Peruse Sugar Land’s new Paleo Hall — it’s newly doubled in size and open now!

HMNS at Sugar Land has quite the pretty new Paleo Hall.

Check out the stunning new Paleo Hall in Sugar Land!

With 5,000 square feet of major mounts (including a Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus rex and Giant Ground Sloth), an impressive selection of trilobites, detailed to-scale models and an animated prehistoric aquarium, it’s got more than enough to interest a developing dino-lover or a seasoned fossil expert.

We've got trilobites

The trilobite section is one of the best in the area.

Fossilized in-ground Stegosaurus

Check out this fossilized in-ground Stegosaurus!

Triceratops

The Sugar Land Triceratops skeleton features a full tail.

Giant Armadillo

A fossilized prehistoric giant armadillo is just one of the specimens that once existed in the Texas area. To schedule your next visit to HMNS Sugar Land, click here.

100 Years – 100 Objects: Giant Armadillo

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from David, the museum’s associate curator of paleontology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent the most fascinating fossils in the Museum’s collections, that we’ll be sharing here – and on www.hmns.org – throughout the year.

The armadillo is an iconic animal in Texas, and this relative of the smaller, modern forms takes “Texas-sizing” to the extreme. This species, commonly known as Giant Armadillo, would have been nearly 6 feet long and weighed nearly 500 pounds. Like its modern cousin, this ancient animal was an immigrant to North America from the south, slowly migrating northward and subsisting of a diet of mostly plants and perhaps insects. The giant armadillo roamed and rooted along the Gulf Coast and as far north as southern Oklahoma, but disappeared about 10,000 years ago.

The Museum’s Giant Armadillo is a Houston fossil, discovered in 1955 by Florence Dawdy, a teacher, with her school age son and a friend near the old Scott Street Bridge on Brays Bayou.  Her family’s curiosity and concern about the fossil brought the find to the attention of the geology department at the University of Houston. This decision saved the fossil from further erosion or looting. UH students and volunteers excavated the fossil and provided the initial curation. It was described as part of a Masters Thesis at UH and then later published by Gideon James in the Journal of Paleontology, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp796-808, July 1957, An Edentate from the Pleistocene of Texas.

For over 30 years, the Museum’s Giant Armadillo was the best example of Holmesina septentrionalis known to science, and it is still one of the most complete.

The Giant Armadillo was given to the Museum by the University of Houston and was mounted by proceeds raised from the Museum’s 1991 armadillo-themed Guild Gala. The specimen was mounted in two dimensions as a plaque, so visitors would experience the fossil as it was originally found.

Wander among prehistoric beasts in the Paleontology Hall, a permanent exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see larger and more detailed images of this rare specimen – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the photo gallery on hmns.org.

Summer Encounters – Brazos Bend State Park

Oak tree

Welcoming Oak Tree

Last summer I was introduced to Brazos Bend State Park. I found many amazing animals living amongst the tall swamp reeds and old oak trees. Recently, I spent a weekend down there camping with my family. I’d like to share some of the beautiful animals we encountered on this visit.

Now, like many people, I’m not particularly fond of certain small, creepy-crawlies, including my least favorite: ticks! Unfortunately (and much to my dismay) I was feasted upon by one tiny tick. However, when I was given an opportunity to watch a spider feast upon its own meal, I didn’t feel the same distress. Near our campsite, there were plenty of enormous spiders for us to observe. I was astounded by the size and beauty of the Golden Silk Spider, Nephila clavipes, often called the Banana Spider.

Golden Silk Spider

Golden Silk Spider

She is relatively harmless to humans, but has an impressive web and can take down dragonflies. This species are also a cannibalistic species, preying upon their own kind. The males live on the backside of the web from the female, risking their lives to mate when the time is right. I witnessed a large female dining on a smaller female early one morning. Apparently, it is not such a good idea to build your web directly in front of a larger, hungrier silk spider! If you look closely at the photo to the right, you may be able to see the much smaller male sitting a couple of inches to the left of the female.

As a side note, I learned that another spider, the Brazilian Wandering Spider, Phoneutria nigriventer, is also often called a Banana Spider. This spider can be fatal to humans and should not be taken lightly.

Another favorite invertebrate that I was able to find at Brazos Bend State Park is the firefly (not to be confused with the excellent, but short TV series Firefly), also known as lightning bugs. Last summer was the first time I had ever seen them and I was still very excited when I saw them again this summer. I also managed to catch one and study it up close, watching as the abdomen slowly glowed on and off. These beetles use their bioluminescence to communicate with each other. Each species of firefly has their own, distinct pattern they flash to attract a mate. The male flashes his pattern while flying around, hoping to find a female responding to his light with her own light show. However, some females will mimic the pattern of another species in order to catch their dinner!

Lightning Bug

Lightning Bug

While walking around Elm lake, you can’t help but notice all of the beautiful water birds. They share the lake with the alligators, seemingly unaware of the dark eyes resting at the edge of the water’s surface. During the summer, you can easily spot pairs of white ibises, egrets & herons, common moorhens, black-bellied whistling ducks, and on occasion you may spot an osprey or wood stork. Below, I’ve posted a photo of a Green Heron, Butorides virescens, looking for his lunch amongst all of the duckweed. Green Herons typically hunt small aquatic animals including invertebrates, small fish, & frogs. It has been known to “bait” for fish, dropping a small item on the surface of the water and waiting to catch the fish attracted to the lure.

Green Heron

Green Heron

The last animal I want to bring up from my encounters at Brazos Bend State Park is the Nine-Banded Armadillo, Dasypus novemcinctus. We were hiking on a path near the George Observatory while we waited to buy tickets to look through the telescopes later that evening. My well-trained ears told me there was an animal moving about in the underbrush nearby. I turned to look and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw my first armadillo! The novelty of this new mammal had me snapping pictures left and right, spending a good 20 minutes observing its search for food.

Nine Banded Armadillo

Nine-Banded Armadillo

Eventually, my dogs noticed this new creature and started barking. By this time, the armadillo had meandered right near the path and upon being frightened by the dogs, he did an about-face and nearly ran straight into my friend’s legs! He eventually found his way back to the denser foliage and continued foraging for lunch. After this first encounter, we later came across 4 more juveniles, these were much quicker to run away from us than the first adult we observed.

The nine-banded armadillo may be opportunistic, eating whatever food they come across, but mostly they eat a wide variety of invertebrates: caterpillars, scarab beetles, grubs, termites, & worms. They will also eat carrion and occasionally crustaceans, fruit, reptiles & amphibians. Armadillos are excellent diggers but have poor vision. When frightened, they may jump straight into the air!

Armadillos are capable of crossing water in two interesting ways. In order to get around the problem of their heavy armor, the armadillo can hold its breath and simply walk across the bottom of a body of water. However, they are able to swim by inflating their stomach to offer some bouyancy. Nine-banded armadillos have identical quadruplets around March, the young staying with the mother for several months.

If you would like to see more photos from Brazos Bend State Park, please visit the BBSP Flickr group webpage. You can also find a wide variety of photos from HMNS at their Flickr group page as well. I am still working on updating my own Flickr page with Museum-related photos, but in the meantime, enjoy this one last photo of the largest alligator I’ve seen at Brazos Bend. I was standing directly above him on a dock at Hale lake. My best guess at his length: 12-14 feet long!

Large Alligator

American Alligator