Posts Tagged ‘natural history’

Video: Hollywood Auditions: Calling All Bugs!

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

We see them in movies all the time, and we all tend to squirm. Like in Indiana Jones, when Kate Capshaw is covered in creepy crawly bugs which would give most of us the heebie jeebies. Yet, there are professionals that love working with bugs, spiders and all of those other little critters that have more legs than we do. Entomologists study bugs while learning their behavior, habits, and how they work as a community.

The Smithsonian has studied some of the most common bugs in our backyards, including the everyday household ant. We may think they are simple little insects, but they actually create complex underground homes that include several spiraling caves into well-planned chambers. They communicate in a variety of ways, vibrating their bodies to let others know of food or danger. But there really is nothing like seeing the more exotic leaf-cutter ant in its own habitat, which you can do in Costa Rica. These ants create their nests by crawling up trees, carving out leaves, and then taking them back home. The leaves are then used to create compost to help feed the colony.

Paula, from our family show called SciQ on the Smithsonian Channel, was incredibly brave to complete this segment with a very special Hollywood actress named Rosie. If you are as brave as Paula, we’ve provided an opportunity for you to feed a tarantula at our O. Orkin Insect Zoo at the National Museum of Natural History.

Take your future bug scientist on our Costa Rica Family tour this summer!

Which is your favorite bug you love to hate?

Video: Diving Inside a Glacier

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

There are so many things we can learn from the Patagonia region whether from its culture or natural history. Here are a few little facts we uncovered.

  1. Patagonia is one of the least polluted places in the world, due to its remote location, sparse population and the low-impact lifestyle of its residents.
  2. Indigenous to the Patagonia region is the Kawésqar Community of Chile, who arrived in the region around 6000-7000 B.C. and were masters at navigating the waterways of the region. Their community has never been particularly large and maximum population estimates are around 5000. Today, there are only 22 living Kawésqar people and they are fighting to keep their culture and language from extinction.
  3. Scientists noticed repeated blue whale sightings close to shore in Patagonia’s Golfo Corcovado in the late 1990s. The location was actually a breeding location which was relatively unknown until these sightings were recorded. A team of researchers later identified the area as a blue whale nursery, which now provides opportunities to study this endangered species up close.
  4. Glaciers at Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, can reach almost four miles high. The National Park is the 3rd largest ice field in world behind Antarctica and Greenland.

What does it look like inside one of these massive glaciers? Take a look with these people who study glaciospeleology:

Would you scuba dive inside a glacier?

Learn more fun facts about Patagonia on our value-priced journey—Patagonia and the Natural Wonders of Argentina and Chile.  

Video: Iditarod – Where the Dogs are Braver than the People

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

The Iditarod is considered to be “The Last Great Race on Earth”, but the rock stars of the event aren’t the people, they are the dogs. The most well-known breeds are the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute, but during the Gold Rush era, there were teams of Foxhounds and Staghounds. Most recently, the Alaskan Husky breed has been the most popular to be used competitively. Smithsonian Journeys Program Manager Alyssa Bobst had the opportunity to see the best of the best up close and personal while volunteering as a dog handler. You can read about her experience here.

How amazing are these dogs? Sled dogs have been known to travel more than 90 miles in a 24 hour period while pulling 85 pounds each. They can burn as much as 14,000 calories per day during the race. Mushers must put their total trust and faith in the world-class athletes of the dog world. But are their mushers a little nervous as they face 1049 miles in the freezing Alaskan weather? According to this well seasoned expert, they shouldn’t be nervous – they should be scared.

Would you compete in the Iditarod?

Sing The Iditarod Trail Song with Hobo Jim while getting up close and personal as a volunteer dog handler on our tour: The Iditarod: Alaska’s Race Extraordinaire

Video: Birthplace of the Hope Diamond

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Say you were on a game show and they asked you, “In what country did the Hope Diamond originate?”

Would you know the answer?

The answer is India, but the details are sketchy at best. It was most likely found in the very productive Kollur Mine located in south central India, which operated between the 16th century and the mid-19th century. The diamond was first owned in the mid-17th century by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier as a roughly cut 112 3/16-carat gem, where it was then known as the “Tavernier Blue” until it was sold King Louis XIV of France in 1668 with 14 other large diamonds and several smaller ones. It has been recut by different owners since then and is now 45.52 carats.

Eventually Golconda, India’s Kollur Mine was depleted of its diamonds and interest shifted to mines in Brazil. But the Kollur Mine provided the world with several notable diamonds such as the Koh-i-Noor Diamond (meaning Mountain of Light), which is 105.6 carats and is part of the British Crown Jewels.

Today, The National Museum of Natural History has provided the Hope Diamond a home for the past 50 years, but the iconic gem has a long history, full of twists and turns. It’s surrounded by mythology, and has changed hands again and again over time. You can read more in Richard Kurin’s book The Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of the Cursed Gem.

See the original home of the Hope Diamond on our Mystical India Signature Tour.

If given the opportunity, would you wear The Hope Diamond?

SI Research Notes: Taxidermy

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Linda Stevens is the Field Notes Coordinator for Smithsonian Journeys. Combing the Institution for interesting projects happening around the world, she prepares these research notes especially for travelers.

Best Taxidermy EVER! by woodenmask.

Lifelike taxidermied animals in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Courtesy of Flickr user Woodenmask

The secret to a lifelike taxidermy mount is finding just the right supporting structure and parts—from the perfect eyeball to an accurate head shape. A selection of commercially available glass and plastic eyes, ears, and tongues, represent just a few of the products that taxidermists use to create mounts. However, some needed items just are not commercially available. Exhibiting taxidermy mounts can involve sculpting foam and clay, casting heads and hands, toes and tongues, tanning hides, shampooing and dyeing hair, sewing thousands of tiny stitches, painting feet and beaks, and many more transformational tasks.

For example, primates are rarely mounted, so when the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History wanted to exhibit an orangutan in its Hall of Mammals, the taxidermy team members needed to build all the supporting forms themselves—a huge collaborative effort that resulted in one of the most striking specimens in the Hall. Each body part was carved from foam based on measurements taken from the animal carcass.

The parts were glued together and then altered with foam to create a lifelike body shape that fit the skin. The skin was tanned and then tested several times on the form to be sure it fit perfectly. A death mask of auto body filler was made, recording the distinctive facial features of the specific orangutan in question. From that, SI taxidermists built the facial structure of clay, using the death mask and other measurements as references. A small, preliminary model, or maquette, was sculpted of clay to help the team envision the pose in three dimensions and plan the life-size model. Days were devoted to sculpting the body and head, the hair was prepared, and the finished mount was placed on display along with a white rhino donated by former President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 in addition to 272 other mammal specimens.

Ever been fooled by really good taxidermy? Share below!

What makes a mammal, how did they evolve, and where do they live? Click  for answers from our mammal exhibit.

If you like your mammals live and up close, join us on a  natural history or wildlife safari  tour.