with that armadillo. Ya know… because he had dibs. He indicated that his actual plan involved putting it in the woods to be recycled by the decomposers. I asked if I could have it for our education collections.

armadillo2
A little known fact, or at least something that most folks don’t think very hard about, is that all the specimens we use for teaching have to come from someplace and generally, you can’t get a pinned butterfly or a bobcat skull at Wal-mart. This being the case, we have to make or find all of our specimens for the teaching collection. Sometimes this is reeeaaalllly unpleasant.

It was the armadillo that causes my mom to question all of her life choices that led me to this point my life and wonder what she had done wrong. After dinner I hopped up to go skin the armadillo before it got dark. There was a lot of care taken on my part to keep clean because armadillos are known to carry leprosy. They are vectors for leprosy because armadillos and humans are about the same constant temperature and so the leprosy can snuggle right in and get comfy. People think that armadillos are giving leprosy to humans, but in reality humans probably gave it to them originally. You never see an armadillo exhibiting the signs of leprosy because they only live a short while. Two other fun facts about armadillos, the Aztecs called them āyōtōchtli, which translates to “turtle rabbit”; and, there are 21 extant species of armadillo that range from 5 to 59 inches long and 3 ounces to 120 pounds.

So, what do we do with all this stuff? It depends on the stuff. Most of these animals will get used in our live animal programs, labs, and summer camps. For those animals that are dead, or die after a long life of cricket pops and mealworm snacks, we try to preserve them for our educational collections. They may get used in the same programs, like the labs and the camps, but they also get put on display inside the classrooms, or for the special few, inside the Cabinet of Curiosities for you to come check out. So, if you do get the opportunity to check out some of our educational specimens, please be careful with them! It takes a couple of months to find, collect and/or make each one!

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