NEW INSECT SPECIMEN — Curator of Insects Derek Sikes says this summer has brought an exciting addition to the collection, a rare beetle found only in Interior Alaska.

This tiny (less than 2 millimeters long), blind, and flightless beetle lives in the soil below the leaf litter among the roots of plants. It’s a species and genus that is known only from Fairbanks, Nenana, and Chatanika and is thus an Alaskan endemic. That means, as far as anyone knows, it is not found anywhere else in the world.

The beetle was first described in 1986 under the name Chionotyphlus alaskensis and is presumed to be a tertiary relict. That means it has survived due to the lack of glaciers in much of Alaska during the Pleistocene Era.

"I’ve known about this species since I arrived here in 2006," Sikes says, "but despite various efforts, hadn’t found it until I got lucky this year."

The image above (bottom) shows an illustration of the beetle from the original publication by Ales Smetana. You can also see how a researcher goes about extracting the beetles from the soil (top photo) by first washing the dirt and leaves in water and letting all the organic matter float to the top. This organic stuff is then put into a Berlese funnel (middle photo) with a light bulb heating the matter to drive the small organisms into a collection bag below.

You can learn more about the museum’s insect collection on our webpage. You’ll find links to our online database, too.

Voices from Above - Visitors to the UA Museum of the North were recently treated to an a cappella performance by a group from the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival at UAF. The singers spread out along the museum’s grand staircase in front of the Alaska Range Viewing Window and gave a stellar performance that seemed to come from the heavens.

Sanctity of Space — The photographs of Bradford Washburn have inspired many, from mountaineers and art lovers to historians and geologists. His thousands of striking black-and-white photos of mostly Alaskan peaks are both an artistic legacy and the reference standard for choosing climbing routes, allowing many to follow in his footsteps.

Freddie Wilkinson is one of them. After looking at a series of Washburn’s photos of the Ruth Gorge, he was inspired to attempt the first traverse of the Moose’s Tooth massif. He shared his idea with good friend and climbing partner Renan Ozturk and after several years of attempts, they completed the traverse in 2012.

"Along the way, we got more and more serious about documenting the landscape and our adventures," Wilkinson said. "Gradually a creative partnership emerged. Renan is a talented cinematographer and I’m a writer by trade."

During the successful climbing attempt in 2012 - and on a whim - the partners arranged for a helicopter to film their attempt using a state-of-the-art stabilized camera system. The odds of being able to capture a first ascent as it happens in the wilderness are long, but on day four of the climb, the pair found themselves on the summit of Bear Tooth peak at 8am, perfectly positioned for filming.

"And then — right as the helicopter approached — a cloud blew over and hid the summit," Wilkinson said. "We could hear the helicopter but weren’t sure if they could see us."

They finished the climb, and then returned to Talkeetna, where the footage from that aerial flight was waiting. “We were blown away — the cloud was in fact the perfect backdrop for revealing our tiny silhouettes against the landscape. The image bore a striking resemblance to Washburn’s most famous photograph After the Storm: Climbers on the Doldenhorn.

"It was one of those unscripted moments of beauty in the mountains that are impossible to plan for or predict, and when you watch the footage, you can truly feel Washburn’s presence. It’s eerie."

After that breakthrough moment, Wilkinson and Ozturk felt a responsibility to make a film that does justice to Washburn’s pioneering legacy in the mountains of Alaska. Their project The Sanctity of Space will be a “multi-generational homage to the spirit of exploration that has been behind a hundred years of adventure in the Alaska Range.”

As professional climbers, the filmmakers are keenly aware that mountain adventure is too often portrayed as a life and death struggle, with a dash of controversy and ego thrown into the mix. “For us, this project is a chance to share with audiences the simple intrinsic beauty of the mountains of Alaska, and perhaps capture a piece of the spirit of exploration that Washburn embodied, a spirit that touches on something more noble and universal in our collective identity,” Wilkinson said.

Last month, the film crew visited the UA Museum of the North to document artifacts from the Bradford Washburn collection (bottom photo by Kirsten Olson). The museum preserves and protects about 200 priceless historical artifacts from the famed photographer and climber.

Wilkinson said the Museum of the North serves a vital function in connecting 21st century adventurers with the past. “Being able to physically examine and show the equipment that was used to explore and document the Denali region is a tangible reminder of how far we’ve come, and how much our climbing fore-fathers accomplished.”

