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News from the Friends of the Museum

  • 08/28/2023 2:14 PM | Anvi Srivastava (Administrator)

    The Georgia Museum of Natural History has a long, rich history dating back to the founding of UGA. Professors over the years bought and collected materials, oddities, and artifacts for their classes since the university itself didn’t have enough funding to provide those professors with classroom materials as part of the budget, which eventually culminated into respectably sized collections owned and curated by the various departments by the end of the 19th century. 

    In 1897, Science Hall, the first new building constructed in over a decade, was completed, on the site where Terrell Hall stands today. This building housed the Chemistry and Biology Departments (as well as administration), which also meant that it housed those departments’ collections along with it, including Chemistry’s Industrial Museum (which had over 3000 mechanical and industrial gadgets, such as an early steam engine), the Geological and Mineralogical Collection (which had been curated by the Chemistry Department head, Prof. H. C. White, since the geology professor had retired in 1892 and hadn’t yet been replaced), and the Biological Collections. While the Geological Collections were unceremoniously shoved into a closed in the basement, the Biological Collections, at least, began to thrive: in June 1901, an article from The Weekly Banner, an Athens newspaper, described a new Biological Museum which the Biology Department had begun in Science Hall: “This is a feature of recent addition to the University and new specimens are being added from year to year. Already a splendid collection is on hand, and this department furnishes not only many benefits for the student, but is also an interesting spot for visitors.” Unfortunately, a fire burned Science Hall to the ground on November 17, 1903, and practically everything from the collections were lost. 

    Thus began a period of rebuilding. Professor White explicitly stated in the 1904 Chemistry Annual Report that his focus was to rebuild the Chemistry Department and its apparatus, and set Geology on the back burner. Thus, the Geological Collection would be sorely neglected until the Geology Department would be re-established in 1937. The Biological Collections were actually restored rather quickly, though. Even though the Board of Trustees granted very little money to the department, the Biology professor, Dr. John P. Campbell, managed to secure several donations of specimens from institutions across the country, including the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, to replenish the collections.

    Records from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History show that the Museum sent 294 specimens, representing 98 species, of marine invertebrates to Dr. Campbell on December 3, 1903. (Distribution #17320.) Photo courtesy of Tad Bennicoff, Smithsonian Archives.

    Additionally, Botany was created as a department separate from Biology in 1908, and the first professor, J. M. Reade, was adamant about greatly expanding the Botany Collection. Under Reade’s near twenty year tenure as head of Botany, the department would eventually establish a greenhouse, a respectable herbarium, and come to offer an array of courses with ever growing student interest. In 1911, Biology (which now primarily curated the zoological collection) managed to acquire the infamous Hoxie Collection from renowned ornithologist Walter John Hoxie of Savannah, GA for $500 (or, nearly $16,000 today). This collection was composed of species of ducks and other birds native to Coastal Georgia. The purchase actually garnered national attention in the academic world. However, Biology would not receive funding to care properly for these specimens, and a number of them would decay and be lost in the next two decades.

    Funding lacked to hire curators of these collections, and the professors had a hard time caring for them while also trying to perform their regular duties. Funds for the University were tight because of massive inflation since 1912 and the subsequent outbreak of World War I. In 1920, J. M. Reade, Professor of Botany, wrote in the annual report, “The museum should be considered separately from the schools of botany and zoology. It is too much to be cared for by the professors and too much to be sustained out of maintenance funds…The zoological materials in the museum are not being cared for. Dr. Campbell (now deceased) could not and did not undertake it. The result has been a considerable loss. A number of wax models have gone to pieces. A collection of Georgia birds which you purchased a few years ago is going to pieces. Several of the specimens have fallen from their mountings. Since purchase, the whole collection has stood exposed to dust and the ravages of insects…” Indeed, every department would be short on funds until the mid-1940s. Though the State did provide increased funding in these years, the true accrue of funds came from the three thousand World War II veterans who enrolled as out-of-state residents (who thus paid higher tuition and fees) from the federal government’s G.I. Bill. The Chancellor’s Office estimated that they would account for an increase in funding of nearly $990,000, which meant that, for the first time in decades, departments actually had more than enough money to operate, and were even able to expand. Botany spent over $11,000 on a new greenhouse, and in 1949, added 7,000 specimens to the herbarium, totaling 34,436 specimens (i.e. they managed to procure 20% of the collection in that year alone), and another 9,850 specimens would be added in 1950. Eugene P. Odum, a Professor of Zoology at this time, began accumulating the first true foundations of the Ornithology Collection. 

