MV Blog

DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Apr 2012 (11)

What does megafauna mean?

Author
by Wayne
Publish date
29 April 2012
Comments
Comments (0)

Your Question: What does the word megafauna mean?

The name megafauna means ‘big animals’, generally animals with a body mass of over 40 kilograms. Much of the time, megafauna is general term used to describe a particular group of large land animals that evolved millions of years after the dinosaurs became extinct. The extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago left a void of large land animals worldwide. Over millions of years, the surviving mammals, birds and reptiles evolved to include some very large animals. This group of megafauna was at their largest and most widespread during the Quaternary Period, in the last 2.5 million years.

  Diprotodon skull The skull and upper body of Diprotodon, the largest marsupial to have lived
Image: Michelle McFarlane
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Australia’s Quaternary megafauna were unique, and included giant marsupials such as Diprotodon, huge flightless birds such as Genyornis (a distant relative to today’s ducks and geese) and giant reptiles such as Varanus ‘Megalania’ (related closely to living goannas and the Komodo Dragon), all three of which are displayed in Melbourne Museum’s Dinosaur Walk exhibition - despite the fact these animals are not dinosaurs at all.

Thylacoleo skeleton The skeleton of Thylacoleo, the so-called marsupial 'lion'
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Some more examples of Australian megafauna are also on display in the adjoining exhibition at Melbourne Museum called 600 Million Years: Victoria evolves, such as the curious-looking Zygomaturus and Palorchestes (both relatives of Diprotodon), the carnivorous Thylacoleo (sometimes called a marsupial ‘lion’), and some megafaunal relatives of kangaroos and wallabies such as Protemnodon.

  Zygomaturus skeleton The skeleton of Zygomaturus, a Rhinoceros-like marsupial
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It is worth noting that not all megafauna are extinct – Australia has living megafauna in the form of Red and Eastern Grey Kangaroos and Saltwater Crocodiles, some of which are on display in the Wild: Amazing animals in a changing world exhibition, which is also in the Melbourne Museum Science and Life Gallery.

Got a question? Ask us!

Links:

Video, Studying Megafauna Fossils

Book, Prehistoric Giants: The Megafauna of Australia, published by Museum Victoria

Miss Fisher’s Spotswood Pumping Station Adventure

The Phryne Fisher detective series by Melbourne author Kerry Greenwood has been delighting and exciting those of us who have a passion for, or even a passing interest in, the dynamic and ever changing history of Melbourne. The television adaptation of the adventures of the sassy super sleuth has set the scene of 1920s Melbourne for avid readers of the series.

We are excited to say that Museum Victoria’s very own Spotswood Pumping Station will star in this Friday night's episode of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (27 April 2012, 8:30pm on ABC1, repeated Sunday 29 April, 10:15pm on ABC1). To help you spot our beloved Pumping Station, we have included some terrific images from our collection in this post.

Spotswood Pumping Station, North Engine House interior, 1930s Spotswood Pumping Station, North Engine House interior, 1930s.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The heritage-listed Spotswood Pumping Station was built by the Melbourne & Metropolitan Board of Works and completed in 1897. It formed a crucial link in Melbourne’s first sewage collection system by pumping the raw sewage from the underground sewers around Melbourne to Brooklyn, from where it flowed under gravity to the final processing site in Werribee.

Melbourne’s growth as an internationally renowned city was dependent upon being able to manage its waste in a safe and efficient fashion, and the Pumping Station certainly played a most important role.

Spotswood Pumping Station, eastern frontage, 1930s Spotswood Pumping Station, eastern frontage, 1930s.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Imagine our delight and intrigue when we heard that the Spotswood Pumping Station, located at Scienceworks, would play host to a TV shoot and be transformed into a 1920s factory. The upshot of which: this Friday night, episode ten of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries sees Phryne (Essie Davis) investigate the death of a young female worker in a factory 'accident'. She soon learns that the woman's death might not be the misadventure the police think it is. Faced with a wall of secrecy and lies, Phryne sends her trusty maid Dot (Ashleigh Cummings) undercover into the factory to investigate. When a second suspicious death occurs, Phryne fights desperately to save one of her closest friends from the gallows.

