Archie the Wandering T. rex Goes on a Road Trip

Archie’s blog written with the help of Victoria Smith, HMNS Assistant to the President

Hi! It’s me, Archie the Wandering T. rex! After seeing the National Parks Adventure 3D giant screen movie and spending time at National Parks Photography Project exhibit, I got inspired to go on my own adventure. Fortunately, I was able to hitch a ride and head out on the highway, looking for adventure, or whatever comes my way.

I got my kicks on Route 66

I got my kicks on Route 66

The epic road trip went across 3 states and 8 national parks. I was excited, but it took 2 days just to get out of Texas!!! We finally made it to New Mexico and our first National Park–El Malpais National Monument. Although the name means “bad place”, it was quite beautiful there. A lot of these formations started in the Cretaceous period, so I was amazed to see what happened in the last 65 million years!

I am the kind of dinosaur who like to make the most of my travels, so when I heard about the Junior Park Ranger program, I said, “Sign me up”!

I think I look pretty good in uniform, don’t you?

I think I look pretty good in uniform, don’t you?

Speaking of catching up on the past million years, I had an unexpected family reunion at the Rainbow Forrest Museum in Petrified Forest National Park. I know what you’re thinking: “Archie, the Petrified Forest features reptiles from the Triassic Period, and T. rexes weren’t around till the Cretaceous!” Well, my mother raised me to respect my elders, and if these ancestors are a few million years older than me, I’m still going to stop by and say hi when I’m in town.

Why yes, I did feel at home in the Painted Desert!

Why yes, I did feel at home in the Painted Desert!

Cousins!

Cousins!

The next day was the big day—the Grand Day, if you will. I got to raft on the Colorado River, and they even let me pilot the boat for a little bit. Since the river runs through the arid climate of Arizona, early Native American tribes settled in the area. We disembarked and viewed the petroglyphs on the canyon walls! The Grand Canyon itself was so amazing, I forgot to take pictures. All I can say is that everyone who has the opportunity should go visit! It was a reminder of what a wonderful world we do live in!

Cool art, hot rocks!

Cool art, hot rocks!

After that, the trip headed south—literally! Even though Montezuma’s Castle wasn’t built for royalty, it was impressive to see the cliff dwellings from hundreds of years ago. (But they want to tell a dinosaur about ancient? Please!) Saguaro National Park was also a spectacular site, thick with cactus that can even poke a T. rex. I didn’t realize how tall they got—they can be as tall as a T. rex is long! That’s 40 feet. I never thought I’d be intimidated by a cactus!

Since dinosaurs prefer warm environments, I’ve never really tried winter sports. Imagine my delight sledding on the sand dunes at White Sands National Park! On this trip, I also found out that you can get a National parks passport and get stamps at every stop. I have so many now!

Gotta catch ‘em all!

Gotta catch ‘em all!

When we went back through Texas I thought we were heading home, but it turns out El Paso is closer to San Diego, California than it is to Houston, Texas. No wonder it took two days to leave the state! The Guadalupe Mountains is the highest peak in Texas, and it contains Permian reef. Of course I felt so at home out there. This is a dinosaur dream trip!

We went from the highest peak in Texas to the low parts of New Mexico, and descended into the caves of Carlsbad Caverns. In the evening, I got to see some of the cave residents, when all the bats came flying out at dusk! There are over 400,000 Mexican free-tail bats living in the cave, and they are all hungry for mosquitos. I love bats!

T. rex trying to spelunk

T. rex trying to spelunk

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. After driving around for 3,000 miles, it was sure good to be back at HMNS . . . until I get inspired by the next exhibit. The Bill of Rights is coming soon! Does anyone want to do some research in D.C.? Road trip!!!

Archie Spends ‘A Day in the Life’ of a Museum Volunteer

By Jennifer Gerbode, HMNS Volunteer Coordinator

Hi everyone, it’s Archie the Wandering T. rex! I recently had some downtime in-between travels, so I decided to go on a small adventure of my own right here at home. The museum is always a busy and popular place! Between all the tours, the cool members events, and special exhibits, we need a lot of hands to make sure everything goes smoothly. Thankfully, we have a great group of people that do just that!

HMNS volunteers give their time to the museum and share their love of science and learning with the public. Anyone can be a volunteer, provided you are at least 18 years old and can commit to 40 volunteer hours per year. The volunteers tell me this is really easy to do; a couple hours every other week will do it.

Vol Office Door

Since it is summer, the Volunteer Office might seem quiet, but that doesn’t mean volunteers aren’t busy! Year-round, volunteers give guided tours to visitors of all ages in the permanent and special exhibit halls—and even take museum-related presentations out into the community via the Docents-to-Go program. During the school year, they also help with the HISD 4th grade program and the Early Investigations program geared for Kindergarten – 3rd grade.