    The Department of Anthropology and Archaeology briefly appeared towards the end of the 1930’s but dissolved during World War II when the professor, Dr. Robert Waucope, resigned; however, it was finally firmly established in 1947 under a new head, Dr. Arthur R. Kelly. L. L. Hendren, Dean of Franklin College, aptly stated, “It is peculiarly fitting that there should be such a department at the University of Georgia because our state is richer than any other state east of the Mississippi River in archaeological remains.” No courses were offered the first year and a half after its inception, as Kelly and another professor hired, William Sears, were busy out in the field surveying and excavating for nearly the entire time. During this period, it is important to note that Georgia was experiencing an industrial boom of sorts, and major projects– construction of highways, dams, bridges, and other major improvements in infrastructure– were popping up all over the state. These projects, however, threatened to damage or completely destroy a multitude of unprotected historical sites– hence, the resulting flood of urgent requests for UGA’s new Archaeology Department to survey and excavate these sites before the artifacts were lost forever. An archaeological laboratory was set up in the basement of Old College, where artifacts excavated or acquired by the department could be processed and prepared for museum exhibition. The department’s first official exhibit, on Muskogean Art and Symbolism, went on display in “an alcove of the Georgia Art Museum” on May 25, 1949; it would last through January before being rotated out. Anthropology would come to boast the largest collection of the Georgia Museum of Natural History, today containing over three million specimens and artifacts from Georgia and the Southeast, spanning 12,000 years of human history. Kelly would retire in 1967. 

    Photo and caption depict UGA professor William Sears leading excavations at Kolomoki Mounds State Park, Blakely, GA, 1951. Photos Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, UGA Libraries.

    The first half of the twentieth century marked tumultuous times for the Museum and its collections– of rise and fall, hope and disappointment, growth and loss– which would continue to define nearly its entire existence. Nevertheless, time marched on, and the Museum survived every blow Circumstance tried to test it with, returning a little stronger, a little larger, a little tougher each time. If nothing else can be said of the museum– of the professors that spent their lives nurturing its collections, of the departments, struggling to stay afloat as they did, yet still managing to build the collections each year– it should be stated that their resiliency is astounding, and that resiliency should be commended. The Museum continues its struggles today, fighting for funding, for support, for recognition, however, the History of the Museum, long and rich as it is, with times in light and dark, has always proudly proclaimed one thing– that the future is always brighter, and the best is yet to come.

  • 04/10/2023 3:20 PM | Anvi Srivastava (Administrator)

    No Georgia resident’s childhood is complete without a memory of catching fireflies. I remember as a child when the heat of the summer would first arrive, sending me and my friends outdoors at the sight of the small, twinkling beetles that lit up the evening. Excitedly, we would capture the small lightning bugs in our palms and watch them glow in search of a mate that waited below in the grass. Photinus pyralis, or the eastern firefly (also known as the Big Dipper), is the most common firefly in the Eastern US. Its yellow, J-shaped flash is all too familiar to many. Another well known is the Blue Ghost firefly that resides in the Southern Appalachian mountains, showing off its continuous blue-white radiance. It was believed during the Civil War that these lights were the ghosts of soldiers wandering in the mountains.

    Big Dipper firefly licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    Fireflies are unique in that they are bioluminescent, meaning that they can create their own light, much like an angular fish in the deep ocean. New research shows that they may be able to change their colors as well. They are also amazing insects because they hold a significance to many people that grew up loving their presence alongside the forests of Georgia. As I grew older, I thought my life getting busier prevented me from seeing these fireflies much as I used to. In actuality, their numbers have been declining in recent years.

    Glow of Blue Ghost fireflies. Image by Spencer Black

    Unfortunately, their populations are steadily decreasing, thanks in part to growing urban areas and light pollution. When night skies are lit up and forests are no longer dark in the evenings, it makes it incredibly difficult for fireflies to see each other’s glow, a sign that they are looking for mates. Combined with deforestation and certain land management practices, fireflies living in urbanized places like Atlanta can be hit the hardest as their habitats are disappearing.

