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Geological maps and how to read them

Get exploring with these geology resources. This blog post supplements this video from our Discovery Centre team which you can watch here.

Geological maps show the distribution of rocks on the surface of the Earth, and are a fantastic way to explore our planet from the comfort of your own home. To help you get started exploring, here’s a ‘toolbox’ of useful resources:


“I can see my house from here!”

Macrostrat has geological maps of most of Earth’s land surface.

Rockd lets you access geological maps while out and about, and uses the GPS in your smartphone to tell you about nearby rock units. Free from the App Store and Google Play.


Reading the map

The colours on the map are different rock units, and clicking on any of them will bring up information about it. What rocks do you have in your backyard?

Remember that rocks are classified into three major categories: sedimentary (forming from sand, mud and gravel, mostly in rivers, lakes and the ocean), igneous (forming from the cooling of molten rock, commonly associated with volcanoes), and metamorphic rock (formed by the alteration of other rocks by extreme heat and pressure, commonly associated with movement of Earth’s crustal plates and the formation of mountain ranges).

You might also see some thick, black lines. These are faults, where the rocks have broken and shifted. They’re commonly associated with earthquakes, but most of the faults in Queensland aren’t currently active.

The coloured rock units and faults all overlap each other, because Earth’s surface is dynamic and constantly in motion. Mountain ranges are worn down by erosion, creating sediment that travels down streams and is deposited where it will eventually create sedimentary rocks. The slow movements of Earth’s crust create faults and volcanoes. Every landscape has a story.

map 2
The coast was toast.

You can see one such story if you look at the Gold Coast and northern New South Wales on the map. You’ll see a large area of yellow rock that forms a ‘C’ shape, and includes the mountains of the Lamington Plateau and Border Ranges. These are igneous rocks, and they are the eroded flanks of a massive volcano. At the centre of the ‘C’ is Wollumbin (Mt Warning), which is the cooled magma chamber that was the heart of the volcano. This volcano erupted about 23 million years ago, and is estimated to have been two kilometres high at its peak. Erosion has since reduced it substantially, and uncovered underlying rocks that had been buried by lava.

Geological time

map 3
“Don’t let the names intimidate you, they’re actually quite friendly.”

When exploring geological maps, you’ll most likely come across some names for intervals of geological time that aren’t familiar (Wuchiapingian, anyone?). The international chronostratigraphic chart is your guide to making sense of deep time. This chart is arranged from youngest at the top to oldest at the bottom, because that’s the way that rocks are stacked.

You can also explore deep time with the Geological Timescale: Australia through time app, free on the App Store.


[image: photo of a cool fossil from the QM image library [shot of Lark Quarry footprints would be ideal, and there don’t seem to be any suitable images of this in the DAMS]. Caption something like “dinosaurs were here.”]

In search of ancient Queensland is an extensive exploration of the geological history and fossil record of the state. Highly recommended.

The ‘rocks and landscapes’ series has books focussed on the geology of Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast, the Gold Coast, the wet tropics, and National Parks of northern, central and southern Queensland. They’re valuable guides for learning about the rocks, and how the landscape has changed over time.

So, what rocks can you find in your area? What do they tell you about the distant past, and how our world has changed over time? Did you once have an ocean in your backyard? Or a volcano? Have fun exploring!

If you have an interesting rock or fossil that you want to know more about, or have a question about Queensland’s deep history, you’re welcome to contact the Queensland Museum Discovery Centre.

Garden Insect Photography with Collection Imager Geoff Thompson

by Geoff Thompson, Queensland Museum Collection Imager 

What does a museum micro-photographer do when locked down?

He builds a modification for his flash diffuser and heads out into the garden to photograph small creatures, with his own camera and macro lens.

After editing and adjusting, only a few images are worth sharing. Queensland Museum entomologists have identified these as far as is possible. Often it is impossible to identify an insect from a photograph. Entomologists may need to see features from many angles and sometimes at high magnification on a specimen, to be sure of an identification. The trouble is photographers rarely manage to catch the insect as well as photograph it.

Yellow Shouldered Ladybird - Apolinus lividigaster
Yellow Shouldered Ladybird, Apolinus lividigaster, an aphid feeder. © Geoff Thompson
Blowfly, Lucilia sp. on grass seed head, Brisbane, Queensland Australia
A blowfly, Lucilia sp.resting on a grass seed head. © Geoff Thompson
cryptine ichneumonid wasp_sml
A parasitic wasp, Family Ichneumonidae, subfamily Cryptinae. Resting on a leaf. © Geoff Thompson
Polyrhachis rufifemur_sml
A lovely golden spiny ant, Polyrhachis rufifemur, crawling on the underside of a Lemon Myrtle leaf, Backhousia citriodora. © Geoff Thompson
Bromocoris souefi_sml
A Pentatomid bug, Bromocoris souefi (Distant), on the bark of Elaeocarpus reticulatus (Blueberry Ash). © Geoff Thompson

Ask an expert

To find out more visit our website here or if you have a specific question about wildlife around your home submit it via ‘Ask an Expert.’

