Category Archives: Mammals & Birds

Collection manager shares her favourite items

Queensland Museum Collection Manager (Mammals and Birds), Heather Janetzki, talks about some of her favourite items within the Queensland DNA campaign that you have the opportunity to look after.

Continue reading Collection manager shares her favourite items

It’s Taxon Time

Written by: Maryanne Venables, Strategic Learning

The “Zoo Animals” went into the tin with the blue lid, while my “Farm Animals” went in the tin with the green lid. The animal kingdom, as I knew it, lived under my bed in Streets ice-cream tins. All were classified, according to contexts developed from the songs, books and experiences of a four-year old. Fast forward to 2012 and, as a Museum Educator, I am delighted to be sharing the topic of Animal Classification with the next generation of biologists, taxonomists or collectors.

Queensland Museum has re-launched Animal Classification into our range of school programs. Bookings are now being taken for Yr 3-7* classes to experience a value-added program to enrich your Museum visit

If the  concept of Animal Classification makes you numb, let us please change your mind. School programs are delivered by the Museum Learning team, using real collections to elicit real experiences. This is a valuable option in an increasingly virtual world.

Students can interact with real museum specimens

This program primarily responds to Science Understanding descriptors in Australian Curriculum: Science for Yrs 3 and 7, but also addresses Science as a Human Endeavour and Science Inquiry Skills for Yrs 3-7.

So how does classification apply to our lives? You don’t even need to be a collector to use it. We find classification systems everywhere – from libraries to supermarkets. Things that are in some way similar are arranged together for comprehension and convenience.

So how does animal classification apply to our lives? Animals are grouped as part of the process that describes or identifies them down to an individual species. This helps us effectively communicate information about them. Understanding characteristics of a particular species or group can affect our health and welfare, economic growth and ability to effectively manage the conservation of our wildlife.

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki has shared the virtues of the dung beetle since the CSIRO introduced several species to Australia in the late 1960s. The objective was to manage a bi-product of grazing and its impact on fly control (the bi-product that wasn’t destined for our taste buds or footwear). Selected species were introduced to a number of Australian climates and ecosystems resulting in a biological control success story. Our approx 350-400 species of native dung beetle evolved to mostly feed on the smaller, drier, fibrous dung pellets of marsupials.

The hard-working Honeybee

Other examples of genus-specific relationships are applied in agriculture (both in pollination and pest management). According to the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Honeybees add an estimated $4 – 6 billion to Australian agricultural and horticultural industries, annually.

Further examples of identified animal groups have supported medical research. Studies of Tammar Wallaby and other marsupial forms of milk have provided medical researchers with a template for investigating antimicrobial compounds, potentially resistant to “superbugs”.

Examples of animals helping humans can be ‘reciprocated’ in conservation campaigns. Most Queenslanders are aware of the plight of the endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. Distribution once extended south to the Victorian border. By the 1980s, a drastically reduced population was reportedly (without the advanced surveying methods in use, today) around 35 wombats. A remnant population in Epping Forest National Park (South-West of Mackay, Queensland) was recognised as the last chance to protect this species. Since then, wombat numbers have been carefully monitored and protected, reaching around 138 today. In 2009, the colony was deemed at risk should an environmental disaster such as fire or flood affect the region. To mitigate this, the decision was made to establish a second breeding colony 600km south at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge (near St George, Queensland). Recent reports (May 2012) indicate this second population is stable with the current “snout count” at seven females, three males and three joeys in good condition.

The Northern-Hairy-Nosed wombat is critically endangered

A smaller cousin, the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat has maintained a conservation status of ‘Least Concern’, although recent reports suggest it, too is affected by similar threats.  These include reduced/replaced food plants and possibly toxins from introduced weeds. Relationships determined by the classification of animals can help us to make informed decisions. Are we prepared to learn from the past to determine the future?

The Animal Classification theme is supported by a range of Queensland Museum exhibitions and resources.

* Please note:  Secondary school, teachers can also select a Biodiversity and Classification program, which can be tailored to your unit of work by prior arrangement.

But I eat lots of carrots!

Image of Quentin the Quoll
Quentin the Quoll talks about nocturnal animals

Did your mum ever tell you to eat lots of carrots because they would help you to see better in the dark? Whilst carrots and other orange and yellow fruits and vegetables will help to prevent certain eye ailments, to see really well at night you actually need special eyes.

