Category Archives: Marine Environments

Reconstructing the Kronosaurus

Kronosaurus queenslandicus was the largest predatory reptile to swim the seas of western Queensland 105 million years ago. This icon of the paleontological world is thought to have grown up to 11 metres in length, with around two metres of that dedicated to its unusually large skull, containing a mammoth set of jaws and dozens of enormous teeth.

Recently, an opportunity arose for the Queensland Museum to add to the State Collection with the acquisition of two lower jaw pieces from a large individual Kronosaurus. Although the Kronosaurus is an iconic animal, surprisingly little is known about its biology, with skulls and jaws a relatively rare find.

Kronosaurus queenslandicus was named in 1924 by Queensland Museum palaeontologist and former museum Director, Heber Longman, based on a piece of jawbone that was discovered near Hughenden, in central Queensland. It was named after the Greek Titan Kronos; so horrible that he ate his own children. Kronosaurus is a pliosaur, an extinct short-necked marine reptile. Its powerful jaws – which worked in a similar way to a crocodile’s – contain rows of large conical teeth, the biggest of which are nearly 30 centimetres long. Kronosaurus was a fierce predator – remains of its stomach contents found in central western Queensland indicate that it fed on turtles and other long-necked marine reptiles. Kronosaurus fossils have been found in the sediments deposited by the inland seas and turned to rock, ranging in age from 112-100 Million years, during the Early Cretaceous Period.

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This particular specimen was found by a private collector near Boulia in western Queensland and, through negotiations with Dr Andrew Rozefelds, Head of Geosciences, Queensland Museum, was acquired through generous Queensland Museum Foundation donations directed towards object acquisition. The jaw adds to the Queensland Museum’s collection of Kronosaurus specimens. The acquisition of the specimen will ensure that this important piece of Queensland’s geoheritage is preserved in the State Collection for perpetuity. Importantly, it will also provide an opportunity for both researchers and the broader community to get up close to this fascinating specimen.

But as is the case with most specimens of this nature, the jaw was not in perfect condition, which meant that certain work needed to be done before the object could be properly studied, displayed and stored safely within the collection. The main goal for the Geosciences team was to cradle the pieces of fossil as best possible, whilst demonstrating the aspects of the jaw that were missing, especially its teeth. Senior Technical Officer, Ms Debra Lewis took on this meticulous and detailed work.

To present the jaw in a life-like pose whilst also safeguarding it from damage, Debra began work on a bespoke base that would serve the dual purpose of supporting the specimen whilst allowing it to be displayed. Debra said that creating such a base is a lengthy process due to how customised it needs to be.

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“The base is made of timber but each one contains an individual cradle sculpted from polymer plaster to suit the weight, angle and intricacies of each piece of jaw. The cradle was glued to the timber and filled in with expandable polyurethane foam, which was then sanded off to create the shape of the base’s sides. Over that, two layers of fibreglass were carefully applied to give the structure strength. The final step was a coat of paint in a specially chosen shade that would not detract from the ‘hero’, our Kronosaurus jaw.”

As the teeth and part of the bone were missing, careful work was done to demonstrate this as accurately as possible. The teeth were made using 3-D modelling and printing – technology that Dr Scott Hocknull, Senior Curator, Geosciences, has developed within Queensland Museum and has become a key feature of his research and engagement work.

“In this case, the benefits of this technology served as a huge time saver,” said Scott.

The usual method for producing replicas is creating a plasticine sculpture and using that to make a mould and then cast from it. In this case, the process would need to be repeated for each individual tooth – all 16 of them – which Debra and Scott estimate could have taken a month of work or more. The same result using 3-D modelling and printing took about 36 hours, with most of this made up of printing time rather than manual labour. This is achieved through digitally modelling one tooth, then digitally sculpting a 3-D model of each of the 16 teeth. Using photographs of the original tooth, a 3-D model of it was created, which can then be modified and printed out. Debra then hand painted each tooth in a colour that matched the remaining bone. The final piece of the puzzle was to come up with a way that the teeth could be displayed so that it was obvious to viewers which part was original fossil and which was a reconstruction.

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“Part of the bone was missing, so rather than replicating this on top of the original, we decided to use clear perspex rods to place the teeth at the correct height and show the position of the teeth as they would have been in the jaw,” said Debra.

This was done by gluing each newly made replica tooth to a clear rod and placing it into a small indentation drilled into the matrix (a build-up of rock where the tooth would have sat) so that the rod would fit snugly and can easily be removed and replaced. So where to from here for our “revamped” Kronosaurus jaw?