Still from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Dr Mac (Tammy MacIntosh) in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries episode 10, 'Death by Miss Adventure', in a scene shot in the Spotswood Pumping Station.
Source: Provided courtesy of ABC TV
 

In the above image, Phryne’s best friend Dr Mac is standing in the South Engine Room in front of one of the electrically powered air compressors built by local engineering company, Kelly & Lewis, circa 1926. Most of the Pumping Station interior and machinery seen in the background of factory scenes during the episode have barely changed since the decade in which the series is set.

Spotswood Pumping Station, North Engine House interior, 1930s Spotswood Pumping Station, North Engine House interior, 1930s.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Spotswood Pumping Station has been the site of many a dalliance with the silver screen and we are all excited to continue our sleuthing into the many uses of this wonderful part of Melbourne’s history in film and television. To be continued...

Victoria's Malay Community

Author
by Nicole D
Publish date
23 April 2012
Comments
Comments (1)

Your Question: I’ve just returned from Malaysia and am curious about the history of the Malay community in Victoria. Do you have some resources you can recommend regarding on this topic and Malay cultures in general?

The Malay community in Australia is diverse, with people from a number of ethnic backgrounds and religions that reflect the diversity of Malaysia itself. The culture of the region that we today call Malaysia, which also includes parts of Borneo, has been shaped by interactions between the Malay, Arab, Chinese, Indian, European and South East Asian peoples from the middle of the 15th century. Intermarriage between people of various cultures from this early period, plus influxes of later Chinese, Indian and European settlers led to an ethnically diverse population, which is still obvious in the country today and is reflected in the Malay community in Australia.

Students from the Malaysian Students Association take part in Orientation Week, RMIT, February 2001. Students from the Malaysian Students Association take part in Orientation Week, RMIT, February 2001.
Image: Jun Siew Goh / Photographer: Unknown
Source: Copyright Malaysian Students Association 2001
 

The first stop for anyone wanting to do research on the Malaysian community in Australia is Immigration Museum’s Origins website. It tells us a little about the history of Malaysian immigration to Australia, as well as statistics from census data on the demographics of the Victorian Malaysian community.

Immigration from the Malaysia actually began in the mid 19th century and Malay workers were involved in the pearling industry, trepang, mining, agriculture, including cane fields. European descended Malays came to Australia during WWII. Following the end of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1973 Malaysian immigration increased and by 2006 there were 30,476 Malaysia-born Victorians and 92,335 in Australia. Most of these identified as ethnic Chinese (c 65,000), with smaller percentages of Malay (c 12,000), Indian (c 6,000) and other groups. English is the language most spoken in the home, followed closely by Cantonese, with smaller amounts of Malaysia-born Australians speaking Mandarin, Behasa Melayu, Tamil, other Chinese languages and Vietnamese.

Pencil Drawing by Thomas Le. Pencil Drawing by Thomas Le. It depicts the journey of of Mai Ho's family to Australia and shows their first few months here.
Image: Museum Victoria / Artist Thomas Le
Source: Copyright Thomas Le 1998
 

Some famous Malaysia-born Australians include singer Guy Sebastian, politician Penny Wong and entertainer Kamahl.

Further details and statistics regarding Malaysian born people living in the wider Australian community can be found on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website and this factsheet produced by Department of Immigration and Citizenship. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has some great general information on Malaysia, its people and their relations with Australia.

In the Immigration Discovery Centre we have a variety of books on Malaysian history, culture, contemporary politics and the Malay community in Australia. While the IDC is not a lending library, you are welcome to come and browse the books we have here.

Couple cutting the wedding cake, at their wedding in Singapore Couple cutting the wedding cake, at their wedding in Singapore
Image: Tuty Juhari / Photographer: Unknown
Source: Copyright Tuty Juhari 1997
 

There are a number of other useful websites and resources for finding out about the Malaysian community in Victoria, including Melayu Melbourne, the Malay Education and Cultural Centre of Australia Inc (MECCA), Malaysian Students’ Council of Australia (MASCA) Victoria, 92.3 FM ZZZ, Malaysian show, and Australian-Malaysian Film Festival. 

