Live Exhibits

DISPLAYING POSTS FILED UNDER: Live Exhibits (54)

Live Exhibits

The Live Exhibits team look after all the living things on display at Melbourne Museum, from the trees and birds in the Forest Gallery to the thousands of invertebrates in Bugs Alive.

Look who's back

Author
by Jessie
Publish date
7 April 2015
Comments
Comments (1)

Near the end of March, we made few staff members and visitors smile—we returned Murray, the museum’s resident Murray-Darling Carpet Python (Morelia spilota metcalfei) to the Discovery Centre at Melbourne Museum. He had lived next to the Discovery Centre desk for several years but was removed from display in 2012 due to lack of resources. Since then he was kept in our back of house lab and only taken out for short public programs when we had time.

Detail of python Murray, the museum's Murray-Darling Carpet Python (Morelia spilota metcalfei)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Murray is an important animal to showcase at the museum as these carpet pythons are now listed as endangered in Victoria. They were once common in the northern regions of the state, but are now restricted to small localised populations. In Victoria, they are mainly found in rocky country, riverine forests, redgum forests and Black Box forests of the Murray Darling Basin to the north.

The major threat to their survival is habitat destruction, particularly the collection of wood from their habitat for firewood. They are also killed by cats, foxes and humans. Sadly, many people still believe that if you see a snake, you should kill it. This has a devastating effect on an already endangered species where every individual is precious to the survival of the species. It is important to be aware as firewood consumers that we may be burning up important resources for these members of the Victorian ecosystem.

In the wild, Murray Darling Carpet Pythons eat birds and small mammals. In captivity they are generally fed on mice and rats. Murray receives frozen thawed mice once a month, given to him by one of the Live Exhibits staff. Live Exhibits looks after Murray as well as a whole array of other animals across the Museum including other reptiles, birds, frogs and invertebrates. 

Predator vs predator

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
9 February 2015
Comments
Comments (0)

Museum Victoria Bioscans and other biodiversity surveys tend to focus on the bigger and more spectacular Victorian animals, such as Gippsland Water Dragons and Wedge-tailed Eagles, but some of the most interesting stories come from the little creatures. 

Spider wasp nest A partially opened nest of a spider wasp (Fabriogenia sp.). The spider prey in two of the cells have been replaced with wasp pupae.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

One such highlight of the recent Gippsland Lakes Bioscan was a mud nest of a spider wasp (Fabriogenia sp.). The nest comprised six cells, each built to house a Mountain Huntsman (Isopeda montana). The cells are made from dried mud, probably mixed with eucalyptus resin to harden them. The female wasp takes about one day to construct each cell, then heads off to find a live huntsman and undertakes a life-or-death battle. Upon seeing an approaching spider wasp, a huntsman’s behaviour—excuse the anthropomorphism—is best described as a ‘mad panic’.

black wasp Adult female spider wasp, Fabriogenia sp.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The wasp is swift and deadly accurate, stinging the huntsman to immobilise it, then removing each of its legs at the first joint. She carries the spider back to her nest, lays an egg on its defenceless body, then seals it in. The egg hatches into a fat wasp grub, feeding on the internal juices of the spider until nothing but a shrivelled husk remains. The grub then forms a pupa and eventually emerges from its cell as an adult wasp, ready to continue the cycle.

Huntsman spider with no legs A dismembered huntsman removed from the mud nest. The pedipalps remain intact and the fangs are in working order.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 
 
Most members of this wasp family, the Pompilidae, leave the spider intact and paralyse it permanently. In this case, not only does the wasp cut off its prey’s legs, but the venom seems to immobilise the huntsman only temporarily and the spider wakes up after the cell is sealed. 

 

On a personal note, having handled spiders for more than 30 years and never being bitten, one of the spiders latched on to my finger while I was examining the nest. Like most huntsman bites there were no symptoms other than a sharp nip, and given its situation I couldn’t really blame it.

Spider wasp, spider, and spider-wasp mimicking beetle Left: Another member of the Pompilidae, the Zebra Spider Wasp (Turneromyia sp.) battles a huntsman on a gum tree in Royal Park, Melbourne. | Right: Wasp-mimicking Beetle (Trogodendron fasciculatum), also photographed in Royal Park, Melbourne.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

And as a side note, spider wasps are ferocious enough to have their own mimics. The Wasp-mimicking Beetle (Trogodendron fasciculatum) looks roughly like a spider wasp, with its black and white body and orange antennae, but its behaviour is almost identical. Moving rapidly over tree trunks with twitching antennae it would, at least, be safe from roaming huntsmans.

