Category Archives: Reptiles & Amphibians

A Crime scene of the past – investigating tropical ice age megafauna

By Rochelle Lawrence, Palaeontological Research Assistant, and Scott Hocknull, Senior Curator, Geosciences, Queensland Museum

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.

We have found the white, brittle bones of modern cows and sheep on many of our fossil surveys. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.
 A fossil osteoderm (bone plate) from the scales along a crocodile’s back and a piece of bone below that was first found at South Walker Creek. Image Credit: Andrea Bull.

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!

Brachiood fossil found at Homevale National Park on 29/09/2008 by Josh Moulds.

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.

White cards with field numberes were used to indicate the fossil bones found within the ancient creek. The one on the left is an arm bone (humerus) from a giant kangaroo, which has a whole other story – stay tuned with future blogs. Image Credit: Josh Moulds.

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.

The team surveys the ancient creeks and floodplains of the area looking for other fossil sites. Image Credit: Josh Moulds.

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 tooth rows from a skull of the giant wombat-like marsupial, Diprotodon optatum, were eroding out of the ground. Image Credit: Josh Moulds.

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.

A fossil tooth from a crocodile found while surveying. Image Credit: Josh Moulds.

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.

Dr. Scott excavates the tooth rows and partial skull of the Diprotodon to carefully remove it from the ground. Image Credit: Josh Moulds.

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.

Dr. Scott and field volunteer, Noel Sands, carefully carry the partial skull of Diprotodon out of the site as if it were the Ark of the Covenant from Indiana Jones. Image Credit: Josh Moulds.

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.

The team celebrate their exciting fossil finds and Diprotodon treasure. Image Credit: Queensland Museum and BHP.

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.

Project DIG is a partnership between Queensland Museum and BHP that will digitise and scan our collections and research for people worldwide. Check out our Tropical Megafauna in 3D!

Top Image – The main site of the South Walker Creek megafauna fossils where we are excavating their remains within an ancient floodplain. Image Credit: Josh Moulds.

What are megafauna?

By Rochelle Lawrence, Palaeontological Research Assistant, and Scott Hocknull, Senior Curator, Geosciences, Queensland Museum.

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.

Here is a cast of a saber-toothed cat, Smilodon fatalis, from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California, United States of America, that I walk by in our Queensland Museum’s Geosciences collection. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

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.

Reconstruction of one of my favourite megafauna, Palorchestes. Image Credit: Andrey Atuchin, Rochelle Lawrence, Scott Hocknull © Queensland Museum.

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?

A species of living megafauna, the elephant, we saw on safari in Namibia, Africa. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

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.

Skeletons of extinct megafauna, including the woolly mammoth, we saw in the Palaeontological Museum of Liaoning in China. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

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. 

Reconstruction of a Diprotodon who had met its fate. Image Credit: Robert Allen © Queensland Museum.

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.

The drying and cracking of the earth I captured in outback Queensland. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

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.

Smog from pollutants, such as cars, released into the atmosphere surrounding a bustling city in Asia. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

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.

During this excavation we used the numbers to show where the bones of Diprotodon are situated within the ancient mud spring near Eulo. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

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.

Reconstruction of Bohra from the rainforest deposits. Image Credit: Robert Allen © Queensland Museum.
Dig pit in Colosseum Chamber of Capricorn Caves preserving fossils of animals from modern refugia. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

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.

Reconstruction of Pallimnarchus. Image Credit: Robert Allen © Queensland Museum.

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?

Project DIG is a partnership between Queensland Museum and BHP that will digitise and scan our collections and research for people worldwide. Check out our Tropical Megafauna in 3D!

Top Image – Reconstruction of megafauna from the Darling Downs. Image Credit: Robert Allen © Queensland Museum.

What species of Geckos can you find around your home?

Steve from Queensland Museum’s Discovery Centre has been documenting the wildlife he finds around his home and garden during isolation. Here he shares the types of geckos he can find around his home and gives some tips for how you can spot them around your own home.

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This is an introduced Asian House Gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus). Like all geckos in Australia it has large lidless eyes, but the wavy edges of the pupil are not features we see on native varieties.

We are all spending plenty of time at home at the moment, so it seems like a perfect opportunity to find out just what else is living in our houses and gardens. Let’s start with geckos because they are easy to watch and they are always doing interesting things.

I have two different kinds of geckos around my house, introduced Asian House Geckos (Hemidactylus frenatus) and native Robust Velvet Geckos (Nebulifera robusta). Some houses also have native Dubious Dtellas (Gehyra dubia).

