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23 Weird Things You Won't See On Display In A Science Museum

Is that a dolphin dick in a jar? Of course it is...

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We asked curators at museums all over America what their weirdest or coolest item NOT on display is. Turns out there's some pretty wild stuff in storage.

1. These disturbingly well-preserved human tapeworms:

Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Each of these jars contains a single tapeworm removed from the intestine of a human being, said Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University curator Ted Daeschler. These come from Joseph Leidy, who studied (among many other things) anatomy and parasitology way back in the 1800s. The unfortunate humans who these came from, though, are unknown. "I don't know the details about exactly sort of where he got his human pieces, you know," Daeshler told BuzzFeed Science. "You don't ask many questions about those days, right?"


2. This overcrowded tank of dead hellbenders:

What's that hanging out in the Milwaukee Public Museum? It's a massive tank of snot otters aka hellbenders. They are basically huge amphibians that can live up to 30 years, zoology collections manager Julia Colby told BuzzFeed Science. A researcher donated his collection to the museum. Who are they to turn down a tank of slimy, large amphibians?

3. This eruption-surviving bathtub from Pompeii:

Greg Mercer, The Field Museum

The Mount Vesuvius eruption of 79 A.D. is famous for preserving bodies of the residents of Pompeii frozen in the moment of the eruption. Other things survived as well, though, and the Field Museum has the goods to prove it. Check out this baller bathtub!

4. This "vintage" hippo brain in a jar:

Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University has other things in jars too, and this hippo brain is a great example. "That's vintage stuff," curator Ted Daeschler said. He said that this particular brain came from the collection of a vet named Henry Chapman who worked at the Philadelphia Zoo back in the 1890s.

5. This melted mass of sand grains from the world’s first atomic bomb explosion:

John Weinstein, The Field Museum

The U.S. tested its first atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert in 1945, creating unimaginable amounts of heat and pressure. Here's some melted grains of sand from that first atomic test in storage at the Field Museum. Though they wouldn't normally be sentient anyway, it is probably safe to assume that these grains of sand had no idea what hit them.

6. This massive elephant bird egg:

The egg on the right, in storage at the Field Museum, came from what was once the largest bird alive — the over-10-foot-tall elephant bird. According to the museum, elephant birds were last seen in the 17th century in Madagascar and weighed in at half a ton, with eggs that weighed about 22 pounds. More than enough for a pretty rich omelet.


7. These half-and-half butterflies:

Milwaukee Public Museum

The Milwaukee Public Museum has a collection of gynandromorph butterflies — meaning they are half male and half female, but they may or may not have reproductive tissues that have no recognizable female or male structure, or they may have both kinds of genitalia. Zoology collection manager Julia Colby told BuzzFeed Science that the top two are males and females of the same species and the bottom one is the gynandromorph. Gynandromorphy occurs due to a mutation early on in the division of the egg cells, she said.

8. This ghastly tank full of shark heads:

Matt Zeher / North Carolina Museum of Natural History

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has this tank of shark heads, obviously. According to ichthyology curator, Alex Dornburg, the museum had no idea it was a collection of ~only~ heads when they received it in 1996. Its inclusion in this post requires no further comment.

9. This raccoon's adorable penis bone:

Matt Zeher / North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

This adorable little bone is called a baculum, or penile bone. A baculum puts the "bone" in boner and is something that nearly all mammals besides humans have. This one, housed at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, comes from a raccoon. Mammal curator Lisa Gatens said that she has heard stories of how trappers in the mountains sometimes use them as toothpicks.

10. This two-headed rattlesnake:

The clubbed part of this snake is actually two separate heads. According to the Field Museum, where this specimen resides, it was probably caused by the incomplete splitting of a single embryo (similar to what happens with conjoined twins in humans). Needless to say, it would be pretty disturbing to run into in any place other than a museum collections.

11. This tongue-gobbling parasite trapped in the jaw of a fish:

Alex Dornburg, the curator of fishes at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, is a big fan of this thing. In case you can't tell, what you're looking at is the lower jaw of a fish with a gross parasite where the tongue should be. "These isopods are parasites that enter a fish’s mouth via the gills, eat their tongue, then actually becomes the tongue," Dornburg said.


