Guests

DISPLAYING POSTS BY: Guests (153)

Guests

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

Biodiversity Month

Author
by Rosemary Wrench
Publish date
18 September 2014
Comments
Comments (0)

Rosemary is a Senior Collection Manager. She was Senior Curator of the Many Nations section of First Peoples.

Australian endangered species registers make sobering reading. They list animals and plants that are vulnerable, threatened, endangered and extinct. Each listing includes detailed information such as scientific and common names, habitats, particular threats, estimated numbers and management plans.

Absent from these lists are the Aboriginal language names, cultural knowledge and connections that for thousands of years have been celebrated through song, ceremony, stories and art. All of these animals were named and included in Aboriginal culture prior to being ‘discovered'—and endangered—post-contact.

The Many Nations section of First Peoples provides a unique opportunity to mark this National Biodiversity Month by learning from Aboriginal artists and material culture about their deep connections with over 150 of these animals and birds, including around 20 that appear on the Threatened Species list.

The Animal Creations case contains many endangered animals: Nganamara, Dilmirrur, Kuniya, Ulhelke, Mala, Mewurk or Goodoo, Itjaritjari, Purinina, Garun, and Pokka. There are also several introduced species: the Ngaya, Rapita or Pinytjatanpa, and Camel, whose stories connect to the demise of the Mitika, Wintaru and Mala. Other cases also contain beautiful pieces connected to listed animals and birds including the Gunduy, Gudurrku, Puntukan, Bilby, Rufus Bettong, Black-billed Stork, Stone Curlew and Kakalhalha.

Major Mitchell's Cockatoo Lithograph of Major Mitchell's Cockatoo from Gould's Birds of Australia, 1840-1848, vol 5, pl 2
Image: Artist: John Gould | Lithographer: H.C. Richter
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The latter is a beautiful pink bird that has been given several names since it was ‘discovered’ – firstly Major Mitchell's Cockatoo in honour of explorer Major Sir Thomas Mitchell. It was also named Lophochroa leadbeateri to commemorate the British naturalist Benjamin Leadbeater. To the Arrernte people, this important bird remains known just as it always has been: the Kakalhalha, for the sound it makes. It likes to eat some of the same bush seeds as the Western Arrernte, making it a good indicator of the harvest season, telling the community when it is time to collect the seeds for damper.

Some of the animals on the Threatened Species list include these from the lands of the Pitjantjatjara in Central Australia, the Yorta Yorta in Victoria and the Trawulwuy in Tasmania. Yorta Yorta artist Treahnna Hamm's Mewurk or Goodoo (Murray Cod) artwork highlights the declining health of this magnificent fish and its river habitat.

Treahnna Hamm with her artwork Treahnna Hamm with her Murray Cod artwork, 2013.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Most commonly known as the Tasmanian Devil, the Purinina made by Trawulwuy artist Vicki West is made from kelp, another species in decline. Said Vicki in 2012: ‘I like using kelp, a plant fibre from the ocean, the old people used it to create the water carriers; I use it as the metaphor of survival… The Devil plays an essential role in the cleaning of and caring for our country through scavenging. I find it ironic that the medium I chose to represent survival has been used to create an animal under threat, itself endangered.’

Vicki West holding her Purinina Trawulwuy artist, Vicki West holding her Purinina (Tasmanian Devil), 2013
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Itjaritjari (marsupial moles) live in the sandy river flats and sand dunes in the desert of inland Australia. They are rarely seen and spend most of their time underground. Aboriginal traditional ecological knowledge is crucial to piranpa (western) science's understanding of this reclusive animal. Virtually all Itjaritjari specimens have been captured by the Traditional Owners of the desert, who play an integral role in Itjaritjari research. The Itjaritjari has great cultural significance also: during the formation of the western face of Uluru, a number of caves and potholes were created by a Totemic Being called Minyma Itjaritjari.

Carving, Australia, Desert Southeast Itjaritjari (Marsupial Mole) made by a Pitjantjatjara artist circa 1920s.
Image: Photographer: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Increasingly, joint management and conservation projects rely on the cultural knowledge and expertise of Aboriginal communities to protect animals at risk.

