6th Annual Symposium


On Sunday, February 25th, The Metropolitan Society of Natural Historians hosted its 6th Annual Symposium in conjunction with the Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP) of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in the Linder Theater of the AMNH. The symposium included eight 10-minute talks by scientists from prestigious institutions across across the tri-state area including the American Museum of Natural History, New York Botanical Garden, Rutgers University, City University of New York, New York University and Columbia University. More than 120 people attended the event including 50 high school students from SRMP. Presentations focused on ongoing research in a variety of subjects including symbiotic relationships between parasites and hosts, hop diversity in the American southwest, dragonfly evolution in Neartic, volcanic lava flow in Indonesia, dolphin communication in New York sound, bird behavior and diversification, harvestmen diversity in the Amazon and dinosaurs in Wyoming.


A big thank you to Dr. Mark Weckel, Assistant Director of Youth Initiatives and his SRMP team for co-hosting the event with us! Funding for conference participation of students in the Science Research Mentoring Program of the American Museum of Natural History is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

To view more photos from this event, visit our gallery. All photo credit goes to Harald Parzer. 

A complete list of presenters, talk titles and additional readings/resources recommended by presenters can be found below. To view the full program from this event with talk summaries and bios of presenters, visit here.


Genomic differentiation in Northern Cardinals of the North American warm deserts is maintained by behavioral isolation
Kaiya Provost, Ph.D. Candidate, Richard Gilder Graduate School, American Museum of Natural History

Additional Resources:
Dr. Brian Smith's Lab Website


A brief look at the diversity and distribution of harvestmen in the Central Amazon, Brazil
Dr. Pio Colmenares, Museum Specialist, American Museum of Natural History

Additional Resources:
Amazonian Harvestmen
Harvestmen Classification


Aquatic urbanites and where to find them: Examining the presence of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Western New York Bight
Kristi Collom, Masters Student, Hunter College and American Museum of Natural History

Additional Resources:
Dr. Diana Reiss' Lab Website
Northeast Chapter for the Society for Marine Mammalogy led by K. Collom. To join please contact: smmnortheastchapter@gmail.com.
American Princess Cruises for Whale, Seal and Dolphin  


The real Dragon(fly)s of the past and present
Manpreet Kohli, Ph.D. Candidate, Rutgers University



Opening old boxes to ask new questions: "The Howe Quarry Project," reassessment of a dinosaur graveyard
Dr. Emanuel Tschopp, Postdoctoral Research Scientist, American Museum of Natural History

Additional Resources:
Sauriermuseum Aathal
'Brontosaurus' name resurrected by new dino family tree
New species of dinosaur increases the already unexpected diversity of 'whiplash dinosaurs'


Tour of Inside You Exhibit at AMNH with biologist Melissa Ingala


On Sunday, January 28th, the MSNH met at the American Museum of Natural History with Ph.D. candidate Melissa Ingala to hear more about what is “Inside You.” Ms. Ingala guided us, with great expertise and enthusiasm, through the exhibit of the same name. First, we learned that we are not alone – in fact, there are many more bacterial than human cells in and on each human body (in the human gut alone, there are about 100 Trillion bacteria!). While bacteria grow especially well on moist areas like your armpits, the left and the right hands do not have the same population of microbes. Not surprisingly, we share the same bacteria with co-inhabiting humans, but are also more likely to share them with our co-inhabiting canines, but not felines for yet to be understood reasons. “Of course not,” a cat owner whispered to me, with little surprise: “Cats share little with their owners.”

As bacteria and other microbes are found on most surfaces, scientists were able to show what most NYC citizens expected anyway: the subway system is full of interesting microbes, many of them which have not even been identified. No worries, we are safe – if anything, a subway ride might boost your immune system.

Microbes do not only vary among people, but they also vary among different populations. It appears that specific diets, like a diet high in seaweed as in Japanese, or like Sweet Potatoes as some tribes in Papua New Guinea, allow these people to turn these otherwise nutrient-poor food items into delicious, nutrient-rich morsels. Populations that are known to have a wide variety of food and rarely take antibiotics like the Yanomarni of the Amazonian Rainforest in Venezuela have an extremely diverse gut microbiome. Meanwhile, Europeans and Americans, possibly due to the overly sterile approaches towards life, paired with a reduced diversity in food, have the least diverse gut microbiome so far tested. Time to mix up your diet!

Melissa then talked about her research which focuses on true food specialists: vampire bats and fruit bats. These two groups have a very narrow range diet, none of which is known to provide enough macronutrients like protein. Melissa suspects that either their gut bacteria are creating the lacking macronutrients from scratch, or that at least the fruit bats consume a nibble of something else here and there to compensate for the lack of nutrients. Hopefully we will know more about it soon!

After that, Melissa led us into the world of health. This sparked a lot of questions. Some bacteria living in and on us are protecting us from other, more harmful bacteria and fungi like Athlete’s foot that would enter our system otherwise. The rise of inflammatory diseases might have been caused at least partially by the reduced diversity of our microbiome. Even diseases like obesity, depression, and anxiety might be affected by our bacteria, or may in turn affect them. But no worries – treatment is on the way! Fecal transplants (yes, it is exactly what you think it is) have been shown to reduce weight in otherwise obese mice (they received fecal samples from lean mice). Similarly, bacteria found in fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut might reduce anxiety in the same rodent. It appears that new medicines may require us to be less squeamish.

