Of Mice and Meadows

Tim Lee decides the placement of the study skins and skulls with assistance from Bill Thomas. Photos by Emily Szalay, ©NHMU 

By Emily Szalay

"Of Mice and Meadows" is the latest addition to the Land Gallery here at the Natural History Museum of Utah. The exhibits team retrofitted an exhibit about how Utah landscapes have changed over time and has added a new section revealing how small mammals tell us about the past and present of the Great Basin ecosystem.

Tim Lee, Will Black, and Bill Thomas worked together to install study skins, skulls and graphics. The team worked on this project for several months finalizing designs, fabricating monitor cases, and making mounts for study skins and skulls.

Will Black drills hole for the mounts.

The study skins and skulls are from an Ord's kangaroo rat, montane vole, and deer mouse. The kangaroo rat and vole are specialists, meaning they only eat certain foods, and the deer mouse is a generalist, eating a wide array of foods. Studying the populations of specialists vs. generalists allows researchers to gain more knowledge about the geographical location they are studying. Having study skins in our collections from as far back as the 1920's allows researchers to compare and contrast the present populations and what it means for the environment.

Tim holds up the very fragile vole skull.

 

All the specimens in place, awaiting the case top to be installed.

The new exhibit features a video that explains the research being done in our collections and with our partners at Oregon State University and the University of New Hampshire. The lab in Oregon analyzes hair and bone samples for the specimens gathered in Utah, from their analysis they can determine what the temperature was like and what the animal ate. They have discovered that specialists are declining steadily over the years due to invasive species and climate change. Understanding this information is key to developing conservation strategies.   

Emily Szalay is an exhibits preparator at the Natural History Museum of Utah a part of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Our mission is to illuminate the natural world and the place of humans within it. In addition to housing outstanding exhibits for the public, NHMU is a research museum. Learn more.

Category: People, Spaces

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