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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Dec 2011 (19)

New sea cucumber species discovered

Author
by Blair
Publish date
6 December 2011
Comments
Comments (1)

I just found out what you get when you combine a talented underwater photographer, the keen interest of a year 10 student volunteer, and a museum expert: five species new to science!

Cartoon of student, diver, scientist My schematic of this discovery, which also explains why I'm a scientist not a cartoonist.
Image: Blair Patullo
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In the latest Museum Victoria Memoirs there is a report that describes five new marine species, two of them from Victoria. Perhaps not that amazing considering that's partly what museums do – we discover and describe new species – but this report needed the help from two members of the community.

Firstly, a student volunteer spent over 30 hours looking down a microscope studying the species. And by chance, we also received an image from a recreational diver, participating in Reefwatch Victoria, that showed one of the species spawning in the wild. The result is a perfect combination of scientific detail and real life underwater action.

sea cucumber spawning The sea cucumber Paracaudina bacillis spawning at Rye Pier in Port Phillip Bay.
Image: D. McKenzie
Source: D. McKenzie
 

The new species are all sea cucumbers from the genus group Paracaudina. They were previously thought to be the same as the tropical species Paracaudina australis, which this report now confirms is unlikely to live in Victorian waters. These Paracaudina are some of the largest sea cucumber species in Australia.

Links:

P. Mark O'Loughlin, Shari Barmos and Didier VandenSpiegel. The paracaudinid sea cucumbers of Australia and New Zealand (Echinodermata: Holothuroidea: Molpadida: Caudinidae). Memoirs of Museum Victoria 68 :37-65 (2011) (PDF, 2.86MB)

Reefwatch Victoria

MV Blog: Skeletons of sea cucumbers

MV Blog: Trepang today

LEGO train at Scienceworks

Author
by Kearston
Publish date
6 December 2011
Comments
Comments (5)

Kearston presents public programs at Scienceworks.

On Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 of November, Scienceworks Pumping Station was transformed into a LEGO® haven for young and old. The Melbourne LEGO® User's Group (MUG) along with hundreds of fans and visitors created a huge, moving road train whilst raising awareness for the benefits of LEGO® as therapy for patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Two men with LEGO Two of our volunteers getting involved in the train building.
Image: Kearston Bloxidge
Source: Museum Victoria
 

MUG describe themselves as "Adult Fans of LEGO®" and say that they have witnessed the power of LEGO® play to help children with ASD communicate and grow. They are dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding of ASD around the world. It is believed that the systematic and highly structured nature of LEGO® appeals to children with ASD, while giving them the opportunity to share tasks with their peers. Studies have shown that ASD children receive long-term benefits from this kind of play, too.

LEGO train at Scienceworks The train under construction as each individual trailer was added.
Image: Kearston Bloxidge
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The goal was to construct the largest road train possible in the two days. Once the individual trailers were built, visitors could let their imagination run wild in building the cargo for the train to haul. After two days, up to 3000 visitors to Scienceworks had contributed to the construction of 190 trailers which combined made a road train just over 46 metres in length.

LEGO dinosaur robot This dinosaur robot was just one of the many amazingly creative lots of cargo seen on the trailers.
Image: Kearston Bloxidge
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This event wasn't exclusively for the kids; in fact there were just as many big kids! Some visitors stayed all day Saturday and then came back for more on Sunday!

Links:

ASD Aid

Yahoo group for Melbourne LEGO® User Group (MUG)

Murchison meteorite

Author
by Ursula
Publish date
5 December 2011
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Comments (5)

Ursula Smith works in the natural sciences collections at Museum Victoria. Though a palaeontologist by training she finds all the collections fascinating and swings between excitement at all the cool stuff in them and despair at the lack of time to look at it all.

I’ve been asking the people who work with MV collections what some of their favourite items are, starting with Dermot Henry, the Manager of the Natural Sciences Collections.

Dermot's speciality is geology and he’s looked after the geosciences collections for many years. When asked what his favourite item was he took care to tell me that he didn’t have a favourite because there are so many fascinating objects, but when pressed he picked the Murchison meteorite as "probably the most famous and scientifically important rock in the collections."

The Murchison meteorite is one of 16 meteorites known from Victoria, and is rare in that it was actually observed falling, rather than just being found on the ground, so it came to scientists fresh (other than some surface dirt from falling into mud and cowpats and the like). It exploded in the atmosphere over Murchison, Victoria, about 160km north of Melbourne, on 28 September, 1969 and fell over an area around 35km2. So when we talk about 'it' we’re really talking about lots of broken pieces of a single object.

