June 04, 2015

Birds that bury their eggs: How megapodes’ nesting behavior evolved

Australian Brush-turkey chick shortly after hatching and emerging
from incubation mound and showing well-developed flight feathers.
Photo: Burke Museum.
By Sharon Birks

Did you know that not all birds sit on their eggs to incubate them? Megapodes (family Megapodiidae)—a fascinating group of birds named for their large feet—cleverly harness environmental heat sources to incubate their eggs.

Depending on the species and location, megapodes may lay their eggs in burrows dug in sun-warmed beaches or geothermally active areas, or they may build large incubation mounds that function like compost piles and generate heat through decomposition.

Although most megapodes look like distant chicken relatives (they are), their unique incubation behavior has driven a suite of unusual adaptations, including:
  • large feet to help them dig burrows or build mounds; 
  • thin, porous egg shells to help eggs “breathe” underground; and
  • the ability for chicks to dig themselves out from under several feet of soil after hatching and emerge ready to fly and fend for themselves.

How did this odd incubation behavior evolve?

May 20, 2015

Introducing Washington's first dinosaur

Brace yourselves, dino-lovers: Burke Museum paleontologists have discovered the first dinosaur fossil ever found in Washington state!

The fossil is a partial left thigh bone of a theropod dinosaur, the group of two-legged, meat-eating dinosaurs that includes Velociraptor, Tyrannosaurus rex and modern birds. It was found along the shores of Sucia Island State Park in the San Juan Islands.

The fossil is approximately 80 million years old and is from the Late Cretaceous period. During that time, the rocks that today form Sucia Island were likely further south. How much further south is a topic of scientific debate, with locations ranging between present day Baja California, Mexico, and northern California. Earthquakes and other geologic forces that constantly reshape our planet moved the rocks north to their present-day location.

Burke Museum Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Dr. Christian Sidor and University of Washington graduate student Brandon Peecook describe the find in the journal PLOS ONE.

As the Washington State Museum of Natural History and Culture, we're so excited to display Washington's first dinosaur fossil in our lobby and share the discovery with you!

The road to discovering Washington’s first dinosaur fossil...
On April 10, 2012, two Burke Museum research associates were at Sucia Island State Park with a collecting permit for fossil ammonites—sea creatures with spiral-shaped shells that lived at the same time as dinosaurs.

The shore where the fossil was found on the southwest tip of Sucia Island State Park.
Photo courtesy of the Burke Museum.

April 29, 2015

Danny Shelton: Building cultural connections

University of Washington student and Husky football player Danny Shelton is a familiar face at the Burke Museum. As a student he completed several independent study courses at the Burke with Holly Barker, curator of Oceanic and Asian culture, building a stronger connection to his heritage in the process. During that time, Danny became an inspiration for his fellow classmates, encouraging them to utilize the Museum for their own cultural research and leading lessons about Polynesian culture for K-12 students at the Burke and beyond.

An article about Danny’s journey appeared in yesterday's Seattle Times. In the article, Holly said she's "proud of how [Danny] opened the museum's doors for many of his UW teammates, particularly the tight knit Polynesian players, to follow through on his work there." And she is proud. We all are!

As Danny prepares for the NFL draft tomorrow night in Chicago, we want to celebrate his time at the Burke and honor him for the work he’s done and the doors he’s helped open for so many others seeking connections to their cultural heritage.

Danny carefully glues parts on a pump drill as John Timu looks on.

The following is an excerpt from the introduction Holly gave Danny as the honored guest at our Curators Dinner this past Friday evening. 

We honor Danny for the many facets we have all come to know and love during his time at the Burke—attributes beyond his outstanding career as a Husky football player.

At the Burke, we honor...

April 13, 2015

So this spider walks into a pine cone...

By Rod Crawford

Euryopis formosa spider in pine cone, July 10, 2011,
Thunder Lake, Yakima County, Washington.
Photo: Laurel Ramseyer.
On a sunny day in late May 2008, I went on a spider collecting field trip to Swauk Prairie outside of Cle Elum, Washington, with Laurel Ramseyer, a friend and field volunteer. The weather forecast called for "breezy." We'd have called it downright windy!