12. This syphilis-ridden human skull:

An observant reader might notice that there are holes in this skull (which is photographed in normal light, left, and with a white backlight in a dark room). What you might not realize, though, is that this skull, from the Hamann-Todd Osteological Collection at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, shows the extreme effects of syphilis prior to the advent of antibiotics. According to physical anthropology collections manager Lyman Jellema, the picture on the right shows that in addition to the obvious holes, the disease has also eaten away other parts of the skull to make them less dense.

13. Some random albino moose parts:

Milwaukee Public Museum

The Milwaukee Public Museum has some random albino moose parts in its storage. What is shown here is the nose without any lower jaw and a foot with some leg skin attached to the nose. They received the specimen in 1888, zoology collections manager Julia Colby said. "I don't know why they only chose [...] those parts of the moose or [...] that certain presentation. It's just a weird specimen that we have," she said.

14. This overly complex sundial:

Steve Pitkin / Photograph by Steve Pitkin. Image courtesy Adler Planetarium, Chicago, IL

According to the Adler Planetarium's Pedro Raposo, "A few centuries ago, a good way of flaunting one’s mathematical prowess was to come up with intricate concepts for sundials." This one was made by a dude named Michael Gum in 1617 and is currently in storage. We get it, Gum, you've got some mathematical prowess going on.

15. These embryos chilling in jars:

According to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University curator Ted Daeschler, the stuff that gets his curiosity going the most are things in jars. Here are two of his favorites: a dolphin embryo (left, obviously) and a bear embryo (right). The dolphin fetus came from "a dolphin that had beached up in the Delaware River [...] back in the 40s, " Daeschler said. He said he is not sure where the bear fetus came from, but added that "back in the day, they used to just pickle up all those different bits and pieces, embryos, brains. We got some weird organs of things in jars."

16. This decidedly big-ass seed:

Laura Dempsey / The Cleveland Museum of Natural History

According to Cleveland Museum of Natural History associate director of botany Renee Boronka, this seed is from the coco de mer palm plant, which is endemic to the Seychelles islands. Not only is it the biggest seed known, "its flesh was considered a remedy against poison, paralysis, epilepsy and bowel disease," she told BuzzFeed Science. "If a European explorer found a coco de mer seed, he was required to turn it over to his country’s king or queen. Keeping it was punishable by death."


17. This wicked old space rock:

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is lucky enough to have a piece of the meteorite that created the famous Barringer Crater in Arizona. The meteorite is referred to as the Canyon Diablo meteorite, and it is actually considered to be the oldest object on Earth.

18. These remains of the last known wild grizzly bear from Colorado:

Also hanging around in the collections of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is the last known wild grizzly bear from Colorado. According to the museum, the bear was killed in 1979 by a hunting guide named Ed Wiseman in self-defense. Because grizzlies were a listed species, the museum told BuzzFeed Science, Wiseman was investigated for about eight months following the incident, but he was cleared of any wrongdoing after passing a polygraph test.

19. This gigantic camouflage wasp nest:

D. Finnin / American Museum of Natural History

Check out this wasp nest (mansion?) hanging around in the collections at the American Museum of Natural History. According to the museum, this nest was made by shiny black South American wasps who build their nests high in the tree canopy of the Amazon rainforest. The different shades of brown, created by chewing different types of plants, can serve as a kind of camouflage, hiding the nest from predators.

20. This 20-million-year-old butterfly in amber:

D. Finnin / American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History also has a super-rare butterfly preserved in amber (Jurassic Park style). According to the museum, this butterfly is 20 million years old.

21. This literally two-faced calf skull:

Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University has this enigmatic skull in its collections. According to curator Ted Daeschler, "It was born on a farm here in Philadelphia back in the 1920s." He describes the skull as two-faced, not two-headed, because the only parts that are doubled up are two sets of eyeballs and the two sets of teeth. "I assume it didn't live," he said; "this thing certainly never chewed food."

22. These tragically interlocked deer antlers:

Jim Dines

These interlocked deer antlers are kept at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. According to mammalogy collection manager Jim Dines, the "poor fellas couldn’t get their antlers untangled and eventually starved to death."

23. And finally, this dolphin penis in a jar:

What's that wormlike thing in a jar, you ask? It's obviously a dolphin dick, preserved for posterity at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. You may think that keeping such things around serves little purpose, but you would also be wrong. According to mammalogy collections manager Jim Dines, he has "used specimens like the one in question for [his] own research on mating ecology in cetaceans." Our personal research suggests that the mating ecology of cetaceans is likely gross as fuck.

Science Writer, Fossil Beastmaster

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