Jane: Do the tails tell the tale?

"Jane" Burpee Museum's juvnile T. rex

“Jane” Burpee Museum’s juvnile T. rex

One of the questions most often asked at Burpee Museum is “How do you know Jane was a girl?” You see “Jane” is the juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex discovered by field crews in 2001 and the star of the Museum’s Diary of a Dinosaur exhibit. “Jane” was named after Jane Solem, wife of Robert H. Solem, a major benefactor and lifetime member of the Museum.

Currently it is unknown if “Jane” the dinosaur was male or female. In fact, determining the sex of dinosaur specimens is a question that paleontologists have long been trying to find a method or skeletal indicator that would allow specimens to be defined as male or female.

Scott Persons, paleontologist at University of Alberta at Edmonton, Canada, has recently proposed a new idea that may allow the sex of some dinosaurs be determined. His most recent study, published in Scientific Reports, suggests that skeletal traits of some dinosaurs tails may show sexual dimorphism (a distinct morphological difference between males and females) and could be applied to other specimens.

Persons’ study examined two oviraptorosaurs, nicknamed Romeo and Juliet, that were found in Mongolia in the 1990’s and first described in 2001. Through this study differences in bones called chevrons at the base of the oviraptorosaurs tails were discovered. One specimen had longer chevrons with broader tips. Persons hypothesizes that males may have had longer chevrons with broader tips for increased muscle attachments, whereas chevrons in females may have been smaller to facilitate egg laying.

As Thomas Holtz, University of Maryland, has pointed out, it will be very interesting to see if these differences are borne out in further, larger studies of chevron shape of small to mid-sized dinosaurs.

Perhaps someday soon we will be able to confidently answer the question of ” Is “Jane” a boy or girl?”

To read more about Person’s study check out these resources:

Tails Tell the Tale of Dinosaur Sex, Nature News

Persons IV, W. S., Funston, G. F., Currie, P. J. & Norell, M. A. Sci. Rep. 5, 9472 (2015).

Have you registered for PaleoFest 2015 yet?

PaleoFest Logo copy

If you haven’t had a chance to register for PaleoFest 2015 use this fillable form and return it to Burpee Museum via mail or email! PaleoFestRegistration

Want to know more about PaleoFest 2015 before you buy your tickets? Check out the PaleoFest site!

Updated 01.26.2015: Replaced the fillable Word version of the PaleoFest Registration form with a PDF version.

Be There or Be Square: PaleoFest 2015

"Eoraptor" (C) Csotonyi

“Eoraptor” (C) Csotonyi

Add it to your calendars now, PaleoFest 2015 will be held March 14 & 15, 2015!

Tickets go on sale Monday, December 1, 2014.

The upcoming PaleoFest will be hosted in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and will once again feature an international symposium. The symposium, titled “The Beginning of Dinosaurs and the Origins of the Modern World,” will feature two dozen researchers who’s primary focus is the flora and fauna of the late Triassic and early Jurassic periods.

The PaleoFest Dinner has been transformed into “Burpee Museum Presents: Hans-Dieter Sues at PaleoFest” and will be hosted by Cliffbreakers Resort, the host hotel. Dr. Sues is the Senior Scientist and Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and is also the co-convener of the symposium.

In addition to the symposium events, Burpee Museum will also be hosting Triassic and Jurassic period themed PaleoPassport Stations, a Family Workshop about fossil tracks, and two Children’s Workshops. This year the Children’s Workshops will be: “Tooth Tales” where kids can learn about dinosaur teeth and jaws with Dr. Matthew Bonnan, Stockton College, recommended for kids 5-9 years old. Older aspiring paleontologists can work with Dr. Thomas Holtz, University of Maryland, on “T. Rex: Bones and Beyond” and learn how fossils help us learn about dinosaur behavior and classification, recommended for kids 10-14.

If you’re interested in attending PaleoFest visit Burpee Museum’s PaleoFest webpage for more details. We can’t wait to see you!

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!

The Bison are coming, the Bison are coming!

Bison return to Nachusa Grasslands.

Bison return to Nachusa Grasslands.

Or rather, the Bison are here!

Bison have returned to Nachusa Grasslands near Franklin Grove, Illinois as of Friday October 3, 2014.

