QM Loans kits and the Australian Curriculum

Recently, our seconded teachers finished producing and labelling some new kits and these are now available for borrowing through QM Loans.

These new kits are External Features and Micro Marvels. The first one is linked to Years 1 & 3, and the second one is targeted at Years 5 – 7 of the Biological Sciences strands of the Australian Science Curriculum.

External Features kit

Teacher Resource Booklets have been produced for these kits. They include activities and worksheets that show how the objects and specimens in the kit can be used to teach the relevant aspects of the Australian Science Curriculum. The Micro Marvels kit comes with a digital microscope and software.

Micro Marvels kit

The External Features Teacher Resource Booklet and the Micro Marvels Teacher Resource Booklet have now been uploaded on to the QM website and can be found in the Learning Resources section. Resources are listed alphabetically so scroll down to the bottom of the page and navigate through the pages until you get to the ‘E’ or ‘M’ section respectively.

There are lots of other wonderful kits produced by QM Loans that address relevant aspects of the Australian Curriculum: Science and the Australian Curriculum: History.

Curriculum-related materials are listed in the relevant categories on the QM Loans Catalogue Page.

One of our premium kits is the What’s on the Menu kit which contains specimens collected from South Stradbroke Island. Included are plant samples, insects, reptile parts, and study skins of birds and mammals.

Some objects form the What’s on the Menu kit

There are many activity cards and teachers can use these as the basis for group work within the class. Students are challenged to discover the adaptations possessed by each specimen, examine life cycles, develop food chains, and investigate how these species interact with each other and their environment.

What’s on the Menu information cards
Feeding relationship information on the back of the cards
Cicada information card
Back of Cicada card

With the school year winding down, now is an ideal time to review your borrowing needs for next year.

If your educational institution is already a member, then now may be the time to renew your membership. If you have not been a subscriber in the past, think about the advantages of borrowing kits, objects and specimens next year to enliven your Science and History classes.

Information about Subscription and rates can be found on our QM website.

Stranded Humpback Whale

Recently an adult Humpback Whale beached itself on North Stradbroke Island, just 1 km south of the Main Beach Surf Life Saving Club. The cause of death is unknown though it may have been infection-related due to the snagging and embedding of a crab pot around the tail of the whale.

Stranded Humpback Whale, photo: J. Van Dyck

Under the Nature Conservation (Whales & Dolphins) Plan 1997, Queensland Museum is authorised to take, use and keep specimens of cetaceans if they are deemed to be significant. (Cetaceans are marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and porpoises.)

The 14.5 metre whale is a highly significant specimen. After many decades of attending whale strandings, it provided the first opportunity for QM staff to acquire an adult humpback skeleton and tissue samples.

Senior Curator of Vertebrates, Dr Steve Van Dyck, said the whale skeleton had the potential to form the centrepiece of an exhibition in the future, and also be used for research purposes.

Dr Steve Van Dyck, photo: R. Raven
Heather Janetzki, photo: R. Raven

Steve and Heather Janetzki (Collection Manager, Mammals and Birds) assembled a small team of QM staff and, with the assistance of University of Queensland Moreton Bay Research Station, DERM (Department of Environment and Resource Management) QPWS (Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service) staff, and representatives of the Quandamooka Land Council, they spent two days flensing and removing the skeleton for the State Collection. (Flensing refers to the removal of the outer blubber layer of whales.) Another day was taken to clean up the mountain of blubber and flesh that remained.

Stranded Humpback Whale, photo: Shona Hocknull

The operation began by removing the lower jaw, then cutting wide incisions into the blubber and muscle then winching these great chunks off the animal to provide access to the neck, in order to cut the muscle away from the bones. A crane was used to roll the skull over. Then when it was released from any remaining tissue, it was dragged into a skip and from here pulled onto a 4WD truck.

Although the whale had been pulled up the beach to the level of the dunes, there was concern among locals that blood and tissue would attract sharks to Stradbroke’s most popular surfing beach.

Baleen, photo: S. Hocknull
Whale Retrieval, photo: R. Raven

The rest of the skeleton was retrieved by flensing the blubber off and cutting the muscle from all the vertebrae, using a winch and mini-excavator to pull the ribs out and cart the flesh away for burial.

Whale Skeleton exposed, photo: M. Ekins

The skull and skeleton were transported across Moreton Bay to a paddock in Brisbane. From here the bones will be taken to the Museum and macerated in a large boiler for a few days, then dried out. The entire baleen sheets are being preserved. Some soft parts and contents of the digestive system were also collected for other researchers.

Whale Retrieval, photo: M. Ekins

Dr Van Dyck said the resulting skeleton was superb, complete and in very good condition. He and Heather are grateful to Tim Powell for transporting the skull and skeleton (separately) to Brisbane, to Stradbroke Ferries for waiving the barge fees to allow Tim to do this, to Geoff Pettingill for his gentle and expert excavator skills, and to Christine Durbidge for the cake she baked.

To learn more about the work that Steve does visit his Biography Page and to learn about Heather’s job visit her Biography Page.

To learn about the feeding adaptations of marine mammals, including how baleen plates function, view the Marine Mammals video.

Proud Parents at QM

Last week some of our Giant Burrowing Cockroaches gave birth so we are proud parents here at Queensland Museum.