  Geology exhibition display Display in Dynamic Earth.
Image: Ursula Smith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

These pieces are on display in Dynamic Earth and are just a very small portion of what was collected. The largest piece found weighed nearly 7kg though many more were just a few grams each. In total, around 100kg was collected and over 80kg of that made it into science collections. While a lot of the material went overseas (mostly to the Field Museum in Chicago who have nearly 52kg and the Smithsonian in Washington DC who have nearly 20kg) some remained in Australia. Over 7kg stayed at the University of Melbourne and much of this was later donated to Museum Victoria. We have about 3.5kg and only the largest pieces that are on display; we also have lots of smaller pieces.

Drawer containing pieces of Murchison meteorite Drawer containing pieces of Murchison meteorite.
Image: Ursula Smith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Most of the pieces of rock in this drawer are parts of the Murchison meteorite (though not the big rock on the right – that’s actually a different meteorite of a similar type called Rainbow that was found in Victoria in 1994). Opening the sealed tubes, you can still smell, very faintly, what Dr. John Lovering from the University of Melbourne who organised the collection of the meteorite pieces in 1969 described as "just like methylated spirits – very strong". This was the first indication that the meteorite he was looking at was a rare type called a carbonaceous chondrite. Unlike more common rocky meteorites, a carbonaceous chondrite is packed full of organic molecules and a lot of water; this one is eight per cent water.

The year after it was collected, papers began to appear in scientific journals describing the chemical composition of the meteorite and excitement about its scientific significance began to grow. A paper in the journal Nature describing the discovery of amino acids of extra-terrestrial origin in the meteorite made, if you’ll pardon the pun, quite an impact, and was widely covered in the press, even making it into Time Magazine. Papers are still being published on it – one came out in August this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and a new chromium sulfide mineral, Murchisite (Cr5S6), was just reported in American Mineralogist.

To date over 70 amino acids have been identified from the meteorite, only 19 of which are known from Earth. These, and the many other chemicals that have been identified, suggest there could be thousands of complex organic chemicals present. What’s so interesting about these molecules is that they demonstrate that the simple chemical building blocks necessary for life on Earth seem to form quite easily in other places.

It isn’t just the origins of life that the Murchison meteorite may tell us about. It contains tiny pre-solar grains – nano-diamonds and silicon carbides, among others, that formed in supernovas long before our own sun appeared – which tell us a lot about how our own, and other, solar systems formed. But not only that, information from the pre-solar grains in the Murchison meteorite has been fundamental in figuring out a lot about how elements are originally produced and a lot about the structure and mechanics of stars.

So the Murchison meteorite is definitely pretty cool – biologists, chemists, astrophysicists and those of us who just think rocks that fall out of the sky are fascinating all agree on that. As Dermot says, "it’s so unusual and it’s yielded so much information about cosmology, element formation and how the universe works – it’s probably generated more publications than any other meteorite. And it’s Victorian!"

Murchison meteorite pieces Two pieces of the Murchison meteorite in Dynamic Earth.
Image: Ursula Smith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

Infosheet: Meteorites

Video: The Murchison meteorite story

Dermot A. Henry, 'Star Dust Memories - a Brief History of the Murchison Carbonaceous Chondrite'. Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia, 2003. 20: vii-ix (PDF, 1 MB)

Cute creepy crawlies

Author
by Mark Norman
Publish date
3 December 2011
Comments
Comments (3)

Mark is Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria. He's reporting back from Neds Corner in this series of blog posts.

The range of invertebrate animals that we found at Neds Corner was spectacular. At the robust end of the scale were the Rasping Crickets with their big jaws and impressive biting powers. We encountered pairs of these large crickets, the females having the long egg-laying ovipositor off the tip of their tail.

Rasping Cricket Rasping Cricket
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We also found the delicate pottery brood chambers built by potter wasps. They build these perfect small chambers to contain their young and then bring food to the developing grubs.

Potter wasp adult and nest Above: Adult potter wasp | Below: The nest of the potter wasp.
Image: Patrick Honan | Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Grace Lewis from the Entomological Society of Victoria witnessed the life and death tug-of-war between a spider wasp and meat ants over a paralysed wolf spider. The ants won.

Antlion larva and adult Above: Antlion larva in its conical pit | Below: Winged antlion adult
Image: David Paul | Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The ants were not so lucky in the many antlion pits we found scattered in the red sand. Antlions are the juvenile stage of an insect related to the lacewings (order Neuroptera). The young antlions with their big jaws dig a conical pit in the sand and sit in the bottom waiting for ants to slide in. The flying adults were attracted to our night lights. We also saw another related insect known as a mantis fly or mantispid – it has a lacewing body with the attacking front end of a praying mantis.

Mantispid Mantispid or mantis fly
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The centipedes were beautiful and fast, with lots of legs for running. We also found small red-eyed cicadas everywhere and saw them emerge from their wingless cases.

Colourful centipede Colourful centipede
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Dr John Stanisic of the Queensland Museum was pleased with his tally of ten land snail species including some of the smallest animals imaginable. Our photographer David Paul has perfected photographing "gliding sand grains".

