February 7, 2024

The Surprising Snow Fly - An Insect That Defies Winter

The surprising snow fly – an insect that defies winter

As you trek across the snowy landscape in a (typical) Manitoba winter, one of the last creatures you might expect to be sharing the trail with is an insect. One of the reasons you are in the woods during this season might be to avoid insects! But as the temperatures hover around the freezing mark, keep your eyes open and you might be lucky enough to see a snow fly walking alongside you. Snow flies (genus Chionea) are harmless and flightless species of crane fly (family Tipulidae) (Fig. 1). Crane flies are more likely recognized as the long-legged, skinny flies that are often mistaken to be giant mosquitoes (but don’t feed as adults or only sip nectar) (Fig. 2).

Top view of a female snow fly, a narrow-bodied fly with no wings, walking on snow.

Figure 1: A female snow fly (Chionea valga), a wingless member of the crane fly family (Tipulidae), walking on snow in January 2010 (© P. Taylor, used with permission).

A crane fly with wings and very long, narrow legs beside the top of a mechanical pencil for scale.

Figure 2: A more typical warm-weather crane fly with wings and very long, thin legs from the Museum collection with a pencil for scale.

Snow flies are highly specialized, as you might expect given they are active in winter rather than in summer as other crane flies. Their odd habits have made them difficult to study; much less is known about the lives of snow flies compared to their relatives. They are usually found under the snow in what is called the subnivean zone, the space between the snow pack and the ground (Fig. 3). Here, there is an insulated layer with stable temperatures just below or near the freezing mark that harbours an entire community of lichens, mosses and other plants, mice, voles, shrews, and many invertebrates. Snow flies live in the decaying, woody debris of the forest floor under this snowy blanket. Eggs are laid in winter and the larvae are thought to feed on plant debris or, perhaps, are coprophagous – that is, they might eat mouse or vole poop (yum!). They pupate in late summer or fall and emerge as adults in winter, under the snow. The adults, like most other crane flies, are not known to feed, although they do sip water and readily drink maple syrup when offered in lab conditions.

A cross-section view of snow and earth that shows how plants and small rodents can live under the snow.

Figure 3: A cutaway view of a layer of snow and the forest floor to show the subnivean zone, the space between the snow and the ground that provides a stable and relatively warm environment for small mammals, invertebrates, and plants to survive the winter. This is a mini-diorama in the Arctic/Sub-Arctic Gallery of the Manitoba Museum.

Warm-weather crane flies live for only a few days, just long enough to find a mate and have females lay eggs. Snow flies are known to live for as long as two months, perhaps tied to a slower metabolism in a colder environment, but also perhaps a specialization that provides time to wait for favourable conditions to permit emergence from beneath the snow. When daytime highs go above -2°C, they go walkabout for tens of metres, perhaps farther, to find a mate (Fig. 4).

Two photos: One the left, a snow fly from the side, stepping forward. On the right, a male snow fly, a wingless crane fly with long legs, walking on snow.

Figure 4: A female (left) and male (right) snow fly (Chionea valga) walking over snow one January, searching for each other along a trail in Pinawa, Manitoba (© P. Taylor, used with permission).

A snow-covered trail through a boreal forest.

But why come to the surface in winter at all? The reason remains obscure, but it has been suggested that winter activity might help avoid predation; there are far more hungry organisms about in the warmer months. Another suggestion is that snow provides a uniform substrate on which to walk; it is easier for a flightless fly to cover more walking-distance and find a mate on a smooth flat surface than the rough, uneven, and complex terrain of the boreal forest floor (Fig. 5).

 

Figure 5: A trail near Pinawa, Manitoba showing typical habitat where snow flies can be found on warm winter days. © P. Taylor, used with permission.

An illustrated view of the head and thorax of a female snow fly to show eggs in the thorax where there would normally be flight muscles.

And, indeed, these flies can’t fly. They have lost their wings and flight muscles. Their subnivean (under-the-snow) habitat does seem to make wings redundant and, even when above the snow, temperatures are likely too low to permit extended flight. But how loss of wings evolved along with this winter life-style is not understood. The females of at least some species take advantage of the loss of flight muscles by using that space to store more eggs (Fig. 6).

 

Figure 6: The head and thorax of a female snow fly. The thorax is shown in cross-section. Like all snow flies, the wings are absent, as are the flight muscles that would be located in the thorax. In this species, the area where the wing muscles would normally be is used to store additional eggs. From Byers (1983).

Many insects avoid freezing over winter by producing sugars and proteins in their body fluids to create an ‘anti-freeze’; they can lower their internal freezing temperature by keeping ice crystals from forming as early as they would ordinarily. Many freeze-tolerant insects can survive temperatures well below -25°C. Surprisingly, snow flies aren’t particularly good at producing antifreeze nor are they very freeze tolerant; they freeze (and die) at body temperatures below about -6°C.  This means that they are restricted to the (relatively) warm subnivean world most of the winter, and explains why their mate-searching activities are limited to warmer days (as noted, about -2°C or higher). One of the snow fly’s more important adaptations is that they appear to have modified nerve and muscle function to operate at low temperatures. They can remain active to the point of freezing! This means, that on a sunny day when the dark body can absorb solar heat and remain above air temperature, a snow fly can be actively walking at -10°C (Fig. 7).

A female snow fly, a wingless crane fly, walking on snow.

Figure 7: A female snow fly (Chionea valga) actively walking on the snow near Pinawa, Manitoba on January 27, 2015. © P. Taylor, used with permission.

A more astounding adaptation: it has recently been discovered that a snow fly can self-amputate its legs to keep a freezing limb from transferring killing ice crystals into its body and destroying critical internal organs. Many insects, and especially summer crane flies, lose their long, spindly legs quite easily if held; mechanical amputation of a leg can help to escape a predator. But the larger, more substantial legs of snow flies do not come off by pulling; rather, they are triggered to amputate by temperature-regulated nerves so that when a freezing leg is detected, amputation occurs. When air temperatures drop quickly, this can buy a little more time for a snow fly out on the surface, allowing it to seek shelter under the snow and avoid a frosty death.

You can learn more about amazing snow flies in the articles listed below; both provide excellent summaries on these surprising winter insects. You can explore the life of insects throughout the year and discover their incredible diversity in the Museum’s Boreal Gallery and Prairies Gallery, where you can get up-close and personal with hundreds of species, beautiful and bizarre.

