Tag Archive for Joe Webb Peoples Museum

Bite Off More than You Can Chew at the New “Wisdom Teeth” Exhibit

wisdom teeth

The campus community can sink their teeth into a new exhibit housed in the Science Library. Titled “Wisdom Teeth,” the 30-piece exhibit showcases a series of skulls and jaws, each highlighting the amazing dental morphology that has evolved in the vertebrate lineage. All displayed specimens are housed in Wesleyan’s George Brown Goode Biology Collections.

wisdom teeth

Most vertebrates, such as an iguana or pelican, have “homodont” dentition with identical tooth structures throughout their jaw. Mammals, however, have “heterodont,” or specialized teeth (for example incisors to seize prey and molars to grind food so it may be digested more easily). Examples of both dentitions are displayed in the exhibit.

odfish As you can see, the thin struts of bone that make up the Codfish skull are unfused which allow for greater cranial flexibility. This flexible skull allows the Cod to extend their jaws forward and rapidly snatch prey by protruding the pre-maxilla. In addition, like many other teleosts- or bony fish, Cods use suction feeding by rapidly expanding the space in their mouth to create a negative pressure which sucks prey items into their jaws.

The “Wisdom Teeth” exhibit also includes an online component featuring several photographs and additional information. The codfish, pictured here, has thin struts of bone that make up the animal’s skull and allow for greater cranial flexibility. This flexible skull allows codfish to extend their jaws forward and rapidly snatch prey by protruding the pre-maxilla. They also rapidly expand the space in their mouth to create a negative pressure that sucks prey items into their jaws.

American Beaver Like all rodents, beaver’s teeth continue to grow throughout their life to prevent too much wear from accumulating. Beaver incisors are particularly durable as they are covered in a thick layer of enamel, with an orange tint from the presence of iron compounds. This iron oxidizes over time leaving beavers with orange teeth. This all makes sense when you consider the incredibly tough material that beavers must chew through to construct their dams.

The American beaver has heterodont teeth that grow throughout its life. Beaver incisors are covered in a thick layer of enamel, with an orange tint from the presence of iron compounds, which makes them extremely durable.

wisdom teeth

The Javan rhino has 28 teeth (1 incisor, 3 premolars, and 3 molars in each half of the jaw). Less than 75 Javan rhinos exist today. They browse the tropical rainforest in Indonesia searching for vegetation.

bear

According to the exhibit, omnivores like this grizzly bear have more generalist teeth that can be used to process a wide variety of foods. The incisors at the front can be used to slice through an animal but are also commonly used to graze grass. The menacing canines can be used to rip apart flesh or takedown squirrels and other small animals, but are also used to rip into logs to find grubs and ants. The molars and premolars can be used to crunch bones or crack nuts.

wisdom teeth

“Wisdom Teeth” was created by Fletcher Levy ’23 last summer as part of his work with the College of the Environment. “I was very inspired by the raw beauty of the osteology collections here at Wesleyan,” he said. “While working on this collection, I was struck by the diversity and beauty within the shape of teeth.” The exhibit was developed with the assistance of Professor of Biology Ann Burke; Assistant Professor of Archaeology Katherine Brunson; Harold T. Stearns Emerita Professor of Integrative Sciences Ellen Thomas; Andy Tan ’21; Yu Kai Tan MA ’21; facility manager Joel LaBella; instrument maker specialist Bruce Strickland; Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian Andrew White; and Science Library assistant Linda Hurteau. (Photos by Olivia Drake, Andy Tan and Yu Kai Tan)

 

Sea Dwelling Teleosaur Restored and Displayed in Exley Science Center

exley exhibit

A restored Teleosaur cast was mounted in Exley Science Center this month after spending 63 years in storage. Plaster casts are not fakes, but accurate replicas of actual specimens that retain fine details of the original that are important for study and access, especially for fragile specimens, destroyed originals, or specimens in private collections. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

A 7-foot-long extinct marine crocodile has finally found a permanent home on Wesleyan’s campus—exactly 150 years after it arrived.

Known as a Teleosaur (Macrospondylus bollensis), the sea-dwelling lizard lived during the early Jurassic period, approximately 180 million years ago. A cast was gifted to Wesleyan in 1871 by chemist Orange Judd of the Wesleyan Class of 1847, and the namesake of the University’s Orange Judd Museum of Natural Sciences.

When the museum closed in 1957, more than 900 animal casts, including the Teleosaur, were moved into storage in random locations throughout campus.

teleosaur

Yu Kai Tan BA/MA ’21 and Andy Tan ’21 restored the Teleosaur’s cast using more realistic coloring.

Over sixty years later, the Teleosaur cast was discovered in a large packing case in the Exley Science Center penthouse.

“When we unpacked it, it was still in reasonable shape. There weren’t many cracks, but the paint on its surface was badly damaged and there were many white spots,” said Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Emerita Professor of Integrative Sciences, Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History.

Thomas, along with Yu Kai Tan BA/MA ’21 and Andy Tan ’21, is spearheading efforts to restore and display the hundreds of artifacts placed in storage following the natural sciences museum’s closing. All restored casts become part of Wesleyan’s Joe Webb Peoples Museum.

