The amphibian and reptile table is a popular stop featuring wet collections and live creatures.

ID Day at the Ruthven Museums Building is a perennial crowd-pleaser and this year’s Sunday afternoon event was no exception. More than 600 visitors made their way to the event, many with obscure objects in tow for one of the 45 experts to decipher. The event happened on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017.

With the Museum of Natural History closing its doors Dec. 30, 2017 for the move to the new Biological Sciences Building, this was the last ID Day to be held at Ruthven. But never fear, the museum will reopen its doors in spring 2019.

This year’s ABCs of mystery objects included algae, a bird skull and a cicada. Some unusual (or interestingly named) objects were a beaded medicine bag with a mummified ground squirrel foot, peacock ore, pignut hickory and a moon snail – identified by experts from the fields of paleontology, anthropology, archaeology, botany, zoology and geology. Scientists shared treasures from the research collections, along with their knowledge and stories about their own research.

“Our visitors had a blast,” said Kira Berman, assistant director for education, UMMNH. “I caught many of you being patient, kind, enthusiastic, and informative!”

ID Day visitors visit the vertebrate fossils exhibit and explore 3-D imaging.

Melanie Florkowski, an EEB undergraduate student, who volunteered at ID Day, said, “these events are important. Science literacy is very important and should be encouraged from a young age. I was also excited to see just how many people came to the event because Ruthven is such a great museum and I want as many people as possible to enjoy it before it closes.”

She said that many kids were excited about the cockatoo at her table. “One kid told us about seeing them in the wild because his family was from Australia. They said once a whole flock ate a pizza someone left outside! Volunteering was very fun! I always like to show kids what kinds of animals live around them that they may not know about. It was also fun to see how much even young kids know about animals. A lot of them recognized common backyard birds and it seemed like they liked getting up close to them.”

The live snakes always attract attention at the amphibian and reptile display.

“At the mammal division table, we had a very inquisitive kid who saw our juvenile North American porcupine skin and was convinced there were porcupines that looked different from the skin on display,” said Lisa Walsh, an EEB graduate student volunteer. Professor Priscilla Tucker and Walsh confirmed his thinking. “There are Old World Porcupines larger and more elaborately quilled than the porcupines we find in Michigan.” Luckily, Walsh had recently come across some Old World Porcupine quills in a cabinet and added them into the Mammal Division's teaching collection. She went to retrieve the quills to show the child what he had in mind. “It was wonderful to interact with children and hear just how much they knew about mammals.

“I think events like these are important because they allow the various collections to show the public diversity they find in their own backyard, and I think natural history is an especially approachable and charismatic science that allows us to engage with people of all ages and backgrounds,” Walsh added. 

A young child approached Iris Holmes, an EEB graduate student volunteer, wearing a snake mask that she had made herself. “She told me it was really good because 'you can see the fangs.' It was fun, and a little hectic! It was great seeing lots of small children very excited about snakes, and asking really interesting questions.”

Holmes thinks that events like ID Day “gives kids a chance to see that scientists are people like them, who like interesting animals and asking questions.”

Curious visitors of all ages get a close-up look at the natural world.

Special thanks to all of the ID Day volunteers (affiliated with EEB unless otherwise noted): Graduate students: Anat Belasen, Sasha Bishop; Daniel Bruder; mechanical engineering; Susanna Campbell, Peter Cerda, Michael Grundler, Trevor Hewitt,  Iris Holmes, Joanna Larson, Paula Matzke, Pamela Murillo, Beatriz Otero Jimenez, Teresa Pegan, Imani Russell, Rachel Wadleigh.

Undergraduate students: Seana Florida, Melanie Florkowski, Gregory Pandelis.

Faculty: Thomas Duda, Alison Davis Rabosky, Diarmaid O' Foighil, Daniel Rabosky, Priscilla Tucker; Ram Vasudevan, engineering; Emeritus: Jack Burch.

Postdocs: Kara Feilich, paleontology; Amanda Haponski, Talia Moore, Rudolf von May.  

Research scientists: Taehwan Lee, Cody Thompson.

Staff: Mary Margaret Ferraro.

Alumni: Brian Cressman, Becky Gajewski, Tristan McKnight, Bob Mueller, Erin Westeen.

Community: Katie Carlisle, park stewards coordinator, City of Ann Arbor Natural Areas Preservation.

Researchers from the U-M Natural History Museum’s Science Communication Fellows Program, led by Berman and Alicia Comer, science outreach grants manager, UMMNH, presented their work through hands-on inquiry activities. And, in celebration of National Fossil Day, visitors had the opportunity to earn the National Park Service Paleontology Junior Ranger Badge.