It was difficult to collect spiders with the wind blowing away anything loose and exposed. I did manage to sift nine spider species from hawthorn leaf litter, but only swept six species from the rippling sea of grass. Laurel had similar troubles.

Then Laurel saw a spider run into a large fallen pine cone (probably to get out of the wind), so she picked up the pine cone and started to whack it inside her net in an attempt to collect the spider. It worked! We were in a Ponderosa pine woodland with a lot of pine cones so she continued whacking more cones and eventually added three good species to that site's spider list.

This small beginning led to a major obsession for Laurel and she began using this method at other sites. To date she has whacked nearly 7,000 pine cones inside a heavy-duty net held against her leg, looking for the pine cone spider fauna that she, in a sense, discovered. Laurel (with a little help from me) collected 1,060 spiders from 4,600 eastern Washington pine cones between 2008 and 2013. I identified the spiders and added them to the Burke's collection.

Laurel sorting a pine cone beat sample, May 18, 2011,
Moloy Road on Wenas Creek, Yakima County, Washington.
Photo: Rod Crawford.

As it turns out, no spider species were previously recorded as collected from pine cones. Discovering a new spider species is relatively common, but discovering a whole new spider habitat—that's really something!

Some spiders evidently live in pine cones long-term, while others just use them to molt, lay eggs and rest when not out hunting. Or they wander in at random like that first one Laurel saw back at Swauk Prairie.

Euryopis formosa spider on pine cone scale, June 4, 2011,
Teanaway Campground, Kittitas County, Washington.
Photo: Laurel Ramseyer.

The spider we most commonly found in Washington pine cones was Euryopis formosa, a beautiful creature with a dark heart shape inside a bright silver patch on the abdomen. Sampling pine cones more than quadrupled the number of E. formosa specimens in the Burke spider collection—it was found at 47% of sampling sites!

This was the first study to describe the spider fauna of fallen pine cones and now there are 89 species recorded in our published paper, including two species never found in Washington state before.

Spiders are everywhere—even in pine cones!

Pine cone with spider web, June 22, 2011,
Thirteenmile Creek, Ferry County, Washington.
Photo: Laurel Ramseyer.


To learn which spider species use fallen pine cones, read our study published in Western North American Naturalist (PDF). 

Interested in more about arachnids? Read other Burke blog posts by Rod or check out Rod's Spider Myths website for myths, misconceptions, and superstitions about spiders.

February 12, 2015

Studying hybrid lizard species through DNA

by Jared Grummer 

I often wonder what non-scientists think of my research: why would people care about lizards that most will never see? When I say I study hybrids, do they think I mean hybrid cars? Hybridization, or interbreeding between distinct species, of lizards in Argentina is a very foreign idea for most, in more ways than one.

Lizard basking in the sand
Liolaemus "melanops", though this likely represents an undescribed species.

January 27, 2015

Origin of the Seahawks logo: The story unfolds

It’s been one year since we first explored the connection between a Native mask from the Pacific Northwest and the original Seattle Seahawks logo. What a year it has been! Now, as the Seahawks prepare to "re-Pete" their visit to the Super Bowl, here’s what we’ve learned so far about the mask that inspired the logo.

Photo courtesy of the Hudson Museum.

November 11, 2014

A collection of Washington state symbols, natural history style

On Nov. 11, 2014, Washington state turns 125. In the spirit of celebrating, we highlighted 12 objects in the Burke collections that are quintessentially Washington—at least according to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), a compilation of all laws enacted by the state's Legislature.

Washington has 22 official state symbols to date under the RCW, and 12 of them can be found at the Burke Museum—the Washington state museum of natural history and culture since 1899. We care for these objects, and millions more, as a record of nature and culture to help us to understand how the choices we make today will affect the future.

Here are the 12 Washington state symbols in the Burke collections:

State Tree: Western Hemlock

The western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) is found in Washington's temperate rain forests. This evergreen conifer can grow up to heights of 230 feet, with the longest living specimen being more than 1,200 years old; it became the State Tree in 1947. Fun fact: new-growth needles can be steeped to make vitamin-rich tea. Date collected: May 6, 1967.