Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

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An almost yearlong journey neared completion in late 2023 as a 21-foot-long skeleton was cleaned in a Smithsonian lab. C...
01/09/2024

An almost yearlong journey neared completion in late 2023 as a 21-foot-long skeleton was cleaned in a Smithsonian lab. Collected following the death of a stranded Orcinus orca, these bones make up the first and only mature orca skeleton in the museum's collection and may be used to help answer some big questions in marine mammal science. Read more here:

After stranding on a Florida beach, an orca’s odyssey to the museum will offer rich research opportunities

Known as the Blue Flame, it’s easy to see where this stunning, 250-pound slab of lapis lazuli gets its name. Swirls of w...
01/08/2024

Known as the Blue Flame, it’s easy to see where this stunning, 250-pound slab of lapis lazuli gets its name. Swirls of white calcite stand out against its brilliant blue hue, giving the rock a flame-like appearance. This specimen hails from the Hindu Kush mountains in the northeast corner of Afghanistan, where the majority of the world’s supply of lapis lazuli is mined.

Composed of multiple different minerals that have aggregated into a single solid, lapis lazuli is technically a rock. Lazurite is the most abundant mineral in lapis lazuli, followed by varying amounts of calcite (which appears as white swirls) and pyrite, which can create sparkling flecks of “fool’s gold”. But lazurite – and more specifically, its sulfur content – is what makes this gemstone blue. Sulfur in the lazurite crystal structure absorbs all wavelengths of light except for blue light.

You can see this stunning piece on display in our Objects of Wonder exhibit.

All of our scientists are gems, but Gabriela Farfan specializes in them! Click the link below to hear her answers to som...
01/06/2024

All of our scientists are gems, but Gabriela Farfan specializes in them! Click the link below to hear her answers to some of the internet's most burning rock, gem, and mineral questions:

Gabriela Farfan, the Smithsonian's curator of gems and minerals, answers the internet's burning questions about gemstones. Are all minerals crystals? How are...

From identifying and naming new species to revealing insights about our earliest ancient human relatives, 2023 saw our s...
01/05/2024

From identifying and naming new species to revealing insights about our earliest ancient human relatives, 2023 saw our scientists continue to expand our understanding of our planet and all that has inhabited it. Check out the 10 most popular discoveries by clicking here:

Indigenous woolly dogs, ground sloth pendants and more headline-grabbing findings by scientists at the National Museum of Natural History

Need a break from the cold?Learning about the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s (STRI) Barro Colorado Island mig...
01/02/2024

Need a break from the cold?

Learning about the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s (STRI) Barro Colorado Island might warm you up! Read more here:

Join a museum intern on a visit to Panama’s Barro Colorado Island to celebrate 100 years of scientific discovery

See-al you in the new year! Harp seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus) are part of the true seal family. True seals lack ear ...
12/29/2023

See-al you in the new year!

Harp seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus) are part of the true seal family. True seals lack ear flaps and propel themselves through the water with their hind flippers, but when on land they shimmy like a caterpillar.

With an estimated worldwide population of about nearly 7.5 million animals, the harp seal is one of the most abundant of all seal species.

Moonstone is the most highly prized of the feldspar gems and is valued for its beautiful blue sheen, called adularescenc...
12/27/2023

Moonstone is the most highly prized of the feldspar gems and is valued for its beautiful blue sheen, called adularescence. They are typically cut as cabochons to best show off this optical phenomenon.

This necklace was donated and designed by jewelry artist, Zoltan David, and created by Zoltan and goldsmith Brian Kruppenbacher. It features a 35.63ct marquise cut cat’s-eye moonstone, set in a platinum and bronze pendant.

Spiraling because it's the last   before Christmas and you haven't bought any presents yet?This ammonite can relate.Coll...
12/22/2023

Spiraling because it's the last before Christmas and you haven't bought any presents yet?

This ammonite can relate.

Collected in South Dakota in 1985, this Didymoceras nebrascense dates to the Campanian, or about 83.6 to 72.1 million years ago.

