The Jane Diaries

Dr. Thomas Carr a Tyrannosaurid expert from Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin has been working with “Jane” Burpee Museum’s juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex specimen from the Hell Creek Formation in south eastern Montana to determine if “Jane” is indeed a juvenile T. rex or if the specimen should be referred to a different species of theropod dinosaur.

"Jane" Burpee Museum's juvnile T. rex

“Jane” Burpee Museum’s juvnile T. rex

Dr. Carr has spent countless hours documenting and studying “Jane’s” fossil components to observe as many details as possible so that the specimen can be placed soundly into a fossil species based on morphological characteristics. If you would like to follow his journey into the details of “Jane’s” skeleton check out his blog Tyrannosauroidea Central or follow him on Twitter at @TyrannosaurCarr. His work with “Jane” will be published as a manuscript once his research is complete – keep an eye on Dr. Carr and Burpee Museum’s social media outlets for updates on the manuscript publication as well!

Answers to “Ask a Curator Day” 2014

"Jane" Burpee Museum's juvnile T. rex

“Jane” Burpee Museum’s juvnile T. rex

Great questions from Ask a Curator Day last week! Burpee Collections Staff received a set of questions from Andy Hyunh that will be addressed today. Andy submitted a short bio and these questions to us last week:

From Andy:

Hello! A little bit about myself, I am currently serving in the Army and I plan to study Paleontology and Paleobiology once I am finished with my military career. It has always been a childhood dream of mine to become a Paleontologist.

 My questions are:

 1) How many fossils do you have in your collection?

 2) What is the largest fossil you currently have in your collection?

 3) Once I am done with my service, where can I start to begin a career in the field of Paleontology? I am from California and I tend to visit the Natural History Musuem of Los Angeles as well as the Page Museum/La Brea Tar Pits whenever I come home for leave. I was told that I could start volunteering in the museums? What classes/courses do I need to take? I am highly motivated and extremely excited about all this!

These are great, and very important questions for anyone aspiring to go into the paleontology field! Check out the Collections Staff’s responses below!

1. How many fossils are in the Burpee Museum Collection?

Burpee Museum has over 30,000 fossils in its permanent collection. They range in size from tiny microvertebrate fossils to huge sauropod limb bones, and in age from 455 million year old Ordovician fossils to, relatively, new Ice Age fossils.

2. What is the largest fossil in the Burpee Museum Collection?

“Jane” the juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex on display is 21 feet long as a whole specimen. However, as far as individual elements go, we have an Ordovician cephalopod that is nearly 10 feet long.

3. How to begin a career in Paleontology?

Volunteering in museums and at field sites is an excellent way to start. There are many different facets of paleontology – everything from field work, prep work, and scholarly research fall into the field of paleontology. Volunteering can help you narrow down what area interests you the most.

Depending on your area of interest, there are different requirements to get into the field.

Preparators work to clean, restore, and reconstruct fossils in a lab setting. There are conferences like Fossil Preparation and Collections Symposium that you can attend to learn techniques and methods for fossil preparations and collections care. Many preparators also work, in some capacity, with collections managers to make sure that specimens are both prepared and stored properly. The last Fossil Preparation and Collections Symposium was held in Salt Lake City, Utah and the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Scholarly research in the paleo field generally requires at least a Masters degree, if not a Doctorate. Coursework for aspiring paleontologists generally is in Biology or Geology, ideally some of both. Many universities have opportunities for undergraduate research as well as graduate level research. This can be a great way to see if research is something that you enjoy as well as a way to start to build a research resume. Early research projects, or even assisting with projects, will help to introduce you to people in that field who may turn out to be great advisers for future projects.

Field work is generally a component of a career in paleontology, but it is usually not the sole focus. Researchers, preparators, students, and collections staff are usually involved with field work at some point. Very few people end up getting paid to to field work year round. That said, having good field skills is very valuable. Some universities have paleo field schools, where you spend several weeks in the field learning about field techniques. There are also some museums (Burpee Museum included) that have opportunities for people who are not paleontologists to do field work.

