Archive for November, 2010

From the Archive: Bowling, Bowling, Bowling

by Lesley Drayton, Curator, Fort Collins Local History Archive

Now that the cold weather seems like it is here to stay, it’s a fine time to focus on indoor recreation, like bowling! Folks have been enjoying the sport in Fort Collins for decades. Check out these champions from the Fort Collins Elks Lodge, circa 1910:

Of course, Fort Collins ladies also liked to get in on the bowling action. Here’s a great shot of a winning team sponsored by Hutchison Pharmacy, 1951. I really like their matching satin shirts; I wonder what color they were.

And from the back….

These gentlemen meant business at the Colorado State Bowling Tournament held in 1960 in Fort Collins. From left to right they are Ray Carpenter, D. Weigand, Doc Carroll, Floyd Headlee, and an unidentified man. Does anyone recognize him?

In 1960, a new bowling alley opened in Fort Collins at 2105 South College. The Bowl-Aire had all the latest features, including automatic pinsetters and “tel-e-scores.” Here’s the ad from the 1961 yellow pages:

And here’s a photo of the Bowl-Aire shortly after it opened. Looks like a fun place to bowl a few frames!

So what about you? Do you partake of indoor recreation (ultimate foosball, anyone?) during the colder months or do you still brave the outdoors for your fun?


Science Wednesday: Prehistoric Parasites

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

A few months ago, a coworker asked me if there were prehistoric parasites. Since parasitism is a common form of life that’s evolved independently multiple times – almost every free-living species is host to at least one parasite, and some estimates say that approximately half of all the animals on earth have a parasitic stage of their life cycle – I was sure that there had been ancient parasites, but I didn’t know of any. Since most parasites are small – invertebrates, microscopic, and even single-celled – finding evidence of them in the fossil record is difficult.

It turns out, most of the evidence we find for prehistoric parasites isn’t the organisms themselves, but the damage they did to their hosts.

Zombie Ants

Fossilized leaf with evidence of an ant's "death grip" bite

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a fungus that can turn an ant into a zombie. Once inside an ant, the fungus consumes the ant’s non-vital tissues and, when it’s ready to spore, sends thread-like branches called mycelia into the ants brain. The mycelia take over the ant’s brain and causes it to climb to the top of a tall stem of grass, bite down onto the main vein of the grass in what’s known as the “death grip,” and stay there until the ant dies. The fungus then keeps growing, spores and infects other ants.

The “death grip” bite leaves very distinctive scars on a plant, and those scars have just been found on a leaf specimen fossilized 48 million years ago. You can read the published report here.

Pigeon Parasites

"Sue" the T. rex. Note the holes in her lower jaw

For years scientists thought that the holes in the jawbone of the famous T. rex “Sue,” and other dinosaurs, were bite marks caused by predation. A new hypothesis is that the holes are too smooth to be caused by teeth and were caused by a relative of Trichomonas, a single-celled parasitic microbe that infects the throats and beaks of modern birds. Since parasites are known to evolve with their hosts, it wouldn’t be surprising if ancient parasites that once infected dinosaurs are now common in modern birds. Pigeons carry trichomonosis with no complications, but when raptors become infected the result is lesions that can wear through bone and inflammation that can block the animal’s ability to eat and breathe. Read more about the findings here.

Gut Worms

In 2006, paleontologists at the University of Colorado found evidence of parasitic worms in duck-billed dinosaur poop. Tiny white burrows inside the gut of a brachylophosaur named “Leonard” are evidence of soft-bodied organisms moving through the gut of a prehistoric animal.

For more information on prehistoric parasites, George Poinar’s What Bugged the Dinosaurs? Insects, Disease and Death in the Cretaceous and Conrad C. Labandeira’s Paleobiology of Predators, Parasitoids and Parasites: Death and Accomodation in the Fossil Record of Continental Invertebrates are two good resources.

P.S. While not a known parasite of dinosaurs, the tropical leech T. rex, Tyrannobdella rex, shares a name with the famous reptile king. And if I had to pick which T. rex I’d rather have try to fit up my nose, I’m going with the leech.

Pluto: The Biggest Dwarf Planet?

