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Monday, March 01, 2004

Evergreens and Shark Teeth 

It looks like it's going to be one of those weeks at work, so I may miss an entry or two this week.

Over the weekend, Evelin I had a fairly sedate time. On Saturday, we both spent a bit of time on work: Evelin grading papers and me editing some things. In the afternoon, however, we headed out to the National Arboretum.

Of course, the last weekend in February isn't the most exciting weekend to go to a plant zoo, but the weather was quite nice and it was fairly crowded. Most of the trees, grasses, ferns, etc., were still in full winter mode, but we did see some cornelian cherry dogwood trees (Cornus mas) whose buds were starting to pop and the conifer collection had a lot of neat looking trees.

Since we got there so late, we only had a little time to walk around the evergreens comparing different types of pinecones before an Arboretum security car drove past letting everyone know the place was going to close in five minutes, cutting short our trying to figure out whether or not we could nick a few seeds and then get the same sort of tree to grow in our yard.

On Sunday, we headed out in the morning for southern Maryland.

We took some of the longer side trails down to the bay and back at Calvert Cliffs State Park. Instead of taking the main trail straight to the cliffs, we looped along the nature trail and over to another trail that connected us back with the cliff trail about a mile or so later.

Heading past the beaver-caused lake and swamp, we got to the cliffs and found absolutely no fossils. To be fair, we didn't really dig through the sand much and the water was too cold to head into to sift out anything of interest from among the rocks, bits of broken shell and lumps of clay.

After taking the longer loop back to the parking lot, we headed down to the Calvert Marine Museum.

A few months ago, the museum put on display the lower jaw of a Miocene-epoch whale that was found in the cliffs. It is the first thing one sees when entering the museum and mostly looks like a big mess swathed in plaster and burlap with stray shells and bits of mud surrounding the bone. Still, it's amazing that this bit of bone was swimming around Maryland a few million years ago.

The rest of the museum is divided into natural history and social history. The natural history part is centered on a recreation of a megatooth white shark skeleton, one of only two in the world. Megatooth (Carcharodon megalodon) was giant precursor of the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)and the skeleton is huge (12 meters). To create the skeleton, museum staff from the Calvert Marine Museum and the South African Museum in Cape Town used the teeth and other fossil remnants found in the Chesapeake as well as information extrapolated from studies and dissections of great whites.

After the fossil section, the museum has several aquariums highlighting different aquatic ecosystems in Calvert County -- mostly fish, but a few crabs, seahorses, jellyfish, too -- and, heading outside, a great river otter enclosure. The two otters (Lutra canadensis) are just a bundle of energy, tumbling in and out of the water, wrestling, and swimming every which way. There are a lot of Kongs and other toys in the enclosure to keep them occupied, and it seems to work. I didn't see any signs of stereotypy common to a lot of animals in captivity.

We then moved into the human history of the region and took a tour of the Drum Point lighthouse, which was decommissioned in 1962 and eventually moved to the museum, which restored it to its circa 1900 condition. A screwpile, cottage-type lighthouse, it has a pretty good amount of living space, including a great deck below the main body of the house. It would probably be less than fun in a hurricane, but I could image living in one of these.

After the museum, we tried to get something to eat in Solomons Island, but the town was doing "A Taste of Solomons," and every place was packed. (Instead of having a central area with each restaurant having a stand where you could sample things, the samples were being given out at each restaurant, which made things a bit crowded.) Instead, we stopped at an ice-cream parlor for a cone and headed home.

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