Mighty Mites

Dr Owen Seeman is the Collection Manager for Arachnida at the Queensland Museum. He is responsible for the care of the collection, scientific loans of specimens, and identifications.

Owen’s main research area is the taxonomy of mites that live on and in insects.

Dr Owen Seeman

Mites are amazing animals. They are arachnids, so they commonly have 4 pairs of legs. They can live anywhere imaginable and their life cycles are very diverse. They are found in some of the most extreme habitats on Earth, from the deserts of the Sahara to the frozen wasteland of Antarctica. Some mites live in the lungs of snakes, the eyeballs of bats, the sub-cutaneous fat of pigeons, and around the anuses of sloths.

Most of us have one species of mite that lives amongst our hair follicles and many people even harbour a second species.

Owen has been investigating mites that infest under the elytra (the outer wing) and tracheal system (breathing tubes) of some beetles.

Beetle with mites infesting under the wings

These mites are sexually transmitted. i.e. move from beetle to beetle when the beetles reproduce.

In some species the male mites have their genitalia on their ‘rear ends’ and in others it is found just behind the head – very unusual designs!

The mites seem to have limited effect on the beetles, as most parasites do. (After all, if a parasite kills its host, then it has lost its ‘meal ticket’!) However, over winter, mites can kill their hosts as they rest through the lean times. Once the warmth and wet of spring arrives, some infected beetles live long enough to mate with their offspring generation, and so the next lot of beetles is infected with mites.

Over the course of evolution, some parasites tend to simplify their ‘body design’. In some podapolipid mites,  the female has only one pair of stumpy legs and has become nothing more than a fat bloated sac filled with squirming young. When this mite (below) was slide-mounted, we can see that the males have developed first, as there were no developed female larvae (yet). The female larva mates (presumably with brothers inside their mother, then other males once born) and then transfers to another beetle when the beetles mate. On her new host she turns into the adult female and the circle of life continues!

Podapolipus adult
Podapolipus male

The beetle Paropsis atomaria is a pest of eucalypt plantations in Queensland. It has three species of Chrysomelobia mite that infect it. The species C. lawsoni lives in the tracheae of the beetle, while the other two species live under the wings only.

C. lawsoni male
P. nobilitata

Paropsisterna nobilitata is a beautiful beetle that has one species of the mite Chrysomelobia living on it.

P. cloelia
Drawing of C. lipsettae

Paropsisterna cloelia is one of the pest species of eucalyptus in Queensland, which also has one species of Chrysomelobia mite living on it.

The drawing below of the adult female of Chrysomelobia lipsettae, shows you that on a mite, every hair has a name.

To read more about the work that Owen does, visit his Biography page. To learn more about spiders and mites, visit the section on other Arachnids and Myriapoda on QM’s website.

New Primary Science Loans Kits Trialled in the Classroom

Saturday 13th August is the start of National Science Week. So for this week’s post I thought I would share with you some interesting science activities occurring at two central Brisbane schools this term. Over the last few weeks I have visited Year 5 at Milton State School and Year 1 at Newmarket SS. I have enjoyed assisting with classroom science teaching. Gil Sauvage, a science teacher specialist at Milton, and Margherita Gradwell, a Year 1 teacher at Newmarket, have offered to trial some new science Loans kits that have been produced recently.

Me (Adriana Bauer) with some objects from the new kits
Gil Sauvage teaching his Yr 5 class about adaptations

These kits are linked to the Australian Science Curriculum. The External Features kit targets the Biological sciences strand in Year 1 and 3 and covers topics such as animal coverings, diversity of life, and sorting organisms. The Micro Marvels kit is designed for Years 5 – 7 and covers the themes of adaptations, effect of the environment on survival, and classification.

The Year 1s had a great time touching the soft koala fur, the spiky Echidna quills, the rough crocodile skin, and the wiry Wombat fur together with other animal coverings.

Year 1s investigating animal coverings

There are many QM Loans kits and online resources that complement the themes addressed in these two kits.

For example, in the photos below we used the QM Loans kit, How We Survive, to demonstrate some of the adaptations of different bird, mammal, and reptile skulls and/or teeth. (The kit How We Eat is another Skulls kit that is written for a slightly younger audience, such as Year 3. Queensland Museum Loans has other Skulls kits such as Skulls: Queensland Birds and Skulls: Queensland Mammals that can be used for teaching adaptations.)

Student examining the skull of an Eastern Grey Kangaroo
Student examining a Kookaburra skull

Students spent some time discussing plant adaptations and an image below shows a hair on the surface of a Geranium leaf. This was taken with the digital microscope that is included in the Micro Marvels kit.