Taylor, Peter. 2016. Snow flies and other winter invertebrates near Pinawa, Manitoba. Blue Jay 74(2): 18-22. https://bluejayjournal.ca/index.php/bluejay/article/view/6112/6101

Golding, D., Rupp, K., Sustar, N., Pratt, B. and Tuthill, J. 2023. Snow flies self-amputate freezing to sustain behavior at sub-zero temperatures. Current Biology 33: 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2023.09.002

Dr. Randy Mooi

Dr. Randy Mooi

Curator of Zoology

Dr. Mooi received his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Toronto working on the evolutionary history of coral reef fishes. Following a postdoctoral fellowship in the Division of Fishes of the Smithsonian Institution…
Meet Dr. Randy Mooi

A-toad hunting we will go 

As we enter June, Manitobans spend time outside gardening at home or swimming at the cottage, except for herpetologists (reptile and amphibian scientists) when June is time to look for toads! This is a good month to be listening for Great Plains toads (Anaxyrus cognatus) and plains spadefoot toads (Spea bombifrons) as males gather in wet spots to call and attract mates. These two species are almost unknown to most people, despite being found in good numbers if you look and listen in the right places, and their “love songs” can carry for over two kilometres! But they are overlooked because they generally don’t call until it is dark, and in June that means well after 10 pm; most of us (if you are not a herpetologist) are inside avoiding mosquitoes and likely getting ready for bed. 

Another reason these two toad species “call under the radar” is that their ranges are restricted to the southwestern corner of the province. As many Manitobans head east to lake country, they are missing one of nature’s incredible sound and light shows – hearing dozens of each these two species calling together under a clear, moon- and starlit prairie sky is a special experience. Here’s a taste of that sound (you might want to turn the volume down!): 

The metallic trill in the foreground is a Great Plains toad and in the background are the nasal snores of plains spadefoot toads. These were calling from a temporary wet spot in a farmer’s field near Melita. 

Two photograph side-by-side. Left: A Great Plains toad mostly emerged from shallow water with an expanded clear-pink vocal sac. Right: A Plains spadefoot toad swimming through shallow water with an expanded milky-white vocal sac.

Great Plains toad (left) and plains spadefoot toad (right) with inflated throat sacs calling to attract females. These species are southwestern specialties and not found elsewhere in Manitoba. The bodies of these males are under 60 mm long.

© Randall Mooi 

The ecology of Manitoba’s southwest is unique and worth exploring. In addition to these two toads, there are many species of plants, birds, mammals, and invertebrates that are found nowhere else in Manitoba. Birds and mammals are always the most obvious to people, but smaller creatures like amphibians make up a considerable portion of the wild animal biomass of the southwestern corner (perhaps equalling that of small mammals and exceeding that of birds). In wet years, the numerous temporary ponds, prairie potholes, and other wetlands provide habitat for amphibians to breed and lay eggs, and for their larvae to grow and transform into frogs, toads, and salamanders. Once adult, most Manitoban amphibians are essentially terrestrial, returning to wetlands only to breed and lay eggs. 

Great Plains toads and plains spadefoot toads are no exception, and avoid detection by people and predators by spending much of their lives buried underground. During our cold winters, these two species need to hibernate below the frost line. They are good diggers and can burrow into softer ground or sand – spadefoot toads are so-named for the hard, keratinous, sharp-edged bumps on their back feet that they use as “spades” to dig backwards into the soil. Great Plains toads are also known to use old rodent burrows to get underground. In spring and summer, when it can be hot and dry on the prairies, these two species escape the searing heat by remaining below ground during the day and hunting for food at night when it is cooler. Even then, they often remain buried for long periods to retain moisture and come to the surface only after heavy rainfalls to breed. 

Two photographs side-by-side. Top: A Great Plain toad being held up beside a GPS unit showing day, time, and location coordinates. Bottom: Landscape photograph of a boggy field beside a road.

Northernmost record of Great Plains toad in Manitoba (top; © Peter Taylor, used with permission), found crossing the road at 4 am (yes, surveys can run from 10 pm to dawn the next day!).

Typical habitat for our southwestern toads (bottom; © Manitoba Museum). 

 

The Manitoba Museum is studying the Great Plains toad because it is considered threatened in Manitoba. For many animals in the southwest of the province, loss of habitat and pollutants are concerns because much of our original prairie landscape has been considerably modified by commercial agriculture, resource extraction, and transportation corridors – all through the demands of our modern lifestyles. Some good news, though, has come through research at the Museum, where Great Plains toads have been found to have a larger distribution than originally thought. Last spring’s heavy rains meant that there were many temporary ponds providing suitable habitat, even in places that are usually quite dry. The result was that toads in these areas, likely inactive as breeders for several years, had opportunities to attract mates and reproduce. Museum researchers discovered the species at several new sites, some up to 25 km outside of the previously known range! 

Map graphic showing the province of Manitoba and a zoomed in portion in the south-western corner near Melita.

 

The previously known range of Great Plains toad (in solid blue on the inset map of Manitoba; bounded by a blue line on the close-up of the southwest corner), with red dots showing the new sites discovered last spring by Museum researchers.

Base map modified from data provided by the MB Conservation Data Centre, used with permission. © Manitoba Museum 

Within this revised distribution of Great Plains toads, plains spadefoot toads were found throughout and in higher numbers. Both toad species, despite the extensive use of pesticides and loss of habitat, seem to be surviving today’s highly modified conditions, but how successfully remains guesswork. Without consistent monitoring programs, it is impossible to measure the size of toad populations or to determine if their numbers are stable, increasing, or decreasing. And because spadefoots and Great Plains toads adjust breeding activity to cycles of drought and wet periods, it is a huge challenge to determine population sizes. In wet years, like 2022, the toads seem to be everywhere, but in a dry year they seem to disappear. This means that monitoring programs need to be maintained over long periods through several wet/dry cycles. And climate change is making these even less predictable. 

Two photographs side-by-side. Left: Dr. Randy Mooi on a step stool, drilling a data logger onto a hydro pole. Right. A white bee-hive shaped data logger attached to a hydro pole above a green box recording unit beside a boggy field.

Installing recording units and data loggers on hydro poles (with a permit, of course) near suitable habitat (left). A white data logger mounted above a green recording unit beside a temporary pond (right).

