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Written by: Liberty Hightower
Tuesday May 12, 2015

Recently, while prepping some skeletons for the Archaeology’s reference collection, I came across a nearly intact skeleton of a hummingbird (unfortunately, the associated data did not indicate the specific species of hummingbird). Amazingly, much of the skeleton had made it through the dermestid colony where bugs have eaten all the flesh off the bones. Due to the size of the skeletal elements it would have been easy to have lost the smaller items in the frass (fancy term for bug poop), but whoever had run this animal through the dermestids was able to recover virtually the whole skeleton. As I organized the skeleton, I was blown away at the miniscule furcula (commonly called the wishbone), keel (breast bone), and skull.

Figure One. From top to bottom: Hummingbird skull, keel, and furcular. Penny is shown for comparison. Photo credit: L. HightowerFigure One. From top to bottom: Hummingbird skull, keel, and furcular. Penny is shown for comparison. Photo credit: L. Hightower

I’m not sure why things in miniature are so eye-catching to people, but I am no exception. As I continued to examine this hummingbird skeleton, I wanted to compare it to another bird skeleton. The reference collection has a wonderful wild turkey skeleton and below you will see how massive the turkey looks compared to the delicate hummingbird. Generally, hummingbirds can weigh just 2 grams all the way up to 20 grams. For comparison, a penny, such as pictured above, weighs 2.5grams (http://www.worldofhummingbirds.com/facts.php). A wild turkey, on the other hand, can weigh up to 24 pounds (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/wild_turkey/lifehistory)!

I hope you enjoy this comparison of birds as much as I did.

Figure Two. The turkey keel clearly dwarfs the hummingbird’s keel! Photo credit: L. HightowerFigure Two. The turkey keel clearly dwarfs the hummingbird’s keel! Photo credit: L. Hightower

Figure Three. The turkey wishbone is so large and the hummingbird’s so small and petite that it almost disappears in the picture. Penny shown for comparison. Photo credit: L. HightowerFigure Three. The turkey wishbone is so large and the hummingbird’s so small and petite that it almost disappears in the picture. Penny shown for comparison. Photo credit: L. Hightower

Figure Four. Turkey and hummingbird keel, skull, and furcula. Penny shown for comparison. Photo credit: L. HightowerFigure Four. Turkey and hummingbird keel, skull, and furcula. Penny shown for comparison. Photo credit: L. Hightower

Tags: Archaeology, Biology, Birds, Liberty Hightower, Research and Collections

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