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Written by: Nancy Moncrief
Thursday January 30, 2014

Milwaukee Public Museum Sign

I recently visited the Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) to examine the eastern fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) in their collections.  I wanted to look at their specimens because they have more than 50 animals from southern Wisconsin.  This work is a continuation of the research I’ve been conducting with VMNH Curator of Paleontology, Dr. Alton (aka Butch) Dooley.  I am interested in studying past populations of eastern fox squirrels and eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis).  The skeletons of these animals are very similar, making identification of fossils particularly challenging.  This photo shows an eastern fox squirrel from Wisconsin that has an interesting dental anomaly.

MPM Sciurus Skull

Butch and I recently discovered a diagnostic trait (UV fluorescence of bones and teeth) that can be used to identify fossil remains as fox squirrels.  We published our findings in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, and Butch has written about our studies on his blog.

Although early researchers asserted that the fluorescent trait is present in all fox squirrels, more recent workers have suggested that bones and teeth of the fox squirrels in some parts of the US do not fluoresce.  The collections at VMNH have many fox squirrels from Virginia and other parts of the Southeast, but we have very few specimens from the upper Midwest.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, I was in Milwaukee for the annual conference of The Wildlife Society, so I contacted the MPM staff, and they were able to accommodate my request to visit their research collections.  I was able to spend a few minutes looking at their exhibits, which include a nearly complete mammoth, known as the Hebior Mammoth.

MPM Mammoth

Also on exhibit at the MPM are Victorian-style cabinets that showcase “Natural Wonders” such as these displays of butterflies and birds.

MPM Butterflies

MPM Birds


Tags: Dr. Alton Dooley, Dr. Nancy Moncrief, Mammals, Milwaukee Public Museum, Research and Collections, Sciurus carolinensis, Sciurus niger, Squirrel