Like other nocturnal animals, Quentin the Quoll was able to find food and evade prey even on the darkest of nights. In fact before the disappearance of dinosaurs, most land mammals were nocturnal since dinosaurs were their main predators. Today there is more of a balance but animals such as owls, possums, gliders, many frogs, bats, wombats, koalas, phascogales, many wallabies and geckoes are but a few of the Australian animals that still use the cover of night to survive.

So how do nocturnal animals see so well in the dark?                  Eye of Tawny Frogmouth chick

Of course there are variations in eye features across different animals but scientists have discovered some common characteristics. The most obvious one is eye and pupil size. Some animals like owls, frogs and geckos have eyes that take up a much larger percentage of their skull compared with diurnal (daytime active) animals. Their large eyes and pupils give them large lenses and therefore bigger retinas so that they maximise the amount of ambient light they collect. However, larger eyes means reduced space for each eye to move within the skull, so these nocturnal animals have developed the ability to rotate their necks way past their shoulders to compensate.

Sugar glider

As well as eye size, nocturnal animals have retinas which are filled with rods, the eye cells which detect low light levels. They often have few or no cones which are the eye cells responsible for detecting bright light and colour. Again this helps to maximise the amount of light being collected but as a result, nocturnal animals are thought to have little colour vision and things probably look blurry.

Consequently, nocturnal animals also rely on their senses of smell and hearing.

One final common characteristic in nocturnal eyes is a thick, reflective membrane directly beneath the retina. This membrane, called the tapetum lucidum, collects and resends light back to the retina a second time, giving the rods another chance to absorb the image information. This also explains why some nocturnal animals’ eyes seem to glow in the dark when a light is shined on them. Cats too have nocturnal glow in the dark eyes, which explains why they are such a threat to wildlife at night.

Image of the Graceful Treefrog
Graceful Treefrog

The purpose of this blog is two fold. Firstly, it is hoped that this information will support the delivery of the Australian Curriculum: Science. It is most directly linked to the Year 5 Science Understandings (Biological sciences — Living things have structural features and adaptations that help them to survive in their environment) and Science as a Human Endeavour (Use and influence — scientific knowledge is used to inform personal and community decisions). However, it is also a real life example of the Year 5 Science Understandings (Physical sciences — Light from a source forms shadows and can be absorbed, reflected and refracted) and will provide teacher background information for Science Understandings in Year 1(Earth and space sciences — Observable changes occur in the sky and landscape) and Year 3 (Biological sciences — Living things can be grouped on the basis of observable features…)

The second purpose is to make you aware of a new Queensland Museum digital resource called Squawks in the night. It is a slide show designed specifically for Early Years learners, with simple text that relates directly to the photos and a few animal calls. The resource is located on the Queensland Museum website via the following link.

http://southbank.qm.qld.gov.au/Learning+Resources/~/media/Documents/Learning%20resources/QM/Resources/Kids%20collection/squawks-in-the-night.ppt

We welcome any feedback or requests for particular topic discussions/resources. Please contact QM teachers 07 3842 9835.

New Quoll on the block!

2012 brings some new faces to Queensland Museum and Sciencentre (QM&S). At the Southbank campus, Quentin the Quoll is lending a paw to show one of the new teachers in residence a thing or two.

My name is Narinda Sandry and I am one of two new seconded teachers at QM&S. Having mainly taught 3-8 year olds, I have worked in State Schools, C&K settings, at Griffith University in Early Childhood and Science courses and on projects writing science curriculum materials for the Early Years. No doubt you can guess my passions are for science and the Early Years. In my role at the museum, I will strive to unlock the wonderful resources in particular for younger learners and those entrusted to teach them. The Australian Curriculum: Science (ASC) will be the key organising framework, with special exhibitions and science events incorporated where relevant.

Quentin, a Northern Tiger Quoll
Quentin, a Northern Tiger Quoll. Photo courtesy of QM&S

Back to Quentin. Quentin is a Northern Tiger Quoll, an endangered species found only in some rainforests of North Queensland. Quolls are a carnivorous marsupial eating insects, small mammals, fruit and some birds. They are mostly nocturnal and are under threat because of habitat destruction, baiting by farmers, dogs, feral cats and road crossing at night.