    Last summer, I interned with EcoReach, an environmental outreach program, and helped work on the Atlanta Firefly Project. The Atlanta Firefly Project was first founded by Kelly Ridenhour for her master’s thesis at UGA as she studied the effects of urban areas on these fireflies. After she graduated, EcoReach took over the next summer in 2022. The project’s main goal is recruiting volunteers in the Atlanta and Athens region to record data about the number of fireflies around their own residence. Combined with information about the amount of greenspace in the area, the use of insecticide, outdoor lighting at night, etc. we managed to find evidence on what can increase or decrease firefly abundance.

    Fireflies in Georgia licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

    High rates of healthy vegetation is correlated with an increase of flash counts. Use of mosquito repellant, turning on outdoor lighting at night, irrigation, and removing leaf litter can all lead to a negative effect on firefly abundance, especially if these practices have been in place for years. Mosquito repellant can have chemicals that are also damaging to fireflies, turning on outdoor lighting during spring and summer evenings where these lightning bugs go out to mate can disorient them, and removing leaf litter takes away a habitat for their larvae. Being conscious of what can and cannot hurt fireflies is vital to keeping them around. Since cities are only growing, it’s increasingly important to mitigate these harmful effects. People who live in urban areas still deserve to see the magic of fireflies.

    If you love to learn more about fireflies and how you can help in their conservation, you can visit the Atlanta Firefly Project’s website,, or the Xerces Society’s at for more information.

    Atlanta Firefly Project Logo

  • 02/06/2023 10:00 AM | Anvi Srivastava (Administrator)

    Click here to read

    At our Georgia Museum of Natural History, you all know there are over a million preserved fish, and of those there are currently 116 Cyprinellalutrensis, the “red shiner”, and 881 Cyprinellavenusta, the “blacktail shiner”. Gorgeous little fish, the blacktail shiner is native to the northwestern part of Georgia and into adjoining regions to the north and west; the red shiner is a western species that I knew from my time studying with Dr. Tom Turner in New Mexico (Tom is known to croon “Louie, Louie” when C. lutrensis is caught in the seine).  

    (red shiner, C. lutrensis)

    The red shiner has been introduced into our southeastern drainages by human activity, and almost immediately biologists started to understand how they didn’t just compete with the blacktail shiners, they also breed with them. That can have consequences for creating a “hybrid swarm”, possibly altering the local fish community, and so people wanted to know the mechanisms that promote or limit that hybridization.  

    It turns out that among the first researchers to study that problem was Dr. Exalton Delco – the first Black Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Texas – who got his degree in 1962.

    Delco studied hybrid zones in the southeastern U.S. and focused on the soundscape that they were using to recognize potential mates. This and other processes of anthropogenic disturbance, like sediment load, continue to be studied in this hybrid system, but Delco was able to do this work using clever experiments and a load of field work at a time that this would have been particularly difficult relative to today – though Black scientists still have to negotiate all sorts of problematic behavior and social biases in doing their work in remote natural habitats, for sure. Dr. Exalton Delco continued to have a long career of teaching biology and guiding the University of Texas system towards more collaborative work with community colleges and HBCUs in the region. Notably, some of our members from Texas may also recall his wife, Wilhelmina Ruth Delco, who was a member of the Texas House of Representatives from the 1970s into the 1990s.  

    (photo from the linked article) 

    As somebody who has done my share of specimen collecting and other measurements in streams, rivers, coastal ecosystems, and beyond, it’s worth considering what risks I have been able to ignore in wading through creeks or land behind homes for access to sampling sites because it can be explained away as serving the mission of science, or at least, the University of Georgia.  

    Scientists who don’t look or identify the same as myself in all sorts of ways can run into real problems trying to gain the same access – and it can get dangerous. As a matter of fact, the National Science Foundation is now ensuring that funded scientists have a plan for safe access for their student researchers to be able to perform collections from natural populations in an equitable and appropriate way 

    So, knowing the work that Dr. Delco performed over 60 years ago – against the backdrop of the Greensboro, NC sit-ins and so much other focus on civil rights and social change – it’s a good time to celebrate his work that went into knowing about these fish and their history of interaction and change. The 116 red shiners we have at GMNH, and the 881 blacktail shiners, have a LOT to tell us about their history, as well as our own.  

