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OSTEOR- D nary

By Elaine Warner M

ake no bones about it—the Oklahoma Mu- seum of Osteology is one cool museum. From a science fair project gone viral to currently TripAdvisor’s number-one Oklahoma City attraction, the museum rocks.

The brain behind the bones is Jay Villemarette. As a little boy, he found a dog skull and brought it home. Encouraged by his dad, he collected more skulls until, by sixth grade, he had quite an assortment. He entered the collection in his school science fair and received a “superior” commendation. The next year he won a fi fth place ribbon at the Oklahoma State Fair. Jay never lost his interest in his hobby even though he had another career after high school. In his spare time, he cleaned and sold skulls. The demand grew and his spare time became sparer. Then, in 1986, he and his wife Kim started their business, Skulls Un- limited.

With a reputation for meticulous and professional work, his specimens were in demand by schools and museums all over the country. Skulls Unlimited gained national attention in 2006 when it was fea- tured on the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe.”

Buoyed by his success, Oklahoma Electric Co-op members Jay and Kim began planning for Jay’s life- long dream—a museum where he could share his love of nature and science. The museum opened last year and, in the fi rst seven months, has hosted more than 10,000 visitors. Including Pat Hoig of Edmond, who visited the museum with her grandson. “It’s amazing to have something this great here, and so few people know about it. I rave about it to everyone,” Hoig said.

In the museum’s foyer, visitors can view some of

nature’s little garbage disposals at work. Dermestid beetles, both in the larval and adult stages, are used to clean skulls and other bones at Skulls Unlimited. Two whale skulls fl ank the doors to the museum proper. It’s impossible to miss the huge humpback whale, which hangs from the ceiling. Alongside the humpback are three smaller skeletons. One is a mana- tee; another is a beluga whale. The third specimen is a killer whale who died of what is termed “hardware disease”—ingesting junk that visitors threw into her pool at a water park.

Oklahoma Museum of Osteology is the fi rst in the nation

Inside, cases line the walls on both the fi rst and sec-

ond fl oors. The quality and presentation of exhibits rival any large institution so it came as a surprise to fi nd it was designed and executed by Jay and an associ- ate, Joey Williams

With giant skeletons mounted in the middle of the

fl oor and hanging from the ceiling, the fi rst impres- sion is overwhelming. However, everything is arranged logically and, beginning with the fi rst case on the north side of the room, the visitor quickly becomes immersed in the experience.

A tour is like a crash course in zool- ogy beginning with “what is a skeleton?” Examples show vertebrates and inverte- brates and exo- and endoskeletons. Who knew a turtle’s shell is a modi-

fi ed rib cage?

And who knew that bones had so many components? A replica, enlarged many times, illustrates the many fea- tures of bones from the hard, outer layer—the periosteum—to the marrow in the middle.

Comparative anatomy is addressed by

defi ning basic skeletal design. Common animal features include a skull, four limbs, spinal column, torso and pelvis. How these features differ from species to species is illustrated in a display on adaptation. For instance, a mole and a penguin have the same basic structures, but their skeletons have become special- ized to serve their individual needs. Different kinds of bones are required

for fl ying, swimming, climbing, digging, running or jumping. When specialized bones develop similarly in very dis- similar species, it is called “convergent evolution.” Thus, there are striking re- semblances between dolphin, penguin and turtle fl ippers even though one is a mammal, another a bird and the third a reptile.

The exhibits contain a lot of factual material but can be enjoyed on any level.

You’ll fi nd tidbits of nature lore as informative as the scientifi c explanations. One of these observations on skull structure quoted, “Eyes in the front, the animal hunts; on the side, the animal hides.” Visitors fi nd a bit of sly humor in the primate exhib- it. At the back of the case, one hand against the wall and legs crossed stands a skeleton of homo sapiens Continued on page 39

Oklahoma Electric Co-op members Jay and Kim Villemarette have recently opened the Oklahoma Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City. Photos by Elaine Warner

JULY 2011 37

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