Thank you, Melissa for showing us the latest in this intriguing world, we hope to hear more about your research on bats and can’t wait to have you back again.

To view more photos from this event, visit our gallery. All photo credit goes to Glenn Doherty.

 Melissa Ingala examining some bat specimens from the American Museum of Natural History. Photo Credit Roderick Mickens.

Melissa Ingala examining some bat specimens from the American Museum of Natural History. Photo Credit Roderick Mickens.

Melissa Ingala is a Ph.D. candidate in comparative biology at the Richard Gilder Graduate School at the American Museum of History. She is a New Jersey native who holds a masters degree in ecology and systematics from Fordham University. Her research interests concern the functional importance of the gut microbiome in wildlife hosts, and the roles microbes have played in the ecology and evolution of those hosts. She works closely with the Mammalogy and Genomics departments at the American Museum of Natural History, and has conducted field expeditions in the rainforests of Belize with AMNH curator Nancy Simmons. 

Additional Resources recommended by Melissa Ingala

The Crazy Ambitious Effort to Catalogue Every Microbe on Earth from Wired

How Gut Bacteria Tell Their Hosts What to Eat from Scientific American

Happy New Year!


The end of the year is always a time for self-reflection so it's time to do a 2017 recap for the MSNH. This year the MSNH hosted 11 events led by researchers from the American Museum of Natural History, New York Botanical Gardens, City University of New York, Rutgers University, Sewanee: The University of the South, Columbia University, and Audubon, which attracted 300 attendees! Among other events, we got to count horseshoe crabs in Jamaica Bay, search for fossils in a stream in NJ, learn about herbaceous and woody plants in Central Park, and hear about dinos, meteorites, and human evolution at the American Museum of Natural History. This year, we also hosted our first Nature Writing Contest (deadline in just 4 days!) and held our largest ever natural history symposium. Overall 2017 has been another fun year for us Officers and we thoroughly enjoy organizing events to connect you with scientists, their research and the natural world. We thank all the researchers who have led our events or prepared Taxa of the Month writeups, all the people who have donated to our cause, and all our attendees and we can't wait for another exciting year ahead!

Wishing you all a wonderful 2018!

Stephanie, Harald, Glenn and Maurice

Dinosaur Hall Tour at AMNH with Danny Barta


On Saturday, December 2, paleontologist Danny Barta met with the MSNH at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) to discuss recent findings in the world of paleobiology, as well as showing off the wonderful dinosaur specimens, which the AMNH houses. Our first specimen, and by far the largest, was the newly named titanosaur, Patagotitan mayorum, an individual so big, that its head, dangling on an outrageously long neck, is sticking out of the exhibition hall. Barta pointed out that the giant’s toes can only be found on his hindlegs (possibly to dig nests), that its neck vertebra contains complex struts to house air sacks, and that it might not have been much older than 15 years old! That’s what we call a growth spurt!

We moved on to see the ancestors of crocodilians, which were possibly warm-blooded and faster moving than their descendants, and saw that pterosaur (which are not dinosaurs!) wings developed by elongation of the fourth finger, connected to the body by skin. This is unlike any other flying vertebrate, in which wings are either formed by feathers (birds), or through an expansion of all fingers, with the skin in between (bats). Either way, after seeing a fossilized dinosaur resting on a nest of eggs as well as an embryonic skeleton, we moved on to the hall of Saurischian dinosaurs, which are defined by their hip structure. Here, we learned about the long-necked sauropods (and the recent resurrection of the genus Brontosaurus), as well as the three-toed theropods, which include Tyrannosaurus rex, Velociraptor, and our feathered friends, the birds, which also belong to this group of dinosaurs. Turns out Jurassic Park got it all wrong: T. rex could not run faster than 10-15 miles an hour (but it still would be able to catch you if you would have tried to run away, “unless you are a sprinter”), and Velociraptor was much smaller than depicted in the book and movie.

Finally, we went to the hall of Ornithischian dinosaurs, all of which had a predentary bone on the lower mandible to which a keratin beak attached. Beaked dinosaurs? Yes, they were, and plenty of them: Triceratops, Stegosaurs, and the duck-billed dinosaur mummy (with fossilized skin) were only a few of the marvelous specimens we saw in this hall. Barta showed us the different life stages of Psittacosaurus, and explained the differences between Triceratops (large frills, long horns over the eyes,) and Styracosaurus (short frills, short horns over the eyes), discussed how ankylosaurs defended themselves with armor, and told us that the function of the dorsal plates on stegosaurs are still unclear (it might have nothing to do with thermoregulation, but possibly evolved for display).

The tour ended with a bang: 65 million years ago, a meteorite crashed into the area of today’s Cancun and put an end to all this dinosaur nonsense, with one exception: the birds. Still among us, and with plenty of astonishing species, they remind us of the amazing evolutionary journey dinosaurs underwent since 240 mya.

We thank Danny Barta, for making this such a pleasant and informative visit, and good luck with your Ph.D. defense in summer 2018!

To view more photos from this event, visit our gallery. All photo credit goes to Maurice Chen.


