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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Jan 2012 (22)

Meet Me at the Museum episode 3

Author
by Dr Andi
Publish date
5 January 2012
Comments
Comments (2)

Welcome to another episode of 'Meet Me at the Museum', the video series about our collection.

In episode three we return to House Secrets to take a fascinating look at the little-known past of a common domestic object.

Let us know what you think in the comments section. And be sure to catch up on the whole series if you haven't already.

 

Watch this video with a transcript.

Looking at 'Looking'

Author
by Alexandra
Publish date
4 January 2012
Comments
Comments (1)

Alexandra is the Early Learning Program Coordinator at Scienceworks. She loves exploring the ways in which science engages young children.

We just trialled the brand new early learning Discovery Kit called 'Looking' with four- and five-year-old kindergarten children from Laverton North Children's Centre. Rosemary Monagle, the kindergarten teacher, uses a noticeboard to communicate with parents of the children she teaches. This is the notice she wrote about my visit:

Alexandra from Scienceworks visited the kindergarten today. She brought pictures of Nitty Gritty Super City and discussed what the children could see and what materials or tools were used in each picture. Alexandra then introduced the children to her 'yellow box' of 'looking' tools. The children learnt each tool's name and the correct way to use it.

The children collected natural materials from the yard or home and used the looking tools to see the objects close-up. The children drew their favourite looking tool and what they could see when using it.

child's drawing Drawing of looking at a ladybug through a magnifiying glass.
Image: Angel
Source: Angel
 

child's drawing Drawing of looking at flowers through a microscope.
Image: Olivia
Source: Olivia
 

The 'Looking' kit will be accompanied by a DVD of interviews with MV scientists, historians and curators talking about their favourite lens tools and how they use them.

Links:

Nitty Gritty Super Kids

Interactive PDF trial

Discovery Program koala

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
3 January 2012
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Comments (2)

You can see the work of MV's preparation department before you even walk in the door of Melbourne Museum. Hanging in the front window there is a food chain of predators chasing a school of fish. Our preparators created over one thousand individually painted fish for the school and the brilliant prehistoric animal models in the Science and Life Gallery are their work, too.

One of specialist tasks of the preparators is taxidermy: preserving the skin of an animal specimen and preparing a mount that records exactly how the animal looked in life. Taxidermy is truly an art that takes many years to learn and even longer to master. At Museum Victoria, our master taxidermist is Senior Preparator Dean Smith.

I paid him a visit as he was putting the finishing touches on a taxidermy mount of a male koala. This individual was the unfortunate victim of a road accident; Dean reported that its skull and jaw were fractured from the impact. It's a reminder for all of us to drive carefully in areas where animals roam, but this koala will now have a second life as a teaching aid in the museum's Discovery Program, our mobile outreach service. Says Dean, 'it will go to the elderly, the disabled, little kids... they will be able to touch a koala.'

Dean and the koala specimen Senior Preparator Dean Smith with his handiwork.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Dean learned how to prepare mounts from a former taxidermist who worked at the museum for 40 years. He's now passing on his skills to other staff in the Preparation Department, describing it as 'the cycle of learning'.

Koala specimen This beautifully prepared koala specimen will join the Discovery Program in 2012.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

From start to finish, a specimen like this takes several weeks. First Dean removed and tanned the skin. He cast an exact copy of the koala's body and stretched the skin over the cast, pinning it it place. He recreated the fine structure of its head beneath the skin. After three weeks of drying, he cleaned the fur and airbrushed the fleshy details of its ears and mouth. The result is an exquisite specimen that is incredibly lifelike.

Detail of koala specimen Close-up of the koala specimen, showing Dean's amazing attention to detail.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Later this month, Dean will be working on a Wedge-tailed Eagle for the Discovery Program. He says that birds are much more difficult to prepare than mammals because their feathers lose their structure. 'You have to sit for hours and comb the feathers.' We'll cover the process here on the MV Blog.

Links:

Wildlife Victoria

Infosheet: the Koala

What's that smell?

Bug of the Month - Prickly Katydid

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
1 January 2012
Comments
Comments (0)

Prickly Katydids, or Spiny Tree Crickets, occur from the rainforests of northern New South Wales to Iron Range in Far North Queensland. There are four species of Prickly Katydids but the most common is Phricta spinosa. It has the rather long official common name of Giant Spiny Forest Katydid and is found from Innisfail to Cooktown. Those that know and love this species simply call it Phricta.

Prickly Katydid. The spiny countenance of a Prickly Katydid.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

During the day, Phricta sits motionless on bark or amongst twigs with its legs held out straight where it is remarkably well camouflaged. Some bird species, particularly Black Butcherbirds, move up and down tree trunks trying to disturb the insects so they will give themselves away. When threatened, Phricta will point its back legs skyward, revealing rows of sharp spines and red patches at the bases of the legs. These red patches appear to discourage predators.

adult male prickly katydid The legs of this adult male bear the black and orange markings of its startle display.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan

Adults have a body length of 10cm or so, and their highly sensitive antennae may be three times that length. Adults are normally found high in the rainforest canopy, but after mating, the female glides to the ground to lay her eggs in the soil.

Prickly Katydid laying eggs An adult female pushes her abdomen into sandy soil to deposit a batch of eggs
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

The young Phricta feed low in the understorey on the constant 'rain' of flowers and buds from above.

A young nymph feeding on a fallen flower bud. A young nymph feeding on a fallen flower bud.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan

Phricta moult several times before reaching adulthood. Moulting takes place during the first part of the night and they are very vulnerable to predators at this time. The elongated antennae may take a long time to withdraw fully from the old skin.

Phricta moulting at night. Phricta moulting at night.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

The colours of juvenile Phricta are variable and help camouflage them against tree trunks and lichen-covered bark.


Juvenile prickly katydid Juvenile Phricta are often beautifully patterned with greens and browns. The budding wing pads can be seen between the spines of the legs and thorax.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan

juvenile Phricta. A lichen-coloured specimen with a radically different colour pattern to other juvenile Phricta.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan

After reaching adulthood, Phricta can be found higher in the canopy, feeding on the young leaves of trees and shrubs. On particularly windy or stormy nights, they will move down into the lower canopy or into tree holes to shelter from the weather.

ovipositor of Phricta The long, sword-like ovipositor is visible at the end of this juvenile female's abdomen. Her oval-shaped 'ear' can also be seen just below the 'knee' of her right foreleg.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan

Like most katydid species, male Phricta call loudly to attract females in the rainforest at night, a sound familiar to people who frequent these forests. Females possess an auditory tympanum (or ear) on their forelegs to pick up the call.

Parasites on the thorax of juvenile Phricta. Parasites on the thorax of juvenile Phricta.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

Phricta are attacked by owls and other predatory birds, as well as honeyeaters and brush turkeys. They are also host to parasitic mites, which gather sometimes in large numbers on the top of the thorax. The effects of these mites on the insects are not known.

Phricta can be seen in the 'Diversity' display in Bugs Alive! at Melbourne Museum. Despite being very common and widespread in North Queensland rainforests, this species was not described scientifically until 2005, an indication of how much is still to be discovered and catalogued by science.

Further reading:

Rentz, D., 1996, Grasshopper Country: the Abundant Orthopteroid Insects of Australia, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 284pp.

Rentz, D., 2010, A Guide to the Katydids of Australia, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, 214pp

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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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