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.

Sea Spiders – from the South Pole to the Tropics

Dr Claudia Arango, a research fellow at Queensland Museum, is one of the few world specialists on pycnogonids (or sea spiders). She has been working on Australian fauna since 1998.

Dr Claudia Arango

Claudia studies these spiders to work out how they evolved; their ecology; relationships among the families and species; and to help understand their position in the arthropod Tree of Life.

Claudia is currently leading a three-year project with an international team of researchers studying the diversification and evolutionary history of sea spiders in Antarctica. She is interested in the connections Australasian species have to Antarctic and deep-sea species.

Antarctic sea spiders tend to be bigger, more abundant, and more diverse than their relatives from warmer locations, particularly the tropics.

The image below shows representative species from four different lineages of sea spiders (Pycnogonida). Nymphon unguiculatum (top left) and Decolopoda australis (top right), a spectacular ten-legged form, both from Antarctica. Endeis mollis is a common tropical species, here feeding on corals from the Great Barrier Reef (bottom left), and Eurycyde raphiaster mostly found in shallow tropical waters from the Caribbean to the Indo-Pacific (bottom right).

In her research, Claudia and her colleagues have found certain ‘hot spots’ of biodiversity in benthic organisms in the icy deep Antarctic waters. They are determining baseline measures so future studies can determine the effects of climate change on existing species abundance and distribution.

Sea spiders feed on a variety of sessile organisms, (or ones that are fixed in one place), particularly bryozoans, which are known to be very susceptible to climate change.

What will be the effect of ice melting and other climate changes on sea floor communities?

To learn more about Claudia’s research visit her Biography Page.

Behind the Scenes: The Mimeograph

What did teachers do before photocopiers?

Prior to the commercialisation of the photocopier, many schools used a duplicator.  There are two types of duplicator, a spirit duplicator which uses a multi layered, ink impregnated wax based master copy and a mimeograph which uses a single layered waxed paper master copy.

To prepare a spirit duplicator master a teacher would write or type onto the top sheet. The pressure applied would transfer some of the wax from the bottom sheet onto the back of the top sheet.  This wax, which was impregnated with ink, usually aniline purple, would form a “negative” image of the back of the original document.  The negative would then be wrapped around a drum. Spirits would then be applied to the paper which would dissolve a little of the ink in the wax as it came into contact with rotating negative.  This dissolved ink would dry on the paper, forming a copy of the original.

A Mimeograph uses a single sheet of waxed paper.  When the paper was typed or written on, the wax would be dislodged creating a stencil through which ink could be passed.  Once the stencil was complete, it was placed on an ink filled drum.  When paper was forced between the drum and a roller, ink was forced through the stencil onto the paper forming the copy.

So why would Queensland Museum keep an example of a mimeograph?  Prior to World War II, these sorts of duplicating machines were imported from the United States.  With wartime restrictions on shipping, the supply of these machines ceased, yet the demand grew. A Brisbane stationary company and importer of mimeograph machines, Jackson & O’Sullivan, saw this as an opportunity and started to produce their own version, “The NATIONAL” duplicator.  Different components were produced around Brisbane with the final assembly taking place on the fifth floor of the company’s Queen Street premises. The duplicator was a sales success with examples even purchased by the United States Navy for use in the Pacific theatre.

Unfortunately, like a lot of Australia’s wartime manufacturing industries, production of “the National” mimeograph ceased after the war as trade re-commenced and products from around the world came back onto the market.

For more ideas and resources to teach science and technology in the classroom visit QM Loans. Loans kits include Telecommunications, Early Queensland Living and Australian Inventions.