Live Exhibits

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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.

Bugs within bugs, part 1

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
28 April 2014
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To support our collection of almost 100 invertebrate species on display at Melbourne Museum, Live Exhibits staff must occasionally collect bugs from the wild, and some of these can hold unwanted surprises inside.

Chalcid w A Chalcid wasp, newly emerged from the cocoon of its host caterpillar.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victorai
 

At least one in every ten insect species is a parasite on other insects. In Australia this adds up to several tens of thousands of parasitic insect species, all living their lives on the outside or, more commonly the inside, of other insects. Most of these parasites are wasps and flies, and most of their hosts are butterflies, moths and beetles.

Tachinid fly eggs on beetle Tachinid fly eggs on the outside of a doomed Leaf Beetle larva (Paropsis species).
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Parasitic insects usually lay their eggs directly onto or into the body of their host, but may lay eggs on a food plant in the hope that they will later be ingested by a potential host. Once inside, the parasitic larva consumes the host’s internal tissues while the host continues to go about its business. The parasite usually avoids the vital organs until the last minute – then polishes these off and finally kills its host.

Aphid ‘mummies’ Aphid ‘mummies’ – aphids that have been parasitised and glued to the leaf by Braconid wasps. When fully developed, the wasps will cut a perfectly circular hole in the back and emerge as adults.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Parasitic wasps are able to find their hosts no matter where they might hide. In order to lay eggs on its host – Sirex Wood Wasp (Sirex noctilio) – Megarhyssa (Megarhyssa nortoni) can drill through 9cm of solid wood with its ovipositor (egg-laying organ). Megarhyssa females find their hosts using infrared detectors on their antennae; the outer bark of a tree is 0.5oC warmer where a larva lies underneath.

female Megarhyssa A female Megarhyssa (Megarhyssa nortoni) drills through a pine tree to deposit an egg on the Sirex Wood Wasp within.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A parasitic wasp will sometimes inject venom that paralyses the host but keeps it alive, allowing the wasp to hide it away for its offspring as a sort of living larder. A large wasp dragging a larger, paralysed, huntsman across open ground is a familiar sight during summer.

Pompilid wasp drags a huntsman A Pompilid wasp drags a huntsman (Isopeda species) from its hiding place under bark, before paralysing it and inserting an egg.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A caterpillar can sometimes dislodge a parasite’s eggs with its mandibles, but wasps usually lay their eggs just behind the caterpillar’s head where they can’t be reached. Many hosts are able to ‘encapsulate’ a parasite already inside their bodies, localising its damage and starving it of oxygen. When more than one parasite is laid inside a host, the larvae fight to the death within the host’s body for the rights to its organs.

wasp cocoons inside the empty shell of a Cabbage White Butterfly caterpillar Thousands of parasitic wasp cocoons inside the empty shell of a Cabbage White Butterfly caterpillar (Pieris rapae). Each cocoon will soon produce a tiny wasp that flies off to find other caterpillars to parasitise.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Parasites are themselves subject to attack from hyperparasites, insects that lay eggs inside an already-occupied host. The emerging larva seeks out the parasite in residence and burrows into its body. These in turn may be parasitised by superhyperparasites, and so on.

“Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,

And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum…”

Augustus de Morgan (after Jonathan Swift)

The Age of Exploration continues

Author
by Chenae Neilson
Publish date
6 November 2013
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Chenae Neilson is a Master of Science in Human Geography student at the University of Melbourne. This is the first post of an MV Blog mini-series celebrating the past, present and future of exploration on planet Earth and commemorating the adventures of Alfred Russel Wallace who died 100 years ago today.

Over the last 250 years, the taxonomic classification of life on Earth has described approximately 1.2 million species that share the planet with us, Homo sapiens. However, every year, we discover thousands of new species. Often these are organisms that have been concealed from scientific observation within impassable forests or the dark of the ocean abyss. A 2011 estimate suggests there are over eight million species on Earth, which means we have described fewer than 15 per cent of them. This stems, in part, because we have explored only five per cent of the world’s oceans, and scientists have yet to survey many terrestrial environments.

This celebration of exploration marks the centenary of the death of explorer, naturalist, and evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace who died on 7 November 1913. To commemorate Wallace we return to the region of his most famous exploration.