The bountiful Mallee

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
17 December 2014
Comments
Comments (0)

In Bugs Alive! you can see almost 50 displays of live invertebrates. Most of them from either tropical or arid parts of Australia, illustrating the adaptations needed for living in extreme environments.

Blue butterfly and bee fly resting on grass stems Sleeping beauties, clothed in condensation in the early hours of the morning. | Left: Common Grass Blue (Zizina labradus) Right: A bee fly (Family Bombyliidae)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

So each year, when the weather conditions are right, we head out to the Mallee to boost our stocks of insects and spiders. The best time to visit is on a hot, humid night—which happened last week—just before or just after a thunderstorm. Like most desert species, Mallee insects wait months for the rain and then emerge from the spinifex in their thousands.

Two people in arid landscape Chloe Miller and Maik Fiedel searching through typical Mallee habitat.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

At night the desert resonates with the songs of katydids, the loudest of which come from Robust Fan-winged Katydids (Psacadonotus robustus). Unfortunately the fat abdomen of this dun-coloured species is often host to the larvae of tachinid flies (family Tachinidae). These parasites feed on the internal organs before emerging from the katydid which dies soon afterwards.

Brown katydid grasshopper A male Robust Fan-winged Katydid (Psacadonotus robustus).
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Most katydid species are surprisingly colourful, sporting bright greens, blues and reds.

Three katydid grasshoppers Left: Female Striped Polichne (Polichne argentata); Centre: The undescribed ‘Mystery Hump-backed Katydid’ (Elephantodea species); Right: The unfortunately-named Victorian Sluggish Katydid (Hemisaga lanceolata).
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

One of our prime targets is Mitchell’s Cockroach (Polyzosteria mitchelli) which we breed at Melbourne Museum off-display, perhaps the most beautiful cockroach in Australia. With its golden markings and eggshell-blue legs, this species is one of more than 500 native cockroaches that are rarely seen by the average Australian but which are extremely important in native ecosystems. They shouldn’t be confused with the five or so introduced cockroach species that infest our houses–native cockroaches are happy in the bush and almost never come inside.

colourful cockroach A female Mitchell’s Cockroach (Polyzosteria mitchelli)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The desert seems to wake up after a rainstorm, with unexpected species such as snails and damselflies making an appearance.

Damselfly and group of snails Left: A female Metallic Ringtail damselfly (Austrolestes cingulatus). Right: Tiny desert snails (Microxeromagma lowei) living under bark.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

Wolf spiders are the dominant ground species, their emerald eyes shining in the torchlight. This male wolf spider (below) was seen halfway down a burrow and was difficult to distract until we discovered the source of his interest—a large female wolf spider at the bottom of the burrow.

Wolf spider and burrow Left: A male wolf spider (LycosaRight: Close-up of the male.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Little Desert, Big Desert, Sunset Country and Hattah-Kulkyne each have their own distinct habitats and faunas, just a few hours’ drive from Melbourne.

Landscape with blue sky The endless sky and flat horizon of the Mallee region.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The joy of spring in Milarri Garden

Author
by Jessie
Publish date
10 October 2014
Comments
Comments (2)

When was the last time you took a wander along the Milarri Walk? Many people say never; it’s one of the not-so-hidden gems at Melbourne Museum. This indigenous garden runs from the North Terrace (behind the Forest Gallery) through to Birrarung. In spring it is especially lovely with what our horticulturalists say is “too many flowers to mention." If you are lucky you may catch them working in the space to ask a question or two.

Chocolate Lily flower The Chocolate Lily (Arthtopodium strictum) is one of the many plants in full flower in Milarri Garden at the moment. Take the time to stop and have a smell – they smell like chocolate.
Image: Jessie Sinclair
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Another great feature at the moment is our impressive Pondi, otherwise known as Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii). Pondi is an Indigenous name for this impressive animal. He can be spotted swimming in the upper area of Milarri Creek and is quite visible from the bridge. Pondi features in many Indigenous stories as the creator of the Murray River and the fish species found there. Although called a ‘cod’, they are not related to the northern hemisphere marine cod species. They are found in varied waters from clear flowing streams to billabongs in the Murray Darling Basin.

Murray Cod Pondi the resident Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii) in the upper reaches of Milarri Creek.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It is not just people who love this little hidden oasis in the museum but also the local wildlife. A Red Wattlebird (Anthochaera carunculata) has built a nest in the River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) overhanging the creek and with any luck will be raising chicks in the next few weeks. We also have regular visits from Crimson Rosellas, Lorikeets, Boobook Owls and Tawny Frogmouths who choose to forage and rest in the garden.

Tawny Frogmouth in a tree Many bird species take refuge at Melbourne Museum. This Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) is a regular resident on the North Terrace.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

With the warmer weather many of our animals have come out and are getting hungry so we are regularly feeding the Short-Finned Eels, Silver Perch and Short Necked Turtles in the lower pond. You can catch this feeding and a talk occurring daily at 1.45. 

