From Mollusks to Mastodons, Enjoy This Out-of



From Mollusks to Mastodons, Enjoy This Out-of
Thursday, April 19, 2012
From Mollusks to Mastodons,
Enjoy This Out-of-This World Exhibit
ave you had your Vitamin W lately? It’s a lot like Vitamin Z,
the make-believe “Vitamin Zoo” we wrote about in our last
Detroit Zoo story.
“Vitamin Wonder” is an energy booster, too. We made it up to
describe the astonishment and curiosity we always feel at the best
museum shows. We were barely past the entrance when we felt it
once again at “Life on Earth!,” a new show at the Cranbrook Institute
of Science, in Bloomfield Hills.
“See that giant White Rhino?” asked John Zawiskie, pointing to a
massive head mounted on a wall. It was the very first thing we saw.
“That’s real. See that Bengal Tiger? That’s real. The lion coming
out of the wall is real. The monkeys – they’re all the real thing.”
What an incredible display! John, who is both a paleontologist and
a geologist, or a fossil and a rock scientist, scoured the institute’s
vast natural history collection to put together the show. He also
tapped a little-known treasure trove: Wayne State University’s natural
history collection, which hasn’t been open to the public in quite a
few years.
Using specimens from
both institutions, John was
able to assemble the show’s
truly spectacular “Wall of
Life.” Twenty-eight animal
groups are represented,
including mammals, reptiles,
amphibians, fish and birds.
“The idea was to focus on
the concept of the diversity
of life – biodiversity,” John
Many of the specimens
were so life-like we halfThis shell is the most beautiful we’ve ever
seen. The extinct mollusk lived 70 million
expected them to roar or
years ago. It’s fossil remains were found in
cheep or croak. Three were
the Canadian Rockies.
of extinct species, which
made seeing them all the
more wondrous. One was the Carolina Parakeet, the only parakeet
native to North America, though no longer.
The mollusk collection was a knockout. Mollusks include snails,
clams and mussels, and hundreds of shiny shells were displayed.
If you think a clam is a clam is a clam, think again. Each species’
shell was unique, proving once again that many of the world’s most
beautiful shapes are found in Nature.
The show also explores Earth’s five mass extinctions, or periods
when thousands of species disappeared. After each extinction,
new species evolved, eventually including Homo sapiens (that’s us).
Photos by Per Kjeldsen
How many species can you identify in the exhibit’s Wall of Life? Can you spot
the armadillo?
Still, more than 99 percent of all the
species that ever lived on Earth are
gone. That includes the American
Mastodon, a prehistoric elephant
that once roamed Michigan. Don’t
believe us? There’s an enormous
mastodon skull in the show. “It was
found in 1934 right across the street
from the museum,” said John, “at
the corner of Woodward at Charing
Cross Road.”
The show runs through Sept.
2. For more, visit http://science.
By Patricia Chargot
It’s hard to believe this Bengal
Tiger isn’t alive. It’s just one of the
many well preserved life forms in
Cranbrook’s “Life on Earth” show.
The Earth’s first five extinctions occurred long before
human beings existed. They were triggered by a variety
of factors, including lava eruptions and global warming.
Scientists believe a sixth mass extinction may be
underway, this one caused by humans – the over-fishing,
over-hunting and over-development of the planet.

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