Since 2012, the team has collected almost 50 hours of aerial cinematography in Denali National Park. They are currently fundraising with the hopes of moving the project into post-production with a release goal of 2015. You can learn more about the project on their Facebook page or follow their Instagram feed.

Top Photo: Mountain climbers in the Kichatna Spires, located in the remote SW corner of Denali National Park, still from The Sanctity of Space project, courtesy Freddie Wilkinson.

The museum is magic!

The museum is magic!

ARCHITECTURAL DREAMING - A recent high school graduate from Minnesota wrote to us this summer, wondering if we would be interested in photos of a model of the museum that she completed in 4th grade.

Olivia Urbanski grew up in Eden Prairie, Minnesota (a suburb of the Twin Cities area) and is now headed to Chicago to study at Loyola University. She remembers researching the building’s design and even meeting with the architect, Joan Sorano who is based in Minnesota. “A year later, I got to see the actual building as my family traveled to Alaska.”

We wanted to find out more about this delightful project. You can see her finished piece (top) and compare it to the architect’s model (middle) and a recent photo of the museum (bottom).

1) How did you hear about the museum? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I was in 4th grade when my class began an architecture unit. We were studying all sorts of types and styles of architecture. Each student had to choose a building to replicate, and I wanted one that people had never even heard of.

In 2006, the museum had its grand opening, so I may have seen an image of it while looking on architecture sites online. Also, a local museum here in MN had Joan Soranno, the building’s architect, come and speak about the museum, so that definitely encouraged me. I was inspired that she was a female architect!

2) You mention visited Alaska. What was it like to learn about the architectural challenge of creating this building and then seeing it in person? When I chose this building, I had no idea how difficult it would be. It took me a ton of time and practice working with the materials to get an accurate representation of the museum’s characteristic curves. There were many different parts of the structure that were also difficult to fit together once completed individually. When I arrived at the museum, I was stunned by how huge it actually was. I had become so accustomed to working my play-house sized version that I almost forgot there was one for real people!

I definitely felt a special connection with the building. What surprised me most was the inside. While I had spent much time thinking about the outside of the building, I had never really put much thought into what was actually inside. I thought that the floor plan of the museum was wonderful and I enjoyed walking through the halls, seeing the structure from a different perspective.

3) How did the museum compare to the natural architecture of the mountains, rivers, and landscape of Alaska? I love Alaska. The nature there is so beautiful in its complex, yet simple, way. The museum’s exterior reminds me of an assortment of things. First, a whale, many of which I saw in Alaska. I think the building is an intriguing way to show respect for the animals in the surrounding environment. Second, the brilliant white color of the building, along with its odd contours, resembles glaciers. This makes the building seem to almost camouflage itself with its surrounding environment. I find the building to ebb and flow like nature.

4) Are you interested in pursuing architecture? I definitely went through a phase of wanting to become an architect and I still love looking at buildings and even designing my own! However, my interests have shifted and I’m focusing more on environmental issues and global awareness. I plan to major in Environmental Studies and International Relations while at Loyola University.

5) Are you coming back to Fairbanks?  I would love to come back to Fairbanks and see the town once again. When I was there I was only 9 years old, so I think it would be very interesting to see the town and museum from an older/adult perspective.

6) What do you think we should do next with the building? In regards to the next phase for the museum, I think this would be a great opportunity for the building to become more environmentally friendly, whether that be through the use of wind or solar energy, or rain water accumulation/rain gardens, etc… I am not sure of how much the museum is already doing with environmental practices, but I didn’t see a link on the museum’s website, so I thought I’d mention it!

Thanks to Olivia for sharing her thoughts and experiences with us. We hope she comes back soon.

The Sheldon Car - One of the museum’s most unique artifacts has just been cloned! An auto enthusiast named Don Langley, an American ex-pat living in Australia, recently completed a replica of the Sheldon Car, the first car in Alaska. Skagway resident Robert Sheldon completed it in 1905 without ever actually seeing one in person. He based the design on magazine illustrations.

Langley contacted Senior Collections Manager Angela Linn last year to ask permission to pursue his project. He sent an email requesting exact measurements, which were supplied by Willie Vinton of the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks, where the Sheldon Car is currently on display.

Langley decided it would be impossible to achieve an exact reproduction, so he decided to adopt Sheldon’s principle of using whatever was available. “The chassis and the engine compartment presented no problems,” he said. “I made those components as close as possible to the dimensions given to me.”