Alfred Russel Wallace, circa 1895. Alfred Russel Wallace, circa 1895.
Image: London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company
Source: Wikimedia Commons

"Nature has taken every precaution that these, her choicest treasures, may not lose value by being too easily obtained."
Alfred Russel Wallace

 

From 1854 to 1862, Wallace traveled across the Indonesian archipelago from the Sunda shelf in the west through the island of Sulawesi and to the Bird's Head of New Guinea in the east. On this journey he noted a distinct transition from more Asian fauna to more Australian fauna – the line demarking this dramatic transition became known as the 'Wallace's Line'. The broader region between Asia and Australia, including the island of Sulawesi, is termed Wallacea, which hosts an endemic combination of Asian and Australian lineages. Wallace’s exploration of Sulawesi made a significant contribution to the species catalogue in this region and also became the backbone of evidence for his own theory of evolution by natural selection. Wallace’s adventures in Wallacea were later chronicled in his book, The Malay Archipelago, written in 1869.

Map of Sunda and Sahul Map of Wallacea, featuring the island of Sulawesi and the biogeographic lines defining breaks between Asian fauna within Sunda and Australasia.
Image: Maximilian Dörrbecker
Source: Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 from Wikimedia Commons.
 

Despite the countless scientific findings made during the Age of Exploration in the 1800s, exploration still remains important today, particularly in a world where natural environments are under threat.

Wallace's trail of exploration has been retraced many times by contemporary scientists, amateur naturalists, and television personalities. Exploration may mean something different to each. For the scientist, these areas are revealing new species and answering questions about the evolutionary history of the region. To the naturalist, the 'discovery' of animals found nowhere else on earth and the chance to walk in the footsteps of an influential figure may be the very definition of exploration. Regardless of our definition of exploration, areas like Wallacea hold many new possibilities.

Over 100 years later, two research scientists at Museum Victoria, Dr Kevin Rowe and Dr Karen Rowe, have been following in the footsteps of Wallace. Some of their recent findings will be the subject of the next blog in our mini-series.

Woman in rainforest in Indonesia Karen Rowe hiking into a remote field camp on Mount Dako, Sulawesi where scientists from MV, Indonesia and the United States inventoried mammals and birds for the first time in 2013.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria

Fossilised Champignons

Author
by Siobhan
Publish date
15 September 2013
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Remember The X-Files? If you were a fan, you fell into one of two camps – you either liked the mythology arcs, or the Monster-of-the-Week episodes. I fell firmly into the latter camp. I liked one-off weirdness, lacking the attention span for conspiracy narratives. It is in this spirit that I present to you a short episode of "What on earth is THAT?!" from the Discovery Centre.

At the beginning of winter this year, a woman came into the Melbourne centre with some "mysterious objects". We get a lot of mystery items here, and they are normally fairly easy to identify – pieces of manufacturing slag, cicada cases, random pieces of urban archaeology that work their way up from old rubbish pits.

As she removed them from her bag, she said, "they look like fossilised champignons." An odd description, but entirely accurate. The items she unwrapped did indeed look like small mushrooms. They weren't fossils, as they were obviously made of a chalky substance; soft enough to flake and leave a slight powdery residue on one's fingertips. Our visitor said she had discovered them in the mud on the shores of a freshwater pond on Kangaroo Island, and mentioned, in an offhand manner, that they were amongst some crayfish carcasses, and perhaps they had something to do with local platypus? I was stumped. My colleague Wayne, a chap with a palaeontological background, was equally stumped.

Crayfish gastroliths Crayfish gastroliths, brought in to the Discovery Centre for identification.
Image: Siobhan Motherway
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Found in platypus territory, and made of chalky material? We did some preliminary research: were they dehydrated platypus eggs? Some weird botanical thing? A fungus? Yes, I did google "fossilised champignons". Getting nowhere, we turned to our various departmental experts in Mammalogy, Marine Invertebrates and Geosciences; even our pet Entomologist. No luck.

