The Prairie Ocean: Long Time, No Sea, is here at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History. Created by Chuck Bonner and Ray Troll, the exhibit will highlight stories of the Bonner family, and their family legacy as fossil hunters. The exhibit will also focus on Kansas and its natural history, featuring a variety of Chuck and Ray’s artwork, and fossils found here in Kansas.
Chuck Bonner – Chuck is a Kansas native, born and raised in the central and western parts of the state. His passion for art and fossil hunting was inherited from his parents. Chuck attended Fort Hays State University, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Art and a Master’s Degree in Painting. His art has been featured all over central and western Kansas, including murals at Fort Hays State University and the Ellis County Historical Museum. Chuck and his wife, Barbara Shelton, currently operate the Keystone Gallery, which is a combination of an art gallery, fossil museum, and gift shop. For more information about Chuck Bonner, the Keystone Gallery and his artwork, visit his website at keystonegallery.com
Ray Troll – Ray is known for his unique style of blending art and science, drawing his inspiration from extensive fieldwork and the latest scientific discoveries. Ray earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, in 1977, and a Master’s Degree in studio arts from Washington State University in 1981. After he graduated, he moved to Tongass Narrows in Ketchikan, Alaska. From there, his artwork grew in popularity, eventually earning him an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from the University of Alaska-Southeast. Ray’s art has been featured in museums, books, and magazines. Some of his most recent works include Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway with Dr. Kirk Johnson; a mural for the University of Washington called Fishes of the Salish Sea; an exhibit at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History entitled, The Blue Seas, Green Seas; a traveling museum show called Buzz Saw Sharks of Long Ago; and his collaboration with Chuck Bonner in The Prairie Ocean: Long Time No Sea. For more information about Ray Troll, his artwork, and his exhibits, visit his website at trollart.com
A 91-million-year-old shark, recently described as Cretodus houghtonorum, was discovered in 2010 near a ranch located in Mitchell County. The discovery and excavation were conducted by the authors, Kenshu Shimada and Michael Everhart, adjunct researchers of the Sternberg Museum, along with two assistants from central Kansas, Fred Smith, and Gail Pearson.
Even though the fossil shark is an incomplete skeleton, it still represents the best Cretodus specimen known from North America. The team was able to uncover more than 130 teeth and 60 vertebrae from the site. The shark was estimated to be about 5 meters (nearly 17 feet) long, suggesting the animal was rather sluggish, which is a similar trait to a shark group called Lamniformes. This also includes modern-day distant cousins, the great white and sand tiger sharks.
The specific epithet “houghtonorum” is in honor of the landowners Keith and Deborah Houghton, who generously donated the specimen to the Sternberg. Discoveries like this would not be made possible without the cooperation and generosity of local landowners, and the local knowledge and enthusiasm of amateur fossil collectors, according to the authors. “We believe that continued cooperation between paleontologists and those who are most familiar with the land, is essential to improving our understanding of the geological history of Kansas, and the Earth as a whole,” said Everhart.
The study, A new large Late Cretaceous lamniform shark from North America with comments on the taxonomy, paleoecology, and evolution of the genus Cretodus, will appear in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and is available online. Click here to read the published paper.
More pictures and information from this dig are posted online at http://oceansofkansas.com/Cretodus.html.
Michael J. Everhart
November 2019 – January 2020
In searching for a personal relationship with our natural environment and finding solace from observing patterns in nature, we can begin to understand the motivations of the artist, Clinton Marstall. Marstall is an MFA graduate in painting and printmaking from Fort Hays State University. He has exhibited throughout the Midwest. He currently lives and works as an artist in Kansas City, Missouri.
Marstall is the 2019 cover artist for the Journal of Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences. Richard Taylor, Professor of Physics at the University of Oregon, wrote an article describing Marstall’s inspiration and process titled, “Nature’s Fractal Similarities: Integrating Art and Science.” Taylor writes, “Nature serves as the unifying force in all of his creations…He integrates a number of biomorphic images into a unique amalgam of multi-scaled complexity.”
To learn more about Clinton Marstall and his exhibit, visit clintonmarstall.blogspot.com
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Hello everyone, my name is Maggie Wolf, and I am a freshman at the University of Evansville majoring in Biology. I attended the Sternberg Paleontology, Southwest Biology and Expedition Ecuador camps, all of which provided me with amazing experiences and helped me learn more about the things I love. At the end of last summer, I was provided with a new opportunity: to work on data curation for the high school camps, which involved organizing the photos and notes taken at each camp into a coherent set of data. It has provided me with new challenges that, when overcome, have been very rewarding.
The goal of the data curation position is to establish a data set for the high school biology camps. At each camp, students and instructors take field notes and record when and where they observe different organisms. Students also take photos of the organisms seen, which, when coupled with the field notes, means that an enormous amount of data is collected at each camp. As birds are a particular interest of mine, I started there, sorting the photos by date and then species. Each set of observations was entered into eBird, an online database of bird sightings that spans the globe. In the end, 48 separate lists of birds were entered that included a total of 201 different bird species. Each sighting was then entered into iNaturalist, a similar website that allows you to enter observations or help others identify what they have seen. This site allows for entry of any living organism, vastly expanding the number of entries possible. In the end, 673 observations were entered, 259 of which have been deemed research grade. Incredibly, 496 different species were documented at the high school camps last summer!
However, it was not without complications. For each observation, I had to determine where an organism was seen primarily based on when it was observed. This was complicated by the many time changes we experienced, meaning the time recorded in the field notes was not always the time the camera recorded for each photo. This meant I had to double and triple check that the correct time and place was associated with each photograph. Having time stamped photos was helpful several times though. In most cases, it is easier to identify an organism in real life because you can gather information from its appearance as well as its behavior. Several organisms that were harder to identify in photos lined up with observations in my field notes, letting me make more accurate identifications. One of the hardest tasks was identifying unknown organisms that were photographed. Without the context I would normally get (like their habitat, behaviors and any noises), it was much more difficult to figure out what animals I was looking at. Several were particularly confusing because they were species I recognized but they looked different because they were from a different region. After seeing reddish purple House Finches my entire life, it threw me for a loop when I saw a group of orange ones.
This experience was thoroughly eye-opening because I realized how little I know. I have seen a small piece of the spectacular diversity of life on the planet, and even here it has been overwhelming. I thought I had a fair amount of knowledge about plants and insects, but when it came down to identifying a small brown spider or a red fern, I was totally at a loss.
I gradually developed the skills and vocabulary I needed to identify organisms more accurately though. Being able to identify an organism’s family became much easier and the few that I narrowed to the level of genus or species constituted major victories. One of the most incredible changes that I have noticed is that I have become much more observant. You never know how much you are missing until you can tell the difference between organisms. Sure, a field is full of plants and animals. It becomes rewarding, though, when you understand what organisms are there and how they interact. I became much more dedicated to the project as I put in more time and effort. While it was often difficult or frustrating, I kept working and became more determined. This project is important because the data can be used by researchers to advance scientific knowledge, and I am really glad to be a part of that quest.
This guest post is by Margaret (Maggie) Wolf, a camps participant from 2015-2017 from Kansas City, KS. Last summer, Maggie participated in the Expedition Ecuador wildlife biology camp. Following this program, Maggie was selected for the 2017 Sternberg Camps data curation paid internship. With guidance, Maggie organized and entered wildlife documentation data from the Expedition Ecuador and Southwest Biology Camps into online databases iNaturalist and eBird. Maggie will be returning to the camps this coming summer as a teaching assistant.
To get a glimpse of Maggie’s work during her internship, please check out the Sternberg Science Camps pages on iNaturalist, and eBird.