Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I visited the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in NYC this weekend. I was awed to see the excellent way that phylogenetic relationships were represented in the museum exhibits and especially in the Halls of Saurischian and Ornithischian Dinosaurs (take the virtual tour here). The museum biologists and designers did an incredible job at making cladistics accessible, by draping the phylogeny of vertebrates across the floorplan of the entire fourth floor, which lets the visitor walk evolutionary branches - stopping at the nodes to learn about evolutionary novelties. I spent nearly 30 minutes looking at pterosaurs, a group that includes pterodactyls and which, long before birds, were the first vertebrates to evolve flight.

In the Spectrum of Life, the massive evolutionary tree spanning a wall in the Hall of Biodiversity, one bright bird caught my eye. I knew I'd seen it before - and not in the wild. I figured it out looking at some of last year's photos. It is/was a scarlet ibis, Eudocimus ruber, that I previously saw in La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda's second home, now a museum (though not of natural history), in Valparaiso, Chile. So, AMNH, there you go, helping yet another biologist draw curiously odd conclusions. Below, La Sebastiana's ibis, on display in a plastic bubble in Neruda's old living room.

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