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.

Birding in Central Park

In the early morning hours of Saturday, April 30, evolutionary biologist Spencer Galen led the MSNH on a guided bird walk in Central Park to see spring migrants. We saw 36 species and highlights included a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Blue-winged Warbler and Baltimore Oriole. For a complete list of species observed, see below:

American Goldfinch (>3)

American Robin (song, >3)

Baltimore Oriole (2)

Black-and-white Warbler (song, 2-3)

Black-capped Chickadee (song, >3)

Blue-headed Vireo (2)

Blue Jay (calls, >3)

Blue-winged Warbler (song, 1)

Canada Goose (>3)

Chestnut-sided Warbler (song, 1-2)

Common Grackle (call, >3)

Common Yellowthroat (1)

Double-crested Cormorant (1)

Downy Woodpecker (1-2)

Eastern Towhee (song, 2-3)

Gray Catbird (2-3)

Hermit Thrush (1-2)

House Wren (song, 2)

Indigo Bunting (song, 2)

Mallard (>3)

Mourning Dove (song, >3)

Nashville Warbler (song)

Northern Cardinal (song, >3)

Northern Flicker (call, 1)

Northern Parula (song)

Northern Waterthrush (1)

Ovenbird (1)

Palm Warbler (song, 1)

Prairie Warbler (1)

Red-winged Blackbird (song, 2-3)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (song, >3)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (1)

Swamp Sparrow (1)

Tufted Titmouse (song, >3)

White Throated Sparrow (song, >3)     

Yellow Warbler (song, 1)                                                                                                

Spencer Galen is a Ph.D. candidate at the Richard Gilder Graduate School of 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 places across the eastern United States every year. Presently, his Ph.D. focuses on the evolution of malaria parasites in birds. To learn more about Spencer and his research, please visit his website here.

If you are interested in learning more about birds seen on this trip and learning their calls, please visit All About Birds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.      

To view photos from this event, please visit our gallery. All photos were taken by Maurice Chen.

Lichens in Central Park

On Sunday, April 17, The Metropolitan Society of Natural Historians was led by lichenologist, Jessica Allen from the New York Botanical Garden on a lichen tour in Central Park. We came across several species of lichens growing on rocks and trees that have been largely undisturbed by the throngs of people who frequent the park. Lichens can be found growing throughout the world in some of the most extreme environments, however they are particularly susceptible to pollution. Those that we came across are some of the few that can tolerate pollution. A full species listing of lichens in Central Park can be found in the online field guide created by Allen.

Jessica L. Allen, Lichens of Central Park; http://education.eol.org/fguides/fieldguide-view.php?guidekey=820

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

Geology of Manhattan Skyscrapers

On Sunday, April 3, Jasmine Bayron, Ph.D. student at the CUNY Graduate Center and American Museum of Natural History, led the MSNH on a walk through Central Park. She showed us evidence of glacial recession (which can be seen in the striations of Umpire Rock) and pointed out the erratics left behind by these glaciers. After leaving the park, we examined many small invertebrates in the fossiliferous limestone of Upper East Side buildings. Several of the fossils we observed were bivalves, brachiopods, crinoids and bryozoans.

To view more photos from our event, please visit our gallery. All photos were taken by Maurice Chen

4th Annual Symposium

On Sunday, February, 28th, The Metropolitan Society of Natural Historians hosted its 4th Annual Symposium in collaboration with the Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP) of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in the Linder Theater at the AMNH. The SRMP program provides New York City high school students with an opportunity to undertake year-long research projects with AMNH scientists making them more confident and better equipped to pursue their research interests upon entering university. The symposium consisted of 10-minute presentations by 8 researchers from renowned institutions across the tristate area including the AMNH, Princeton University and the New York Botanical Garden. Topics included understanding how fish are able to detect water currents, understanding the paleodiet of our extinct primate relatives, using jaguar scat for conservation efforts, identifying cryptic diversity of orchids and much more. With over 90 attendees, including 49 students from the SRMP program, this was our largest symposium yet! We would like to thank Dr. Mark Weckel and Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant of the AMNH for assistance with organizing, Allison Bronson of the AMNH for helping with logistics, all presenters and attendees for participating, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for supporting conference participation by SRMP students.

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

Dinosaur Hall Tour at AMNH

On Saturday, January 30th, The Metropolitan Society of Natural Historians was led on a wonderful tour of the American Museum of Natural History's dinosaur exhibit, featuring the latest and largest addition, the Titanosaur spanning 120 feet long from top of the head to tip of the tail. We were led by dinosaur expert, Danny Barta who expounded on the evolution of dinosaurs, and the hypotheses concerning their end and their evolution into the birds around us today. We learned the differences between the two major groups of dinosaurs: ornithischians and saurischians and listened to Barta describe his own research on dinosaur reproduction, growth and development.

Visit our gallery to see more photos from this event.

NY Eats Bugs

On Saturday, November 21, The Metropolitan of Natural History, The New York Entomological Society, Alimentary Initiatives and The Explorers Club hosted NY Eats Bugs at The Explorers Club on east 70th street between Park and Madison Avenues. During the first half, Crickets and Cocktails, guests enjoyed a variety of hors d’oeuvres and cocktails in the library and on the terrace featuring several edible insects including crickets, mealworms, and water bugs and a special entomophagy cocktail known as Cricket Bitters. After the cocktail hour, guests gathered into the Clark room to listen to presentations given by Dr. Phil Barden, a paleoentomologist from Rutgers University and Katharina Unger, an entrepreneur in entomophagy with Baron Ambrosia, host of the show The Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia, acting as the MC. The second half of the event, New York Banquet of Bugs, featured a six-course dinner prepared by chefs Natalia “Cookie” Martinez from Toronto and Mario Hernandez from The Black Ant restaurant on the lower east side.

To view more photos from this event, please visit our gallery. Photo credit to Shifaan Thowfeequ