© Manitoba Museum 

The Manitoba Museum has just begun a pilot project to monitor these two amphibian prairie specialists. Automated recording units have been set up at a handful of locations where Great Plains and spadefoot toads have been found in previous years and where temporary ponds existed at the time the units were deployed, all with the hope that this will increase detection rates. The units are set to record at particular times over each 24-hour period throughout the spring and summer months. Temperature and humidity loggers are paired with the recording units. The goal is to determine what triggers breeding activity in the two species, what times of the year it occurs, and in what numbers. These data will help determine measures that can conserve these two toads and, perhaps, other species that rely on similar habitat. 

We hope that this will mean that Manitobans can go a-toad hunting and experience their incredible chorus on the prairies in perpetuity. 

And, of course, everyone has the opportunity to visit the Museum’s new Prairies Gallery to learn the calls of prairie toads and frogs and explore their fascinating life histories – above and below ground! 

Dr. Randy Mooi

Dr. Randy Mooi

Curator of Zoology

Dr. Mooi received his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Toronto working on the evolutionary history of coral reef fishes. Following a postdoctoral fellowship in the Division of Fishes of the Smithsonian Institution…
Meet Dr. Randy Mooi

A Bird in the Hand: Museum Collections and Conservation 

During this cold March, the new Prairies Gallery is a comfortable place to explore the diversity, adaptations, and life histories of some of Manitoba’s wildlife. For many visitors, especially the young, the exhibits often provide the first close look at the details of insect wings and wolf teeth, the first chance to explore life underground, or to experience the wonder of just how many other animal species are fellow Manitobans.  

That can mean that a gallery or exhibit is an important influence on attitudes towards our environment and might inspire the next generation of conservation advocates. And parts of our collections, including some birds now on exhibit in the new gallery, have a long history educating the public and have been filling that role for almost 100 years! 

On the right, a photograph of a glass display case containing specimens of many different kinds of birds. On the left are two close-cropped photos of specific specimens with text above reading, “Still educating... after all these years.” Above one bird reads, “prior to 1922” accompanied by an arrow pointing to the same bird in the case on the right. Above the other bird reads, “1905” accompanied by an arrow pointing to the same bird in the case on the right.

Some specimens in our collections have been teaching about biodiversity for over 100 years, including the western grebe (left) and horned grebe (middle) continuing that role in the new Prairies Gallery (far right). MM 3-6-4, MM 3-6-359

© Manitoba Museum 

But many visitors don’t realize that most of the museum’s collections are not on exhibit. For example, over 95% of our bird collections, almost 7,000 specimens, are in climate-controlled storage on the 4th floor. 

Why would we have all these bird specimens if they aren’t on exhibit? Where did they come from and why so many? 

Our behind-the-scenes bird collection is a combination of inheritance from earlier versions of the Manitoba Museum, donated private collections, and, more recently, window and vehicle casualties brought in by the public or through relationships with zoos, government, and universities. In the distant past, birds could be professionally collected and were even traded among private citizens. That practice is, thankfully, no longer allowed, but many of these collections, some more than 100 years old, were eventually donated to the Museum where they have had a second ‘life’ through their value for public education and for scientific study. These specimens not only grace our exhibit halls, but have contributed information that appears in our exhibits as labels, short panels, or videos through primary research by scientists at the Manitoba Museum and researchers from around the world. 

Having large numbers of bird specimens means that we can learn a great deal about where they live, what they eat, and other aspects of their life histories. Like people, each individual bird is unique, but having several from different places provides a statistical sample and a better understanding of their biology and a record of geographical variation in size, colour, and behaviour. 

The collection is like a library or archive of the lives of birds in Manitoba. And like a library, scientists can read and borrow the ‘books’, the specimens, to study them and to discover the stories they tell about how our birds live and what they tell about our environment in general. 

Two photographs side-by-side. The left photo shows an open cabinet with a number of wooden drawers, three of which are pulled open revealing yellow and black bird specimens. The right photo shows several open cabinets with numerous drawers open, showing large and small bird specimens of many species.

The Manitoba Museum holds almost 7,000 bird specimens. This library of bird life is not only a resource for exhibit and teaching, but is available to Museum scientists and researchers around the world. © Manitoba Museum 

So how can these bird specimens contribute to conservation? 

Collections include birds from over many decades that act much like a time machine, letting us know where and in what quality of environment they lived. Specimens provide baseline data for knowing a species occurrence and range at a specific time in the past and whether it is still there. This can help determine if species are being affected by climate change, habitat loss, or other factors. Today, bird records can include photographs and sound recordings, but this technology has only very recently been widely available. Where birds lived 30, 50, or 100 or more years ago can only be determined with certainty by voucher specimens, that is, physical evidence that a species was found at a particular place at a particular time. But even today, because Manitoba is a big province and much of it is difficult to access, we are still unsure of where some species occur. Museum curators are among the few scientists performing on-the-ground surveys to determine baseline data on distribution and retaining physical evidence of that distribution. Without these comparative data we can’t know what might be changing nor determine if conservation action should be undertaken. It is impossible to be responsible stewards of our natural world if we don’t know what lives where! 

 Most of Manitoba’s birds spend only a few short, warm months here to raise their young and then spend the majority of the year to the south. That means that even if we take appropriate conservation measures to safeguard our birds here, they face further challenges elsewhere. But where is that elsewhere? 

Collections can help to determine where our birds spend the winter and can pinpoint where international collaborative conservation efforts should be directed. A recent study spear-headed by researchers at the University of Central Oklahoma used feather samples from specimens in the Manitoba Museum and other institutions to examine their unique molecular signatures (isotopes) to determine where four species of prairie birds overwinter. They found, for example, that prairie populations of the elusive yellow rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis) – a species of special concern in Canada – spend their winters in the western portions of the Gulf of Mexico. Conservation policies can now be introduced to better manage habitat in both the breeding and wintering ranges for this rarely encountered species. 

 

On the right, photographs of four bird specimens. Ont he left, four maps illustrating the breeding season for 4 mesic prairie bird species wintering along the Gulf Coast. The four maps of central North America show differing sized blue and green shaded sections across the prairies.

