Thursday, June 29, 2017

Achievement Unlocked: Paleontology Prep Lab Funded!

It has been a big year for the Paleontology Department at the Sternberg Museum. In the beginning of 2017, the Dane G. Hansen Foundation awarded Fort Hays State University’s Sternberg Museum of Natural History a matching grant of $81,000 to renovate the museum’s fossil preparation lab. Expanding the preparation lab benefits all who work, visit, volunteer and learn at the museum. The preparation lab is where staff, volunteers and students clean, stabilize and repair fossils for long-term preservation before they are ready for research or exhibit. It is a fundamental part of the museum, and this is a fantastic opportunity for us to improve how we serve the public. Enlarging and updating the prep lab will allow us to expand our educational resources, create new exhibits, train students and undertake scientific research -- all important aspects of the museum’s mission.

We are thrilled to share that we have reached our $81,000 match! 

In addition to proceeds raised from the 2016 and 2017 Museum Galas, we had 58 donors come forward to see the lab come to life. This includes a very generous donation from Mike and Pam Everhart. Mike is the Adjunct Curator of Paleontology at the Sternberg Museum, author of the book “Oceans of Kansas” (second edition coming soon!), and author of the website by the same name. He and Pam have been active in Kansas paleontology for decades. Museum scientists and staff are now working with the FHSU architect and builders to design the space. Kick off of renovations is tentatively scheduled to begin in the fall to expand the lab and redesign parts of the Cretaceous exhibits to incorporate a larger lab. Once the lab is constructed and fitted with updated equipment, we will be able to train students and volunteers, host workshops, and have a hands-on lab for our after school and summer camp programs! 

Check out a recent interview with our Curator of Paleontology, Dr. Laura Wilson, on projects being undertaken by the Paleontology Department. 

If you didn’t have a chance to donate during the fundraising campaign, we are still accepting donations to expand ventilation capabilities in the lab and to fund students to prep, train volunteers, and run workshops. Businesses and individuals can make a tax-deductible contribution to the effort by contacting the Fort Hays State University Foundation: (select “Other” under Designation and specify Sternberg Museum), (785) 628-5620, or More information about the project can be found online ( or by contacting Dr. Laura Wilson, Curator of Paleontology (; 785.639.6192).

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ecuador Adventure Guest Blog Series 8/8

Sternberg Museum of Natural History Education Director, David Levering, lead a spring break study abroad trip of seven Fort Hays State University undergraduate students to mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  The students documented their adventures and explorations during the trip, and these travelogues will be featured here through a series of eight posts (with a finally reflection from David). Enjoy!

Ecuador and Galapagos Islands Spring Break wrap-up
By: David Levering

Paddle-boarding around a bay at Isla San Cristobal
Running the FHSU Study Abroad trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands was an incredible highlight of my career as an educator. Having an emphasis on experiential outdoor science education, there are few if any better places I can think of than these magnificent islands to show students the processes of evolution in action. The role of these islands in the history of science only adds to their mystique as an educational destination of choice for anyone interested in biology, evolution, or the development of human thought. Evolution is, for good reason, considered one of the greatest single ideas in human history. To visit and explore the Galapagos, a place so closely tied with this great idea, was a privilege for myself and my students.
Sparkling Violet Ear Hummingbird, one of 13
hummingbird species we saw in Ecuador

Group shot at Tortuga Bay on Isla Santa Cruz
I must take a moment to acknowledge the exceptional group of FHSU undergraduates that joined this adventure. Having a good group of students makes an enormous difference in the success of a trip such as this one. I count myself fortunate to have had an excellent group of bright, hardy, enthusiastic participants. If you are reading this, and have not yet perused the previous blog posts by the students, I encourage you to do so. They each did an excellent job communicating their experiences, and each post is well worth the read.
Nazca Boobies at Kicker Rocker, a fantastic deep-water
snorkeling spot we visited

Stick insect from the cloud forest we biked
through in Ecuador
I am excited to be working on a student trip for spring break of 2017, this time to the Amazon Rainforest. This jungle continues our theme of locations relevant to the history of science. In the Amazon, Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin who nearly proposed the theory of evolution first, spent many years collecting and studying wildlife specimens. His rigor as a field worker remain remarkable and inspiring, and is one of many excellent reasons our next trip will take us into this great wilderness. Most of the trip details are still being worked out, but we are well on our way. I expect we will formally announce the trip this coming August.

