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”.
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.
The giant kangaroo tibia (shinbone) found at the megafaunafossil sites of South Walker Creek, travelled safely back to the Queensland Museum’sGeosciences collection. The specimen is treated like evidence for a case (fossil evidence!) and is processed through a series of stages from field collection (Part 1) and preparation, to research and conservation. The plaster jacket containing the kangaroo tibia was brought into the fossil preparation laboratory where it was prepared by specially trained fossil preparators, like Rochelle and Peter below. The aim of the preparator is to expose the bone while minimizing the loss of information and preserving the specimen for the future.
To begin preparation, we cut off the lid of the jacket with a plaster saw. Once opened we started to prepare the underside of the kangaroo tibia, the side that was facing down in the ground in the field and couldn’t be seen. We use a range of tools and vibrational air scribes to remove the sediment or matrix surrounding the specimen. As the lab is a technical workspace using electrical tools, equipment and chemicals, we wear a range of safety gear like earmuffs, glasses, dust masks and lab coats. We look pretty cool!
Palaeontology is a little bit like forensic science except we are solving some very, very old cases that involve prehistoric victims. Can you think of the similarities between the two sciences?
We continued to remove the matrix in layers before exposing the kangaroo tibia. During this whole process we record, photograph and photogram any interesting features such as a change in the sediment colour or type, or if we come across any other bones and teeth that have been preserved next to the main specimen. This information can help us understand how the fossil site formed through the processes of sedimentology and stratigraphy (the way in which the sediment was deposited in layers) and taphonomy (how the animal decayed and fossilized) [Sketchfab 4]
The final phase of preparation for this side of the kangaroo tibia is the surface cleaning and preservation treatment with chemical glues to consolidate [Sketchfab 3] the specimen, keeping it together. It’s during this stage that we see other interesting features on the surface of the bone. With our tibia we found a few pathologies (diseases or injuries). A deep groove [Sketchfab 1] within the shaft indicates an injury or bone disease. However, it also shows secondary bone growth indicating that the disease did not kill the animal because it had time to grow new bone. We then found two puncture marks [Sketchfab 2] which fit the form of crocodile teeth indicating the kangaroo was attacked by a crocodile and this is how the kangaroo died.
Are you starting to see how similar our science is to forensics? We now have an idea of who may have been involved in the death of our victim, the giant kangaroo.
The next phase involved the creation of a plaster cradle [Sketchfab 2] so that the specimen could be flipped over allowing us to complete the preparation of the other side. We have to make sure the cradle is just right to support the specimen, not grip it too tight, otherwise it may never be taken out without breaking it. We use plastic wrap to protect the bone and plasticine around the specimen to create a wall for the wet plaster mix (casting plaster and a polymer) to settle and dry into a strong cradle.
Can you see the similarities and differences between the field plaster jacket from Part 1 and the collection plaster cradle here?
Once again, we have to undertake the tricky process of flipping the kangaroo tibia in one piece. If we have properly conserved the specimen it shouldn’t fall apart – which it didn’t! We took away the plasticine wall and cleared away any loose matrix to prepare the side we first saw in the field. When it was finished, we did some final photographs and photograms of the specimen, and completed the documentation of our preparation job. The specimen is now ready for further analyses and research!
A part of this stage involved the transportation of the kangaroo tibia to a hospital so it could be X-rayed (Computed Tomography scanned). Can you imagine what the other patients thought as we wheeled in a fossil leg bone of a giant kangaroo! A radiographer, like Nikki below, takes x-ray images of the bone from different angles to produce digital slices of the specimen [Sketchfab 1]. This allows us to see inside the bone [Sketchfab 4], like x-ray vision, and in this case to study the pathology [Sketchfab 2, 3] in greater detail. Once a specimen has gone through the research stage it is finally ready for conservation, which is the final treatment of the specimen into a safe environment where it is either stored within the collections or placed on display.
