Bats, bones and a one-eyed cat thrill Scouts during Smithsonian stop

Suzy Peurach owns a one-eyed cat.

Well, technically it belongs to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. But as the collections manager for the museum’s department of mammals, Peurach is responsible for the cat and another 600,000 specimens.

The purpose of the cyclops cat, which floats in a jar of ethanol, isn’t to deliver Ripley’s Believe It or Not-caliber chills. It’s to demonstrate the scientific value of mammals with genetic mutations.

Most Smithsonian guests don’t get to see the cat, located in a sixth-floor room filled with metal cabinets organized by species.

But then again, most Smithsonian guests aren’t delegates delivering the BSA’s Report to the Nation.

On Sunday, the Scouts, Venturers and Explorer ventured into an employees-only area with their hosts from the museum. These hosts, who volunteered their time on a Sunday afternoon, brought out some of their favorite specimens to inspire, educate and, yes, even shock the delegates.

‘An evil troll’

The wrinkle-faced bat, or Centurio senex … or evil troll.

Peurach takes the delegates to two white, waist-high tables where she has displayed a number of mammals — from the tiniest shrew to a giant porcupine collected in Afghanistan. She refers to each mammal by its scientific name.

She doesn’t call her favorite animal the wrinkle-faced bat. It’s the Centurio senex.

Actually, I prefer the name chosen by Donnell Thomas, a Cub Scout from Michigan.

“It looks like a troll,” Donnell said. “An evil troll.”

“Or, like, an ultra pug,” said Bogan Garcia, an Eagle Scout from Oklahoma.

Peurach explains that the bat has a built-in facemask it can pull over its face. Males use it as part of their mating ritual, she said. The wrinkles help it suck up the juices of the fruit it eats.

Later, Daniel Yu, an Eagle Scout from Illinois, impressed Peurach with his knowledge of the platypus, which Daniel calls “one of the craziest animals.” They’re one of just two mammals that lay eggs. The females have two ovaries, but just one functions. The males have venomous spurs on their feet.

“Wow,” she said. “You know more about them than I do.”

The human touch

Dr. David Hunt, an Eagle Scout anthropologist at the Smithsonian, opened a battered plastic box with a complete set of human bones inside. The bones are from an unsolved case from the 1980s.

“So those aren’t plastic?” asked Sean Golding, a Life Scout from California. “Those are real bones?”

Yes, Hunt said. He shared how human bones hold clues to a person’s identity.

Hunt’s knack for reading those clues makes him an expert in the field. He frequently testifies in court cases, revealing who the victim of a crime was and how he or she died.

He went through an exercise with Mercedes Matlock, the National Sea Scout Boatswain and pre-med biology major from Maryland.

He started with the skull, pointing out the first two molars there.

“So the person was at least 12,” Mercedes said.

“Exactly. And we actually see the third molars,” Hunt added.

“So we know the person was at least 17 or 18,” she said.

Correct again. The pelvic bones were next, and the hip width helped Mercedes identify this person as female.

Mercedes looked inside the box.

“Is this the spine?” she asked Hunt. “Can I take this out of the bag?”

With Hunt’s OK, she did. She removed each piece and stacked it into the spinal column.

Hunt, seemingly spotting a future medical researcher, only smiled.

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Photos by Michael Roytek and Randy Piland. See more photos here.

About Bryan Wendell 2799 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is senior editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.