MV Blog

DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Jun 2011 (14)

Blue ringed octopus project

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
16 June 2011
Comments
Comments (4)

Poking around in Victorian coastal tide pools is good fun. You can feel the sucker feet of a sea star as it walks over your hand, or watch crabs scuttle about grazing on algae. But one thing you should never do – and I remember being told this from a very young age – is bother a blue-ringed octopus. Blue-ringed octopuses (genus Hapalochlaena) are some of the most venomous marine animals in the world yet we don’t know much about them.

Southern Blue-ringed Octopus Southern Blue-ringed Octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa) photographed in Port Phillip Bay during the day.
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

There are currently four species of blue-ringed octopus recognised but MV curator Dr Julian Finn reckons he’s about to change this. He has just received a three-year grant from the Australian Biological Resources Study to sort out how many species there are worldwide. From his preliminary studies, he estimates there could be closer to 20 species with over half of these living in Australian waters.

With joint investigators Dr Mark Norman, Head of Sciences, Dr Jan Strugnell from La Trobe University, and Professor Chung Cheng Lu of National Chung Hsing University in Taiwan, Julian will use comparative anatomy and molecular techniques to confirm how many species there are. He’ll map the distribution of each species and produce an identification key to help others identify blue-ringed octopuses.

Blue-ringed octopus Southern Blue-ringed Octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa) photographed in Port Phillip Bay at night.
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Julian will also assay the venom of each species to determine which are the most toxic to humans. The bite of a blue-ringed octopus delivers a hit of tetrodotoxin which is found in the octopus’s saliva. Tetrodotoxin has a devastating effect on the nerve system; it blocks sodium channels and causes breathing difficulties, numbness and paralysis. There is no antivenom and without immediate medical intervention, the risk of death is high. Thanks to this project, we’ll better understand one of our most notorious marine creatures and have more information to assist with treating blue-ringed octopus bites.

webJKF_2005_06896.jpg Southern Blue-ringed Octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa) photographed in Port Phillip Bay at night.
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

Australian Venom Research Unit: blue-ringed octopus

A treat for early risers

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
16 June 2011
Comments
Comments (1)

A rare event happened this morning... when my one-year-old started calling out for Mummy just after 4am, the usual dread of having to face another cold and early start was gone, replaced by the thrill that my little guy was just the perfect astronomer!

This morning we were treated to a total lunar eclipse and it began with a beautiful starry, but certainly cold, morning sky. Just before 4.30am a small chunk was seen to be missing from the top right of the Moon. The first sign that the Earth's shadow had found its target.

Lunar Eclipse The Earth's shadow hit its target.
Image: Tanya Hill
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Lunar eclipses occur on those rare occasions when the Sun, Earth and Moon are in perfect alignment. They only ever happen at the time of Full Moon, when the Sun and Moon are on opposite sides of the Earth. Most of the time the Earth's shadow misses the Moon, falling either above or below it, but this morning it was right on track.

By 5am, the Earth's shadow was covering more than half the Moon and a reddish glow was already beginning to appear. The stars was twinkling perfectly, with one of my favourite constellations, that of Scorpius, sitting directly to the left of the Moon, and the centre of the Milky Way right above it. Totality officially began at 5.23am and the Moon was certainly an eerie red colour.

Where does that red come from? Well the only way sunlight can now reach the Moon is by passing through the Earth's atmosphere. That light gets bent and scattered, so only the reddest light can make it through. Particles in our atmosphere, like the volcanic ash that's been annoying so many air travellers these last few days, added to the scattering effect, making the eclipse redder and darker than the last few that I remember.

For those who love statistics, totality was due to last 100 minutes, making it the longest lunar eclipse since 2000, which clocked in at 106 minutes. A rough rule of thumb is that totality generally takes around one hour, but a couple of times each decade we get a good one lasting 90 minutes or more. This was one of those.

Except for those pesky clouds that rolled in just after 6am, blocking the view for those who got up at their usual time. They were obviously in need of my own precious little alarm clock.

Pressed for details

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
14 June 2011
Comments
Comments (1)

How do museum curators learn more about the objects in their collections? Often it’s a lot of detective work and research, but sometimes a lucky encounter can reveal the rich background that underlies the item in question. Recently, this was the case when curator Liza Dale-Hallett wanted to know more about a domestic wine press that was acquired from the Di Benedetto family after thirty years of wine-making in their Thornbury backyard.

The parts of the press were in storage and piecing them together was a puzzle. “I needed to make sense of how to put all that together, so I rang around wine-making suppliers,” explains Liza. When she reached John Mitris of Costante Imports, Liza learned that John’s father-in-law, Giovanni Costante, was an important pioneer in making and importing wine presses in Australia. The two men visited us to help assemble the Di Benedetto wine press and to talk about the tradition and local history of domestic wine making.

John Mitris and Giovanni Costante with the Di Benedetto wine press John Mitris and Giovanni Costante with the Di Benedetto wine press.
Image: Taryn Ellis
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Giovanni explained that the 1960s Di Benedetto wine press, or torchio, is a traditional design comprising a wooden cylinder around a central shaft that holds a turning mechanism. The cylinder would be filled with grapes and stacked with wooden blocks. By turning the handles, the wooden blocks apply pressure to the grapes and the juice drains through a mesh filter into a wooden bucket.