We use all of the data collected as evidence to form a profile on our victim. We have found some teeth and other limb bones representing a giant kangaroo that may be associated with our victim. Its unguals (claws) [Sketchfab 3] on its feet also have a unique morphology (form, shape) being long and hoof-like, similar to a deer. It may have used its strong unguals to tip toe, making itself taller, to reach food that was higher up in the trees.
In fact, what stands out about this giant kangaroo, is its size [Sketchfab 5] perhaps reaching up to 3 metres in height when on its toes. We compared it to other known extinct giant kangaroos and it didn’t fit these species. Its tibia [Sketchfab 1] is longer than these species even without the epiphyses (end caps) fused, meaning it wasn’t fully grown adult. We think our giant kangaroo might be a new species and it looks to be the biggest species ever found!
Make sure to check out Part 1: In the Field as we go behind the scenes to collect evidence of a giant kangaroo.
Top Image – The stages our kangaroo tibia went through from being excavated in the field, documented through photogrammetry, CT scanned and finally reconstructed. Image Credit: Vlad Konstantinov, Andrey Atuchin, Scott Hocknull.
As the weather begins to cool, the ‘dig’ season starts for us (palaeontologists) as we venture off along the coast and into the outback heart of Queensland. Over the last ten years we have been investigating a series of fossil sites at South Walker Creek located near the town of Nebo, west of Mackay. It is here that we are finding some of Australia’s last tropical ice age megafauna.
Our dig team usually consists of palaeontologists, along with other scientists and specialists who contribute and volunteer their time. During the year of 2016 one of our volunteers, Noel Sands, who specializes in caving (and their fossil deposits!) called speleology, found a very large fossilized bone. Using an array of brushes and dig tools, Noel carefully excavated the sediment from around the bone to expose its shape and size. It was identified as a tibia (shinbone) [Sketchfab 1] from a kangaroo, but not just any kangaroo, the world’s largest species of kangaroo!
Once the position of the bone was established, we trenched around the specimen to create a pedestal so it could be isolated, with its surrounding sediment, from the rest of the dig site. The bone was then recorded and photographed in situ (the original place of deposition). We also place a temporary paddle pop stick [Sketchfab 6, 7)] with an identifying field number on the bone so it can be plotted in 3-D using a process called photogrammetry.
To begin the process of extraction, we first cover the bone and pedestal with foil to act as a protective layer. It is then covered with strips of wet newspaper, which provides cushioning for the jacket we are going to make to contain the bone. To make the jacket we use strips of hessian dipped in a plaster mix (casting plaster and water) and wrap them around the pedestal with the bone and wait for it dry. This is always the fun job!
Once the plaster jacket is dry, the field number and a directional north arrow are written on it so we know which specimen it is and its position in the site. The next step of the process is always tricky and is about getting it just right to roll the jacket over with the specimen kept in one piece. We use a hammer to bang in chisels at the base of the pedestal to loosen it from the underlying sediment. When it becomes loose it is ready to be quickly rolled over. If we have made a good jacket the specimen should stay all in one piece. On rare occasions we are not so lucky, but this time it went without a hitch! You can see this whole process in the video below, check it out!
Finally, the other side of the plaster jacket is sealed with the same plastering process to form a lid. Now the specimen is protected in a hard, egg-like shell to be transported back to the Queensland Museum and stored temporarily in the Geosciences collection with other unprocessed specimens awaiting preparation. There was also a distal tibia epiphyses (end cap) bone [Sketchfab 3] sitting on the shaft of the tibia and a bone shard [Sketchfab 4] nearby that were carefully collected so they were out of the way of extracting the tibia. We will be able to see if these bones are associated (connected) to the tibia.
Another challenge of the fieldwork is getting large jackets from the dig site back to the field vehicle. As the terrain is quite rough and our excavations occur in an eroded creek bed we cannot drive very close to the dig site. We have to use trollies, stretchers and manual handling to slowly walk the jackets with their specimens out of the dig site. Whilst excavating fossils by hand is exciting, it is also a lot of hard work. It involves good fitness, experience, precision, problem solving and most importantly team work.