Over the year, Quentin the Quoll and his friends will be featured as animals that students and teachers can identify with to heighten community awareness of the need to protect our unique wildlife. They will appear in some blogs, be ‘snapped’ discovering new and exciting experiences at various campuses and hopefully be able to visit some schools and Early Years classes. We hope to be able to include some of your experiences with Quentin and his friends in the Queensland Museum Talks Science blog too.

Many wonderful specimens like Quentin are available through Queensland Museum loans. Giving a character to a real specimen provides young learners with an opportunity to experience empathy and interpret the world through the eyes of an animal. Teachers can probe with questions like ‘how do you think Quentin might be feeling?’ or ‘what has Quentin learned?’ The character provides a point of reference to which learning can be attached and built up as a collective picture for example ‘remember when Quentin learned about or visited or saw? Remember what the external features of Quentin were? How can we use that knowledge now?’ Of course the character can be used across other curriculum areas too.

I am very much looking forward to finding creative ways of connecting with Early Years students and teachers across Queensland. If you wish to talk with me about the museum and its efforts with regards to young learners, please do not hesitate to contact me on narinda.sandry@qm.qld.gov.au or (07) 38407668 or of course via any one of our campuses if you prefer. Happy learning!

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.

DNA Detective

Dr Jessica Worthington Wilmer is a research scientist in the Biodiversity and Geosciences program at Queensland Museum (QM). She’s also the Manager of QM’s Molecular Identities Laboratory and Frozen Tissue Collection.

Dr Jessica Worthington Wilmer

Jessica gets to work on some really cool things!

She’s used genetics to look at the population structure of tiny little aquatic snails living in Artesian springs in Australian deserts; used DNA to determine the influence of incubation temperature on the sex of Brush-turkey chicks and embryos; and also identified new species of fabulous things like leaf-tailed geckos and sea anemones.

Currently Jessica is working on the landscape genetics of SE Queensland mammals (specifically koalas, northern brown bandicoots, yellow-footed antechinus, sugar and squirrel gliders) with collaborators at the University of Queensland and with four of SE Queensland’s super-councils.

In the image on the left Jessica is working over the Trans-illuminator gel documentation system, preparing samples for DNA testing.

Next year, the Molecular Identities Laboratory (MIL) at Queensland Museum will celebrate its 10th birthday.  Since it was established in 2002, the lab has hosted research across a wide range of animal groups, always with the overarching aim of using DNA data to identify new and existing species.  The primary work of MIL is species-level discrimination using DNA tools. However, sequence data is used further to explore the evolutionary inter-relationships among groups and species.

Genetic Sequence Data

Note the A T G C letters in the DNA sequence data at the left. These represent the four nitrogen bases in the genetic code: namely adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine.

Later this year Jessica and colleague, Dr Kathryn Hall, will be presenting posters at the International Bar Coding of Life conference in Adelaide, showcasing the role that the QM and the MIL have played in several international bar coding collaborations.

To find out more about the research that Jessica does, watch the video Applications of DNA technology or visit her Biography Page.

You may also like to look at an online learning resource where DNA techniques were used to determine the life cycle of a parasite that infects the Sydney rock oyster. The resource is called Disease Detectives.

A LA LA! – Atlas of Living Australia Live At Last

Atlas of Living Australia Live At Last!

The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) was launched in Brisbane on the 20th May. At a special ceremony held at Queensland Museum (QM), Dr John Hooper (Head of Biodiversity and Geosciences at Queensland Museum) spoke about the collaboration of museums, herbaria, universities and other government collections in producing the ALA.

John Hooper at ALA launch.

The ALA is an online encyclopaedia of all living things in Australia. At present the website holds 23 million distribution records for Australia’s fauna and flora, with over 300 layers for mapping and analysis. It also contains images (under a Creative Commons Attribution licence), maps, identification tools, reference species lists, literature, and databases on biological collections. Here are some images showing diverse molluscs from QM’s collection as well as some colourful sponges.

Although the ALA was only recently ‘switched on’, it is still a work in progress.

The ALA allows us to build and maintain biological collections, assists with research, and aids communication.

You can access the ALA at this link.

To learn more about the biodiversity on the Great Barrier Reef and some factors that are having an impact on this biodiversity, visit the online learning resource Biodiscovery and the Great Barrier Reef. There are lots of teacher notes and student worksheets linked to the new Australian Science Curriculum in this resource.

To learn more about the areas of John’s research, visit his biography page, Dr. John Hooper.