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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Lab Manager and Collection Manager (marine for crustacea)
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!
Manager, SparkLab and Discovery Centre
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.
Senior Fossil Preparator and Geosciences Volunteer Coordinator
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.
Collection Manager, Terrestrial Environments (Entomology)
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.
Learning Officer, Future Makers
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
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
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.
Collection Manager, Geosciences
I got into science because although there is too much to discover in one lifetime, I was certainly determined to try!
DAAD Professor and Honorary Research Fellow, Geosciences
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
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
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
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.
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”
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
Never fear, they’re all still here and safely tucked away behind the scenes throughout the Discovery Centre’s renovation. Our staff continue to bring in the tasty eats they like best – bundles of fresh gum leaves for our stick insects, dried leaves for the giant cockroaches and even frozen rats for our green tree pythons. The baby scorpions, born in the museum, are thriving on a diet of tiny crickets.
The museum’s display and research specimens need to be kept in a controlled climate so they do not deteriorate, meaning that the museum is constantly air conditioned. But our live animals require humidity and every morning their enclosures receive a fine spray of water to keep them happy and healthy.
The stick insects continue to lay eggs daily. These are sorted from the droppings and leaf fragments and placed into separate containers, and every morning there are new hatchling nymphs to care for. The nymphs live in separate enclosures of gum leaves, away from the adults, to make them easier to look after and avoid ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ when there’s a change of foliage.
It seems that some of the animals are making the most of their well-earned break from the constant public gaze. The cockroaches have given birth to live young, so the leaves in their enclosure are now resounding with the pitter-patter of tiny new feet!
Can the live animals still be seen? Yes, during our Daily Discoveries at 11.00am and 2.00pm we often bring some of them out to meet the public. You can even find out what’s on in advance if you call us on (07) 3840 7555. The schedule may be subject to change – but whatever is on – it’s always bound to be interesting!
The “Zoo Animals” went into the tin with the blue lid, while my “Farm Animals” went in the tin with the green lid. The animal kingdom, as I knew it, lived under my bed in Streets ice-cream tins. All were classified, according to contexts developed from the songs, books and experiences of a four-year old. Fast forward to 2012 and, as a Museum Educator, I am delighted to be sharing the topic of Animal Classification with the next generation of biologists, taxonomists or collectors.
Queensland Museum has re-launched Animal Classification into our range of school programs. Bookings are now being taken for Yr 3-7* classes to experience a value-added program to enrich your Museum visit
If the concept of Animal Classification makes you numb, let us please change your mind. School programs are delivered by the Museum Learning team, using real collections to elicit real experiences. This is a valuable option in an increasingly virtual world.
This program primarily responds to Science Understanding descriptors in Australian Curriculum: Science for Yrs 3 and 7, but also addresses Science as a Human Endeavour and Science Inquiry Skills for Yrs 3-7.
So how does classification apply to our lives? You don’t even need to be a collector to use it. We find classification systems everywhere – from libraries to supermarkets. Things that are in some way similar are arranged together for comprehension and convenience.
So how does animal classification apply to our lives? Animals are grouped as part of the process that describes or identifies them down to an individual species. This helps us effectively communicate information about them. Understanding characteristics of a particular species or group can affect our health and welfare, economic growth and ability to effectively manage the conservation of our wildlife.
Dr Karl Kruszelnicki has shared the virtues of the dung beetle since the CSIRO introduced several species to Australia in the late 1960s. The objective was to manage a bi-product of grazing and its impact on fly control (the bi-product that wasn’t destined for our taste buds or footwear). Selected species were introduced to a number of Australian climates and ecosystems resulting in a biological control success story. Our approx 350-400 species of native dung beetle evolved to mostly feed on the smaller, drier, fibrous dung pellets of marsupials.
Other examples of genus-specific relationships are applied in agriculture (both in pollination and pest management). According to the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Honeybees add an estimated $4 – 6 billion to Australian agricultural and horticultural industries, annually.
Further examples of identified animal groups have supported medical research. Studies of Tammar Wallaby and other marsupial forms of milk have provided medical researchers with a template for investigating antimicrobial compounds, potentially resistant to “superbugs”.
Examples of animals helping humans can be ‘reciprocated’ in conservation campaigns. Most Queenslanders are aware of the plight of the endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. Distribution once extended south to the Victorian border. By the 1980s, a drastically reduced population was reportedly (without the advanced surveying methods in use, today) around 35 wombats. A remnant population in Epping Forest National Park (South-West of Mackay, Queensland) was recognised as the last chance to protect this species. Since then, wombat numbers have been carefully monitored and protected, reaching around 138 today. In 2009, the colony was deemed at risk should an environmental disaster such as fire or flood affect the region. To mitigate this, the decision was made to establish a second breeding colony 600km south at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge (near St George, Queensland). Recent reports (May 2012) indicate this second population is stable with the current “snout count” at seven females, three males and three joeys in good condition.
