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The Taming of the Shrew

May 4, 2015

The next few blog posts from the Naturalist Center will be from our great group of spring interns!

by Kelsey Strout

“Tripod” (dubbed so because the skeleton only has three legs) is a Southern Short-tailed Shrew who found his way all the way from Iron Station, North Carolina to Raleigh, where he now resides in the Naturalist Center. Tripod had quite a journey getting to the Museum!

“Tripod”, the 3-legged Southern Short-Tailed Shrew skeleton (on display in Naturalist Center).
Photo by Kelsey Strout

Originally thought to be a mouse, Tripod was discovered in the window of my house. Built in the 1890s, the house was getting some exterior work done when the skeleton was found in November of 2014. Tripod was given to me by my parents as a joke gift when I was home for Thanksgiving break and he sat on my bedside table until about a month into my internship.

The skeleton of

The skeleton of “Tripod” before articulation.
Photo by Kelsey Strout

When Cindy Lincoln, Coordinator of the Naturalist Center, asked me to come up with an internship project, I struggled for a few weeks before remembering the “mouse” my parents had found. They shipped it to me, and I brought the skeleton to the museum two days later. My first thought was to articulate the skeleton like the room’s cat or rat skeleton, and so Cindy put me in touch with Ben Hess, the Museum’s Collections Manager of Mammals. I went into the underbelly of the museum, where I met Ben, and he took one look at a picture of the skeleton and told me that it was not a mouse, and was in fact, a southern short-tailed shrew. Needless to say, I was pretty shocked!  Here I had, what I thought was a mouse skeleton, that had traveled all the way from Iron Station via USPS, and it turns out, it wasn’t even a mouse. Then came what seemed like more bad news; Tripod was too small to go into the dermestid beetle tank like other animals being cleaned in preparation for the research collection.  However, Ben came to the rescue. We soaked the shrew skeleton for four hours in water, picked off the remaining hair and flesh, and started the long process of articulating the skeleton. First, the skeleton had to dry in the position it was to be displayed in. During this process, the axis bone, the first vertebrae of the spine, fell off, and then it was discovered that the skeleton was missing a whole lower front limb. A wire was inserted down the spine to strengthen the skeleton, and the skull was inserted onto the wire and glued to the spine. Parts of the skeleton were strengthened with glue and the lower left limb was attached, along with the right scapula and humerus.  Now, Tripod is safely preserved and on display in the Naturalist Center.

Kelsey assembling

Kelsey assembling the shrew skeleton.
Photo by Kelsey Strout

Kelsey is a double major in Biological Sciences and Animal Science and a double minor in Creative Writing and Italian Studies at NC State University. She plans to go into a dual degree program at NCSU’s Veterinary School earning her DVM and PhD in six years.  

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