Feather samples from Manitoba Museum specimens helped to determine that prairie breeders overwinter along the western Gulf of Mexico. From Butler et al., 2021. Estimates of breeding season location for 4 mesic prairie bird species wintering along the Gulf Coast. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 133:177-189. Photos of sedge wren (MM 1-2-770), Nelson’s sparrow (MM 1-2-4645), LeConte’s sparrow (MM 1-2-4646), and yellow rail (MM 3-6-916) © Manitoba Museum 

And the collections can provide valuable information about changes in our environment. Using samples of ivory gull (Pagophila eburnean) from several museums, including a 1926 specimen from the Manitoba Museum, university and Environment Canada researchers recreated a 130-year record of mercury levels in this endangered species. This time series, like a time machine, could trace the history of mercury contamination in this Arctic gull, finding that levels have increased dramatically in northern food webs. This museum collection-based study showed that bioaccumulation, the gradual build-up of heavy metals through the food chain, puts top predators like the ivory gull, fishes, and marine mammals at risk from pollutants like mercury. 

A photograph of a light-coloured bird specimen lying on a dark surface. Embedded text below the photo reads, “Rapdily increasing methyl mercury in endangered ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea) feathers over a 130 year record”.

The 1926 ivory gull from the Manitoba Museum (above) was one of many museum specimens analyzed to create a 130-year history of mercury levels that will inform management plans for this and other Arctic species. From Bond et al., 2015. Rapidly increasing methyl mercury in endangered ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea) feathers over a 130 year period. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 282. Photo MM 1-2-941, © Manitoba Museum 

Museum collections go well beyond their important educational role in exhibits and programming to create advocates for conservation. As permanent archives of the distribution of organisms and as a critical resource for scientific research at the Museum and at science institutions around the world, specimens in the hand contribute to understanding our environment and determining strategies and policies for responsible ecological stewardship. Although I have focused on bird collections to illustrate a few applications, the Museum collections of insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and other animals, along with those of plants, mosses, lichens, and fungi, as well as the representative fossils of  these and earlier organisms in the paleontology collections, provide important data to interpret the past, understand the present, and consider the future of the natural world in Manitoba. 

Dr. Randy Mooi

Dr. Randy Mooi

Curator of Zoology

Dr. Mooi received his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Toronto working on the evolutionary history of coral reef fishes. Following a postdoctoral fellowship in the Division of Fishes of the Smithsonian Institution…
Meet Dr. Randy Mooi

The Mighty Chickadee – How a Handful of Feathers Conquers Winter

A black-capped chickadee on a branch bearing a few dried up berries.

A Manitoba winter, especially this one, without the friendly, buzzy, “chick-a-dee-dee” calls of our neighbourhood black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) would be that much harder to endure. The prolonged cold spells, incredible wind chills, and many blizzards made these birds and their cheery presence even more welcome at our backyard feeders. But while we were entertained watching from behind the window of a warm house, these tiny, 14-gram balls of fluff (just a little heavier than a AAA battery) were flitting about outside in -35°C temperatures amidst blowing snow. How do they do it?!

There certainly is a long list of challenges for a small bird to survive a northern winter. Low temperatures are the obvious one. Small animals have a higher surface to volume ratio than larger animals, meaning they expose relatively more body surface to the elements per gram of weight – small animals lose heat more quickly than large animals.  Chickadees have a normal body temperature of about 40°C, meaning that on a day of -40°C (not unusual over much of its northern distribution in Manitoba) there is an 80°C gradient through 2 cm of feathers from outside air to skin. And winter days are short, meaning fewer daylight hours to gather enough food to maintain that body temperature.

Chickadees have several adaptations to fend off winter’s worst. Feathers, as some of us know from our down-filled parkas, are extraordinarily good insulation. But all adult birds have feathers, and most migrate south for winter. So what else do chickadees do?

Well, our chickadees are likely to be extra buff in winter! Relatives of Manitoban chickadees have been shown to have chest muscles up to 30% larger in winter than in summer. Chickadees spend little time in continuous flight in their daily activities, so why would these flight muscles get bigger in winter? These larger chest muscles are vital sources of heat production. Chickadees use bursts of shivering to create heat and these muscles do that work, as well as power flight.

A black-capped chickadee perched on a fluffy cattail.

A chickadee searching a cattail for overwintering insect larvae. (Image ©Peter Taylor)

A black-capped chickadee perched on on a snowman shaped seed bird feeder.

A chickadee eating seeds at a backyard feeder. Chickadees switch from a mostly insect diet in summer to include berries and seeds.

Chickadees are also big energy-savers. Like some of us that turn the house thermostat down at night to save energy while we are asleep, chickadees also turn down their thermostats at night using what is called nocturnal hypothermia. Chickadees reduce their body temperatures by as much as 10°C and this can provide a 50% energy savings overnight! One study showed that even reducing body temperature by only 8°C can increase the time to when a chickadee needs to eat to re-fuel by well over an hour. This extra time could spell the difference between overnight survival and death.

Finding a warm roosting spot to stay overnight is also important. Hunkering down in a tree cavity provides a microclimate where heat loss is minimized. Tree cavities can provide an effective temperature difference almost 15°C higher than at an exposed site. This can mean an additional 35% energy saving and greatly increase fasting endurance, the time between required feedings, by seven hours! On very cold days, chickadees spend almost ¾ of their time at their roosting site. This explains why our backyard feeders, just when you might think they would be busiest, seem mysteriously chickadee-free on very cold, windy days.

But when chickadees wake up in the morning and do need to feed, what are they eating and where are they finding it? In summer, chickadees eat mostly insects but in winter, when it is more difficult to find overwintering insect eggs, larvae, and adults, about half of their diet is seeds and berries. Chickadees are opportunistic and readily visit feeders. But they are not reliant on feeders to get through the winter, in part because they store food!

Chickadees are famous for taking seeds and berries and caching them in a hiding spot, and rarely in the same place. This reduces the risk of losing access to food in the future.  On a tough winter day there is a store of available food. And having many, separate places protects this important food source; if all the seeds are hidden at the same spot, perhaps a squirrel, mouse, or other bird might discover them and have a feast, or poor weather might destroy the cache. Having hundreds of individual, safer hiding spots does create a different problem, however. The chickadee needs to remember where to find them all again. Research has shown that chickadees are up to the task, able to recall the locations of hundreds, even thousands, of stored seeds – for up to a month!

A series of three images showing black-capped chickadees landing on a person's hand to take seeds from their outstretched palm.

