Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Updates from Panama

Soon after the last post, I headed out to the US, for a short collection trip. During this trip, I visited both the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH), and the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) as I needed to compare my notes on some fossil cetaceans from the late Miocene of Panama with material housed in those institutions. It was also an opportunity to see my wife as well as spend some quality time with some good friends.

Gainesville, FL
At the Florida Museum of Natural History, I focused on comparing the Panamanian material with several fossil toothed whales in the collections, mainly from the late Miocene and early Pliocene of Florida. There are some interesting specimens at the FLMNH and I was able to make some useful comparisons. I also took some time to look at the exhibits in the museum, which I had not fully done yet.
Me, pointing out to the Florida dugongid triad, of which I wrote early last year (Vélez-Juarbe, et al., 2012). These are part of one of the exhibits at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Not everyday you get to see fossils you've worked on as part of an exhibit. One of those is a new species, so stay tuned!!

Washington, DC
At the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, I had the opportunity to look at both extant and fossil whales. For this, I went to the Smithsonian's Museum Support Center (MSC) which is where the extant whales are housed. If you study whales and dolphins of any kind, this is the place to go! The collection at the MSC allows us to look at more than one individual of a certain species, which gives us a better understanding of differences in the morphology due to age (juveniles vs adults) or sex (males vs females), or just variation within a species. We need to know this, specially when it comes to describing fossil species.
The "whale warehouse", one of the several storage facilities at the Smithsonian's Museum Support Center. If you need to look at skeletons of extant whales, this is the place to go!
The skull of Bohaskaia monodontoides a fossil beluga which Nick Pyenson and myself described last year (Vélez-Juarbe & Pyenson, 2012). Now part of a temporary exhibit called "Whales: From Bone to Book". Make sure you see it if you're in the DC area, its awesome!!
I also looked at several fossil whales, mostly physeteroids, which is the group that include sperm whales and pygmy sperm whales.
Some of the fossil whale I studied at the NMNH. Left: cast of the skull of Aulophyseter morricei, a small sperm whale from the middle Miocene of California (Kellogg, 1927). Right: the skull of Aprixokogia kelloggi, a fossil pygmy sperm whale from the early Pliocene of North Carolina (Whitmore & Kaltenbach, 2008).
After the US tour, I returned to Panama. Fieldwork so far, has been pretty standard along the canal. One of the recent highlights, was the visit of Bruce MacFadden, who brought a fantastic group of school teachers from California and Florida. We all did some fieldwork along the canal and also went to some localities of the Gatun Formation. At one of the Gatun localities the teachers had prepared an in situ paleontological workshop for a group of local schoolchildren, which was a wonderful experience for all of us involved!
The students were measuring diversity within a meter square grid.
It was not all fieldwork. We also had the chance to go birdwatching along the Pipeline trail in Gamboa, where we did get to see several birds, as well as a lot of other fauna along the trail.
On our hike along the Pipeline trail, led by George Angehr of the BioMuseo, and also author  of Birds of Panama (an excellent reference).

Some of the fauna we saw along the Pipeline trail. Clockwise from top left: leaf beetle (Platyphora haroldi); brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus); black-tailed trogon (Trogon melanurus); striped rocket frog (Silverstonneia flotator).
So I guess that's it for now. But stay tuned as more discoveries are made in the canal and elsewhere here in Panama!

Kellogg, R. 1927. Study of the skull of a fossil sperm-whale from the Temblor Miocene of southern California. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 346:1-23.

Vélez-Juarbe, J., and N. D. Pyenson. 2012. Bohaskaia monodontoides, a new monodontid (Cetacea: Odontoceti: Delphinoidea) from the Pliocene of the Western North Atlantic Ocean. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 32:476-484.

Vélez-Juarbe, J., D. P. Domning, and N. D. Pyenson. 2012. Iterative evolution of sympatric seacow (Dugongidae, Sirenia) assemblages in the past ~26 million years. PLoS ONE 7(2):e31294.

Whitmore, F. C., Jr., and J. A. Kaltenbach. 2008. Neogene Cetacea of the Lee Creek Phosphate Mine, North Carolina; pp. 181-269 in C. E. Ray, D. J. Bohaska, I. A. Koretsky, L. W. Ward, and L. G. Barnes (eds.), Geology and Paleontology of the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina, IV. Virginia Museum of Natural History Special Publication 14.

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