Danny Barta is a Ph.D. candidate in comparative biology at the Richard Gilder Graduate School of the American Museum of Natural History. He grew up in Helena, Montana, and holds a masters degree in earth sciences from Montana State University. Broadly, he is interested in vertebrate reproduction, growth, and development. His doctoral research focuses on the post-hatching growth and development of basal theropod and ornithischian dinosaurs. The exceptional collections available at the American Museum of Natural History provide important insight into dinosaur growth rates and anatomical changes during development. He also has conducted fieldwork in the western United States, China, and Mongolia.

Recommended Additional Resources

AMNH's Dinosaur Website

The University of California (Berkeley) Museum of Paleontology’s Online Exhibits

Dr. Thomas Holtz’s (University of Maryland) Online Lecture Notes for his Undergraduate Dinosaur Course

For those interested in paleo-art, an interview with current AMNH artist Mick Ellison about how he reconstructs extinct animals

Guided fungi walk in Inwood Hill Park with Paul Sadowski


As the summer heat dragged on into late October, over twenty Society members new and old gathered at midday in Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan to learn about the myriad fungi that exist just off the beaten path - literally. Paul Sadowski utilized his twenty-plus years of experience studying fungi to provide in-depth knowledge to the group. There was no need to go more than a few feet at a time to flip over a different log and reveal another variety of fungi. Attendees who brought their pocket loupes and magnifiers gladly passed them around so others could visualize and explore the intricate folds found on the undersides of the mushrooms. Paul provided insight into how mushrooms are being used to gauge global warming as well as details on medicinal uses. 

To view more photos from this event, visit our gallery. All photo credit goes to Maurice Chen.


Paul Sadowski has been an active amateur mycologist for over twenty years. He has studied mushrooms under the mentorship of Gary Lincoff, Tom Volk, Aaron Norarevian, Dennis Aita and others. He has been a working member of the New York Mycological Society during these years as Treasurer and Secretary, coordinator of the Monday Night Study Group (the Foul Weather Friends) and has led microscopy workshops for the Society. In 2010 he received The North American Mycological Association's Harry and Elsie Knighton Service Award. Paul has also been involved in the operations of the Northeast Mycological Federation, serving as Treasurer since 2011. He is the chair of the 2017 NEMF Samuel Ristich Foray. Sadowski has presented numerous programs in New York and New Jersey for an audience of the mycologically curious members of garden clubs and conservancies. In 2007 and 2008 with the Greenbrook Sanctuary naturalist, Nancy Slowik, they embarked on a survey of fungi within the Sanctuary's property in the New Jersey Palisades. The experience led him to study Polypores with the eminent mycologist Tom Volk at a seminar held at Eagle Hill, the Humboldt Field Research Center in Steubenville, Maine. The Charles Horton Peck Foray, the annual meeting of students of mycology and mushroom hobbyists is a touchstone for Mr. Sadowski. The relaxed atmosphere of this congregation is at once mentoring and rejuvenating. He has coordinated support from the NYMS in sponsoring three forays. Each year since 2009, Mr. Sadowskihas led presentations and walks at Inwood Hill Park on behalf of the NYC Parks Department in cooperation with the Greenacre Foundation. 

Finding Fossils in Big Brook, N.J. with AMNH paleontologist Carl Mehling


On Saturday, September 23rd, the MSNH ventured to Big Brook in Monmouth County, New Jersey to look for fossils of the late Cretaceous coastal marine fauna, which are found at the well-known Lagerstätte deposit. Carl Mehling, senior museum technician in the division of paleontology at the American Museum on Natural History, generously led the trip and shared his expertise and enthusiasm for this remarkable fossil site. This was a family-fun event and participants included 10 young budding paleontologists and their families from the Bronx YMCA, whose participation was partly made possible by the Society for the Study of Evolution Small Grants Program for Local and Regional Outreach Promoting the Understanding of Evolutionary Biology. At the parking lot, we were greeted by a bucolic scenery, and followed Carl through a forest down to Big Brook. It did not take long to convince all of us to step into the shadowy stream and start sifting through the gravel for various vertebrate fossils with sieves Carl provided. Initially, rocks had to be distinguished from fossils (“that’s a genuine rock”), but it did not take long until some of us, and eventually all of us, found various shark and fish teeth (including goblin shark (Scapanorhynchus texanus), sawfish (Ischyhiza mira), as well as bony fishes like Enchodus ferox, pieces of oyster shells, and belemnites (Belemnitella americana). Children and adults alike went into the water to sift with great enthusiasm and excitement not knowing what the next patch of gravel might bring.

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Carl told us that the fossils are about 72 million years old, and are a snapshot on how the coastal marine environment might have looked like back at this time. He also showed us shark coprolites, i.e. fossilized shark dung, which have spiral imprints on the outside (coming from the special shape of shark intestines), which he found on that day – who would have known! With an ever growing enthusiasm, more gravel was sifted, and a few lucky members were able to find snail shell imprints, as well as Devonian corals, which might have been brought here by glaciers from Northern New Jersey. We spent several more hours, and met with a group of Rutgers geology undergraduates who arrived there along with their professor to collect as well. Once our pockets were filled with teeth and other bones, corals and oysters, as well as one arrowhead, which was found by one of our youngest attendees, we were ready to leave, however, only to go back there again next year!