Check out Part 2: In the Lab as we go behind the scenes to investigate the giant kangaroo leg further.
In 2008, an extraordinary discovery was made at South Walker Creek, located near the town of Nebo, west of Mackay in Queensland, Australia. Traditional owners of the area, the Barada Barna people, were conducting a cultural heritage survey for the South Walker Creek Mine when they came across some interesting bones. These bones were not the usual white colour, like those of cows you find in the paddock, nor were they light in weight or becoming brittle from exposure to the sun. They were dark coloured, a little heavier than usual and quite solid in form.
The bones were fossils! Fossils are the remains or traces of organisms (animals and plants) from a past geological age. Most fossils form from the bones and hard parts of animals and plants, but sometimes in rare conditions the soft parts, such as flesh and organs, can be preserved. The feathers, fur and stomach contents of animals have also been preserved, as well as small creatures, like insects, trapped in the sticky sap of trees, which has hardened into amber over millions of years. Trace fossils can include animal droppings, burrows, eggs or footprints, which can tell us a lot about the animal’s habits. They are all evidence of once-living things!
Fossils are found all over the world, but they only represent a few of the many organisms that have existed on the planet. Special conditions are required for an organism to become a fossil and survive the changes within the Earth’s sediment through time. Firstly, an organism has to be buried by sediment, such as mud and sand, which is usually washed in by water. The next stage of fossilisation depends on the organism itself and the environmental conditions. The bones from South Walker Creek have undergone a process called (per)mineralisation. Minerals from the soil and water in the creeks enter the cracks and pores of the bone making it harder over time and giving it a stony appearance.
The environmental officers of the mine contacted the Queensland Museum where they were put in touch with palaeontologist, Dr. Scott Hocknull, who studies fossils of ancient life. Dr. Scott and his team worked with the traditional owners and mine officers to conduct natural heritage surveys, looking for more fossil remains and traces of past ecosystems within the geological landscape (geology) along the Walker Creek system.
On inspection of the fossils, Dr. Scott identified them belonging to extinct giant creatures, not dinosaurs, but megafauna! The megafauna we refer to here occurred during the ice ages of the Quaternary Period from 129,000 to 11,700 years ago. An exciting find was waiting for them in the form of a partial skull from the giant wombat-like marsupial, Diprotodon optatum.
The megafauna fossils from South Walker Creek mostly represent †extinct species, some of which are new to science, along with a few extant (living) species that survive today. We have found predators such as crocodiles †Pallimnarchus (giant freshwater crocodile), † ‘Quinkana’ (terrestrial crocodile) and Crocodylus (saltwater crocodile), the giant goanna †Megalania (Varanus priscus) and the marsupial ‘lion’ †Thylacoleo.
These predators would have preyed on the herbivores (plant eaters) that they lived with, such as the giant wombat-like marsupial, †Diprotodon optatum, giant wombats like †Phascolonus gigas, the strange giant sloth bear-like marsupial, †Palorchestes, and kangaroos, including the giant forest wallaby, †Protemnodon, a short-faced kangaroo (†Sthenurine), the red kangaroo (Osphranter rufus), a giant wallaby (†Notomacropus) and a giant deer-like kangaroo (†Macropus sp.). 00Rare fossils, including eggshell, of the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) have also been found.
In among the megafauna bones we also find small fauna of both aquatic (water-dwelling) and terrestrial (land-dwelling) species, along with the fossil impressions of leaves and seeds from the plants that grew in the environment at the time of the megafauna. These delicate remains are rarely preserved in fossil sites of this age and are especially uncommon in the tropics making these sites extra special for palaeontologists. Since 2008, teams have undertaken fieldwork to survey, salvage and excavate fossil sites at South Walker Creek and this work continues today.
