By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
Mesalands Community College’s Dinosaur Museum and Natural Science Laboratory will unveil their newest exhibit Saturday as they participate in the ninth annual Museum Day Live!, sponsored by the Smithsonian Magazine, along with museums across the nation.
Free tickets, good at any participating museum nationwide, are available online at: www.smithsonianmag.com/museumday/.
Visitors and residents enjoying this weekend’s Fired Up! event can also enjoy a free visit to the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum on Saturday, said Axel Hungerbuehler, Natural Sciences/Museum curator.
“We invite the community to come out on Museum Day Live to see what’s new at the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum,” Gretchen Gurtler, director of the Dinosaur Museum at Mesalands said. “People can also come out to the Dinosaur Museum before they go to Fired Up!, with Museum Day Live being held on the same day. This will be just an entire day of fun and educational activities for the community.”
Hungerbuehler said Mesalands is one of 1,400 museums across the country that will open its doors free to the public as a part of the annual museum day. He said the event reflects the Smithsonian’s mission to make cultural education accessible to everyone.
Hungerbuehler said staff has been working hard to prepare their newest exhibit, for the museum day. The exhibit will showcase the Geisonoceras, a 425-million-year-old nautilid, a mollusk with a snail-like shell from the ancient sea of Morocco.
He said the Moroccan sea creature, now preserved in black limestone, was most likely a predator with a sharp beak for crunching into scorpions on the sea floor. Mollusks include the squid and octopus, Hungerbeuhler said, but the only mollusk with a shell today is the chambered nautilus.
Hungerbuehler said Geisonoceras fossils range from centimeters to over six feet in length, perhaps growing to 14 feet long.
Hungerbuehler said the free museum day will also showcase groundbreaking discoveries made by the students in Mesalands’ paleontology field classes. He said there is even a post-doctoral student in the program, who is researching and studying armor plates of an Aetosaur, a plant-eating dinosaur, unearthed in Quay County.
Hungerbuehler said the researcher has noted that the plates discovered by Mesalands students were of a higher quality than any of those at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas or at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque. He said the plates are being studied to determine whether they may be from a species of Aetosaur unique to Quay County.
Gurtler said the museum is also currently studying bones of a Shuvosaurus, a crocodilian reptile of the upper Triassic period (200 million years ago). She said the bones being studied were also unearthed in Quay County during a field class and have shown slight differences when compared to other bones of the same creature unearthed elsewhere.
Hungerbuehler said the bones have to be examined and compared to determine whether student in Quay County have discovered a new species of Shuvosaurus. He said the faculty, students and staff of the museum have been working to prepare many samples that have been collected as a part of their field classes that have been offered to the students and the public for over five years.
Gurtler said there are still numerous samples in storage on laboratory tables that need to be prepared, examined and catalogued. She said there is much work to be done and possibly many new discoveries to be made at the Mesalands museum and laboratory.
During Saturday’s museum day event, members of Mesalands Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Department will also show visitors the programs and research opportunities available at the college, including paleontological undergraduate research.