Chickadees quickly learn to take seeds from patient humans. Will this chickadee eat the seed right away or will it store it to relocate later in the winter when food is scarce? (Images ©Peter Taylor)

Chickadees that rely on stored food have a relatively enlarged part of the brain, the hippocampus, that is important for spatial memory. Although some research initially suggested that the hippocampus increases in size in the fall, potentially to accommodate these memories, more recent work is inconclusive. However, it is no less spectacular that chickadees in harsher northern climates, that would be expected to have a heavier reliance on stored seeds, have a larger hippocampus with more and larger neurons than do chickadees in southern populations. This does suggest that natural selection in a harsher climate has favoured individuals with heritable traits that increase spatial memory.

The next time you see a black-capped chickadee flitting about on a frigid day, perhaps consider all that is going on inside that tiny ball of fluff to get it through the winter. Chickadees do make even our coldest winters cheerier, but there is a lot of serious work going on under that black cap.

If you can’t find a chickadee outside, you can see them in the Boreal Forest and Parklands galleries in the Manitoba Museum. And you can learn about winter adaptations of many kinds of animals throughout the galleries.

[For further, more detailed summaries of chickadee winter biology, see: Pravasudov, V.V. et al. (2015) Environmental influences on spatial memory and the hippocampus in food-caching chickadees.  Comparative Cognition & Behavior Reviews, 10, 25–43.; Olsen, J.R. (2009) Metabolic performance and distribution in black-capped (Poecile atricapillus) and Carolina chickadees (P. carolinensis). PhD Dissertation, The Ohio State University.]

Dr. Randy Mooi

Dr. Randy Mooi

Curator of Zoology

Dr. Mooi received his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Toronto working on the evolutionary history of coral reef fishes. Following a postdoctoral fellowship in the Division of Fishes of the Smithsonian Institution…
Meet Dr. Randy Mooi

The Enduring Diorama – Museum Pronghorns Still Going Strong After 50+ Years

The Museum opened our newly renovated Prairies Gallery just last spring with spectacular new exhibits on the intriguing and engaging natural and human history of southern Manitoba. The addition of ground squirrels and their burrows, a riverbank bison bone bed, a homesteader stone house, an old school room, and hundreds of new specimens and artifacts, along with life-sized animations, prairie soundscapes, and feature videos provide exciting immersive experiences.

But some things from the old ‘Grasslands Gallery’ didn’t need changing, only a facelift. The pronghorn diorama at the gallery’s entrance remains as awesome and as valuable an educational tool as it did when it opened over 50 years ago in the summer of 1970, when it caught the eye of our first official visitors, Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth:

A newspaper clipping reading,

The Prince asked a good question – pronghorn were frequently seen in the province prior to 1880, but are now only rare visitors wandering from North Dakota or perhaps Saskatchewan. But this is just one of hundreds of good questions that the diorama can illicit and help answer.

The diorama was designed, its backdrop painted, and installation overseen by renowned Manitoba artist Clarence Tillenius. He began planning in August 1968 and completed it, along with the bison diorama (much longer in production, from 1963), in June of 1970. As has remained the tradition for our dioramas to ensure authenticity, Tillenius visited the site that is portrayed, driving with other Museum personnel north of the U.S. border “to a point south of Waskada from where I [Tillenius] painted a study of the west end of the Turtle Mountains [sic] which appear in the background landscape.” (From a June 12 1970 letter to Dr. F.A.L. Matheson, then-president of the Museum.)

A rough handwritten plan for the Pronghorn antelope diorama. On the left are some notes about how many animals to include, what season to set the diorama in, and what size it should be. On the right a small sketch of the diorama from above with four animals. The note is dated August 9, 1968.

A rough plan for the diorama as envisaged by Tillenius. The basic size and shape was maintained, but only two actual pronghorn, a male and female, were in the final exhibit with a herd painted into the backdrop.

A museum diorama containing two pronghorns on a prairie landscape.

The pronghorn diorama effectively introduces the new Prairies Gallery much the way it introduced the original Grasslands Gallery, except for the new vibrant panels and its reinterpretation in a modern context. But it still shows the southwestern part of the Manitoba as it was before colonization, providing an opportunity to think about the transformation of our prairies over the last 250 years. The pronghorn diorama might be the closest some of our visitors ever get to experiencing original prairie in three dimensions. They can wonder at its expanse, its wildlife, and ponder its future. And it will do so for the next 50 years, or more we hope, perhaps inspiring the next generation of nature-conscious Manitobans to save our last vestiges of wild grasslands and their inhabitants.

Enduring – according to the dictionary – means having a validity that does not change or diminish. The pronghorn diorama, and the Museum’s many other signature life-size dioramas (bison, polar bear, caribou, moose, wolf den, elk, bat cave, snake den, Delta Marsh, Winnipeg 1919, and Nonsuch) are prime examples of enduring, undiminished wonder, exploration, and inspiration.

Come see for yourself!

Legacies of Confederation – Outlaw #5, Canada, and Bison Conservation 

Celebrating Canada’s first 150 years does not usually involve thinking about the environment or biodiversity, and certainly Confederation is a human history event. But human actions have an impact on our environment and the creation of Canada was no exception. Our latest exhibit, Legacies of Confederation: A New Look at Manitoba History, offers an opportunity to explore those impacts, those legacies, from a natural history perspective. Given the massive changes to Manitoba’s environment since 1867 (and 1870 when we became Canada’s fifth province), it is easy to focus on the negative effects; indeed, grasslands and many of their component parts have become rare or have even disappeared. But becoming a nation can also bring substantial resources to bear on mitigating those impacts through policy, funding, social conscience and national pride. 

Outlaw #5 is a magnificent bison head that hung in the Winnipeg City Council Chambers in 1912 and is now hanging for all to see in the Legacies exhibit. This seems the beginning of a depressing story rather than a positive one, and in some ways it is; this bull bison is an unlucky representative of one of the last significant herds of plains bison (Bison bison bison) in North America at the turn of the 20th century. But it also represents the beginning of an incredibly successful conservation story – bringing bison back from the brink of extinction. I have introduced this specimen before, but this amazing mount has so many incredible stories to tell that I can’t resist an encore presentation. 

On the left, a caricature of a man riding a small bison with a large rising sun in the background. Text below reads “C.V. Alloway”. On the right, a oval photograph of a large bearded man in a fur coat and vest.

Caricature of Charles Alloway (Manitobans As We See ‘Em, 1909) and photo of James McKay (Archives of Manitoba), owners of a bison herd in Manitoba that, in part, found its way to the Pablo-Allard herd in Montana. 

