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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Dec 2010 (17)

A plague of locusts

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
7 December 2010
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You've probably heard reports that northern Victorian farmers are losing whole crops to armies of marching hoppers and that locusts are on their way into Melbourne. The species in question is the Australian Plague Locust, Chortoicetes terminifera, which belongs to the short-horned grasshoppers (family Acrididae). High rainfall over past months has created a bounty of lush green growth for the locusts to eat, allowing them to breed to plague conditions.

‘Locust’ is used to describe grasshoppers that can swarm in huge numbers. Most grasshoppers are solitary and the Australian Plague Locust generally shuns company too. But something interesting happens when their numbers build up: they enter what is known as a gregarious phase and their behaviour changes profoundly.

Juvenile locusts aggregate in ‘hopper bands’ that march across pasture, devouring everything in their wake. The adults travel vast distances in flying swarms that can be kilometres wide. A swarm that covers just one square kilometre can eat ten tonnes of vegetation in one day.

locust swarm Band of nymphs moving through pasture, as seen from the air.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We spotted locusts on a recent trip to Benalla; they were all over the town, hopping and flying over roads and gardens in low numbers.

locust This locust was sunning itself on the footpath of the main street in Benalla.
Image: Nicole Alley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In some species – such as the Desert Locust found in Africa, the Middle East and Asia – the gregarious phase displays very different colours and body form to the solitary phase. Not so with the Australian Plague Locust; the two phases look pretty similar, especially when they’re dry specimens and their colours have faded, such as those in our entomology collection.

pinned grasshoppers Plague locusts in the Museum Victoria Entomology Collection.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

Australian Plague Locust Commission

DPI Victoria locust information

DPI NSW locust image gallery

Nature walk at Eltham High

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
6 December 2010
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Entomologist Ken Walker took 75 students in Year 7 at Eltham High School for a nature walk around their school grounds last week. Ken also gave a talk about biodiversity, but he believes that biodiversity is best understood through fieldwork.

The students discovered this batch of beautifully architectural eggs:

eggs on eucalyptus leaves Eggs laid on young eucalyptus leaves.
Image: Ken Walker
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Detail of insect eggs Detail of insect eggs.
Image: Ken Walker
Source: Museum Victoria
 

They were laid by a Eucalyptus Tortoise Beetle (Paropsis atomaria) which belongs to the family Chrysomelidae, or leaf beetles. This is a very large and common family of beetles that feed on leaves. Some species of chrysomelids are introduced pests, such as the Elm Leaf Beetle that threatens many of Melbourne's historic elms, but the Eucalyptus Tortoise Beetle is native to Australia. These eggs will hatch into voracious leaf-munching larvae.

Paropsis atomaria laying eggs Paropsis atomaria laying eggs.
Image: Peter Kelly
Source: PaDIL, Museum Victoria
 

beetle grubs feeding Young larvae of the Eucalyptus Tortoise Beetle feeding on eucalyptus leaf.
Image: Peter Kelly
Source: PaDIL, Museum Victoria
 

Next year Ken will help the students do a full survey of the ants found at Eltham High to teach them more about classification and the biodiversity of their own school.

Links:

Elm Leaf Beetle featured in Question of the Week

Origins updated

Author
by Alasdair Mulligan
Publish date
6 December 2010
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This guest post comes from Alasdair Mulligan, a Monash University student currently interning with Museum Victoria as part of his Bachelor of Arts (Journalism) course which he will complete at the end of this year.

Where did your family come from? Why did they choose Victoria? How long ago did they arrive?

These questions, and more, can be answered by the Immigration Museum’s recently updated Origins multimedia display, giving visitors the opportunity to see exactly when, and in what context their family immigrated to Victoria.

Based on Government census information gathered since 1854, Origins contains data from 82 countries, and was researched, built and designed by Museum Victoria in conjunction with SBS Radio, Australian Bureau of Statistics, and community members.

Origins is available at two kiosks in the Long Room of the Immigration Museum, complemented by a large touch screen and audio speakers, it gives visitors the opportunity to explore their family heritage by viewing graphs and bios related to population, history and gender. There is also a website version.

Origins kiosk display The Origins kiosk at the Immigration Museum displays information about migrant communities in Australia.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Bettina, a 28 year old German tourist, said she found Origins “fascinating” and that it told her a lot about why her dad was considering living in Melbourne in the 1950s.

“My dad actually moved to Australia after the war for four years, it was the trend at the time – to move overseas – but I don’t think he liked being away from his family and friends for too long, so he came back.

“It was really interesting seeing how many people thought like my father back then. You can see on the graph that heaps of people from Germany decided to come to Australia during the same time.” Bettina said.

Origins has recently undergone a significant upgrade, and senior curator Deb Tout-Smith says that the service has considerably expanded and now offers a lot more.

Origins has been updated with the latest 2006 Government Census Information, this includes 12 new communities being added, plotted histories being updated and a handful of audio-visual guides being included.

“It’s supposed to provide an insight into the community, show the political and socio-economic reasons of why they immigrated, and while this update has taken longer than we hoped to complete, working with communities is something that you can’t rush.” Deb said.

“At the moment we include communities that have a population of at least 1100 people, I’d love to get that down to somewhere around the 100 mark, but it all depends on feasibility, we get a lot of people saying ‘Why aren’t we in origins?’ but sometimes these communities only contain one or two people and it would be basically including someone’s personal history.”

Work has already begun on preparing the next update for Origins, which will include the 2011 Government Census Information, and is expected to be ready in two to three years' time.

Links:

Journeys of a Lifetime in the Immigration Museum's Long Room

Origins website

Christmas arrives at Melbourne Museum

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
1 December 2010
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Melbourne Museum foyer is decked out for the Christmas season! The tree went up this morning and a special case full of beautiful vintage Christmas decorations was installed yesterday. These are borrowed from the amazing collection of Rob and Lee-Ann Hamilton and include fragile glass baubles and a miniature tree made from dyed goose feathers.

Karen installing the Christmas display. Installing the Christmas display.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Vintage glass owl decoration Vintage glass owl decoration on a miniature Christmas tree made from dyed goose feathers.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The first of December is the day to start counting down to Christmas Day with an advent calendar. So we thought we’d make an online Museum Victoria advent calendar with random treats and prizes.

At 5pm each day until Christmas Eve, we’ll post a link to a Christmassy collection item through MV’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and ask a question. The first correct answer to the question will be in the running for museum goodies like badges, books, toys and tickets. Come and play!

In the night sky this month

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
1 December 2010
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I missed the Leonid meteor shower in November so I was delighted to learn that there's another shower on its way in mid-December. Astronomer Tanya Hill explains more in our monthly Video Skynotes.

Twenty Geminid meteors an hour? Those are pretty good odds for spotting one!

If you prefer your Skynotes in written form, head to the Skynotes page on the Planetarium website.

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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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