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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: dragons (3)

“Your PhD is on dragons?!”

Author
by Kirilee Chaplin
Publish date
12 August 2015
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People often give me startled looks when I tell them I am doing a three year zoology doctoral study on dragons. After a few Game of Thrones references and Harry Potter-esque jokes, I remind them that not all dragons breathe fire. My PhD is, of course, on dragon lizards, also known in Australia as agamids.

Thorny devil (left) and common central bearded dragon (right) Australia – a land of dragons. Left: the highly unique thorny devil (Moloch horridus). Right: the common central bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps).
Image: K. Chaplin
Source: K. Chaplin
 

Australia, with more than 80 species of agamids, is one of the most dragon-diverse regions in the world. We have dragons of all shapes and sizes, ranging from 10cm to 1m, and include iconic species like the frill-neck lizard and thorny devil, and common species such as bearded dragons and water dragons. The family I am studying are called earless dragons (Tympanocryptis spp.): a group of small (10cm), ground-dwelling native dragons. There are currently about 12 species of earless dragons spread throughout Australia, and we are discovering or distinguishing new species more frequently than you might think. In the last couple of years, researchers at Museum Victoria have described three new species of earless dragons (T. pentalineata, T. wilsoni and T. condaminensis), and know of at least five more which are currently under assessment and yet to be named.

Earless dragons in Australia Earless dragons can be found throughout most of Australia, with some common species distributed widely across the country, and other rare species restricted to small regions of habitat. Top left: Roma earless dragon (Tympanocryptis wilsoni). Bottom left: Darling Downs earless dragon (Tympanocryptis condaminensis). Right: distribution map of Queensland grassland earless dragons.
Image: K. Chaplin
Source: K. Chaplin
 

This is where my PhD study comes in. As part of my doctoral research, I am looking at the three recently described species of earless dragons, as well as a couple of potentially new species, all of which are habitat specialists and live only in grasslands of Queensland. We know very little about these earless dragons, except that they are relatively rare and are each restricted to small grassland pockets across Queensland. My focus is on improving our limited knowledge of the evolution, ecology and taxonomy of these earless dragons, and using this data for conservation of these little lizards. These species are all of conservation concern, as their native grassland habitat has suffered extreme degradation and fragmentation in recent decades due to agriculture, mining and other anthropogenic impacts. Less than 15% of native grasslands remain in Queensland, with less than 5% in some regions. The continued decline in available habitat has prompted these earless dragons to be a research priority, and for their suitability for conservation status under legislative protection to be assessed.

Grassland habitats Left: open-cut coal mining and CSG fracking are the two most common mining practices in the grassland habitat of earless dragons. Right: agriculture, including farming and mono-culture cropping, has cleared and destroyed much of Queensland’s native grasslands.
Image: K. Chaplin
Source: K. Chaplin
 

However, conservation legislation requires taxonomic recognition of a species. That is, for something to be considered endangered and have appropriate legal protection in place, it needs to have a name and be formally accepted as a distinct species. One of the major problems with the earless dragon group, and many other taxa worldwide, is that multiple species can look very similar, but are actually very different in terms of their evolutionary and genetic history. These are called cryptic species, and are a taxonomist’s and conservation biologist’s worst nightmare, as they cannot be easily distinguished without complicated physiology and genetic analyses. Unfortunately, due to cryptic species within the earless dragon group, the taxonomy is still unresolved. Conservation protection cannot occur until this is sorted out.

Earless dragons Can you see the difference? Cryptic species look almost identical, but are evolutionarily very different. Left: a new species of earless dragon found near Emerald (Tympanocryptis sp. nov.). Right: Darling Downs earless dragon (Tympanocryptis condaminensis).
Image: K. Chaplin
Source: K. Chaplin
 

Follow my earless dragon adventures on Twitter (@KirileeChaplin) and watch out for my next MV blog where I continue my quest to untangle the Tympanocryptis taxonomy.

Lunar New Year

Author
by Nicole D
Publish date
10 February 2012
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Comments (0)

On Sunday 29 January Melbourne’s Chinatown came alive with beating drums, firecrackers, lion and dragon dances, kung fu demonstrations, market stalls, and great food. We went down for a little look to enjoy the spectacle and join the thousands of people from diverse backgrounds who came to celebrate Lunar New Year.

Dragons ready to parade Dragons ready to parade
Image: Nic Davis
Source: Nic Davis
 

Monday 23 January 2012 marked the official Lunar New Year – often referred to as Chinese New Year. It is the most important celebration of the year for many communities throughout Asia, including in China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand. It’s a time for families to reunite and celebrate together, with the festivities often lasting for a whole month from around mid January to mid February.  