Thanks for reading, and go Tigers!

Oh, if you haven’t yet seen our highlights video from the trip, go watch it right now because it’s awesome!

Watch a video with highlights from the Ecuador/Galapagos adventure!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Ecuador Adventure Guest Blog Series 7/8

Sternberg Museum of Natural History Education Director, David Levering, lead a spring break study abroad trip of seven Fort Hays State University undergraduate students to mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  The students documented their adventures and explorations during the trip, and these travelogues will be featured here through a series of eight posts (with a finally reflection from David). Enjoy!

Day 7: The Last Day of a once in a lifetime trip
Location: Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands
By: Julie Clement

Garden at our hostel on Isla San Cristobal
Today was our last day on the islands, and it started with a bittersweet morning. Some of you will ask what there could be sweet about leaving a tropical island. Well the answer is quite simple: we students hail from the middle of the United States, which means we don’t have stomach churning boat rides, nor are we used to being so close to the sun. Instead we are accustomed to miles of land instead of ocean, very different seasons, and weather that changes on a whim. By this point all of us were thoroughly sunburned and tired (despite liberal use of sunscreen), and generally ready to head home. As we left the hostel and headed for the café down the street, we had some choices to make. Our flight back to the mainland was scheduled for 1:20pm and we had the morning free. Some of us chose to bike ride around the town; others to headed to a museum down the way, while others of us didn’t make it to that. My group was the one that didn’t make it.
Isla San Cristobal - a place of beautiful water,
lovely friendly people, gorgeous scenery,
and more sealions than you can count

Sealions sleeping on the stairs
Galakiwi office and the cafe next door
The one thing that I wanted to do this last day was to take more pictures. I was the unofficial group photographer. But before we started our adventure, we had some last minute souvenir shopping to do, and I needed to mail postcards. You would think that a little square of paper would be fairly cheap to send, but you and I would both be wrong. I spent a few pretty pennies on postage for twelve postcards, but when they arrive it will all be worth it. After spending the last of my money on stamps, our group headed out to find this museum, I was of course taking pictures the whole way. As we got further away from the shops and people, sea lions littered the path. There was one right in front of us that we took pictures with, during this picture break we witnessed something we had only seen the aftermath of the whole trip, a sea lion climbing onto a bench. It is my most prized video. For those of you who haven’t seen a sea lion walk, they waddle and it’s adorable. As we continued on we had to go over a wooden walkway. On the other side there were some restaurants with a great view. When we came to the end of that street we thought we would find the museum, but it was nowhere to be seen. David our instructor had gone on his own and we later found out that we had a few more turns and a lot more walking if we were to find it. Since we failed to find the museum we headed to the Galakiwi office. This is the travel agency that we went through and there is a café right next door to their office. On the way back over the wall was an upside down boat, and on top the boat were three sea lions. One of them looked to be a baby and was snuggled up to his mom, and dreaming; it kept twitching. When we reached the café, the five us in the group settled down to relax and reflect. A few of us got ice cream, and we all looked at pictures and talked about the trip and what all we had done. Riding down a mountain on the second day may have only been five days ago, but it felt like a lifetime. The time we spent in Ecuador flew by and felt like forever all at the same. Our last morning on the islands came to a close all too soon.
A map of the Galapagos Islands at the museum on
Isla San Cristobal