On the off-chance that our Live Exhibits manager had seen something similar on fieldwork, I emailed through the photographs to him, and he shared them round the office. Victory! Gentleman-and-scholar Adam Elliot knew immediately what they were. It turned out that our enquirer's by-the-by remark about the crayfish was the salient information – these "fossilised champignons" are freshwater crayfish gastroliths. When preparing to shed, the crayfish forms these stones to store the calcium they will need to help form their new exoskeleton. After they've shed (a process called ecdysis – remember that one for word games), they reabsorb this calcium to help create their new shell. These particular examples are very, very large.

Crayfish gastroliths Crayfish gastroliths, brought into the Discovery Centre for identification.
Image: Wayne Gerdtz
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This blog post from the WA Museum gives a great rundown on how the process works, and includes a photo of some smaller gastroliths from a similar identification request.

So there you have it, mystery solved. We'll keep an eye out for more oddities – I've always liked them best.

Making of the First Peoples ad

Author
by Jareen
Publish date
11 September 2013
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One cold August morning at 5am, a team of us were outside along Birrarung Marr ‘on set’ shooting a commercial for the new First Peoples exhibition. Here are just a few behind the scenes photos of the shoot.

Aunty Fay Carter and Dharna on set. "... Hear our stories, know the joy in our hearts..." Aunty Fay Carter and Dharna on set.
Image: Matthew McCarthy
Source: Clear Design
 

Everyone on set. Final touch up before we begin shooting. Aunty Fay Carter (slightly hidden), Uncle Jack Charles, Dharna Nicholson-Bux and Marbee Williams with the make up artist.
Image: Matthew McCarthy
Source: Clear Design

Marbee and Uncle Jack Charles on set Marbee Williams and Uncle Jack Charles on set with the Melbourne skyline in the background.
Image: Matthew McCarthy
Source: Clear Design
 

The advertising for the First Peoples exhibition is centred around the word Wominjeka. The word means welcome in the local Koorie languages for Melbourne, Boonwurrung and Woi wurrung. You can find out about Victorian Aboriginal languages in the exhibition or our online map.

In the campaign, we feature four Victorian Aboriginal people: Aunty Fay Carter (Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung), Uncle Jack Charles (Boonwurrung and Wiradjeri), Marbee Williams (Boonwurrung and Wiradjuri) and Dharna Nicholson-Bux (Wurundjeri and Yorta Yorta).

Dharna with Aunty Fay Dharna with Aunty Fay onset during the First Peoples commercial shoot at Birrarung Marr. August 2013.
Image: Scottie Cameron
Source: Museum Victoria

Uncle Jack Charles Uncle Jack Charles onset during the First Peoples commercial shoot.
Image: Scottie Cameron
Source: Museum Victoria

Marbee Williams. Marbee Williams onset for the First Peoples commercial shoot.
Image: Scottie Cameron
Source: Museum Victoria.
 

If you live in Melbourne, hopefully you will have started seeing the word Wominjeka around town. If you see our posters, ads, brochures, flags or video, snap a photo and use #wominjeka if you're sharing it on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. We'd love to see it!

Example of advertising for First Peoples. Examples of the advertising featuring Marbee Williams and Dharna Nicholson-Bux.
Image: Clear Design
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The campaign development was highly collaborative, taking inspiration from the First Peoples Yulendj (knowledge) Group of Elders and representatives of Aboriginal communities from across Victoria, the First Peoples exhibition and Bunjilaka teams, and taking into consideration the feedback from recent focus group sessions with non-Aboriginal museum visitors.

Huge thanks to everyone who has helped with the development of the campaign!

 

The art of the bowerbird

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
17 July 2013
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You might spy an unusual new installation in the Forest Gallery as part of The Red Queen exhibition showing at MONA, the Museum of New and Old Art in Tasmania. The installation by English artist Toby Ziegler, entitled My vegetable love; Cultural exchange, is in the shape of a Utah teapot fashioned from the same material used by male Satin Bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) to make their bowers.

Bowerbird with blue objects Jack, the older male bowerbird, interacting with the teapot bower.
Image: Jon Augier / Toby Ziegler
Source: Museum Victoria and MONA
 

The theme of My Vegetable Love is the interaction between the natural world (the Forest Gallery’s bowerbirds) and the artificial world (a computer-generated teapot), with the object itself being a hybrid between the two. The main theme of The Red Queen is ‘Why do human beings make art?’, and this component investigates natural animal behaviours that appear, to us, artistic.