    And if you want to read more about how important this work, and access to natural spaces, can be for a biologist then you will want to read Dr. Drew Lanham’s book The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature and hope that you are as excited as we are about having Dr. Lanham as our speaker at 2023 Celebration! 

    Thanks for reading.

    (blacktail shiner, illustration at 

  • 01/23/2023 5:56 PM | Anvi Srivastava (Administrator)

    “I believe that we have been doing this not primarily to achieve riches or even honor, but rather because we were interested in the work, enjoyed doing it and felt very strongly that it was worthwhile. Scientific research is one of the most exciting and rewarding of occupations.” -Dr. Frederick Sanger said this during his 1980 Nobel Banquet speech. He (along with his colleagues Peter Berg and Walter Gilbert) was awarded the prize in chemistry for their work on the first DNA sequencing technique. Dr. Sanger’s words resonate particularly within me. After all, his work laid the foundation for my senior summer research project: biomonitoring of zebra mussels via environmental DNA (eDNA).  

    In April 2021, Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha)were discovered on a boat destined for Lake Lanier; the Georgia DNR was contacted and positively identified the zebra mussels. First found in the U.S. in the Great Lakes region during the mid-1980’s, these fingernail sized mussels have been transported through the U.S. at an alarming pace and can now be found within many of our freshwater systems. They catch a ride quite easily: juvenile veligers swimming freely in the environment can be uptaken into ballast water and released in novel locations, while the resilient adults can attach to surfaces (i.e. submerged boat surfaces) and survive out of water for several days if provided moist conditions. Population densities may reach 100,000 per square meter. Individuals can filter up to a liter of water per day, increasing water clarity (encouraging algal blooms) while competing with native organisms for food. They can attach to nearly any solid surface, frequently clogging water treatment facility intake pipes. They devastate native ecology and create millions of dollars in economic damage annually. They are now as close as the Tennessee River, and our region is in the hot zone for potential introduction. 

    My professors took note of this news and designed an experiment to detect a possible population of the zebra mussels within Lake Lanier using eDNA. In eDNA techniques, samples are collected from the environment and tested for the presence of highly specific DNA fragments. While DNA amplification and detection are well established techniques, environmental applications have only been developed within about the last 5 years. We received a grant from the University of North Georgia’s Faculty Undergraduate Summer Engagement program, covering supplies and 8 weeks of pay for student researchers. In the summer before my senior year (B.S. Biology), I got paid to do research focused on three of my favorite subjects: aquatic ecology, DNA, and invasive species. How amazing is that!?! And so, my research partner and I spent 1-2 days per week collecting, filtering, and testing samples to detect eDNA fragments. 

    As I’m writing this piece, we have detected no positive samples from Lake Lanier (thankfully). Instead of finding zebra mussels in our lake, I found those things that Dr. Sanger spoke of: the reward of doing what I’m interested in, what I enjoy, and what I find worthwhile. I observed the process of research from conception to presentation. I took part in experimental design, field collections, lab work, and troubleshooting. I observed the power of collaboration as the DNR assisted us with our inquiries. I presented our work as a poster presentation to fellow FUSE participants and faculty. On several occasions we had the opportunity to speak with locals and lake-goers, and we found that most didn’t know about the near-miss incident. However, every patron we spoke with expressed concern for the watershed’s ecology and asked what they could do to help. The interest and concern of the public gives me hope that by pursuing my chosen intended profession, ecological research and education, I can have a positive impact on my community and the larger scientific world.

  • 01/09/2023 6:32 PM | Anvi Srivastava (Administrator)

    Ossabaw Island, a barrier island off of the coast of Georgia within the Georgia Bight region, was first inhabited by Native Americans over 5000 years ago. This research project seeks to understand how Native Americans and later Euroamerican inhabitants of Ossabaw Island harvested resources from the surrounding coastal environments over the last 2000 years. By measuring the ratio of oxygen isotopes in oyster shells found in middens and shell rings, it is possible to reconstruct the environment from which oysters were harvested. This method, called sclerochronology, is the basis for the research project. The relative water temperature calculated from the oxygen isotope ratio in an oyster’s last growth line represents the season that the oyster was harvested, and the salinity of the water represents the environment the oyster lived in (i.e., brackish or fresh). Therefore, through this method it is possible to make statements about the seasons sites were occupied and the types of habitats that were the focus of shellfish collection. Not only is a temporal sequence of harvest collection project new for this area, but the sites comprising the sequence (Bluff Field, Finley’s Pond, and South End, Ossabaw Island) are all individually unique, such that results from each site will be valuable in interpretations of their specific histories. An article reporting the results is expected to be finished in June 2023. 

