Skeletons in the Cabinet: Mini Natural History Museum at UVA Wise | New

WISE – A 3-foot-wide glass display case on the second floor of UVA Wise’s Sandridge Science Building may be a routine spectacle for students heading to lab classes, but it does contain some interesting stories.

Naturalist and professor emeritus Phil Shelton has seen numerous samples – collected only to salvage dead creatures – arrive at the college. The hallway display shelves are stocked with skulls of birds, fish and a monkey, a horseshoe crab shell, jars of specimens in formaldehyde, and a collection of stuffed rodent skins.

Shelton said biologist Kris Hoffman set up the hallway enclosure as a point of contact for those interested in seeing more of the college’s collection of flora and fauna specimens before he left for another institution a few years ago.

The rodent collection, he noted, was brought to the college in the 1970s by a student who had worked at the Smithsonian. Each tag includes data from a standard set of measurements used by researchers at the Smithsonian, he said, and cotton-stuffed skins after storage.

The corridor housing also contains the skull of a central Pacific frigate. Shelton said the name comes from how 18th and 19th century frigates attacked the Merchant Navy. In the case of the bird, he said, the species looted the birds to feed the birds, bringing back fish to feed their chicks, knocking the birds in flight and forcing them to empty the contents of their beaks. for a free meal.

The case is just a teaser, Shelton said as he opened another cabinet with skulls of deer, cows, dogs, cats, raccoons and a badger skull that he found and marked there. years ago. A chest of drawers contains fox skins found by teachers and students and kept for study.

“Institutions will keep a colony of beetles on hand to process animal skeletons,” Shelton said. “You put a specimen in a container with the beetles for about a month, come back and the bones will be completely cleaned.”

The storage of animal skins has also changed in recent decades since the days when arsenic was the standard method.

“There was a professor at the time who said you could develop a tolerance to arsenic by being exposed to small amounts of it,” Shelton said with a chuckle, adding that he didn’t had not tested the idea.

Shelton said the college’s collection often reminded him of his field days as a graduate student in the Midwest and North Central United States.

“We had trapped a baby skunk, and it sprayed when we took it out,” Shelton said. “I was working on my thesis and luckily my landlady had been traveling for about three weeks. It was a little smelly there for a few days.

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