Giant Burrowing Cockroaches are insects classified in the Phylum Arthropoda, Order Blattodea. They are native to Australia and found mostly in tropical Queensland. As their name suggests, these insects burrow down into the soil, often to a depth of 1 metre, where they establish their home.

Inquiry Centre Support Officer, Anita Hughes is handling some of the adults in the image below and she has been ‘over the moon’ about our new acquisitions!

Anita Hughes with adult cockroaches
Baby cockroaches at the side

Males and females can be differentiated by the “scoop” on the head.  Males have this scoop but females don’t. Unlike other cockroaches, Giant Burrowing Cockroaches are wingless and ovoviviparous. This means that embryos develop inside eggs that are retained within the mother’s body until they are ready to hatch.

Adults and baby
Baby hiding under adults

In addition to the birth of these ‘babies’, one of the adults has just moulted. Many Arthropods, such as these cockroaches, shed their outer covering from time to time and this allows them to grow. Burrowing cockroaches shed their exoskeleton 12 to 13 times before reaching adult size. This covering is made up of chitin, a polysaccharide which functions a little bit like the protein keratin.

Exoskeletons assist with protection from pests and predators, support, feeding and reducing the amount of moisture lost by terrestrial organisms.

When the cockroach moults it appears pure white except for its eyes. By the next day, it has developed the normal brown colour of the species.

Newly moulted cockroach in centre
Cockroach in the process of moulting

Once the adult sheds its exoskeleton, it begins to consume the old ‘skin’. The exoskeleton is an important food source so newly moulted cockroaches and babies feed on this.

Moulted cockroach & baby
Feeding on the old exoskeleton

Cockroaches such as these perform an important role in consuming leaf litter, eucalypts in particular, and recycling the organic matter back into the ecosystem.

To learn more about these amazing animals, visit the Giant Burrowing Cockroaches section of our QM website.

Microscopes through the Ages

I was walking along the corridor on level 5 of Queensland Museum last week, pondering the topic of my blog post for this week.  I passed by the doorway to our conservation area and saw some very old microscopes. This prompted me to think about how microscopes have developed through time.

In 1590 two Dutch eye-glass makers, Zaccharias Janssen and son Hans experimented with multiple lenses placed in a tube. In 1665 English physicist, Robert Hooke looked at slices of cork through a microscope lens and noticed small “cells” in them. However, it wasn’t until 1674 that Dutchman Anthony van Leeuwenhoek built the first simple microscope.

Leeuwenhoek had no formal training in science but was passionately interested in lens grinding as a hobby. He started using his lenses as microscopes – just a single, very small lens in a suitable holder –a bit more simplistic than the early microscope shown below. These lenses could magnify up to 270 diameters and achieve sufficient resolving power to reveal quite a lot of detail. One day when viewing a drop of rainwater that had been standing in a tub for several days, Leeuwenhoek came across what he described as ‘little animals’. He wrote up his findings in 1677 and so ‘microbe hunting’ changed from a hobby into a serious scientific pursuit.

Early microscope from QM collection

Microscopes have changed a lot over time. Some examples of earlier models from our QM collection are shown below.

Microscopes from QM collection

 At QM powerful stereomicroscopes are used for viewing small insects and spiders. Some examples from our entomology and arachnology labs are below.

Powerful stereomicroscope used at QM
Leica Steromicroscope

Technology has developed to the extentthat we now have the capability of zooming in on extremely small details of specimens. See an earlier blog post about New Age Technology – Digital Imaging.

Compound microscope from arachnology lab

Three-dimensional images show great detail about the surface structure of specimens. This can be achieved with the SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) which can magnify from 20x – 500,000x with spatial resolution of 50 – 100nm. (A nanometre is one billionth of a metre or one millionth of a millimetre.) This is about 250 times the magnification capability of the best light microscope. With the TEM (Transmission Electron Microscope) a beam of electrons is transmitted through an ultra-thin specimen.  Electron microscopes have given us much greater magnification power and resolving ability over normal compound light microscopes.

High-powered microscopes connected to computers are often used to capture digital images of specimens, take measurements, and insert specific details into journal articles.

Research officer, Dr Terry Miller is investigating trematodes in fish that inhabit the reefs of north Queensland. Trematodes are parasitic flatworms or flukes of the subclass Digenea, which belong in the phylum Platyhelminthes. The adult form is primarily found in the intestines and stomach of their final fish host. The flukes are characterised by: a pair of suckers, one near the mouth and one on the ventral surface; complex life cycles involving intermediate hosts; male and female reproductive organs in the one individual (hermaphroditism); and a very high reproductive rate. Terry is currently researching a species of Trematode from the Family Bucephalidae, which parasitises marine fishes.

In the images below, Terry is viewing some images of the worm under a stereomicroscope that is connected to a computer.  The images can then me analysed on the computer and data and measurements recorded.

Dr Terry Miller focussing on parasite sections under the microscope
Images of Trematode parasites on computer screen

As well as assisting in taxonomy and research, microscopes have revolutionised the world of medical science. They have helped in pathology – disease diagnosis and biopsies- and in diverse fields such as Genetics, Microbiology, Biotechnology as well as Geology and Forensic science.

We owe a lot to Leeuwenhoek’s hobby of lens grinding back in the 17th century.