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A pigeon-sized, four-winged dinosaur known as Microraptor had black iridescent feathers when it roamed the Earth 130 million years ago, according to new research led by a team of American and Chinese scientists that includes Museum researchers. The dinosaur’s fossilized plumage is the earliest record of iridescent feather color. The findings, which suggest the importance of display in the early evolution of feathers, are published in the March 9 edition of the journal Science.
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For her research on flamingos, Felicity Arengo, associate director of the Museum’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation,has been profiled in Wildlife Heroes, a new book by Julie Scardina and Jeff Flocken. Combining photographs and fun facts with tales from the field, Wildlife Heroes features 40 conservationists dedicated to saving some of Earth’s diverse wildlife.
Arengo’s fieldwork has taken her across South America, from high-altitude lakes to fertile lowlands. “Flamingos are adapted to environments described as ‘inhospitable,’” says Arengo. “They live in landscapes of extreme salt, wind, sun, and high altitudes.” It takes a dedicated team to follow the birds and track their numbers.
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Scientists at the Museum recently helped a group of rabbis answer a culturally significant dietary question: can canned fish products containing parasitic worms still be considered kosher?
The study began last spring, when rabbinical experts from the Orthodox Union, the largest organization that certifies food products for the Jewish community, brought a variety of kosher-certified sardines and capelin eggs to the Museum. The presence of worms could have been a sign that, during the preparation of the canned food, muscle from the fish had been improperly handled and allowed to mix with intestinal contents, potentially violating Jewish dietary laws.
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What better way to celebrate Charles Darwin’s 203rd birthday than by reading the famed naturalist’s scientific works in his own handwriting? You can do just that on Sunday, February, 12—also known as “Darwin Day”—and every day after on theDarwin Manuscripts Project website.
Free and available to all online, the Darwin Manuscripts Project is the most comprehensive catalogue of Darwin’s scientific manuscripts ever compiled. The project is based at the American Museum of Natural History and developed in close collaboration with Cambridge University Library, whose physical collection is the foundation of the new database, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library—represented by the Natural History Museum in London. This new tool will also include holdings from all other library—based Darwin collections globally.
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Each of the 41 intriguing images in Picturing Science: Museum Scientists and Imaging Technologies tells a fascinating story about research or conservation projects. Here’s the last in a series of four snapshots.
New imaging technologies have revolutionized the age-old scientific tasks of observation and classification. And for James Carpenter, a curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, they’ve opened up a new way of seeing.
Dr. Carpenter is tracing the ancestry of various wasps, which he does by examining the insects’ physical features to identify them and place them in their evolutionary context. His lab’s current project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is to reconstruct the phylogeny, or evolutionary history, of Vespinae, a subfamily of wasps consisting of hornets and yellowjackets.
Carpenter’s methods include photomontage—essentially digital photography—which allows him to stack images to focus on specific features. A head shot of a German wasp, part of the ongoing exhibition Picturing Science: Museum Scientists and Imaging Technologies now on view in the Akeley Gallery and curated by Mark Siddall, uses this technique to bring selected areas into sharp focus. These snapshots enable Carpenter to place the insect in the tree of life.
His lab also uses a variety of high-tech microscopes, including an environmental scanning electron microscope. This instrument highlights minuscule features without destroying the specimen, as often happened with earlier versions of the technology. Once Carpenter has the traits, he plugs the data into a computer program that synthesizes them at rapid speed.