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Smithsonian parrots; Smithsonian mice

Draws full of parrots (photo: Chip Clark)
Drawers full of deer mice (photo: Chip Clark)

I don’t have much to add to these photos apart from to note that these collections of dead animals – some of them more than a hundred years old – are still used for active research.

They feature in an excellent interview with Carol Butler, the Smithsonian’s Assistant Director for Collections. Here’s a snippet:

Carol Butler: Museums document what we observe about the natural world and how our connectedness with it changes through time. So in a sense, portions of the collection are a snapshot of what was living in a certain place at a certain time.

They can help us reconstruct the environment, the ecosystem, look at how animals and plants interacted and help us think about how the climate influenced the existing plants and animals.

Just as we wouldn’t want to say one human being represents all of humanity, one bird doesn’t represent all of the birds of a certain species. We need lots of individual birds because part of what we are looking at in understanding a species is its’ variability.

[The collections allow] you to ask detailed questions, ask broad questions, ask comparative questions—and it’s that good science that museums are here to support. 

Maya Wei-HaasThe Story Behind Those Jaw-Dropping Photos of the Collections at the Natural History Museum in Smithonian Magazine


HT: The Whippet #129

P.S. Why is this post in DC? Because it’s about excellence and infrastructure, and about looking backwards to help us go forwards. And because I thought you’d want to know about the drawers of parrots and mice.

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