A male lava lizard
A dragonfly on Isla San
Cristobal, 600 miles from mainland
There is something about leaving a place that you never truly believed that you would visit. The Galapagos Islands is one of those places that you think sure, I would love to go, but you never really think you are going to. It’s a destination unlike any other and not a trip many will ever take. Over the next twenty-four hours we made our way back to Kansas, and our once in a lifetime trip was done. The students in our group came from a wide variety of majors and backgrounds, but we all had one thing in common: We wanted to go to the Galapagos for the island biodiversity, not just the island part. We had plenty of time to kill in the airports and so we did a little math. By the time we were to get back home, our transportation was thus: 3 cars, 9 buses, 7 planes, 1 train, 2 vans, 1 bike (each), 7 boats, 3 trucks, 3 flippers, and more walking than we could have possibly kept track of, and some of us had 1 more bike, and 1 paddleboard. That was a lot of transportation for an eight-day trip, and every single one of them was worth it.         
Map illustrating our travel stops

Watch a video with highlights from the Ecuador/Galapagos adventure!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ecuador Adventure Guest Blog Series 6/8

Sternberg Museum of Natural History Education Director, David Levering, lead a spring break study abroad trip of seven Fort Hays State University undergraduate students to mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  The students documented their adventures and explorations during the trip, and these travelogues will be featured here through a series of eight posts (with a finally reflection from David). Enjoy!

Day 6: Snorkeling at Kicker Rock
Location: Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands
By: Kayla Wright

Our guide Leo giving us the plan for the day
As we came to our last day full day of planned activities a weird sense of accomplishment had come over me. Here we all were in a place that some people would never dream of getting to see, and we had been brought on an adventure of a life time. Some people would freak out over not being able to understand what was being said to them, but I believe for us it only made our experience a challenge and even more of a learning experience. It was crazy to think this whole time that these people that live on this island do things like snorkeling, biking, or just hanging out on a beach with a bunch of tourist as a way of life and as a way for them to pay the bills. Their way of life will always leave an impression on me; I will probably always be jealous of their lifestyle.

"American" breakfast
As we started our day,  we got the chance to have an “American Breakfast” as our guide Leo put it. This included granola, toast, fruit, and eggs which I don’t know how many Americans really have all these things for breakfast even on a semi–occasional basis. This just goes to show though how not only do these Ecuadorians try to introduce us to their own traditional foods, but they also try to keep you comfortable and accommodate you with things we are familiar with. I believe one of the hardest parts of being on Isla San Cristobal was that when we did eat breakfast, we had to endure the awful but very familiar smell of sea lions all through the meal. It wasn’t hard eating all the food but remembering that you have to breathe and constantly be reminded of the smell and constant closeness of our friends the sea lions.
Manglecito beach

Some shells we found at Manglecito beach
Male frigate bird with red display pouch inflated
We then made our way to our first activity of the day which was hanging out on a somewhat private beach named Manglecito. This beach had very white sands which are a product of Parrot fish eating the coral then pooping out the hard remains, and eaten shells that had been ground into smaller pieces, and then deposited onto the shores. The water was also some of the clearest blue water I had ever seen. From above the water you could clearly see some very cream-yellow fish swimming around our toes, sifting through the sand looking for some food. There were also some pelicans that joined us. One tried to snack on some trash. Some people may find this amusing, but for some of us it gave us the realization that if trash is making its way all the way out to this little beach that it could really be traveling all over the world using the ocean as a mode of transportation. This “little” problem could lead to a much bigger problem, with animal deaths from choking on this trash or simply emptying hazardous materials in these blue waters that are inhabited by so many species. We didn’t see very many Marine Iguanas out at this beach but there were some very big Carpenter bees and some pretty normal sized bees that decided to join us, along with the scalding sun. This was probably one of the biggest days we all got the most burnt, this was also the day I stopped believing in sun screen.
Approaching Kicker Rock