For your eyes only

Author
by Simon C
Publish date
27 August 2014
Comments
Comments (5)

Simon is a presenter with MV’s Outreach Program. He travels all over metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria in one of our two Outreach vans with a dinosaur sticker on the side. You should give the vans a toot if you see them.

Quick! Look at this fossilised fern!

You are one of the first people to see it!

Fossil fern Fossil fern
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We at MV’s Outreach Program travel all over Victoria, bringing the MV’s collections to those who may not be able to get to one of our museums. During our presentations we encourage those we meet to explore and interact with the interesting things we have brought on the road that day.

fossil fern What the fossil looked like at the start of the day...
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This is one of the fossils we use in the Outreach Program’s Dinosaurs and Fossils presentation to communicate the idea of plants being an important part of the fossil record; it’s not all T. rex claws and Stegosaurus tail spikes. (Although, we do have a T. rex claw and a Stegosaurus spike, and they are pretty awesome.) We have fossils with leaves, seashells, bones and teeth for our audiences to handle and investigate.

During a kinder visit yesterday, one of our keen, young palaeontologists was testing his revolutionary new ‘drop’ technique and managed to unearth a new fossil running across and through one of the specimens.

Fossil fern Fossil fern enhanced with a large split thanks to the 'drop' technique pioneered in a kinder visit.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As we gazed upon the freshly split rock back in the office, it occurred to us that only a handful of people – the probably-panicked kinder rock-dropper, our Outreach presenter, and a few of our team – have ever seen this fossil. So we thought it would be only right to bring you into the fold and invite you to be among the first humans to ever set eyes on it. The count currently stands at approximately six people, or seven if you include Kate who proofs the blog posts before they go out. I'm 004, but she’s lucky to get 007.

So get your peepers around these pictures and join our very exclusive club. We’re going to get jackets made!

Fossil fern Two is better than one, right?
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Eastern Pygmy Possum

Author
by Phoebe Burns
Publish date
15 August 2014
Comments
Comments (1)

Phoebe is a University of Melbourne Masters student supervised by Dr. Kevin Rowe at MV. She is passionate about the unique mammal fauna of Australia.

Early one morning, while up in the Grampians searching for Smoky Mice (Pseudomys fumeus), I peeked inside an Elliot trap and was greeted by a delicate little face, huge ears, big bright eyes and fat, gently curled tail. Expecting to see the pointy face and straight, slender tail of an Agile Antechinus (Antechinus agilis), I hastily shut the trap, took a second to process the surprise and then beamed at my bemused volunteer. Another tentative peek in the trap confirmed it; I had trapped my first Eastern Pygmy Possum (EPP; Cercartetus nanus).

Eastern Pygmy Possum Eastern Pygmy Possum
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The EPP weighs in at a miniscule 15-38g1, yet still looks truly possum-like. It is one of seven possum species you could fit in your pocket, but is far from the smallest. The Little Pygmy Possum (Cercartetus lepidus) weighs only 6-10g and a full-grown Honey Possum (Tarsipes rostratus) can weigh as little as 5g1.

Like several other possum species, EPPs can obtain all required nutrients, including protein, from nectar and pollen alone.2 However they also eat insects, seeds and fruit, providing flexibility when few plants are flowering. Like the Fat-tailed Dunnart, the EPP stores fat at the base of its tail as a reserve for when food is scarce, and can go into torpor when keeping active is energetically too expensive.