We wish you the best Andy, and we hope that if you are ever in Northern Illinois that you’ll stop by and say Hi!


Ask a Curator Day!

Burpee Staff answers questions at the Rockford Expo. Photo Credit: Brent Lewis, Rockford Register Star

Burpee Staff answers questions at the Rockford Expo. Photo Credit: Brent Lewis, Rockford Register Star

It is “Ask a Curator Day!” Use the form below to email your burning questions about being a curator, natural history collections, or museums in general to the Burpee Museum Collections Staff. The best questions, and the answers to them, will be featured in next week’s blog post!


From the Pod Farm: Ceratosaurus?

A few weeks ago, Burpee Museum Lab Staff and Volunteers opened another “pod” from the Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry in Utah. This pod was removed from the site several years ago, and has been known as the Ceratosaurus Pod. Early on in the excavation at HBDQ a section of articulated vertebrae was discovered and, based on the visible portions of the vertebrae, the field identification of Ceratosaurus was given.

Ceratosaurus was not an unreasonable identification for theropod-looking vertebrae in the HBD Quarry. Ceratosaurus is known from quarries similar to HBDQ in both Utah and Colorado, including the Cleveland Lloyd Quarry and the Fruita Paleontological Area. (A special shout-out to colleagues and collaborators attending the Mid-Mesozoic Field Conference who just visited both Cleveland Lloyd and FPA this week!)

However, now that the pod is open and the matrix is being worked away the characteristics that fueled the field identification are also being worked away. Such is the case with more field identifications than not, as prep work progresses the identification must be reviewed and refined. So, for now, check out the pictures of the “Ceratosaurus” and stay tuned for more updates as the Burpee Lab Staff reviews and refines their identification of this specimen. (Or, if you like, leave us a comment with your proposed identification!)

The pod, the whole pod, and nothing but the pod

The pod, the whole pod, and nothing but the pod


A closer view of the right side of the image where most of the prep has occurred.

A closer view of the right side of the image where most of the prep has occurred.

Detail of the most prepped area.

Detail of the most prepped area.

29 Days to Homer

More cool installation happening in the SupplyCore Hall of Paleontology in preparation for “Homer’s Odyssey: From the Badlands to Burpee” – the crew from Xibitz has been hard at work most of this week! What do you think will be going on this wall??

More installation elements for the Homer exhibit. (c) Burpee Museum

More installation elements for the Homer exhibit.             (c) Burpee Museum

30 Days to Homer

Today is May 29, 2013, in exactly one month the “Homer’s Odyssey: From the Badlands to Burpee” will premier as Burpee Museum’s newest permanent exhibit!

(C) Burpee Museum

Part of the new “Homer” exhibit. Can you tell what it is?              (c) Burpee Museum

This week the first stages of installation for the exhibit began in SupplyCore Hall of Paleontology, as seen in the picture above. Can you guess what this structure might be for?

We’ll keep you updated as more pieces of this incredible exhibit go up!

Countdown to PaleoFest 2013

My apologies for slacking on the posting front . . . I promise it’s only because we’ve all been working overtime on the preparations for PaleoFest 2013. Please accept this picture of an adorable baby Triceratops skull as compensation for lack of recent blog posts.

This little guy, a cast of UCMP 154452,  will be joining Homer and the other Ceratopsids in the new exhibit when it opens in May. (C) Burpee Museum

This little guy, a cast of UCMP 154452, will be joining Homer and the other Ceratopsids in the new exhibit when it opens in May. (C) Burpee Museum

For those of you familiar with Burpee Museum, you know that PaleoFest is our annual celebration of paleontology and dinosaurs. We normally have special children’s and family-friendly activities at the museum, in addition to public talks by well known paleontologists. This year, however, things are a little different.

PaleoFest 2013, to be held at Burpee Museum on March 2 and 3, 2013, is the 15th anniversary of PaleoFest, and we’re pulling out all the stops! This year we are partnering with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to present a full scientific symposium titled “The End of the Dinosaurs: Changes in the Late Cretaceous Biosphere” – however, as usual, the general public is welcome to attend the symposium. The symposium will feature 30+ speakers from all over the world, in addition to several student poster presentations on Saturday evening.

