Events and Programs

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Events and Programs

Lectures, community festivals, activities for kids - lots of stuff to see and do!

Burrowing bees

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
18 December 2013
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Comments (2)

No biologist worth their salt will stumble across a burrow in the ground without having a good stickybeak. And museum biologists are definitely worth their salt*.

So when the Alpine National Park Bioscan team found several hundred small burrows in one spot, they couldn't just wonder if they were made by crayfish or perhaps mole crickets. This hypothesis needed testing. Colin from Live Exhibits got to digging.

hut in the Alps Burrows in the foreground and Davies Plain Hut in the background.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

He stuck a blade of grass down the burrow and used a spoon to carefully dig around it. About 30 or 40 cm down he found, not a cray or cricket, but a little bee. It was no coincidence; a second excavation turned up another bee in the next burrow.

Colin digging holes Colin digging up burrows with a spoon.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The bees belong to the subfamily Halictinae, which happens to be the speciality of museum entomologist and bioscan participant Dr Ken Walker. He collects most of his study specimens as they are out foraging and rarely sees the burrows. And he'd never seen burrows in such high density –about 400 in one small grassy area.

Ken explained that the bees belonging to the genus Lasioglossum and subgenus Parasphecodes. "Lasioglossum is one of the largest genera in Australia, doing most of the work of pollinating." These burrows are where the female bees brood the next generation.

Halictine bee The halictine bee responsible for the burrows.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

"They're a semi-social bee," said Ken. "In a single nest there can be six to ten females, which are all queens. They all lay their own eggs, and they all help excavate that main tunnel but each one of them then makes a lateral tunnel by themselves. At the end they build a group of cells each lined with saliva, and they put in a pollen ball mixed with a little bit of nectar, and they lay an egg and close the whole thing up."

But that's not the end of the story, because the bee larva isn't alone in the cell. Looking closely, Ken spotted a number of large mites on the backs of the bees. The mites are harmless to the bee since they're a non-feeding, migratory (or hypopial) life stage, waiting patiently for the bee to finish stocking the brood cell with pollen.

Halictine bee with mite The red arrow shows the location of a hitch-hiking mite on this bee.
Image: Ken Walker
Source: Museum Victoria

Mite on a bee Detail of a mite on the back of a bee.
Image: Ken Walker
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Said Ken, "just before the bee closes up the cell, she turns around and brushes one or two mites off, which then develop to the feeding and sexual stages." The mites act like little housekeepers, eating any mould or fungus that attacks the pollen ball and thus keeping it fresh for the developing bee. When the new adult bee is ready to emerge, the mites' own young clamber aboard and travel on to the next burrow. "It's a wonderful relationship there."

Halictine bee Dorsal view of the burrowing semi-social bee.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

So there you have it – nosy biologists reveal an underground community of fascinating little animals, and Parks Victoria rangers have an interesting reason to recommend that tents be pitched away from the field of muddy burrows.

*Humans contain about 0.4% salt by weight. So a 70kg museum biologist, say, contains about 280g salt**. That much table salt costs about a dollar from a supermarket. If instead we say they're worth their weight in gold, according to today's price, and the Dynamic Earth scale, that puts our 70kg biologist at $3,112,900. The real value is probably somewhere in the middle.

**Except marine biologists. They're a bit saltier.

Links:

ABC Bush Telegraph: Hive of activity reveals all in alpine bioscan

The Age: Critter census reaps bonanza for researchers

MV Blog: Alpine Bioscan

Flags for Melbourne

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
25 November 2013
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Comments (2)

Two new flags are flying above the Royal Exhibition Building for On Top of the World: Flags for Melbourne. This public art project takes the NGV’s new exhibition, Melbourne Now, outside the gallery and to flagpoles across the City of Melbourne.

Melbourne Now flag John Warwicker's Melbourne Now flag flying above the Royal Exhibition Building.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The first of the flags was unfurled at Princes Hill on Tuesday in tribute to Ivor Evans, a Princes Hill student who was one of the five winners of a public competition to design the current Australian flag in 1901. This design was first flown at the Exhibition Building, which was the seat of the federal parliament at the time. On 3 September this year, the Royal Exhibition Building celebrated the 112th anniversary of flying the Australian flag, while the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander flags have been permanent fixtures since restoration of the flagpoles at either end of the building in August this year.

Each of the art project's sixteen flags were designed by local artists; those flying from the Royal Exhibition Building are by designer John Warwicker. In his artist’s statement, Mr Warwicker explains his design as an acknowledgement of the connection of Aboriginal people to the land, with the sun shared between the traditional owners of Australia and the immigrants who settled here, guided by the Southern Cross. Mr Warwicker sought permission from Harold Thomas to adapt his iconic Aboriginal flag design, and Mr Thomas is expected to visit for a viewing early in the new year.

John Warwicker's Melbourne Now flags John Warwicker's Melbourne Now flags flying above the Royal Exhibition Building, with the Australian Flag up above.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The flags will be in place until the Melbourne Now exhibition ends on 23 March 2014.

Restaging old photos

Author
by Simon C
Publish date
20 November 2013
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Comments (4)

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.

There is a photography saying that claims that the best camera is the one you have with you.

Outreach van in the stars The Museum Victoria Outreach Program van under the stars.
Image: Simon Conlon
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It seems obvious, then, to take my best camera with me when traveling around Victoria delivering the museum's Outreach Program. First I took some pictures of our Outreach van against the starry sky and then our team had the great idea of searching our collections for objects connected to the regions we were going to. With a quick search of MV Collections Online I would be armed with a handful of photographs from yesteryear to re-stage.

Castlemaine Post Office, 1894 Castlemaine Post Office, 1894. (MM 004334)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Castlemaine Post Office, 2013 Castlemaine Post Office, 2013
Image: Simon Conlon
Source: Museum Victoria
 

These photographs are from my recent trip to Castlemaine and they proved tricky to find. During my hunt I approached a local gentleman, Brian Cornish, who looked over all the photos but could only place one - the State Electricity Commission building. Directions memorised, I jumped in the van and found it straight away. I had just taken my first picture when Brian reappeared in his car. He had remembered the locations of the other pictures and beckoned me to follow him in convoy. Half an hour later, handshakes and thanks were exchanged and I was on my way with three pictures in the bag - or at least in-camera, on-card. 

State Electricity Commission building, Castlemaine, 1949. State Electricity Commission building, Castlemaine, 1949. (MM 011468)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Castlemaine State Electricity Commission Castlemaine State Electricity Commission building in 2013. The Outreach Van is parked around the corner.
Image: Simon Conlon
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The original pictures were taken on glass plate negatives using a large-format box camera, just like the one you might imagine: on a tripod with the photographer under a heavy black cloth at the back, only without the handheld puff of flash powder. Both the tripod and box would have been weighty and cumbersome,  and in addition, the light-sensitive, heavy glass plates would be carried in a sealed box of their own. Not like our own pocket-sized versions. All this would make the photographer very picky about what they photograph. 

Castlemaine Botanical Gardens, 1894 Castlemaine Botanical Gardens, 1894.(MM 004338)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Castlemaine Botanical Gardens, 2013 Castlemaine Botanical Gardens, 2013
Image: Simon Conlon
Source: Museum Victoria
 

(Speaking of picky, this is the closest I could get to the original photo as the geography has changed since.)

You can catch the some of the Outreach team and their treasures at the RACV Energy Breakthrough Festival on Saturday 23 November in Maryborough.

Alpine Bioscan

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
19 November 2013
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Comments (4)

Nearly 30 museum scientists, staff and associates left Melbourne Museum early yesterday morning, headed for the Alpine National Park. They’re embarking on the next major Parks Bioscan – a program of intensive biodiversity surveys that MV performs, in partnership with Parks Victoria, of some of the state’s most wildlife-rich national parks. Volunteers from 4WD Victoria are providing additional help with access to the more remote and rugged parts of this cold and mountainous area.

Scientists at Bairnsdale sign Lunch stop at Bairnsdale for the MV scientists on the trip up the the Alpine National Park.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As the team was packing up last week, I talked with Dr Karen Rowe about the gear the crews are taking into the field – namely nine iPads that will be used to collect data about the observations, samples and specimens taken by our experts.

iPad data collection system Karen's iPad ready to collect field data.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Using iPads will allow the scientists and collection managers to upload the data directly into the museum’s collection database, EMu. This replaces the time-honoured tradition of recording data with pens and paper… followed by hours of painstaking transcription. Almost inevitably, transcription errors, bad handwriting, rain-sodden paper and other data disasters affect information brought back from the field this way.

The tablets have other benefits, too: an on-board GPS means that every observation is linked with a location, and the data collected for each location is standardised across the scientific disciplines. They also link to topographical maps, vegetation maps, and other useful field tools like the iPad’s camera and audio recording functions. In the case of alpine frogs, there are species that can only be distinguished by their calls so audio recording is vital to correct identification.

But why do the scientists collect all this data? Surely a biodiversity survey is just a big checklist of species? Karen explained that if you collect a specimen (or make an observation) without recording all the other information about that collection event, you "might as well have not collected the critter. We have a lot of specimens in the museum that have no provenance or location data. It’s useful as an exercise to help you understand that particular species but not the context in which it lives." Careful notes about the exact location (under a rock, up a tree), time of day (dawn, midday), and other factors help to flesh out the ecology and behaviour of a species.

"Particularly in areas that are hard to get to – and Sulawesi is a prime example – a lot of the species listed in the IUCN Red List are data deficient," continued Karen. "We don’t know anything about them or the habitats they’re in." Without that information, biologists can’t be sure of the scarcity of the species; a little-known tree-dwelling rat could seem extinct if you’re only looking for them on the ground.

The iPad will also help the museum photographers to attach species information to photographs taken in the field, which makes the images much more useful for research and reporting what we’ve found. Plus, teams can make accurate observations about animals outside their field of expertise – the entomologists can record the calls of birds, for example – for verification by the ornithologists later. That means a more thorough survey of the region.