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Can you see the small spines on the edges of the tail? These are also distinctive features of the Asian House Gecko.

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A native Robust Velvet Gecko (Nebulifera robusta) is making a meal of an insect attracted to a window sill.

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This Robust Velvet Gecko is struggling to swallow a large beetle.

There were no Asian House Geckos around the house 20-years-ago. At first they were occasional visitors, then they increased exponentially to become abundant. For those unfamiliar with them, Asian House Geckos are the little lizards that grace the walls and ceilings of virtually every building in south-east Queensland. They can change from grey with dark streaks by day to a ghostly pale pinkish colour at night, and they have bands of small spines around their tails. They also advertise themselves with a loud and distinctive, chuck..chuck…chuck call, day and night.

Asian House Geckos have travelled as stowaways all around the world and are now the most widespread lizard. It has even been suggested that some ocean-going container ships could have permanent mobile populations of Asian House Geckos, forever travelling the world, picking up genetic diversity with incoming cargo and shedding colonists with outbound goods. They arrived in Queensland in the early 1980s among cargo.

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Originally from forests of South East Asia, the human environment with its walls, doors and book shelves has created an ideal habitat for Asian House Geckos which now occur around the world. This one has selected a little light reading.

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Defying gravity, house geckos move with ease over vertical surfaces including glass. It’s not suction that keeps them there, but a molecular attraction called Van der Waal’s Force. Adhesion is enhanced by an increased surface area, thanks to microscopic branched structures called setae, under the lizards’ toes.

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Asian House Gecko eggs are round, hard-shelled and relatively impermeable to moisture loss. Most other lizard eggs are soft and prone to desiccation. The sturdy eggs have been an important factor in their global dispersal.

Robust Velvet Geckos are larger, with a distinctive pattern of squarish ladder-like pale blotches on the back and a thick, fleshy tail. They are also much quieter so you rarely hear their squeaks unless there is an interaction such as mating or males fighting. In my house velvet geckos lurk behind furniture and hanging pictures, and patrol the outside walls at night. In the bushland setting they are mainly arboreal, showing a great preference for tree hollows as shelter sites. Recently they have become increasingly out-numbered around the house by the Asian House Geckos, which tend to dominate the best bug-catching spots under the lights.

Geckos are great entertainment around the house. Watch them stalking moths, slowly placing one foot before the other, wait with baited breath for the final lunch, then share the triumph or disappointment as the lizard seizes or misses its mark.

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Male velvet geckos are very intolerant of each other and sometimes engage in quite violent territorial combat. During these bouts skin can be torn and tails broken off.

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This velvet gecko has lurked behind this light fitting during most summer evenings for many years. One related species is known to live for more than 20 years.

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A pair of Robust Velvet Geckos mating on the dining room ceiling.

What sorts of geckos are on your house? Have you ever seen them feeding, fighting or mating? Are they becoming more numerous?

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

#DiscoveryQM

World Turtle Day

World Turtle Day is #Shellebrated globally on 23 May, to celebrate these incredible creatures, increase knowledge, raise awareness of the impact of plastic pollution, and to highlight the importance of protecting their disappearing habitats. Did you know six of the world’s seven marine turtle species are known from Queensland? You can read more on sea turtles here.

The Impact of Plastic Pollution

Sea turtle eating a styrofoam cup.

Every bit of plastic that has found its way into the ocean or is buried in landfill still exists. The global production of plastic has now reached 300 million tonnes a year with production doubling every 11 years. It is everywhere in our lives and is a major source of pollution. Around 8 to 12 million tonnes of plastic enter the sea every year and around 18,000 pieces can be found in every square kilometre of ocean.

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This assortment of plastic was taken from the gut of a sub-adult Green Turtle from the Coral Sea and is made up of 40 pieces of soft plastic, 4 pieces of plastic thread and 6 pieces of hard plastic.

Plastic does not go away. It is extremely durable; a single use, plastic bottle can take centuries to break down. In doing so, it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces that are particularly hazardous to juvenile marine turtles which feed in surface waters and mistake floating plastic for food. This material can lead to gut blockages causing animals to starve and tiny pieces of plastic (microplastics), and the toxins they contain, are now passing through marine food chains.

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This image is of nylon fishing line removed from the throat of a Loggerhead Turtle that was beach-washed dead on Deadman’s Beach, North Stradbroke Island in September 1990.

The Hatchery

Did you meet the baby turtles at the Hatchery during World Science Festival Brisbane? If you missed out, head to Facebook to watch them hatch here and see the little dudes released into the Australian Current, 20km offshore from the Sunshine Coast as part of the Museum’s conversation initiative here.