20 Bison were transported from the Broken Kettle Grasslands near Sioux City, Iowa and brought to Nachusa. The animals are currently in a holding pen, and out of the public eye, as they acclimate to their new surroundings.  They will be visible from viewing areas in mid November.

The Bison are part of the Nature Conservancy’s plan for further restoration at the Nachusa Grasslands conservation site. Bison feed on different plant types than cattle or deer and will help to restore the prairie. Eventually the grasslands within the Nachusa site may support as many as 100 Bison!

If you’d like to know more about Bison returning to Nachusa, please visit the Nature Conservancy’s Nachusa Bison page.

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!


IDNR Schoolyard Habitat Grant Results

Students in Burpee Museum's Home School Science Class plant flowers along the museum's back terrace.

Students in Burpee Museum’s Home School Science Class plant flowers along the museum’s back terrace.

Earlier this spring Burpee Museum was selected as a recipient of an Illinois Department of Natural Resources Schoolyard Habitat Grant. This grant allowed Burpee Museum to plant native plants along the Riverfront Terrace. These plants will provide additional resources for native animals that inhabit the area, they will also attract native and migratory insects like monarch butterflies and honey bees.

Burpee Museum’s Home School Students and the New England Banner 4-H club volunteered their time to help plant the new native gardens along the terrace. The next time you visit the museum, make sure to take a moment to visit the Riverview Terrace and admire their work!

2014 Dino Shindig!

2014 Shindig

The second annual Dino Shindig is fast approaching! The Dino Shindig is hosted by the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka, Montana midway through the paleontological field season. Burpee Museum was proud to be a part of the inaugural Shindig weekend and is honored to be part of it once again this year! Last year’s Shindig hosted Dr. Jack Horner (Museum of the Rockies), Dr. Thomas Carr (Carthage College), Dr. Mark Goodwin (University of California-Berkeley Museum of Paleontology), Dr. Tyler Lyson (Smithsonian Museum of Natural Hstory), Dr. Joseph Peterson (University of Wisconsin-Whitewater), Dr. Thomas Holtz (University of Maryland) and Burpee Museum’s very own Scott Williams.

2013 Dino Shindig Speakers with host, Nathan Carroll, Carter County Museum Curator

2013 Dino Shindig Speakers with host, Nathan Carroll, Carter County Museum Curator

This year’s Dino Shindig will take place over the weekend of July 26 & 27, 2014. If you happen to be in Southeast Montana (or are planning to travel to that area) the Shindig is a wonderful, family friendly event that draws world-class speakers to the museum (see below for a list of speakers) to educate the public about the amazing paleontological resources and discoveries in the area.  Talks will be on Saturday July 26, and a dinosaur expedition (limited spaces available) will take place on Sunday July 27. The Shindig webpage has additional information about pricing and registration, and you can stay up to date about the Shindig on Carter County Museum’s Facebook page. If you’re able, we hope you’ll head to the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka to check out the Dino Shinding, its bound to be a great time!

2014 Speakers


The Passing of the Passenger Pigeon

Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon

Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon

The 100th anniversary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon is coming in just a few weeks. Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, died at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914. As we approach this sombre milestone, it is important to take time to remember other species that have gone extinct in that time frame,  consider those that are in danger of becoming extinct in the near future, and reflect on our impact on the Earth then and now. Each of these topics will be visited in their own posts over the next two months.

Burpee Museum of Natural History’s mission is to inspire all people to engage in a lifetime of discovery and learning about the natural world, through preservation and interpretation. An increasingly important facet of learning, preserving and interpreting is helping people understand conservation efforts and how humans impact the ecosystems that they inhabit. Much like with black bears, cougars, and grey wolves returning to the region; understanding how an ecosystem operates and what conservation means are important parts of understanding legal measures, news articles, and conservation policies.

Although it is too late to save our native Passenger Pigeon population, they do have an important lessons to teach us about human impact and responsibility. We hope you’ll join us in remembering the Passenger Pigeon and learning from its extinction. Burpee Museum will be hosting Joel Greenberg, author of “A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction” on September 9th for a Mahlburg Scholars lecture about the extinction of Passenger Pigeons. Burpee Museum is also partnering with Project Passenger Pigeon to host an exhibit about Passenger Pigeons at the museum that will feature the museum’s own Passenger Pigeon specimens.