Before Tour of HoA

I got to hear a few quick talking points about Hall of Americas before a tour began.

Once any morning tours and activities are over, it’s time for a quick lunch break! I sat down with some of the volunteers as they poured over exhibit halls notes and shared anecdotes about their time on the floor (Don’t worry! Some of these stories will be shared in a future blog, so stay tuned!)

After lunch, I decided to tag along as one of the volunteers grabbed a special key and went to open up a touch cart. As the name implies, touch carts are filled with touchable items that pertain to the exhibit where the cart is located. Most of the exhibits have at least one touch cart, while a few popular halls have more —The Morian Hall of Paleontology has six! To work a touch cart, volunteers don’t have to be an expert on the entire hall; they only need to know a few key facts about one or two intriguing items in the cart.

We ended up talking about mummification in the Hall of Ancient Egypt at a cart the volunteers lovingly call “Himself.” They call it Himself because, according to Royal Decree, the King was always referred to as ‘Himself.’ Since the cart is in the shape of an anthropoid (or human-shaped) coffin with both hands crossed in front (the sign of a king), the name is most appropriate.

Fun at Himself

Uh… shabtis? A little help?

After we spent some time at the “Himself” touch cart, my volunteer friend suggested I check out one of the demonstration stations scattered through the exhibits. These volunteer-run stations show science in action and allow for a little more hands-on approach. For mad scientists, the Chemistry demo area is the perfect place to talk about reactions (while playing with fire). For those with a passion for sparkly gems and their creation, the Rock Star gem polishing station is situated right inside Fabergé: From a Snowflake to an Iceberg. What better place to demonstrate what a facet or a cabochon is?

Rock Star Station

While it’s not an everyday event, volunteers also help prepare and run the craft tables at the many member events throughout the year. I was able to hang out with Ben, a frequent volunteer at craft events, as we showed off a few crafts being prepared from upcoming and past special events.

Archie and Ben

Before I knew it, I had spent the whole day with the volunteers! Not all volunteers spend a full day at the museum—and no one participates in, or knows, everything. Volunteers get to pick and choose what to do based on their schedule and interests. The one thing that all volunteers share though is a passion for learning, and a desire to share knowledge with others.

Interested in becoming a volunteer at HMNS? Check out the Volunteer page on the HMNS website for more information opportunities at HMNS’ three locations, requirements, and application instructions. Interviews will open for new applicants beginning July 18, with the first school-year orientations scheduled for late August.

Until my next exotic adventure… see you in the halls!

Shadow Archie

Did Dinosaurs Invent Flowers? (with a big assist from flies and beetles)

There was a Veggie-saur revolution at the start of the Cretaceous Period — did it cause flowers to appear?

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Brief History of Land Plants and Critters Who Ate Them

In today’s world, on dry land, flowering plants — aka angiosperms — are the Number 1   Ruling Class of vegetation. In the tropical rain forests, where plant species are the most diverse, just about all the trees are flowering plants. And so are most of the shrubs and vines and low-growing herbs, plus all the grasses too. The non-flowering plants with seeds, the gymnosperms, do include some famous species. The needle-leaved conifer trees, like pines and cedars and noble redwoods of California, win fame as
the tallest gymnosperms. And best-looking too. In addition, gymnosperms can boast of cycads, with their super-stiff palm-style leaves, and the ginkos, whose graceful leaves ornament many a college street. (But don’t step on the fruit — its stink is so bad that many a town has banished the female trees, leaving only the odor-free males to line the sidewalks). 

But compared to the angiosperms, the gymnos are secondary players who do very well only in odd habitats, like dry, sandy soil or frigidly cold northern forests. 

Don’t think it’s always been that way. If you time-traveled back to the Jurassic, you’d see no angiosperms at all. Nada. Nyet. Neither trees nor shrubs nor grass. Stegosaurus and Brontosaurus looked out on a dull green landscape without any brightly colored flowers. Jurassic woodlands had magnificent groves of conifers mingled with some stately tall cycads and a surprising array of ginkos. But no plants with flowers. We get the very first
fossil hints of flowering plants early in the Cretaceous: some pollen grains, some leaves, even some flower parts, most very small. Then, as we go later and later in the Cretaceous sediments, we see the angiosperms proliferating in variety and expanding in numbers. By the late Late Cretaceous, the great herbivorous dinos like Ankylosaurus and Triceratops cavorted among a kaleidoscope of brilliant spring flowers.

What released the evolutionary potential of the angios?

Bugs must take a lot of the credit. Most gymnosperms reproduce pinestyle — they rely on the wind to spread pollen from tree to tree. Early angiosperms could spread their pollen by hitchhiking on bug backs and bug snouts. Flowers are devices to seduce insects with the promise of yummy free meals. The aroma of flowers brings in flying critters who enjoy the repast and then fly away, carrying a load of pollen to fertilize the next 2 plant. So, bug pollinators are especially important to plants which have their populations in patches, spread far and wide. 