To view more photos from this event, visit our gallery. All photo credit goes to Maurice Chen. 


Carl Mehling has been at the American Museum of Natural History since 1990 and currently cares for the world's largest collection of dinosaur fossils, plus other reptiles, early synapsids, and early tetrapods. He is interested in all aspects of paleontology, especially fringe areas like bizarre modes of preservation, anomalous discoveries, and oddities within the history of paleontology. Carl collects fossils of all kinds, globally, and writes about scholarly and popular pieces of fossils. 


Tour of Billion Oyster Project Facilities on Governor's Island with Blyss Buitrago

On Sunday, July 30, the MSNH took the ferry to Governor's Island to learn about oysters and see the Billion Oyster Project facilities with Blyss Buitrago, the Public Engagement Manager for the New York Harbor Foundation. You can't live in New York City without knowing about oysters. Oysters are an integral part of NYC's history and once upon a time were as famous on the streets as hot dogs. However, due to pollution, overexploitation and habitat loss, their populations dramatically declined wiping them off the menus. Since their demise, conservation efforts have been made to restore their populations and the Billion Oyster Project (BOP), part of the New York Harbor Foundation, is one of the key projects working on this and focuses on ecosystem restoration and reintroduction of one billion oysters into New York Harbor, while engaging New Yorkers in every step of the process. 

While on the tour, we learned how oysters are keystone species meaning that they are crucial to ecosystem health as they provide habitat for many other marine organisms and also help filter the water from pollution. BOP is reintroducing oysters into NYC harbor through different techniques. For example, oyster larvae prefer to attach themselves to other oysters when they settle down to grow, so BOP places shells of dead oysters in NYC harbor to help build oyster beds. Shells originate mainly from NYC restaurants which partner with BOP to recycle this food waste. BOP also continuously monitors water quality to keep tabs on ecosystem health.

BOP focuses on public education and outreach and throughout the year and engages hundreds of NYC students and volunteers in their restoration projects so that they can immerse them into learning about, protecting and restoring their local habitat.

Blyss Buitrago is the Public Engagement Manager for the New York Harbor Foundation. Raised in Jamaica, Queens with JFK as her local inaccessible waterfront, Blyss developed a deep curiosity for the ocean from a young age. Exposure to New England's fishery culture ignited her passion to conserve our natural environment studying Marine Science (B.S) at Boston University. Realizing the importance of local knowledge in conservation led her across the world to Australia to study Marine Protected Area Management (MSc.) at James Cook University. As the Public Engagement Manager with the Billion Oyster Project, Blyss passionately works to create unique opportunities for urban communities to become stewards of their marine backyard

To see more photos from this event check out our gallery. Photo credit goes to Maurice Chen and Julius Chen.

Sign up for the BOP newsletter (scroll down to bottom of their homepage to find the entry form), if you would like to hear about events, volunteer opportunities, and updates!

For additional resources about oysters, please check out:

A video about BOP's work released by the National Science Foundation.

The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky (who also wrote Salt which focuses on the cod fishery collapse).

American Catch by Paul Greenberg.

Or learn more about oyster biology by checking out this fact sheet produced by South Carolina state Department of Natural Resources.

Monitoring Horseshoe Crab Breeding with NYC Audubon

On Friday, June 9, the MSNH joined NYC Audubon in their annual survey of horseshoe crab breeding in Jamaica Bay. The weather was perfect on this full moon night and as the sky darkened we saw lots of male horseshoe crabs come in with the tide searching the shallow waters for females. We witnessed several males trying to latch onto a single female hoping to externally fertilize her eggs. We were lucky enough to see some eggs in the sand which looked like beautiful tiny green marbles. We also saved a sea robin which had been abandoned on the beach by nearby fishermen and released it back into the water where it fanned out its dragon like fins. NYC Audubon's annual horseshoe crab survey is crucial for monitoring the population of these magnificent ancient arthropods, which are in decline due to overharvesting for medical and fishing purposes. A special thank you to Dottie, NYC Audubon and to all participants for such a wonderful event!

Horseshoe crabs, despite their name and superficial resemblance, are not crabs. They actually belong to their own class Xiphosura in Chelicerata, an arthropod group that also includes the classes Arachnida (spiders, scorpions, ticks, etc), Eurypterida (the extinct sea scorpions and also MSNH's logo taxon), and Pycnogonida (sea spiders). Worldwide only four extant species of horseshoe crabs exist and all species except the Atlantic horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus, are found in the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Extinct horseshoe crab species have also been described and the oldest fossil, found in Canada, dates to the Upper Ordovician, 445 million years ago! Despite their remarkable old age, horseshoe crabs have changed little morphologically since their first appearance and are therefore often referred to as 'living fossils' in the scientific literature. To learn more about horseshoe crabs, check out our taxon of the month for April!

To learn more about horseshoe crab breeding, check out research by Dr. H. Jane Brockmann at the University of Florida.  

To view more photos from this event, check out here. All photo credit goes to Maurice Chen.

