Category Archives: Insects & Spiders

Collecting and studying tarantulas in Far North Queensland

Written by: Dr Robert Raven, Head, Terrestrial Environments

In September I travelled with a team of scientists to Cape York to search for and collect Thick-legged Eastern Coastal Tarantulas, more commonly known as Whistling Tarantulas.

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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.

Backyard Explorer North Queensland May 2012

Catching insects during the “hands-on” BE workshop

Queensland Museum scientists will conduct free workshops this week in Atherton, Innisfail, and Cairns dedicated to assessing local biodiversity and the effect of human impact using data from insect trapping. These workshops will be funded with assistance from Landcare through Fiona George (Regional Landcare Facilitator, Terrain Natural Resource Management, Innisfail).

The Queensland Museum Backyard Explorer North Queensland May 2012 workshops will include a free full day workshop held at the CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, Atherton facilities on Thursday 17th. During this workshop we will be completing a study with Yungaburra Landcare and other interested community members at the Lower Peterson Creek re-vegetation site.

Participants from teachers to local naturalists, council representatives, Landcare members and staff, and interested community members will attend a program that encourages the region to become more involved in science. Backyard Explorer shows community groups how to complete a survey of their property, work site, even backyard, incorporating scientific examination of habitat, vegetation and wildlife using the techniques museum scientists use in research including identifying any insect finds and interpreting the bio-health of the area.

Landcare have also funded an after school session for teachers, Landcare members and staff, and other interested community at the training room at the Disaster Management Centre in Innisfail on Wednesday May 16th.

Additionally Landcare have organised for the Queensland Museum scientists to visit schools and provide students and teachers hands on experiences with collecting and identifying insects. The Juniors from St Rita’s school in South Johnstone doing Mini Beasts will be involved on Wednesday morning May 16th. All Year 3 classes at Bentley Park College south of Cairns will be working with the Queensland Museum  scientists on Friday 18th May.

Watch this space for reports on the Queensland Museum Backyard Explorer North Queensland May 2012 workshops.

Further reports, photographs, and resources from Backyard Explorer community sessions held in 2011 can also be accessed from this Queensland Museum Talks Science page.

Christine Lambkin is leading the BE workshops and will be joining the QMTS writers group as a guest author.  She is the curator of Entomology responsible for the Queensland Museum collections of Diptera (flies), Coleoptera (beetles), Orthoptera (grasshoppers), Hemiptera (bugs), Phasmatodea (stick insects), and a number of smaller insect orders. Her main research interest is the systematics, evolution, taxonomy, and biodiversity of Diptera, specialising in combined molecular and morphological phylogenetic analyses and monographic revisions of beeflies (Bombyliidae) and stiletto flies (Therevidae).

Chris Lambkin

Incredible Insects: From the desk of Quentin the Quoll

Photo of Quentin the Northern Tiger Quoll at his computer

To teach the Biological Sciences sub strand of the Australian Curriculum well, teachers need to feel fairly comfortable with living things. Of particular benefit is knowledge of insects, firstly because they are invertebrates and therefore don’t require the enormous screeds of paperwork for approval to use them.  Secondly, insects are just simply amazing and frankly, without them, we’d all be dead!

Insects of course are one of the main organisms which support the food webs of all others. For the lower primary year levels (K-6), insects provide a wonderful real life resource that students can observe at first hand. Insects are freely available and with a little knowledge can be easily kept for classroom learning. Many go through some quite mind-blowing transformations and they have found ways to survive in nearly every physical environment on this amazing planet. They can teach students about the needs of living things, external features, growth and change and the effects of the physical environment on survival. And insects are cited for classroom use in the Australian Curriculum and in a number of current curriculum resources for example mealworms in C2C units and the new Primary Connections module. Watch it grow!

For older students (7-10) insects are an exceptionally good resource for teaching about biodiversity, classification, taxonomic keys, sustainability and the planning and conducting of extended experimental investigations. Queensland Museum Entomologist Dr Christine Lambkin (shown below getting a few hot tips from Quentin), has been instrumental in developing a project called Backyard Explorers. The materials and videos located on the QM website  provide a step-by-step guide to conducting a biodiversity assessment using insects, complete with Excel spread sheets for recording and an automated graph creator. For this investigation and especially for the safety of students, the insects are immediately placed in preserving alcohol upon collection. Whilst this is not something teachers feel comfortable with, the deep understandings built through close and detailed examination of the specimens in fact create a greater respect for living things. The insects are only collected for scientific education explicitly following specified methods and certainly this is not open slather on killing things. The impact on insect populations is far less than that caused by the Mortein can, electric bug zappers, and car headlights.

A picture of Quentin the Quoll and QM entomologist Dr. Christine Lambkin

For younger year levels, Quentin and Christine have some other ways to obtain insects which don’t involve killing them and are also safe because the identity (and ability to sting or bite) of the insects is known. To get you started there is a fact sheet called ‘Keeping live insects’ on the following page:

Quentin will return soon with more tips for Primary and Early Years teachers in future blogs.