The fossilized residents of the Peabody Museum of Natural History had to make room for a hodgepodge of living critters and children visiting for Identification Day.
Children and adults alike gathered in the museum yesterday to watch experts identify a wide range of both living and inanimate specimens brought in by local residents. The museum’s Great Hall was permeated with excited children, colorful exam tables and eclectic artifacts which the museum put on display especially for the occasion.
David Heisser, the event’s coordinator and a trained botanist, said the event accomplished its goal of bringing daily museum work into the public eye.
“As a museum, we do this all the time, but behind closed doors,” he said. “We want to inspire people of all ages to experience the world around them, and a good way of doing this is encouraging [them] to collect things.”
Surrounding the 65-foot long Apatosaurus dinosaur fossil were 11 examination tables littered with rocks, vertebrae samples, books, plants and even living creatures. Lynn Jones, a museum assistant in the Etomology and Botany Department and an expert in insect development, identified numerous creatures, including a jelly fungus that a seven-year-old boy brought to her desk.
She said she was enthusiastic about interacting with children from the community at the event.
“It’s a good opportunity to deal with the public,” she said.
Throughout the day, Jones came into contact with fly pupa, various insects and what she calls the “turkey-tail fungus,” Trametes versicolor, named for its resemblance to a fluttery turkey tail.
Walter Joyce of the museum’s Vertebrate Paleontology Department showed a walrus rib fragment to the crowd around his display table. He said some participants brought in a turtle shell and possum skull for him to identify. Joyce said he was glad to volunteer for this important event and had a fun time using his knowledge to teach children.
“It was interesting to see people with all different knowledge who were willing to share [it],” said one mother, who brought her two children and niece to the museum for the afternoon.
Her children, ages four and seven, respectively, were excited to present a bark beetle from their garden’s elm tree to one of the experts and said they were happy to find out what exactly it was.
While all specimens were welcome, including leaves, meteorites and fossils, a special disclaimer addressed the living creatures that were brought to the experts’ tables. The museum required that they be secured in breathable containers and “promptly returned to their native environment.” This request appeared to be followed, museum staff said.
“[The event is intended to] expose the public to things they don’t get to see,” mineralogist Ellen Faller said.
She said some of the items the museum showed yesterday, such as a meteorite sample, are not on display in regular exhibitions, making Identification Day a rare event.
One of Faller’s most popular displays was graphite rocks, which children used liberally to write on sheets of paper provided by the museum. Her polychromic display of other rocks such as granite, mica, feldspar and pergmatite attracted many interested faces.
Heisser said the event was a success, and his only dissatisfaction is that it only happens once a year.