  • 12/12/2022 6:29 PM | Anvi Srivastava (Administrator)

    In eastern North America, less than 1% of our temperate forests are considered old-growth, meaning that they have no history of being cleared since the arrival of European colonists. Old-growth forests serve as important reference points as to what forests are like in an uninterrupted state, and accordingly have unique attributes compared to second-growth (regrowing) forests. Huge old trees, mixed-age tree communities, and large amounts of deadwood all distinguish old-growth from second-growth forests. Moreover, unique and rare species of plants and animals inhabit old-growth, some of which are dependent on the stable supply of habitat through time found only in these undisturbed settings. For this reason, old-growth forests are often places of refuge for species while the surrounding landscape undergoes deforestation or other change. 

    As part of my PhD at UGA, I am studying saproxylic insects in the southern Appalachian Mountains, where the majority of old-growth resides in the eastern US. Saproxylic insects are dependent on deadwood or its associated resources (e.g., fungi) for their life cycle. For this reason, they are sensitive to human influence in forests, which often reduces the amount of deadwood present. The southern Appalachians make a unique case study, as there are large, interrupted tracts of old-growth remaining, but they are surrounded by a landscape of much younger forests that were cleared during the early 1900s. With help from my advisors (Drs. Joseph McHugh and Michael Ulyshen) and collaborators (Drs. Michael Caterino and Michael Ferro), I assessed the dependence of two saproxylic beetle species on old-growth forests in this region: a pleasing fungus beetle, Megalodacneheros (Erotylidae), and an ironclad beetle, Phellopsis obcordata (Zopheridae). Although little is known about the natural history of these species, both require wood-decaying fungi to reproduce. Both are associated with old-growth, but little was known about their degree of dependence on it. The two species differ in their ability to fly, which probably influences their ecology. Some individuals of M. heros can and probably do fly for parts of their life, but all individuals of P. obcordata are entirely flightless and have tiny shriveled wings under their elytra.

    Off the bat, we faced the challenge of actually finding these beetles in the remote and disorienting mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia. As a rough guide, we used label data from museum specimens (including those from the UGCA) to revisit some areas of the mountains where the species had been found previously. Some of these records were over a hundred years old (!) and it’s safe to say that we were unsuccessful more often than not. Additionally, we used historic disturbance maps of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) to hike trail sections in the park that would take us through old-growth forests. On these hikes we would look for shelf fungi growing on logs and dead trees, and we’d search for the beetles on or around the fungus. We additionally measured tree diameters and stand basal area both when the species were and weren’t present. After a few weeks, we started finding the beetles more regularly by making associations with forest types and fungi, which allowed us to observe their behavior and natural history. We also looked for the beetles and their fungi in second-growth forests to see if either were restricted to old-growth. Finally, we asked members of the public to help find new locations for these species in GSMNP and post those occurrence records on iNaturalist. The Discover Life in America organization featured the beetles on their “Smokies Most Wanted” page. This community science element was an important addition to our field surveys because we could only cover so much ground ourselves in the expansive landscape.

    After a few weeks of field work, it was clear that our two species were responding quite differently to historic forest disturbance, and final results including the iNaturalist records verified this. Megalodacneheros and its host fungi could be found nearly anywhere below an elevation threshold, in old-and second-growth alike, and large trees didn’t seem to be necessary for their presence. Dead hemlock logs resembled a Cincinnati Bengals tailgate party with the shiny orange and black beetles aggregating in huge numbers on the red sporocarps of Ganoderma tsugae. This species and their host fungi were so prevalent that we had to stop counting to make the best use of our time, but we did document them using a new host, Ganoderma megaloma. Conversely, finding P. obcordata required patience, hard work, and (oftentimes) luck. These rugged, brown beetles were sometimes locally abundant, but populations seemed few and far between. We found them mostly on a newly documented host fungi, Fomitopsisochracea, growing on softwood trees at mid to high elevations, and Fomitopsisbetulinagrowing on birches. Phellopsis obcordata usually was found inside or very near old-growth sections of GSMNP, although there are a few scattered museum records more than 3 km from old-growth. Our surveys and iNaturalist records showed that their host fungi were found in second-growth, but not the beetles! Interestingly, however, P. obcordata didn’t seem to require any physical characteristics of old-growth forests, such as extremely large trees or logs.

