A Spirits & Skeletons wrap-up: 4,000+ guests, 13 Cruella Devilles and nearly 500 pictures

Were you one of the more than 4,000 costumed guests to grace Spirits & Skeletons 2012 on Friday night?

It was one of the best-attended events in museum history, and we were delighted to have everyone out in full, freaky regalia. We’ve compiled a few of our favorite snapshots below:

To peruse the full gallery of nearly 500 photos by Catchlight Group and order prints of your favorites, click here!

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
ZOMG ROFL it’s LMFAO

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
More like Beelzehub(ba hubba)

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
Rosie finds Scooby Doo riveting!

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
I went to Prom with these people. No joke here, just the facts.

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
There’s history here, I can feel it.

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
Ironman meets Leather Lady.

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
Jellyous?

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
It’s heart not to have a blast at HMNS.

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
There! There in the world is Carmen San Diego.

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
Rocket maaan, on his way to Moriannn alone!

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
If Keeping Up with the Kardashians is what’s wrong with America, Duck Dynasty is what’s right.

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
You had me at cat breading.

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
Fred Flintstone parties in the paleo hall.

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
Is that a banana on your person, or are you just happy to see us?

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
Erhmagherd, binders full of women!

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
Dancing with the dino.

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
In the thumbnail version, I thought this lovely young lady was a narwhal. Maybe next year?

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
McKayla Maroney is impressed!

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
Can pandas be the next villains of Gotham? Imagine the pandamonium.

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
Who doesn’t love the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the big, bad Chewbacca?

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
Who are these freaks?

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
Do I make you … oh never mind.

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
Molly & The Ringwalds rocked it.

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
This guy went as a nevernude.

Spirits & Skeletons 2012!
Zombie Christopher Lloyd?

News alert: HMNS field expedition uncovers terrifying evidence of prehistoric zombies?!

Our intrepid fossil-hunters, digging in the sun-baked Red Beds of Baylor County, face myriad dangers to life and limb (and fingers and toes). There are afternoons when the thermometer in the bone quarries reaches 140 degrees, and even Harvard PhDs have been known to hallucinate.

There are two species of rattlesnake, plus the occasional angry Black Angus bull.  At times, thousands of dark, hairy tarantulas — all males — start marching on their courtship walk-about, searching for coy females tucked away in their burrows. Much worse are the fearsome foot-long centipedes who run up inside your pants to sink their venomous fangs into the soft sectors of your thigh. These will send you to the friendly folks at the emergency room at the efficient Seymour Hospital.

Could there be a more malicious menace? Our paleontologists might have found one: Paleo-Zombies!

As cable TV has taught us, the key identification mark of a zombie is its hunger for brains. Well, classical zombies are also cannibals. They are especially fond of the cerebral morsels from the heads of their own species. Given such zombie lore, how would we tell if a prehistoric critter was a zombie? Easy. It would leave gnaw marks on the skeletons of its own kind, concentrated on the braincase bones that housed the brains in life.

Since 2007, we’ve dug up hundreds of chewed reptile and amphibian bones from our Red Beds sites, which were formed during the Early Permian Period about 285 million years ago. We have thigh bones chewed on both ends, shins bitten in half, shoulders and hips deeply scarred by scavenging teeth. We’ve found the “chiropractor’s nightmare” — vertebral spines snapped in two by massive bites. Even some jaw bones and muzzles bear scars made by gnawing, gnashing fangs.

We have some fossils that are truly disturbing — bones that wrapped around the brain in the living animal. We can see clear evidence of determined nibbling and biting. Something was trying to gobble down brains — or so it seems.

Were there paleo-zombies in the Permian?
The back of a Dimetrodon skull. Note the serious nibbling to the left of the brain cavity. Photo by Matt Mossbrucker, Director of the Morrison Museum in Morrison, Colorado

Our brain-bitten victim is a Dimetrodon, the top predator of early Permian times. Dimetrodon was about as heavy as a tiger, but with short legs and scaly toes. So who was the biter? We have some CSI evidence in what we call “fossil ballistics.” When Dimetrodon fed, it shed tooth crowns shark-style. A hard-gnawing D’don would lose a crown or two, but no harm done — new crowns were already growing up through the tooth sockets to replace the old ones. Crowns get fossilized in the mud next to the skeleton that was chewed. The shed crowns are like the bullets found in crime scenes today — unambiguous evidence of who chewed whom.

Our HMNS field crew is super-compulsive about “fossil ballistics.” We crawl around on hands and knees, scouring the red rock, gently extracting every scrap of dental clue. We shovel up piles of mud and then dissolve the sediment over fine-mesh screens to catch the tiniest crowns. We’ve recovered more hard evidence on gnawing than any other expedition to the famous fossil fields north of Seymour.

But enough about us. Let’s get back to our brain-bit victim, Dimetrodon. Shed teeth dug near the skeletons are strong evidence pointing to the perp. The identification of the chewer is clear: It was another Dimetrodon! That is seriously spooky. Even for a veteran dino hunter, the image of brain-crazed Permian reptiles is a bit unnerving.