In addition to the symposium Dr. John (Jack) Horner will be presenting the keynote address at the Saturday evening dinner lecture. Dr. Horner has published more than 170 professional papers, 9 popular books, and more than 100 popular articles. His book Digging Dinosaurs was described by New Scientist Magazine as one of the 200 most important science books of the 20th Century. Jack directs the largest dinosaur field research program in the world. Jack was the technical advisor for Steven Spielberg on all of the Jurassic Park movies, and on the FOX television show Terra Nova. He has been featured on CBS’s 60 Minutes, National Geographic, and The Discovery Channel. Jack is the Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, and Regent’s Professor of Paleontology at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. He is also a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian Institution, and an Honorary Research Fellow with the Natural History Museum in London. Jack lectures on dinosaurs, evolution and dyslexia. At the dinner lecture he will be presenting a talk titled “Dinosaur Shape-Shifting.”

We are also still hosting all of the same family-friendly and kid-friendly events. This year Dr. Scott Sampson (“Dr. Scott the Paleontologist”) will be presenting two children’s lectures at the Rockford Woman’s Club/Rockford Theatre as well as a children’s workshop at the museum. We also have two Burpee children’s workshops offered on Sunday. Kids can also complete all of the DinoBlast stations around the museum.

For more details about PaleoFest visit the PaleoFest website or call the museum at 815.965.3433


Big News at Burpee

Two cool stories to share today!

1. As some of you probably already know, our director, Alan Brown, resigned at the end of 2012. Our staff and our board conducted a fast, but thorough, search for a new director. The search was met with a surprising number of interested applicants, which the search committee carefully, and thoughtfully whittled down to a few final contenders. Of those final few, we are very excited to announce that Maureen Mall was selected to be the new director.

Maureen has previously volunteered at the museum, including in the prep lab, and has joined us in the field on several expeditions. She was even part of the team that discovered “Homer” our juvenile Triceratops in Montana! Maureen’s official start date is this coming Monday (February 11th) we hope that you will join us in welcoming her to the museum in her new role.

More information can be found here.

Photo Credit: engine studio

“Homer” our teen-aged Triceratops who plays a role in both stories today!                                    Rights Reserved Burpee Museum

2. “Homer” our juvenile Triceratops is featured in a new article on BBC Earth’s Walking with Dinosaurs website! Dr. Steve Brusatte, Burpee Colleague, speaker at this year’s upcoming PaleoFest, and member of the team that helped find Homer, writes about the Homer’s discovery and its importance to the scientific world.

The quick version of Homer’s story: Helmuth Redschlag discovered (and named) Homer while on one of our Highway to Hell Creek expeditions.. While excavating the Homer site, crews found (among many other fossils) three left nasals all of approximately the same size. One of those left nasals matched up with a right nasal and is attributed to “Homer,” the second left nasal is attributed to a slightly smaller, less complete specimen called “Bart,” and the third left nasal belongs to an additional, unnamed specimen. So, what’s the big deal about three left nasals? Well, until the Homer site was excavated Triceratops specimens were not found in bonebeds, they were found as single, solitary specimens. This suggested that perhaps Triceratops were solitary animals. The Homer site changed the way that we think about Triceratops behavior – because three juveniles were found together it has lead scientists to suggest that at least as juveniles Triceratops may have lived in groups, possibly for protection from large predators like Tyrannosaurus rex. How cool is that?!

Check out Dr. Brusatte’s article here: BBC Earth: Walking with Dinosaurs News

Also see Mathews, Joshua C.; Brusatte, Stephen L.; Williams, Scott A.; and Henderson, Michael D. (2009). “The first Triceratops bonebed and its implications for gregarious behavior”. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29 (1): 286–290. doi:10.1080/02724634.2009.10010382 for more details about the Homer site.