Swimming over a large school of fish
A huge school of fish swimming below us
at Kicker Rock
After our adventure at Manglecito we made our way to Kicker Rock to do some deep sea snorkeling. We passed around some handouts telling us what all to look out for. Wildlife such as sea lions, Galapagos Sharks, and some very brightly colored fish are common there. In my head I was thinking that once we got in the water that we would see an underwater palace of bright fish of every color swimming right near us so close that we could touch them. But when we did get in the water all I saw was blue. So many shades of blue that I’d never even seen before. No pinks, no reds, no bright colors of any kind. I wasn’t disappointed but very surprised. Where were these beautiful bright fish hiding that I had just read about on the way over here? The fish we did see were all so far away, but when you did see them it was like a busy city of fish below us. The sun reflected of the deep blues in the water sometimes altering what your eyes could see but when you saw something special you knew right away. Some sea turtles did decide to join us while we were snorkeling.  They didn’t stay long but it was the most beautiful 6 seconds of my life when I did see them. Sometimes it was hard focusing on all the cool things beneath the surface because of the semi-strong current that took place at this rock. Swimming to try and keep up with the group while still trying to see all that we could, sometimes proved to be a difficult task. Nonetheless we all still strived and pulled through. This was probably the second best workout I had the entire trip.
One of the many sea turtles we saw around Kicker Rock

After all of our water adventures most of us decided to go back to the hostel and take little naps in the hammocks, which didn’t feel too great against the sunburns we got that day. The quiet times were the best times to reflect on the day’s activities and realize how cool the snorkeling had been. I didn’t realize it while I was actually in the water, but once I got back onto land and had some time to think about it I realized that I had just been swimming in some of the deepest water I’d ever seen. You think about how much could have gone wrong but everything just seemed to work out. We saw some pretty cool critters and got to see a part of the ocean that some people have never even dreamed of seeing.

Some Nazca Boobies

Later that night we were brought to dinner at a restaurant that didn’t even look like a restaurant, more like a backyard cookout. I had the fish and shrimp. When I looked at my cut in half fish I remembered seeing this on the handout of things to look out for while snorkeling. I probably would have felt worse if I had actually seen this fish, but I didn’t, so I continued to enjoy it. This was probably one of the biggest dinners we had the whole time we were in Ecuador, and also one of the best tasting. Our tour guide Leo then proceeded to tell us how we had all made an impact on his life and will always be in his heart. This got to me a little bit, it amazed me how we had only known him for such a short amount of time but he was still so sincere with everything he did with us. All I could think was “ Wow I hope one day I will love my job as much as this man does, and find happiness in everything I do,” because that’s exactly how Leo was, genuinely happy all the time.  I honestly believe this might have been one of the most fun days on the island and one I will remember for my whole life.
Looking down into the depths

Watch a video with highlights from the Ecuador/Galapagos adventure!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ecuador Adventure Guest Blog Series 5/8

Sternberg Museum of Natural History Education Director, David Levering, lead a spring break study abroad trip of seven Fort Hays State University undergraduate students to mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  The students documented their adventures and explorations during the trip, and these travelogues will be featured here through a series of eight posts (with a finally reflection from David). Enjoy!

Day 5: Snorkeling Trip
Location: Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands
By: Connor Phelan

Today was the day I was dreading this entire trip. We had to take a boat ride from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz to the island of San Cristobal that would last around two hours. I had come prepared with motion sickness pills, medicated patches for behind my ears, and wristbands in hopes that I wouldn’t become sick from the open waters. Although these items were supposed to keep me from getting sick, they also came with the unlikely but possible side effects of sleepiness, dehydration, and cottonmouth. I somehow hit the jackpot and woke up with an unquenchable thirst. All I could think about was getting through the next few hours.
Leaving Isla Santa Cruz

Early that morning we headed out to the boating dock where we experienced security for the seas. This was extremely interesting to me because I never thought that traveling by boat would require us to have our luggage checked. The islands’ one-of-a-kind wildlife needed to be protected. Another interesting thing was to get to the speedboat, we first boarded a water taxi that took us from the dock to another vessel about 40 feet away. The way the driver manipulated the taxi was impressive because there were so many boats in the bay that one bad turn would result in a costly collision.

