Guest posts are written by a variety of people from Museum Victoria and beyond.

Upcoming Antarctic trip

by Mel Mackenzie
Publish date
5 February 2016
Comments (1)

A ship the James Clark Ross James Clark Ross at Stanley
Image: Melanie Mackenzie
Source: Museum Victoria

With less than a fortnight to go I’ve now triple checked that my kit bag with extreme climate work gear has made it on board the RSS James Clark Ross. This beautiful big red ship will be my floating Antarctic home for the next month, and with a rolling, freezing deck as a workspace, I’d be lost without my astronaut-like waterproofs and padded safety helmet.

After flying from Melbourne to Sydney, then on to New Zealand, Santiago, Punta Arenas and finally to Stanley in the Falkland Islands. I will be joining a crew of 25 international scientists for a fact-finding expedition around the South Orkney Islands, a tiny remote archipelago in the Southern Ocean near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Lifesaver device and elephant seals Left: Antarctic ice shelf. Right: Elephant seals, South Orkneys
Image: Melanie Mackenzie
Source: Museum Victoria

The South Orkneys are known for the biodiversity of their mammal and bird-life, but the aim of this expedition is to explore their hidden wildlife – the thousands of marine species that live deep beneath the ocean surface.

The South Orkneys State of the Antarctic Ecosystem expedition, or SO-AntEco for short, will investigate the diversity of marine life around the islands, in particular by mapping, filming and sampling the ocean floor. The expedition is led by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), but the importance of the Antarctic environment has encouraged an international collaboration for this project, with a team of scientists from 9 different countries and 16 institutes joining the ship’s crew.

Ships and ice Left: James Clark Ross at Haley. Right: Signey base, South Orkneys
Image: Melanie Mackenzie
Source: Museum Victoria

By gathering information from both inside and outside the archipelago’s marine protected areas, we can better understand what kind of habitats and environments support different animals and seafloor communities.  As part of the scientific crew on-board I’m excited about seeing some of these unknown habitats, finding out how these animals interact and survive in this harsh environment, and perhaps even finding some creatures that are new to science.

Scientists on the ship will work in shifts, deploying sample trawl-nets, sleds, and grabs from the back deck of the ship at different stations around the islands to depths of 2000 metres.  As each sample is retrieved it will be photographed, assessed and roughly sorted and identified before being carefully preserved for further examination post-cruise. Cameras will also be deployed to film the undersea environment and animal assemblages.

Life Jackets and men on ship Left: Retrieving a sled. Right: Padded jackets
Image: Melanie Mackenzie
Source: Museum Victoria

My personal research interest is sea cucumbers (holothuroids) and I will be identifying many of these as we process our catches. Being part of the scientific crew means that I’m also part of a conservation effort that extends to all animals in this ecosystem. By knowing where vulnerable animals and communities live we can better assess their susceptibility to fishing and other human impacts, and it is this knowledge that we hope to use to protect and manage this important marine region well into the future.

Researcher holding sea pig Mel holding a sea pig
Image: Melanie Mackenzie
Source: Museum Victoria

You can find out more about the expedition at: or even take a look at the view from the RRS James Clark Ross:

Five bright planets in the morning sky

by Tanya Hill
Publish date
22 January 2016
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For the first time in more than 10 years, it will be possible to see all five bright planets together in the sky. Around an hour or so before sunrise, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, the five planets that have been observed since ancient times, will appear in a line that stretches from high in the north to low in the east.

Five bright planets Mercury rises out of the early morning glow to complete the full set of five bright planets.
Source: Museum Victoria/Stellarium

The planets are visible from right across Australia in the dawn sky. You can start to look for the lineup from Wednesday, January 20 and it can be seen right through until the end of February.

Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn have been in the morning sky since the beginning of the year. Jupiter is bright in the north, next comes reddish Mars, followed by pale Saturn and lastly brilliant Venus, which shines above the eastern horizon. It is the appearance of Mercury that makes the family complete.

Mercury has just transitioned from an evening object to a morning object. At first it will appear quite low to the eastern horizon and of all the planets it is also the faintest, so it will be hard to see to begin with. However, Mercury will continue to rise higher each morning and by early February it will sit just below bright Venus.

