Dipsy the Diplodocus is back at HMNS!

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After a 2 year absence, “Dipsy” the Diplodocus is back at HMNS!  Making it’s debut back in 1975, Dipsy was the first dinosaur to call HMNS home. In 2013, our Diplodocus was de-installed from its original place in the Glassell Hall and sent off for a much needed spa retreat in Utah. While there, the bones were carefully cleaned and a new mounting frame designed. This week, she arrived back in Houston and was permanently installed in our Morian Hall of Paleontology.

Diplodocus installation, March 2015

Spine, tail and rib bones go up first. Followed by the legs.

Front leg installation.  Dipsy's stance has been modified from it's previous posture. Now, the skeleton assumes a tripod stance, as if rearing up to feed on leaves.

Front leg installation: Dipsy’s stance has been modified from it’s previous posture. Now, the skeleton assumes a tripod stance, as if rearing up to feed on leaves.

Associate Curator of Paleontology, David Temple, overseeing the installation process.

HMNS Associate Curator of Paleontology, David Temple, oversaw the installation process.

 Fun Facts about “Dipsy” the Diplodocus

  • This particular Diplodocus skeleton is a holotype for Diplodocus hayii. A holotype is a single physical example (or illustration) of an organism, known to have been used when the species was formally described. HMNS is the only place in the world where you can see a Diplodocus hayii on display.
  • Paleontologists don’t know for sure whether Dipsy is male or female.
  • Diplodocus hayii were herbivores. Their skulls, however, have many small, sharp teeth. These were used for stripping plants, not for chewing.
  • This skeleton is 72 feet long and about 25 feet high.
Dipsy's skull was the last piece  to be installed. Notice the small, sharp teeth present.

Dipsy’s skull was the last piece to be installed. Notice the small, sharp teeth present.

For more photos of the installation, visit out Instagram page.

Kathy Reichs of Bones (Temperance Brennan IRL) visits HMNS and talks scientific vs. script-writing, creating the “crimedy” & more

What better place for the creator of Bones to give a presentation than at the Houston Museum of Natural Science?

Dr. Kathy Reichs — forensic anthropologist, best-selling author and real-life inspiration for the popular television series (and original “crimedy“) Bones — spoke to students of HCC’s Northwest Audio Recording & Filmmaking Department on Sept. 7 — and we snuck in to share some tales from the real-life Temperance Brennan.

Dr. Kathy Reich

For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Kathy Reichs has spun her real-life experiences into more than a dozen best-selling fiction novels since 1997. Then in 2005, FOX adapted her novels into a comedic crime series (called the “crimedy”), based around Reichs’ semi-autobiographical heroine, Temperance Brennan. And in a quirky TV twist, TV’s Temperance Brennan also writes crime novels in her spare time — about a fictional forensic anthropologist named Kathy Reichs.

With her latest book, Bones are Forever, out now, with Bones entering its eighth season and with a new series of young adult novels written with her son Brendan, Reichs took the time out to talk process, crack some (OK, a lot of) jokes and chat about how she sold her first novel on the first try — and won an award for it.

Dr. Kathy Reich

Here are the highlights:

Reichs found success via the old adage “write what you know.” Although the crimes featured in her novels draw from real-life experience, she changes names, places and dates. “I take a case and then ask myself, ‘What if?’ and spin off from there,” she says.

To say that Reichs has had an adventurous career would be an understatement. She has been hired by the Catholic church to exhume the body of a 1700s woman being considered for sainthood. She did disaster recovery work after Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11 attacks. She has also worked on human rights cases in Guatemala and Rwanda.

Reichs is extremely involved in the writing room on the set of Bones, keeping the science honest and even penning an episode — “The Witch in the Wardrobe” — herself! She says the lab featured in the show is realistic — nothing exists in the lab that doesn’t exist in the real world — but she’s never been in a lab that nice.

The Tempe on TV is not the Tempe of Reichs’ books, but she’s OK with that. “I think of the TV show as a prequel,” Reichs says. “It’s early Tempe; she hasn’t come into herself yet.”

Reichs says being a good anthropologist aided her writing. “If you’re a good observer, you can’t help but be a good writer.”

Dr. Reichs donated her honorarium to raise awareness for Houston Community College Northwest’s Audio Recording and Filmmaking Department. To learn more about Reichs’ work, her latest novel and her young adult series, “Virals,” click here.

The Seymour Blob: Putting something in your head from the ground beneath your feet

As you may already know, the Houston Museum of Natural Science has long been digging up wonderful Permian fossils in Seymour, Texas. Curator of Paleontology Dr. Robert T. Bakker and his team of hot, tired and pink (from the dirt) volunteers have made major finds, but sometimes it’s the little things that count — like finding little amphibians, such as the boomerang-headed Diplocaulus and the snake-like Lysorophus, too.