Songs of Trees with award winning author and ecologist Dr. David Haskell

On Saturday, June 3, the MSNH visited a Bradford pear tree on the busy northwest corner of 86th Street and Broadway with awarding winning author and ecologist Dr. David Haskell. This tree, which goes unnoticed by hundreds of pedestrians every day, is one of many trees featured in Haskell's latest book, The Songs of Trees. During the event, Haskell explained the origins of this Bradford pear tree and highlighted the ways in which this individual tree, and many other trees in the city, interact with their environment. For example, Haskell explained how trees like this one save the city millions of dollars each year by keeping the sidewalks cool in the summer heat and providing protection from flooding. They also help control air pollution and act as a river bank where people can step aside to take a break from the ongoing pedestrian traffic. Participants then engaged in activity where they got to use their five senses to examine a tree of their choosing taking time to experience the natural world around them that most people take for granted. To learn more about the The Songs of Trees, check out Ed Yong's interview in The Atlantic and Paul Kvinta's profile in Outside Magazine.

To view more photos from this event visit our gallery. All photo credit goes to Maurice Chen.

Dr. David Haskell is a biology professor at Sewanee: The University of the South. He received his B.A. from the University of Oxford and his Ph.D. from Cornell University. Haskell's first book, The Forest Unseen, was winner of the National Academies’ Best Book Award for 2013 and finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction, among other honors. A profile by James Gorman in The New York Times said of Haskell that he “thinks like a biologist, writes like a poet, and gives the natural world the kind of open-minded attention one expects from a Zen monk rather than a hypothesis-driven scientist.”

Spring Birding in Central Park with Spencer Galen

 Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

On Saturday, May 20, in the early morning hours, Spencer Galen, an evolutionary biologist from the American Museum of Natural History, led the MSNH on a guided bird walk through Central Park to see spring migrants. Using our eyes and ears, we saw 39 species during the walk. Some notable birds spotted include a Green Heron, a male Baltimore Oriole, and a Chestnut-sided Warbler. Below is a complete list of birds sighted or heard during the walk:

Canada Goose (4)

Mallard (3)

Double-Crested Cormorant (3)

Great Egret (1)

Green Heron (1)

Herring Gull (2)

Rock Pigeon (>10)

Mourning Dove (4)

Chimney Swift (2)

Red-bellied Woodpecker (1)

Downy Woodpecker (1)

Eastern Wood-Pewee (1)

Warbling Vireo (2)

Red-eyed Vireo (2)

Blue Jay (3)

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow (2)

White-Breasted Nuthatch (2)

Swainson's Thrush (1)

American Robin (12)

Gray Catbird (6)

European Starling (>10)

Cedar Waxwing (8)

Northern Waterthrush (10

Black-and-White Warbler (1)

Common Yellowthroat (2)

American Redstart (5)

Northern Parula (1)

Magnolia Warbler (2)

Bay-breasted Warbler (1)

Yellow Warbler (1)

Chestnut-Sided Warbler (1)

Blackpoll Warbler (8)

Canada Warbler (2)

White-throated Sparrow (2)

Northern Cardinal (4)

Red-winged Blackbird (1)

Common Grackle (10)

Baltimore Oriole (3)

House Sparrow (>10)

To view more photos from this event, visit here. All photo credit goes to Maurice Chen.

Spencer Galen is a Ph.D. candidate in the Richard Gilder Graduate School at the American Museum of Natural History. He received his B.S. from the University of Delaware and an M.S. from the University of New Mexico where he studied the evolution of birds in the Peruvian Andes. Galen has spent time studying birds throughout North and South America, including Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, and most recently Cuba. He is originally from New Jersey where he found a passion for studying birds as a child while observing the amazing spring migration that takes place across the eastern United States every year. To learn more about Galen and his research visit his website

For great guides and apps for birding, Galen recommends:

The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America: Second Edition (good prices on Amazon)

The Sibley eGuide to Birds App

Botany Walk in Central Park with NYBG botanists Daniel Atha and Richard Abbott

On Saturday, May 6, botanists Daniel Atha and Richard Abbott from The New York Botanical Garden, led the MSNH on a guided botany walk through Central Park. Atha began by describing the interesting history of Manhattan's landscape, particularly Central Park and Upper West Side to help us understand the ecology of the area. We then ventured into the park to see both native and non-native plant species and learned which characteristics (e.g., leaf shape and bark color) are used to identify them. Abbott discussed the differences between spontaneous plants which are plants that are not planted by humans and invasive or non-native plants, which are plants that are not native to an area. Many non-native plant species are able to outcompete native plant species because humans have drastically modified the landscape making it difficult for native species to survive. We also learned ways that the public could get involved (see links below) in helping botanists monitor the flora of the NY region.

To view more photos from this event. Please visit our gallery. All photo credit for this event goes to Maurice Chen.

Daniel Atha is a botanist and the Director of Conservation Outreach in the Center for Conservation Strategy at the New York Botanical Garden. He has conducted fieldwork in all 50 states of the US as well as Vietnam, Bolivia, Mexico, Belize, and several states of the former Soviet Union, and has collected over 15,000 plants, including two species new to science. With his colleagues, Regina Alvarez and Ken Chaya, he will soon publish a complete catalog of the City's flora and its ecological associations.

Dr. Richard Abbott is a botanist with 25 years experience in a wide array of botanical jobs and research in CA, FL, IL, KY, MO, NY, and elsewhere, as a restoration botanist, an assistant grower in a plant nursery, a botanical research greenhouse manager, and a botanical consultant, pursuing new plants and new experiences, often in academia. There is nothing he loves more than learning new plants and sharing his passion for plant identification with others. Abbott is currently a Research Associate at the New York Botanical Garden, where he works on the New Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. To learn more about Richard Abbott visit his website here!

