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 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. 

Fin win was no whale fail

Author
by Colin
Publish date
3 October 2014
Comments
Comments (0)

You may call me crazy for putting my hand up again for the chance to end up knee-deep in a decomposing whale. This time, the whale that washed up on Levy’s Beach near Warrnambool in Western Victoria was a Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus). Fin Whales are the second largest species of whale and can reach up to about 25m long and weigh more than 50 tons! They feed mostly on krill and can consume between one and two tonnes per day during the summer months when ocean productivity is high.

Fin Whale washed up a beach The Fin Whale washed up on the beach.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Upon hearing of the news of the wash up, Museum Victoria put together a team to retrieve it, along with the Australian Marine Mammal Conservation Foundation (AMMCF) and Melbourne Zoo. The Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI), Parks Victoria and the Cultural Heritage Officer were of great assistance in organising planning, logistics, contractors, public engagement and working near the significant cultural heritage sites in the area.

Bentley Bird on the beach MV's Assistant Vertebrate Collections Manager Bentley Bird ‘gloves up’ ready for tissue sampling.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Kate Charlton-Robb with the Fin Whale Australian Marine Mammal Conservation Foundation’s founding director Kate Charlton-Robb collects a tissue sample for future research.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Whale on beach A wave crashes over the whale’s starboard side. Strong wave action like this posed a significant risk and required the delicate skills of two excavators to move it higher up the beach.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Measuring a whale We took morphometric measurements prior to dissection which will add to what we currently know about the biology of the species.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Sarah Frith with dead whale Melbourne Zoo veterinarian Sarah Frith takes a stab at removing the eye.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Excavator working with whale on beach Tools of the trade: The excavator was invaluable when it came to removing the blubber layer and heavy lifting
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Tools used to dissect whale More tools of the trade: hooks, knives and flensing tools are essential for the removal of blubber (flensing) and flesh from the skeleton.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Brendan Taylor working on the whale Preparator Brendan Taylor gets to work removing flesh and blubber.
Image: Rob Zugaro
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Burying whale bones By day two the carcass no longer resembled a whale. The bones were taken to a private location and buried to allow for bacteria and other flesh eating organisms to clean the skeleton. The cleaned bones will be retrieved in 12-18 months and added to the museum’s collection.
Image: Rob Zugaro
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The support provided by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI), Parks Victoria, the local Indigenous representatives and the enthusiastic farmer who allowed for the storage of bones on his property, was second to none. Without their resources and assistance, the recovery could have not taken place.

Links:

Australian Marine Mammal Conservation Foundation

Cryptozoology – imagination, science or folklore?

Author
by Wayne
Publish date
4 September 2014
Comments
Comments (3)

Where I grew up as a child, in Victoria's Wimmera-Mallee, there were persistent tales of strange animal sightings that fell outside the realm of science. Stories of Pumas, Cougars (which are actually the same thing) or other "Big Cats" living in the Grampians, for example, often seeped into school ground conversations. As a proto-scientist at this stage of my life (reared on Attenborough, How-and-Why books and old issues of National Geographic) I had developed a degree of scepticism to such stories – I knew to keep my 'bulldust detector' switched on but also kept my mouth shut - after all, everybody loves a good campfire story.

Jaguar A Jaguar Panthera onca. Just one of the numerous species of big cats probably not found in the Grampians.
Image: Benamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 
My teenaged mind would sometimes wander - so what if, just supposing for a moment, there really were large felines prowling the forests near Wartook in the Grampians, just an hours drive away? On nearly every occasion, the story-teller swore that their tale was true – to cast doubt on the validity was regarded as an insult to the story-teller's family, as inevitably they were retelling something a family member had seen. Hence, keeping the mouth shut was a wise option– it was a small town, after all.

In later years, I had need to move a little over a hundred kilometres to the west and found that a similar local story existed near Mt Arapiles – the stalking ground of the infamous "Ozenkadnook Tiger". By this stage of my life, my bulldust detector was more finely calibrated, and it pinged incessantly in my head when I heard stories on this animal – but was it really a myth? Everyone who spoke of it swore it was true....but empirical scientific evidence – in the form of clear photographs, verified footprints, samples of fur or other remains - were uniformly thin on the ground, so to speak (although a photograph of an indistinct animal did make its way to the front of the local newspaper in the 1960s, and is analysed in some detail here)

Thylacine A Thylacine Thylacinus cyanocephalus. Might this be a relative of the Ozenkadnook Tiger? Probably not.
Image: Heath Warwick
Source: Museum Victoria

As it transpires, almost every region of rural Australia has their own tales of strange animals, complete with oral accounts, familial anecdotes and rich folkloric traditions, from bunyips to big cats to presumed late-surviving megafauna. Whilst great fun, these stories are the realm of cryptozoology – a mix of folklore, imagination and pseudoscience – defined as the study of animals whose existence has not been proven. As I'm now a fully-realised scientist, my attitude to cryptozoology is uniform – whether it's Nessie, Bigfoot or the Ozenkadnook Tiger, hard evidence is the cornerstone of the scientific process – without empirical evidence, this is sadly pseudoscience.

So, whilst my bulldust detector remains active and fully charged, nobody would be happier than I to be presented with definitive, empirical evidence of these animals. Sightings, family stories and other anecdotal evidence are simply not enough. In the spirit of true science, we remain unmoved until provided with empirical evidence.