    Naturally, we were curious why our two study species differed in their dependence on old-growth. The host fungi of both species were present in both old- and second-growth forests, so why weren’t both beetles as well? The answer may lie in their ecology, specifically their ability to disperse to new habitat. Some Megalodacneheros individuals can fly and so individuals on average can disperse more easily to new host fungi that is far away. Accordingly, populations may be better at recolonizing or persisting in second-growth forests after disturbances. Conversely, Phellopsis obcordatabeetles are entirely flightless, and consequently are limited to finding new host fungi within a much shorter walking distance. Since no physical characteristics of old-growth were important for P. obcordata, this makes us believe that this species is dependent on the steady supply of host fungi through time and space found in old-growth. In second-growth forests, historic clearing events likely interrupted the supply for some time, and at present day the fungus hosts are distributed out of reach or too sparsely to support P. obcordata populations. This makes P. obcordata a great indicator of old-growth in the southern Appalachian Mountains, as it is sensitive to human disturbances in forests. Overall, we were able to show that old-growth forests can act as a refuge for sensitive species while the surrounding landscape undergoes human disturbance. For this reason, old-growth is home to rare and unique species like P. obcordata

  • 11/28/2022 10:00 AM | John Wares (Administrator)

    During college, all I knew was that I liked science and that I did NOT want to do anything business related. I couldn’t imagine myself in a 40 hour a week job, sitting at a desk from 9-5. All I knew was that I wanted something different, but the pieces weren’t even in my brain yet for me to put together and imagine the future. As I narrowed down my search, I took an ichthyology class, just because. As it turned out, fish were more interesting than I had previously thought. 

    Fast forward, my last semester in college was interrupted by Covid-19. At this point, I dreamed of scuba diving and telling someone about the fish taxa present in a reef or river. I scoured the internet and could not find anything worthwhile- just a lot of ecological consulting jobs and “volunteer opportunities”. I figured I could apply to the Georgia Aquarium, where I knew there were a LOT of fish, and stay in town while the virus was still spreading around globally.

    I then became an intern at the aquarium (yes, unpaid unfortunately). I didn’t realize which gallery I had applied for, but it turns out I managed to snag the one spot left that was continuing to have interns: the Ocean Voyager exhibit. If you are familiar with the Georgia Aquarium, you know that this is the massive exhibit with whale sharks, manta rays, and so so SO many other fish species. I had no idea what I was doing (how could I have?), but the team taught me so much about fish and how to take care of them in captivity. I managed to get hired on the team after only 2 months of interning. 

    My daily tasks revolved around feeding the animals and making sure they were all healthy. We began the day with a whale shark feed, then a dive in the exhibit where you were either a safety diver for volunteers that were cleaning in the tank, or diving to feed the whale shark, which has you swimming backwards squirting krill into the mouth of a 30ft whale shark as he follows you. Then, we did some eagle ray feeds, and maybe an animal procedure or two, depending on the day. Next, there was a general broadcast feed for all the fish who wanted to participate, and in tandem Tank the green sea turtle was distracted from those antics with his breakfast of lettuce. After, we did manta ray feeds, another whale shark feed, and tong feeds some days. During tong feeds, animals that did not need to eat every day were fed in many different stations, all at the same time. Some stations include the sharks, zebra sharks, some various species of rays, and the cownose rays (who can be a real pain at the other stations if you aren’t distracting them). Luckily, after all this work is a much needed lunch break! Coming back from lunch, we fed the eagle rays again, did another broadcast/Tank feed, a manta feed, and finally, a final whale shark feed. Whenever there was time, we logged what we did all day and how the animals did during their feeding/training sessions.

