Thursday, November 20, 2008

Catch-up (But not for Fries. A German would prefer Mayo)

There is an inverse relationship between the amount of wonderful stories I accumulate and the amount of time I have to chronicle them, so let me assure you that everything you haven’t been hearing about has been fantastic.

Here is a link to a photo album I’ve put to together with pictures running from SVP in mid-October to my trip to Weisbaden with the Ohio State crowd. I’ll fill you in on the details now…

After SVP I was anxious to finally get my science on in
Germany. Dr. Martin took me to the Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig, the huge zoological museum here in Bonn that I originally included in my essay about why this city was a great place to study a bunch of tiny bones. I was introduced to the curator of mammals, saw the collections where I will likely be spending many hours in the coming months and was told the reptiles are all in storage. This is a bummer because I need to know about lizard and turtle feet to figure out mammal feet, and all of the reptilian material is languishing in a disorganized storage vault somewhere in the city while part of the museum is renovated. I looks like I may need to take a few more trips to Frankfurt to check out the collections at their natural history museum.

After meeting all the dead animals that were first collected by a Alaxander Koenig, a wealthy bureaucrat who expressed his love for the animal kingdom by systematically shooting and stuffing it, and later by more earnest conservation and wildlife biologists, I was given free rein through the exhibits.

The place presents itself as a zoo with a smaller footprint. Rare animals are mounted in detailed dioramas that illustrate the diversity of habitats an
d animals on this planet, so of course the main guests are school groups. Docents roamed the exhibits, answering questions and leading herds of little people to the next animal. The students seemed genuinely engaged, but once they were allowed to explore on their own, the didactic value of the place eroded and the excitement of not being at school took over as groups of friends chased each other through the bird exhibits.

One of the more gruesome exhibits showing two dead animals, but one looks decidedly more dead than the other.

For my part, I’m always fascinated by how taxidermists decide to mount the animals. The most popular image, as always, is the prey pursed by predator. The thrill of the chase is always a great center piece for any exhibit. Animals strolling across the landscape don’t quite draw you in, but it also creates a kind of vicious image of nature red in tooth and claw. Nature can sure be bloody, but it can also be tender, and, more often than not, pretty boring to watch (if you don’t know what you’re looking at or for).

A more peaceful family scene. I'm told if I wander into certain German woodlands, I'm likely to run into one of these animals. They can be a bit rough around the edges, so I would prefer to have such an encounter from a distance, but still, wouldn't that be cool?

I’m really excited to get back and work with the bones they have at the museum, but first I need to figure out how to use geometric morphometrics and linear algebra…

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