Sciences

DISPLAYING POSTS FILED UNDER: Sciences (235)

Sciences

Natural history - from animals to minerals, fossils to sea slugs. MV's scientists use the state's collections in important research.

The bountiful Mallee

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
17 December 2014
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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
 

Dinorama ready for summer

Author
by Adrienne Leith
Publish date
12 December 2014
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Museum Victoria’s Senior Palaeontologist, Dr Tom Rich, says ‘most people don’t realise that Victoria looked completely different 120 million years ago. If you wanted to you could walk all the way to Antarctica. The vegetation was lush and green. During the winter, it was dark all day. This was the world of the polar dinosaurs that once roamed Victoria.’

It's a world that we're recreating in miniature through our Dinorama – a diorama of the rift valley in southeastern Australia during the Cretaceous period. Our preparators drew from the work of the museum’s palaeontologists and key artists, such as Dr Rich and Peter Trusler, to model the ancient landscape from styrofoam.

Two men in workshop Preparators Kim Haines and Brendon Taylor survey and discuss their progress on the Dinorama.
Image: Adrienne Leith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Man building a diorama in a workshop Kim Haines sanding the waterways of the diorama.
Image: Adrienne Leith
Source: Museum Victoria

Man painting diorama in workshop Brendon Taylor putting the final touches on the diorama.
Image: Adrienne Leith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The preps sanded and painted the diorama to create the detailed waterways of the valley. Preparator Brendon Taylor also painted a backboard to show the sky and give the diorama depth.

Apart from adding the last touches of some vegetation, the diorama is now ready for the foyer in anticipation of our summer holiday program. Come to Melbourne Museum in the summer holidays to help populate the Dinorama with miniature animals from the period. 

The Dinorama activity will run daily from 11am to 3pm from 26 December to 27 January.

Links:

MV Blog: Dinosaur diorama

School Holiday activities at Melbourne Museum

Dinosaur diorama

Author
by Adrienne Leith
Publish date
18 November 2014
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Adrienne creates and presents public programs at Melbourne Museum.

Imagine a Victorian Cretaceous rift valley complete with river bed, trees and a suite of prehistoric animals. Now imagine it recreated in miniature in a classic museum diorama: the DINORAMA!

Displayed in front of the Forest Gallery, the Dinorama will be the feature activity of our summer school holidays at Melbourne Museum. We're inviting visitors to make thousands of Cretaceous animals to fill the little landscape with life.

model of dinosaur Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei was a horned dinosaur, fossils of which were found at Kilcunda. Kim Haines made this tiny version.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In consultation with our palaeontologists, our preparators made miniatures of three animals—Koolasuchus cleelandi, Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei and Qantassaurus intrepidus—that lived in Victoria approximately 120 million years ago. From the models, the preparators make moulds…. and from the moulds, summer visitors can create thousands of little beasts from modelling clay.

model of dinosaur Michael Pennell's model of Koolasuchus cleelandi, a three-metre-long predator that lived in and around fast-flowing cold streams. Fossils of Koolasuchus were were found on the coast of Victoria just east of Phillip Island.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Every couple of days we'll bring out a new colour of clay until we have a Dinorama filled with multi-coloured ancient animals. Our school holiday activities start on 26 December, so keep an eye on the Melbourne Museum foyer after then.

modelling a dinosaur Inverloch was the discovery site of Qantassurus intrepidus, a small herbivorous hypsilophodontid with large eyes for foraging in long polar winters. Brendon Taylor created this model. You can see an animatronic Qantassaurus in the 600 Million Years exhibition.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Spawning sea anenomes

Author
by Michela Mitchell
Publish date
5 November 2014
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Michela is the first resident taxonomist of Actiniaria (sea anemones) in Australia. This title doesn't come with a ceremonial sash, but it should.

The Field Naturalists Marine Research Group members Joan Hales and Janet Davies sent me this gorgeous photo of the Victorian sea anemone, Oulactis sp., spawning last week.

Spawing sea anemone Female Oulactis sp. spawning with tiny pink eggs on the oral disc.
Image: Joan Hales
Source: Joan Hales
 

Sea anemones are closely related to corals and so, like corals, they spawn under the right conditions and environmental cues, usually in spring and summer. This can be associated with cycles of the moon. This particular anemone reproduces by broadcast spawning; females and males release eggs and sperm into the water column, where the tides and currents brings spermatoza into contact with the eggs for fertilisation.

This method is not for all species of anemones, however. Some have cunningly evolved various methods of reproduction (sexual and asexual) so they can stick around as long as they need to. Some species can even change the way they reproduce: they can clone themselves, they can split in half (fission), or leave a small fragment of their pedal disc (laceration) behind and a whole new anemone can grow. They can even be male and female together (hermaphroditic). They leave nothing to chance ensuring their survival on Earth – so far 600 million years and counting!

Filming our underwater backyard

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
23 October 2014
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What do you know of the Vampire Squid? How about the Dragonfish, the Sea Mouse and the Fangtooth? These bizarre animals live kilometres – yes, kilometres – beneath the ocean’s surface. We’ve brought them up to sea level for you to meet at the exhibition Deep Oceans, which opens this weekend at Scienceworks.

Anglerfish exhibit Deep Oceans Anglerfish exhibit
Image: Australian Museum
Source: Australian Museum
 

This exhibition comes to us from the Australian Museum and we’ve added some local characters to the mix. Parks Victoria tells us that nearly half of Port Phillip is less than eight metres deep, and its greatest depth is only 24 metres. It’s just a puddle compared to the true deep oceans. This means we can see a huge diversity of our marine life just by heading out into the bay with a mask and snorkel.

 

Over the past months, Dr Julian Finn has filmed seals, fish, crabs and others in our local marine parks with a fish-eye lens. This footage will be projected inside the Underwater Backyard virtual aquarium dome, where you can stand right beside the bay’s residents without getting wet.

Deep Oceans is at Scienceworks 25 October 2014 to 12 April 2015.

Beetle back from the dead

Author
by Ken Walker
Publish date
15 October 2014
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Ken is our Senior Curator of Entomology.

On Monday last week, live images of an attractive Australian lady beetle popped up on the BowerBird citizen science website photographed west of Portland, Victoria. The photographer recorded seeing more than 50 beetle specimens in a small swampy area.

beetle Micraspis flavovittata ladybird beetle photographed in October 2014.
Image: Reiner Richter
Source: CC BY 3.0 AU
 

There is a wonderful CSIRO lady beetle website with a gallery of images for all known extant Australian species, however we were unable to match the photo to any in this gallery. So we sent the BowerBird images to the Canberra scientist who created the website. His initial reaction was to doubt the veracity of the locality data as he claimed this was not an Australian species. I reconfirmed the Australian locality with the photographer so we began to wonder if this was an invasive species.

The images were then forwarded to the world lady beetle expert at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London. We received news on Friday night from Roger at the NHM that this is a species "back from the dead". A species not seen or recorded for more than a 50 year period is considered to be extinct. There are only 4 known specimens of this species in collections (2 at the NHM and 2 at Museum Victoria) - the last specimen was collected in 1940!

Micraspis flavovittata Micraspis flavovittata beetle
Image: Reiner Richter
Source: CC BY 3.0 AU
 

This is indeed an Australian species, Micraspis flavovittata (Crotch, 1874). I remember we once had an exhibition at the museum called Extinction is forever…. and so it is, until someone finds it again! The only known localities of this species were Narbethong and Kallista so the Portland location is well west of these previous records.

Many people contend that the best citizen science projects are those in collaboration with professional scientists. Personally, I love the serendipity of citizen science discovery alone.

Links:

BowerBird

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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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