    One of my favorite animals there was a lonesome boy cownose ray named Butter. He had to be separated from the hundreds of girlfriends he had in the exhibit because they kept making more and more cownose rays, and frankly there were already enough. He was held in the holding pool to the side of the exhibit, which is a smaller pool where animals go to recover from procedures or if they’re babies. It’s a less stressful/competitive place than the huge tank. Anyways, he didn’t really have a purpose. He didn’t have a place to go, and couldn’t go back to the exhibit either. He just did circles around the edges of the holding pool, 24/7. So, I started to work on getting him to hand feed, and eventually target trained him with an orange ping pong paddle. I could have him do spins and follow me around, it was much easier to catch him for physical exams, and I even started to give him some back and belly pets (which were tolerated but not enjoyed). Eventually, the shark interaction pool at the aquarium wanted to take him because he was so well behaved. Unfortunately, even though he was the best trained ray there (in my opinion), he did not do well in the smaller pool and was a bit too pushy with wanting to participate to get treats… In the end, he ended up going to the offsite animal care facility to one day be prepared for a new home where he would thrive. It was moments like these with the fish that I saw how smart and motivated they could be. It also felt good to build a bond with the animals and help them form behaviors that were mutually beneficial.

    After almost two years of working at the Georgia Aquarium, I did decide to pursue a completely different career in real estate. To be transparent, the aquarium did not provide a livable wage in Atlanta, so instead of working myself to the bone, I decided to pursue a more lucrative career. The good news is that this career gives me the time to be able to volunteer to dive at the aquarium, so I still get to see the animals in Ocean Voyager whenever I want. I also get to dive in other smaller exhibits throughout the aquarium that I was not able to dive in previously due to my strict schedule while I worked there. 

    I am grateful for my college professors that helped me figure out my passion for science and animal care. Although it did not end up being a long term career path for me, I am thankful to have identified it and that I am able to volunteer my time to maintain my relationship between me and my passions. 


  • 08/22/2022 8:11 PM | Anonymous

    Meet the Beetles!

    by Robert Wyatt

    One of the most famous quotes regarding biological diversity (and theology) is that of the eminent British population geneticist J. B. S. Haldane, who was asked (in some versions of the story, by wags in a London pub) what could be inferred about the Creator from study of the natural world.  His response: "an inordinate fondness for beetles."

    Indeed, the high diversity of beetles (Order Coleoptera) stands out as extreme, with some 350,000 species described, making them the largest group of animals on Earth.  Some estimates range even higher, exceeding 1.5 million! . In the United States alone there are more than 30,000 species.

    As boys growing up in North Carolina, my friends and I had a favorite nighttime activity in the summer: searching for and catching large beetles.  We regularly patrolled parking lots at local shopping centers that had unshielded bright lights atop tall poles.  We also searched with great success at public playgrounds with lighted tennis courts or ball fields.

    Among the most prized specimens were the Eastern Hercules Beetle, Green June Beetle, Stag Beetle, and Rhinoceros Beetle.  Having no proper nets or other entomological supplies, we did our catching using hands and jelly jars.  Without realizing it, we were setting ourselves up well for later science classes that required an insect collection.

    But all of this is to lead up to a recent discovery of a beetle that I had never seen before:  the Eastern Eyed Elater (or Click Beetle).  This beauty happened to land on my hummingbird feeder on 30 May 2021.  At first I was dismayed because I initially thought what I was looking at, from a distance, was a dead juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

    As I got closer, I realized that it was a very large (about 40 mm long) beetle.

    Alaus oculatus (Elateridae) is black but is dotted with silvery white scales, which are arranged on the thorax so as to delimit two large, dark "eyes."  These eyespots presumably confuse or frighten potential predators.  (

    As a secondary deterrent, like all click beetles, A. oculatus can suddenly catapult itself out of danger by snapping its back and shooting into the air.  Here is a link to a video showing clicking and flipping: 

    The larvae of click beetles are known as "wireworms," and some are serious pests of agricultural crops.  But the larvae of A. oculatus are predatory on other beetle larvae, especially Cerambycidae, and have been documented in cage experiments to consume more than 200 cerambycid larvae each!  Adults are said to not eat much, but their diet consists of nectar and plant juices.  So maybe that's how it ended up lying on my hummingbird feeder hoping for a drink of sugar water.

