Observations from the Freshman-Brought to you by Raymond

If I said that I had planned to work at The Ohio State University’s Museum of Biological Diversity from the beginning of my college career, I’d be lying. If I said that I was aware of the museum’s existence before last October, I’d still be lying (I know. I’m just the worst).

If I were to spin a yarn about how I first got started at the museum, it would begin last semester when I was frantically searching for an undergraduate research position. As a zoology major entering my third year of college, I thought to myself, I should probably start getting zoology work related experiences to put on my resume and undergraduate research seemed the most appealing. The problem is that Sasquatch is easier to find than a professor doing zoology-related research and who is looking for an undergraduate to participate. So after much searching, emailing, crying, etc… I asked the undergraduate research office where I could go to find said professors looking for undergraduate workers. They replied that most of researchers could be found, or have an office at the University’s Museum of Biological Diversity.

Upon hearing this, my initial thought was, “We have a Museum of Biological Diversity?” My second thought was, “We have a Museum of Biological Diversity and I’m just hearing about this now?”  I took a bus out to Carmack Corner, walked up a dirt road and found this place on the very edge of the University’s land. When I first discovered the museum, I was so incredibly intrigued and excited about what could be inside. Upon further investigation however, I was incredibly disappointed to see it wasn’t an “actual” museum but more akin to the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A picture of OSU's Museum of Biological Diversity. A very plain looking brick building.

There is the building in all its glory. When I say that this museum is out of the way, I mean it is really at the far western end of campus.

It wasn’t until the beginning of this semester that I had heard about the museum’s annual open house. I had been told that this is the one day of the year that the museum resembles the general public’s view of what an actual museum rather than a warehouse, so I decided to attend. The open house was a wonderful experience for a zoology major, such as myself. After entering the building, I was soon surrounded by specimens of exotic and colorful birds and skeletons from a wide variety of different animals. After seeing all this awesome stuff, I thought to myself, “Gosh wouldn’t it be just swell to work/intern/volunteer here?” So I had met with the curator, Dr. Angelika Nelson, and began to volunteer my time labeling and organizing specimens in the museum’s Tetrapod collection.

So it’s been a little over a month since I started at the museum (I refer to myself as a freshman for a reason) and now I have a chance to really look back and reflect on what I’ve done so far. All that I’ve really done (again, I’ve only been here a month) is print labels, organize loans, do some geo-referencing and maybe (if I should be so lucky) count how many 100-year old hummingbirds we have in our collection. Make no mistake; museum work is not for everybody. At times it can seem like long, tedious and mind-numbingly boring work.

But I love every minute of it.

I’m sure that if the average person were to come to the museum and try to do what it is that we do there, they’d either recoil in disgust or fall asleep from boredom. And that’s fine, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. For me however, working at the museum is one of the greatest jobs I’ve ever had. Animals, in general, just wholly fascinate me and I grew up watching the old Animal Planet. When I printed labels for specimen cabinets, I got to look at some of the most exotic and unique bird species I’ve ever seen. Not to mention that I got to touch three of the endangered bird species the Tetrapod collection possess: an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, a Passenger Pigeon and a Carolina Parakeet (I can die happy now). Working there is basically nirvana for a guy like me.

A head on picture of the Tetrapod Collection's Ivory Billed Woodpeckers.

Not going to lie… These are the most exciting specimens I have seen so far.

While working at the museum is incredibly fascinating and fun, I’d be lying (again) if I said there was only one reason why I love it there. Going into the museum and doing all this science-related work makes me feel like I’m getting closer to actually being a zoologist. For anyone who is a zoology major at OSU, I don’t need to tell you how difficult the major program is. I spent the first two years of college trying my absolute hardest just to get through the math requirements (don’t even get me started on that ungodly chemistry program). So working here (along with actually doing major courses) makes me feel as though I’m becoming a “big kid” in my field.

I’ve often said that the greatest decision that I ever made was joining the Boy Scouts. However, I think I may have topped myself by choosing to work at this museum. I love the work that I do in the Tetrapod collection and it helps me feel as though I’m actually doing something worthwhile with my time. If you’ve enjoyed reading about my experiences, then you’re in luck. My latest responsibility for the museum is to write more of these blog posts, so the fun never has to end. Until next time dear reader.

Raymond is one of our newest volunteers in the Tetrapod Collection who will be interning with us this coming fall. His current projects here included working with our amphibian and reptile collection.