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

New Images of Pluto from the Hubble Space Telescope

Pluto’s had a tough couple of years, hasn’t it? First Eris showed up. An object in our solar system thought to be larger than Pluto, the 2005 discovery of the dwarf planet brought Pluto’s status as a planet into question (in that regard, Eris’ name is quite appropriate: “Eris” was the Greek goddess of discord and strife). Then in 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) declared that Pluto would be reclassified as a “dwarf planet.”

But now, a little bit of good news.

Last month astronomers were able to measure Eris by watching it pass in front of a star (learn more about how they measured Eris here).

By measuring how long the star disappeared behind Eris, a measurement that corresponds to Eris’ size, astronomers now believe that Eris may be no larger than 1,454 miles across. Pluto is believed to be 1,456 miles across. So is Pluto 2 miles wider? Maybe.

The size of both dwarf planets is still being explored, and with measurements so close, the winner of this size contest will likely be debated for quite some time.

However, even if Pluto is bigger than Eris, that doesn’t mean a promotion back to full planet status. Pluto still hasn’t “cleared out” its orbit, joining or consuming the smaller objects in its orbit, one of the three requirements for “planethood” established by the IAU. Pluto’s also in a neighborhood full of similarly-sized bodies, and so its dwarf status is still solid. But after five years of beat downs and demotions, if Pluto does turn out to be the largest dwarf planet, that’s still something to celebrate.

For more on the Pluto planet debate, watch PBS’s The Pluto Files.

From the Archive: Wit and Wisdom from “The Scrap Book”

by Lesley Drayton, Curator, Fort Collins Local History Archive

Life is full of ups and downs, and sometimes a funny story or a little advice can help folks get through the tough times. This is what I was thinking as I looked through this sweet little booklet here in the ephemera files in the Local History Archive.

Published in 1949 by the Blythe-Hollowell Mortuary located at 129 West Olive Street in Fort Collins, Colorado, “The Scrap Book” contains “choice bits of wit, humor, and philosophy, begged, borrowed and begotten.”

The stories in the book have positive, uplifting messages, and some are just funny. Here are a couple of excerpts from “The Scrap Book.”

Friday Quick Links

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Fossilized Massospondylus embryo

Researchers at CERN have captured antihydrogen atoms in a magnetic trap

Bill Warren went to a garage sale and may have purchased a pelt of the extinct Tasmanian tiger

Pocohontas’ wedding chapel found at Jamestown

Astronomers discover  the youngest nearby black hole

Paleontologists find the oldest known dinosaur embryos.

Gamma rays found coming from the center of the Milky Way

Harry Potter and the Periodic Table

by Toby Swaford, K-12 Eudcation Coordiantor

It’s no secret that the museum staff has its fair share of Harry Potter fans.  That’s why we’re thrilled to learn that Potter star Daniel Radcliffe is not only a fan of Tom Lehrer (another favorite of certain staff members) but choose to perform Lehrer’s famous chemistry song, “The Elements,” on a recent talk show appearance.  Harry Potter singing the Periodic Table – now that’s magic!

And for those of you who like a visual:

For more magical fun, join the museum for Harry Potter themed events at Fort Fun on Sunday, November 21st from 1:00 to 4:00 PM, and at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM on Saturday, November 27th. Come and join us for Butterbeer, Harry Potter-themed Starlab presentations, the Owls of Harry Potter and courses in Wizardology. More information on our website.

On the Discovery Docket: Films on Perspective

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

It can be easy to make fun of the old educational films that used to be shown on projectors in school (1949’s Exercise and Health, anyone?), especially when so many of us are used to Blu-ray, HD, and 3D films now. But sometimes low-tech can be just as, if not more, successful.

The 1960 film Frames of Reference, made by MIT’s Physical Science Study Committee, is definitely a classic. University of Toronto professors Donald Ivey and Patterson Hume give clear, understandable and funny presentations on basic principles of physics and perspective. You know that any video that starts with a man in a three-piece suit hanging upside down has to be good.

Here’s Part 1:

You can watch the following three parts of the film on the YouTube channel, or view the film in its entirety through

And since one film on perspective is never enough, why not take a minute to test your own abilities of perception when confronted with the McGurk Effect? Did you think your ears did all the work when you’re listening? Think again.

