Dead Things That Might Be Under Your House!

The line between hallowed ground and home is a thin one in Houston. Our city isn’t exactly known for the preservationist spirit of its citizens, and looking out your window at skyscrapers or suburban expanses, you may not see any visible evidence of the city’s history, but that’s exactly the problem: You don’t see it because it’s under your feet!

Are you dubious of the of this assertion? Well, after we’re done I guarantee you will never rest assured that you are the only resident of your happy home. We will begin long ago, past the stretch of collective human memory. In this time, herds of Mammoths roamed over a cold savannah that stretched across North America. In this unfamiliar landscape, Giant Sloths thundered here and there using their huge, retractable claws to literally scratch an existence out of the land, and Glyptodons fought off saber-tooth cats.

When you think of Paleontology, you don’t think Houston, but the remnants of that epic world are here. In the Paleontology Hall of HMNS Sugarland there is displayed the skeleton of a giant armadillo, HolmesinaIn North America during the Pleistocene, armadillos the size of Volkswagen Beetles roamed Texas; Holmesina is a smaller species of armadillo cousin from that era. When I say “smaller”, I mean that instead of being 7 to 10 feet long and up to 5 feet tall, they were closer to 6 or so feet long and a couple feet tall. Still quite large… Our specimen was discovered in 1955 by Florence Dawdy, along with her son and a friend on Brays Bayou, not far from HMNS!



Holmesina specimen at HMNS Sugarland

A giant sloth was discovered not long ago in the Galveston area. Many don’t know this, but there was a time when the coast was a hundred miles further out from Houston than it is today, but as the glaciers melted at the end of the last ice age and ocean levels rose the graves of countless Pleistocene prey and several Human habitation sites were swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico. Occasionally spear points or fossilized camel bones will wash up on certain beaches in the area, like High Island. 


Megatherium, a type of ground sloth. Note the giant claws, which were retractable,like a cat’s claws!

A Columbian Mammoth was discovered in a sand pit in the town of Clute near the Lake Jackson area in 2003. Columbian mammoths are the less hairy cousins of the famous Wooly Mammoths. Both species thrived in the vast grasslands that stretched from Minnesota to Mexico 10,000 years ago. The Wooly’s tended to stay further north, while the Columbians roamed in the warmer Southern regions. 



Columbian Mammoths

The Columbian Mammoth was named after Christopher Columbus, the most famous explorer of the New World, because this species of mammoth is unique to the Western Hemisphere. The one found in Clute was the first mammoth to be discovered in the Texas Gulf Coast area. The mammoth is nicknamed Asiel, and if you’re ever in the area, you can stop by “Asiel’s Restaurant”, which boasts a replica of the skull, and an exhibit including some real fossils of deer, camel, and giant sloth that were also discovered in the area.

So there are indeed a few paleontological discoveries that have unexpectedly popped up in the Houston area. And who knows, maybe the next find is under you right now! Next week we will turn the dial of geological history forward to the era of human occupation to discuss some more intriguing specimens found lurking beneath the surface of our city.

Incidentally, we happen to have an entire Hall of Paleontology devoted to prehistoric North America here at HMNS, so next time you’re visiting, be sure to check that out. We have examples of all three animals discussed in the article.

A new sound in town!

By Nancy Greig, Director Emeritus, Cockrell Butterfly Center

As I was leaving the museum around 9 p.m. last week, after the fun “Evenings with the Owls” event at the Butterfly Center, my attention was piqued by an unfamiliar sound. It was a sort of double cheep, with the accent on the second cheep – I did not recognize it. (I think it’s interesting how we don’t consciously hear most background noises because they are familiar – but even subtle sounds stand out, if they are novel. Perhaps it is a good survival strategy.)

In any case, there were plenty of other sounds – cricket frogs, traffic, etc. – in the area, but I soon located the source of the cheeping, about 15 feet up in a large live oak tree. I was able to mimic it closely enough to get whatever was making the sound to answer back, and we called back and forth for a while. I was mystified. Was it a bird? Maybe. A frog? More likely. An insect? I wasn’t sure. So bringing modern technology to my aid, I pulled out my iPhone and recorded a short video – of blackness, since it was well after dark, but the sound recorded quite nicely. I posted the video to Facebook, flagging a couple friends who are bird and herp experts, asking for their opinion. Not five minutes later I got a reply that included a video and recording of the coqui, a small tree frog (Eleutherodactylus coqui) endemic to Puerto Rico. Several other FB friends concurred, and some also sent more recordings and photos. The mystery was solved!