Were there paleo-zombies in the Permian?
A scientifically accurate reconstruction of a brain-seeking zombie Dimetrodon.
Don’t worry, no Federal funds were expended in generating this image.
(Dr. Bob drew it while eating a breakfast burrito.)

But there’s a catch. Human zombies are more efficient predators of their own kind.  Human brains are huge, with each braincase offering up to three pounds of easily digested food that’s naturally low in cholesterol, to boot. (If you’re not a zombie, I’d suggest going to one of our fine Greek restaurants and sampling Miala tiganita, or fried calf brains, to get a sense.)

By comparison, Dimetrodon brains were tiny. A determined Dimetro-zombie would get only a few ounces of Permian brain-meat from an adult victim. When I cleaned out the inside of a big Dimetrodon braincase, the brain inside was smaller than a cocktail frank.

Gnawing and losing crowns just to get at a D’don brain appears to be a waste of time and teeth. So what was going on? Is there an alternative explanation for the bite marks on the braincase?

Maybe.

What do you think is a more believable hypothesis to replace the notion of Red Bed Paleo Zombies?

Learn more about Dimetrodons and what their extinction can tell us about our own evolution this Tuesday, Oct. 30 at a lecture I’m hosting: “Life After the Dinosaurs: Darwinian Saga of the Mammalia.” Click here for tickets.

The Monster Mash, IS a Museum Smash!

BOO! Halloween PLAYMOBIL scary!!!!
Creative Commons License photo credit:
Banana Donuts ~ Half Baked Photography

When you were young, did you ever call someone into your room at night to make sure there were no monsters hiding under the bed or in the closet, only to be told “there’s no such thing as monsters?” Well, I’m here to say phooey to all those non-believers. The following is a compilation of modern and marvelous Museum Monsters! Let’s just jump right in with both feet.

Seemingly mythical creatures have always fascinated mankind, but a special few have remained and live on in legends. One of the most popular is the Loch Ness monster. Fondly known as Nessie, this creature has eluded identification and in-focus photography for years. Yet people from all walks of life claim to see a creature with a long, serpentine neck leaving ripples in its wake as it swims through the Loch Ness. Well…want to see what everyone says she looks like for yourself??? The animal described above most resembles a now extinct marine reptile you can see in the Museum’s hall of Paleontology, a plesiosaur! Plesiosaurs have elongated necks and four flipper-like appendages which helped them swim easily through the ancient seas.

ZombieWalk Asbury Park NJ
Creative Commons License photo credit: Bob Jagendorf

Now let’s play a game. What dwells underground, lying dead but not dead, needing brains to be complete, waiting for its nest victim to unknowingly pass by? You thought zombie, right? Wrong! It’s Clostridium tetani, the bacteria that causes tetanus, which is a must-have specimen for some types of research institutions. This bacteria and a handful of others can produce endospores, which are dormant, environmentally-resistant survival structures. These spores don’t need oxygen (are anaerobic) and germinate when in contact with tissues to produce a potent neurotoxin. This toxin affects the brain and many of its primary functions, and, if left untreated, eventually leads to death in part by causing paralysis of respiratory muscles.

Maggots, London Zoo, London.JPG
Creative Commons License photo credit: gruntzooki

…Speaking of feasting on flesh, did you know that maggots, fly larvae, are necrophagous (meaning they eat dead tissue?) Sounds terrible, right?  The thought of a roiling, squirming mass of wormy things devouring a rotting carcass is more than some people can handle. Actually, they are quite helpful little things, especially in treating wounds that won’t heal like diabetic ulcers. Still grossed out? Just remember, bugs are our friends! In fact, you can come by and check our bugs out at the Cockrell Butterfly Center.

Giants are not something we are accustomed to in this day and age, the closest thing we have is an elephant and, while quite large by our standards, they don’t even hold a candle to Indricotherium, the largest mammal ever to walk the earth. Herbivorous, it stood over 16 feet tall and weighed more than 4 elephants. To put it into perspective, a person around 6 feet tall would just come to its KNEE. Now that’s a giant mammal I’d like to see!

Smile for the Camera
Creative Commons License photo credit: Furryscaly

Moving on to the next monster, I want you to consider this phrase: “I vant to suck your blood!” Sound familiar? Vampires are the “in” monster of the moment, but they owe their stardom to the misunderstood, hemoglobin loving vampire bat. In fact, this bat is in part responsible for some of the vampire characteristics we are all familiar with today! Look at the parallels, nocturnal creatures ‘turning into’ a bat and sneaking up on unsuspecting victims, drinking their blood to survive. Vampire bats, however, don’t usually bleed their meals dry. That’s just plain vampire folklore.

Do you remember the classic horror film “The Blob?” Well, blobs actually exist! A mucilage is a gelatinous mass of deadly bacteria and detritus accumulated into huge swaths a jelly-like goo! Sounds appetizing, I know. These have most recently been spotted off the Mediterranean coastline. But beware, this is no benign blob. Mucilages large enough can cause entire beaches to be closed because of their virally and bacterially born lethality.