NASA scientist, PBS ‘Star Gazers’ to give presentation during free ‘Starry Night’ event Nov. 4

October 26th, 2016

17598-starry-night-digital-materials_fbgraphic3GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History visitors will have the opportunity to view the moon and planets with astronomy experts Nov. 4 from 6 to 10 p.m. during the museum’s annual “Starry Night” event.

The guest speaker for this year’s program is Cathy Olkin, the deputy project scientist for NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, who will present “Our New View of Pluto,” featuring images of Pluto’s large glacier and mountains. Olkin will answer audience questions following the presentation.

“Astronomy is a science that everyone can engage with,” Olkin said. “You look in the sky and see planets, stars and the Milky Way. For many, this can spur curiosity about other fields of science.”

This year’s event also features James Albury and (more…)

Paleontologists seek volunteers to dig fossils at new Levy County site

October 21st, 2016
Gainesville resident and volunteer Peter Roode discovered this jaw of a Borophagus hilli. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Gainesville resident and volunteer Peter Roode discovered this Borophagus jaw.
Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History paleontologists are recruiting volunteers to help excavate a recently discovered site in eastern Levy County that has produced thousands of fossils, including more than 55 vertebrate species.

Researchers are enthusiastic about the 5- to 5.5 million-year-old fossils being recovered and say it is the first site of this particular age found in North Central Florida.

“No other fossil site of this age in the southeastern United States produces such a rich abundance of freshwater vertebrates,” said Florida Museum curator of vertebrate paleontology Jonathan Bloch. “This is an important resource in understanding the evolutionary history of this ecosystem in the region.”

Volunteers, who dig side-by-side with museum staff, must be at least 15 years old, and (more…)

UF Cultural Plaza festival features hands-on science, art activities

October 18th, 2016
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History, Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida Performing Arts and Southwest Recreation Center will host the first UF Cultural Plaza Festival from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday featuring free exhibit tours, dance performances and other indoor and outside activities for visitors of all ages.

The Florida Museum will host a pop-up museum where guests may bring fossils from home to identify them with scientists and touch real shark and ray fossils. Visitors may also help transcribe data, including information from 180 images of Alachua County fall flowers, as part of WeDigBio, (more…)

‘Museums for All’ program strives to increase access for low-income visitors

October 3rd, 2016

museums-for-all-logo_rgbGAINESVILLE, Fla. — Beginning today, the Florida Museum of Natural History is offering reduced admission to low-income guests as part of a nationwide program to encourage museum visitation and accessibility for families from all socioeconomic groups.

Guests who present a valid electronic benefits transfer card may enter the “Butterfly Rainforest” and featured exhibition for a reduced fee of $3 per adult as part of “Museums for All,” an initiative of the Association of Children’s Museums and Institute of Museum and Library Services.

“We hope this program will expand access and provide meaningful connections to science in our community,” said Darcie MacMahon, (more…)

Curator Bruce MacFadden named president-elect of Paleontological Society

September 21st, 2016
Bruce MacFadden is a curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum. Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage

Bruce MacFadden is a curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum.
Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A Florida Museum of Natural History curator has been selected to serve as president-elect of the Paleontological Society, the largest professional organization devoted to advancing the study of fossil animals and plants.

Bruce MacFadden, distinguished University of Florida professor and Florida Museum curator of vertebrate paleontology, will take office Sept. 25 during the society’s annual meeting in Denver. He will serve two years as president-elect and then a two-year term as president.

“It is an honor to lead the Paleontological Society,” MacFadden said. “I am interested in reaching out to anyone who wants to be involved with fossils and paleontology, whether they are professionals, students, teachers, hobbyists or other members of the general public.”

MacFadden was a geology instructor at Yale University before he began working at the Florida Museum in 1977. His research focuses on the evolution, (more…)

A reptilian anachronism: American alligator older than we thought

September 16th, 2016

New study also shows it shared ancient Florida with giant crocodiles

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — From climate to the peninsula’s very shape, not much in Florida has stayed the same over the last 8 million years.

