Connecting You to Museum Professionals!
Have you ever made an observation and wanted to know more? Curious minds across New Brunswick have been sending their questions to the experts in our departments. We invite you to follow our “Ask an Expert” blog, where each month our staff will share their firsthand knowledge about all things New Brunswick!
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We’re answering your questions about all things New Brunswick with our Ask an Expert blog!
Q: How can I get the musty smell out of books that were stored in a basement?
We asked this question to our expert, Dee Stubbs-Lee, NBM Conservator.
A: The musty smell is a sign of microbial growth. Basements tend to be high relative humidity environments, and not a great place to store your valuables. First, remove the books to a drier environment with better air circulation. If there are no visible signs of mold other than the odour, place the books in clear plastic bags with sachets of activated charcoal (available from aquarium stores), kitty litter, or baking soda and leave it for several months. I also had good luck experimenting with sachets of zeolites (a volcanic rock product) for a similar issue with a recently collected quilt.
Q: How many different kinds of mushrooms occur in New Brunswick? How many are poisonous?
We asked these questions to our expert, Dr. Alfredo Justo, Ph.D., NBM Curator of Botany & Mycology in the Natural History Department.
A: Dr. Alfredo Justo shared with us the following: We do not have a definitive answer yet, but our current best estimate is that we have somewhere between 2500 and 3000 species of mushrooms in New Brunswick. Mycological research is going to be a big focus of the NBM Natural History department in the coming years. The NBM herbarium currently holds approximately 9000 mushroom collections, representing approximately 600 species so we have a long way to go! Most mushrooms are neither edible nor toxic, and roughly 20% of the species can make you sick if eaten. Some, like the destroying angel pictured (Amanita bisporigera) are deadly poisonous.
A photo from the NBM Natural History Collections of the destroying angel (Amanita bisporigera) mushrooms which are deadly poisonous.
Q: I found this colourful thing growing out of a stump on our property. What is it?
We asked this question to our expert, Dr. Alfredo Justo, Ph.D., NBM Curator of Botany & Mycology in the Natural History Department.
A: Dr. Alfredo Justo shared with us the following: Colorful is the right adjective for this mushroom! – This is the ¨Dyer’s Polypore¨ (Phaeolus schweinitzii). This mushroom gets its common name from one the practical uses that it has: to dye wool that then can be used to make clothes or ornaments. Phaeolus is sought after for the nice brown and yellow pigments that can be used as a natural dye. Ecologically, it also has important roles in nature, acting as a parasite on trees (specially conifers) and then as a wood-decayer, recycling all the dead plant material, and keeping the global carbon cycle functioning properly.
¨Dyer’s Polypore¨ (Phaeolus schweinitzii)
Q: Have you ever wondered why fireflies glow? The green blinking of fireflies is a common sight near the fireside across New Brunswick. We asked this question to our expert, Dr. Donald McAlpine, Chair of our Natural History Department and Head of our Zoology Section.
A: Dr. McAlpine shared with us the following:
“Warm, humid, New Brunswick evenings in June and July can turn magical with the flashing of fireflies. There are ten species of fireflies native to NB. Four of them don’t actually “light-up” but the others do, for a variety of reasons. The principal reason is communication – males attracting females and females signalling back. Some species also use their flashing light to attract prey, others to deter predators (apparently, fireflies don’t taste very good). NB firefly larvae feed on terrestrial snails and earthworms, but many adults don’t feed at all. Others take sap, or even specialize in feeding on other species of fireflies, mimicking their flashing pattern to attract male prey.”
Another one of your questions answered by NB Museum experts!
Q : Victoria, age 6 asks … How do leeches stick to you, do they have little razor teeth?
A : Dr. Donald McAlpine, Ph.D., NBM Zoology Curator shares … leeches do indeed have small “razor teeth” referred to as denticles, which occur in three rows. Operating like small saws, the back and forth movement of these “jaws” create a small incision. Suction produced around these jaws permits the leech to remain attached to a host, while an anticoagulant prevents blood from clotting during feeding and digestion. Not all NB leeches (of which there are 20-30 species) feed on blood. Some feed on aquatic molluscs, worms, and even take other leeches. And among those that do feed on blood, several feed mainly on fish or amphibians, and one feeds primarily on the blood of ducks.
An NBM summer student displays a large Haemopis sp leech, a species that feeds on molluscs and worms, rather than blood, during field work in the Nerepis Marsh in the lower Saint John River.
NB hosts a variety of leech species, some of which are prone to feed on those who enter the water in “leech habitat”. In this case NBM Zoology Curator Dr. Donald McAlpine was undertaking field studies on molluscs and dragonflies in the Nerepis Marsh, but was able to add significantly to the NBM leech collection!
A NBM summer student displays a large Haemopis sp leech, a species that feeds on molluscs and worms, rather than blood, during field work in the Nerepis Marsh in the lower Saint John River.
Check out this Q&A:
Q: Jérôme, age 11 asks … I am learning about percentages these days and looking for real life examples, what percentage (approximate) of the paintings in the NBM Art Galleries are hung in their original frames?
A: Peter Larocque, NBM Curator of NB Cultural History & Art shares … Currently have 104 artworks with frames on display in the art galleries. 12 of them are not original frames. Therefore 92 of 104 are original or 88.46 percent of the frames are original to the artworks on display. 12 of the 104 are display frames or 11.53 percent.
In most cases, the NBM attempts to display works in their original frames. Sometimes works are accepted into the collection with no frames, in that case when the work is displayed, a frame that is appropriate for the work and the era it was produced is used. Sometimes works are accepted into the collections and the frames have damage or are considered too unstable for display. If conservation treatment can stabilize and make the frame presentable then it is used. If the frame is too fragile to use, it is removed from work and saved for the information it provides as well as the possible opportunity to have a more extensive conservation treatment done in the future.
John Hammond (Canadian, 1843 – 1939)
painting: Moonrise, 1907
oil on board
32.9 x 41.7 cm
frame: 51 x 60 cm
Gift of Elizabeth McNally, 1984 (34048)
This elaborate frame was most likely selected by the artist and was fashionable when the work was created.
Q : Lacey, age 8 asks … When walking in my back woods with my family, why do I sometimes see pieces of old wood that turn a pretty green (almost like dye or food coloring) like in this photo?
A : Dr. Alfredo Justo, Ph.D., NBM Curator of Botany & Mycology shares … the green color in the wood is caused by the fungus Chlorociboria aeruginascens, also known as “green stain fungus”, “green elf cup” or “green wood cup”. The fungus grows by decomposing fallen branches and logs in the forest, and in the process gives them the characteristic green color. This is an example of the very important ecological role that fungi have in forest ecosystems, continuously recycling all the plant material. During mushroom season this fungus will produce mushrooms in the form of small, bright green cups. Also, here is a photo from the NBM Natural History Collections of a wasp nest in which the wasps used some green stained wood in nest construction.
Other useful links with additional information include:
A photo from the NBM Natural History Collections of a wasp nest in which the wasps used some green stained wood in nest construction.