The fossil discoveries from South Walker Creek are exciting because little is known about the megafauna from the tropical northern regions of Australia compared to those that have been studied in southern Australia. The site is significant as it preserves fossil evidence that is very close to the time of the megafauna’s ultimate extinction in Australia. By studying the site, we are finding answers to our questions surrounding the evolution and extinction of megafauna. Documenting the responses of megafauna to past environmental change is important to better understand the impacts of future change on our living species.
Stay tuned for future blogs on South Walker Creek fossils as we take you behind the scenes and delve deeper into the past of these tropical ice age megafauna.
Megafauna are giant animals usually weighing over 44 kilograms (kg). Most megafauna are now extinct (no longer exist) and were closely related to living species of animals we see today. You have probably heard of the more commonly known megafauna species, like the saber-toothed cat and woolly mammoth from North America.
However, Australia is unique with its own megafauna ranging from huge and sometimes strange marsupials (mammals with a pouch), like the giant sloth bear-like Palorchestes to very large monitor lizards like the giant goanna, Megalania. There were giant wombat-like marsupials the size of a rhinoceros like Diprotodon, an array of giant kangaroos different to today’s species and a weird super-predator called Thylacoleo, which means pouched-lion. Australia even had giant, armoured tortoises with clubbed tails, land-dwelling crocodiles, giant constricting snakes and huge flightless birds.
Megafauna can also refer to species that weighed less than 44 kg, but resemble a giant version of a closely related living species. For example, the extinct ‘giant’ koala (Phascolarctos stirtoni) was larger than the living koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) and probably weighed under 15 kg. Others include a giant echidna, (Megalibgwilia), the Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger and a larger relative of the Tasmanian devil, Sarcophilus laniarius. The term ‘megafauna’ is still used to refer to our largest living animals today such as the elephant.
Can you think of any other living megafauna or extinct?
The megafauna arose well after the extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Period, 66 million years ago. In Australia they reached their largest size during the Quaternary Period (2.58 million to 11,700 years ago). The rapidly changing climatic and environmental conditions created grasslands and open habitats favouring the worldwide evolution of gigantic animals. Towards the end of the Quaternary, extinctions of megafauna occurred with nearly two-thirds of Australia’s largest animals dying out, along with many smaller species.
There is a great debate in palaeontology (study of ancient life) and archaeology (study of human history) surrounding the big questions of why and how did the megafauna go extinct? Answers revolve around an extended period of severe climate change or human activity, or a combination of both, resulting in extreme changes to the environment. To answer these questions, we have to keep searching for the evidence and investigate more megafauna fossil sites – if they have been lucky enough to be preserved and can be found! Each individual site is a reflection of the different creatures and environmental conditions that existed within the ecosystem of that region representing a small piece of a bigger puzzle involving the whole of Australia and even the world.
Climate change here refers to the long-term, natural processes that can change the Earth’s climate such as its orbit around the Sun, changes in solar radiation, levels of greenhouse gases, and plate tectonics (movement of the Earth’s crust). These changes appear locally in the form of sustained changes in weather patterns, like decreases and increases in temperature, the frequency of droughts or flooding and overall intensifying aridity. Human activity during this time refers to hunting and disturbance patterns to the environment such as the burning of the landscape.
Today climate change includes anthropogenic drivers, like pollution from increased industrial activities of humans. Some of these include the burning of fossil fuels that generate extra greenhouse gases, pollutants and deforestation. These influence how the temperatures across the globe are regulated and drive global warming, a rise in the average temperature of the Earth’s climate system.
Megafauna fossils have been found around Australia and throughout Queensland. Those from the Quaternary Period have been found within sites in southern Queensland like the Darling Downs and Eulo. These sites are well known for the world’s largest wombat-like marsupial, Diprotodon optatum. Diprotodon would have browsed and grazed through the open woodlands and grassy plains of the downs and around the mud springs of Eulo, where on occasion they got stuck, leaving their bones for us to find tens of thousands of years later.
