From the desk of Kelly Sendall,
Manager of Natural History,
Royal BC Museum
Every now and again I am asked to give examples of what’s in the natural history collections at the museum. Sometimes it’s during conversation here or there and sometimes to a group or at a meeting. If I have a chance to think about good examples for a meeting, I consult the experts – all the staff in the Natural History Section. As a result, I always end up learning something about the collections, the natural history of BC or the history of our province. Each time I assemble a smattering of specimens for a show and tell, I am impressed with the scope and breadth of the museum’s collections. Each specimen and associated record (and there are over 750,000 of them in the natural history collections) represents a snapshot in time and place when that species was present, along with all the conditions you can think of relating to the habitat, the year, the season, the weather, yada, yada, yada. So it’s not just the variety or diversity of life in BC that’s fascinating. It can also be the historical context, or something about the collector, or what the environmental conditions were at the time. Each record is rich with context and each specimen is a biological library of information relating the specimen to the environment or its habitat. So for your enjoyment and, I hope, enlightenment, here are a set of assembled examples I used recently.
BIRD: Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) Collected: 1899 by A.C. Brooks
From Sumas Lake and representing a specimen from a place that no-longer exists as it once was. Sumas Lake (see image above) was drained by way of the Vedder Canal starting in 1924 to make way for farmland.Sumas Lake was a seasonal lake which varied in size depending on the degree of run off. The freshet each year would often fill the lake to cover an area of 120km2 from the average low water coverage of 40km2. Over time the lake was completely drained to marshland and was full of resident and migratory birds.
This specimen shows the real value of museum specimens to document history and change to the biology/ecology of BC – changes which will continue and accelerate given the growing human population.
FROG: Coastal Tailed Frog (Ascaphus truei) Collected: 1965 in Washington State.
This species of frog is only found in the Pacific Northwest of Washington State and Pacific Southwest of BC. In fact the only population of the species in Canada is here in BC. The ‘tail’ of the male frog is an aid to improve the fertilization of eggs, which are laid in fast-flowing water. The tadpoles have sucker-like mouths to help them stay in one spot underwater
The RBCM collection includes a paratype specimen for the subspecies, Ascaphus truei montanus which is a species all by itself now (Ascaphus montanus)
INVERTEBRATE: Soft Sea Urchin (Sperosoma biseriatum) Collected: 2002 by RBCM and Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans researchers off Graham Island (from 1722-2083 meters of water!)
MAMMAL: Eastern Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis) Collected: March 2010 from Bear Mtn. Dawson Creek, BC. by a private biological consulting company monitoring the site for bat mortalities.
This specimen is one of two donated to the RBCM as frozen voucher specimens at the end of May this year. They are wind farm mortalities from the new Bear Mountain site near Dawson Creek.
|Fossilized frontal appendage of Anomalocaris|
FISH: Yellow Bullhead (Ameiurus natalis) Collected: July 2005 from Silvermere Lake
The Yellow Bullhead, a species of Bullhead catfish, is a voracious scavenger typically feeding at night on a variety of plant and animal material, both live and dead, including small fish, crayfish, insects, snails and worms. They can grow to half a meter in length weighing close to a kilogram. On average they live for up to seven years. Normally ranging throughout the central and eastern US from central Texas north into North Dakota and north to the Great Lakes region, this specimen is the first for BC and is from Silvermere Lake northeast of Langley, BC.
INSECT: Black Witch Moths (Ascalapha odorata) Collected: Early 20th century from southern Okanagan and Victoria.
These moths are about 15cm across and were at one time more commonly found in BC than they are today. Six of the eleven specimens in the group shown here were collected from Victoria. Distributed from Brazil to the southern US, in spring this moth undertakes a northward migration. During this time adults occasionally reach as far north as BC. Its name reflects the cultural belief in Mexican and Caribbean folklore that it is a harbinger of death.