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I spend a lot of time wandering around outdoors,
and while I wander I always keep my eyes peeled
for things that look out of place. Some of these things - animal skulls, dinosaur bones, insects, snake skins, feathers, a mummified bat and hummingbirds, etc. - have made their way into a backpack that I call my "museum-in-a-bag." When I do school visits I spend part of each session describing what I've brought, then pass it all around. I just love watching the kids' reactions to this hands-on element - from the clinical little scientists to the ones who suddenly have an epiphany and trade their initial squeamishness for fascination. And the questions are great - my all-time favorite being: "How did you get the skull out of the fox's head?"

Tip for budding collectors:
Don't bring home anything that smells!

A mummified bat
Little Brown Bat
This little brown bat came down our chimney and got into our wood furnace in the summer and then couldn't find its way out again. It died in there. We didn't discover it until the fall when we opened up the furnace to start our first fire. It was covered in ash and was still clinging to the inside of the door. It's completely mummified, and so perfectly preserved it looks alive.
A selection of seeds from the tropics
Seeds from the Tropics
These weird and wonderful seeds all came from Central America. The largest one is bigger than an Oreo cookie. The small grey one is called a nickernut. Nickernuts can often be found washed up on Caribbean beaches. In my bag I also have a palm seed the size of an apple that's related to the coconut. I picked it up on the Island of Komodo in Indonesia where I saw wild Komodo dragons!
Beaver skull
Beaver Skull
One day while I was in the woods looking for mushrooms, I bent down to get a closer look at what I thought was a strange, rust-colored fungus. It took me a moment to figure out that what I was looking at was teeth! The beaver's front incisors were the only part of the skull that wasn't buried.
It's now been in my museum-in-a-bag so long that it's gone through more than 8,000 pairs of hands. Amazingly, it's still in one piece.
A mummified hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
This male hummingbird got trapped in a garage on a hot summer day. It must have spent hours trying to get through a clear pane of window glass to the outdoors, using up all its energy until it collapsed. Hummingbirds have a very high rate of metabolism, so they need to eat a lot of flower nectar every day. There were no flowers in the garage, so it must have starved to death. It's so very tiny that, lying on the windowsill, it dried very quickly, so quickly that it didn't decay. It almost looks like it's sleeping.
Cicada bug
Cicadas are the bugs that tell you it's really summer. On hot days they sit high up in trees making a high-pitched buzzing sound (kids are really good at imitating it). This cicada was just lying dead at the side of the road. I dried it by laying it in a hot, sunny window.
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