Where do they come from?

One of the most common questions we get in the lab and at the museum is “Where do they [the specimens] come from?”

The answer varies based on what particular specimen the visitor is asking about, but it always falls into one of three categories:

1. We purchased it.

“Wait, what? You just bought it?” is the usual response. Purchases usually apply to casts and models, but there are some purchased specimens (legally purchased, with the appropriate paperwork, all above board) as well. Purchased specimens are often bought specifically for exhibit purposes. It is important to note here that Burpee Museum adheres to the code of ethics set forth by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology when it comes to the trade and sale of vertebrate fossils.

2. It was donated.

We have a lot (A LOT.) of donated taxidermied specimens in our biology collection, we also have a large number of donated items in our anthropology (Native American) collection. These items are evaluated by the collections staff before they are accepted. Some donated specimens require special paperwork (specifically rare and endangered specimens), but all of them are taken in with donation forms to document the transaction and to gather as much information about the specimen(s) as possible. This also means that donations cannot just be dropped off at the museum – a common point of confusion. People interested in donating something to the museum collection should call ahead and make an appointment so that their item(s) can be evaluated properly.

3. The museum collected it.

Currently the museum has active expeditions to Hanksville, Utah and Ekalaka, Montana where field crews, respectively, collect middle Jurassic and late Cretaceous aged dinosaur fossils each summer. In the past crews and individuals from the museum have also collected Permain, Pennsylvanian, Devonian, and Ordovician fossils. In the biology collections, individuals have formerly collected insects, shells, and plants.

Museums and Science Go Hand-in-Hand

Think about the word “museum” for a moment; what does it draw to your mind? Fascinating exhibits? Monumental architecture? Hushed awe? An exciting trip? Rows and rows of specimens?

Now, think about the word “science” … what is brought to mind then? Flashy experiments? Bubbling test tubes? Microscopes? Field notes? Gizmos and tech-y toys? Museums?

In addition to the research sector – businesses who’s work is research – and colleges and universities, museums are where science and research happen. And not just at the biggest and most well known museums. Even medium-sized museums, like Burpee, and smaller museums like our friends at the Dinosaur Journey Museum, part of the Museum of Western Colorado, in Fruita, CO, collect, preserve, research, and publish on specimens from their collection to add to our overall understanding of the past.

Collecting, preserving, researching, collaborating and publishing on specimens are goals at the heart of a museum’s collection. To achieve these goals museums need curators, collections managers, and researchers (among so many other people) to organize, maintain, care for and research the specimens in the collection. This is often the unseen work that happens at a museum, behind the scenes and out of the public eye. However, the benefits of the work are more easily seen in the quality of specimens on display, the amount of information known about the specimens on display, and the prestige the museum’s name carries in the public. This work does not necessarily directly cause money to flow into the museum’s coffers – in many cases it is an instance of needing to “spend money to make money.”

We’ve already covered that collecting, preserving, researching, collaborating and publishing on specimens are part of a museum’s goals, but they are also part of a museum’s responsibility as a repository. Specimens, particularly those collected from public lands and those donated to a museum, are reposited at museums for a reason. The museum assumes the care (including preparation) and curation of those specimens. With that care comes cost; salaries must be paid, proper storage space maintained, supplies purchased. However, without specimens – or the people to care for and research them – what is a museum? A building with stuff. Over time and with out care, a building with stuff that is falling apart.

So, why should you care about all of this? The Field Museum of Natural History, a close neighbor and sometimes collaborator of Burpee Museum, has announced plans to cut their budget by $5 million dollars – with a substantial portion of the cuts ($3 million) coming from the science departments. The field museum employs world renowned scientists and researchers from a myriad of disciplines and houses a phenomenal collection of artifacts and specimens – what will happen to those specimens? What research opportunities will be lost because of these cuts?  No one knows yet, the specifics of the cuts have yet to be announced.

If you are interested in learning more visit: Science Insider – Budget Cuts Hit Chicago’s Field Museum

If you’d like to do something about it visit: Protect Research at Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago