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

The New Holland mouse

by Phoebe Burns
Publish date
31 July 2015
Comments (1)

The New Holland mouse (Pseudomys novaehollandiae) is one of Victoria’s threatened native rodents. The charismatic little species has only been recorded in three areas across the state in the past 15 years (the blue dots in the map below), whereas historically it was recorded in ten, including metropolitan Melbourne (the red dots in the map below). That’s why I embarked upon a PhD to determine the status of NHMs across Victoria and help protect this species from further decline.

New Holland mouse detection sites New Holland mouse detection sites across Victoria. Red dots indicate sites in areas where the species has not been detected in at least 15 years, blue dots indicate areas with more recent detections. Dates show the range of years during which New Holland mice were known at each site.

One of the greatest challenges for studying the status and conservation of New Holland mice (and many native Australian rodents) is that they can be very difficult to find; you can’t just see them with your binoculars or hear them calling in the bush. Many native rodents, including NHMs, go through natural periods where they persist in such low numbers that traditional survey efforts fail to detect them. New Holland mice are also particularly fickle about their habitat preferences and may only persist locally for a few years before moving on, making their populations even more difficult to track.

New Holland mouse captured and released New Holland mouse captured and released using live trapping.
Image: Phoebe Burns

That’s why I’ve been trialling the use of cameras to detect the New Holland mouse. Traditional live trapping can be a great method for detecting a species in an area, and it’s critical if I want to know about health and reproduction, estimate abundance, or get DNA samples. However, sometimes when a species is at low densities, it takes a huge amount of effort to be reasonably confident that the species isn’t there, which in a world of limited time and funding drastically reduces the area you can survey. This is a real challenge when your species moves in the landscape.

This is where cameras can come in handy – you set them once and, rather than having to come back every morning and afternoon to check each trap, you can just leave them in place for weeks at a time. The animals are attracted to a tasty lure (I like to use peanut butter, oats, golden syrup and vanilla essence), and while they investigate, the camera senses the heat and motion and snaps a photo.

New Holland mouse Camera trap image of a New Holland mouse clinging to a bait station.
Image: Phoebe Burns

Cameras allow you to survey much wider areas, for longer periods of time with a fraction of the effort of live trapping – at least until you have to sift through all the images and identify the animals. Once I know that NHMs are present in an area from the camera trapping, I can target those areas for live trapping to collect the rest of my data. My challenge, and the reason I did a camera trial, rather than just jumping straight into using cameras as a survey method, was identifying New Holland mice in the images.

New Holland mouse and house mouse Camera trap image of a New Holland mouse climbing on a bait station with a house mouse standing up against the base.
Image: Phoebe Burns

Rodents tend to look very similar on camera, particularly if the images are in black and white. It doesn’t help that New Holland mice are about the same size as the non-native house mice (Mus musculus); they can be hard for some people to tell apart when they are holding them in their hand. Since the house mouse has infiltrated all known New Holland mouse habitat in Victoria, I needed to tell them apart from less than perfect images in colour and in black and white.

New Holland mice and house mice Infrared camera trap images of New Holland mice (left) and house mice (right) investigating bait stations.
Image: Phoebe Burns

Tens of thousands of images later, I can happily say that New Holland mice and house mice are distinguishable from one another in both colour and black and white images. In the colour images the species can be distinguished by differences in colouration, but in black and white the distinction is all in the shape of the two rodents. New Holland mice have a much sturdier build, a thickset neck and a snubby nose, whereas house mice are much more slender, with a pointed nose. It's not unlike the difference between rugby and footy players.

Now that I’ve got the IDs sorted, I’ll be using cameras (and live traps) to survey across Victoria and see where the New Holland mouse is persisting, so that we can do our best to halt the species’ further decline.

You can follow my PhD progress and fieldwork on Twitter and at my website to stay up to date with the status of New Holland mice as I search for them throughout Victoria.

Additionally, you can try your hand at identifying New Holland mice in my New Holland mouse quiz.

Welcome to the family, Pluto

by Tanya Hill
Publish date
16 July 2015
Comments (1)
image of planets Welcome to the family. Ben Gross/twitter, CC BY-SA

What an amazing time for space exploration. The picture of the solar system from my childhood is now complete, as seen in this great family portrait produced by Ben Gross, a research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and distributed via twitter.

I love this image because it shows each world in close-up, using some of the latest pictures from space exploration. As we celebrate seeing Pluto for the first time, it’s remarkable to think that this completes a 50 year task.

It has been NASA that has provided the first close-up views of all these worlds. Here’s the rundown:

  • Mercury: Mariner 10 (1973)
  • Venus: Mariner 2 (1962)
  • Mars: Mariner 4 (1965)
  • Jupiter: Pioneer 10 (1973)
  • Saturn: Pioneer 11 (1979)
  • Uranus: Voyager 2 (1985)
  • Neptune: Voyager 2 (1989) and
  • Pluto: New Horizons (2015)

But science never stays still. When New Horizons left Earth in January 2006, Pluto was a planet. Later that year an important reassessment was made of the Solar System and Pluto became the first of the dwarf planets.

The ‘Not-Planets’

The Planetary Society’s Senior Editor, Emily Lakdawalla, has teamed together the ‘Not-Planets’. These are the close-up views, shown to scale, that have been captured of the largest moons, asteroids and dwarf planets.

image of non-planets in the solar system Montage by Emily Lakdawalla. The Moon: Gari Arrillaga. Other data: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/SwRI/UCLA/MPS/IDA. Processing by Ted Stryk, Gordan Ugarkovic, Emily Lakdawalla, and Jason Perry.

It clearly shows that there are many diverse and interesting worlds to explore beyond the eight planets of our solar system.

New Horizons is the first spacecraft to start exploring the Kuiper Belt, an icy realm of objects orbiting 5 billion kilometres or more beyond the sun. It’s the chance to observe a dwarf planet, something distinct from the terrestrial planets and the gas giants.

It was in 1992 that astronomers discovered Pluto was not alone. The first Kuiper Belt Object, designated 1992 QB1, is a 100-kilometre sized object that orbits well beyond Pluto.

Now more than 1,000 objects have been detected in this realm, and the belt likely contains many more. Most are small compared to Pluto, but there are some stand-outs such as Quaoar, and the dwarf planets Eris, Makemake and Haumea.

Don’t forget to phone home

The suspense of the mission has certainly been high. To maximise the amount of data that New Horizons could collect, the spacecraft did not communicate with Earth for the duration of the flyby. As described by Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman, it was the moment when you let your child free.

The team had prepared New Horizons, told it what work needed to be done and in that radio silence they had to trust that all would go to plan.

Just before 11am today (AEST), New Horizons checked in – showing it to be the perfect child to the relief of its many anxious “parents”. It was only a brief phone home, but in that short time the scientists confirmed that all telemetry was spot-on, the spacecraft followed the path that had been set for it and there were no error messages recorded on any of the systems.

No data was transferred in that brief connection, but it was established that the main computer system, which records all the data collected by the spacecraft, showed the expected number of segments had been used. In other words, data had been collected.

We will soon see Pluto and Charon in even higher resolution. Their geology will be mapped, the surface compositions and temperatures will be measured, atmospheres will be probed and new discoveries will be made.

A love note from Pluto

It’s also been wonderful to see the public become so enthralled with the latest image from Pluto. Humans are incredibly good at spotting patterns and it seems that Pluto wears his heart on his sleeve for us.


I’m also equally intrigued to discover that the smooth part of Pluto’s heart is made of carbon monoxide ice. This was already known from ground-based observations, except never before seen in such detail. It’s reassuring to have a good match between the old and new data.

But look again … is it a heart or something entirely different stealing the show?



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

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

The Honourable Joan Kirner

Dr Greene is the CEO of Museum Victoria.

Museum Victoria mourns Joan Kirner, the former Premier of Victoria, who served as a member of the museum's governing body from 2003 to 2012.

Joan Kirner speaking at the Joan Kirner speaking at the celebration of the 21st birthday of Scienceworks.
Source: Museum Victoria

Joan's first involvement with the museum occurred during her time as Premier of Victoria when she opened Scienceworks, an investment in the scientific life of the State that proved very forward-thinking.

Joan was an enthusiastic supporter of Museum Victoria. Just last week she was talking about ways in which she might help with one of the museum's current projects that is providing visibility to the role of women on farms in Australia. Her enthusiasm for efforts to recognise and encourage women in all aspects of public and personal life extended to many other aspects of social justice, including the rights of Aboriginal Australians. She was a member of the museum's Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee, and the development of the First Peoples exhibition in Bunjilaka was dear to her heart.

Joan's passions extended to wildlife, and particularly birds. She and Ron, her husband, went on camping trips that would bring them to places rich in birdlife until ill-health curtailed that activity. She was a great advocate for opportunities for the museum to display its rich collections of natural science specimens, culminating in the opening of the award-winning Wild: Amazing animals in a changing world at Melbourne Museum. As someone who placed the education of young people high on any agenda, the museum's ability to reach and inspire hundreds of thousands of children was a source of considerable pleasure. Joan was also on the Immigration Museum Advisory Committee and was a strong advocate for youth engagement which resulted in the Talking Difference project.

I enjoyed working with Joan Kirner enormously during her nine years (the maximum term) as a Board member. Her enthusiasm was matched by her keen intellect: she was a constant source of wisdom. When she stepped down from the Board, Joan was appointed an Honorary Life Fellow of Museum Victoria and she continued to take a close interest in its progress. Her insights into the politics and personalities of Victoria were always valuable and frequently amusing. She was held in high regard by everyone associated with Museum Victoria and we will miss her greatly.

Roaming T-rex

by Krystal
Publish date
21 May 2015
Comments (1)

Scotty the Tyrannosaurus rex got lost on his way to Scienceworks!

A shipping container holding this ancient predator and two baby dinosaurs has turned up on the Swanston Street Forecourt of Federation Square on its way to the Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family exhibition.

Detail of T.rex puppet's teeth Scotty's teeth
Source: Erth Visual & Physical Inc

The dinosaurs will need to be let loose before being taken back to their family at Scienceworks. Come down and meet these incredible creatures as they roam around Federation Square on the afternoon of Saturday 23 May.

Follow Scotty’s movements on the Scienceworks Facebook page and through the hashtag #trexontherun on Twitter and Instagram.

T.rex puppet with a man and a girl Scotty looks scary, but he's pretty friendly.
Source: Erth Visual & Physical Inc

Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family opens at Scienceworks on Saturday 23 May 2015. Dinosaur puppets by Erth Visual & Physical Inc.

MV at sea

by Tim O'Hara
Publish date
4 May 2015
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Dr Tim O'Hara is Senior Curator of Marine Invertebrates.

It is 3am, the night is jet black, the boat heaves with the swell, and a bunch of scientists and crew dressed in full wet-weather gear are silently standing, waiting on the back deck. There is always a sense of excitement as new samples are hauled in. What bizarre deep-sea creatures will be brought up? Perhaps this time we will see the enigmatic mushroom-shaped Dendrogramma, an animal (apparently) that has confounded all efforts at classification since its first collection by Museum Victoria in 1986. Or maybe the massive sea-lice that can devour a dead whale? Or just seafloor life in incredible abundance?

Large blue and white Investigator vessel The Marine National Facility research vessel Investigator at the CSIRO wharf in Hobart.
Image: Tim O'Hara
Source: Museum Victoria

Ship's crew using machinery on deck Deploying the Smith McIntyre grab.
Image: Tim O'Hara
Source: Museum Victoria

On Easter Tuesday, four science staff and students from Museum Victoria (Di Bray, Mel Mackenzie and Skip Woolley and I) joined scientists around Australia on a trial voyage of Australia’s brand new research vessel, the Investigator. The idea was to test out all the gear necessary for deep-sea exploration, from iron box-like dredges, used for over 200 years to collect samples, to the high tech cameras that bounce above the seabed, worked in real time from a joystick and a bank of computer monitors in the bowels of the ship, thousands of metres above. We went south of Hobart into the Southern Ocean, specifically to look at life on underwater sea mountains in the Huon one of the Commonwealth’s recently declared marine reserves.