He adapted the rest of the car through a series of trial and error, from the 13 horsepower engine taken from a riding lawn mower to the seat he upholstered himself to the suspension springs he designed and commissioned a local blacksmith to make. “They work extremely well and create a lot of interest,” Langley said. “I also had to design and make the components and brackets to fit that type of spring to the chassis.”

Sheldon built his original version using materials available in the Southeast Alaska gold rush town where he lived, including a two-cycle marine engine, wheels from a buggy and two carbide mining lamps as headlights.

In 1934, University of Alaska president Charles Bunnell brought the car to Fairbanks from Juneau, where it had been in storage for almost a decade. The car was incorporated into the UA Museum of the North’s collection and later exhibited in the Gallery of Alaska.

“For us, the Sheldon car is a part of the history of Southeast Alaska, and it helped us tell that story for more than 30 years,” said Linn. “At the Antique Auto Museum, people get to see the car in a whole new light – as part of automotive history.”

Langley calculates that he spent about $4,000 Australian (approximately $3,700 US). “The project took me eight months and I have to pay tribute to my wife for her forbearance.” He named the car after her, calling it the Sheldon Isabella.

The couple recently drove the car in a local parade and it performed perfectly. Langley said the Bobby Sheldon story, which was displayed beside the car, also attracted considerable interest and comment.

Photos, from top: A side view of the Sheldon Isabella, constructed by Don Langley; basic chassis with seat in position; trimming wheels to the precise diameter; the Sheldon Car, on display in the museum’s Gallery of Alaska; historical photo depicting the first automobile in Alaska.

FROM THE FIELD TO THE LAB - A new generation of entomologists took to the fields, forests, and ponds around campus last week. They learned about Alaska’s insects and their relatives at the UAF Summer Sessions Bug Camp, presented by UAMN Insect Curator Derek Sikes and his wife Melissa. Also assisting with the instruction were UAF MS student Logan Mullen and 8th grader Megan Booysen.

Campers tried their hand at collecting insects ranging from butterflies and dragonflies to bees, mosquitoes and spiders.They collected larvae and pupae, adults and juveniles.

Some of the kids were so excited by their discoveries, they kept collecting at home. A couple planned to donate their finds to the museum. Sikes says their donations add to the overall knowledge of Alaska’s insects and their habitats.

"Species differ across their range and differ in sexes," Sikes said. "In order to understand the variation, like where a species occurs and how it changes, we need to have large samples across time and space."

In a recent story in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner about a beetle donated by an eleven-year-old collector, Sikes said the museum’s insect collection will allow scientists in 100 years to see what changes have occurred in Alaska.

Enthusiasts often bring interesting insects to the museum. “Someone brought in some fleas the other day,” said Sikes. “Spiders get dropped off. Ticks, all kinds of things.”

The museum is happy to receive donations. A page on our website spells out the steps an amateur entomologist should take after emailing the curator (dssikes ‘at’ alaska ‘dot’ edu) about the discovery.

Fossil Friday - We love digging bones out of the dirt. And footprints, and petrified wood, and all kinds of other fossilized materials. These photos are of work done over the past few decades on Alaska’s North Slope.

The UA Museum of the North hosts the largest collection of Arctic dinosaur fossils in the world.The first North Slope dinosaur bones were discovered in the mid-1980s. They were from the “duck-billed” Edmontosaurus, which as fully-grown adults could reach 10 feet tall, 40 feet long, and weigh three tons. These plant-eaters are thought to have lived in social groups or even herds.

Newer discoveries along the Colville River include Troodon and Dromaeosaurus (both smaller flesh-eaters), as well as juvenile hadrosaurs. North Slope dinosaurs may have survived year-round in ancient long-gone river systems which supported lush summer vegetation. Enough seasonal plant matter may have grown during the 24-hour sunlit summers to last during the cool-to-cold dark days of winter (though not as harsh as today’s North Slope winters). The plant-eating dinosaurs, in turn, would have been the over-wintering food source of the meat-eaters.

From the BLM Alaska Dinosaur page.

Other Dinosaur Fossils found on the North Slope

  • North Slope, various locations: 1970s and later, mostly limited discoveries of dinosaur skin imprints and footprints in different areas.

