Burlington museums


Brett and I stopped in Burlington, Vermont while on our way home from the Northeast GSA meeting. There are several science museums here, which warranted spending a day in town to take it all in.

First we visited the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, located on the Lake Champlain waterfront. The aquarium focuses on modern Lake Champlain fish, such as the bowfin (Amia calva, above). There are also a number of local reptiles, such as the spiny softshell turtle Apalone spinifera:


There is a mounted skeleton of a beluga, Delphinapterus leucas; I’ll have more on the reason for that in a moment:


One of my favorite displays was a scale model of a section of the Laurentide Ice Sheet over Vermont during the last glacial maximum:


The small white object in the triangular glass window at the bottom is a scale model of the ECHO Science Center, to show the mind boggling thickness of the ice sheet.

Next we visited the Perkins Museum of Geology, on the campus of the University of Vermont:


This is a small teaching museum, with a range of rocks, minerals, and fossils from various places, including this mastodont tooth from Big Bone Lick in Kentucky:


Vermont doesn’t have a lot of fossils, but there are a few places with nice Cambrian and Ordovician invertebrates:



The centerpiece display is a Pleistocene or early Holocene beluga from Lake Champlain:


This whale, nicknamed “Charlotte”, is apparently the only fossil whale known from Vermont, and is the official state fossil. It was collected in 1849, and apparently mounted shortly afterward. It has not been remounted since that time, and as a result there are a lot of errors; for example, the forelimbs are in the wrong position (as noted on the exhibit label), and about a third of the vertebrae are backwards. There was also some plaster reconstructive work that has obscured a lot of the cranial details. Even so, this is an excellent skeleton and a nice focus for the museum’s exhibits (and is the reason the ECHO Center exhibits a modern beluga).

Belugas do not currently live in Lake Champlain. The modern St. Lawrence Seaway and Lake Champlain region was pushed down so far by the weight of the Laurentide Ice Sheet that as the ice retreated at the the end of the Pleistocene, the Atlantic Ocean was able to flood into the area. Besides “Charlotte”, other belugas, balaenopterids, and phocids have been found in Quebec, Ontario, and New York.

The Perkins Museum is free to the public, and the ECHO Science Center is free with a VMNH membership. Both are well worth a visit.

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