Archive for November, 2011

Smells Like Indigo Spirit

The Eastern Indigo Snake is the largest nonvenomous snake native to the United States. It is an endangered, majestic creature that uses brute force rather than constriction or venom to subdue its prey. What happens after the prey is digested, however, is not something most people get to experience. Indigo snake excrement, with its unmistakable aroma and sheer size, is one of many unique and fascinating experiences I have had an Animal Programs Volunteer at Fernbank Museum.

Animal populations, worldwide, are declining due to habitat destruction, pollution, over-harvesting and fear killings. The animal programs at Fernbank help work against these problems by educating people about the grandeur and importance of our planet’s other residents, and it has been rewarding playing a part in that effort. By providing Museum guests the opportunity to have real-life encounters with local and exotic animals, Fernbank Museum connects individual people with animals and creates awe and respect for wildlife. As a programs volunteer, part of my job has been encouraging that connection by hosting animal encounters. Hosting an animal encounter is a fun and dynamic experience because it requires one to fill the roles of educator, animal handler, and performer. It’s an exhilarating experience standing on-stage with a bearded dragon in front of a room full of museum guests, ranging from two to ninety-eight, who are looking for some concept of what to think about the peculiar, prickly lizard in your hands. We take tests throughout our lives, but there is nothing like being quizzed by a room of five-year-olds to make you appreciate every one of those hours spent studying the material.

Of course, it’s not all spotlights and curtain calls for an Animal Programs Volunteer, as much of my time has been spent working behind the scenes performing daily animal care tasks. Animal caretaking can be a rather humbling experience, as you’re sanitizing an enclosure for a couple dozen hissing cockroaches or sifting mealworms out of their own wastes. However, these tasks often turn out more exciting than hosting the animal encounters. One of the most important skills I have learned is how to feed the various animals. Whether it’s mice for the snakes or crickets for the geckos, there is something inherently cool about feeding animals. Doing enclosure maintenance, such as cleaning and replacing bedding or changing the water in the alligator tank is another rewarding activity because I know my quality of work will have a direct impact on the health and well-being of another living thing. Also, the animals usually need to be out of the enclosure during maintenance, and moving alligators never gets boring! My tenure as an Animal Programs Volunteer has been educational as well as exciting, and I look forward to the smell of Indigo snake as I continue with the volunteer team.

—Sean D’aigle, Animal Programs Volunteer


November 30, 2011 at 9:34 am Leave a comment

Thankful for Fernbank Museum

The latter part of the calendar year is a time of reflection and appreciation in many cultures and religions. Among the things my family is thankful for is Fernbank Museum of Natural History.

I have been involved with the Museum since 2000, initially as member of its Artemis young professional group, and increasingly so thereafter as my wife and children have embraced Fernbank as well. Stepping into Fernbank is like walking into another world. Its diverse exhibits and programs have opened our minds to history, science and cultures from across the seas. Our lives have been enriched by exhibitions on such broad-ranging subjects as Rome, Syria, pearls, chocolate, frogs, water, Charles Darwin and more. IMAX® films have also been among the many wonderful discoveries we have made at the Museum. I recall somewhat reluctantly going to see the film Pulse: A STOMP Odyssey. The film turned out to be an entrancing journey of rhythms and music from around the world—all in less than one hour. My family has since watched that IMAX® film (in its DVD version) over and over again.

Chile's Winter Wonderland display.

Speaking of world cultures, Fernbank currently offers its second annual Winter Wonderland. The exhibition shows us how twenty-five other cultures celebrate their holiday traditions, through beautifully decorated trees and other displays, unique crafts, and special performances.

While many of us visit Fernbank primarily on weekends, it is heartening to see busloads of children enjoying the Museum during the week, and to know that their schools value the educational experience that only Fernbank can offer. Opened just this year, Fernbank NatureQuest epitomizes the very best in educational content and technology. NatureQuest was designed to deliver dynamic, changing content and a different experience every time we visit. It is no surprise that NatureQuest has been so well received by our community, and by the most important critics of all—our children.

Fernbank Museum has brought us so much this year. With the beautiful new dinosaur plaza welcoming guests, NatureQuest, hands-on experiences, and exciting new IMAX® films, the Museum has accomplished a great deal to make us proud. My family considers itself fortunate enough to be able to support the Museum financially every year through The Annual Fund. We see how hard the Fernbank Museum staff and its volunteer leadership work, not only to ensure that the Museum operates productively on a day-to-day basis, but also to plan new exhibits and educational experiences for the future. We see that our trust is well placed. Year after year, Fernbank has fascinated us, amused us, and educated us about our world and its diversity of culture and thought.

Close-up of Chile display.

In this season of thanks, we hope you will consider joining us by supporting Fernbank Museum through a gift to The Annual Fund. Here’s to the wonders that Fernbank will bring us in the year ahead!

—Kevin Maxim, Fernbank Museum Board of Trustees Member

November 23, 2011 at 8:09 pm Leave a comment

Interview with the Dinosaur

Henry and Giggy, December 2010

When our adventurous social media mascot Giggy A. Dino first started tweeting a year ago (November 17, 2010 to be exact), we weren’t sure what to expect. Would anyone want to follow a tweeting stuffed dinosaur? The overwhelming answer was yes! In fact, Giggy has made a few new friends through Twitter and through Facebook. His most memorable meeting was Henry A. at a Winter Wonderland Celebration Weekend event in December 2010. Henry was the first friend Giggy was able to meet in person. Because of that designation (and the many return visits to see Giggy and the Museum that he and his family have made), Henry recently gave Giggy is first interview. (Note: Giggy’s handler helped type the answers.)