Dates with the moon

If you need something a little more to get you leaping out of bed before sunrise, then here are the dates to mark in your calendar. From the end of January, the moon will travel by each planet and can be used as an easy guide for your planet-spotting.

The moon passes by the planets From January 28 through to February 7, the waning moon will travel through the line up of planets, passing each one in turn.
Source: Museum Victoria/Stellarium

On January 28, the moon will be right next to Jupiter. Come February 1, the moon (in its Last Quarter phase) will be alongside Mars, then on the following morning it’ll sit just below the red planet. On the morning of February 4, the crescent moon will be near Saturn. Then on February 6, the moon will be alongside Venus and on February 7, a thin sliver of moon will sit below Mercury.

In line with the sun

The line formed by the planets in the sky closely follows the ecliptic, the apparent path of the sun against the background stars. This path marks the plane of our solar system, visual proof that the planets, including Earth, all orbit the sun on roughly the same plane.

The ecliptic is bordered by the constellations of the zodiac and one of the most recognisable zodiac constellations is Scorpius. If you’re awake before the first rays of the sun begin to drown out the stars, then look for the curved outline of the scorpion between Mars and Saturn. In fact, sitting just above Saturn is the red supergiant star Antares, which marks the heart of the scorpion and its reddish colour makes it the perfect rival for Mars.

Rare oddity

It’s been a long time since the orbits of all five planets have brought them together to the same patch of sky. To make the best of the viewing opportunity try and get to a clear open space where you can see from the north all the way across to the eastern horizon.

Position of the planets Position of the planets in their orbits around the sun as of February 2016.
Source: from

As early February comes around, I also highly recommend checking out the flight path of the International Space Station via websites such as Heavens Above or NASA’s Spot the Station.

The Station will be flying morning passes over Australia during that time and current predictions for each capital city have it travelling right through or near the line of planets, for example: Darwin (February 3), Brisbane (February 5), Perth (February 6), Sydney (February 7), Canberra (February 7), Adelaide (February 8), Melbourne (February 9) and Hobart (February 11). The predictions can change slightly, so best to check the websites closer to the date and be sure to enter your precise location to obtain the most accurate timing for the pass.

Finally, there’s still more to come. This August the five planets will be together again, visible in the evening sky, so stay tuned for more planet watching in 2016.

The Conversation

Tanya Hill, Honorary Fellow of the University of Melbourne and Senior Curator (Astronomy), Museum Victoria

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Snake season fallacies

by Patrick Honan
Publish date
23 December 2015
Comments (1)

It’s snake season in Victoria and at this time of year Melbourne Museum receives many enquiries about dealing with pesky snakes. In amongst these general enquiries are snake-related questions or statements that drift into the realm of myths, of which there are many. So here are a few snake facts and fallacies.

Close-up of a Tiger Snake Close-up of a Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

Close-up of a Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus), photographed within 5km of Melbourne’s CBD. This species has adapted very well to living in agricultural, suburban and even urban environments.

A bowl of milk will attract snakes:
This is one of the more widespread beliefs, possibly originating with the Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) of North and South America. Locals saw snakes disappearing into barns in search of rodents and believed that the snakes were drinking the milk from cows’ udders. In fact, reptiles can’t digest dairy products and even if they could, it’s unlikely cows would stand idly by whilst being milked. If dehydrated enough, snakes will drink milk, but if thirsty enough they will drink just about anything.

Blue-tongue Lizards and Shinglebacks in your garden will discourage snakes:
Snakes eat frogs, lizards and even other snakes. Some, such as the Orange-naped Snake below, specialise in feeding on skinks. Newly-hatched snakes of various species may fall prey to Blue-tongue Lizards, but as the snakes grow the reverse is usually true.

The Orange-naped Snake The Orange-naped Snake (Furina ornata)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

The Orange-naped Snake (Furina ornata) of central and northern Australia. This venomous species preys mostly on skinks.

If a snake’s head is cut off it will stay alive until sundown:
This myth seems to be particularly popular in rural Australia. It may be based on the fact that a snake’s body will continue to writhe for some time after decapitation, but this story not even remotely true.

