Chicago Adventure, Part Three: Little Skeletons


The Chicago Field Museum is one of the largest and most respected natural history museums in the world. Join me as we go behind the scenes! Dun dun dun! Because of the nature of the collection we have all of these old, wild-caught specimens and you can put a zoo specimen of the same species in amongst the wild-caught and it stands out like night and day.
– Yeah, yeah. In terms of shape and excess bone, and all these weird- missing teeth.
– Yeah, abcesses. Yeah it’s ick. Andrea is our go to person for numbering bones. We would love to give you a demonstration of how fine she puts a six digit number on a skull that’s about that size. I would love to know because I have demolished a couple pygmy shrew skulls. So these are not numbered yet, – What?
but on something this small I would do the pelvis, each of the limbs, and the scapula.
-Oh my gracious. Are you- what? What’s usually the most important things to number are each side of the mandible and the skull. A researcher is most likely gonna look at the skull first.
– Mhmm. Wow. So. This is like watching magic happen. And if the pen’s working fine, then it just takes that, but if- also if the bones are really greasy using a larger pen where the ink will flow out a little bit quicker works better and usually with uh, something that’s pretty greasy, I’ll write the number out once and it’ll be really dilluted and you won’t be able to read it very well, and then I’ll write over it again. And what do you do if you screw up?
– I’ll use a scalpel and scrape the ink off. once it’s dry, or I will use alcohol and like, a Q-tip. and wash if off and just let the bone dry.
– Okay, and just… Um, and so for the skulls, our rule of thumb is to put the skull facing to the left, and imagine it as a, a grid with four quadrants and we put the number in the lower right. You just put it in a little pill capsule. Yeah, so little pieces that are just gonna get lost like, under the piece of paper end up going in a little pill capsule. Um, and then the, the pill cap will get numbered. I swallow things bigger than that. And this guy’s legs are-
– You’re not even, you’re not even gonna do that. The legs are being-
– I don’t even believe you right now. And look at those nails.
– I know, it’s- it’s wonderful, it’s like you were anticipating this.
– I painted them, just for you. Other systems of writing are different than ours, so sometimes the numbers are always on the other side, or they’re always written at an angle, or-
– Wow, weird. Yeah. Like, it’s stuff you don’t really think about until you actually see it, so. Yeah, no, I- I thought about that too.
– Yeah. Like, when I first started numbering I’m like, what? Where do you write the number on a femur? I’m sure if you came to our collection you would be horrified because sometimes I’m just like, “Aah- 26835” or whatever, and just wr- wherever. Well, especially when the bones are like, big, you could theoretically write it wherever you want,
– Yeah. but like, having a system of like, always writing something in the same place is nice,
– Consistency is key. like it’s not always gonna look the same from one animal to the next.
– Yeah. It’s amazing. You got some skills.
– But, yeah. Thank you. I’m very impressed, that was really sweet. So many cabinets! What are these? What’s in here? I’m so excited!
– What’s in here? Aaahh! Seals? Are these seals and sea lions? Seals have multiple cusps on each tooth, right?
– Yeah. So you see like, 3 or 4 points on each of those teeth?
– Mmhmm. This is a harbor seal, and this- uh, these points, these cusps uh, would allow this seal to grab a salmon and grip it, and it wouldn’t get away, like a tight end has little points on his gloves
– Yeah. so he can catch the- the football. And that’s a characteristic that’s found throughout all the phocids. They have, uh, cusps on each tooth.
– Mmhmm. But, there’s one particular phocid that has those cusps, but evolution has left them with a morphology that makes them use those cusps in a completely different fashion than the harbor seal. Ready?
– Mmhmm. What is happening- Oh, what. Is this a crabeater seal? That’s awesome. Th- They have the weird Christmas tree teeth.
– And what do they do with them? They filter for krill.
– Emily, you’re the best! That’s amazing! You can see all the details on all- oogh- Why? How did this happen? So they- they take a mouth full of water, close their teeth, and then squeeze the water out through their teeth and filter out all the krill. All the, the small, microscopic quote-unquote “crabs”- they’re actually invertebrates.
– Yeah. But, uh, and that can sustain them, and it’s the most populous seal in the world. That’s amazing. Yeah.
– Not only in Antarctica. So the same thing that sustains hundreds of thousands of these guys also sustains the 100-foot-long blue whales.
– Wow. All in Antarctica.
– Tha- tha- I can’t even- I don’t even know how this happens. Lobodon carcinophagus. “Lobed-tooth crab-lover.” That’s a pretty accurate name for these guys. I want teeth that look like that.
– Yeah so th- How long- How long would it take me to like, adapt and grow a pair of those? So, I don’t know, but if I come back next week, and these teeth are gone, and I see the next episode of The Brain Scoop, and you’re wearing some necklace with crabeater seal teeth on them…

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