Swept away by Sharknado: Taking a bite out of our shark fears

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year (if you have, congrats! You made it back!) you’ve probably heard of a little genius of a film called Sharknado (playing this Friday, August 8 in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre).

As the title implies, it’s about sharks and tornadoes — more specifically, water spouts off the coast of southern California which wreak havoc on L.A. as they flood the city while simultaneously picking up and distributing ravenous airborne man-eating sharks — and a motley crew, including the one and only Tara Reid, who defies the terror of the sharks to save the day. It’s a classic tale of guy meets girl, guy and girl fall in love, guy and girl get divorced, sharks attack, guy gets girl back.

Why Sharknado got snubbed at the Oscars, I’ll never know.

Now I must admit I was a little apprehensive of the film when I first heard of it. As a child who saw Jaws too soon (also showing in the GST this month), as you may have been as well, you hear the word “SHARK” and feel something like this…

And who can blame you?! Negative images of sharks are everywhere. But they actually haven’t been around for all that long. At the turn of the 20th century, most people believed that sharks had never attacked a human being. Now, we know that occasionally this does happen. There were 7 people who died from shark attacks in the world in 2012 (meaning your chance of being one of those people is literally less than one in a BILLION). Compare that to the 33,561 people who died in car accidents in the U.S. in 2012. So the early 20th century perception is actually closer to the truth than modern perceptions (most people believe their risk of getting eaten by a shark to be much, much higher).

So what happened?

In the summer of 1916 there was a horrifying case of a rogue great white shark that ate several people along the New Jersey coast, and the event received a lot of press. Then during WWII, stories of shipwrecked sailors and others stranded in the ocean getting eaten by sharks began to permeate popular culture. All of which helped to set the stage for Jaws to come along and scare the pants off America.

In this movie, Spielberg really hit a chord with American audiences; just think about how much this movie has seeped into our collective consciousness. Everything from the opening music, Baaa-da. Baaa-da. Ba-da ba-da. Ba-da-ba-da-badabada…, to the line (from the sequel’s trailer, mind you) “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…” that sends shivers down our spines.

“So why should we watch Sharknado?” you ask, “Isn’t this just perpetuating irrational fears about getting eaten by sharks?” Perhaps, but consider this: Sharknado presents the perfect way for us to get over our fear of sharks.

By taking this fear and placing it in the most ridiculous context ever, in a low budget B Movie, with a plot full of holes so big you could drive a truck through them, we can remove ourselves enough from the situation to have some perspective. When we watch Sharknado we can laugh at our fears while watching a rollicking, action-packed film full of spectacle and get swept away (pun intended) into this fantasy world.

Jaws took place in our backyard, Sharknado in some alternate universe where Tara Reid is still an ingénue.

When we leave the theatre we aren’t scared of the world around us, we’re too busy taking in the unabashed ridiculousness of the film, tweeting our friends all the way home.

So let’s take a bite out of our crazy irrational fears and embrace Sharknado for the awesome cultural phenomenon that it is Friday, August 8 at HMNS!

In case you need some more convincing, watch the trailer below! Want to learn more about how awesome sharks are? Come to HMNS starting August 29 for our SHARK Exhibition!

 

 

Hittin’ the road with the HMNS Paleo crew!

BB describing boomerhead

I got the chance to travel from Houston to Seymour, TX and explore the Texas Redbeds in search of fossils with David and the HMNS Paleo Program. HMNS staff and volunteers have been making these trips for four years now. They have found several excellent specimens and brought them here to prepare for our new and improved Paleontology Hall. I’d had some experience looking at the bones and things that the crew had been bringing back to the Museum but this was my first experience actually in the field – and I was pretty excited!

Drawing of a Diplocaulus

The first morning we arrived at the site and looked around at a few different locations before settling down in the “pit” to dig. I got to spend a little time training my eyes to see fossilized bone, teeth, cartilage and coprolites among the rocks at the “spoil pile” which is a great experience because the ratio of fossils to rocks on the surface is such that you have a pretty good chance of closing your eyes and picking up a fossil! Then we moved over to learn the digging technique where fossils were a bit more hidden in the pit; it took a few minutes to get the hang of how to hold the tools and make sure that you are using enough force to move the dirt but not so much that you break a hidden bone. All and all it was really enjoyable first day at the site.

Over the next two days after Dr. Bakker arrived we visited several other sites on the property and I got a chance to work on excavating a dimetrodon spine, map some dig sites (here’s a fun school dig site mapping activity), learn about other findings like the diplocaulus or “boomerang head” skull we’re looking at in the photo above. I enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside the experts and learn about all of the preparation work that is required for each and every specimen that will be in the new Paleontology hall (coming soon!) here at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I can’t wait to see everything on display in the new wing of the Museum – it’s going to be so exciting!

For more information about what fossils are found at the dig site in Seymour check out some of the entries on the Prehistoric CSI blog, you can also find some really awesome illustrations on that site to bring the animals to life!

The Truth is in the Tooth

When you take a bite into a juicy hamburger or dive into a pile of asparagus, do you ever wonder how you’re able to eat the way you do? Humans, by nature, are omnivores; this means that we eat fruits, veggies, and various meats. If you NEVER saw a person eat, though, you could still tell what his diet was! The truth is in the tooth, my friend.

something will jump in my mouth, if i just wait long enough
Creative Commons License photo credit: PhyrePh0X

Canine teeth (you could call them your vampire teeth) are found in carnivores, or animals that eat meat.  For instance, you wouldn’t find any blunted teeth in the mouth of a Velociraptor! Molars, on the other hand, are used by herbivores (animals that eat plants) for grinding hard to digest foods. Try looking into the mouth of camel sometime and see what you find – watch out though, they spit.

Diphyodont animals, like mammals, have two sets of teeth in their lifetime.
Polyphyodont animals like sharks have teeth that are constantly being lost and replaced; they grow a new set every few weeks. Can you imagine losing every tooth in your mouth twice a month? Sounds pretty terrible, but at least you’d collect a lot of quarters under your pillow! Incidentally, the Shark Tooth Fairy is also the Queen of England.

Elephant Tongue
Creative Commons License photo credit: greggoconnell

Another useful tool for eating is the ever-important tongue. Some tongues are attached and cannot be stuck out, like the elephant (no raspberries there,) and some are used for more than just eating. Cats’ tongues are rough to aid in grooming, for instance. A frog’s tongue is sticky to trap their food and bring it to their mouths. Did you know a frog uses its eyes to swallow? If they used their tongues, they’d choke.

If you find yourself without the opportunity to observe the mouths and eating habits of wild and extinct animals, come on down to the Museum! It’s the only place in town where you can see a poison dart frog in action and view a T. rex locked in battle with a duck-billed dinosaur.

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.