    I held my visitor (in a jelly jar!) for a few hours to observe its activity and feel and hear the click.  Supposedly, when placed on its back, the beetle should immediately click to right itself.  But my beetle instead "played dead," drawing in its legs and antennae and remaining still.  For some reason clicking would occur when simply held in my (predatory?) hand.

    Dr. Robert Wyatt obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his doctorate from Duke University, both in Botany with a minor in Zoology.  He spent most of his career at the University of Georgia, where he was a Professor of Botany and Ecology for more than 20 years.  He has served on the Board of the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Natural History for more than 15 years, including five as President.

  • 08/09/2021 8:08 PM | Anonymous

    Dear all, the summer is just heating up and so is the new academic year. Look for lots of news coming from Friends soon including more information on our 2022 Celebration!

    This week, a contribution from one of our summer GMNH interns, Ben Frick!

    What did our interns do this summer? An inside look by Ben Frick, working with John Wares

    I spent my summer with the crayfish – that is to say among their preserved remains – in the aquatic invertebrates collection of the Georgia Museum of Natural History Annex. My overarching task for this summer was to renumber, reorder, and relabel approximately 740 individual jars of crayfish specimens, a mission which at the time of my acceptance seemed deceptively simple and straightforward. It so turned out that I was incorrect in my initial assessment of the collection’s misleading façade, and I ultimately spent about 8 weeks trying to interpret the cryptic handwriting of one Dr. Chris Skelton and his colleague BD Bennett, both men whom in my mind have become notorious for their tendency to cram as much information as humanly possible into the smallest space available on their labels.

    Please do not be misled, I wholeheartedly enjoyed my time at the Annex this summer, and my work in the collections became a weekly routine that allowed me some time to contemplate my existence or catch up on podcasts if I so chose. Though my task may have been tedious, I found myself often looking forward to my time at the Annex not only for that time to think, but to see my fellow interns, Claire and Bella, whom I had the pleasure of coming to know throughout the course of the summer. Though initially I only interacted with them sparingly due to my collection’s isolated location, I soon found that tedious work is often more fun in the company of others who might share in that tedium. Thus, I often found myself hauling my cart of ethanol-saturated invertebrates to the loading deck, where the two girls could usually be found scrubbing whale bones and recording data. I enjoyed the conversations that we had, though they may not have been entirely curation-related, and I especially enjoyed occasional input from curator Nikki Castleberry, who seems to have a never-ending supply of stories to tell. I think that If I had to choose highlights from my time at the Annex, the relationships I helped to build and the stories I heard would certainly be at the top of the list.

    Of course, this isn’t to say that my internship with GMNH was non-educational or boring in any way, quite the contrary in fact. If anything, my time at the Annex was incredibly demonstrative of the need for programs like curation internships, especially within the realm of natural history. The reality of the situation is that for collections like those housed at the Annex, care and personal attention are scarce at best. Though they certainly do try with all of their might, the existing curation staff at the Annex are woefully short for time to spend on tedious work like mine, an unfortunate side effect of which is that many collections go untouched and uncatalogued for years at a time. Extensive collections like those at the Annex require careful and specific curation, both which for the moment only interns and volunteers have the capacity to spare. Moving forward, I will make every attempt to persuade my fellow life- sciences majors to help at the Annex, and I myself will likely still offer assistance when asked on account of my affiliation with John Wares outside of the Annex.

    I am writing this having just concluded my curation assignment, and I find myself looking back on this summer with a feeling of satisfaction. I value the experience in curation I’ve gained from this internship immensely, and I feel that I have a newfound respect for the time, effort, and dedication that museum curation can require of a person. I will likely pursue similar internships in the future – perhaps even in a different GMNH collection – and may even consider pursuing an actual position with GMNH or another museum further along down the line. I feel that if more people shared an experience similar to mine we might collectively better see the value in the preservation of natural history, through both lenses of future research and preservation for its own sake – a form of respect for the natural world in my view. The proliferation of that sense of respect and interest in the natural world are, in my mind, critical to the health of our planet now more than ever before, and I know no way better than experiential learning to foster such a long-lasting appreciation. At the very least, I know that the museum certainly always could use extra hands, minds, and aspirations, especially those belonging to someone who would like to make a difference. 

Friends of the Georgia Museum of Natural History
Natural History Building
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602
Phone: 706-542-1663
Georgia Museum of Natural History

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