Wing Chun demonstration Wing Chun demonstration
Image: Nic Davis
Source: Nic Davis
 

It is a festival rich with symbolism, designed to bring prosperity and happiness in the New Year. Decorations in cities throughout Asia go up early in January and the streets, stores and homes are riot of colour that rivals the Christmas season in Australia, with houses, streets, shops and businesses, brightly festooned with red lanterns, cherry blossoms, paper banners and other decorations.  

Crowds in Chinatown enjoying the Lion Dance Crowds in Chinatown enjoying the Lion Dance
Image: Nic Davis
Source: Nic Davis
 

Contemporary and traditional decorations for New Year Contemporary and traditional decorations for New Year
Image: Nic Davis
Source: Nic Davis
 

Of course Lunar New Year festivities are not limited to Asia, with Chinese communities throughout the world celebrating the festival. Australia’s long history of immigration from Asian countries means that today the Lunar New Year is one of the biggest celebrations in our diverse calendar of cultural events. Events are held in throughout the country, including in Melbourne’s Chinatown, Footscray, Richmond, Springvale, Box Hill and regional centres such as Bendigo.

A traditional Lion Dance team A traditional Lion Dance team
Image: Nic Davis
Source: Nic Davis
 

Links:

MV Blog: Five things about dragons

Five things about dragons

Author
by Dr Andi
Publish date
23 January 2012
Comments
Comments (2)

Happy Chinese New Year! In 2012 it's the Year of the Dragon. I've been stalking Wally the Gippsland Water Dragon in the Forest Gallery for days but couldn't get decent photo. I figured he should be the notional poster boy for this year's Chinese horoscope. Alas I am hopeless paparazzo because every time a customer service officer called me to say he was out and about and ready for his close-up, he would flee at the sight of me.

So I wandered down to the Live Exhibits lab to try get some tips on reptile whispering or to see if Wally had a stunt double, dead or alive. The staff responded by saying things like "oh, here I have a picture of Wally on my phone," and another said "here is a snap of another type of water dragon I took while bushwalking." You gotta love our museum staff.

1. Wally the Water Dragon only poses for visitors and Live Exhibits staff.

Wally's scientific name, Phisygnathus lesueurii howittii, has a connection to Museum Victoria. Our founding director Frederick McCoy named this species after "that excellent geologist, magistrate, and bushman, my accomplished friend Mr. A. Howitt... willing to aid in any scientific investigation of the natural products of Gippsland, and who with infinite difficulty succeeded in procuring three specimens for me of this River-Lizard."

McCoy also reported that that these lizards must have given rise to the rumours of crocodiles in Gippsland.

Wally the Gippsland Water Dragon Wally the Gippsland Water Dragon.
Image: Caitlyn Henderson
Source: Caitlyn Henderson
 

Eastern Water Dragon Wally's stunt double cousin, Eastern Water Dragon Physignathus lesueurii lesueurii.
Image: David Holmes
Source: David Holmes
 

2. Chinese dragons have four claws and Japanese dragons have three.

Next time you find yourself in a dragon-slaying situation, take a moment to count the claws on the foot of the dragon. That way you will know the its origin; if it has four claws it is Chinese but if it has three claws it is characteristically Japanese.

Japanese wood carving of dragon Japanese dragon carving in wood with articulated body, limbs and tongue. (ST 018385)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

3. Some dragons have fire in their bellies that sounds the passage of time.

Some dragons may breathe fire, but this Chinese dragon has fire in its belly; it's a reproduction of a Chinese fire clock. The dragon is boat-shaped with wires that support a burning incense stick or taper. This gradually ignites cords that then drop metal balls into a brass dish below.

Chinese fire clock replica Chinese fire clock replica, made by J. Bishop, Melbourne, 1959. (ST 024869)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

4. Dragon's blood was once used to stain violins and treat diarrhoea.

Dragon's blood is a red resin prepared from the fruits of a climbing palm (Daemonorops draco). It is used for colouring mahogany, varnishes, for staining marble and in the preparation of lacquers and dentifrices. It was also used medicinally for the treatment of diarrhoea and severe syphilis!

Dragon's blood Glass jar containing Dragon's Blood used in the pharmacy of a mental health hospital, Victoria, Australia, circa 1900 (SH 850502).
Source: Museum Victoria
 

5. Dragons are from mythical lands and Victorian coastlines.

The Victorian marine emblem is the Weedy Sea Dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus). These wonderful fish are residents of Westernport and Hobsons Bays as well as Geelong and Portland.

Like most fish, sea dragons swim horizontally rather than in a vertical position, like seahorses. However, like seahorses, male seal dragons do the egg-carrying duty.

  Seagrass habitat with Sea Dragons. Seagrass habitat with two sea dragons.
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

So in the tradition of Chinese New Year, forget all grudges, wish peace and happiness to all, and sweep away ill fortune to make way for incoming good luck.

Links:

Gippsland Water Dragon

Frederick McCoy's debunking of the Gippsland crocodile myth

Question of the Week: Dragon's den

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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