Eastern Pygmy Possum Eastern Pygmy Possum
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As another of Australia’s amazing marsupial species, the female EPP gives birth to tiny eyeless, earless babies that suckle in her pouch for 30 days. Once the juveniles are too big for the pouch, they nest with their mother for another 30-35 days then head off alone.3 EPPs don’t build their own nests; they use whatever is available and change nest sites frequently. Researchers have found EPPs nesting in tree hollows, abandoned birds nests, burrows and natural collections of leaves and twigs in tree forks.3

Phoebe Burns with an adult female eastern pygmy possum Phoebe Burns with an adult female eastern pygmy possum (Cercartetus nanus) in the Grampians National Park.
Image: Kara Joshi
Source: Museum Victoria
 

 

Eastern Pygmy Possums are patchily distributed from the southeast corner of Queensland to the southeast tip of South Australia, Flinders and King Islands and throughout Tasmania. They are listed as near threatened in Victoria; at risk from predation by foxes and cats, competition with feral honeybees and increasing fire frequency.4 I consider myself so lucky to have encountered such a charming species and hope there are many more (pleasant) surprises in my traps for years to come.

References

1.         Menkhorst, P. & Knight, F. Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. (Oxford University Press, 2011).

2.         Van Tets, I. G. & Hulbert, A. J. A Comparison of the Nitrogen Requirements of the Eastern Pygmy Possum, Cercartetus nanus, on a Pollen and on a Mealworm Diet. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 72, 127–137 (1999).

3.         Ward, S. Life-History of the Eastern Pygmy-Possum, Cercartetus nanus (Burramyidae, Marsupialia), in South-Eastern Australia. Australian Journal of Zoology 38, 287 (1990).

4.         Harris, J. M. & Goldingay, R. L. Distribution, habitat and conservation status of the eastern pygmy-possum Cercartetus nanus in Victoria. Australian Mammalogy 27, 185–210 (2005).

Fat-tailed Dunnart

Author
by Phoebe Burns
Publish date
4 August 2014
Comments
Comments (0)

Phoebe is a University of Melbourne Masters student supervised by Dr. Kevin Rowe at MV. She is passionate about the unique mammal fauna of Australia.

There are 360 mammal species native to Australia. I'd challenge you to name them all, but even as a mammalogist (albeit early in my career) I'm still coming across species I haven't heard of. Even so, there are relatively common species I'm always surprised people don't know, for instance: what is a dunnart?

The Fat-tailed Dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata) is one of 19 dunnart species. It is a small (10-20g) insect-eating dasyurid, which means that although it's mouse-sized, the dunnart is in the same family as the Tassie devil.

Fat-tailed Dunnart Fat-tailed Dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata).
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The females give birth a mere 13 days after conception to 8-10 tiny immature young that are about one-eightieth the size of a new-born house mouse. The young suckle for around 65 days, moving from the pouch to their mother's back once they grow too large to fit.

Fat-tailed Dunnart Fat-tailed Dunnart scratching an itchy spot.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Aptly named for their thick tails, the Fat-tailed Dunnart stores about 15 per cent of its body fat in the tail. This provides the animal with a back-up energy reserve during times when food is scarce. Torpor is another method the dunnart uses for dealing with an uncertain environment – when food availability becomes unpredictable they curl up, let their body temperature drop, and their metabolic rate slows. Torpor allows a dunnart to conserve energy when there is so little food around that they would burn more energy finding it than they could obtain eating it.

Fat-tailed Dunnart The thick tail of the Fat-tailed Dunnart contains fat stores that helps it survive in harsh conditions.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Fat-tailed Dunnarts occupy a wide range of habitats across most of south and central Australia. They are one of a few native mammal species that can be kept as a pet in Victoria with a basic wildlife license, provided the animal is legally obtained and not taken from the wild.

If you want to learn more about our native fauna check out the Museum Victoria Field Guide app, and our sister apps for the rest of Australia.

Discovering Mexican Food

Author
by Adrienne
Publish date
1 August 2014
Comments
Comments (0)

Adrienne creates and presents public programs at Melbourne Museum.

White bean soup, crunchy crickets, sweet amaranth tamales. Sound familiar? If you've visited Mexico, perhaps, but for many of the guests at the museum's June master classes, the food of the Aztecs was surprising and new.

Crunchy crickets dish Crunchy crickets dish
Image: Rob Zugaro
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Mexican food and particularly its Aztec roots were presented by those in the know: three VIP food experts who flew into Melbourne from Mexico for a unique opportunity to highlight the Aztecs exhibition on display at Melbourne Museum.