A mother snake will swallow her young when threatened:
Although the now-extinct Gastric-brooding Frog (Rheobatrachus species) and mouthbrooding fish do appear to swallow their young, any snake ingested by another snake will immediately succumb to digestive juices.

Amethystine or Scrub Python The non-venomous Amethystine or Scrub Python (Morelia amethistina)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

The non-venomous Amethystine or Scrub Python (Morelia amethistina). Australia’s largest and longest snake, growing up to 8m long. There are 15 species and many subspecies of python in Australia, all non-venomous.

Snakes always travel in pairs:
In general, the only time two snakes are in the same place is during courtship and mating. Otherwise the larger snake will usually kill and eat the smaller one.

If you kill a snake, its partner will come after you no matter where you hide:
Snakes do not have any sort of social bond, nor the intellect nor memory to recognise and remember an assailant. Apparently Bollywood may be partially responsible for this myth.

Lowland Copperhead in grass The Lowland Copperhead (Austrelaps superbus)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

The Lowland Copperhead (Austrelaps superbus), a common inhabitant of the most disturbed habitats across southern Victoria.

The Hoop Snake bites onto its own tail, forms a circle and rolls down hills:
Another myth common to Australia’s rural regions, but unfortunately no such snake exists. The story is also widespread in USA and Canada where records appear from as early as the 1700s. It may be based on the ancient Greek symbol ouroboros which depicts a serpent eating its own tail, representing constant re-creation.

Snakes are deaf:
Although they lack eardrums, snakes possess inner ears which are able to pick up not only ground-borne vibrations but low frequency airborne sounds. They do have difficulty with sounds at a higher pitch.

A Tiger Snake A Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

A Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus) from Lake Condah, Victoria. Tiger Snakes are neither deaf, cold, slimy nor poisonous – they are however venomous. The untreated mortality rate in humans is about 50%.

And now a few common misconceptions.

Snakes are cold and slimy:
In fact, snake skin is dry and, depending on the surrounding temperature, can be quite warm and soft.

Snakes are poisonous:
Technically snakes are venomous, not poisonous. But not all of them are venomous by any means. Australia has the highest proportion of venomous native snakes of any country in the world (100 out of the 140 species of land snakes), although only a handful can give a fatal bite to humans. Poisons must be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin, whilst venom must be injected into the bloodstream.

Snakes are out to get you:
Humans are larger, generally faster and stronger than Australian snakes. Snakes have a number of predators, of which humans well and truly qualify. When you encounter a snake it is usually caught off guard (as you are), but the vast majority of encounters are avoided by a snake vanishing as soon as it hears you coming. A surprised snake will pick the nearest escape route and aim to disappear as quickly as possible, particularly when faced with a potential predator 50 times its own size. However, snakes in general have poor eyesight and don’t always pick the best route out of trouble. If a snake feels cornered, it will often stand and defend itself as a last resort. Snake behaviour can also become more erratic in spring during the breeding season, and females become more defensive if eggs or young are nearby. However, the vast majority of bites to humans in Australia occur because someone decided not to leave a snake alone.

The White-lipped Snake The White-lipped Snake (Drysdalia coronoides)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

The White-lipped Snake (Drysdalia coronoides), common in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Although venomous, they have small fangs and small venom glands, and are not usually dangerous to humans.

And a couple of misconceptions you may not be aware of.

Snakes dislocate their jaws whilst feeding:
Snake jawbones aren’t fused as ours are. A highly flexible ligament joins the bones of the lower jaw, which stretch to allow enormous expansion of the mouth. So the mechanism is not dislocation, just great flexibility.

Pythons asphyxiate their prey by squeezing them:
Recent research has shown that technically pythons kill their prey by preventing blood circulation, not breathing. A constricting snake quickly stops the heart of its prey, and breathing fails soon afterwards.