The big bull once roamed the grassy hills of Montana as part of the Pablo-Allard herd. Much of this herd, perhaps all, was made up of what were originally Canadian bison (although nationalities are irrelevant to the animals!). The initial herd was the offspring of a few calves brought from near the Alberta/Montana border in the early 1870s. Others arrived through a rather circuitous route, likely from calves caught near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan by Charles Alloway (brother of William Alloway, founder of the Winnipeg Foundation) and James McKay (Manitoban politician, Treaty negotiator) also in the early 1870s and kept at Deer Lodge in Winnipeg. These went to Stony Mountain Penitentiary under the care of Samuel Bedson (warden), becoming a herd of perhaps 100 over about ten years. Most of these were sold to Charles “Buffalo” Jones in the late 1880s and brought to Kansas before eventually becoming part of the Pablo-Allard herd in Montana through sale. Here the herd grew to several hundred, but Pablo (Allard had passed away) was notified by the U.S. government that his lands could no longer be used for bison. He offered them for sale to Washington but negotiations bogged down. 

Canada came to the rescue. Alexander Ayotte, a Manitoban working for Canadian Immigration in Montana at that time, heard that the bison were up for sale and he notified Canadian officials. A deal was struck and Canada bought the herd in 1907. There is some suggestion that purchasing the Pablo-Allard herd was as much an opportunity for the government in Ottawa to poke a stick in the eye of the United States as it was to preserve a species, but there is little doubt that the individuals directly involved with the transfer, as well as the general public, were genuinely committed to conservation. Regardless, the end result was that over 700 bison were brought by train to Alberta, the nucleus of essentially all plains bison we see in Canada today and the basis of a conservation success story. 

Black and white photograph of thriteen mounted bison heads hanging on a light coloured exterior wall.

Finished bison heads on an outside wall in Winnipeg ready for auction in November 1911.

(Archives of Manitoba)

So where does Outlaw #5 fit in? As you might imagine, getting wild bison onto a train to Canada is no easy feat and some of them, the “outlaws”, refused to board. These remaining animals had no home and they were shot. At least thirteen outlaw bulls found their way to Winnipeg and into the skilled hands of Manitoba’s Official Taxidermist (yes, we had one of those), E. W. Darbey. He mounted these in his shop at 233 Main Street and they were auctioned in the fall of 1911. 

Sephia-toned photograph of eleven bison skulls placed along a pile of filled sacks in front of a store with a superimposed yellow arrow pointing to one of the skulls. The main store sign reads, “TAXIDERMIST” and smaller signs in front of the windows read, “E.W. Darbey / Taxidermist”.

E.W. Darbey’s shop on Main Street with bison skulls on the sidewalk in 1911. The yellow arrow points to skull #5, the Museum’s “outlaw” originally identified by the shape and patterns of the horn sheaths.  (Archives of Manitoba) 

As I noted in my original blog, I used the horn patterns from the archival photographs and those on the Museum specimen to identify it as #5, marked by the yellow arrow in the image above, a task that was none-too-easy or even certain. To prepare the specimen for exhibit, it required careful conservation to repair damage on the skin, nose, and ears, as well as stabilization of the backboard before we could hang it. Carolyn Sirett, our conservator, had to remove the backboard from the mount and the first thing she saw was that the mount was numbered. She immediately called me to say I should come up to her lab. To my relief (and some satisfaction), in large black writing was “No. 5”! Carolyn  repaired the mount, and removed an incredible amount of dirt from the fur to make the specimen look much as it must have over 100 years ago. 

The backside of a mounted bison head with the backboard removed. On the baseboard of the head is written, “No. 5”. Conservator Carolyn Sirett sits to the side in the upper right corner.

Conservator Carolyn Sirett uncovered the “No. 5” beneath the backboard (at left) while repairing the mount for exhibit, confirming (thankfully!) my original identification from the Main Street photograph of skulls. 

Although I have not yet determined how Outlaw #5 came to be in the possession of The Hingston Smith Arms Co. Ltd. (they are not listed as purchasers at the auction), documents generously shared by the City of Winnipeg Archives show that in January of 1912 that company offered to hang the head in the City Council Chambers. This was in order for it to “be seen to advantage” and determine if Council would be willing to purchase it. After all, it was “the finest specimen of Buffalo Bull Head” and “the best one of the lot of out-law bulls of the Pablo herd.” It seems most of the Council agreed, as only one month later they voted 10 to 7 to buy the head for $750 – equivalent to over $18,000 today! And they engraved the description much as boasted by the company onto the plate that adorns the backboard: 

An engraved plaque plate reading, “Fine Specimen Head of Buffalo Bull of Pablo Herd of Outlaw Buffalo – 1912 / Property City of Winnipeg”.

So as Outlaw #5 stares haughtily down on visitors today, he is both a symbol of our capacity to destroy and an incredibly important symbol of our potential, as Manitobans and Canadians, to be better stewards of our nation’s spectacular natural world. 

Close-up of a mounted bison head.

Affectionately dubbed “Pablo” by Programs staff, the Museum’s outlaw bull of the Pablo-Allard herd is an impressive reminder of change since Confederation and ironic symbol of national conservation efforts. (MM 24175)

Confederation has fostered the diversity of perspectives that will help us through environmental challenges and that will work towards solutions over the next 150 years. Our exhibit might not provide the kind of birthday celebration we are likely to see on July 1st, but instead encourages a more sobering and reflective look at Confederation from a Manitoba viewpoint – how it happened, where we’ve been, and where we’d like to go. The incredible artifacts and specimens we have had the privilege to exhibit and interpret provide signposts to guide that thoughtful reflection. 

Legacies of Confederation: A New Look at Manitoba History is open until January 7, 2018 and is free with admission to the Museum Galleries. 

Dr. Randy Mooi

Dr. Randy Mooi

Curator of Zoology

Dr. Mooi received his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Toronto working on the evolutionary history of coral reef fishes. Following a postdoctoral fellowship in the Division of Fishes of the Smithsonian Institution…
Meet Dr. Randy Mooi

Tracking Down Canada’s Last Passenger Pigeon 

September 1st of 2014 marked the grim anniversary of the death of the last passenger pigeon on Earth. It’s extinction is probably the only one for which an exact hour of demise is recorded; the last individual was a captive bird, named Martha, that expired at 2pm local time at the Cincinatti Zoo. The disappearance of this species is almost impossible to comprehend, as it was once the commonest bird in North America, perhaps even the world, with population estimates of between 3 and 5 billion – yes, that’s billion – in the mid-1800s. 