  • North Slope, Colville River drainage: 1998 discovery of major trackways which provide evidence of seven different meat- and plant-eating dinosaurs including the oval-shaped tracks of a yet unknown species; the new discoveries date from the Middle Cretaceous, about 90-110 million years ago.

The bottom photo shows what happens when the plaster casts, bone bits, and fossilized materials are brought to the museum and prepared as specimens.

EXPEDITION DINOSAURS — Each summer, Anchorage mural artist James Havens works with both scientists and the public to create a new mural featuring dinosaurs.This year, Earth Sciences Curator Pat Druckenmiller is helping him depict a herd of hadrosaurs. The artist answered a few questions for us and shared some photos of his “Painting with Dinosaurs” installation.

1) How did you get interested in painting dinosaur murals? What was the first species you painted? I have always had an interest in dinosaurs. As discoveries started happening here in Alaska, I couldn’t help but be inspired. My first painting featuring a dinosaur was Albertosaurus, which lived in Alaska during the Cretaceous Period. The painting also featured Anchiceratops, which was listed in BLM’s dinosaur list at the time. The release happened to fall on the date that the “Walking with Dinosaurs” stage show debuted in Anchorage. The Daily News coined our exhibit Painting with Dinosaurs, which has become an annual event for me, featuring a new Alaskan dinosaur each year.

I create my mural in a public setting and invite the public to dabble some paint on the canvas so that we can inform them about the featured Alaskan dinosaur, the museum and scientist involved in its discovery, and the experience of participating in the creation of a large scale original piece of art that may one day end up in a museum collection. The participants are also invited to sign the back of the canvas upon completion. My goal is to represent Alaskan dinosaurs, Alaskan scientists, research facilities, and local museums. 

2) What kind of reaction do you get from the kids who watch you work? What does it mean to you to include them in the painting process? I love working with the kids, they know so much about the dinosaurs I paint. Usually, I can hear them coming across the atrium. “OHHHH! Coool dinosaurs! That’s a such and such, and they did this and that.” Then they describe how they like to paint and I invite them over the security tape to come paint. Most just jump right in wide eyed and ready to go. Interestingly, most adults need some coaxing as they are scared to mess anything up. It really is fun and who knows, maybe I can inspire a future Rembrandt to have the courage to lift that first brush and create a masterpiece when they grow up.  

3) The UA Museum of the North is planning a dinosaur exhibit to open next summer. What do you want to know about Alaska’s dinosaurs? I try to follow pretty closely what is happening in Alaska concerning dinosaur discoveries. With each painting, I have new information to take in about them, such as their anatomy, environment, social behavior and details. With the hadrosaur piece, I’ve explored the texture of the pads of their feet.

I also begin a new project by creating a smaller scale model to use for lighting and placement. I learn about their anatomy as it is being constructed. I try to work as closely as possible with the scientists to make sure that everything is correct according the suggested information regarding the species and their environment. With each painting I learn more about dinosaurs. And then the scientists (Go get ‘em, Pat!) find something new and we are back to the first page.

4) Have you ever been to the UA Museum of the North? What do you think of our dinosaur fossil collection? I am a huge fan of the UA Museum of the North and have had the opportunity to visit the collection and see some of the incredible specimens being studied there. It is one of the greatest collection of arctic dinosaurs anywhere in the world. It is my belief that all Alaskan dinosaurs should stay here in Alaska. The Museum of the North, its research staff and scientists are leading the mission of keeping the outstanding collection of arctic dinosaurs safe for future generations of Alaskans to see. 

The UA Museum of the North is working on an exhibit about dinosaurs in Alaska. Stay tuned for more about our project.

EVERY OBJECT TELLS A STORY — We love to see visitors getting a photo with something they’ve discovered at the UA Museum of the North. Sometimes, the discovery is right in front of them! Other times, it’s nestled in the midst of an exhibit.
It might be a work of art or one specimen in a larger collection. It might be bright and shiny or old and weathered. Museums care for objects. So that you might find something you care about.
Send us your favorite discovery.

EVERY OBJECT TELLS A STORY — We love to see visitors getting a photo with something they’ve discovered at the UA Museum of the North. Sometimes, the discovery is right in front of them! Other times, it’s nestled in the midst of an exhibit.

It might be a work of art or one specimen in a larger collection. It might be bright and shiny or old and weathered. Museums care for objects. So that you might find something you care about.

Send us your favorite discovery.