Live Exhibits

DISPLAYING POSTS FILED UNDER: Live Exhibits (49)

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.

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
 

A new webcam streams live video of activity around the teapot into MONA and our website. One of Jack’s old bowers is also takes pride of place in the gallery at MONA. The teapot will remain in the Forest Gallery as part of the exhibition until 21 April 2014.

 

 

You'll need Windows Media Player to view this video feed. Get Media Player

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. 

Get down and get fungi

Author
by Colin
Publish date
10 May 2013
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Comments (3)

After an extended summer, cool and wet weather starts to set in, resulting in a bloom of beauty for those who know where to look. I'm talking about fungi; those things that taste so good with butter on toast, form mould on your bread, and make your feet itch!

Wood Rotter toadstool Wood Rotter (Gymnopilus junonius)
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In the past, fungi were classified as plants. But fungi differ from plants in that they do not possess the ability to generate their own food from the sun (photosynthesis), and must obtain their energy from other sources.

Colin Silvey Left: Mycena sp. (probably M.viscidocruenta). Right: Unidentified species.
Image: Two toadstool species in Forest Gallery
Source: Museum Victoria
 

So what do fungi "eat"? Some fungi are parasitic, and feed off other living things. Some fungi parasitise plants, while some other specialized types parasitise insects, spiders and other arthropods.

Caterpillars with parasitic fungi Caterpillars (Hepialidae) infected with different types of parasitic fungi. The caterpillar on the left has been consumed by Cordyceps gunnii.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Other types of fungi are saprophytic, meaning they obtain their energy and nutrients by breaking down dead plant and animal material. This is the reason you see many growing on old and rotten logs in the forest, amongst leaf litter and on animal dung.

Two fungus species in the Forest Gallery Left: Undescribed species. Right: Gymnopilus sp.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The fungi in these photos are referred to as macro-fungi, and belong to the phylum Basidiomycota. This group contains the well known mushrooms, toadstools and puffballs. Just last week I took these photos in our very own Forest Gallery and Milarri Garden. Many fungi spores find their way into the galleries by being transported by the wind and with soils and mulch brought in by horticultural staff. Some may even hitch a ride in on your shoes! Sometimes destructive fungus that we don't want in the galleries gets in by accident. Honey fungus (Armillaria spp.) is a parasitic fungus that attacks and kills living trees. The largest living organism in the world is a species of honey fungus called Armillaria solidipes and covers an area nearly eight and a half square kilometres! Honey fungus could ruin the Forest Gallery if left unchecked, so we constantly have to monitor the plants and soils to make sure it doesn't gain a foothold.

small red toadstool A slightly dried specimen of a Marasmius sp.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Fungi start life as tiny spores, and colonize their chosen substrate with small threads called hyphae.

Mycelium growing in leaf litter Mycelium of leaf litter fungus.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Hyphae form large masses of mycelium, which decompose dead materials using special enzymes and chemicals.

Two fungus species in the Forest Gallery Left: Stropharia sp. Right: Amanita sp.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

When the fungus is ready to reproduce, if forms a fruit (mushroom!).

Two fungus species in the Forest Gallery Gymnopilus junonius at the rear, with a slightly eaten Rhodocollybia sp. in front. Right: Probably Agaricus sp.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Many animals like to eat fungi, including slugs and snails, insects, small mammals, and humans! Uneaten fungi decompose to a thick slime rapidly.

small white toadstool Lepiota sp.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Some fungi can be very toxic, and very hard to identify. You should never eat fungi that you can't correctly identify. There are many groups of fungi enthusiasts that conduct fungi collecting trips and provide help in the correct identification of edible species. The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne run a database of fungi sightings called Fungimap, which is a great resource for people who enjoy the fungus among us. So, get out there and have some fun, guys! (Sorry.) 

Many thanks for identifications to Dr Teresa Lebel, National Herbarium of Victoria, Royal Botanical Gardens

Links and further reading:

Fuhrer, B. (2005). A field guide to Australian fungi. Bloomings Books, Melbourne.

Fungi at the Australian National Botanic Garden

Plants, algae and fungi of Victoria via Royal Botanic Garden

Field Naturalists Club of Victoria Fungi Group

Wanderer or Monarch butterfly

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
8 March 2013
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Comments (7)

The Wanderer Butterfly is known overseas as the Monarch Butterfly, so named for being the King, or Queen, of butterflies. In North America they are also known as King Billies, after William of Orange. The Australian name of Wanderer comes from its remarkable habit of long distance migration. The scientific name Danaus plexippus was bestowed by Carolus Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy and inventor of the scientific naming system.

Adult female Wanderer Butterfly Adult female Wanderer Butterfly
Source: Patrick Honan
 

Although not a native to Australia, the Wanderer may not exactly be introduced in the usual sense. Wanderer Butterflies most likely arrived in Australia across the Coral Sea from Vanuatu or New Caledonia, carried by three cyclones in early 1870. This was part of a major expansion in distribution across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans from North America in the late 1800s, probably due to a combination of environmental factors, human movement and natural expansion.