It's not every day you can announce a new species of mammal.  It's an even rarer one when you can share the news about f...
12/21/2023

It's not every day you can announce a new species of mammal. It's an even rarer one when you can share the news about five!

A new study led by Smithsonian researchers Arlo Hinckley and Melissa Hawkins and colleagues has identified five new species of soft-furred hedgehogs from Southeast Asia. Two are entirely new to science and three have been elevated from subspecies to the level of species using DNA analysis and physical characteristics.

Soft-furred hedgehogs or gymnures are small mammals that are members of the hedgehog family, but as their common name suggests they are furry rather than spiny. Like spiny hedgehogs, they are not rodents and they have a pointy snout. Without the spines of their more well-known cousins, soft-furred hedgehogs superficially look a bit like a mixture of a mouse and a shrew with a short tail.

The two new species, named Hylomys vorax and H. macarong, are endemic to the endangered Leuser ecosystem, a tropical rainforest in North Sumatra and Southern Vietnam, respectively. Crucial to these identifications were museum specimens that came from the collections of the Smithsonian and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University where they had remained in drawers for decades prior to identification. Even in well-studied animal groups like mammals there are still discoveries waiting to be made, showing what is possible when modern techniques such as DNA analysis are applied to museum collections.

Image 1: Hylomys dorsalis seen in the wild on Mount Murud, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia. Credit: Quentin Martinez, www.quentinmartinez.fr, all rights reserved.

Image 2: Hylomys maxi seen in the wild on Fraser’s Hill, Pahang, Malaysia. Credit: David Awcock

Image 3: Hylomys peguensis photographed in Wang Nam Khiao District, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand. Credit: Charoenchai Tothaisong, CC BY-NC 4.0 DEED.

Image 4: Habitat of Hylomys dorsalis, Mount Trus Madi, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia, July 2016. Credit: Daniel Hinckley.

Cold weather make you want to curl up in a ball? You're in good company.By curling up in a rounded position, and coverin...
12/19/2023

Cold weather make you want to curl up in a ball? You're in good company.

By curling up in a rounded position, and covering its nose with its fluffy tail, the Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) is one of the most well-insulated creatures on the planet. Living in Artic regions, where the temperature can reach -50 degrees Fahrenheit, this adaptation, along with others, is crucial to survival.

12/18/2023

For the 6th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 100 years of Birds of D.C.! 🎶🕊️

We may not have a partridge or turtle doves on display — they’re not native to the Washington area! — but we’re ALL IN with tundra swans a-swimming, Canada geese a-laying, wood thrushes, heath hens, mourning doves, and a bobwhite that’s not in a tree.

These species and more than 300 others on display in the Birds of the District of Columbia exhibit have been visitor favorites since 1923, when local and migratory birds were first displayed in “Flora and Fauna of the District of Columbia.” The birds portion was overhauled with many new specimens in the mid-1960s, and exhibit signage and labels were modernized in 2012.

12/15/2023

Stink, stank, stunk 😵

12/14/2023

New research using the pelt of “Mutton,” the only known woolly dog fleece in the world, sheds light on the ancestry and genetics of woolly dogs, a now extinct breed of dog that was a fixture of Indigenous Coast Salish communities in the Pacific Northwest for millennia. Woolly dogs possessed spiritual significance and were often treated as beloved family members. Coast Salish weavers used the dogs’ wool to craft blankets and other woven items that served a variety of ceremonial and spiritual purposes.

In consultation with the community, Smithsonian anthropologist Logan Kistler and evolutionary molecular biologist Audrey Lin sequenced the genome of the wooly dog and were able to pinpoint the genes responsible for their highly sought-after woolly fur. They also identified certain chemical signatures called isotopes in Mutton’s pelt to determine the dog’s diet.