Two visiting Mexican chefs Two of the VIP Mexican chefs. Left: Yuri de Gortari, Head Chef. Right: Leon Aguirre, Sous-chef and translator
Image: Rob Zugaro
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The three VIPs established the School of Gastronomy, History, Art and Culture in Mexico and for more than a decade have researched and presented Mexican food history. Yuri de Gortari is the Head Chef of the school and is a well known Mexican television celebrity, presenting traditional Mexican recipes on morning TV. Sous-chef and translator Leon Aguirre has just recorded his first television series focusing on more modern Mexican food. And behind the scenes, Edmundo Escamilla has been undertaking research on Mexican food history for the past two decades, amassing thousands of historic recipes.

Agriculture was practised in Mexico as early as 7,000 BC. Early cultivation, of corn and chillies, expanded over the millennia to include tomatoes, amaranth, chia, vanilla, avocado, papaya and guava. By the time the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century, the Emperor's table proffered 'a large feast... with a type of gold cup serving cocoa drinks scented with vanilla; a large variety of rabbits and hares, as well as wild boar, venison, partridges, pheasants, ducks and turkey, all of them prepared in a variety of different sauces, and a wide variety of fruits from all over the Empire.*' 

Guests at the master classes didn't quite get Moctezuma's feast but were treated to a menu which started and finished with tamales, one savoury, one sweet. Tamales are corn husks stuffed with goodies such as beans or amaranth, a small seed that looks like sesame. Edmundo has collected more than 5,000 recipes for tamales.

Man in kitchen Food Historian Edmundo Escamilla preparing tamales for guests at the masterclass.
Image: Rob Zugaro
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The savoury black bean tamales were followed by the fried grasshopper dish, reportedly tasting like anchovies. Then came a delicious white bean soup with strips of pickled cactus, followed by fish in an Acuyo sauce made from the Piper auritum plant indigenous to tropical Mesoamerica. This plant is used to make green sauce (mole verde), and to flavour meats, tamale mixes, eggs, soups, chocolate drinks, goats' cheese and a liquor called Verdin.

Two Mexican dishes Delicious Mexican food. Left: tamales - steamed beans wrapped in corn husks. Right: Fish in Acuyo Sauce.
Image: Rob Zugaro
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The last savoury dish was rabbit with guajillo chillies. Apparently there are at least nine indigenous species of rabbit in Mexico and two types of hare. Along with fish, turkey, dog, duck, possum, peccary and armadillo, rabbit was common Aztec fare, and continues to be popular in Mexico today. The chefs used a wide range of chillies in their dishes from fat chocolatey-looking ones to fine red hot slim chillies, but said that chillies were meant to be used for their deep flavouring of dishes not for their heat.

Two Mexican dishes More tasty dishes the Aztecs would know. Left: White bean soup with strips of pickled cactus. Right: Rabbit slow-cooked in chilli and tomato.
Image: Rob Zugaro
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Sweets and sweet drinks are common in Mexico and the guests were treated to cacao flavoured water and a selection of amaranth candy and peanut candy to round off the day. The cacao beans were handed around for taste, and the bitterness was distinct. Apparently it was only in Victorian times that sugar was added to cacao to make what we know as the flavour of chocolate today.

Mexican cooking master class Maste rclass goodies. Left: a display of types of grain. Right: showbags!
Image: Rob Zugaro
Source: Museum Victoria
 

With a bag of goodies donated by Mexican businesses around Melbourne including sweets, tortillas, sauces and candies, guests left knowing more of the cuisine that has influenced the world since the Spanish conquest and a greater understanding the wholesome, balanced and nutritious gastronomy of the Aztecs.

The master classes were developed by the Education and Community Programs team at Melbourne Museum as part of the Aztecs exhibition. The Mexican VIPs were brought to Melbourne by the Mexican Embassy of Australia especially for the master classes. Peter Rowland Catering at Melbourne Museum partnered and supported the events in the Treetops Restaurant at Melbourne Museum.