Image of fine hair on a Geranium leaf, taken with the digital microscope

The External Features and the Micro Marvels kits will be available for borrowing next year from QM Loans.  The teacher booklets that support these two kits can be downloaded here.

External Features Teacher Resource Booklet

Micro Marvels Teacher Resource Booklet

ADAPTATIONS Teaching Unit_5

Other kits that can be borrowed from QM Loans can be found on the Catalogue page of the QM Loans section of our website.

To learn more about resources developed to align with the Australian Science Curriculum, download the PDF QM Resources and the Australian Science Curriculum.

Keeping the Curious Cat Alive

Cover of Wildlife of Greater Brisbane

“What’s that?” It’s the most common question I get asked by my three-year-old at home. I don’t want to dampen his curiosity or interest in exploring the world around him, but sometimes I just don’t have the answers. However, I have found the solution!

During recent background work into developing a teaching unit, I referred to a Queensland Museum publication “Wildlife of Greater Brisbane”.

This book had all the answers that a curious child (and adult) wants to know, from birds to bats, frogs to fishes, and grasshoppers to butterflies, with all the creepy crawlies in between. It’s small enough to take in a backpack while walking, but large enough to answer almost all “What’s that?” questions.

The book is full of colour photos for easy animal identification and also gives a small physical and habitat description. It would make a great addition to any high school biologist’s library and has scientific names provided for all specimens.

Wildlife of Greater Brisbane includes all the wildlife of Brisbane, not just the native species; so it is valuable for identifying introduced and pest species for environmental studies as well.

Wildlife of Greater Brisbane is available from the Explorer Shop at Queensland Museum and other good book retailers. For more information on buying Wildlife of Greater Brisbane on-line, or any other Queensland Museum publication, this link should help.

New Age Technology – Digital Imaging

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

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

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

Geoff Thompson
Special Visionary Digital Imaging system

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

Hasselblad image of Candalides helenita

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

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

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

Visionary Digital image of A. debaari

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

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

Phalacrognathus head detail

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

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

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

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

Rock Refugia

Patrick Couper is Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at Queensland Museum and has an active interest in the taxonomy, ecology and conservation of Queensland’s diverse reptile fauna.

Patrick Couper

A major focus of Patrick’s research has been the discovery and description of leaf-tailed geckos that live in the rainforests of eastern Australia. Leaf-tails, which have a long rainforest ancestry, often have strong associations with rocky outcrops. Rocky areas have provided a safe haven for these animals through past periods of climate change. Patrick and Conrad Hoskin (James Cook University, Townsville) have termed such areas, lithorefugia. (Refugia are areas where special environmental conditions have enabled a species or a community of species to survive despite their extinction from surrounding areas.)

Leaf-tailed Gecko, Orraya occultus, from a boulder-strewn creek line in NE Qld

Layered rocky areas are well-buffered from fire and provide cool, moist, stable conditions. These conditions are similar to those found in rainforests.

Black Mountain near Cooktown- typical boulder habitat

The Australian continent was once blanketed with extensive rainforests but as conditions became increasingly arid, these forests contracted to smaller pockets like the remnants now found in coastal Queensland and NSW. As the forests contacted so did their faunas and some rainforest animals retreated to, and survived in, rocky landscapes, many of which are now well isolated from modern rainforests.

During this time, many species became extinct but others survived in these rocky landscapes and produced new species. Recent DNA studies show that many of these rock-dwellers have strong genetic ties to modern rainforest animals. The lithorefugia story is important for understanding the evolutionary processes that shaped Australia’s rainforests and their associated faunas.

There are many examples of rainforest animals that survived in rocky areas. Rainforest snail, spiders, tail-less whip scorpions, and microhylid frogs, such as the Black Mountain Boulder Frog are some examples. There are even mammals that have undergone a shift from rainforest to rock. For instance, the Rock Ringtail Possum that is found in rocky parts of the Kimberley region (WA) and Arnhem Land (NT) has genetic and behavioural characteristics similar to the Green Ringtail Possum, a species now found only in the high altitude rainforests of NE Queensland.