We passed the National Geographic Endeavour ship
Once we boarded the speedboat, we were off. At first the boat was fairly still and didn’t move too much, but then we hit open waters and all hell broke loose. People were being smacked around the crowded boat from the waves. You could definitely tell who the tourists were versus the natives because we were not used to being on the water. After an hour or so Jessi, Sammi and Audrey were not doing so well. Surprisingly, I was just fine! My various medications had done their job, and Poseidon granted me with a strong stomach to enjoy the journey. Having been deep sea fishing before, I had previously experienced open ocean. However, I had never been along for a trip of this magnitude. It is a truly humbling experience when you realize just how small you are. After examining the experiences of past explorers such as Darwin, it is almost unfathomable how they could have conquered the oceans without the use of a gas powered engine. We finally reached shore, and we all but sprinted off the boat to find our guide, Tim. He led us to our hotel and informed us that we would have a few hours to rest before heading to lunch.
The view of Isla San Cristobal from the hotel

The first sea turtle of the trip.
After a good two hours of deep sleep, we headed to an outdoor restaurant. Most of our group couldn’t eat due to stomach issues from the boat. I really enjoyed all the different foods on the islands. It seemed fresh and healthier than my usual taco-bell, Wendy’s diet. After lunch we drove a few miles to snorkel at the first beach of the San Cristobal portion of the  trip, and the beauty of the ocean and the sand was indescribable. After a long evening at the beach, we headed back to the hotel and washed up for dinner.

Diamond Stingray
Although today was long, I truly enjoyed snorkeling. The vast and exotic species I had the pleasure of experiencing will not soon fade from my memory. Immediately upon entering the water I observed sea turtles, eagle rays, sting rays, sea urchins, and a plethora of fish that will take time to identify from our photos. Given that we were confined to a small cove, the amount of life one could find in our oceans seems unimaginable. I have always been a fan of wildlife ever since I was little. I had ant farms and a paleontology kit and a general love of nature and wildlife, so I really enjoyed seeing the underwater sea life.
Spinster Wrasse

To continue the adventure, read about Day 6: Snorkling at Kicker Rock.

Watch a video with highlights from the Ecuador/Galapagos adventure!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ecuador Adventure Guest Blog Series 4/8

Sternberg Museum of Natural History Education Director, David Levering, lead a spring break study abroad trip of seven Fort Hays State University undergraduate students to mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  The students documented their adventures and explorations during the trip, and these travelogues will be featured here through a series of eight posts (with a finally reflection from David). Enjoy!

Day 4: Tortuga Bay and Giant Tortoises
Location: Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands
By: Audrey Baumbach

The trail to Tortuga Bay
On the fourth day of our trip, the group and I got to experience our first true island adventure. After breakfast at the hotel, we were quickly in our swimsuits and headed towards Tortuga Bay. With the prospect of seeing our first marine Iguana or Galapagos shark, the group was in high spirits as we climbed a large, stone stairwell leading to a forest. While it wasn’t as flashy as some of the Galápagos’ other tourist attractions, once one stopped to just look, there were many unique things there as well. Many small, multi-colored lizards skittered across the rock pathways and Galapagos mockingbirds sang in the trees above us. What I found most interesting were the cacti. With tasty, water filled fruits they had evolved to protect themselves from land iguanas by developing thick bark at the base of the plant. It was hard to imagine what Darwin must have thought, in the 1830s, looking at such a plant for the first time.

The trunk of a Galapagos prickly
pear with very thick tree-like bark
A female lava lizard
A male lava lizard

Tortuga Bay beach
Sally Lightfoot crabs
After the small trek through the forest, we arrived at a beach that seemed too perfect to be real. I had never seen sand that white or soft. It felt although it had the consistency of flour. We learned later on this type of sand was the product of Parrotfish poop and makes up a lot of the beaches on the Galapagos. Taking our time and making sure to snap many pictures, the group moved slowly across the beach to get to Tortuga Bay. On the way, we spotted several pelicans both flying, and floating on the water; we also saw orange and black crabs (Sally Lightfoot Crab) of numerous sizes moving across the rocks and tidal pools, and our first marine iguana. It was camouflaged so well into the black lava rock and kept still enough that I would have stepped on it had another group member not pointed it out to me. It was a smaller individual, black as the lava rock with small spines down its back. Further down the beach, large groups of them sat covered in sand next to dunes. Surprisingly, they were even well camouflaged there as well.

