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A "bizarre and unusual" Cal Day

"Bizarre and unusual" was the theme for the Berkeley Natural History Museum (BNHM) collaborative display on Cal Day, Saturday, April 12. Representatives from the UCMP, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Essig Museum of Entomology, UC Botanical Garden, and the University and Jepson Herbaria pulled some strange and just plain cool specimens from their collections for the many Bay Area residents who flock to Berkeley for this annual campus-wide open house.

UCMP's contribution to the courtyard display included the heavily clawed forefoot of an extinct giant sloth and a specimen of carrier shell. The sloth had to walk on the sides of its feet because the long claws prevented the animal from putting them flat on the ground. The carrier shell, a xenophorid marine gastropod, is unusual in that it cements other shells and objects to the edge of its own shell as it grows.

Click on any image on this page to see an enlargement. Left: Ashley Poust and Tripti Bhattacharya field questions from visitors at the UCMP display in the courtyard. Photo by Lucy Chang. Top right: The display included an articulated foot of a giant ground sloth, glass sponge, carrier shell (on the red background), two fossils of Ediacaran organisms, beaver-gnawed petrified wood (perhaps the only known specimen of its kind), and several examples of nodules that have fossils inside them. Photo by David Smith. Bottom right: Natalia Villavicencio (left) and Emily Orzechowski had the morning shift at the courtyard display. Photo by Camilla Souto.

Down in the "Fishbowl," UCMP's glass-walled meeting room, the museum addressed the question "What is a Fossil?" with examples of different kinds of fossil preservation, some pseudofossil specimens, and select images of interestingly shaped rocks that are sent to the museum by people thinking that they've discovered a fossil. Members of paleobotanist Cindy Looy's lab were also on hand to discuss their current research and the questions they're trying to answer.

Top left: Brian Rankin, a visiting student researcher from the University of Calgary, helps out at "What Is a Fossil?". Photo by Pat Holroyd. Top right: Jeff Benca and Renske Kirchholtes have the morning shift at the paleobotany table. Photo by Jenny Hofmeister. Bottom left: Diane Erwn and Dori Contreras take over in the afternoon. Photo by Lucy Chang. Bottom right: Diane and Dori are joined by Cindy Looy and Susan Tremblay. Photo by Lucy Chang.

Top left: Bill Clemens, who retired in 2002, is still happy to help out on Cal Day. Photo by Pat Holroyd. Top middle: Liz Ferrer assists a young paleontologist. Photo by Lucy Chang. Top right: Mark Goodwin helps a visitor with a question. Photo by Pat Holroyd. Bottom left: Pat Holroyd, Lisa White, and undergraduate volunteer Alexis Williams pose for the camera. Photo courtesy of Pat Holroyd. Bottom right: A possible caption for this photo could be "Please don't hurt me!" but Liz Ferrer is simply providing an explanation to a visitor. Photo by Lucy Chang.

A new event, organized and emceed by the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology's Monica Albe, was a game show called "Science in Disguise." The audience is asked to identify who, amongst a panel of scientists, has given the correct answers to a series of science trivia questions. UCMP grad students Whitney Reiner, Jessie Atterholt, and Ashley Poust were panelists.

Top left: The "Science in Disguise" panelists. Photo by Lucy Chang. Top right: Emcee Monica Albe explains how the game works. Photo by Jenny Hofmeister. Bottom left: Is Jessie Atterholt a scientist? Looks can be deceiving! Photo by Jenny Hofmeister. Bottom right: Ashley Poust gives the true answer … or does he? Whitney Reiner is on Ash's left. Photo by Lucy Chang.

It wouldn't be a proper Cal Day without "Fun With Fossils," the always popular activity where kids, both young and old, search for small Cretaceous bones, teeth, and fish scales in fossil-rich matrix collected from eastern Montana. Another UCMP Cal Day mainstay is the tours of the collections. During the day, 11 half-hour tours are conducted through the museum's normally off-limits research collections for those motivated people who come early to snatch up the free tickets. UCMP, as is its custom, also sold tee shirts. Both T. rex and Smilodon were back but this year's new design featured a trilobite.

Top left: Lucy Chang, Allison Stegner, and Junying Lim are ready to greet fossil hunters at "Fun with Fossils." Photo by Pat Holroyd. Top middle: Camilla Souto assists a young paleontologist. Photo by Lucy Chang. Top right: Rosemary Romero (left) helps identify fossils discovered by another youngster. Photo by Lucy Chang. Bottom left: Junying Lim helps with an identification. Photo by Camilla Souto. Bottom right: Undergraduate volunteer Gina Hwang helps out in the afternoon. Photo by Lucy Chang.

Three talks were presented this year. Grad student Jenna Judge began the day talking about the marine organisms that take up residence on waterlogged wood at the bottom of the ocean. She was followed by grad student Lindsey Dougherty who has been studying Ctenoides ales, often called the "disco" clam because of its unusual ability to flash light. Professor Kevin Padian, giving his third Cal Day talk in as many years, entertained visitors with the irresistible "Why do dinosaurs have such weird heads?"

Left: Kevin Padian talks about dinosaur skulls. Photo by Jenny Hofmeister. Right: Lindsey Dougherty gives her presentation on the "disco clam." Photo by Jenny Hofmeister.

All in all, it was another hectic but satisfying Cal Day!