But the capacity of humans to destroy knows no bounds. The awe-inspiring flocks that were described as darkening the sky from horizon to horizon, and the massive breeding colonies that numbered in the tens of millions were slaughtered by market hunters and shamefully wasted by hungry locals alike. Unfettered exploitation along with changes in environment due to deforestation resulted in the shocking disappearance of passenger pigeons from the wild by about 1900. 

Old newspaper clipping reading, “Pigeons. – This morning pigeons passed over the town in immense numbers, and afforded rare sport to the disciples of Nimrod. / Wild pigeons roosted on sundry roofs in the city last night, and some of them only awakened when the felt they No 6 shot coming in.”

Local reports of passenger pigeons from Winnipeg newspapers, the upper from the Manitoba News-Letter of May 31, 1871 and the lower from the Manitoba Free Press of September 19, 1874. 

Although Manitoba never hosted massive colonies, large flocks provided food for First Nations peoples and hungry homesteaders, and were important enough to frontier life to merit frequent mention in local newspapers as “wild pigeon” or merely “pigeons.” Passenger pigeons bred in small groups in the south of the province and were seen as far north as Hudson Bay. 

A passenger pigeon specimen posed on a low tree branch in a mini stand-alone diorama.

A relatively recent addition to the Museum’s passenger pigeon collection, a beautiful mount of a female generously donated by the Delta Waterfowl Foundation in 2013. Note the female lacks the orange breast and bluish back of the male, and is slightly smaller, about 37 cm. MM 1.2-5437 

In contrast to their abundance in the 19th century, there are relatively few specimens of passenger pigeons in natural history museums and even fewer of those that have information on when and where they were collected. This is in part because systematic museum and research collecting in North America was still relatively new, and because passenger pigeons were so common; who carefully collects crows or starlings today? The Manitoba Museum has five taxidermied specimens of passenger pigeon.  

Black and white photograph of a glass display case containing many bird specimens. Three birds are digitally outline in red.

Some of the old bird cases as they were in the Civic Auditorium in the mid-1930s. The passenger pigeons are marked within the red lines. These three mounts are still in the Museum collection today. 

Until recently, all of the Museum’s passenger pigeons were of unknown locality – we weren’t even certain that our birds were actually from Manitoba! Record-keeping was not always thorough in the 1930s when some of them came into the possession of the original Manitoba Museum, and the others were in private collections where their exact histories have been lost. However, while examining some photographs of the exhibits in the old Civic Auditorium from the 1930s, I noticed that some were of the bird cases. One of these had three of our pigeon specimens on display! And another photo showed that one mount had very specific data on its label just below it tacked to the back of the case: 

Close-up of a museum label reading, “Passenger Pigeon. / (Ectopistes m. oris). / Now Extinct. / This specimen taken at Winnipegosis in 1898”.
Close-up of the old museum label from the mid-1930s as it appeared in the case.

Did the Museum still have this particular specimen? Comparing our present collection with the photographs, I was able to determine that one of the five birds we have is an exact match for the Winnipegosis specimen that had been on display in the 1930s. This is especially important because detailed information on this bird was published by G.E. Atkinson in 1904, a taxidermist and naturalist from Portage la Prairie. He prepared this specimen and noted its date of collection as April 10th of 1898 – the last specimen ever collected in Canada! 

Two photographs side-by side. Top, a black and white photo of a passenger pigeon specimen on a small tree branch. Underneath is a colour phtoograph of the same specimen on a different small branch mount.

Comparison of the 1898 Winnipegosis specimen as it appeared in the Civic Auditorium in the mid-1930s (top) with a photo of one of our specimens (MM 1.2-2391) today (bottom). Arrows show the unmistakable features (tuft of feathers at base of bill, ‘ruff-like’ neck feathers, foot shape, leg feathering) that indicate that these are the same specimens. The pattern of black spots on the back are also distinctive. 

So the specimen has come full circle in its history with the Manitoba Museum. It was first on display in the mid-1930s in the Civic Auditorium, was in our collections storage for decades, and is now on exhibit again 90 years later at Rupert and Main. It remains, after all that time, still able to perform the unfortunate, but important function as a flag-bearer representing all extinct species and as a warning of where careless attitudes to our environment can lead us. 

Aldo Leopold, the famous Wisconsin environmentalist, said in memory of the passenger pigeon in 1947: 

“There will always be pigeons in books and in museums, but these are effigies and images, dead to all hardships and to all delights. Book-pigeons cannot dive out of a cloud to make the deer run for cover, nor clap their wings in thunderous applause of mast-laden woods. They know no urge of seasons; they feel no kiss of sun, no lash of wind and weather; they live forever by not living at all.”

And indeed, the Museum’s passenger pigeons will not, unfortunately, repopulate our skies. But they will always be here, for that is the value of museum collections – archives of natural history and silent witness to changes in our world. Our collections provide opportunity to study, marvel, contemplate, and learn. And although there are no more passenger pigeons in the wild, they can still be found in museums. I invite you to the Manitoba Museum and the new Prairies Gallery (2021) to see the last passenger pigeon ever collected in Canada, along with one other, and to reflect on their fate as well as our own place in the world. 

If you have any further information on these specimens or others, please contact the Museum. 

 

Dr. Randy Mooi

Dr. Randy Mooi

Curator of Zoology

Dr. Mooi received his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Toronto working on the evolutionary history of coral reef fishes. Following a postdoctoral fellowship in the Division of Fishes of the Smithsonian Institution…
Meet Dr. Randy Mooi

The clam that sank a thousand ships 

Unless you happen to be chowing down on some steamed clams at the time, a discussion of important influences on human history is unlikely to include a clam as part of the conversation. But the eating habits of one small group of highly evolved clams has altered the travel plans of Christopher Columbus and Sir Francis Drake, changed the outcome of naval battles, and has inspired folklore and poetry. 

Clams are members of the Bivalvia, a relatively diverse subgroup of molluscs that includes about 10,000 living species of oysters, mussels, scallops and any of the typical “seashells” we are used to finding washed up on beaches, whether on fresh- or saltwater. Other molluscs include snails, slugs, squids, and octopus. Bivalves are creatures that have two roughly symmetrical hinged shells (hence Bivalvia from the Latin bi = two, and valva = leaf of a folding door) that usually can enclose the entire animal for protection. Most are filter-feeders, meaning they take in great quantities of water through one siphon, pump it through the gills that strain out small food particles, and then send it out a second siphon. 