Black Mountain Boulder Frog, Cophixalus saxatilis

The above discussion is relevant to Unit 2 (Change and Survival) of the draft Senior Biology Curriculum. For example, in the Science Understanding strand of this unit is the topic: Evolution of Australian flora and fauna, including

  • significant events in Australia’s geological history and their effect on the evolution of a unique flora and fauna
  • the effect of change in past climates on Australia’s flora and fauna

Species adapt to different conditions as habitats and climates change. To learn more about how climate change has affected the evolution of different animal groups, investigate the online learning resource, Dinosaurs, Climate Change and Biodiversity which contains many teacher and student resources.

To learn more about the work that Patrick does, visit his Biography page.

You can investigate leaf-tailed geckos and other amazing reptiles, by visiting the Reptile section on Queensland Museum’s website.

Behind The Scenes – The Dolly Washer

Environmentally Friendly Washing Machine

The “Dolly” Washing Machine. Queensland Museum

Ever wondered how to reduce your impact on the environment and reduce your electricity bill as the same time?  Well look no further than the past!  Re-introducing the “Dolly Washer” from 1879.

 The “Dolly” washer features a central wooden spiked agitator in the wash bowl to help remove the most stubborn stains and ergonomic 3 gear reduction hand crank to allow easy rotation of the handle.

 The water recycler is located directly above the wash basin allowing you to remove all the excess water from your washed clothes and reuse it for the next load. We recommend washing whites before colours when using this reclaimer feature.

 The “Dolly” washer also has two handy fold away work benches on either side and comes fitted with wheels as standard, so you can wheel the washing machine out next to the clothes line and wash your clothes next to your environmentally friendly solar dryer. Once you have finished, use the handy tilt feature on the left hand side to empty the wash bowl and water your lawn at the same time (We advise using a low phosphorous detergent when using this feature). The environment will thank you every time you wash your clothes.

Built by Taylor and Wilson and dated 1879, this washing machine would have been state of the art at the time.  To wash clothes, water would have to be collected, (often in buckets by hand) and heated on a wood stove or over and open fire.  The hot water would then be bucketed into the wash trough. Clothes would be sorted not only into colours, but into levels of dirtiness.  As the water was used, and re-used again, the cleanest clothes would be washed first and the most soiled last. Each item would then be passed through the wringer to remove excess water before being hung on the line to dry.

Reflecting on the time and effort involved in using this washing machine makes me appreciate how little effort is required in washing clothes today, yet how much of a chore we still consider it to be. I cannot argue that the housekeepers and domestic helpers of the past had an easy job to do.

This behind the scenes artefact from QueenslandMuseum’s collection also highlights the nature of the progress made with technology,  our demand for helpful household appliances, and our dependence on the burning of fossil fuels to power the convenient tools we have created.

Have we as a society become too dependant on power and convenience through work/life pressure or just laziness? Is the constant push for the latest in technology and convenience also a push towards environmental degradation? I’m not suggesting that we all go back to hand washing our clothes but maybe we could find solutions to our current problems by looking into our past?

For more ideas and resources to teach science and technology in the classroom, and even looking for possible solutions to Global Warming and Climate Change visit QM Loans. Loans kits include, Early Queensland Living and Australian Inventions.

Behind the Scenes – Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup

Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup

 I have noticed that the overdosing of paracetamol to young children has hit the headlines again.  Jane Hanson of  The Sunday Telegraph wrote “half of all parents give their children paracetamol when they don’t need it – and many get the dose wrong.”

Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup Bottle: Queensland Museum

Well I am glad these overdosed children and their parents didn’t live in Brisbane in the late 1800s and early 1900s, or the outcome may have been far worse.  At this time, chemists sold a medicine called Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. The syrup was the invention of Mrs. Charlotte N. Winslow and first marketed by her son-in-law Jeremiah Curtis and Benjamin A. Perkins in Bangor, Maine, USA in 1849. Their advertising said “it is perfectly harmless and pleasant to taste, it produces natural quiet sleep by relieving the child from pain”.  However, often parents were “relieved of all further care of their infants” through its use. ” (American Medical Times 1860)

The formula consists of Morphine Sulfate (An opiate analgesic related to heroin), sodium carbonate (water softener), spirits foeniculi (an alcohol that seems to be only associated with this product), and aqua ammonia (a cleaning agent). I find it had to believe that it was “pleasant to taste”.

Courtesy of the US National Library of Medicine, here’s an 1885 advertising image produced by Meyer, Merkell & Ottmann in New York.

The product was widely marketed through newspapers, parenting information and even postcards and found favour with solders returning from the battlefields of World War I.

It was eventually withdrawn from sale here in Queensland after State Government investigation into child deaths associated with the medicine.

The results eventually contributed to the strict controls we have in our pharmacies today and the process drug companies must complete before their products are certified.