A smaller cousin, the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat has maintained a conservation status of ‘Least Concern’, although recent reports suggest it, too is affected by similar threats. These include reduced/replaced food plants and possibly toxins from introduced weeds. Relationships determined by the classification of animals can help us to make informed decisions. Are we prepared to learn from the past to determine the future?
The Animal Classification theme is supported by a range of Queensland Museum exhibitions and resources.
* Please note: Secondary school, teachers can also select a Biodiversity and Classification program, which can be tailored to your unit of work by prior arrangement.
Humans are fascinated by extremes; just consider the popularity of the Guinness Book of Records. It’s also reflected by our fascination with huge dinosaurs; think Tyrannosaurus rex and Brachiosaurus. So it is not surprising that claims that ‘giant predatory lizards 11m long once roamed Ancient Australia’ would garner attention and intrigue. In fact the lizard was appropriately given the scientific name, Megalania, meaning ‘giant ripper’. But the search for the true size and nature of this giant reptile, reveals a story of misidentification, opposing ideas, inexact science and false assumptions.
The story begins in the 19th Century, with a large number of fossils of a particular type being uncovered by land owners and naturalists. The size of the bones and teeth indicated that the animal was large. Many perceived the fossils to be of a dinosaur and others classified them as crocodilian. It was never dreamt of at the time that they could been the remains of a gigantic lizard (the Komodo dragon was unknown to science at that time). However, as fragments were combined and examined more closely, it gradually became clear that these were the remains of a giant extinct lizard living during the late Pleistocene, approximately 30,000-180,000 years ago.
Well actually, it wasn’t that clear. In fact the science was decidedly murky. Many of the remains were incorrectly labelled for a long time, and were actually the bones of giant land tortoises, giant flightless birds or even giant marsupials. The opposite also occurred, with many bones identified as belonging to these groups, actually being those of Megalania. Debate among palaeontologists over these matters ruffled a few feathers.
But the debate really got heated around the issue of the size of Megalania. Early estimates inferred a length of 3 m, but over time, the body length increased to 9, 10 and even 11 m—stupendously big for a lizard. It was almost as if a competition was being held: “my Megalania is bigger than yours”.
The variation in size estimates arises from assumptions that have to be made, largely due to the fragmentary nature of the evidence. For example:
The ratio of claw length to body length from living goannas was applied to the fossil claws of Megalania. The only problem was that it is later discovered they were giant flightless bird claws – not Megalania.
Determining the head length from skull remains, and then using the head-to-body length ratio of a lace monitor (alive today) to calculate a length of around 7-10 m. However, further research has identified that the ratio is much smaller in komodos and Megalania, so the size was a massive overestimate.
The confusion of the Megalania story intrigued Queensland Museum palaeontologist and Snr. Curator Geosciences, Dr.Scott Hocknull. He recognised that as a key predatory animal, gaining an accurate understanding of it’s biology is essential in understanding the ecology of prehistoric Australia. So Scott travelled the country and even overseas to examine every Megalania fossil he could find. Meticulous measurements of the remains, and comparison with living goanna species, has helped test many of the assumptions previously made, and identified a total body length of between 5 and 6 m. This still makes it the largest lizard to have ever lived.
This situation is a prime example of one of the AC: Science learning descriptors within the strand ‘Science as a Human Endeavour’. ‘Scientific understanding, including models and theories, are contestable and are refined over time through a process of review by the scientific community’ (Yr 9). Science is not always exact, assumptions are made and formulas applied. Scientists are also human and can become attached to particular theories.
So should scientists assume anything? It’s not a very rigorous and reliable methodology is it? Assumptions are an inescapable and integral part of scientific research. In almost all cases when not everything is known about an object or topic, assumptions simply have to be made. The challenge is to minimise the number of assumptions, and when made, to ensure they are as valid as possible. Scientific investigation in one sense is all about testing assumptions and theories—by different people, using different approaches and as new evidence and material becomes available.
Palaeontology is one area of science particularly susceptible to forming assumptions due to the fragmentary nature and scarcity of evidence. Uncovering a single bed of fossils can overturn theories held for decades. In fact, this is just what is occurring at the moment with the discovery of an enormous fossil bed at South Walker Creek. Scott and his team from QM are investigating this site, and early results indicate that it will substantially expand and change our understanding of Ancient Australian megafauna, including our very own mega-lizard.
We are custodian of Queensland's natural and cultural heritage, caring for more than a million items and specimens in collections that tell the changing story of Queensland.