Three illustrations of shipworm getting progressively close-up on the front-end.

Old woodcut illustrations of “shipworm” showing the worm-shaped body (B) on the left along with the shell valves at the front (S) and the siphons for incoming and outgoing water to the gills for breathing (IO). The middle figure is a close up of the front part of the animal and the shell valves (S) and on the right is the shell itself, showing its modification into a grinding surface. From Popular Science Monthly, August 1878. 

But bivalves have been around a very long time, over 500 million years, and over that time some strange exceptions to the usual life history have evolved. The two valves of its shell have been modified from protective devices into two small, but extremely effective grinding surfaces at one end that are used to bore into any piece of wood encountered in the ocean. The clam starts out as a small juvenile that settles on a wood surface. As the new small clam bores into its new home, the wood is digested with the help of symbiotic algae that live on its gills. As the hole gets deeper, the animal’s body elongates to maintain a connection to the surface, and the burrow is buttressed with a shell-like lining. 

An illustration demonstrating the growth stages of shipworm, starting from a small hole and growing into a long, curved tube through the wood. As the worm growing further into the wood, two small siphons at the back end remain at the surface of the wood.

The settling of a young Teredo onto a piece of wood and its gradual growth. The shell halves grind up the wood. Note that the siphons remain at the wood surface to bring clean seawater to the animal. Figure from Flingeflung, German language Wikipedia. 

As the common name “shipworm” suggests, and is emphasized by its scientific name Teredo navalis, this species has a long history of damaging ships. Some have suggested that the anxiety of Christopher Columbus’ crew to head west from Europe was not fear of the unknown, but fear of shipworm damage on a long journey, and for good reason. The fourth voyage of Columbus to the Americas in 1502 came to a disastrous end when all his ships sank due to damage resulting from Teredo. His ships were, “… rotten, worm-eaten … more riddled with holes than a honeycomb… With three pumps, pots and kettles, and with all hands working, they could not keep down the water which came into the ship, and there was no other remedy for the havoc which the worm had wrought… my ship was sinking under me…”  (from a letter describing the voyage). Columbus was forced by these small clams to land on Jamaica. He and his crews were marooned for a year before being rescued. 

Left, a painting of Christopher Columbus, seated, wearing dark robes and hat. Right, a painting of Sir. Francis Drake, standing near a table with a globe on it with one hand on his hip. Wearing dark robes and an frilled ruff.

The fourth voyage of Christopher Columbus (left) to the Americas in 1502 came to a disastrous end when all his ships sank because of damage from these clams. In 1579, Sir Francis Drake (right), the famous English pirate/explorer/Vice Admiral spent a month on the Californian coast repairing the Golden Hind, which had been eaten by shipworms. 

In 1579, Sir Francis Drake spent over a month on the Californian coast repairing the Golden Hind, which had been damaged by shipworms. And there are claims that shipworm appetites might have been a factor in the English defeat (more like repulsion) of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The Spanish had remained docked in marine waters off Portugal for several months before engaging the English, providing plenty of time for infiltration of ship’s timbers by the clam that would have weakened and slowed the vessels. 

Three paintings, side-by-side. Left, a formal painting of King Philip II of Spain. Centre, a painting of the panish Armada at sea. Right, a formal painting of Queen Elizabeth I.

Perhaps shipworm appetites helped the English defeat the clam-weakened ships of the Spanish Armada in 1588! King Philip II of Spain (left), was forced to keep his Armada at sea several months (centre) before engaging the navy of Queen Elizabeth I of England (right). 

Even the eventual  addition of copper cladding to naval vessels was not certain protection from the “worm”, as this famous poem by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) attests: 

… The vessel, though her masts be firm, 

Beneath her copper bears a worm … 

Far from New England’s blustering shore, 

New England’s worm her hulk shall bore, 

And sink her in the Indian seas … 

-(excerpted from “Though all the Fates” 1849) 

It has been estimated that ship timbers needed replacement every eight years on average, largely due to damage from Teredo wood-boring. At this rate, it is clear that this marine clam has had a tremendous impact on terrestrial ecology, too – huge tracts of coastal forests around the world have been cut down to replace damaged hulls of the ships of all the colonial powers as they travelled the seas. And all that travel introduced these clams all over the world as affected ships brought the animals with them. For this reason, scientists are uncertain of the original distribution and habitat of “shipworms.” 

Photograph of a portion of wood that has had grooves and holes eaten into it by shipworms.

A small portion of wood from the Philippines showing the damage that occurs from the activities of Teredo, a woodboring clam that can digest wood with the help of symbiotic bacteria (MM 2.4-1062). Scale bar is 5 cm. 

Of course, Teredo clams do not only target vessels, but any wooden structure in the sea. In 1731, parts of Holland were flooded because wooden dikes were eaten and weakened by “shipworm,” prompting replacement by costly imported stone. And perhaps Teredo was the cause of (or inspiration for) the famous hole plugged by the little Dutch boy’s finger.  Damage to piers and moorings amounts to tens of millions of dollars per year. An infestation in San Francisco Bay between 1919 and 1921 caused over $2 billion of damage in today’s dollars, and repairing such damage is a considerable cost to this day. 

Photograph of a section of fossil wood with bore lines and remnants of holes across the surface.

Woodboring clams have been around for awhile. This is fossil wood from Souris, Manitoba showing the bore holes of Teredo or a similar species from the Cretaceous Period, about 65 million years old (MM I-2139). Because all existing species require salt water, this suggests that the wood had been floating in an ocean environment before it became fossilized. Scale bar is 3 cm. 

The influence that a tiny bivalve mollusc can have on human history and economic activity is truly astounding. And this is only one of many examples from molluscs, a wonderfully diverse group of animals that is usually well outside our consciousness. Given how some have altered history, perhaps we should give these animals more of the attention they deserve. 

Dr. Randy Mooi

Dr. Randy Mooi

Curator of Zoology

Dr. Mooi received his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Toronto working on the evolutionary history of coral reef fishes. Following a postdoctoral fellowship in the Division of Fishes of the Smithsonian Institution…
Meet Dr. Randy Mooi