Crucial context about the role woolly dogs played in Coast Salish society was provided by several Coast Salish co-authors, including Elders, Knowledge Keepers and Master Weavers. Further insights from traditional experts cast doubt on the theory that such a central part of Coast Salish society was made expendable by machine-made blankets in the late 19th century. Instead, woolly dogs were likely doomed by numerous factors impacting the Coast Salish tribal nations after European settlers arrived. Due to disease and colonial policies of cultural genocide, displacement and forced assimilation, it likely became increasingly difficult or forbidden for Coast Salish communities to maintain their woolly dogs.

Despite their disappearance, the memory of woolly dogs is still embedded into Coast Salish society. Michael Pavel, an Elder from the Skokomish/Twana Coast Salish community in Washington, thinks their understanding of woolly dogs is only getting clearer thanks to the new research effort. “All of our communities held a certain aspect of knowledge about the woolly dog,” Pavel said. “But when woven together, as a result of participating in this study, we now have a much more complete understanding.”

12/13/2023

Extracting DNA is essential to being able to sequence it. In the case of algae (and all other living things), this is a crucial step to helping us understand how millions of species are related to each other. This data can reveal how algae grow and adapt to their environments to produce a diversity of unique chemical substances. Learn more about the DNA extraction process from molecular technician Gabe Johnson.

  that blue is one of the rarest colors in the natural world? 💙 Click the link to read about some of the museum's bluest...
12/12/2023

that blue is one of the rarest colors in the natural world? 💙 Click the link to read about some of the museum's bluest specimens and learn about the science behind one of nature's most brilliant phenomena:

Learn how this rare hue shows up in the natural world with some of the Smithsonian’s bluest specimens

12/11/2023

The colors of the holiday season are well represented in nature, including in the aquatic habitats of algae! Hear from molecular technician Gabe Johnson to learn where these colors come from and how he processes specimens for study once they come to the museum.

This icy blue mesolite and fluorapophyllite is the perfect vibe for a frosty Friday 💙 Mesolite commonly forms as elongat...
12/08/2023

This icy blue mesolite and fluorapophyllite is the perfect vibe for a frosty Friday 💙

Mesolite commonly forms as elongated needle-like or prismatic crystals, typically in hairlike or fibrous sprays that are colorless, white, or gray. First described in 1816, the name comes from the Greek word “mesos” meaning “middle” as its chemical composition falls directly between two other minerals in its group.

12/06/2023

Science is full of connections. Let's see if paleoanthropologist Briana Pobiner can make them as we put a natural history spin on a popular online game.

Don't let these sand dollars fool you on  . Dating from 72.1 to 66 million years ago, they might be a little stale by th...
12/04/2023

Don't let these sand dollars fool you on . Dating from 72.1 to 66 million years ago, they might be a little stale by this point. 🍪

These Hardouinia mortonis specimens were collected in 1961 in Mississippi.

Today we mark the passing of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor pictured here in 2009 with our former dire...
12/01/2023

Today we mark the passing of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor pictured here in 2009 with our former director Cristián Samper and former museum board member Jonathan Fink.

While she will no doubt be memorialized for her service to our nation, her long career in the judiciary and her groundbreaking role as the first female justice of the United States Supreme Court, we are also grateful for her service to our museum’s Advisory Board from 2006 to 2015.

She never hesitated to ask the tough questions whether they were focused on the operations of the museum or digging more deeply into a talk offered by one of our scientists. For those on the receiving end, it was simultaneously an intimidating and exhilarating experience and one that likely won’t ever be forgotten.

With more than 20 years as a tribal liaison at NMNH, Dorothy Lippert recently became the program manager of our Repatria...
11/30/2023

With more than 20 years as a tribal liaison at NMNH, Dorothy Lippert recently became the program manager of our Repatriation Office. The first woman and first Native American to hold this position, she is championing a collaborative approach to repatriation. Read more:

With more than 20 years of experience at the Smithsonian, Dorothy Lippert is championing a collaborative approach to repatriation

Nobody ask us how many minutes we spent thinking about fossils this year. 🦕 😅 Planning a visit in the new year? Be sure ...
11/29/2023

Nobody ask us how many minutes we spent thinking about fossils this year. 🦕 😅

Planning a visit in the new year? Be sure to check out our two newest exhibits Cellphone: Unseen Connections and Lights Out: Recovering Our Night Sky.

  is today! You can give to support the care of our collections, creation of new exhibits, and digitization of our colle...
11/28/2023

is today! You can give to support the care of our collections, creation of new exhibits, and digitization of our collections. From breakthrough scientific research in our labs to supporting the next generation of scientists through internships, fellowships, field trips, and more, we rely on your support to succeed in our mission.

