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Wednesday, 13 December 2017 06:50

Visit to the National Museum of Natural History - Sunday 5th November 2017

A field trip to the National Museum of Natural History to learn about the natural heritage of Sri Lanka in the backdrop of the world’s natural history.

43 nature lovers, both young and old, including WNPS members and non- members participated in the visit, guided by Palaeontologist Mr. Kelum Manamendra- Arachchi.

Sunday 5th November 2017

23130967 1493015424113290 2971614178697630794 nGeology Gallery
The displays in the newly renovated Geology Gallery of the National History Museum were explained to the participants by Mr. Manamendra- Arachchi.

With the use of diagrams he explained the displays in detail. In addition to the diagrams and specimens displayed at the Museum he showed the participants photographs of tiger, lion and hippopotamus body fossils discovered in Sri Lanka.

The participants were given a basic introduction to fossils. Fossils are categorized into two main types as ‘Body fossils’ and ‘Trace fossils’. Body fossils are fossilized bodies of flora and fauna while ‘Trace fossils’ are the footprints or other traces left by organisms.

The fossilization process is demonstrated in models depicting the death of the animal in an aqueous environment, the subsequent decaying and fossilization. The distribution of fossils in Sri Lanka and the paleontological periods that have elapsed are shown via diagrams at the museum. It was said that despite Pliocene fossils being mostly eroded, Sri Lanka is a palaeontologically rich country.

23167840 1493015444113288 2995450841547439303 nIn the area spanning from Avissawella to Ratnapura the fossils of several species of animals have been discovered. Among these, Hippopotamus fossils are common while the fossils of the Gaur known as the ‘Gavara’ in Sinhala have been found in the peak areas of Ratnapura. The two species of Rhinoceros identified to have lived in Sri Lanka as well as those of the Tiger have been found. The lower molar of a Lion has been discovered in Kuruwita in the 1950s. It is said to be difficult to differentiate between the canines of the Tiger and the Lion since they belong to similar species. Even though the reason for the extinction of these animals is not known it is assumed that the extinction of the herbivores could have led to the starvation of the predators.

The locally done scale models of the three prototypes of the Elephant that used to roam the island as well as Elephas maximus maximus, the modern Sri Lankan Elephant was an interesting display. The Palaeoloxodon, the oldest of these, Elephas sinhalayus the ancestor of the modern Sri Lankan elephant and Elephas hispaeus the African Elephant are displayed along with fossils of some of these species.

Specimens of foreign fossils from the African Continent such as a tortoise shell preserved in a plaster jacket were also on display.

23172731 1493015714113261 1286971638239195020 nOsteology Gallery
At the Osteology Gallery Mr. Manamendra- Arachchi explained the parts of the skeleton making use of the skeletons of a baby elephant and the Heiyanthuduwe Raja tusker preserved at the museum.

The Natural History Museum has reserved a spot for the Elephas maximus vil aliya a sub species of elephant in Sri Lanka found in the Somawathie area. These elephants are larger in size, their skin is not as rough as that of the ordinary elephants and the males have no tusks. Mr. Manamendra- Arachchi observed that ‘Bandula’ at the National Zoo is possibly a Vil Aliya.

In addition to the skulls of mammals Mr. Manamendra- Arachchi made use of some of the models of the gaur, leopard, and wild boar displayed at the museum to explain how teeth differs based on the diet of the respective animal. Herbivores have premolars with somewhat sharp cusps while carnivores have sharp, prominent canines. He also distinguished that Elephant tusks are incisors while Boar tusks are canines. He also explained that the Gaur which had been endemic to Sri Lanka was of a height of about 2.5 metres at shoulder and boasted of a muscular hump which was proof of its strength.

The Museum houses the skeleton of a whale washed ashore in 1894. The Whale baleen which is used to filter the plankton which it feeds on are also well preserved in this skeleton. The younger members of the group enjoyed putting together a large jigsaw puzzle of a whale put up by the museum.

The special features of the skeletons of the Leopard, crocodile and other species on display were explained. The distinction made between animals as digitigrade and plantigrade based on their method of locomotion was also highlighted. The former category walks on their fingers while the latter makes use of phalanx to walk.

Mr. Manamendra- Arachchi also drew attention to the noteworthy aspects of the beaks, horns, skulls and other bones of birds, mammals and reptiles displayed at the Osteology Gallery.

At the conclusion of the visit the participants gathered together for a snack.

23231227 1493015427446623 5942891924305158681 nOur appreciation is extended to:

Palaeontologist Mr. Kelum Manamendra- Arachchi for his detailed explanations of the displays.
WNPS administrative Secretary, George Thambapillai for organizing the visit.
All the participants for their interest in natural heritage and contributions to the discussion.
This excursion report was compiled by Nillasi Liyanage

Last modified on Wednesday, 13 December 2017 07:07