As we head north into the subtropics of central eastern Queensland we find fossils of megafauna from The Caves region near Rockhampton. The fossil remains of these animals that lived around and inside the cave systems have accumulated in cave chamber deposits. These deposits are unique as they record fossil fauna from different environments that transitioned through time from wet rainforests to dry open-arid habitats and then to today’s special vine thicket refugia (habitat supporting refuge). Here we find fossils of the extinct giant tree-kangaroo, Bohra, who is a larger version of today’s living tree-kangaroo species found in Far North Queensland and New Guinea.
Even further north in Queensland, west of Mackay, fossils of megafauna are being excavated from sites at South Walker Creek. These fossil deposits are rare because they preserve a tropical megafauna. Not many megafauna fossil sites have been found in northern Australia. Many of the fossil bones have puncture marks made by predatory crocodiles including the extinct giant freshwater crocodile, Pallimnarchus. These crocodiles would have inhabited the billabongs and creeks, hunting at their edge for unaware megafauna that would come to drink.
Research into the megafauna is helping us understand their responses to environmental change during the Quaternary Period and hopefully it will answer the many questions surrounding their extinction. If we can track down our past, we can better understand how our present has been shaped by the extinction of the megafauna and hopefully use that knowledge to prepare for the future impacts of environmental change.
Can you think of any impacts to our environments today that affects our living species?
Over the last decade our biodiversity team have been busy describing 1,171 new species. Here’s the top 10 species described by Queensland Museum scientists from 2010 – 2019.
Desisbobmarleyi is a small spider with a 6mm long body and long hair like his namesake
It uses this long hair on its legs and abdomen to create an air bubble around its middle that enables it to breathe and survive between the high and low tide zones. During high tide these extremely rare and unusual animals hide in the air chambers, but during low tide they are vagrant hunters found on corals, barnacles or debris. It was this behaviour that inspired us to name this new intertidal species in honour of Bob Marley’s hit song High Tide or Low Tide, which played during our field research in Queensland’s Port Douglas.
A spectacular leaf-tailed gecko from Cape Melville, north-eastern Queensland, which was listed by Suny College of Environmental Science and Forestry (New York) as one of the top ten species (globally) for 2014. The lizards are about 20cm long and are believed to be a relic species from the time period rainforests were more abundant in Australia.
A species of jumping spider of the genus Jotus described in 2019. The name of the species karllagerfeldi was chosen as the black and white spider was “reminiscent of the signature look” of fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. The spider was found near Lake Broadwater, a lake near Dalby, Queensland.
Ranger Stacey’s Pinwheel Snail’ is about .25 of a millimetre and very intricate. It has all the attributes of a rainforest relict and is known only from a single shell specimen from the higher reaches of Mt Dalrymple (altitude 1144 m).
A remarkable tree frog from New Guinea’s rugged forest covered mountain. The small green tree frog has a small spike like a short nail protruding from the tips of it snout.
The first new species of damselfly discovered in a decade, this new species described in 2017 is is about 4cm long and has a long, thin, mostly dark-coloured abdomen with a pale tip in the male. Damselflies are a small flying insect with two pairs of wings, similar to a dragonfly.
The goatee Velvetfish, Pseudopataecus carnatobarbatus was described in 2012 based mainly on specimens collected from the Montgomery Reef area, Kimberley, WA – which has the highest tidal range in Australia, with spring tides of 11+ m.
This species lays among the seaweed with its extraordinarily long fins waving gently in the current, in wait for prey of small shrimps and fishes. It is named for its goatee ‘beard’, composed of numerous fleshy barbels on the chin. These break up its outline and when wiggled, help to draw in prey. It allows algae to grow on its skin for camouflage, but periodically releases the outer mucus layer to reveal the mottled reddish skin within. Despite being a sluggish swimmer, it copes with huge daily tidal currents. Its habitat ranges from a shallow rockpool to 10 metres deep within a few hours.