Standing in the Florida Museum of Natural History’s exhibit “Florida Fossils,” David Steadman holds a 20,000-year-old American Alligator fossil skull pulled from the Ichetucknee River in north Florida. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

Florida Museum researcher David Steadman displays a 20,000-year-old American alligator fossil skull from the Ichetucknee River in north Florida.
Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

Except, it turns out, alligators.

While many of today’s top predators are more recent products of evolution, the modern American alligator is a reptile quite literally from another time. New University of Florida research shows these prehistoric-looking creatures have remained virtually untouched by major evolutionary change for at least 8 million years, and may be up to 6 million years older than previously thought. Besides some sharks and
a handful of others, very few living vertebrate species have such a long duration in the fossil record with so little change.

“If we could step back in time 8 million years, you’d basically see the same animal crawling around then as you would see today in the Southeast. Even 30 million years ago, they didn’t look much different,” said Evan Whiting, a former UF undergraduate and  (more…)

Celebrate wildlife during 11th annual ButterflyFest Oct. 1

September 9th, 2016

17531-bfest-fb_4_fnlGAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History visitors will have the opportunity to learn about the significant role butterflies have in nature during ButterflyFest on Saturday, Oct. 1.

The free event from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. features live butterfly releases, workshops and activities for all ages. This year’s theme, “Why Butterflies Matter,” highlights the ecological importance of butterflies, including serving as environmental indicators and the flagship species for conservation. The insects also are model organisms for many areas of biology research.

“Butterflies are important biological indicators of a healthy environment and ecosystem,” said Jaret Daniels, associate curator and director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. “These charismatic ‘gateway bugs’ also help stimulate interest in nature, (more…)

iDigBio project receives $15.5 million NSF grant to digitize biodiversity collections

September 8th, 2016

new_cover_FINALGAINESVILLE, Fla. — Fossil primates, ancient mollusks and exotic butterflies will soon be coming to your home—as long as you have a personal computer.

This week, the National Science Foundation awarded a five-year, $15.5 million grant to the iDigBio project based at the University of Florida to continue leading the national effort to digitize biodiversity collections and make them available online.

iDigBio combines the efforts of the Florida Museum of Natural History, UF’s College of Engineering Advanced Computing Information Systems Laboratory and the Institute for Digital Information and Scientific Communication at Florida State University.

Initiated by the NSF’s Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections program in 2011, iDigBio aims to make the vast amount of information in biodiversity collections readily available online. Collaborating with faculty and (more…)

‘Butterfly Rainforest’ exhibit to close at 4 p.m. through Oct. 6

August 16th, 2016
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The “Butterfly Rainforest” exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History will close early at 4 p.m., with last admission at 3:30 p.m., beginning Wednesday through Oct. 6 for scheduled maintenance.

The exhibit also will be closed all day on Wednesday, Sept. 7, and Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016, for installation and removal of scaffolding.

Chase Permann, Florida Museum facility coordinator for exhibits and public programs, said the work includes pressure washing, sanding, (more…)

How did primate brains get so big?

August 11th, 2016

New study sheds light on evolution of human, ape intelligence

A translucent image of Notharctus tenebrous’s skull, showing a virtually constructed brain. Top (bottom right), bottom (bottom left) and side views are shown here. Scan courtesy of Arianna Harrington

This translucent image of a Notharctus tenebrosus skull shows a virtually constructed brain. A side view, top, and bottom and top views of the skull are pictured.
Scan courtesy of Arianna Harrington

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Virtual brains reconstructed from ancient, kiwi-sized primate skulls could help resolve one of the most intriguing evolutionary mysteries: how modern primates developed large brains.

University of Florida paleontologists found clues in the remarkably preserved skulls of adapiforms, lemur-like primates that scurried around the tropical forests of Wyoming about 50 million years ago. Thought to be a link between primitive and advanced primates, their fossil skulls were the best evidence available for understanding the neuroanatomy of the earliest ancestors of modern primates. But there was just one problem—the brain cavities of the fragile skulls contained only rock and (more…)

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