A Week of Shadowing–Brought to you by Sara

Museums are magical, wonderful places filled with dead things, and a seemingly endless array of shelves and cabinets. It’s amazing.

My first experience with The Ohio State University (OSU) was a campus tour in the midst of junior year’s frantic, college-search during summer. But when that haze settled and senior year rolled around with the spring time shadowing, I knew exactly where I wanted to go: OSU Museum of Biodiversity (MBD). Natural museums and specimen preparation had always piqued my interest. There was a place where I could go through archives and archives of animals and potentially skin a dead bird? Count me in.

I didn’t live in the area, though my relatives did, so getting to the museum took some arrangement. (I live in Alabama, so readjusting to this foreign phenomenon of “snow” took time). But when I did manage to straighten everything out, I was incredibly excited. I walked into the Tetrapod Collection to be greeted by a labyrinth of shelves and dead things.

Picture of Tetrapod shelving units full of their mounted bird specimens

The labyrinth of shelves and dead things

As enthusiastic as I was and am about museums, I certainly didn’t know everything they did or how they stayed organized. Stephanie and Emily (MBD’s Tetrapod Collection Staff) were quick to remedy that for me. There was running around and sorting aplenty: I learned about shelf life, databases, how to sort specimens, sew tags, create loans, and pick out the most appealing animals for classes (i.e. the taxidermy that isn’t glaring at you).

Picture of mounted mink specimens barring their teeth.

Not sure if you are judging me or not…

Many classrooms, organizations, and artists borrow items—ranging from images to boxed-up owls—from museums, and with good reason. Museums are interactive, interdependent systems that rely on each other and the community to remain operational. They are constantly growing and changing catalogs with an infinite supply of valuable information. The more people that recognize museums importance, the better. While museum work has its fair share of tedium between fun, I’m now confident that I want to work in one. The hard work needed to run a museum is worth it.

A drawer full of skinned shorebirds.

A drawer full of skinned shorebirds.

I also learned that when skinning a bird, cornmeal is the answer to everything. In fact, it’s so eager to share its knowledge and worth that will get everywhere. There will be cornmeal in your dreams twenty years from now. Accept it. Aside from the omnipresent cornmeal, I learned how to put a round skin together from top to bottom, and went through the entire process of inverting and re-stuffing a bird. My subject was a House Sparrow. Although he lost weight during the ordeal, after all the brain-scooping, measuring, humerus trimming, and stuffing, he was back to his fluffy plump self.

Picture of a House Sparrow

The beginning of the process

A picture of a House Sparrow with it's sternum exposed, and it's body covered in cornmeal.

The beginning of the process

A picture of the house sparrow carcass almost completely detached from the specimen's skin

Removing the carcass

A picture of an empty House Sparrow skin.

A fully inverted skin!

A fully skinned, House sparrow specimen that has been re-stuffed making it a round skin.

All finished, time to pin the bird so it can dry.

A bird wrapped in cheese cloth, pinned to a styrofoam board to dry.

The pinned specimen, which will dry and be put in the collection.

While the Tetrapod Collection was amazing, it wasn’t the only part of the biodiversity building I visited. Thanks to Dr. Angelika Nelson (Curator of the Tetrapod and Borror Lab collections), I also got to see the Borror Lab of Bioacoustics, and go on a birdwatching trek. I watched the lab digitize animal calls and transfer them from cassettes to the internet, where they would be available for anyone to access. Birds are giving mammals a run for their money as my favorite animals after my visit to the MBD. Besides just listening to birds, I saw many of Ohio’s local avian residents with my own eyes through a pair of binoculars. The Red-winged Blackbirds are out in full this season, noisily perching atop any shrub they can find and displaying. The wetlands, as a whole, are teeming with life.

A round skin of a Red-winged Blackbird male.

Red-winged Blackbird, a species that is alive and well in the wetlands.

Sadly, my week-long shadowing experience at OSU is drawing to an end. Though I stayed in the Tetrapod and Borror Biacoustic collections, the Triplehorn Insect, Acarology, Ichthyology, and Mollusk collections are all wonderful as well. I owe lots of thanks to Dr. Angelika Nelson, Stephanie Malinich, and everyone at the museum for making this possible and showing me around. It’s dismaying that I won’t get to visit the museum again for a long time. But this visit was amazing in every regard, and reminded me why I love museums.

I’m probably still going to find cornmeal in my pockets after I’ve left…