A new dasyurid marsupial from eastern Queensland, Australia: the buff-footed Antechinus, Antechinus mysticus was found in former Queensland Museum curator Steve Van Dyck’s kitchen cupboard in Samford, Queensland.
Plectorhinchus caeruleonothus or the ‘Blue Bastard’ is a previously undescribed species of Sweetlips living on the shallow reefs of northern Australia that has remained unrecognised by science. The ‘Blue Bastard’ can grow up to one metre in length, and undergoes an amazing transformation in colouration between juvenile and adult growth stages.
The often solitary fish also exhibits a unique ‘kissing’ form of aggressive behaviour between rival males, thought be in defence of their territory, where they will rush each other and lock jaws in prolonged and violent struggles.
Found in shallow water in the Brunswick River in northern New South Wales, the Bazinga jellyfish was named in honour of the Big Bang Theory’s character Sheldon Cooper.
Bazinga rieki could not be placed in any known family or suborder of rhizostome jellyfish, so a new family Bazingidae was erected; it represents a new sub order of Rhizostomae, called Ptychophorae. Bazinga rieki has a thick round translucent and colourless body, the aboral (upper) surface of which is covered in tiny warts with yellow centres.
Queensland Museum scientists have discovered five new jumping spider species.
Have you ever seen a more adorable spider? These cute and colourful jumping spiders are changing the reputation of arachnids around the world.
Queensland Museum arachnologist, Dr Barbara Baehr, along with colleagues Joseph Schubert from Monash University, and Dr Danilo Harms from University of Hamburg recently described the new Australian species which feature vibrant colours and perform fascinating dance rituals.
SPIDERS Salticidae Jotus sp. nov. cf auripes New Species, closest yet to the type species Jotus auripes which also has vivid red orange inner legs 1.
Four of the five new species are from Queensland with one from New South Wales. At only a few millimetres in size, they can be difficult to spot, despite their stunning colours.
The New Species Jotus albimanus – White-handed Brushed Jumping Spider
Found: New England National Park, New South Wales
Jotus fortiniae (Picture above left, image by Robert Whyte)
Found: Cape York Peninsula, Quinkan Country, Queensland
Jotus karllagerfeldi – Karl Lagerfeld’s Jumping Spider (picture above right, image by Mark Newton)
Found: Lake Broadwater via Dalby, Queensland
Jotus moonensis – Mount Moon Brushed Jumping Spider
Found: Mount Moon, Queensland
Jotus newtoni – Mark Newton’s Brushed Jumping Spider
Found: Lake Broadwater via Dalby, Queensland
Dance like your mate is watching The spiders are known as Brushed Jumping Spiders due to the elaborate mating dance of the males, which involves a brush of long and often colourful setae on their legs (like butterflies).
Joseph Schubert said the colour patterns in the males are species-specific and range from black and white combinations to extremely colourful morphs featuring iridescent turquoise and orange patterns.
“The males perform unique dance rituals with their brilliantly decorated first pair of legs to attract females,” Mr Schubert said. “These five new species are close relatives of the Australian peacock spiders which also perform courtship dances for females. This courtship behaviour makes them a crowd favourite and has popularised jumping spiders worldwide.”
Karl Lagerfeld’s Jumping Spider In true fashion style, the scientists paid homage to the late fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld, by naming a spider in his honour. Dr Danilo Harms, said the Karl Lagerfeld spider had a distinct look that was reminiscent of the late fashion designer.
“Jotus karllagerfeldi is a black and white spider which we looked at and instantly thought of Karl Lagerfeld and his signature look, as the spider has large black eyes, which reminded us of sunglasses and its black and white front legs were reminiscent of Lagerfeld’s kent collar,” he said.
Learn more at the Discovery Centre Are you curious about an unidentified spider you’ve found in your backyard? Ask one of our experts here or visit the Discovery Centre on Level 4 to meet museum experts, ask questions and view exciting displays.