Category Archives: Insects & Spiders

New Age Technology – Digital Imaging

Queensland Museum is now home to a state-of-the-art, custom-made digital imaging system developed by world pioneer in cyber-taxonomy, Roy Larimer.

This tool provides the best and fastest technology for producing deep-focus images of insects and other small specimens. It is complemented by a Hasselblad medium-format camera which can take detailed images of whole drawers of material and larger specimens.

Queensland Museum Collection Manager, scientific illustrator and photographer, Geoff Thompson, will use this new digital imaging system to provide much higher-quality images, faster than ever before.

Geoff Thompson
Special Visionary Digital Imaging system

Visionary Digital systems are also used by the FBI and use computer technology developed for computer gamers. Queensland Museum’s system produces magnified images of tiny insects with incredible depth of focus. The photographs will show more details all at once than a scientist can see by looking down a microscope. e.g. tiny hairs on delicate insect wings.

Hasselblad image of Candalides helenita

The project was made possible by a contract with the Atlas of Living Australia. This is a Federal Government project in partnership with museums and herbaria throughout Australia to improve access to biological data.

Special Visionary Digital features developed specifically for the Queensland Museum include a 30 cm square light pad to give perfect backlighting of large specimens and new colour-balanced LED modelling lights, which allow video as well as still photography.

The system uniquely combines fibre optic flash illumination with a computer-controlled lift carrying a camera, and a hand built super-fast computer enabling a series of photos to be taken from top to bottom of focus. These are then combined into one sharp photograph. Of course the images you see on this blog post have been compressed for upload.

Visionary Digital image of A. debaari

Queensland Museum Collection Manager and scientific illustrator and photographer, Geoff Thompson, used and studied Roy’s earlier systems during his 2005 Queensland-Smithsonian Fellowship in Washington DC. Geoff says that the new digital imaging system is an impressive tool that will provide higher-quality images.

See the detailed images taken of the anterior end of the beetle below.

Phalacrognathus head detail

This technology enables Queensland Museum to share images of specimens with other scientists throughout the world. This assists the research community to better identify new species.

View more zoomified images of the Native Cockroach and the King Stag Beetle.

To learn more about the work that Geoff does, visit his Biography Page.

Visit our QM website to see more amazing wildlife photography by searching in the Animals of Queensland section.

Prehistoric Beasties!

Federica Turco is a post-doctoral research fellow working at Queensland Museum. She and research associate, Geoff Monteith, are investigating some amazing beetles living in dark caves near Rockhampton. These beetles have been around since the Pleistocene epoch (approx 2.6 million – 12,000 years before the present) and possibly even the Late Pliocene (3.6 million years ago).

They belong to the genus Mystropomus (Order: Coleoptera; Family: Carabidae) and the whole family is composed of ground-dwelling predatory beetles.

Adult Mystropomus

These ancient creatures crawl over cave floors, lying in wait for their invertebrate prey. Even the larvae are predatory using a weird structure at the end of their abdomen to snare their prey. First they dig out a burrow in the soil in a sheltered place.

Larva in burrow

Then they close over the hole with their enlarged abdomen covered with sensitive setae (bristles). As soon as any prey walks over this, the setae trigger a quick response from the larva, which backflips to grab the prey with its huge mandibles (jaws). So these creatures have amazing structural and behavioural adaptations to help them catch their food.

Larva ready to attack

Beetles such as these once inhabited the rainforest regions of Queensland but with the Great Drying some moved to higher rainforest regions and some found shelter in cave environments. Fede and Geoff are collaborating with Wendy Moore (University of Arizona) and Andrea Di Giulio (University “Roma Tre”), who are specialists on this sub-family of Carabidae (Paussinae). There appears to be two species, one that is found from Sydney up the coast to Mackay, and another species that inhabits the wet tropics from Bowen to Cooktown. The cave populations may belong to a third new species but work is still in progress.

You can learn more about animal adaptations by watching some animal adaptation videos that come with a student worksheet linked to the Australian Science Curriculum. To learn more about some of the effects of the Great Drying and how this affected the evolution and distribution of some Australian species, you can view the online learning resource Dinosaurs, Climate Change and Biodiversity.

Visit Queensland Museum’s website on Beetles to find out more about these amazing creatures.

Goblin Spiders

Dr Barbara Baehr is a PBI (Planetary Biodiversity Inventory) Research Fellow working at Queensland Museum. For the last 5 years she has been working for the PBI Goblin Spider project and this will continue for the next two years.

Dr Barbara Baehr

Goblin spiders are very small, funny-looking spiders that look a bit like goblins, hence the name. There are lots of species and some have hooks, long leg spines, or scutae (shields or armour over the body). These spiders can be found in the canopy, under bark, or in leaf litter.

Ishnothyreus sp. nov. male dorsal view
Prethopalpus sp.

New species are being discovered and there is a blind species (a member of the new genus Prethopalpus) that was discovered in Western Australia in boreholes about 60m deep.

Like most spiders, Goblin Spiders immobilise their prey with venom. They secrete digestive enzymes into their prey to start the digestion process. Then they suck up the liquefied food. Common prey of Goblin Spiders includes small insects such as springtails.

Some Goblin Spiders have leaf-like setae (bristles) on a concavity on the underside of their abdomens. After identifying and naming new species, research is then carried out to determine the functions of some of these strange structures.

Cavisternum sp. male showing sternum

To help with this huge task of naming new species (taxonomy) people from Queenslandhave donated money to the project and in so doing they have had species of spiders named after them. For Example, Roger Kitching founded the IBISCA project and there is a new species of Goblin spider named Opopaea rogerkitchingi.

SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) images below show the elongated fang of the male Goblin Spiders from the genus Cavisternum.

Scanning Electrom Microscope image of fangs of male

A member from the Oonopidae family is shown below. These small spiders (0.5-4.0mm) possess only 6 eyes and generally have an armour of abdominal scutae (plates). Barbara is currently revising the Australasian Opopaea genus which will include about 70 species.

Opopaea male, front view

To learn more about the amazing world of spiders visit the Spider section of our QM website, or view a video on Funnel-web Spiders. To learn more about Barbara’s research visit Dr Barbara Baehr’s Biography page.

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.

Fantastic Phasmids

The term ‘phasmids’ (pronounced fas-mids), is just another name for the group of insects we commonly call stick insects. These amazing creatures are so well-camouflaged that they are very difficult to see amongst foliage.

The Goliath Stick insect (Eurycnema goliath) is one of Australia’s largest phasmids. It is green with yellow patches on the head, thorax and legs. As well as its wonderful camouflage, these insects have some behavioural adaptations that reduce their risk of being chomped by ever-watchful birds. The insects stay motionless and put their front legs in front of their head to make themselves look more like part of the plant. They usually feed at night and during the day they hang motionless on plants. Even when they do move, they simulate moving leaves as they sway in the wind. When attacked, they spread their wings, displaying the bright red colour underneath, and splay their rear legs apart revealing black eye-like spots at the bases. They also kick out their spiny legs and loudly rustle their wings. These behaviours frighten off predators and work as good defence mechanisms.

Live stick insects are commonly displayed in the Inquiry Centre on Level 3 at Queensland Museum South Bank. Here is one that stands out under flash photography.

Learning about animal adaptations is an engaging activity. A new resource has just been uploaded onto the Queensland Museum website. The content and activities are matched with the Australian Curriculum. It is called ‘Adaptations Teaching Unit’ and is found in the Learning Resources section of the website.