* Source: Notes provided by the School of Gastronomy, History, Art and Culture, Mexico City

National Science Week - Meet the Scientists

Author
by Priscilla
Publish date
30 July 2014
Comments
Comments (0)

Priscilla is a Program Coordinator for Life Sciences and works on education programs at Melbourne Museum.

In National Science Week this year, we're running a special program called Meet the Scientists just for students in Years 9 and 10.

If you're a teacher, you can book your Year 9 or 10 classes in to chat with our researchers about their day jobs. And if you're not, here's a taste of what the students will get: interviews with scientists who work on our natural history collections.

Meet Mel Mackenzie, Collection Manager of Marine Invertebrates

From scallops to squids, crabs to octopuses, Mel’s day job sounds more like she works in a restaurant than a museum. That is until she gets into the nudibranchs, echinoderms, flatworms, sponges, isopods and jellyfishes – just to name a few. Meet Mel Mackenzie.

Mel looking down microscope Mel Mackenzie, Collection Manager of Marine Invertebrates, on an Antarctic research trip.
Image: Pete Lens (BAS)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

How did you get into being a Collection Manager?

I started working at the museum as a volunteer docent in 1994, educating public visitors in various marine exhibitions while studying Zoology at Melbourne University. From there I moved down to the dungeons of the previous location of the museum on Russell Street as a volunteer research assistant to Dr. C.C. Lu, busily counting squid suckers and tentacles to assist in descriptions of new species. I went on to work as a Relocations Officer during the Museum move from Russell Street, then as an assistant collection manager in Invertebrate Zoology at various temporary locations before finally settling at Melbourne Museum.

After a ten-year stint away (in Learning, Development, Training and Publishing both here and in Japan) I’ve now been back working in the collections at Melbourne Museum since 2010.

Which collections do you look after?

The Marine Invertebrate Collection, though we do also have some freshwater invertebrates (like crayfish) and also some land snails and slugs. The collection is a specimen 'library' of everything from tiny tanaids (a type of crustacean) to giant squids. We keep the collection organised, viable and accessible for ongoing morphological, genetic, and environmental research. 

Have you got a favourite marine invertebrate?

Holothurians; more commonly known as Sea Cucumbers. Apart from my usual collection management responsibilities, I get to work closely with other scientists on this group of animals and contribute through fieldwork, lab work, research and photography to a variety of scientific projects and publications. I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled to Poland, the Falklands and even the Weddell Sea in Antarctica to collect and identify these curious critters.

 

Meet Dr Erich Fitzgerald, Senior Curator of Palaeontology

When you’re studying the past, life came in many more forms than just the dinosaurs. Palaeontologists study fossil birds, plants, snakes, insects, or even pollen, which all help us to build up a picture of the past. Meet Dr Erich Fitzgerald.

Erich with whale skull Dr Erich Fitzgerald, with the fossil skull of the early whale Janjucetus hunderi.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

What area of palaeontology do you specialise in?

I investigate the evolutionary history of aquatic vertebrates, especially marine mammals such as whales, seals and sea cows. This research involves exploring the fossil record as well as investigating aquatic adaptations of living species. I seek to document the diversity, evolutionary relationships and palaeobiology of marine vertebrates through time and uncover the drivers of their evolution and extinction.

How did you get your job?

I studied earth science and zoology as part of a Bachelors of Science at Melbourne University, and then studied fossil whales for my PhD at Monash University. I was then a Smithsonian Institution Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, and more recently was the Harold Mitchell Fellow at Museum Victoria (2009–2012) before getting my job as the Senior Curator.

What are you researching now?

My major ongoing program of research involves the documentation and analysis of the little-studied fossil record of marine mammals in Australia, exploring how and when the remarkable biological adaptations of today’s whales, dolphins and seals evolved. I am interested in the questions opened up by looking at extinct and living marine mammals as a continuum: to understand the present we must grasp the past. That’s what Wallace and Darwin showed us: life only makes sense in light of its evolution.

Links:

Meet the Scientists program

National Science Week

About this blog

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

Categories