Darwin Day at the Dinosaur Discovery Museum: report

February 15, 2015 • 4:11 pm

by Greg Mayer

Jerry has just returned from his Darwin Day activities in Mississippi, and I’m sure we’ll be receiving a report on how things went (including in the culinary department). In the meantime, here’s a report on how things went at the Dinosaur Discovery Museum’s Darwin Day event last weekend.

The museum has one main exhibit hall, having a very large number of dinosaurs (especially theropods); most are high quality reproductions. In the lobby, I set up a temporary exhibit table on the theme of “Highly Evolved Tetrapods”, meaning ones that have lost or rearranged major parts of their skeletons. My table, manned by my son Christian and myself, featured live animals.

The tetrapod table.
The highly evolved tetrapod table.

The hit of the exhibit was Vivian, an adult ball python (Python regius). Many people, as urged to by our signage, asked to see Vivian’s hind legs.

Vivian-- the star of the show.
Vivian– the star of the show.

Most people (even biologists) don’t know that some extant snakes have vestigial hind limbs, and my son and I have always liked to show them off. Once, when he was in grade school, he told a naturalist at a creationist nature camp (admittedly an odd combination) about the legs on a python they had on exhibit. She demurred, but my son, in good faith (he didn’t know they were creationists) persisted, and offered to show the legs to her. She allowed as she had seen the structures, but that they weren’t legs. He again persisted, stating (correctly) that the leg bones and pelvis were still there, and that they were legs. She could only sputter that they were not legs “in my world view”!

Curator of Education Nick Wiersum with a friend.
Nick Wiersum, Curator of Education, ain’t afraid of no toad.

The giant toad (Bufo marinus; called cane toads in Australia, but native from Texas to Argentina) was also quite popular. You can see the large ellipsoid poison glands behind the eye, and the swelling of the body to make swallowing difficult, another defensive attribute. We also had an American toad (Bufo americanus; common throughout most of the eastern United States and Canada) for comparison. Both are good-sized adults.

American Toad vs. Giant Toad
American Toad vs. Giant Toad

We also had Slidey, a red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans); we’ve noted before here on WEIT how highly evolved turtles are.

Slidey the Red-eared Slider
Slidey the Red-eared Slider

My paleontological colleagues Summer Ostrowski and Chris Noto set up a temporary exhibit featuring small, touchable fossils and a very fine selection of plastic animals.

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The plastic animals (all high quality collector-grade pieces) were arranged in correct phylogenetic arrangement. Although you can barely see him under the mammoth’s chin, humanity is represented by a 3D print of Charles Darwin as depicted in the sitting statue of him at the Natural History Museum in London.

The pyhlogeny of plastic animals.
The phylogeny of plastic animals.

Chris and I also gave lectures in the museum’s downstairs class room, on “How Evolution Works” (me) and “What the Fossil Record Tells Us about Evolution”. Nick Wiersum, Curator of Education, led special activities in the main exhibit hall.

“I once caught a fish, this big.”

I think the event was quite successful, with events suitable for kids, students, and adults. There was a good crowd, from kids through adults, with steady numbers the whole day, and lots of good questions. The attendees included WEIT readers, some who came from Milwaukee and Evanston– thanks so much for the support, and it was good to meet you!

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Thx for pix: Chris Noto, Jim Shea

32 thoughts on “Darwin Day at the Dinosaur Discovery Museum: report

  1. I once visited a zoo in Virginia where a zookeeper gave a talk and showed the stumps or whatever they’re called on a snake and said “These used to be legs.” He then pointed out that the Bible says that God cursed the serpent by taking away his legs. At the time, I just assumed that he was trying to please both sides, but now I’m not sure. As Keith Ham says, evolutionists and creationists can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions.

    Did you get any creationists showing up at Darwin Day wanting “equal time?”

    1. No, no identifiable creationists were there. There was a guy– a philosophy professor?– who gave Chris a hard time about being “closed minded” because he was unwilling to waste his time investigating homeopathic claims. I was glad he went to Chris’s table!


  2. In a former life I was a docent at the San Diego Natural History Museum. We would often guide groups of excited students who were bused in on field trips, chatting away to them about this or that.
    One day we had a group from a Christian school, but I did not know that until we came to the hands-on exhibit of local fossils. These were marine fossils from sandstone deposits about 100 miles inland. I asked them how they got there, far from the sea. They immediately and confidently answered: ‘From the great flood!’
    Oh…’, I said, suddenly realizing the nature of the group that I was guiding. I did my best to explain changes in sea level and tectonics, and that these fossils were a few million years old by all measures. I doubt I made a dent.

  3. So how many people walked up to the plastic replicas, picked up a Stegosaurus, and said “curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”?

        1. It’s from the pilot episode of the TV show Firefly, which ran for half a season on FOX in 2002. It’s considered a cult classic. Fans are pretty much compelled to recreate the scene whenever they encounter plastic dinosaurs.

            1. No, FOX, home of the Simpsons (not to be confused with FAUX Noise, home of conservative outrage). Though back when Firefly was on the air, SciFi was still producing something other than low quality monster movies.

        1. It’s also the perfect line to say to Joss Whedon when he kills one of your favourite characters, which happens a lot.

          1. Around here, there’s not much Firefly fandom, so I’ve only ever spoken with a couple of other fans.

            That’s probably your fault for choosing to spend your free time writing books about science and traveling to far off locals instead of hanging around at the local comic book store. Just think about how different your day would be if instead of providing a place on the internet where thousands of people from around the world could learn interesting things about the animals and plants that inhabit our world, you instead spent your afternoons figuring out who would win in a fight between Batman and Darth Vader.

  4. If anyone is interested, the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton Ontario has a great frog and toad exhibition which continues until April 12.


      1. I like the RBG too. Maybe I will go in time. People tend to go there in April because they are getting sick of winter.

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