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A brief, blustery storm blew across the Museum’s Arthur Ross Terrace Wednesday evening, taking with it most of the scalloped cardboard structure of a human-sized wasp nest under construction there since Monday. Three British TV hosts are to be filmed living in the nest this weekend as part of a new Nat Geo WILD series called “Live Like an Animal.”
The unexpected need to rebuild the nest or “envelope” provided an object lesson in actual wasp behavior.
“It is a fact that wasps repair the envelope if the damage to the nest is not too great, where ‘too great’ means something like the nest falls down,” says James M. Carpenter, entomologist and curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, who is working in consultation with the television crew. “I’ve done experiments in envelope removal in the field myself and seen it.”
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Blogging from west Kenya, William Harcourt-Smith, a research associate in the Division of Paleontology, is directing a 20-million-year-old paleontological site on two islands in Lake Victoria. One of these islands, Rusinga, is best known as the site of the discovery of the first fossils of Proconsul, an early ape. Harcourt-Smith’s multidisciplinary team includes physical anthropologists and geologists, and in addition to collecting fossils, researchers are trying to learn more about the evolutionary events and environmental conditions that may have influenced the emergence of Proconsul and other early ape lineages.
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Anyone dropping by the Ross Terrace during the day this week can witness the spectacle of three British TV hosts building and then living in a human-sized replica of a wasp’s nest. The feat will be filmed as part of a new series called “Live Like an Animal.”
Consulting with Nat Geo WILD crew is James M. Carpenter, entomologist and curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology. In this video, Dr. Carpenter takes you behind the scenes of the Museum’s Hymenoptera collection which includes the world’s largest collection of wasp nests with more than 1,000 specimens as well as the 7.5 million-specimen gall wasp collection donated to the Museum in 1958 by the widow of Alfred C. Kinsey:
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“It was an exciting opportunity to modify these for educational purposes,” says Samara Rubinstein, manager of the Sackler Educational Laboratory and the coordinator of five part-time science educators who staff the Brain Bench. Included in the offerings, which are recommended for visitors ages 8 and up, are the popular “build-a-brain” puzzle, which piece by piece conveys the evolutionary path from the reptilian brain to the neocortex unique to humans; artist Devorah Sperber’s clever installation on the mechanics of sight in which a famous painting is rendered—and disguised by—colorful spools of thread; a pyramid stacking station that looks like child’s play but requires sophisticated planning; and a variety of computer games designed to sharpen basic brain functions like focus and memory.
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Don’t miss this rare view of aspects of traditional Tibetan medicine in exquisite paintings from a set in the Museum’s collections, based on illustrations from the late 17th century. On view in the Audubon Gallery on the fourth floor, these hand-painted reproductions provide a unique and rich illustrated history of early medical knowledge and procedures in Tibet, as Laila Williamson, curator of Body and Spirit, explains in this video:
The 64 paintings on display are believed to be among only a handful of such sets in existence. Each of them was painstakingly reproduced by hand in the late 1990s by Romio Shrestha, a Nepalese artist, and his students, who followed the Tibetan tradition of copying older paintings, basing their work on two published sets of medical tangkas likely painted in the early 1900s that were copies of the original set. The originals were created in the late 1600s to illustrate the Blue Beryl, an important commentary on the classic Tibetan medical text, The Four Tantras.
The Blue Beryl was written by Sangye Gyatso, regent to the Fifth Dalai Lama, who commissioned the original paintings for use as teaching aids in the medical school he founded in Lhasa, Tibet. The causes, diagnostic techniques, and treatments of illness, as well as human anatomy, are represented in nearly 8,000 extraordinarily detailed images painted on canvas using vegetable and mineral dyes. The fate of the original paintings is unknown; Shrestha based his work on published sources.