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Parkeology: Lives of Specimen

  • theNAT 1788 El Prado San Diego, CA, 92101 United States (map)

at the San Diego Natural History Museum  
Friday, April 28, 8 - 10pm
ADA accessible. Reservation required -

After viewing mountain lions stilled in eternal prowls, grizzly bears sniffing the air with frozen noses, and hawks mid-scream, children have a common line of questioning when visiting the displays at theNAT. “Is it real? Are they alive?” Yes, the 7.4 million specimens that exist in theNAT’s research collections are real, and at one point they were alive. A third question arises: “how did you get them?” Before they were poised in glass vitrines, nestled in wooden shelves, submerged in alcohol, or pinned to paper backing, the biological specimens that comprise the Museum's collections went through a complex journey.  

Take, for example, Califorctenus cacachilensis, a newly discovered spider that now lives in a terrarium in theNAT’s labs. Two entomologists from the Museum traveled the 960 miles south to a mountain range west of La Paz to explore areas that haven't been surveyed for 100 years, gleaning knowledge about habitat and ecology from local ranchers, miners, and academics. From La Paz, they drove three hours through rugged dirt roads to reach a collapsed mine shaft. After climbing through a small hole in the ground, they searched with flashlights to find this tarantula-like spider clinging to rock walls. After investigation, they believed that they had found a species and genus.  At the very moment these words are being written to you, this spider has entered its final molt. In a few weeks, it will release a sterile egg sac and die. Afterwards, it will go through the process of becoming one more contributor to an archive that will last far beyond its lifespan- or the lifespan of its human stewards, for that matter.

This story is one of countless tales that have emerged from the rigorous and often serendipitous work of developing specimen library and exhibits at theNAT. Behind each labeled specimen lies a story about the complex dynamic between humans, animals, and the processes of time. We present an evening with the biologists and staff at theNAT to share intimate and unexpected perspectives on record keeping of lifeforms.