Speaking of patchiness, when angiosperms first appeared they were NOT tall, stately trees. Nope. The Ur-Angiosperms were aggressive opportunists, scraggly little botanical carpet-baggers. If there were a movie of the first angiosperm he’d be played by Danny DiVito. These devious plants waited until disaster struck and they moved into disturbed
neighborhoods, places where the native gymnosperm vegetation had been washed away by storms or blasted by wind, or buried in layers of mud. The invading angios had just the right adaptive equipment to exploit blighted habitats. Their seeds spread easily and sprouted fast. The young sprouts grew like weeds — well, in fact, they were weeds, weedy bushes and other plants of low stature. So the angios could fill holes blasted into the
botanical architecture completely and quickly.

For the Early Cretaceous angios, it was an unsettled life. In each disturbed patch, eventually, the slower-growing gymnosperm plants might re-invade and work their way back into the land taken over by the flowering plants. But that was ok. New disaster areas always opened up somewhere else and the angios would do their thing again. Of course, every time, the bug connection was a big help in letting the angios reproduce and share genes all over the new patches of habitat. But wait……….there’s another animal-plant connection that was working to help the early flowering plants. Not tweensy bug-oids but gargantuan plant-eaters.

If you are reading these lines and are a game ranger from one of the great African parks you’d be yelling “You forgot over-grazing! Over-browsing! Elephants, rhinos, Cape Buffalo!

Hippos!!!!!! 

Amber plant munchers Text and Image 2016002

How to overgraze an Early Cretaceous Woodland and Open Patches for Angiosperms.

You see, for clearing out vegetation, big herbivores can be far worse than floods and storms. A herd of multiton pachyderms can function as grazers, eating all the grass and other low-growing greenery, and as browsers, picking out the fruit and branches and leaves of shrubs and saplings. And then, when they’re done, really big, elephant-sized plant-eaters knock down the trees and eat the plant parts on tree tops. Before they were badly poached, white rhinos and black rhinos did a job on many local African habitats, assisted by huge herds of Cape Buffalo. When elephant populations exploded in Amboseli Park, the lush forest was transformed into a dry forest which was transformed into a blighted woodland with denuded soil.

In the American West, unscrupulous absentee owners sometimes cram far too many cows into an area where luxuriant bushes line the creeks and edges of ponds. Soon all the underbrush is gone and so is the grass.

A plague of beefy herbivores, herefords or buffalo, opens the way for unwanted weeds — in my native Texas, mesquite, cedar, and prickly pear. With over-grazing and over-browsing in mind, we should check out the veggie-saurs of the Jurassic and Cretaceous. And when we do, we see an extraordinary re-structuring of giant vegetarians.

The Jurassic might be called the “Giraffa-zoic” because, on average, the big plant-eaters were tall to very tall to unbelievably tall. Long-necked brontosaurians like Brachiosaurus could reach up twenty five feet or more into the tree tops. Their distant cousins, the Diplodocus clan, not only had long necks but also had immensely strong and heavy rumps and thighs so they could rear up and choose among the most tasty branches and leaves in the tree tops. These long-necks reached the body weight of a half dozen
bull elephants — 50 tons or more.

In the same Jurassic habitats, stegosaurs fed in and around the long-necked herds. Though they had necks of only modest length, the stegos could rear up, so their browsing could sample plants at fifteen feet above the ground. 

All these high-browsers could search low-growing plants as well. That way the feeding pressure on the plant community was spread over an extraordinarily wide vertical range, from zero to forty feet. Specialized ground feeders were rare and not very big in Jurassic times. Some armorplated dinos, the ankylosaurians, carried their heads low all the time but rarely exceeded a ton in weight. Camptosaurs, primitive relatives of duck-bill dinos, were roughly pony-size in body build. The campto necks were permanently down-flexed for concentrated feeding close to the ground surface.

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Early Cretaceous Iguanodont Sampling the New Angiosperm Salad Bar.

This array of high-feeding vegetarian tactics had evolved early in the Period and lasted right through to the very end of the Jurassic Period, about 140 million years ago. Then it happened — Vegetarian Revolution. As the Cretaceous began, stegosaurs died out most places. In their place came new waves of armored ankylosaurians, all feeding low, close to the ground. These new armored veggie-saurs rapidly achieved body sizes in the elephant range. Long-necked brontosaurians persisted but lost some diversity. The camptosaur-kin evolved into the famous “Thumb Spike Clan”, the iguanodonts. These chaps had first fingers modified into sharp, stout stabbing weapons (probably for fighting among themselves as much as repelling would-be predators). The iguanodonts had necks curved down so the head was quite low.

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The Shift from Many High Feeders in the Jurassic to Many Low Feeders in the Cretaceous.

