Associated Smithsonian Expert: Darrin P. Lunde, M.A.

Darrin Lunde on an expedition to the Bandalla Hills of South Sudan in the summer of 2013

Courtesy of Oliver Bench

Darrin Lunde is Collections Manager in the Division of Mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The Mammal Collection is the largest collection of its kind in the world. Darrin started his career by building his own natural history museum when he was just ten years old, and by the time he went to college, he had mastered specimen preservation. After graduating from Cornell University, Darrin was hired by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he stayed for twenty years joining field expeditions to the remote corners of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. He has discovered dozens of new species and shed light on hundreds of other lesser known mammals. Darrin earned a Master of Arts from the City University of New York and much of his interest in museums stems from having grown up in "nature deprived" New York City. To Darrin, museum collections are an important link to nature, and he is driven by the thought that in another century museums may be our only connection to the wild animals we take for granted today. At the Smithsonian, Darrin continues a program of active field work with his goal being to illuminate the rich diversity of mammals with which we still share the world.

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.

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When not nursing, young silky sifakas (Propithecus candidus) often ride on their mothers' backs
Courtesy of Jeff Gibbs, via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA

About Mammals (Class Mammalia): Body Plan

Mammals are named for their special milk-producing structures called mammary glands. A female mammal may have two (like humans) or as many as 18 mammary glands. Each gland is full of small spaces lined with milk-secreting cells that all drain into a nipple. Newborn mammals have an innate sucking reflex that stimulates the mother's mammary glands to release milk. Milk is a superfood for young mammals, containing a nourishing mix of fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and even immune-system chemicals. The first milk (colostrum) contains antibodies from the mother to protect against disease. As the offspring grows, milk changes to maintain the right balance of nutrients. Production of milk (lactation) makes most female mammals temporarily unable to get pregnant, resulting in natural gaps between offspring. The spacing of births benefits both the offspring and the mother in terms of survival. Mother mammals stop nursing (wean) their babies after several days or years, depending on the species and environmental conditions.

The fur on this cottontop tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) does more than just insulate
Courtesy of Ltshears, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA

About Mammals (Class Mammalia): Body Covering

All mammals have hair, outgrowths of the skin, during at least some part of their development. While it evolved to insulate animals in cold climates, mammal hair has various functions. Long, stiff hairs (vibrissae, or whiskers) are found in all mammals but humans. Whether on the face, legs, or tail, vibrissae extend an animal's sense of touch. Some mammals, such as porcupines, have enlarged hairs that function as defensive spines. Defense is also achieved by raising individual hairs to make an animal look larger (such as an angry cat). Muscles in the skin make the hair stand up or lie down. Raising and lowering hair changes how much air is trapped under it, which also makes it more or less insulating. Mammals in cold climates tend to have an extra layer of insulating fur, or extra fat under their fur. Mammals in climates that change seasonally shed and replace their hair to create a thicker winter coat and a thinner summer coat.

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