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Museum Researcher Names Lizard Genus After Tolkien’s Dragon Smaug

The villain of J. R. R.Tolkien’s The Hobbit–the fearsome dragon Smaug–dwells deep in a cavern with a massive hoard of treasure and terrorizes nearby villages.

His real-world namesakes aren’t quite as fearsome. Smaug is the new name given to a genus of girdled lizards from South Africa by Ed Stanley, a doctoral candidate at the Richard Gilder Graduate School at the American Museum of Natural History, who reclassified the genus in a in a paper published in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution in January 2011. Stanley’s work is funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

Smaug lizards live in tunnels in the highlands, including the appropriately named Drakensberg (Dragon Mountain) mountain range of southern Africa. But the inspiration for the name came from a connection to the author rather than the fictional character. “Tolkien was born in the Free State, South Africa, where this lizard was found,” says Stanley.

Tags: Our Research, Richard Gilder Graduate School

science_mentors

Museum Program Pairs Teens with Scientist Mentors

Ailan Hurley-Echevarria removed a pebble-sized piece of dark amber from the variable speed grinder-polisher and looked at the now-smooth and clear surface under the dissecting microscope.

“I think there’s something here in the corner,” he said.

Hurley-Echevarria had uncovered an ancient biting midge (Ceratopogonidae) which had been trapped in amber about 52 million years ago, perhaps after feeding on an Eocene mole or other small mammal in the prehistoric tropical jungles of India.

Tags: Children's Programs

hemlock

Battling Bugs Organically Earns Student Young Naturalist Award

As she helped her family grow produce each year, Kalia learned how to protect her home garden from weeds, rabbits, and deer. But no amount of weed-whacking or fence-building could keep the insects away.

To try to solve this problem, 13-year-old Kalia embarked on a project to find out whether it was possible to avoid synthetic insecticides—and associated environmental and health risks—without compromising the harvest. For her investigation into green gardening, Kalia received a 2011 Young Naturalist Award.

Tags: Young Naturalist Awards

Museum Will Be Open on Monday, August 29

Update: The Museum will be open at 10 am on Monday, August 29. The Summer Science Institute will resume as scheduled on Tuesday, August 30th.

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American Museum of Natural History

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Phone: 212-769-5100

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