The Geosciences team hope that the specimen will go on display, possibly within the permanent Lost Creatures exhibition at Queensland Museum, where it can be enjoyed by visitors. It is currently available to researchers and is being studied by a PhD student, who has been 3-D scanning the pieces of the jaw to reconstruct the animal digitally and learn more about its palaeobiology. Of course, a scientist’s work is never truly done – there is always more to learn and new examples of these extinct species to be unearthed, which in turn will bring new opportunities for research and discovery.

“We’ve known about the enigmatic Kronosaurus for a long time – hopefully we can continue to find out more about this icon of the Cretaceous inland sea,” said Scott.

Celebrating a remarkable career – Dr John Hooper

Dr John Hooper has been an integral part of the Queensland Museum Network and has made a significant contribution during his 27 years here, 14 of which he has been Head of the Biodiversity and Geosciences program.  Having retired in June 2018, John leaves a lasting legacy not only to the Queensland Museum Network but to the broader scientific community.

Continue reading Celebrating a remarkable career – Dr John Hooper

Other Anzacs

Written by Senior Curator, Social History, Mark Clayton.

At 4 a.m. on the morning of February 5, 1916, Mr W.J. McLaughlan who was on sentry duty on the beach at North Fremantle, noticed in the dim light an object which he at first took to be a snake, but which on closer examination proved to be a remarkably elongated fish of a bright silvery colour.

The Keeper of Biology at the Western Australian Museum, Mr W Alexander, soon identified this as a new species which he described in detail – four months later – in a paper read before a meeting of that state’s Royal Society. He proposed then to name the new species Evoxymetopon anzac, sp nov., explaining that this was “specially suitable for a fish found in Australian waters and nearly related to famous Frost-fish (Lepidopus caudatus) so well known in New Zealand.(1)

Related to the scabbardfish, Evoxymetopon anzac was the first species named after the - now - famous expeditionary force.
Related to the scabbardfish, Evoxymetopon anzac was the first species named after the – now – famous expeditionary force.

With the vantage of hindsight, and a century of liberal thinking, using the name ‘Anzac ‘to describe a new fish species might seem appropriate to us when in fact it could have been received as inappropriate and possibly even sacrilegious back then, especially given the prevailing legal, social and military tensions of that time.

A relatively new term then used mostly by military personnel and only reverentially, by civilians, the scientific community’s appropriation of the term ‘Anzac’ was – up until then – without precedent.

Since the first national Anzac Day commemoration had occurred some weeks prior to his Royal Society address, Alexander could not have been ignorant of the words sacredness, or the mounting media calls for its use to be safeguarded.  Already, by May 1916, a regulation had been passed (under the War Precaustions Act), “making it an offence for any person to use, for the purposes of any trade, business, calling, or profession, the word “Anzac,” or any word resembling it.” Initially intended to discourage the word’s commercial exploitation, these punitive provisions were progressively extended after the war to encompass a much broader range of potentially inappropriate uses.

In short time ‘Anzac’ became one of the few words in the English language ever to have been afforded legal protection, and it was here in Queensland that the Regulation’s legal force was first tested (the newly completed Anzac Memorial Church in Indooroopilly being given a Prime Ministerial reprieve, on the basis that its foundation stone had been inscribed prior to the Regulation’s passage).

With considerable foresight the Regulation’s authors had adequately anticipated and provided for Anzac parks, streets, biscuits and cottages, all of which were within the realms of past and popular experience,  Evoxymetopon anzac’s arrival from left of field however would have been difficult to foresee, or prevent. While provision had already been made within the Regulation for trademarks, the naming of species was typically regulated by peak international bodies which operated outside the Commonwealth’s jurisdiction.

If the term Anzac could be appropriated for one new species, then conceivably it could be re-used over and again for any number of other species (or genus)? Which is exactly what occurred.

Alexander’s paper had no sooner been published when, in 1919 on the other side of the world, French arachnologist Raymond Comte de Dalmas described a new ground spider genus (found in Australia and New Zealand) which he named Anzacia.

Anzac variants may well have been applied often since then, the term having even been used to describe insects (Anzac bipunctatus) and plants (the cultivar Callistemon citrinus having been termed ‘White Anzac’).

The cultivar Callistemon citrinus, otherwise known as White Anzac
The cultivar Callistemon citrinus, otherwise known as White Anzac

Queensland Museum staff have also played a part in helping to sustain this century-old practise, ABRIS Research Fellow Michael Rix having described – in 2006 – a tiny spider which he named Flavarchaea anzac….

 “The specific epithet refers to Australia’s national day of wartime commemoration, ‘Anzac Day’ (annually on 25 April). This date remembers and honours all Australians who have served and died in war, and originated after Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (‘Anzac’) soldiers landed at the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey, on 25 April 1915. The first specimen of this species (QMB S66839) was collected on Anzac Day 2001.”

