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New Sternberg exhibit brings fossils to life

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Bug-eyed and sporting blue fins, they’re the type of thing only a mother could love.

Or, perhaps Sternberg Museum of Natural History members, who flocked to the mudskipper exhibit to watch at Brent Schulze detailed the life history of the amphibious fish, who just happen to be able to walk on their fins on land.

The display was unveiled Friday during a members-only preview of Sternberg’s newest permanent display, “Bringing Fossils to Life,” and members certainly didn’t miss any of the other displays.

Those displays included turtles, salamanders and a monitor lizard, but the mudskippers were hard to resist for many — young and old alike.

The display takes the place of what had been a somewhat dated display of an African safari.

The new display, museum director Reese Barrick said, helps make the link between fossils and modern-day animals, and provides the opportunity to display some really nice fossils that long have been in storage in the bowels of the museum.

One of those displays is a mosasaur, collected by the legendary George Sternberg that had long graced the walls of the Sternberg Museum when it was situated on the Fort Hays State University campus, tucked into various rooms on the ground floor of McCartney Hall.

The idea of the display is to bridge the gap between the fossils of millions of years ago to the animals of today.

That’s why turtles, fossil leaves, the monitor lizard and mudskippers were chosen.

Two African spur-thighed tortoises are now on display at the museum, back-dropped by a mural painted by FHSU students. Fossils of turtles that lived millions of years ago are on pedestals in the tortoise area.

The fossil leaves, Barrick said, are interesting because they mimic sassafras leaves, and long were thought to be that. But they aren’t.

“We had this huge slab of sassafras leaves,” he said. “But as it turned out, they weren’t sassafras.”

The monitor lizard helps show how mosasaurs — reptiles that lived millions of years ago — once swam in the deep inland ocean.

“We had this beautiful mosasaur fossil that hasn’t been on display since we were on campus,” Barrick said.

Sternberg paleontologist Laura Wilson also noted putting the mosasaur on display frees up space for her research.

The Australian water monitor lizard delighted exhibit visitors as it swam in a figure-eight shaped tank.

The tank, Barrick said, was donated to the museum by a bank in Arkansas City.

The display, he said, is an example of “edutainment.”

“We have live animals that do different things all the time,” he said.

The mudskippers, Barrick said, reflect the emergence of life from the water onto land.

“We have mudskippers that run around land today and then jump back in the water,” he said.