Additional links to publications, projects and websites related to the walk and recommended by the trip leaders can be found below.

The NYBG is working with citizen scientists to document the flora and ecology of New York City: https://www.nybg.org/science-project/new-york-city-ecoflora/

The NYBG is leading a project to document the spontaneous flora of Central Park:https://www.nybg.org/science-project/flora-of-central-park/

Get involved and join others in your community who are observing nature and helping document and conserve biodiversity.  iNaturalist: https://www.inaturalist.org/

The Northeastern United States is a hotspot for invasive species.

Corydalis incisa, Incised Fumewort, is invasive in New York: http://libguides.nybg.org/invasiveplants/corydalis_incisa_display

Arum italicum, Italian Arum, is invasive in New York: http://www.phytoneuron.net/2017Phytoneuron/31PhytoN-ArumitalicumNYBG.pdf

Ibáñez, I., J. A. Silander, J. M. Allen, S. A. Treanor, A. Wilson. 2009. Identifying hotspots for plant invasions and forecasting focal points of further spread. Journal of Applied Ecology 46: 1219–1228.

Heberling, J. M., I Jo, A. Kozhevnikov, H. Lee and J. D. Fridley. 2016. Biotic interchange in the Anthropocene: strong asymmetry in east Asian and eastern North American plant invasions. Global Ecology and Biogeography  DOI: 10.1111/geb.12551.'

Fridley, J. 2014. Plant Invasions across the Northern Hemisphere: a deep-time perspective. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1293: 1–10.

Tour of Halls of Gems and Minerals at AMNH with Jasmine Bayron

On Saturday, March 25th, Jasmine Bayron, a Ph.D. student in Earth and Environmental Sciences at the CUNY Graduate Center, led us on a free guided tour of the Halls of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History. Bayron discussed the formation and chemical makeup of various minerals and gems as well as their light properties. We also learned how the AMNH's famous sapphire, Star of India, was stolen in the 1960s but later recovered.

To view more photos from this event, check out our gallery. All photo credit goes to Maurice Chen.

To learn more about gems and minerals and topics discussed during the event, check out the various links and resources below recommended by Bayron.

USGS Mineral Gemstone List

Electromagnetic Spectrum Basics

Electromagnetic Spectrum and Visible Light

Diamond Rain on Saturn and Jupiter

Rubies and Sapphire Winds

Jasmine Bayron is a Ph.D. student in Earth and Environmental Sciences at the CUNY Graduate Center. She conducts her research in partnership with the American Museum of Natural History. In addition to being a MAGNET Fellow, she is a science team collaborator on the OSIRIS-Rex Asteroid Sample Return Mission, which is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program of solar system exploration missions. Her dissertation research explores the relationships between meteorites that have not experienced any significant heating events since their formation and asteroids with highly absorptive surfaces.



5th Annual Sympsoium

On Sunday, February 12, The Metropolitan Society of Natural Historians hosted its 5th Annual Symposium in collaboration with the Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP) of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) at the AMNH's Linder Theater. The symposium included 10-minute talks by eight scientists from prestigious institutions across the tri-state area including the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University, New York Botanical Garden and Rutgers University. More than 100 people attended this event including 44 students from SRMP. SRMP is an educational after-school program which allows NYC high school students to work directly with scientists at the American Museum of Natural History on research projects. 

We would like to thank Dr. Mark Weckel and Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant from SRMP, all presenters and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation which provided funding for SRMP student participation for making this event possible and a special thanks to all participants!

Below is a list of the presenters and their presentations.

Host evolution through the eyes of a parasite
Kelly Speer, Ph.D. Candidate, Richard Gilder Graduate School, American Museum of Natural History

Evolution and diversity of Gyroporus, a widespread genus of mycorrhizal mushroom
Naveed Davoodian, Ph.D. Candidate, City University of New York and New York Botanical Garden

Other Links: The Boletes

Fossil sloths and the history of South American mammals in the fossil record
Julia Tejada, Ph.D. Candidate, Columbia University and American Museum of Natural History

Detection and development: How sea urchins evolved to match their environment
Dr. Diane Adams, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University

Discovering new bird species in museum collections
Lukas Musher, Ph.D. Student, Richard Gilder Graduate School, American Museum of Natural History

Vacationing to the solar system
Dr. Jana Grcevich, Data Science Fellow, Insight

Sociality in snapping shrimps
Dr. Solomon T.C. Chak, Postdoctoral Research Scientist, Columbia University

Eastern box turtles: Relocation for conservation
Dr. Suzanne Macey, Biodiversity Scientist, American Museum of Natural History & Editorial Fellow, Network of Conservation Educators and Practitioners

Other Links: Northeast PARC: Box Turtle Education Info; Don't Take Me Home

To view more photos from this event, please visit our gallery. All photo credit goes to Maurice Chen.

Hall of Human Origins Tour

On Sunday, January 29, Anna Ragni, a Ph.D. student in anthropology, led 26 participants on a tour of the Hall of Human Origins at the American Museum of Natural History. Ragni took us on a journey through the course of human evolution. She discussed morphological changes, particularly in bone and tooth structure, that occurred during this time and explained the significance of recent anthropological discoveries. 