Two juvenile bowerbirds Juvenile bowerbirds are also intrigued by Toby Ziegler's teapot.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It references a 3D mathematical model of a teapot created in 1975 at the University of Utah which has become a standard reference object in computer-generated imaging (CGI), and also as a regular in-joke in animated Hollywood movies. It appears somewhere in all Pixar movies and in the ‘Third Dimension’ episode of The Simpsons.

Utah teapot A modern render of the original CGI teapot created at the University of Utah by Martin Newell.
Image: Dhatfield
Source:  CC BY-SA 3.0
 

Juvenile and female Satin Bowerbirds are olive green, but males turn a deep blue upon maturity at about seven years of age. Jack, the oldest male Bowerbird, has lived in the Forest Gallery as an adult for 13 years. Errol turned completely blue earlier this year, after more than 12 months in transition from his juvenile plumage.

Errol the Satin Bowerbird Errol during his transformation from juvenile to adult plumage. His unusual patterning prompted many queries from puzzled visitors.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

 

Links:

MONA

Bowerbird Cam

'Birds face off for balance of bower in exhibit' in The Age, 19 Jun 2013

The eels are back

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
28 May 2013
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Last week the Live Exhibits team went into the field in search of eels and other fish to restock the pond in Milarri Garden.

catching fish at night Live Exhibits keeper Adam Elliott demonstrates the best technique for transferring freshwater animals from nets.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Last year the iconic Short-finned Eels (Anguilla australis) living in Milarri pond were moved to the Forest Gallery water system while we repaired and resealed the pond. Now Milarri pond is back in operation and ready for new inhabitants.

Short-finned Eel Short-finned Eel
Image: Rudie Kuiter
Source: Aquatic Photographics
 

Prior to the Milarri pond works, regular eel feeding sessions were very popular with museum visitors, giving our staff the opportunity to highlight the importance of eels as a traditional food source for local Aboriginal people. In western Victoria, kooyang (eel) were trapped using woven nets in sophisticated aquaculture systems by the Gunditjmara people for thousands of years – one of the featured installations of the upcoming First Peoples exhibition at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum.

staff catching fish for Milarri pond Left: Maik Fiedel in deep water, checking his nets. Right: Melvin Nathan ensures the eels are well looked after in holding tubs.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We collected the new eels west of Melbourne under permit, and we also caught other fish such as Tupong (Pseudaphritis urvilli), Flathead Gudgeon (Philypnodon grandiceps) and Common Jollytails (Galaxias maculatus) boost stocks in the Forest Gallery creek and pond system. These are just a few of the 50 or so species of freshwater fish found in Victorian waters.

Native Victorian fish Clockwise from left: Common Jollytail, Flathead Gudgeon, Tupong.
Image: Rudie Kuiter
Source: Aquatic Photographics
 

Freshwater invertebrates, particularly Glass Shrimp (Paratya australis) were also collected to kick start the food chain in Milarri pond. Yabbies (Cherax destructor) will soon walk across land from nearby ponds, and many other invertebrate species will fly in or colonise via new plantings or by adhering to waterbirds. Pacific Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa), Little Pied Cormorants (Microcarbo melanoleucos) and other birds will soon arrive under their own power.

fish in a bucket Young Jollytails and Glass Shrimp swim around under a Water Spider (Megadolomedes species).
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Musuem Victoria
 

At the end of the collection trip, animal keepers Chloe and Dave released the eels into their new home, where they will live under the care of Live Exhibit staff for many years.

Man releasing bucket of fish Dave Paddock releases the last of the eels into Milarri pond.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Fish destined for the Forest Gallery must be quarantined for three weeks in tanks set up behind the scenes to ensure no parasites or pathogens are introduced to our resident fish population.

Live Exhibits lab at night Dave sets up Tupong in quarantine some time after midnight in the Live Exhibits Lab.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A range of fish species as well as Macquarie Turtles (Emydura macquarii) can be seen daily in the Forest Gallery at Melbourne Museum. Silver Perch (Bidyanus bidyanus) and eel feeding presentations will recommence at Milarri pond in September when the water starts to warm and the eels’ appetites return.

Milarri Garden and Milarri Walk are open every day of the year except Christmas Day and Good Friday. 

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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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