Queensland Museum Senior Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians, Patrick Couper, who oversees the World Science Festival Brisbane’s Turtle Hatchery, holding fibreglass casts of hatchling turtles (Green Turtle in left hand, Loggerhead in right hand).

Wild State highlights Queensland’s unique animals and habitats, focusing on five environments including teeming marine life. Explore how we can protect and preserve our precious natural world for future generations by stopping by the gallery on level 4.

Sharing nature’s gems for World Wildlife Day

World Wildlife Day, held annually on 3 March, was created to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants. The day has now become the most important global annual event dedicated to wildlife. This year’s theme is “Life below water: for people and planet”. Oceans harbour a rich variety of communities and a wealth of strange and beautiful creatures, each with its own peculiar adaptations to underwater life. Right on our doorstep are two world-class marine hot spots – the unique waters of south-east Queensland, and of course, our iconic Great Barrier Reef.

To mark the occasion we are sharing some of our Wild State vector artwork and spoke to Queensland Museum Graphic Designer, Baden Philips, about his design. Baden said the most important thing when considering the artwork was that it reflects the Wild State gallery concept of the environment and the animal being equally as important as one another. With these rich and unique environments shrinking and vanishing, there is a significant threat to the animals who call it home, with many becoming endangered or even extinct.

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Baden therefore wanted to create the artwork to be reminiscent of a jewellery advertisement, depicting the animals as rare jewels cushioned by a rich and luxurious landscape.  To achieve this jewel-like quality, Baden chose low poly imagery (a polygon mesh in 3D computer graphics that has a relatively small number of polygons) and used Adobe Illustrator to create the drawing on top of the original image. Most of the designs are highly detailed, with each one representing hours of careful work.

Read on for more information about the beautiful animals and habitats that make Queensland one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. 

The Arid Outback

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Scorching summer days, freezing cold winter nights and dry almost all year round. But despite these seemingly adverse conditions, it is not devoid of life. Many animals, from large kangaroos to tiny invertebrates, have developed remarkable adaptations that enable them to survive in this extreme environment with very little water. Some travel great distances to drink, others get moisture from the food they eat, and some can control their body heat and limit water loss.

The Bush

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Much of Queensland is covered by open forests and woodlands, which have long been described as ‘The Bush’. This is a place of light and, even when the trees are at their densest, the tree tops are well-spaced and allow direct sunlight to flood the often grassy floor. Bush animals rely heavily on the trees and shrubs for food and shelter, with some animals and plants evolving co-dependent adaptations that enhance their survival. 

The Rainforest

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Lush, dense plant growth, plentiful rainfall and litter-strewn ground – rainforests are one of the richest habitats on Earth. They have a dense ‘closed’ tree canopy that blocks sunlight and shades a litter-strewn forest floor, creating a multitude of spaces for moisture dependent animals to live. 

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Southern Cassowaries are primarily found in lowland tropical rainforest, where conditions are hot and humid with frequent heavy rain. The Wet Tropics of North Queensland has 1,165 species in 6,300 square kilometres – more plant species than Finland, which is over 50 times its size. 

The Coast

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Many animals make the shore their permanent home despite challenging conditions such as deadly heat, little oxygen, pounding waves and, more significantly, our interference with this increasingly fragile junction of land and sea. Horn-eyed Ghost Crabs (Ocypode ceratophthalma) are fast running scavengers that are known to prey on baby turtles in tropical waters. 

The Ocean

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Oceans harbour a rich variety of communities and a wealth of strange and beautiful creatures, each with its own peculiar adaptations to underwater life. Right on our doorstep are two world-class marine hotspots – the unique waters of south-east Queensland, and of course, our iconic Great Barrier Reef.

Head to the World Wildlife Day website for more information on how you can get involved, and don’t forget to visit your native friends at Wild State during your next trip to the Museum!

Celebrating women in science

We celebrate the achievements of women, known and unknown, remembered and forgotten, who have forged the way for those of us in science today, and to give an opportunity for children: girls and boys, to choose role models in science – Princess Nisreen El-Hashemite, BSc MSc MD PhD

This coming 11 February is International Day of Women and Girls in Science and to celebrate we’re featuring some of the incredible scientists and staff involved in the scientific field across the Queensland Museum Network. Their hard work and excellent contributions often help inspire women and young girls who are interested in following a path in science. We delve into why they chose to get involved in science and what they’ve found most rewarding.