Photo courtesy of California Fish and Wildlife

But not entirely. How did it get here? The coqui originated in Puerto Rico, but has been introduced to the Virgin Islands and Florida (in 1972), and in 1988, it arrived in Hawai’i (possibly in plant material from Florida). Since that accidental introduction, its populations in Hawai’i have exploded, especially on the big island. Some areas have as many as 10,000 frogs per acre, and the males’ incessant call, which continues throughout most of the night, is driving people crazy (and driving down real estate prices). In addition to being a major noise nuisance, all these frogs (in a place with no native amphibians, and few predators) almost certainly impact the delicate/fragile island ecosystem.


Eleutherodactylus is a very large genus of mostly small, usually brownish tree frogs (185 species, all in the New World tropics). All species have direct development – i.e., the eggs are not laid in water and there is no tadpole stage; the eggs hatch directly into tiny frogs). Most species show some form of parental care, males and/or females guarding the eggs or sometimes even the young froglets. Female coquis may be almost two inches long; males are somewhat smaller. In their native Puerto Rico, coquis are cherished and have become a national symbol.
None of my knowledgeable friends had heard of the coqui being reported from Texas, at least not from our area. However, Texas has one of the fastest growing Puerto Rican populations in the country. It’s not inconceivable that a recent immigrant inadvertently imported one of these frogs. Or perhaps a frog arrived in a shipment of plants from south Florida. I have not noticed the coqui’s call in any other part of Houston, but I will be keeping my ears open from here on out.

It’s unlikely that the coqui would become as big a nuisance here as in Hawai’i. There are plenty of local frogs and toads that would function as competitors, and plenty of predators (other frogs, lizards, birds, snakes) that will eat small frogs. Also, our area has the potential at least of having some freezing weather during winter months, although this has not happened recently. A significant cold snap would likely do in these tropical creatures. So it’s not clear if this is something to worry about. However, because of its impact in Hawai’i, the coqui is listed as one of the 100 most noxious invasive species in the world…
If you hear this call in your area, please let us know, or even better, send us a recording stating where you heard it. We’d like to help track the coqui’s presence here in Texas.


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.

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.

Use Science to “Hack” Your Big Idea this Weekend at HMNS!


Calling all particle physicists, designers, open source ninjas, molecular biologists, students, programmers, and rocket scientists to join forces at Science Hack Day Houston 2016, hosted by the Houston Museum of Natural Science!

Science Hack Day Houston is an overnight marathon event from April 2 to 3, open to anyone excited about making things through science. Join us to make, “hack” or invent cool things in an inspiring environment. All it takes is dedication and an insatiable curiosity. No experience necessary, but there is a catch — you and your team must race the clock to complete an experimental prototype within 30 consecutive hours.

Check out the full event schedule for more details, then use the map on the HMNS web site to find us. We suggest the HMNS Garage for all-weekend, overnight parking. We will give participants a coupon with a discount for this garage. For free three-hour parking, you can park at the Garden Center Lot or the Houston Zoo lots. Don’t forget public transit! A ticket on the MetroRail costs $1.25, and the museum is an eight-minute walk from the Hermann Park/Rice University station.

Science Hack Day is a hack-a-thon with a twist — anyone interested in science can share their thoughts, find a team, and form multidisciplinary teams of between two and five individuals to learn something new, have fun, and create a mind-blowing prototype within 30 hours. The idea is to mash up ideas, mediums, industries and people to spark inspiration for future collaborations. When participants arrive, there will be a few speakers and an hour of brainstorming and proposing hack ideas. You can pitch ideas, or join up with projects you’re interested in. After that, teams are free to get to work on their hacks. On Sunday afternoon, everyone will reconvene to check out the hacks and award prizes to the favorites. Registration is free for individuals and teams.

The Hacks: Have a great project in mind? Science Hack Day is a great place to work with eager Houstonians with all sorts of skills and hobbies to bring your ideas to life. It’s okay if you don’t arrive with hack ideas; we need all the creative minds we can find to help contribute in whatever way they can.

What to Bring: 

  1. Bring your laptop and charger and/or anything you would like to hack. We will have some gadgets you can borrow to hack.
  2. Do not bring food or beverages. We will provide all meals. Please take a look at the schedule. If you have dietary restrictions, please contact the SHDH committee.
  3. Bring a sweater – the museum can get very cold.
  4. You must bring a guardian if you are underage.

For the (Optional) Sleepover:

  1. Bring a sleeping bag, a cover and a sleeping pad. The floor at the museum is hard and cold, so prepare for those conditions.
  2. Bring a sleeping mask. Most lights will be on through the night.
  3. Bring some toiletries. It feels nice to change out your contacts and brush your teeth.
  4. Bring a change of clothes to feel fresh for the next day. You’ll feel better.

For more information please go to