We asked curators at museums all over America what their weirdest or coolest item NOT on display is. Turns out there's some pretty wild stuff in storage.
1. These disturbingly well-preserved human tapeworms:
2. This overcrowded tank of dead hellbenders:
What's that hanging out in the Milwaukee Public Museum? It's a massive tank of snot otters aka hellbenders. They are basically huge amphibians that can live up to 30 years, zoology collections manager Julia Colby told BuzzFeed Science. A researcher donated his collection to the museum. Who are they to turn down a tank of slimy, large amphibians?
3. This eruption-surviving bathtub from Pompeii:
4. This "vintage" hippo brain in a jar:
5. This melted mass of sand grains from the world’s first atomic bomb explosion:
6. This massive elephant bird egg:
The egg on the right, in storage at the Field Museum, came from what was once the largest bird alive — the over-10-foot-tall elephant bird. According to the museum, elephant birds were last seen in the 17th century in Madagascar and weighed in at half a ton, with eggs that weighed about 22 pounds. More than enough for a pretty rich omelet.
7. These half-and-half butterflies:
8. This ghastly tank full of shark heads:
9. This raccoon's adorable penis bone:
10. This two-headed rattlesnake:
The clubbed part of this snake is actually two separate heads. According to the Field Museum, where this specimen resides, it was probably caused by the incomplete splitting of a single embryo (similar to what happens with conjoined twins in humans). Needless to say, it would be pretty disturbing to run into in any place other than a museum collections.
11. This tongue-gobbling parasite trapped in the jaw of a fish:
Alex Dornburg, the curator of fishes at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, is a big fan of this thing. In case you can't tell, what you're looking at is the lower jaw of a fish with a gross parasite where the tongue should be. "These isopods are parasites that enter a fish’s mouth via the gills, eat their tongue, then actually becomes the tongue," Dornburg said.
12. This syphilis-ridden human skull:
An observant reader might notice that there are holes in this skull (which is photographed in normal light, left, and with a white backlight in a dark room). What you might not realize, though, is that this skull, from the Hamann-Todd Osteological Collection at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, shows the extreme effects of syphilis prior to the advent of antibiotics. According to physical anthropology collections manager Lyman Jellema, the picture on the right shows that in addition to the obvious holes, the disease has also eaten away other parts of the skull to make them less dense.
13. Some random albino moose parts:
14. This overly complex sundial:
15. These embryos chilling in jars:
According to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University curator Ted Daeschler, the stuff that gets his curiosity going the most are things in jars. Here are two of his favorites: a dolphin embryo (left, obviously) and a bear embryo (right). The dolphin fetus came from "a dolphin that had beached up in the Delaware River [...] back in the 40s, " Daeschler said. He said he is not sure where the bear fetus came from, but added that "back in the day, they used to just pickle up all those different bits and pieces, embryos, brains. We got some weird organs of things in jars."
16. This decidedly big-ass seed:
18. These remains of the last known wild grizzly bear from Colorado:
Also hanging around in the collections of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is the last known wild grizzly bear from Colorado. According to the museum, the bear was killed in 1979 by a hunting guide named Ed Wiseman in self-defense. Because grizzlies were a listed species, the museum told BuzzFeed Science, Wiseman was investigated for about eight months following the incident, but he was cleared of any wrongdoing after passing a polygraph test.
19. This gigantic camouflage wasp nest:
20. This 20-million-year-old butterfly in amber:
21. This literally two-faced calf skull:
22. These tragically interlocked deer antlers:
23. And finally, this dolphin penis in a jar:
What's that wormlike thing in a jar, you ask? It's obviously a dolphin dick, preserved for posterity at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. You may think that keeping such things around serves little purpose, but you would also be wrong. According to mammalogy collections manager Jim Dines, he has "used specimens like the one in question for [his] own research on mating ecology in cetaceans." Our personal research suggests that the mating ecology of cetaceans is likely gross as fuck.