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The rock stars of the Seymour dig are people like Chris Flis, who finds bones everywhere. There are also geologists on the team, like Gretchen Sparks, who are interested in sedimentology (how the dirt got there) and who pick up interesting bits and wonder what they are.

This is a warty blob (that’s a technical term) that she found. It sort of looks like a bone or a burrow dug by something. I tested it and found that it is made of calcium carbonate.

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To see more, I ground and polished the end. Now we can see that this is not a bone because it does not have a marrow cavity or bone lamellae. Warty surfaces like this are frequently found on the outsides of arthropod burrows because the animal lines the burrow with spit and sediments balls — but the warty parts of these structures are inside and on the exterior, so this is not a shrimp burrow.

The flowery appearance of the growth indicates that this is caliche, one of those sedimentary features that often get little attention.

Caliche is a hard-water deposit on steroids. Caliche forms in dry areas like North Texas when more water evaporates from the surface of the ground than falls as rain. Ground water dissolves minerals like calcium carbonate and gypsum from the soil and rock. When the water evaporates from the surface, these minerals are deposited in flowery growths called “efflorescences”.

The climate in Seymour is so dry that caliche is growing right now. During the Permian (about 250 million years ago), the climate must have been even dryer, because we find bands of caliche in the soil. Each band represents an ancient soil layer.

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We can even tell the history of the caliche deposition. The interpretation is based on what covers what:

A.    White layer was deposited in a nearly flat crack in the dirt. Note the white flowers.
B.    The pink layer covers the white and has the same shape of flowers but contains more iron.
C.    Layer B was partially covered by darker pink laminations. The laminations indicate that crystal growth was much slower.
D.    The blob fractured and the dark red layer of sediment was deposited along with fragments of Layers A and B. This is a mini sedimentary dike.
E.    Since Layer D is made of sediment and not hard caliche, it shrank and cracked in the process of drying. This crack was filled with a quickly-deposited rind of fine grained white material followed by very slow growing clear crystals, making the darker band inside the white. This looks like an agate filling but is still carbonate.

Were all these layers deposited 250 million years ago? That actually would be easy to tell, because young carbonate has a carbon delta C13 signature well within the 50,000 year sensitivity range for the method. It just costs money to have the analysis done, and there are probably better uses for the resources right now – like having more specimens mounted!

I conclude that the warty bone-looking thing is really an inorganic crystallization of carbonate and possibly gypsum. Did you know you could learn so much from gravel?

Mystery Skeleton – Update 4

While I was waiting for the skull to dry I checked out the bits and pieces.  A few curious traits stood out and I may be a bit closer to the cause of death for our mystery Fido.

Item 1:plaque.JPG

A weird chalky white substance was on several of the teeth.  I noticed it first on the big back teeth dogs use to crack bones. At first I tried to figure out where the skull would have been that mortar could have gotten on the teeth.  Then it hit me.  Not mortar.  Tartar.  This is what old bleached tooth plaque looks like.  Who knew.  So, what does any good skeleton preparer do with tooth plaque?  She gets herself a dental pick to clean said teeth.  No joke.  It is in my car right now.  This is a significant build up.  You can also see where the gum-line ended as that is the highest place the plaque rests on the tooth.

Item 2:

The next item of question is the amount of wear on the teeth in such weird places.  Here you have a picture of Millie’s teeth.  I went to the vet at the end of June and she told me to get soft Frisbee for Millie as her teeth are really getting worn.  Compare her canine teeth (the pointy ones in front) to mystery skeleton’s.

Mystery skeleton upper jaw.Millie’s worn teeth. Broken bottom canine teeth.

Now, in the first picture, you can see mystery skeleton’s canine’s resting on my thumb.  The point is nice and sharp. Millie’s teeth are in the next picture. Her upper teeth are squared off, but still fairly long.  The lower teeth are flat and end at her gum line.  She is about six years old.  So comparing the two sets of teeth, I would say that the mystery skeleton is an adult – all the bones in the vat are completely fused – and probably about 2 or 3 years old.  NOW!  Look at the third picture closely.  This is where things get weird.  The lower canines are totally broken off, but have been worn smooth.  You can actually see the quick – look for the two tiny dark colored circles in the center of each tooth.  This means that the tooth was broken off and that the dog lived long enough to work the teeth on something to even out the rough bits.  It had to have been painful.  Think about an exposed tooth when you get a crown.

Item 3:

On the inside of the lower right jaw, I found an interesting spot.  Literally.  There is a huge cavity in one of the teeth.  Huge.  I have had a couple small ones in my life, but never one that big.  Once again.  Painful.  Cavity.

Conclusion:  This dog had serious issues with his teeth.  The pain from the teeth probably made it uncomfortable to eat and quite possibly contributed to his demise.