Got a question? Ask us!

Southern Cassowary

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
20 April 2012
Comments
Comments (3)

It's Earth Day on 22 April 2012 and the Earth Day Network is seeking a billion pledges for 'acts of green' – individuals and organisations to commit to an act or activity, large or small, to contribute to conservation and environmental awareness.

One of the museum's customer service staff, Ella, is passionate about protecting the Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii). She's inspired MV Blog's act of green: to highlight this amazing flightless bird and the efforts to conserve its Queensland rainforest habitat. The species is listed as endangered in Queensland, and vulnerable on the IUCN Redlist.

Southern Cassowary Museum Victoria's Southern Cassowary. It is exhibition in Wild: amazing animals in a changing world.
Image: Heath Warwick
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Southern Cassowary in the Wild exhibition has been in the museum's collection for over 100 years. Our records note that it was collected on 26 March 1885 in Queensland by an unknown collector and that we acquired it in 1887 from the Acclimitization Society of Victoria. In the 1880s, cassowaries were far more common; an estimated 1000 individuals are all that are left in the wild today.

Gould's Australian Cassowary lithograph. Australian Cassowary, reproduced from The Birds of Australia, supplements by John Gould, London 1851, vol. 1 (5parts)
Image: Artist John Gould / Lithographer H. C. Richter
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The name cassowary stems from a Malay word meaning needle, after the bird's the needle-like wing feathers. With its brilliant-coloured neck and glossy black plumage, the Southern Cassowary is Australia's heaviest bird. Its large body is fuelled by the fruits of over 200 species of rainforest trees and it has an important ecological role in spreading seeds. It's estimated that 70-100 plant species will only germinate once their seeds have travelled through the gut of a cassowary.

As humans have cleared Queensland forests for timber, agriculture and housing developments, we have removed and fragmented the birds' habitat. Fewer trees mean less food for cassowaries. The birds roam between forest patches that are now criss-crossed by roads and many are killed by cars each year. Domestic dogs are another cause of cassowary population decline. In 2011, Cyclone Yasi hit the Far North Queensland coast and severely damaged the remaining habitat occupied by a cassowary population at Mission Beach.

Preserving and regenerating suitable habitat is critical for the survival of this species. Rainforest Rescue is an organisation that purchases land in the Daintree River valley to turn into permanent conservation reserves. They also reconnect remnant forest patches by revegetating cleared land between them, forming continuous tracts of habitat full of cassowary food plants. Since 2007, Rainforest Rescue has planted over 26,000 native plants in the Daintree. It is a very long-term project because these plantings take many years to mature. Their hope is that one day the fruits of those trees will fill the bellies of a stable and thriving cassowary population.

Links:

Rainforest Rescue

Cassowary in Wild: amazing animals in a changing world 

Who’s been eating my Easter Eggs?

Author
by Nicole K
Publish date
13 April 2012
Comments
Comments (3)

Your Question: Who or what has been eating my Easter Eggs?

This week, the Discovery Centre was sent some pictures of Easter eggs. It's a sad story: they'd been gnawed, and not by their rightful owner (who was very interested to find out who the culprit was).

Gnawed Easter chocolates Gnawed Easter chocolates
Image: Anonymous
Source: Anonymous
 

Usually we need to see a specimen or a photograph of an animal in order to identify it, but the chocolate thief had left behind a clue – teeth marks.

Gnawed Easter chocolate Gnawed Easter chocolate
Image: Anonymous
Source: Anonymous
 

We sent the photographs to Museum Victoria's Senior Curator of Mammals. He examined the marks and reported that they had been made by the incisors of a small rodent, most likely a House Mouse, Mus musculus. His identification came with another sad story – his own chocolate Bilby had suffered the same fate!

A House Mouse, <i>Mus musculus</i> A House Mouse, Mus musculus
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Rodents have very distinctive teeth – a pair of incisors in the upper jaw and another pair in the lower jaw. The incisors grow continuously (like our fingernails), so rodents have to do a lot of gnawing to grind them down. In fact, the name "rodent" comes from the Latin words "gnaw" (rodere) and "tooth" (dentis). The gnawing process also acts to sharpen the incisors.