A juvenile Green Python A juvenile Green Python (Morelia viridis)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

A juvenile Green Python (Morelia viridis). The rows of pits on the jaw are used to detect infrared thermal radiation, helping them detect prey and predators in the dark.
Photo: Patrick Honan

And finally, for the record, here’s what you can do to keep snakes out of your yard:
• Remove potential food sources, in this case usually rodents. Keep your property rodent-free and snakes will have less to eat.
• Remove open water sources. Snakes do find water attractive, and need to drink water regularly to survive.
• Remove shelters, such as sheets of tin on the ground and piles of rocks or firewood.
• Keep a clear area around your house. Make sure grass is cut low, remove fallen branches, and prune overgrown bushes. Most snakes prefer not to move across long stretches of open ground.
• Patch up holes in buildings. Snakes will live under houses or outbuildings where the conditions are warm and dry, and can get through any gap larger than your thumb. Place wire mesh with holes no larger than 1cm square over all potential entry points.

Have your say

by Rachel Roads
Publish date
16 December 2015
Comments (14)

Young people in the Think Ahead exhibition Young people enjoying the Think Ahead exhibition at Scienceworks
Image: MV
Source: Copyright: Dianna Snape

Right now at Scienceworks, we’re planning our new permanent exhibition, which will be aimed at older children aged 10–15 years. To make sure that we’re making something this audience will love, we will seek their input at every stage of the exhibition development process. In this early concept development phase we are interested to hear about the topics, themes, activities and pastimes that 10–15-year-olds like most.

Girl looking at display There will be lots to see and explore in the new exhibition
Image: MV
Source: James Geer

We’re running a short online survey to test some exhibition ideas. If you have young people between 10 and 15 in your household or family, please ask them to tell us what they think! Completed surveys go in the draw to win one of five double passes to IMAX.
The survey takes about 10 minutes and all answers are confidential. You’ll find a short section for a parent or guardian first, then a longer section for a child aged 10–15 at the end.

The survey is now closed. Thank you to everyone who completed it.

Here are a few of the comments we have received from young people so far:
“An interesting and fun exhibit, something you could “challenge” your friends with” “Very unusual – looks fantastic and very contemporary tech”
“Exciting, visually stunning, and a very obvious way to make science accessible”
“Would have a lot of fun with this in a group”

  Girl with interactive We’re keen to know what interests young people the most
Image: MV
Source: James Geer

Nudibranch guide

by Mel Mackenzie
Publish date
9 December 2015
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If you’ve ever scuba-dived under Blairgowrie pier or taken a close look at a clump of seaweed on a rock-pool ramble you may have been lucky enough to spot one of these extraordinary creatures.

Colourful nudibranch Various nudibranch Left: Sagaminopteron ornatum: Sea slug, Source and Photographer John Chuk. Right: Phyllodesmium macphersonae: Sea slug, Photographer: Planton Vafiadis.  

These tiny “butterflies of the sea” are actually related to snails, though as most are lacking a shell their common name ‘nudibranch’ refers to their naked or exposed gills.

Colourful nudibranch Nudiibranch: Left: Flabellina sp. 4: Sea slug, Source and Photographer: John Chuk. Right: Trinchesia sororum: Sea slug, Photographer: Planton Vafiadis.

Our local marine parks and sanctuaries play host to a huge variety of over 400 nudibranch and related animals, from bubble shells, sea hares, side-gilled and sap-sucking slugs, to the true nudibranchs. The expert when it comes to all of these is the one and only Robert (Bob) Burn. With over 60 years spent collecting, observing and studying these animals, Bob has channelled a life-time of work into creating a fantastic new field-guide (Nudibranchs and related molluscs) to introduce us to these gorgeous marine critters.

Nudibranch Left: Philine sp. 2: Sea slug. Right: Polycera sp. 2: Sea slug.
Image: Platon Vafiadis
Source: Platon Vafiadis 2008

Thanks to Bob’s knowledge of the group, and the amazing contributions of many talented collectors and photographers, the guide is filled with fabulous images, descriptions, identification keys and fun facts to help any keen amateur naturalist, diver or photographer. A fun fact you ask? How about their ability to collect deadly nematocysts from their cnidarian food sources and squirrel these away for future defence? Or their reproductive strategies from hermaphroditic mating to gathering in “frothy orgiastic groups”?  With gorgeous colours, stripes, spots and fringes, many nudibranchs are also extremely good at hiding, so next time you snorkel past a sponge, hydroid or clump of seaweed on a pier pylon, take a closer look… a sneaky pair of head tentacles (rhinophores) may just give one away.