Anna Ragni is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Richard Gilder Graduate School of the American Museum of Natural History. As a master’s student at the University of Arkansas, she worked on the evolution of diet in Brazilian monkeys and South African fossil hominins. For her Ph.D., Ragni is studying how development plays a role in the evolution of bipedal locomotion using CT scanning of modern primates. 

To view more photos from this event, check out our gallery. Photo credit to Maurice Chen.

For additional resources related to the tour (and recommended by Ragni), please see: 

Smithsonian Institution Human Origins Program - Digital skulls to compare, timelines, family trees, information on genetics.

Sapiens.org - A website curated by anthropologists for a public audience (check out the evolution section).

Annaragni.com - Ragni's personal website that contains her contact information.

Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? by Frans de Waal - A book that was brought up at the end of the tour.

Notes from the Field Presentations

On Sunday, December 4th, The Metropolitan Society of Natural Historians hosted Notes from the Field Presentations at the Richard Gilder Graduate School of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). During this event, three researchers from the AMNH, Columbia University and the City University of New York discussed their recent field expeditions across the world to look for fossils, deep sea creatures and leeches. 

Abagael West is a paleontologist who specializes in the study of fossil mammals. She received her B.A. in Zoology from the University of Cambridge in 2010, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, in the collaborative program with the Richard Gilder Graduate School at the AMNH. After defending her Ph.D. in late December, she is moving to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History as a Rea Postdoctoral Fellow. Her research is on several aspects of the evolution and relationships of the Notoungulata, an extinct order of hoofed mammals from South America. She is particularly interested in using ancient DNA and protein sequences to test and augment traditional paleontological hypotheses and datasets. West discussed her field expedition to Antarctica to look for fossils. To learn about this Antarctica expedition, visit the project's website or twitter account. Various new articles were also published about the expedition in Arctic Sun, Forbes, and the Guardian. A youtube video about the project is also available.

Michael Tessler is a fourth year Ph.D. Candidate at the AMNH’s Richard Gilder Graduate School. He is generally interested in biodiversity and has conducted studies on leeches, mosses, and bacteria. The focus of these studies has included taxonomy, systematics, ecology, and conservation. He has helped pioneer new methods for comparisons of sites for conservation purposes and CT scanning of soft-bodied invertebrates to describe new species of leeches. Tessler presented his experiences traveling across Asia, Europe, North America, South America and Central America to look for leeches in both terrestrial and aquatic habitats and also discussed some cultural experiences from his travels. If you would like to learn more about Tessler and his research, please visit his website or the website of the Leech Lab at the AMNH.


Dr. Mercer R. Brugler is an Assistant Professor at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) and a Research Associate at the AMNH and Smithsonian NMNH. Dr. Brugler is a deep-sea evolutionary biologist that specializes in the phylogenetic systematics and molecular evolution of black corals and sea anemones (phylum Cnidaria). He has participated in ten research cruises and two submersible dives in Alvin, and recently sent three minority CityTech students to the Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary (Gulf of Mexico) to collect black corals using the remotely operated vehicle Mohawk. Dr. Brugler received his B.S. from the University of Miami (Coral Gables, FL), M.S. from the College of Charleston's Grice Marine Lab (Charleston, SC), and Ph.D. from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (Lafayette, LA). Dr. Brugler discussed his trip exploring deep-sea canyons and methane seeps along the Northwest Atlantic Continental Margin using the famous research submersible Alvin and the autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry. If you want to learn more about Dr. Brugler and his work, you can see his publications here, visit his website here or follow him on Twitter (@ProfBrugler). 

A special thanks to our presenters and to the Richard Gilder Graduate School for allowing us to use their space. If you have any questions for our presenters, please contact metropolitannaturalhistory@gmail.com, and we will help put you in contact with them. To view more photos from this event, visit our gallery. All photo credit goes to Maurice Chen. 

Maggot Art With Dr. Jennifer Rosati

It was a chilly autumnal day on October 29th when members of the Society gathered at John Jay College's campus. Led by Dr. Jennifer Rosati, a professor of forensic entomology at John Jay, and her two research assistants, the attendees' charge was two-fold: to explore the lifecycle of the blow fly, which plays an important part in time-of-death determinations, and to utilize third-instar larvae to create unique works of art. Dr. Rosati explained how blow flies are typically the first insects to interact with a body immediately after life is terminated. Within minutes, adult flies can lay up 350 eggs on the dead tissue. It is here that the maggots (larvae) remain until they have amassed enough energy to engage in their "wandering" stage. Taking advantage of the maggots' search for a suitable place to pupate, Society members dipped the maggots in non-toxic acrylic paint and watched them as they took off in all directions on canvas. The maggots had no particular direction to travel, and as such, they simply wandered all around and eventually off the edges of the paper. Everyone likely spent as much time chasing maggots as the maggots spent creating colorful trails. When the maggots stopped wandering, they were all collected so that they may continue on to become pupae. Dr. Rosati also provided a brief tour of the facility in which she works and showed off the extensive fly development collection in her lab. In the end, attendees were left with Pollock-esque works they could take home to show their friends and family - with a perfect backstory about bugs just in time for Halloween.