Do you have any favorite educational films?

Science Wednesday: Banded Garden Spider

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

With the colder weather continuing, we won’t be seeing to many  spiders in the upcoming months (not outdoors, anyway. In your house is another matter entirely). For now, though, take a look at this lovely lady photographed outside museum associate Dave Dahm’s house:

This is a banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata), and it’s the largest of the orb-weaving spiders in Colorado. You’re most likely to see banded garden spiders sitting in their beautiful, symmetrical orb webs in late summer and early fall, and if you do see one chances are very good it’s a female. Females are  silvery with dark and yellow striping, while males are much smaller and rarely seen.

Banded garden spiders catch flying insects in the webs, biting their prey to paralyze it and then wrapping it in silk.


As it continues to get even colder, the species will overwinter either as eggs in a large sack (up to 1000 eggs per sack!) or as tiny spiderlings hidden in foliage. The young spiders move around by “ballooning,” deploying threads of silk to be caught by the breeze. If this sounds familiar, you might remember the baby spiders doing something similar in Charlotte’s Web.

And in case you thought spiderlings were the only insects flying high above you, check out this story on The Billion-Bug Highway.

Are there any insects you’re still seeing out and about?

All images c/o Dave Dahms

Leonid Meteor Shower

by Toby Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator

The annual Leonid Meteor Shower will be at its height this Wednesday and Thursday morning (November 17th & 18th) with best viewing taking place about three hours before sunrise.  This year expect “light showers” of about 15 to 20 meteors per hour.  Telescopes and binoculars are not required for this type of event, but a few pieces of equipment may make your viewing more enjoyable.  A lawn chair will allow you to lean back and look up without getting a crick in your neck, while a sleeping bag will help keep you warm in the pre-dawn hours.

The Leonids are so named because they seem to emanate from somewhere in the vicinity of the constellation Leo.  They are actually debris from the comet Tempel-Tuttle; and because they orbit the sun in a direction opposite to our own planet, they enter the atmosphere almost straight on at speeds of roughly 45 miles (72 kilometers) a second.  That speed helps to create the intense streaks of light and long trains associated with the Leonid Meteor Shower.

For more information check out this article on the Leonid Meteor Shower at and our in-depth post by guest blogger Jeff Bowell on last year’s shower (this one has some great viewing tips, too).

Or, for a more musical explanation of meteors watch the video of “What is a Shooting Star?” by They Might Be Giants from their fantastic CD / DVD entitled, Here Comes Science.

Save the Words

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Big news, everyone: I just adopted! Not a child, or a dog, or a stretch of I-25, but a word. Through the wonderful adoption agency that is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), I’m the proud new mama of siagonology: the study of jaw bones.

Save the Words” is a website run by the OED that’s goal is to prevent the extinction of words currently endangered by their lack of use. Language is always changing and evolving (“impact” has been turned into a verb, and I’m trying to come to terms with that), but that doesn’t mean that old words should just be chucked out the door because they don’t have value. Expanding your vocabulary is always a good thing, and there are some doozies of words just looking for a new home inside someone’s brain.

How about a great biology word like veprecose (full of prickly shrubs or bushes), oncethmus (the loud and harsh cry of a donkey) or frutescent (having the appearance of a shrub. Huh, there’s a lot of shrubbery words up for grabs). Or maybe a history word like vectarios (belonging to a wagon or carriage), scandiscope (a device for cleaning chimneys) or vitamin G (the original term for riboflavin – hey, it’s history and science!) would be a better fit. No matter what you like, there’s a word out there for you.

And once you adopt a word, take the pledge to keep it alive.

I hereby promise to use this word, in conversation and correspondence, as frequently as possible to the best of my ability.

So get out there and adopt a word or ducenarious (two hundred) and, just like with pets and children, taken them out, show them off, and use them at least three times in a sentence and they’re yours (that last part really doesn’t apply to pets or children, but you get the point)!

And if you do adopt a word, pop by the comments and introduce it to us. Maybe we can organize a play group.

November 2010

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 48 other subscribers

Flickr Photos