A Galapagos marine iguana blending in with
volcanic rocks
It took a while for me to be pulled away from watching the motionless iguanas, but after some prodding we walked past a few trees to finally arrive at Tortuga Bay. The waves were small and the color of turquoise, lapping slowly up onto more white sand.  Several species of finches hopped branch to branch of the nearby trees and left tracks in the sand. More iguanas laid in the shade of trees and bushes, hidden until one was only an inch or two away. It was a paradise we were thankful to have a couple hours in. Quickly, our group was in the water and enjoying the fish and cool water. We explored the surrounding rocks and were lucky enough to spot a marine iguana swimming back to land. Mangroves covered the outer edge of the bay where we all re-grouped. It was here we saw the sharks. It started off fun, spotting several small black tip reef sharks. There were many, more than we thought at first. When one disappeared there would be another quickly arriving in its place. Excitedly, we stood in a circle and watched them swim around us. This lasted for a few minutes, until another member had the privilege of being next to a White-tip reef shark as it swam by. Being a larger, more impressive specimen, we were all eager to catch another glimpse of it but unfortunately it disappeared into the mangroves. After realizing we weren’t sure where the White-tip reef shark had a gone a few of us were eager to swim back to shore.
Tortuga Bay on Isla Santa Cruz

Group photo inside the lava tube
The excitement of the sharks was not outdone for the rest of our time at beach. Some of us went bird spotting, while others dug in the sand and looked for small schools of fish along the shore. It wasn’t too long before we were packing up and saying goodbye to Tortuga Bay. We ate lunch at small restaurant by our hotel, enjoying local favorites such as papaya juice and fried plantains. It was a quick change of clothes and then we were back at it again. The lava tube located near Primicias Ranch was our next stop. I personally was unsure what to expect. While the idea itself sounded fun, I was skeptical. It turns out I was not disappointed. Avoiding spider webs while navigating a deteriorating staircase, we walked nearly straight down into a large hole in the ground. It was surprisingly cool compared to the humid air outside. Moisture dripped from the walls and squished beneath our tennis shoes as we explored the large tube. I tried to picture lava coursing through and bursting from one side to next. The vast amount that could fit in the large tunnel alone was enough to cause quite a bit of damage to the surrounding areas. It made one wonder what would happen to the wildlife and the homes of those close by if it were to happen again. Thankfully, we did not have to survive through a lava flow that day and explored the different patterns on the rock wall and climbed over those in our way. It was a muddy experience, especially because we had to crawl at one point through an opening no more than two feet high, but it was eye opening. I had never realized lava carved such vast tunnels. As soon as we began, we reached the end of the tunnel and turned to face our next adventure for the day.

Giant tortoises at Primicias Ranc
Practically next door, the tortoises at Primicias Ranch were waiting for us. We had seen giant tortoises before at the Charles Darwin Research Center, but these were closer and in a more natural environment. The sheer enormity is hard to describe in words when you’re only accustomed to seeing Box turtles. Slow and large, it was unexpected when we saw a female dart fairly quickly across a dirt pathway not far from where we were standing. It’s hard to believe these large, slow-blinking creatures could move as they did. It was then that Darwin came to my mind. In a modern world, it was amazing to see these creature. However, in the 1830s when an exotic creature was a colorful bird, one can only imagine what was going through their minds when they came across a five hundred pound tortoise. To view this place from their perspective must have absolutely unbelievable. If I had been in their shoes, I would have been concerned with people back home actually believing the things I saw. The tortoises were definitely one of a kind and it wasn’t hard to see why they were so easily hunted by sailors and whalers for food after they were discovered. I left that day with a new appreciation for the islands. The beauty of the landscape and uniqueness of the creatures I saw in one day was incredible. It left me eager and ready for the adventures to follow.
Galapagos Mockingbird
Group shot with a giant tortoise at Primicias Ranch

To continue the adventure, read about Day 5: Snorkling Trip.

To catch up on the adventure, read about Day 1: Exploring QuitoDay 2: Bike Trip, and Day 3: Heading to the Islands.

Watch a video with highlights from the Ecuador/Galapagos adventure!