To view more photos from this event, check out our gallery. Photo credit to Glenn Doherty and Maurice Chen.

Insects of Central Park with Dr. Harald Parzer

On a sunny Saturday, September 17, twenty-three natural historians joined Dr. Harald Parzer in Central Park to learn about insects. Parzer showed participants how to identify members of this astonishingly species-rich group of arthropods: three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen) with three pairs of legs on the thorax. After this introduction, basic sampling techniques were presented, including the well-known butterfly nets, but also more obscure techniques, such as inhaling them with an aspirator or luring them into pitfall traps. A student insect collection demonstrated how insects are preserved and the importance of properly labeling collected specimens. At Shakespeare’s Garden, butterfly nets were provided so that attendees could practice their newly learned insect catching skills. The insects frequently outwit participants, but attendees were still able to catch and observe plenty of insects. One tagged male monarch butterfly was spotted feeding in the garden. There were also plenty of white cabbage butterflies (Piers rapae), which could be easily sexed using the number of black dots on the front wings. Other insects observed include skippers (Hesperidae, with the jet-like rested wings), giant carpenter bees (Xylocarp sp.), leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae), honey bees (Apis mellifera), yellow jackets (Vespula sp.), and the ubiquitous hoverflies (Syrphidae), some of which mimic wasps with their yellow-black abdomen. After talking about the importance of having native wildflowers for pollinators, Parzer discussed some of the extraordinary monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) biology and the dramatic decline of overwintering individuals in Mexico. We finally moved to another site, observing large milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) on a native milkweed stand planted by Central Park parks department. 

If you have any questions related to this event, you can email Dr. Parzer directly at hparzer@outlook.com. 

To view more photos from this event, check out our gallery. Photo credit to Maurice Chen.

For more resources on insects:

A wonderful book with many pictures of insects found on the East coast: Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity: With a Photographic Guide to Insects of Eastern North America.

A great book, and at times funny too, on the evolution of insects: Evolution of the Insects.

Butterfly guide: Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America.

Good source for insect collecting equipment: BioQuip.

Online resource to identify insects and other arthropods (with help from specialists): BugGuide.

More on the monarch butterfly: Monarch Watch.

Guided Night Hike to Mount Beacon with arachnologist Dr. Stephanie Loria

On Saturday, July 16, The Metropolitan Society of Natural Historians embarked on a guided evening hike to Mount Beacon led by arachnologist Dr. Stephanie Loria. We learned about arthropod diversity, evolution and reproduction. Along the way, we spotted hundreds of gypsy moth adults, pupae and eggs on the trees. Gypsy moths are an invasive species defoliating the forests of eastern North American. Once at the summit and while enjoying the beautiful sunset, Loria showed us some exciting North American arachnid, insect and myriapod specimens from her teaching collecting. We then descended down in the dark and spotted some brightly fluorescent mushrooms, partially fluorescent millipedes, orb weavers, a click beetle, a frog, harvestmen and long horned-beetles.

Dr. Stephanie Loria is president and co-founder of the MSNH and is a member of the Scorpion Systematics Research Group at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). She received her B.S. at Sewanee: The University of the South where she studied population genetics of cave millipedes and completed her Ph.D in December 2015 at the Richard Gilder Graduate School at the AMNH with world-renowned scorpion expert Dr. Lorenzo Prendini. Dr. Loria's research focuses on the diversity and evolution of South and South-East Asian scorpions. She has traveled across the globe for her Ph.D research collecting scorpions and studying specimens in natural history museums. 

To learn more about arachnids, check out the Arachnids book by arachnologist Jan Beccaloni from the Natural History Museum in London.

A great resource for insect identification is Bug Guide.

For millipede identification, great resources are available on Milli-PEET.

To view more photos from this event taken by Maurice Chen, visit our gallery.

Guided Tour of the NY Aquarium with ichthyologist Allison Bronson

On Sunday, June 19, ichthyologist Allison Bronson led us on a guided tour of the NY Aquarium. Bronson taught us a lot about fish and coral reefs including how catfish smell, what causes coral bleaching, how to sex sharks, and the evolution cichlids in Lake Victoria. We also saw a nice diversity of fish from all over the world including green moray eel, cownose ray, sand tiger shark, clownfish and some other vertebrates including sea lions, black-footed penguins, river otters and a Pacific walrus. 

Allison Bronson is a Ph.D. student at the Richard Gilder Graduate School of the American Museum of Natural History. As an undergraduate at Humboldt State University in California, she worked on numerous projects including describing new species of extinct fungi and plants, the evolution of smell in toxic newts and predation in marine snails. For her Ph.D., Bronson is studying the evolution of early sharks using fossils and CT scanning. She is also examining the evolution of smell in catfishes from the Congo River Basin. 

To see more photos from this event taken by Maurice Chen, visit our gallery.

To learn more about Bronson and her research visit here or watch her in this great video, Six Extinctions in Six Minutes, which is part of the Shelf Life video series of the American Museum of Natural History

As Bronson mentioned, the world's ocean biodiversity is at risk of extinction as humans continue to over-harvest fish and other animals for food. To learn how to eat seafood consciously, check out Sea Food Watch and their seafood recommendations app. Additional information on conserving the world's ocean biodiversity can be found here.