We may not remember them, as we do those other Anzacs, yet still their numbers grow.

How to collect a parasite: researching a covert eco-system

Written by: Christine Robertson, Corporate Communication Officer

If you have ever been snorkelling or diving on the Great Barrier Reef, you would be astounded by the wondrous beauty of the intricate eco-system that happens under the sea.

Continue reading How to collect a parasite: researching a covert eco-system

Understanding the diversity of the Great Barrier Reef – and why it’s important

Written by: Dr John Hooper, Head, Natural Environments

New species of life forms, ranging from bacteria even up to mammals, continue to be discovered across the world on a daily basis. This includes species that make up our Great Barrier Reef (GBR), one of seven natural wonders of the world. So while we may have a reasonably good idea about the numbers and different types (species) of corals and fishes that build and live in the GBR ecosystem, we know very little about the many, probably hundreds of thousands of other species living amongst them – even some very large species, but most very small.

Continue reading Understanding the diversity of the Great Barrier Reef – and why it’s important

New Resources to Support Sustainability Education

Written by: Marcel Bruyn, Strategic Learning

Sustainability is a cross-curriculum priority of the Australian Curriculum. Sustainability addresses the ongoing capacity of Earth to maintain all life. The AC website states that: “Education for sustainability develops the knowledge, skills, values and world views necessary for people to act in ways that contribute to more sustainable patterns of living.”

In Science: “… students appreciate that science provides the basis for decision-making in many areas of society and that these decisions can impact on the Earth system. They understand the importance of using science to predict possible effects of human and other activity and to develop management plans or alternative technologies that minimise these effects.”

Many Australians live in coastal areas and occupy catchments which supply waterways that empty into the ocean. So there is a direct link between healthy waterways and healthy marine environments, and for much of Queensland that includes coral reef environments.

Reef environment
Reef environment

The catchment and/or marine environments are an ideal foci for a school sustainability program. Here are links to excellent educational programs and resources to support the implementation of a sustainability program in your school:

Organisations and educational programs

  • Reef Guardian Schools – Great Barrier Marine Park Authority. The program encourages schools to commit to the protection and conservation of the world heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. The program helps to protect the Reef by promoting their ideas, initiatives and activities to communities to encourage all people to “do their bit to look after it!”. It focuses on: Curriculum offerings; Management of Resources; On-the-ground projects in your school and community and Education of the community. “
  • ReefED: online resources and activities from GBRMPA.
  • Australian Marine Environment Protection Association: AUSMEPA provides FREE educational resources on this website to help teachers plan and undertake a unit of work about key marine environmental issues, including climate change and storm water pollution.
  • Reef Check Australia: The Reef IQ Educational Program includes courses and workshops that allow students to undertake simulated coral reef surveys in the classroom.
  • Marine Education Society of Australasia.
  • Ocean Life Education ‘Brings the Sea to You’ with fun marine education programs including live marine animals designed to inspire students of all ages to appreciate and take responsibility for the marine ecosystem.
  • The Global Learning Centre is a not-for-profit community organisation dedicated to supporting education for justice, peace and sustainability.
  • Healthy Waterways: An NGO that provides information and resources on water education in South East Queensland including: information, resources and games.
  • The Up a Dry Gully Schools Program challenges primary and secondary students to explore and understand how water must be safe, secure and sustainable for our future.
  • CSIRO: CarbonKids is an educational program that combines the latest in climate science with education in sustainability.
  • CSIRO Education, North Queensland: Eco-enigma – An environmental case study where the class becomes a scientific team preparing an environmental impact report. By measuring heavy metal levels in fish, analysing silt in a river etc, students find out who is responsible for the environmental health problems of Sunny Valley.
  • Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities: Australian water education resources.
Reef Biodiscovery microsite at Queensland Museum
Reef Biodiscovery microsite at Queensland Museum

Excursions

Local Government

Many local governments have resources and staff to support sustainability education. For example:

Queensland Museum Resources

The museum has a rich repository of authoritative information and resources, including online content, interactive learning objects, games and school loan kits.

  • Biodiscovery and the Great Barrier Reef: Biodiscovery is the quest for bioactive chemicals from living organisms. Investigate some of the factors affecting the survival of reef organisms and how human activities and climate change are having an impact on the reef.
  • Backyard Explorer: An invertebrate biodiversity audit resource kit that can support biohealth assessment component of a sustainability program.
  • The museum provides loan kits that support object-based learning. For example: Marine Life: Explore a variety of marine life and how they interact with their environment and each other. Investigate interactions between living things and suitability for a marine habitat.Content of the Marine Life Loan Kit available from the Queensland Museum

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.