What’s the oldest book in the Collection?

by Shannon Robinson, Queensland Museum Librarian

The Museum library has just over 2400 titles within the Rare Books Collection, spanning publication dates from the 16th century through to the 20th century. Over half, 1450 books to be precise, are from the 1800’s! Much of this material is irreplaceable and, being paper-based objects, in a fragile state. These factors contribute to placing these items in a climate-controlled, restricted access room to ensure their longevity and availability to future generations.

Seeing these items in their current locked up state, it’s easy to forget they initially were found in labs, offices and on shelves in libraries, being reference texts with the latest discoveries of their time. Nowadays they’re historical artefacts, valued for their hand coloured illustrations or being prized as the volume containing the first description of a species.

The oldest book in the collection, Libri de piscibus marinis (aka ‘Summary of Marine Fishes’) by Guillaume Rondelet published in France in 1554, is one of the earliest known undertakings in modern ichthyology to scientifically describe fish known to Europeans at the time using the physical specimen – common practice now, but ground-breaking at the time. Rondelet (1507-1566) is most widely known for this body of work today, but when published in the 16th century, he was renowned as an anatomist, botanist and science professor.

The author is responsible for both the Latin text and woodcut illustrations within the 600 pages. An impressive feat at any date in history! Before the advent of photography, naturalists such as Rondelet embraced printing techniques to include illustrative descriptions of species from woodblock prints to lithographs to engravings.

While this book features around 250 fish species, he extended his scope to include mammals and invertebrates, such as the lobster on page 583 (pictured)…as well as some fantastical beasts, such as the ‘Sea Lion’ and ‘Sea Bishop’ (pictured). These inclusions are exceptions to Rondelet sighting the specimen, so how did they make their way into the book? According to historians, Rondelet did rely on other physicians and their recounting of sightings or stories. It’s been recorded that Rondelet would neither confirm nor deny their actual existence – interpret that as you like!

image 1
De Astaco, lobster, Book XVIII, page 538, woodcut illustration from Guillaume Rondelet‘s “Libri de piscibus marinis”, published in LyonFrance in 1554. Queensland Museum Library rare book.
image 2
De pisce Episcopi habitu, sea bishop, Book XVI, page 494, woodcut illustration from Guillaume Rondelet‘s “Libri de piscibus marinis”, published in LyonFrance in 1554. Queensland Museum Library rare book.
image 3
De Monstro Leonino, sea lion, Book XVI, page 491, woodcut illustration from Guillaume Rondelet‘s “Libri de piscibus marinis”, published in LyonFrance in 1554. Queensland Museum Library rare book.

The Smithsonian Libraries have digitised their copy of this book, available at the Biodiversity Heritage Library

New species: velvet gecko discovered on one of Australia’s northern islands

Scientists from Queensland Museum, Griffith University, University of Melbourne and the Northern Territory Government have described a colourful new velvet gecko from Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory.

This species only occurs on Groote, Australia’s third largest offshore island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Groote Eylandt Velvet Gecko, Oedura nesos, is a large and colourful species with white bands and yellow spots that lives in rock crevices. Perhaps even more striking than the adults, are the babies which are black with bright white bands.

Lead researcher Dr Paul Oliver says “this species was formerly confused with another similar gecko we described in 2016, called Oedura bella, but we had some clues that it might not be the same”.

Oedura bella adult and baby. Image by Stuart_Nielsen.
Oedura bella. Image by Jordan Mulder.
Oedura nesos adult. Image by Chris Jolly.
Oedura nesos baby. Image by Chris Jolly.

Learn more at the Discovery Centre
Are you curious about a unidentified gecko you’ve found in your backyard? Ask one of our experts here.

Remember to share your images with us on social media by using the hashtags #DiscoveryQM and #myqldmuseum.

We thank the traditional owners of Groote and Anindilyakwa land council for their support for this work.

Rare 16th century book on display as part of Deep Oceans exhibition

Written by: Meg Lloyd, Librarian & Dr John Healy, Curator Marine Environments.

As part of the forthcoming Deep Oceans exhibition (opening 28 March) we will be displaying the earliest printed book in the library’s collection – Guillaume Rondelet’s (1554) illustrated treatise on fish and marine life.

Continue reading Rare 16th century book on display as part of Deep Oceans exhibition

Museum for Teens: Lost Creatures

Written by: Tim Janetzki is a student at Ferny Grove State High School who has taken it upon himself to discover the Queensland Museum and the amazing things within it. Over the coming months Tim will blog about his personal experiences and views on the Museum. His first assignment was discovering Lost Creatures: Stories from Ancient Queensland.

Continue reading Museum for Teens: Lost Creatures