Tiny land snail Tiny land snail
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Every day we found more radical colours, shapes and sizes amongst the invertebrate fauna than the day before.

Bush Blitz is a biodiversity partnership discovery program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia, that aims to document the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System. Museum Victoria also participated in Bush Blitz at Lake Condah in March 2011.

Links:

Parks Australia blog

Bush Blitz

Frogs, bogs and fungi

Author
by Mark Norman
Publish date
2 December 2011
Comments
Comments (0)

Mark is Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria. He's reporting back from Neds Corner in this series of blog posts.

By 25 November, rain drenched Neds Corner and the clay turned to slippery mud. Great weather for frogs. With the rain's arrival, frogs emerged from the mud as our vehicles sank into it.

Rain at Ned's Corner Rain at Ned's Corner. Left: The view from the homestead porch | Right: Boggy road
Image: M. Hewish / M. Cheng
Source: M. Hewish / M. Cheng
 

Pobblebonk frogs turned up everywhere. In our pitfall trap lines, 30 pits contained 37 frogs. These frogs bury into the soil in the dry weather and wait for the rains. Then they emerge to feed and mate.

Pobblebonk Frog Pobblebonk Frog (Limnodynastes dumerili) at Neds Corner.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The other frogs we encountered were the Spadefoot, Spotted and Barking Marsh Frogs, Peron's Tree Frog and a froglet (genus Crinia). The tree frogs can be recognised by their padded toes, good for climbing.

Peron's Tree Frog Peron's Tree Frog (Litoria peroni) with beautiful green spots.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The wetter weather was also good for the fungi and Dr Teresa Lebel from the National Herbarium of Victoria found many new records for this region. In arid country many types of fungus rest under the soil in a shrivelled state. As soon as the water reaches them, their stalks hydrate and the heads of species like puffball fungi emerge above the mud to release their spores.

Fungi after rain at Ned's Corner. Fungi after rain at Ned's Corner. Left: Fruiting bodies of the Earth Star fungus | Right: Tinder Conch fungus
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

One of the fungus highlights was finding fallen white shelf fungi at the bases of big River Red Gums. The spongy dead fungus is called Tinder Conch fungus as Aboriginal peoples used it for carrying the slow-burning coals needed for fire starting.

Our survey team was not as well-adapted as the frogs and managed to bog three cars in one day, but a combination of winches and effort got us all home safe and sound.

Bush Blitz is a biodiversity partnership discovery program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia, that aims to document the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System. Museum Victoria also participated in Bush Blitz at Lake Condah in March 2011.

Links:

Parks Australia blog

Bush Blitz

Frogs of Victoria infosheet series

Royal Botanical Gardens Fungimap

Reptile central

Author
by Mark Norman
Publish date
1 December 2011
Comments
Comments (0)

Mark is Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria. He's reporting back from Neds Corner in this series of blog posts.

With the warm weather we experienced at the start of the survey, the Neds Corner Bush Blitz team clocked up an impressive tally of reptile species. Being in the driest corner of Victoria, the desert influence is obvious in a wonderful range of skinks, dragons, geckoes and snakes.

Four of the larger lizards have been found. The Inland Bearded Dragon has the scales and scutes of the best fictional dragons and has been found sunning itself on dead logs and fence posts. From above these spikes help them blend against the background. The Shingleback with its bright blue tongue has been observed many times living up to its other name (Sleepy Lizard) by sleeping or slowly loping on the roadsides. They are often in pairs. This species mates for life and can live to up to 50 years old. Sand goannas and a large Lace Monitor have also been recorded.

Shingleback Skink Shingleback Skink
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Five gecko species (Bynoe's, Thick-tailed, Tree Dtella, Tassellated and Marbled) have already been found through night walks or searching under bark and through leaf litter. They are a mix of ground dwellers (with normal claws) and tree-climbers with their fat fleshy toes. Many gecko species store fat in their tails and our ones seem well fed. We've been finding some very pregnant females bulging with the two eggs they lay at a time.

Thick-tailed Gecko Thick-tailed Gecko
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In addition to the Shingleback, five other skink species have been found including Tree Skink, Boulanger's Skink, Carneby's Wall Skink and several yet-to-be resolved Ctenotus species.

Boulanger's Skink Boulanger's Skink
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The snake highlight has been a Curl Snake, a small species around 30 cm long. It was found while researchers Patrick Honan and Chloe Miller were searching at night for tiger beetles on clay pans. Though small, this species is highly venomous and has caused human fatalities so we handled it very carefully. It is listed as threatened in Victoria under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act.

Curl Snake Curl Snake
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Bush Blitz is a biodiversity partnership discovery program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia, that aims to document the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System. Museum Victoria also participated in Bush Blitz at Lake Condah in March 2011.

Links:

Parks Australia blog

Bush Blitz

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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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