Wanderer butterfly feeding An adult Wanderer Butterfly feeding on Cat's Whiskers (Orthopsiphon aristatus).
Source: Patrick Honan
 

The first recorded observations from Australia were made in February 1871 in Queensland, followed by the first record from Melbourne in April 1872. It is possible that Wanderers had been making the journey to Australia since time immemorial, but only after Europeans established their food plants here could Wanderers establish.

Wanderer caterpillar The distinctive fleshy 'filaments' behind the head of the caterpillar are used as sensory organs.
Source: Patrick Honan
 

Wanderers have been seen at sea up to 500km from land and occasionally settle on passing ships. This is not unusual – with favourable winds, Australian butterflies such as Common Eggflies often end up in New Zealand. Wanderers have a cruising speed of about 30km per hour with bursts of up to 50km per hour when alarmed.

Wanderer Butterfly pupa. The wings of the adult can be seen through the walls of a Wanderer Butterfly pupa.
Source: Patrick Honan
 

In North America, Wanderers undertake a famous annual migration from Canada and northern USA down to Mexico and California, and then back again. The populations overwintering in the Oyamel Fir Forests of Mexico roost at densities of 10 million butterflies per hectare. Because the length of time required for the migration exceeds that of an adult Wanderer's life span, those arriving back in Canada are the descendents of those that left the year before.

Map of butterfly migration Map of the North American migration of the Monarch or Wanderer butterfly that occurs each year in autumn.
Source: Via the Frost Lab, Queen's University Department of Psychology
 

The secrets of the Wanderer migration in North America weren't fully revealed until the 1970s. Canadian Dr Fred Urquhart was fascinated as a child by the question of where all the Wanderers disappeared to during winter, and he and his team of volunteers took nearly 40 years to discover the answer. Professor Urquhart died in 2002 but his life-long search is the subject of the new film Flight of the Butterflies 3D. In Australia, Dr Courtenay Smithers from the Australian Museum began tagging Wanderer Butterflies in the 1970s using many volunteers from the broader community. His studies revealed that overwintering populations around Sydney and Adelaide move into Melbourne and surrounds during summer. This research continues, with many questions still to be answered. In certain years, for example, populations appear to overwinter in some parts of Victoria, such as Phillip Island and the Western Districts, without needing to move interstate, but more data is needed to confirm these observations.

Flight of the Butterflies 3D opens at IMAX Melbourne Museum on 21 March. 

Patrick's next post on these butterflies: More on the Monarch

References:

Clake, A.R. & Zalucki, M.P., 2004. Monarchs in Australia: On the Winds of A Storm? Biological Invasions, 6:123-127

McCubbin, C., 1970, Australian Butterflies, Thomas Nelson Ltd, Melbourne, 206pp.

Bug of the Month - the mosquito

Author
by Tim Blackburn
Publish date
4 February 2013
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Comments (2)

Mosquitoes are midge-like flies comprising the family Cucilidae. There are over 3,500 species of mosquito described worldwide and most of these require vertebrate blood as the principal portion of the female diet. The blood provides protein for egg development and maturation, and the lipids it contains are an energy source. Females possess elongated piercing and sucking mouthparts for obtaining their blood meals. Males obtain all their energy from sweet fluids such as nectar and honeydew. Since they don't lay eggs, male mosquitoes do not require a protein source and do not bite.

Close-up of female mosquito The elongated proboscis of this female mosquito enables it to obtain the protein it requires for egg development and maturation.
Image: sondebueu
Source: sondebueu via cc
 

Adult females lay eggs in or near water, commonly on vegetation, a few days after a blood meal. The life cycle includes four larval stages, or instars. Between each instar the larva moults in order to grow. The larvae, or 'wrigglers' (so-called due to their characteristic movement), typically inhabit stagnant water bodies, and must come to the surface periodically to breathe through spiracles or a siphon. The larvae of some species use their mouth bristles to filter water for microorganisms, while others scrape food particles off the surfaces of submerged objects. The pupa does not feed but must come to the surface to breathe through respiratory trumpets.

mosquito larva The mouth bristles, used in filter feeding, are clearly visible on this wriggler. Note also the three body segments and the segmented abdomen.
Image: Tim Blackburn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Female mosquitoes inject saliva that contains an anticoagulant into their host to prevent blood-clotting. The saliva also contains components that cause vasodilation (to increase blood blow) and suppress the immune response of the host (to protect the mosquito). Once the feeding episode ends, the host produces antibodies which trigger a release of histamine. This in turn increases the permeability of adjacent blood vessels, thereby enabling a stronger immune response. The blood vessels swell and this causes the familiar, itchy lump—the 'mozzie bite'.