In the meantime, sightings and the like can be lodged via the Australian Rare Fauna Research Association. But not us!

For your eyes only

Author
by Simon C
Publish date
27 August 2014
Comments
Comments (5)

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.

Quick! Look at this fossilised fern!

You are one of the first people to see it!

Fossil fern Fossil fern
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We at MV’s Outreach Program travel all over Victoria, bringing the MV’s collections to those who may not be able to get to one of our museums. During our presentations we encourage those we meet to explore and interact with the interesting things we have brought on the road that day.

fossil fern What the fossil looked like at the start of the day...
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This is one of the fossils we use in the Outreach Program’s Dinosaurs and Fossils presentation to communicate the idea of plants being an important part of the fossil record; it’s not all T. rex claws and Stegosaurus tail spikes. (Although, we do have a T. rex claw and a Stegosaurus spike, and they are pretty awesome.) We have fossils with leaves, seashells, bones and teeth for our audiences to handle and investigate.

During a kinder visit yesterday, one of our keen, young palaeontologists was testing his revolutionary new ‘drop’ technique and managed to unearth a new fossil running across and through one of the specimens.

Fossil fern Fossil fern enhanced with a large split thanks to the 'drop' technique pioneered in a kinder visit.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As we gazed upon the freshly split rock back in the office, it occurred to us that only a handful of people – the probably-panicked kinder rock-dropper, our Outreach presenter, and a few of our team – have ever seen this fossil. So we thought it would be only right to bring you into the fold and invite you to be among the first humans to ever set eyes on it. The count currently stands at approximately six people, or seven if you include Kate who proofs the blog posts before they go out. I'm 004, but she’s lucky to get 007.

So get your peepers around these pictures and join our very exclusive club. We’re going to get jackets made!

Fossil fern Two is better than one, right?
Source: Museum Victoria
 

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. 

Eastern Pygmy Possum

Author
by Phoebe Burns
Publish date
15 August 2014
Comments
Comments (1)

Phoebe is a University of Melbourne Masters student supervised by Dr. Kevin Rowe at MV. She is passionate about the unique mammal fauna of Australia.

Early one morning, while up in the Grampians searching for Smoky Mice (Pseudomys fumeus), I peeked inside an Elliot trap and was greeted by a delicate little face, huge ears, big bright eyes and fat, gently curled tail. Expecting to see the pointy face and straight, slender tail of an Agile Antechinus (Antechinus agilis), I hastily shut the trap, took a second to process the surprise and then beamed at my bemused volunteer. Another tentative peek in the trap confirmed it; I had trapped my first Eastern Pygmy Possum (EPP; Cercartetus nanus).

Eastern Pygmy Possum Eastern Pygmy Possum
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The EPP weighs in at a miniscule 15-38g1, yet still looks truly possum-like. It is one of seven possum species you could fit in your pocket, but is far from the smallest. The Little Pygmy Possum (Cercartetus lepidus) weighs only 6-10g and a full-grown Honey Possum (Tarsipes rostratus) can weigh as little as 5g1.

Like several other possum species, EPPs can obtain all required nutrients, including protein, from nectar and pollen alone.2 However they also eat insects, seeds and fruit, providing flexibility when few plants are flowering. Like the Fat-tailed Dunnart, the EPP stores fat at the base of its tail as a reserve for when food is scarce, and can go into torpor when keeping active is energetically too expensive.

Eastern Pygmy Possum Eastern Pygmy Possum
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As another of Australia’s amazing marsupial species, the female EPP gives birth to tiny eyeless, earless babies that suckle in her pouch for 30 days. Once the juveniles are too big for the pouch, they nest with their mother for another 30-35 days then head off alone.3 EPPs don’t build their own nests; they use whatever is available and change nest sites frequently. Researchers have found EPPs nesting in tree hollows, abandoned birds nests, burrows and natural collections of leaves and twigs in tree forks.3

Phoebe Burns with an adult female eastern pygmy possum Phoebe Burns with an adult female eastern pygmy possum (Cercartetus nanus) in the Grampians National Park.
Image: Kara Joshi
Source: Museum Victoria
 

 

Eastern Pygmy Possums are patchily distributed from the southeast corner of Queensland to the southeast tip of South Australia, Flinders and King Islands and throughout Tasmania. They are listed as near threatened in Victoria; at risk from predation by foxes and cats, competition with feral honeybees and increasing fire frequency.4 I consider myself so lucky to have encountered such a charming species and hope there are many more (pleasant) surprises in my traps for years to come.

References

1.         Menkhorst, P. & Knight, F. Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. (Oxford University Press, 2011).

2.         Van Tets, I. G. & Hulbert, A. J. A Comparison of the Nitrogen Requirements of the Eastern Pygmy Possum, Cercartetus nanus, on a Pollen and on a Mealworm Diet. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 72, 127–137 (1999).

3.         Ward, S. Life-History of the Eastern Pygmy-Possum, Cercartetus nanus (Burramyidae, Marsupialia), in South-Eastern Australia. Australian Journal of Zoology 38, 287 (1990).

4.         Harris, J. M. & Goldingay, R. L. Distribution, habitat and conservation status of the eastern pygmy-possum Cercartetus nanus in Victoria. Australian Mammalogy 27, 185–210 (2005).

About this blog

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

Categories