An empty bower

Author
by Jessie
Publish date
21 August 2014
Comments
Comments (11)

We farewell Jack, our resident Satin Bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus), who died in the Forest Gallery this week.

Jack the Bowerbird Jack the adult male Satin Bowerbird
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Since Melbourne Museum opened on 9 December 2000, Jack has been a big part of the Forest Gallery. His daily calling, mimicry, aerial acrobatics and dancing entertained and excited both staff and visitors and gave him the reputation of a great entertainer. He was upwards of seven years of age in 2000, meaning this Forest Gallery icon made it to 21 years old.

Up until autumn he was still taking it in turns with his enclosure mate Errol to dance in their bowers and practise courtship behaviours. As winter progressed we started to note that Jack had slowed down and was not as vocal in the mornings. We had discussions as a team as to whether it was time for retirement but decided that Jack had spent his life in the gallery and should end it there when the time came. His time finally arrived yesterday and it feels as if a chapter in the life of this long-term exhibition has also come to a close.

Jack had many interesting adventures in the gallery. He almost died in 2000 when he for some inexplicable reason flew into the empty creek tube that runs under the earth path. He would have drowned in the water at the bottom if Luke (our then Live Exhibits Manager) hadn't raced to his rescue. This year he was a part of an exhibition at MONA with a live feed from the Forest Galelry showing Jack and the other bowerbirds cavorting with a blue teapot. His wing feathers were clipped countless times to slow him down on his over-excited exploits to court a female.  He shared the gallery with number of females, but since 2004 he only had eyes for our resident female Britney. They produced over 20 offspring which are now held in institutions and private collections across Australia.

Bowerbird with blue objects Errol the Satin Bowerbird with Toby Ziegler's contribution to the cache of blue things in the Forest Gallery. This is a still image from the video feed going in to MONA.  

With the absence of Jack, a new era has begun in the Forest Gallery. Errol, our younger male, may become the dominant make of the population. With any luck, he will continue to entertain both staff and visitors. 

Australia’s biggest wildlife biobank

Author
by Alice
Publish date
27 June 2014
Comments
Comments (0)

We should all be giving each other a big round of high fives, as Museum Victoria has just been awarded a $500,000 Ian Potter Foundation 50th Anniversary Commemorative Grant for the development of Australia’s largest wildlife biobank! The new biobank—the animal equivalent of a seedbank—will enable us to store embryos, eggs and sperm from some of Australia’s most endangered animals. Based on super-cold liquid nitrogen, the biobank facility will store animal tissue samples at -150ºC, which is cold enough to preserve them for the long term.

Yellow-footed Antechinus Yellow-footed Antechinus captured for a blood sample then released.
Image: Museum Victoria
Source: Museum Victoria
 

  Dr Kevin Rowe sorting tissue samples in the field Dr Kevin Rowe sorting tissue samples in the field.
Image: Museum Victoria
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The proposed storage facilities sound like something straight out of Mr. Freeze’s lab: a custom-built airtight room equipped to house three liquid nitrogen dewar cryostorage vats, rather like giant vacuum flasks. Inside, vials containing tissue samples will be stored in the vapour above the liquid nitrogen. Kept in this manner, the samples will remain viable for more than 50 years.

  Staff at work in Laboratory. Staff at work in our Ancient DNA Laboratory.
Image: Museum Victoria
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Currently, our collection of over 40,000 tissue samples is limited to organs, skin, fur and feathers stored at -80ºC. These samples have been collected over the last 160 years and are priceless tools for scientific research into evolution, genetic relationships, species discrimination, and especially conservation. By enabling the long term storage of reproductive tissues, the newer, cooler biobank will enable us to realise the full potential of this collection and built on our ability to increase reproductive biology programs and genetic research.  

  Helena Gum Moth The apparent decline of Emperor Gum Moths and the closely related Helena Gum Moth have been a hot topic for scientists in recent years. Initiatives such as the biobank could largely benefit their survival.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Considering that our early natural history collectors could not have dreamed of the uses we would have found for their specimens over a century later; the Ian Potter Australian Wildlife Biobank offers new hope to endangered species, many of which may face extinction in the coming decades. With ever-increasing pressure from human impacts such as climate change and habitat loss on our native fauna, we envisage that the biobank will be a game changer for wildlife research, conservation and recovery. 

  Smoky Mouse The critically endangered Smoky Mouse is another native species that may benefit largely from this new technology.
Image: Museum Victoria
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The biobank is expected to be operating by late 2015.

About this blog

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

Categories