The restored Teleosaur was originally exhibited alongside another 22-foot-long Teleosaur which—as seen in archival photos—was built into the wall of the museum.

“That large specimen was destroyed when the wall was blasted to pieces during renovations to the building but this one, thankfully, survived,” Yu Kai Tan said.

The team began working on it during the first phase of COVID-19 lockdowns in March 2020 and finished the restoration in May 2021 with the help of student curators, Cole Goco ’23 and Vivian Gu ’23. They used compressed air for the general dusting of the specimen and consolidated the cracks with archival resin. The missing paint flecks were filled in, then the entire specimen was retouched with colors that reflect the color of the original fossil.

“When these casts were custom-made for Wesleyan in 1871, they were rather simply painted with available paints at hand. Our restoration with modern reversible archival paints creates a better visual relief and more accurately reflects the original specimen from which the cast was made,” Tan said.

To top it off, they applied several coats of UV-resistant archival varnish to stabilize the paint surface and protect it from fading.

According to Henry Ward’s Catalogue of Casts of Fossils from 1866, the Teleosaur’s jaws were “armed with numerous long, slender, sharp-pointed, slightly curved teeth” and the hind limbs were “longer and stronger” than the forelimbs, “which indicated that the T. was a better swimmer” than the modern-day crocodile and likely “lived more habitually in the water and less seldom moved on drylands as its fossil remains have only been found in the sedimentary deposits from the seas.”

The Teleosaurus joins several other recently-restored creatures from the Joe Webb Peoples Museum and Collections including a single-tusked walrus skull, a restored taxidermied peacock, a Mosasaur marine lizard cast; an armadillo-like Glyptodon cast, and the “terrible beast” Deinotherium cast. The casts are used frequently for outreach and teaching.

Funding for the restoration projects is supported in part by Henry Monmouth Smith (1868-1950), a former Wesleyan chemistry professor well known for his book on Gaseous Exchange and Physiological Requirements for Level and Grade Walking, and Torchbearers of Chemistry. Smith left money to Wesleyan “to use and apply the income for the care, maintenance and increase of the collections in its Museum of Natural History.”

View additional photos of the restored Teleosaur below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

exley exhibit

The original fossil was discovered in Baden-Württemberg, Germany in 1828. The cast, which measures 7-feet 2-inches by 2-and-a-half-feet, originally cost $18. Today, it is still for sale at $1,450.

teleosaur

The Teleosaur cast is prominently displayed inside Exley Science Center. “Yu Kai and Andy aimed to restore it to the colors of the original,” Thomas explained. “The fossils are partially replaced by pyrite (‘fool’s gold, iron sulfide), hence the golden color.”

Restored Peacock Displayed in Wesleyan’s Science Library

peacock

The entrance to the Science Library in Exley Science Center houses a taxidermied peacock that has been restored by faculty and students in the biology department. The peacock, originally rediscovered in 2018 and put on exhibit in spring 2019, is part of a bird collection that was first displayed at the museum in Judd Hall and now belongs to the Wesleyan Museum of Natural History.

The restoration team, which includes Professor of Biology Ann Campbell Burke, Yu Kai Tan BA/MA ’21, Andy Tan ’21, and Fletcher Levy ’23, recently updated the display to include new signage and fresh peacock feathers from biology professors Stephen Devoto and Joyce Ann Powzyk’s farm.

“It was found in storage alongside a whole bunch of minerals in Room 316 of Exley,” Yu Kai Tan said. “It was sitting way up high on this shelf, and probably since 1970, no one has looked at it or touched it. It was covered in dust and muck.”

When the team first found the peacock, it was in such poor condition that they needed to call for outside help.

Single-Tusked Walrus Skull Settles into Olin Library

walrus

On Jan. 20, crews installed a walrus exhibit in Olin Library. Pictured, from left back row, are Katherine Brunson, assistant professor of archaeology and East Asian studies; Wendi Field Murray, Archaeology Collections manager and adjunct assistant professor of East Asian studies; Andrew White, Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian; Ann Burke, professor of biology; Bruce Strickland, instrument maker specialist; Jim Zareski, research assistant/lab manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; David Strickland, instrument maker; and Vivian Gu ’23. Pictured, kneeling, from left, are Yu Kai Tan ’20 and Andy (Dick Yee) Tan ’21.

Olin Library’s newest resident is looking for a good book to sink his tusk into.

The skull of a one-toothed walrus, which was installed in the Campbell Reading Room on Jan. 20, is the University’s latest exhibit on display from the former Museum of Wesleyan University (1871–1957). The piece was donated to Wesleyan 145 years ago by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History but has spent about half of its university life in storage.

The 26-pound skull, which is missing its right tusk, belonged to a Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) living along the Ugashik River in Alaska in 1876. The aquatic mammal would use its tusks to climb onto ice flows, attract mates, establish social structure, or for combat.

“We’re not exactly sure what happened to its other tusk,” said Professor of Biology Ann Campbell Burke. “In the wild, they don’t naturally shed their tusks, but they do get broken. This one was removed after death.”