John and Giovanni demonstrate wine press John and Giovanni show curator Liza Dale-Hallett how the blocks fit into the wine press.
Image: Taryn Ellis
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Giovanni with wine press filter Giovanni shows Liza how the filter fits to the base of the wine press.
Image: Taryn Ellis
Source: Museum Victoria
 

John and Giovanni with the long handles fitted to the wine press John and Giovanni with the long handles fitted to the wine press, demonstrating how two people work together to turn the screw.
Image: Taryn Ellis
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Giovanni began building presses much like this one in 1957 to supply the Italian migrant community that grew quickly after World War II. With a background in engineering, he salvaged some of his raw materials from unwanted metal from cotton gins and railyards. As his business expanded, the screw mechanism was superseded by a ratchet mechanism which takes up less room and is easier for one person to operate.

The press was used by the Di Benedettos each year and was central to a social event where the whole family would help out to press the year’s grapes. Giovanni explained this tradition is common in Italian families and reflects the importance of good food in Italian culture. “Australia is a sandwich nation. In Italy at 12 o’clock we all sit at the table. Two hours rest, then back to work. I never ate by myself when in the family.”

He ceased manufacturing wine presses about 12 years ago as the market dropped, yet in recent years, the business has witnessed a renewed interest in preserving food at home, thanks in part to the growing foodie culture and influence of European immigrants on the Australian palate. John explained that children of European migrants are also updating the family equipment to make it easier to use, and wanting to learn the techniques to keep the tradition going.

Links:

Origins: Italian migration

Costante Imports

Married to the Job vodcast

Author
by Dr Andi
Publish date
10 June 2011
Comments
Comments (3)

This episode of Married to the Job features Sarah Edwards, Discovery Program Manager for Museum Victoria.

In the spirit of tradition, we ask Sarah to tell us about herself and her work by showing us something old, new, borrowed and blue.

 


Watch this video with a transcript

Links:

Discovery Programs

Fresh Science 2011

Author
by Blair
Publish date
10 June 2011
Comments
Comments (0)

I was fortunate enough to attend a session of Fresh Science this week. The intensive program takes 16 early-career researchers from around Australia and develops their skill in science communication.

The participants are at the start of their scientific careers: some are part way through a PhD, some have completed PhDs, others are doing post docs or beginning work in leading science organisations. These people are creative and inspiring – the best, freshest minds that will lead Australian science into the future.

2011 Fresh Science participants at Melbourne Museum. 2011 Fresh Science participants at Melbourne Museum.
Image: AJ Epstein
Source: Science in Public
 

You may have heard on Monday about a smart bandage that changes colour when the wound is infected, or seen a saw shark on the news last night. These are just two of their discoveries with more to appear in the press in coming weeks.

The greatest part of the day was the opportunity to meet people from television, radio and newspaper. They told us how they hear about and choose the stories that make the news. Remarkable considering they have to make decisions before most of us even get out of bed!

Mount Stromlo Observatory Mount Stromlo Observatory, where one of the Fresh Science researchers is working.
Image: Lauri Väin
Source: Used under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 from Lauri Väin
 

The 'bootcamp in science communication', as the organisers phrase it, is supported by the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, and New Scientist Magazine, with Melbourne Museum hosting a number of events for the program

Links:

Fresh Science

The Age: Chameleon bandage helps wounds to heal

Naughty Cocky

Author
by Craig Robertson
Publish date
7 June 2011
Comments
Comments (8)

Craig is a Melbourne writer with an interest in natural history. He has been a museum volunteer in Birds and Mammals for several years. He wrote this piece for the Volunteer Newsletter in 2004.

Long-billed Corellas only ever seem to make the news when they are causing trouble. I guess this item won’t help their reputation.

I’m part of a project going through the Melbourne Museum’s vast collection of bird skins, checking their registration, or lack of it, in the EMu database. Historical specimens from legendary sources such as John Gould, William Blandowski, Baldwin Spencer and Donald Thomson are commonplace here, along with those collected by Museum staff and many collaborators in the birding community.

We all know how important the Museum is to safekeeping our heritage. We usually think of this happening in a rather abstract, institutional way, with these grand collections. But it can be quite personal.

Amongst the hundreds of items checked so far, it was a surprise to come across one specimen with a personal letter of introduction carefully placed beneath the reposing bird. “Cocky” was a Long-billed Corella (Cacatua tenuirostris) donated in 1980 by a family in Croydon. The letter is countersigned by Alan McEvey, a former Curator of Ornithology and a legendary bird man in his own lifetime. It gives us a brief biography of Cocky who had lived to the age of 80 or 90.

Cocky the Long-billed Corella
Cocky the Long-billed Corella with his letter of introduction.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In his early life Cocky lived for many years in a hotel in Bridge Road Richmond. Eventually he was ordered from the front bar by the police for bad language. Apparently it shocked the ladies passing by. Was Richmond really more genteel in the early years of the twentieth century than now? Hard to believe.

After this indignity Cocky lived in the back shed of the hotel, where he picked up the talk from the two-up games, the sly grog and illegal betting. “C’mon Bill, put a bob on a horse,” he would urge, along with numerous other colourful sayings. All this could still be heard out in the street and the passing ladies were still getting upset. A woman who worked at the hotel as a maid eventually offered Cocky to take home for her 10-year old son. She was the widowed grandmother of the donor and Cocky was handed down in the family for the next 50 years.

Her son removed Cocky, hitherto immobile, from his small cage and exercised his wings and rubbed his feet with olive oil until he could walk. He would sleep on the boy’s bedhead. But he started tearing the skirting boards apart calling; “Rats, rats, scald the buggers!” so he was put in an aviary. When he swore a cup of water was thrown over him. He stopped swearing but still talked until the end.

The letter concludes: “I have looked after him for 20 years please take care of our friend”.

Links:

Ornithology Collection

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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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