Of course, in case of technical malfunction, Karen has a backup plan: the folders, clipboards and data sheets of yore. They’re charmingly labelled ‘Old fashioned iPads’ and to be used only in case of emergency.

box of field notebooks Old-school: the back-up field notebooks packed and ready to to to the Alps Bioscan.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In addition to traps and sampling equipment, these field scientists have packed gear for extreme weather, including four-season tents, sleeping bags, thermal underwear and more. And of course, the field gear most important for maintaining morale after 12-hour days in hilly wilderness: comfort snacks!

  Supplies for the biodiversity survey Field supplies packed up for the Alps Bioscan. Left: bait for the mammal traps include cat food and vanilla essence. Right: while the bush rats are drawn to fishy and floral scents, the scientists prefer chocolate.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

If you live in the Victorian Alps, come along to our Science at the Pub event at the end of the Bioscan at Omeo's Golden Age Hotel, Friday 29 November 6:30 PM. Meet the scientists and see what they've found in the park.

Links:

Parks Victoria media release about the Alps Bioscan

Wild: Victorian Alps

MV Blog posts from the 2011 Prom Bioscan and 2012 Grampians Bioscan

Guide to Victorian butterflies

Author
by Simon
Publish date
10 September 2013
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Dr Ross Field, a former head of Sciences at Museum Victoria, has compiled a spectacular book on one of his passions: butterflies of Victoria. Butterflies: Identification and life history is the result of many years of painstaking work on Ross’s part and covers all aspects of the lifecycle of these eternally popular insects.

Egg Tailed Emperor Butterfly Lateral view of the Tailed Emperor Butterfly egg
Image: Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Incredible images take readers through the lifecycle of each species from egg, through caterpillar and the food plant it eats, pupa and finally adult. The magnified images of the eggs are stunning and allow us to view and admire objects usually too small to notice. The eggs can be ornamented, ribbed, round or cigar shaped and come in a range of colours. Depending on the viewer some people see a range of jellies or blancmanges when they look at some of these images, (or maybe that’s just me). In fact a selection of these egg shots is touring selected Victorian cultural venues as part of The Art of Science exhibition.

  Caterpillar larva Tailed Emperor Caterpillar of the Tailed Emperor Butterfly
Image: Ross Field
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Collecting the eggs of numerous species for photographing was a big undertaking; Ross has spent many hours in a host of locations watching butterflies circle until they land to lay their eggs. A sample of the eggs were collected and brought back to Melbourne Museum to be photographed using our camera/microscope set up. Prior to this book, anyone other than an expert who collected an egg would have to wait until the egg hatched and the caterpillar had reached one of its later instars before being able to hazard a guess at the species. With this new guide, the ability for the general public to undertake identifications in the field is greatly expanded.    

Pupa Tailed Emperor Pupa of the Tailed Emperor Butterfly
Image: Ross Field
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The egg images might also raise questions such as why do butterflies from the Pieridae family tend to lay cigar shaped eggs? Why do the eggs of some species have a series of lateral ribs running around the surface? Is there an evolutionary advantage to laying sculptured eggs? In short, this comprehensive field guide gives a new vision into the fascinating world of Victorian butterflies and helps to educate and provoke our interest into further research and conservation. 

Adult Tailed Emperor butterfly Adult Tailed Emperor Butterfly
Image: Ross Field
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

Butterflies: Identification and life history. A Museum Victoria field guide by Ross Field. Available in paperback from MV shops or as an eBook from  iTunes or Booktopia.

Melbourne Zoo: 10 steps to a butterfly garden

Drawing class in the Discovery Centre

Author
by Max
Publish date
5 September 2013
Comments
Comments (0)

We recently had a request from Debbie Mourtzios, a teacher at Box Hill Institute, to hold a drawing class for Graphic Design students at the Discovery Centre using natural science specimens.

Discovery Centre Drawing class Discovery Centre Drawing class
Image: Debbie Mourtzios
Source: Debbie Mourtzios
 

As the theme of the class was texture, Debbie asked if we could supply examples of fur, feathers, scales, claws, wings, or anything that can illustrate textures.

  Discovery Centre Drawing class Discovery Centre Drawing class
Image: Debbie Mourtzios
Source: Debbie Mourtzios
 

We contacted our Vertebrates Collection Manager who gladly loaned us specimens from the Mammal, Bird and Herpetology collections. We also used specimens in the DC’s interpretive collection. We had bird wings, an echidna, a glass sponge skeleton, a bird of paradise, various bones, reptiles, shark egg cases, all on tables in the Seminar Room, plus all the interpretive collection objects in the Discovery Centre itself. They were not wont for variety.

  Discovery Centre Drawing class Discovery Centre Drawing class
Image: Max Strating
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The eighteen students spent two hours drawing the various specimens. It was very rewarding to watch the students using the centre and its resources; it was also unusually quiet for such a large group. I guess that’s what focused attention sounds like.

Discovery Centre Drawing class Discovery Centre Drawing class
Image: Debbie Mourtzios
Source: Debbie Mourtzios
 

Links

Victoria & Albert Museum

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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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