The skull of a House Mouse, <i>Mus musculus</i> The skull of a House Mouse, Mus musculus
Image: Marnie Rawlinson, Cathy Accurso and Ken Walker
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Wild House Mice are primarily granivorous (they eat grains and seeds), but they will eat almost anything. It seems that, like us, they love chocolate.

Happy Easter House Mice!

Got a question? Ask us!

Links:

Introduced Rodents

Collections Online: Easter

So many specimens

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
13 April 2012
Comments
Comments (0)

Tucked away from public view, kept in unlit, climate-controlled storage, the museum has millions of zoological specimens. Most of these are insects and other invertebrates but thousands are fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. On top of that, we have huge tissue collection: tiny pieces of animal tissue preserved in a sort of genetic library.

Learning this, you might ponder: why do we collect and keep so many specimens, and often, multiple specimens of the same species? As Victoria's official repository for examples of our state's fauna, wouldn't one of each species be enough? And why would we want specimens from outside Victoria?

These are very good questions and there are several reasons why.

Defining a species

Let's say you were out hiking and you found a hidden canyon that wasn't on your map. Within the canyon, you spot an unusual butterfly that's not in your field guide. In fact, it's not like anything you have ever seen before. How would you verify that it is species new to science? You would need to compare it with properly identified examples of other species. You'd probably find those examples in a museum.

There are strict rules for describing and naming new species; the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature oversees the process worldwide. To describe a new animal species you must lodge a holotype – the irreplaceable, single specimen that stands as the official representative of that species. It might take a few specimens, called a type series, to properly describe the species but there is only ever one holotype. Museum Victoria counts several thousand holotypes among our collections, including the Leadbeater's Possum, the Baw Baw Frog, and numerous invertebrates.

However one specimen can't possibly represent a whole species: what about the other sex? What if males and females are very different? Or the animal changes over its life cycle? Or the individuals from over here are slightly different to the individuals from over there? To get a full picture of all the variation within a species, we need many examples of that species.

trays of butterfly specimens Multiple examples of a few species of butterfly. Each individual specimen records the variation within a species.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Changes through time

Preserving five individuals of our hypothetical new butterfly that you caught during your hike is a good start. You might have examples of slightly different sizes or varying wing patterns. But what about next month or next year? How early do the butterflies emerge in spring, and when do they disappear in winter? Maybe next year the canyon receives lots of rain, the butterfly's food plant is plentiful, and the population is twice as large and each individual butterfly is fatter. You'll need some examples of this, too.

Collecting specimens over time records all sorts of useful information. It can indicate the incoming wave of an invasive species or the decline of a rare one. Physical changes in the animals themselves – their size, colour, pattern – can reflect changes in their environment but it requires a large number of data points over many years to detect patterns and work out why those changes might be occurring.

marine crustacean collection The museum's wet collection contains specimens in alcohol. These are marine crustaceans.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Future research

Natural history collectors of a century ago could not have imagined how we would use their specimens today. They didn't even know that DNA existed, let alone that it would one day help define and analyse species. Emerging technologies mean that we can return to old specimens again and again and keep learning new things. So-called 'next generation sequencing' means we can now look at the entire genome of an individual, every gene in their cells, where just a decade ago we could only look at a few marker genes. Genetic analysis can identify cryptic species – ones that can't otherwise be distinguished from closely-related species – and is useful for forensic questions such as determining the origin of smuggled wildlife. Museum collections are the source of tissue and reference specimens for these activities.

Freezers containing tissue collection The museum's banks of freezers contain thousands of tissue samples.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Just like those collectors of old, we can only guess at the importance of today's collecting. Perhaps our hypothetical butterfly might experience a population explosion in the changing climate and become an important indicator of local conditions. That data set begins with those five specimens you collected on your weekend hike.

Links:

Lyman Entomological Museum: Why so many specimens?

The John Curtis British Insects Collection

The Field Museum: From Finches to Ostriches

Leo Joseph, 2011. Museum collections in ornithology: today's record of avianbiodiversity for tomorrow's world, Emu 111, i–xii  (PDF, 417 KB)

About this blog

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

Categories