Nudibranch Left: Noumea haliclona: Sea slug. Right: Placida sp. 1: Sea slug.
Image: John Chuck
Source: Copyright John Chuk 2005

The field guide is available from MV shops or online, the perfect gift for Christmas!

About the Author:

Geelong building contractor by day, but world nudibranch expert at all times, Bob Burn is an Honorary Associate at Museum Victoria and long-time member of the Marine Research Group of the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria and the Malacological Society of Australasia. He is the author of over 100 publications on nudibranchs and other molluscs and has described over 90 species of these amazingly diverse marine invertebrates. 

Collecting specimens at sea Bob Burn 2012 Murrels Beach
Image: Leon Altoff

Bob Burn searching for nudibranchs at Murrel’s Beach. Photo: Leon Altoff Source: Museum Victoria.

People in photographs Left: Bob with friend, mentor and fellow marine icon Hope Black. Right: Bob with Mark Norman and Robin Wilson.
Source: Museum Victoria

About Museum Victoria Field Guides

Nudibranchs is part of the Museum Victoria field guide series. Each guide in the series covers a different group of marine animals, featuring the common species within that group. Most of the animals described occur in shallow waters, on shores and reefs along the coastline of the southern half of Australia and beyond. The series are supported by the Australian Government through a grant from Natural Heritage Trust, and this particular guide was also supported by a grant from the Norman Wettenhall Foundation.

Field guides Field guides of Museum Victoria.
Source: Museum Victoria

Want more guides for your summer at the beach? Download the free Museum Victoria apps or take a look at the Port Phillip Bay Taxonomic toolkit.

A primary school pop up museum

by Cam Hocking
Publish date
30 November 2015
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Here's a tough question; what do friendship, knitting, soccer and bugs all have in common? Apart from being incredibly popular, they are all exhibits featured in the brand new Princes Hill Primary School Museum

The museum has been curated and created by students from Grade 3&4 at Princes Hill Primary School in North Carlton. Throughout the year these budding historians, scientists and designers have been doing an in depth exploration of the role of museums in society. They have worked with staff from Museum Victoria, visited our museums to study exhibition design, and then applied what they've learnt to the creation of their own museum.

Exhibition plans Students guided Museum Victoria staff through a range of exhibits
Source: Melinda Cashen

As part of the project the students also brought their exhibits into a pop up museum at Melbourne Museum. Staff from all areas of Museum Victoria came and visited the pop up museum, along with some of the students’ parents, to hear about the project and offer feedback to the students about their designs. There was a wonderful feeling of collaboration and collegiality amongst the students and Museum Victoria staff, and a great deal of constructive feedback was offered. You can see a collection of tweets and photographs from the two days here, Tweets and Photographs. See a time-lapse of the setup, opening and pack up of the museum here, Time lapse.

The students were rightfully proud of their work and appreciated the staff and parent visits. Mia said that "It was so good to let other people look at your museum. I felt really important to have so many museum people come and look."

Another student, Loula, reflected on the value of the day.  "It was a great for other people to see the work of students and that they can do more if they put their minds to it."

Classroom teacher Melinda Cashen said "It was such an authentic experience for the children. They have built up a great relationship with the museum over the year and they felt that the effort they have put into building their own exhibits was worthwhile and valued. It allowed the children to see the process of curating and how a museum works in a real context, and they really appreciated the feedback they received, making changes to their exhibits when they returned to school."

There was also great benefit for the staff at Museum Victoria too. Rebecca Carland, Curator of History Collections visited the pop up museum on Tuesday. “I was delighted by how engaging the pop-up Museum was. The science displays made me re-think how we write for younger audiences, some of them really nailed it. And the use of digital tech in one of the history displays was seamless and so professional. I think we met a couple of our future colleagues.”

Students will now take the feedback they received and continue to work on their exhibits in preparation for the opening of their museum at Princes Hill Primary School in December. Congratulations to all of the Grade 3 & 4 students; we can't wait to come and see the final museum when it opens. You can keep up to date with the class' progress on their blog.

Exhibition plans A museum staff member chats with a student about her exhibit
Image: Cam Hocking
Source: Museum Victoria

About this blog

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