Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Red Panda Unveiled

This is the skeleton (actually casts of the very fragile bones that are being preserved in climate-controlled units) of the red panda whose unveiling today at the East Tennessee State University Natural History Museum and Fossil Site coincided with the Museum's one-year anniversary. Skeptics thought the Museum would be lucky to attract 25,000 visitors in its first year. But in its first 12 months, over 115,000 people have passed through its doors.

If only these visitors could have seen this cute panda "in the flesh." One can only imagine what the numbers would have been.

The museum has also played host to two exhibits: "A T-Rex Named Sue" (which displayed a complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex) and the present exhibit:

The title of the exhibit certainly gets your attention.
Once inside the hall, you will see a series of displays--some humorous, some interactive, but all are informative, and some are really eye-opening.

There are displays entitled "Test Your #2 IQ," "Pies in the Skies," and "Poop Tarts," which describes the relationship between aphids and ants. The ants protect the aphids from predators like ladybugs, wasps, and spiders because the aphids poop a sugary syrup that ants love to eat.

By weighing yourself, you can learn how long it would take an 11,000-pound African elephant to produce your weight in poop. (Eleven hours in my case.) Or you can participate in a race in which your dung beetle must push a ball of dung up a hill faster than the beetle next to you.

A couple of the most interesting "I-never-knew-that" displays were "Buffalo Chip Courtship" and "Exploding Camel Dung." In the former display, a film clip showed the male sarus crane picking up pieces of buffalo dung and throwing it into the air to impress the female. (Fill in your own comment here.)

But I was drawn to the "Exploding Camel Dung" display. Quoting from the display: "During World War II, the British enlisted a stage magician, Jasper Maskelyne, to slow down the German army in North Africa. He and his “magic gang” disguised explosives as camel poop knowing that German tank drivers thought it was good luck to drive over dung piles. The Germans quickly learned to avoid fresh dung so the war magician began creating bombs to mimic dung that had already been run over."

Finally, in the category of making lemonade when life gives you lemons are the ideas in the photo below. Good to the last dropping--The most expensive coffee in the world ($175/pound) comes from the droppings of the palm civet in Indonesia. The mammal eats the coffee berries, digests the soft part of the berries, and passes the beans in its droppings. The beans are collected, cleaned, and roasted.

Dung Heads--A staff member of the Kansas City zoo makes these colorful figure heads (upper right and lower right in the photo) by painting faces on elephant dung.

Pachyderm Paper--Wild elephants roam Sri Lanka and are sometimes killed by farmers when they destroy crops. Mr. Ellie Pooh, a U.S.-based company, makes paper products from the elephant poop. They hope that the proceeds from the sale of this paper will compensate farmers for their losses, thus making it more profitable to halt the killing of the elephants.

Pretty powerful stuff--poop.

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