Prehistoric Marine Lizard Exhibited Permanently in Olin Library

Mosasaur

On June 22, crews installed a Mosasaur exhibit in Olin Library. Pictured, from left, are Joel LaBella, facility manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Jim Zareski, research assistant/lab manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Yu Kai Tan ’20; Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences and Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History; Annie Burke, chair and professor of biology; Andrew White, Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian; and Jessie Steele, library assistant. Pictured in front kneeling is Andy Tan ’21.

As part of the University’s efforts to “activate campus,” a third prehistoric creature has taken up residence at Wesleyan.

The new Mosasaur exhibit is on permanent display inside Olin Library and is a collaboration of faculty, student, and staff efforts.

Mosasaurus hoffmannii Mantell (Mosasaur), a marine lizard, lived in the oceans during the Late Cretaceous period (66 to 68 million years ago) when the last dinosaurs walked the Earth. Mosasaurs had long, snake-like bodies with paddle-like limbs and flattened tails. Some specimens grew to be more than 50 feet long.

In 1871, chemist Orange Judd of the Wesleyan Class of 1847 donated the Mosasaur cast to the University, where it was prominently displayed for years at the University’s Orange Judd Museum of Natural Sciences. In 1957, the museum closed and thousands of artifacts, including the Mosasaur, were haphazardly stuffed into crates and boxes and stored in random locations throughout campus. For 60 years, the cast remained in its crate, first in the tunnels below Foss Hill, then tucked in the Exley Science Center penthouse, from where it was exhumed by Wesleyan staff and students in 2017.

“Terrible Beast” Takes Residence in Exley Science Center

Exley Science Center is now home to its second prehistoric specimen—a massive land animal known as a Deinotherium giganteum. This elephant-lookalike would have weighed up to 20,000 pounds and would use their massive tusks for stripping bark from tree trunks for eating and for dominating fellow males during mating season.

Exley Science Center is home to its second prehistoric specimen—a massive land animal known as a Deinotherium giganteum—or “terrible beast.” The skull cast is displayed in the hallway between Exley Science Center and the passway to Shanklin Laboratory and is part of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History. The exhibit was installed on Feb. 26.

In 2017, the Deinotherium skull was discovered in two wooden boxes by faculty and students exploring Exley Science Center’s seventh-floor penthouse. The skull was once a centerpiece to Wesleyan’s Natural History Museum, located on the top floor of Judd Hall (pictured at left). After the museum closed in 1957, the Deinotherium and thousands of other specimens and objects were relocated and displaced around campus. The skull was first housed in the tunnels beneath the Foss Hill residence hall and relocated to Exley in 1970. (Historic photo courtesy of Wesleyan’s Special Collections and Archives)

Giant Glyptodon Emerges in Exley Science Center

Joel LaBella, facility manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Bruce Strickland, Instrument maker specialist; Jim Zareski, research assistant/lab manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Freeman Scholar Yu Kai Tan '20; Freeman Scholar Andy Tan '21; Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences; Annie Burke, chair and professor of biology; and David Strickland, instrument maker.

The Glyptodon, a giant fossil cast that has been in storage since 1957, is now on display in Exley Science Center. Several members of the Wesleyan community helped install the 8-foot-long cast on Feb. 26. Pictured, from left, are Joel LaBella, facility manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Bruce Strickland, Instrument maker specialist; Jim Zareski, research assistant/lab manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Freeman Scholar Yu Kai Tan ’20; Freeman Scholar Andy Tan ’21; Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences; Annie Burke, chair and professor of biology; and David Strickland, instrument maker. Glyptodon means “grooved or carved tooth” in Greek. The creature lived approximately 2 million to 10,000 years ago.

The Glyptodon as seen from the front (upper) and back (lower) in its glory days, when it was displayed in the Orange Judd Museum of Natural Sciences, before 1957. Note the skull and hind left foot present, and the armored tail visible from the rear. Copy of 1876 advertisement by Ward, dated 1876, in which he names ‘the Wesleyan University of Middletown, Conn.’, as having purchased a number of his ‘Casts of celebrated Fossils’.

Prior to 1957, the Glyptodon was displayed in the Orange Judd Museum of Natural Sciences. Pictured in the center is an 1876 Ward advertisement, in which he names “the Wesleyan University of Middletown, Conn.” as having purchased a number of his “casts of celebrated fossils.”

For the past 60 years, a massive megafauna mammal thrived in crates buried in Wesleyan’s tunnels and attics. This month, the creature, known as a Glyptodon, has emerged in Exley Science Center for public viewing.

Although the armored armadillo-like animal became extinct more than 10,000 years ago, Wesleyan acquired a fossil cast in the 1870s, where it became a showpiece at the university’s Orange Judd Museum of Natural Sciences.

In 1957, the museum closed and thousands of artifacts, including the Glyptodon, were haphazardly stuffed into crates and boxes and hauled to multiple locations throughout campus.

“After the museum closed, everything was scattered all over, anywhere there was a place to put it,” said Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences and research professor of earth and environmental sciences. “Just recently, we’ve started to uncover all these lost treasures and we’re working to get them organized and cataloged. The Glyptodon is one of our major finds.”