Make your tax-deductible gift at https://s.si.edu/3RfdkBr.

Want more out of your gift? Join the Leadership Circle or Family Membership at https://s.si.edu/47At87C.

How your email finds us after a long holiday weekendCape buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer) and lions (Panthera leo) are c...
11/27/2023

How your email finds us after a long holiday weekend

Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer) and lions (Panthera leo) are common combatants in Africa's grasslands and savannahs. It often takes several lions to successfully hunt a single adult buffalo, who routinely weigh over 1,000 pounds. Buffaloes are capable of defending themselves, however, and have been known to kill lions.

Meep, meep! This little guy looks like he's ready for the Turkey Trot 5K, but he's actually built for aeronautics. One o...
11/24/2023

Meep, meep!

This little guy looks like he's ready for the Turkey Trot 5K, but he's actually built for aeronautics. One of the earliest members of a family of birds known as "rollers," named for their acrobatic display flights, this Primobucco mcgrewi lived 55.4 to 50.3 million years ago. This specimen was collected in 1978 in the Green River Formation in Wyoming.

11/23/2023

What are paleontologists thankful for? Gut contents! Learn why from Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Hans Sues.

11/23/2023

Happy Thanksgiving! Hear from our Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Hans Sues about some ancient creatures that kept with the spirit of the season and seriously overate.

Planning to eat pumpkin pie this week? Then you should be thankful for these little guys. 🎃 🐝 Squash bees (Peponapis pru...
11/22/2023

Planning to eat pumpkin pie this week? Then you should be thankful for these little guys. 🎃 🐝

Squash bees (Peponapis pruinosa) specialize in pollinating the squashes and gourds of genus Cucurbita. The flowers of these plants open early in the morning and close before noon, and the activity pattern of the bees follows this schedule. While pollination happens in the morning, afternoons are spent digging into the ground and building nests close to the host plants.

3D technology is becoming a powerful tool for the preservation and perpetuation of Native American Cultural Heritage.Las...
11/21/2023

3D technology is becoming a powerful tool for the preservation and perpetuation of Native American Cultural Heritage.

Last week, the Tribal Council of the Tlingit Wrangell Cooperative Association launched a 3D collaboration with the NMNH Repatriation Office and the Smithsonian's Digitization Program Office. Representatives traveled from Wrangell Island, in Southeast Alaska, to visit the Smithsonian for repatriation consultations and to kick off 3D scanning of important objects from Wrangell.

With the assistance of 3D specialists from the Digitization Program Office, the representatives, led by Stax’héen Tláa (Stikine Mother) Luella Knapp, of the Naanyaa.ayi Clan, used a structured light 3D scanner to begin digitizing the 45-foot-long Brown Bear Canoe that belonged to Naanyaa.ayí Clan whose spokesman was Chief Shakes. The canoe, collected around 1891, is badly weathered and damaged.

The tribe hopes to work with the Smithsonian to digitally repair and restore it as a 3D digital model that can be shown in a digital exhibit, incorporating the Lingít language, on the Smithsonian 3D Digitization’s viewer for educational purposes. The tribe is also interested in the potential for a 3D digital model to be used for virtual or augmented reality and is considering the possibilities for physical replicas that could be made using 3D printing or milling as the Smithsonian has done for other Tlingit clans in the recent past.

11/20/2023

Sweet potatoes and yams are staples on many menus this time of year, but that they are so unrelated botanically that they're stored on different floors of the museum?

Hear from some of our Botany scientists to learn more about the differences and some of their favorite ways to enjoy yams and sweet potatoes.

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