Female mosquito A female mosquito just after landing on my toe as it commences a blood meal. Note the thin abdomen at the start of the meal.
Image: Tim Blackburn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Female mosquito feeding The same mosquito one minute later. Note the swollen abdomen which is red because it is full of my blood.
Image: Tim Blackburn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Viruses and pathogens are easily transferred between mosquito and host via the saliva. Mosquitoes are serious agents in the transmission of diseases such as dengue and yellow fever, malaria and lymphatic filariasis. In 1996, the World Health Organisation estimated that several million people die each year from mosquito-borne diseases around the world. Each disease is spread by a specific type of mosquito; malaria is spread by Anopheles spp. and dengue fever is primarily spread by Aedes aegypti.

However, mosquito-borne diseases are rare in Victoria, and mosquitoes here are more likely to annoy rather than cause disease. You can prevent bites by wearing insect repellent and protective clothing, and removing breeding sites. Window mesh and mosquito nets also help exclude potentially harmful species, particularly in tropical and subtropical areas. Various plant species such as Citronella Grass, Rosemary, Catnip and Marigolds repel mosquitoes and may be especially useful if planted near doorways and windows. 

Links:

CDC: Mosquito-borne diseases

Vector-borne diseases in Victoria

Bug of the Month - Emperor Gum Moth

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
4 January 2013
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Comments (9)

The apparent decline of the Emperor Gum Moth (EGM), Opodiphthera eucalypti, around Victoria has been a hot topic of debate amongst entomologists and other EGM fans in the last few years.

Emperor Gum Moth A newly-emerged male Emperor Gum Moth.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

The decline is anecdotal and as yet there is no hard evidence, but theories abound. Many people contact us noting that they don’t see EGM caterpillars anymore, as they did when climbing trees as a kid. Which prompts a question in return: "When did you last climb a tree?"

Emperor Gum Moth Male Emperor Gum Moths have enormous feathery antennae used to detect the presence of females.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Another possibility is the demise of the introduced Peppercorn Tree (Schinus molle) in Victoria. Originally from the Peruvian Andes, Peppercorns were planted in every Victorian primary school and many parks from the 1880s to the early 1900s. EGM caterpillars, although feeding naturally on eucalypts, will also consume Silver Birch (Betula pendula) and Liquidambar (Liquidambar styraciflua), as well as Peppercorns. Victorians who went to primary school up until the 1970s would be very familiar with EGM caterpillars feeding on Peppercorns, but the trees have gradually died out or been removed until now there are very few left. Peppercorns are now considered an environmental weed.

Children planting trees State school children planting peppercorn trees in Carlton Gardens, just outside the now Melbourne Museum, on Arbor day, 1905.
Source: Reproduced from Carlton in DPCD report by Lovell Chen
 

Emperor Gum Moth The colour of adult Emperor Gum Moths varies considerably throughout their range.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

Another strong possibility is the intrinsic variation in insect populations. Many species undergo booms and busts, appearing in vast numbers one year then apparently disappearing for several years afterwards, sometimes for a decade or more. These fluctuations are usually climate related, with each species requiring an exact combination of factors (such as a mild winter and a wet summer) in a particular order to afford them a boom year. Perhaps the last couple of decades have not produced the right combination for EGMs, and they’re just waiting for their number to come up.

European Wasp The dreaded European Wasp. Workers tear EGM caterpillars off trees and cut them into small pieces before transporting them back to the nest.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

One of the most popular theories is attack by European Wasps (Vespula germanica) on EGM caterpillars. Caterpillars are a favoured prey of European Wasps, and they can do enormous damage when present in large numbers. However, somewhat ironically, after reaching plague proportions in the 1980s and 90s, wasp populations have dropped dramatically in the last 15 years or so, again for no discernible reason other than a possible combination of environmental factors.

Emperor Gum Moth caterpillar feeding An Emperor Gum Moth caterpillar feeding on Eucalyptus species.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

In the end, any decline of EGMs probably comes down to habitat loss. The number of host gum trees has steadily reduced in urban areas in particular, but also in suburban areas and even rural towns. If fewer trees are available, there will naturally be fewer caterpillars. So if you’re missing these iconic caterpillars, the best strategy is to plant a gum tree.

Young caterpillars Young EGM caterpillars look very different to older caterpillars, but their presence is a possible sign of a healthy local environment.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

But these theories are, at this stage, pure speculation. EGMs are still around, if you know where to look. A Museum Victoria Bioscan at Wilson’s Promontory in 2011 attracted hundreds of EGM adults (as well as the closely related Helena Gum Moth, Opodiphthera helena) to light traps at night. And just last month, a dozen EGM caterpillars were on display in the Forest Gallery at Melbourne Museum. Plans are underway to assess the extent of the EGM decline in Victoria, so stay tuned for further developments.

Further reading:

Coupar, P. & Coupar, M., 1992, Flying Colours – Common Caterpillars, Butterflies and Moths of South-Eastern Australia, NSW University Press, 119pp.

Common, I.F.B., 1990, Moths of Australia, Melbourne University Press, 535pp.

Zborowski, P. & Edwards, T., 2007, A Guide to Australian Moths, CSIRO Publishing, 214pp.

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