#goals #inspo

Marissa McNamara
Lab Manager and Collection Manager (marine for crustacea)

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I work with preserved crabs, prawns, lobsters and other amazing creatures from around Australia, and I get to see the incredible diversity and beauty of life every day. I also help members of the public identify crustaceans they find (often on the beach or the reef), and it’s fantastic to see what people discover. I feel like I learn something new every day! As an added bonus, for Halloween I get to dress up and show off our ‘creepiest’ looking specimens!

Rebekah Collins
Manager, SparkLab and Discovery Centre

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It is really rewarding to create experiences that support visitor learning, hearing people share their memories, stories and connections with the Museum and the Sciencentre, and seeing how much it means to them, especially those who later go on to study or be involved with science.

Joanne Wilkinson
Senior Fossil Preparator and Geosciences Volunteer Coordinator

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At age 9 I asked for a Chemistry set for Christmas. That’s when my love of litmus paper and the test tubes began. Many years later, combining my interest in fossils and my love of test tubes and laboratories, I find myself Senior Fossil Preparator at Queensland Museum. The most rewarding part of working in the fossil scientific community is the discovery of new sites and new species which add to fossil record of Australia and ultimately to the fossil record of the planet.

Susan Wright
Collection Manager, Terrestrial Environments (Entomology)

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The best part of my job as a Collection Manager is that I get to help a wide range of people, from scientists to artists, to conduct fascinating (sometimes bizarre) research regarding insects, our collections and the people that contribute to them. I learn something new every day.

Chae Swindell
Learning Officer, Future Makers

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The most rewarding part of my role is using our collections and research to develop resources that inspire and excite students, teachers and the community about science!

Christine Lambkin
Curator of Entomology

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I became an entomologist and evolutionary biologist because I am fascinated by the interaction between the incredible beauty and unbelievable diversity of insects, and our attempts to mathematically estimate the relationships between species based on morphology and genetics.

Rochelle Lawrence
Research Assistant and Honorary, Vertebrate Palaeontology

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I chose to get involved in science because of my fascination with the natural world, especially our unique fossil fauna and how they can help us better understand the present and impacts or future environmental change.

Kristen Spring
Collection Manager, Geosciences

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I got into science because although there is too much to discover in one lifetime, I was certainly determined to try!

Susan Turner
DAAD Professor and Honorary Research Fellow, Geosciences

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I got hooked at around eight years old by reading a book on dinosaurs – the joy of finding the right mentor led me into vertebrate palaeontology in my twenties. Five decades on I still get excited knowing I am the first person to see a new fossil specimen, and sometimes have the joy of identifying and naming it for posterity.

Jessica Worthington Wilmer 
Research Fellow and Molecular Identities Lab Manager

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I became a biologist (evolutionary geneticist) to better understand the world I live in and to use that knowledge to help save threatened and endangered species.

Carole J Burrow
Honorary Research Fellow

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The most rewarding aspect of my work in vertebrate palaeontology is working out new information about very old things (300 to 400 million year old fossils) to help our understanding of how the earliest back-boned animals with jaws are related to each other.

Amy Boulding
Head, Lifelong Learning 

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Amy (back) and Rebekah officially opening the doors to SparkLab

I originally got into science because I loved that I could ask lots of questions and go find the answers by getting my hands dirty and exploring the natural world. I’m super proud of now leading the Lifelong Learning team, and seeing all of the ways that my team create and facilitate those life-changing, enlightening, inspiring moments with people on all different themes and stories within the Museum.

Sue-Ann Watson
Senior Curator (Marine Invertebrates)

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Making new discoveries is the most rewarding part of science. Being the first to know something is really exciting.

Barbara Baehr
Arachnologist and “Australian Spider Lady”

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Barbara with her daughter

I chose to get involved in science because it’s great to be at the forefront of discoveries and I love to be a role model for my daughters.

Jessica Johnson 
Learning Officer, SparkLab, and Forensic Scientist

Jessica Johnson

I chose science when I held a real human brain in my hands and realised that this was a person, that 1.5kgs was everything that made someone them, and there’s nothing more rewarding then seeing the look on a child’s face when they understand something new and exciting about science.

Claire Chakrabarti
Learning Officer, SparkLab

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I was the child that always asked why and I chose to pursue a career in science as it provided the answers.

Susan Wightley 
Information Officer, Discovery Centre 

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I have always been fascinated by the huge variety of animals, the adaptations to their environment and how they interact with it and each other. I am in my dream job helping people understand and appreciate the complexity and awesomeness of the natural environment around them.

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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.