Henry: Why are you so tiny?
Giggy: I was made that way. I don’t mind, being small has its advantages: I still qualify for a kids’ ticket price at the movies; I fit easily into a purse or backpack (hello, travel adventures); and I can sneak up on unsuspecting Stegosaurus and yell “GOTCHA” (they hate that).

Henry: What do you like to eat? Do you like chicken or are you a vegetarian?
Giggy: Like all Giganotosaurus, I like meat! Especially a good Pterodactyl burger. YUM! And pizza.

Henry: Where do you live in Fernbank? Do you have a room?
Giggy:  I live in my handler’s office. It’s full of lots of posters from past exhibits (like Geckos) and toys. I get to play as much as I want. As long as I don’t get too loud—there’s a lot of work going on!

Henry and Giggy, October 2011

Henry: Is Fernbank really AWESOME?!?!?!
Giggy: YES! There are other dinosaurs for me to chase and play with. And lots of things to learn (did you know Charles Darwin once rode a Galapagos tortoise?). And most of all, I get to meet lots of cool kids, just like you!

Henry: Do you chase squirrels in Fernbank Forest?
Giggy: Sometimes. And sometimes, they chase me.

Henry: Do you like to dance and sing?
Giggy: La la laaaaaaaa! Just kidding. As you can tell, I’m not much of a singer, but I do like to dance! I can’t wait to see the performances during Winter Wonderland. I hear the Atlanta Ballet will be here.

Henry: What’s your favorite holiday?
Giggy: Halloween. I like to dress up as a human.

Henry: My favorite dinosaur is the Triceratops. Who is your favorite human?
Giggy: Humans are delicious….DELIGHTFUL. I mean, delightful. It’d be hard to pick just one.

Henry: Do you use a computer?
Giggy: Well (stretches arms), with these short arms, it’s rather difficult. Thankfully, my handler helps me out.

If you have a question you’d like Giggy to answer, send it to

—Deanna Smith, Director of Marketing (and “Giggy’s “human)

November 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm 3 comments

What it’s Like to Be a Museum Curator

Gwinnett Daily Post’s Kidsville News has a special section titled “What It’s Like To Be…” Recently, the paper’s mascot, Truman, interviewed Fernbank’s McClatchey Curator, Bobbi Hohmann, Ph.D., to talk about her work at the Museum. Here is a transcript of that interview:

TRUMAN: What does it take to become a museum curator at Fernbank Museum?
BOBBI: Of course you first have to love museums! Museum curators also typically have advanced degrees (Ph.D. or higher). In a natural history museum, degrees in fields such as anthropology, geology, paleontology or biology would be most helpful. I am an anthropologist with a specialization in archaeology.

TRUMAN: When and why did you first become interested in being a museum curator?
BOBBI: I worked in the Collections Department of an anthropology museum while I was in graduate school. That was my first job in a museum setting and I loved everything about it, from researching collections to helping install exhibitions.

Bobbi Hohmann, pictured in the “Reflections of Culture” gallery. Hats are an important way to display a person’s status in Kuba society. On ceremonial occasions, male and female title-holders or members of the royal family wear elaborately beaded hats to display their rank. The shape and decorations of a hat announces the individual’s status.

TRUMAN: What do you do every day? What’s a typical day on the job?
BOBBI: Every day is a bit different. I work on a wide variety of projects, many that involve working with other museum staff. On any given day I might teach a school program, research objects in the collection, work on a grant proposal, or help develop or install an exhibition.

TRUMAN: Your job sounds really fun. What’s the hardest part of your job?
BOBBI: I find that the most challenging part of my job is exhibit development. There are so many elements that must come together to create a great exhibit and so many different people involved in the process, that it takes a lot of effort to keep everything on track.

TRUMAN: What’s the best part of the job?
BOBBI: What I enjoy most is the fact that no two days are the same. I enjoy working on many different projects and learning something new every day.

TRUMAN: How has being a museum curator changed since you first started?
BOBBI: The role of a curator varies from museum to museum, so no two positions are exactly the same. Since coming to Fernbank my position has remained much the same, although I have taken on additional responsibilities.

TRUMAN: Would you do any other job if you could?
BOBBI: I love my job and would find it hard to do anything else.

TRUMAN: What is your favorite hobby or thing to do when you are not working?
BOBBI: I enjoy spending time with my family.

TRUMAN: What advice would you give to kids who are interested in becoming a museum curator?
BOBBI: I would urge anyone interested in working as a museum curator to volunteer their time working at a local museum. Fernbank Museum’s F.U.N. program (Fernbank’s Ultimate Naturalist) provides 12-17 year olds with hands-on experience working in a museum setting and engaging with the public. I’d also encourage kids to visit many different types of museums to explore what subject matter interests them so they can select the right course of study when they graduate and head to college.

If you are interested in learning more about careers in science, join us Saturday, November 12 for Fernbank’s Science at Hand Day. Explore different scientific fields, talk to real scientists and enjoy hands-on science activities during this special event. Learn more.

November 3, 2011 at 8:12 pm Leave a comment


At Fernbank Museum, there’s much more than dinosaurs and giant-screen films. Even with our website, e-newsletters, Facebook pages and Twitter updates, there’s still a lot we’d like to share with you. This blog is an opportunity for the people that keep Fernbank running and constantly expanding, to share stories from their point of view. We hope you’ll enjoy these first-hand, behind-the-scenes glimpses of what goes into keeping a world-class natural history museum running. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback on these stories, to hear your personal experiences and hear any suggestions for topics. Happy reading!