What do a brachiopod, a bear claw, a blackbird wing feather, berries and basalt rocks have in common?

Besides all starting with the letter B, all these items found their way to the annual Museum of Natural History’s ID Day, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. Museum experts, ranging in age from 12 to “80 something,” from the fields of paleontology, anthropology, archaeology, botany, zoology, and geology, were standing by to help identify various community treasures. Over 400 science “detectives” attended this year’s event.

"We had a couple of unusual mammal specimens this year,” said Cody Thompson, Museum of Zoology Mammal Division collection manager and assistant research scientist. “One family brought in a walrus baculum from Alaska, and a father and son brought in a scrimshaw sperm whale tooth."

Lucy Tran, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology, joined Thompson at the mammal table. “Seeing so many kids (and parents) excited about mammals on ID Day was great! Even the young kids surprised me with how well they can identify Michigan mammals,” Tran said.

"A lot of folks were interested in black (melanistic) tree squirrels, occurring in and around Ann Arbor,” said Thompson. “Melanism can occur in both fox and gray squirrels when individuals have two alleles for black coat color. It is relatively common throughout the distribution of both species. 

"Given most of us work in the research collections, we do not normally get the opportunity to interact with the public on a regular basis. Everyone generally has a unique story behind their specimen and are truly interested in learning more. As citizen science continues to grow, these opportunities to educate the public will increase in importance."

ID Day visitors were also able to view and touch rarely seen objects from the research collections. A celebration of National Fossil Day offered the opportunity for aspiring paleontologists to earn their National Park Service Jr. Ranger Paleontologist badges.

"Thanks from the Museum of Zoology to all our curators, collection managers and students who participated in the Natural History Museum's recent ID-day,” said Barry O’Connor, interim director of UMMZ. “Events like this allow us to connect with the public and put a very positive face on biodiversity studies at the university."

EEB volunteers included the following graduate students: Anat Belasen; Cindy Bick; Mike Grundler; Tristan McKnight; Ivan Monagan; Paula Teichholtz; Pascal Title; Lucy Tran; Mariana Valencia; Andrew Wood

EEB undergraduate students: Galen Burrell, Katy Laudicina, Alyssa Lawler.

EEB collections staff and research scientists: Janet Hinshaw, bird collection manager; Taehwan Lee, research scientist and mollusk collection manager; Mark O’Brien, research scientist and insect collection manager; Alison Rabosky, research scientist; Cody Thompson, research scientist and mammal collection manager.

EEB faculty: Tom Duda, associate curator of mollusks; Barry O’Connor, interim director of museum collections, curator of insects; Diarmaid Ó Foighil, EEB chair, curator, UMMZ; Dan Rabosky, assistant curator of herpetology; Gerald Smith, curator emeritus of fishes.

Volunteers from these departments and organizations also made ID Day possible: Ann Arbor Natural Areas Preservation; Earth and Environmental Sciences; Friends of the U-M Museum of Paleontology; Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum; Michigan Archaeological Association; Museum of Anthropology; Museum of Paleontology; Washtenaw County Farmlands; School of Natural Resources and Environment.

"ID Day is a great way for folks to come and interact with biodiversity scientists," said Thompson. "Most often it is children sharing their treasurers, but the adults really get into it as well.  Everyone is a kid when it comes to learning about biology!"

Caption for photo within text: Lucy Tran (left), a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology, and undergraduate Katy Laudicina (right), who works with the Museum of Zoology, talk mammals with a family looking at specimens such as porcupines, rabbits and squirrels.