People in the Investigator vessel lab The sorting lab: Skip, Di and Mel facing Karen Gowlett-Holmes of CSIRO.
Image: Tim O'Hara
Source: Museum Victoria

Big camera rig on ship deck The towed deep-sea camera.
Image: Tim O'Hara
Source: Museum Victoria

But I had another motive to joining this trip. Next year in November I will be chief scientist of a voyage from Brisbane to Hobart that will survey Australia’s abyssal sea-plain (4000 m below sea-level). So I really wanted to learn all I could about the capabilities of the vessel and think about best practice scientific procedures to ensure we get the most out of the expedition.

The Investigator, run by the Marine National Facility funded by the Commonwealth Government, is a large (94 m), elegant and efficient platform from which to do deep-sea research. Diesel electric engines keep the noise down and high tech stabilisers prevent much of the pitch, yaw and roll that can make life miserable on smaller boats.

People on ship deck The crew deploying gear off the stern deck.
Image: Tim O'Hara
Source: Museum Victoria

Ship crew deploying gear Preparing for the next catch: MV staff in canary yellow facing Mark Lewis of from CSIRO with Mark McGrouther of the Australian Museum looking on.
Image: Tim O'Hara
Source: Museum Victoria

My main memories of the trip: dark thundery night skies, albatrosses, friendly company and lots of carbs to eat. All too soon we steamed back to another sunny day in Hobart. We didn’t find Dendrogramma – maybe next time.

Who do you love?

by Blaire Dobiecki
Publish date
15 April 2015
Comments (0)

Blaire is a Presenter at Melbourne Museum and self-professed dog enthusiast. She specialises in having fun and doing science, often simultaneously.

Melbourne Museum’s term one weekend activity, Museum Love Letters, has come to an end, which means the results are in! Which museum objects received the most love?

Bar chart of love letters Bar graph showing the number of love letters sent to particular museum objects or exhibitions.
Source: Museum Victoria

The dinosaurs are by far the most loved exhibits at Melbourne Museum, receiving a whopping 273 letters. In particular, 29 love letters were addressed directly to the T-Rex, a dinosaur that was nowhere to be found within the museum. The authors may have meant to send their regards to our lovable Tarbosaurus.

Unsurprisingly, Phar Lap was the next in line with 88 letters, followed by the entire Forest Gallery with 70 letters. The butterflies and bugs, Pygmy Blue Whale and 3D volcano movie were also highly admired.

Love letter to Little Lon house A love letter to the Little Lonsdale House in The Melbourne Story reads “Dear House, I like learning from the olden days. I like you. From Zali."  

But these letters revealed far more than just a numbers game. The activity was designed to allow visitors to reflect upon the significance of Melbourne Museum’s collection. Many stories of personal meaning for objects emerged.

Love letter to Sam Koala A love letter from Casey to Sam the Koala reads “I love the fact you were so brave and now you’re here.”
Source: Museum Victoria

Greg expressed his gratitude to the Cole’s Funny Picture Book for teaching him how to read. Jess thanked the meteorites for reminding her that there is so much more than just us in this universe. Lana appreciated the Love & Sorrow exhibition for reminding her that we are lucky today to live in a safe and free country.

Love letter to Cole's Funny Picture Book Love letter from Greg reads “Funny Picture Book of Edward Cole: When I was a boy you gave me countless hours of joy. Now I declare my thanks that will never end. For teaching me to read. My dear, dear friend.”
Source: Museum Victoria

The objects and exhibitions in Melbourne Museum carry many levels of meaning and significance. They uncover stories about history, science and society that are then shared with the public. This activity turned the tables and gave the public the opportunity to share their personal stories of object significance with the museum. It was a wonderful opportunity for staff to hear what objects visitors treasure the most and why.

Staff members were also encouraged to share their stories. John Patten, Senior Programs Officer in Bunjilaka, shared a story of very close personal significance to an object that is not currently on display. A breastplate worn by his great, great, great, great grandfather, a leader among the Dhulenyagen clan of the Yorta Yorta people.

King Billy's breastplate King Billy's breastplate
Source: Museum Victoria

John's love letter John's letter to the breastplate.
Source: Museum Victoria

About this blog

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