To summarize: In the Jurassic, plants were subjected to herbivore attacks spread from zero feet above the ground to twenty, thirty or forty feet. Once the Cretaceous began, the feeding became concentrated in lower and lower levels.

For low vegetation, it got worse as the Cretaceous world matured. More and more massive herbivores entered the low-feeding zones. Horned dinosaurs and duckbills had low head posture and must have done most of their feeding within a yard or two above the soil.

See the connection to angiosperm origins? The intensified pressure inflicted by vegetarianism upon gymosperms produced many more spots devastated by over-grazing and over-browsing. Therefore, the veggiesaurrevolution probably opened the opportunities for early flowering plants to expand and take over many more acres of landscape. With the collaboration of pollinating bugs.

If you are a fan of flowers — and who isn’t? –you must doff your hat to those Cretaceous maxi-herbivores, the low-level dinosaurian behemoths. These veggie-saurs disturbed wide swathes of woodland and forest, splendid opportunities for the first waves of flowering-plant evolution. 

 

The Adventures of Archie the Wandering T. rex: England

by Karen Whitley

Man am I one lucky dinosaur. When I was adopted last summer from the Museum Store at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, I had no idea I was on my way to becoming a world traveler, a globetrotter, an adventurer if you will. Just call me Lemuel Gulliver! (Like from Gulliver’s Travels? Get it??)

Well, actually, I was given the name Archibald… (Pretentious much?) But you can call me Archie. While my cousins and friends all waited to be adopted, I packed my suitcase (let me tell you, not so easy with short arms) and began my new life. A life filled with far off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise… eh, maybe not so much. Let’s just say my human watches a little too much Disney.

To celebrate, my new family and I went off on a summer vacation! I did worry about the airplane, I mean flying dinosaurs….it’s not natural. But luckily everything went smoothly. The food wasn’t great and all, but I did get to catch up on some movies, and they even gave me some wings! I’m telling you, wings on a dinosaur… Not natural. Before I knew it, we had set down in Merry Ol’ England. Did you know they have a queen and princes (I wonder if they are in disguise), but no king? Guess I’m the king around here!AirportLondon is such a busy city! Taxi drivers zooming in and out, people filling the sidewalks, lines of big red buses everywhere. There was so much to see and do: from walks in St. James Park and Kensington Gardens (and ice cream), to Westminster Abby, Buckingham Palace (and ice cream), St. Paul’s Cathedral, LEGOLAND (and ice cream), and more (plus more ice cream)! The adventure never stopped! Here are just a few highlights from this great country.

There was this old clock that everyone was taking photos with… Big Ben, I’m told. Do you think I can get people to call me Big Archie? I won’t lie; for a clock, it was pretty spectacular. I reminds me of the Chronophage back home at HMNS.Big BenOM NOM NOM!! Look at me, I’m eating the clock! Godzilla IRL! LOL! JK…Eating Big BenThen we went on this giant Ferris wheel called the London Eye. We got a really cool bird’s-eye view of London, but for some reason people kept taking photos of me, even people in the pods next to us. Guess they had never seen a blue dinosaur before. It ain’t easy being blue.London EyeHey look, there’s the clock thing again! See it to the right?London Eye 4I even went on my first boat ride down the Thames to see the London Bridge (eh, not that impressed…) and the Tower Bridge (now THERE’s a bridge!), where we ended up at the Tower of London.Tower Bridge 2You’ll be happy to know that the ravens were present and accounted for when I left. I did try to eat a few, but since apparently that would have been disastrous to the realm of England. They kept them pretty safe. What do you think, would I make a good guard? (I’m pretty good at standing still…)Guard TowerWe did leave London to go out into the country to visit Leeds Castle in Kent, which was amazing! I mean, it has a moat. Who doesn’t love a moat?Castle LeedsThere was a tricky maze, which is not easy when you’re nine inches tall (Ok, eight and a half, but who’s counting?), but I didn’t let it stop me. Here’s me in the center of the maze!Castle Leeds Maze 2My final adventure in England was at King’s Cross Station where I journeyed onto Platform 9 3/4. They even sorted me into a house, Ravenclaw… They seemed to think it was where I belonged before I ran through the wall. Hmmm, magic, princes, a far off place… All we needed was a sword fight. Maybe my life is turning out like a Disney film, after all.Harry PotterSpeaking of Disney, tune in again in a couple of weeks as I tell you about my adventures in Paris that includes a trip to Disney! As for this trip to England, that’s about all the stories I have to tell. Until next time!

Oh, I almost forgot. I’ve got a big family still waiting to be adopted at the HMNS Museum Store! Stop by and meet them all, including my big brother! If they’re lucky, maybe you’ll take them on adventures, too!

Editor’s Note: Karen is Birthday Party Manager in the HMNS Marketing department.