GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new study involving more than 100 researchers from 10 countries, including the University of Florida, has reconstructed the insect tree of life and found, among other things, that insects ruled the land 400 million years ago.
The cover story in Friday’s issue of the journal Science answers many long-held questions about the evolution of the world’s largest and most biodiverse group of animals, information essential to understanding the millions of living insect species that shape our terrestrial living space and support and threaten our natural resources.
The new tree of life incorporated many fossils, making it the first dated evolutionary tree of this magnitude, said co-author Akito Kawahara, assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, who leads the butterfly and moth initiative for the ongoing project.
“Until now, we didn’t have a good understanding of how these diverse groups of insects are related to each other,” “Until now, we didn’t have a good understanding of how these diverse groups of insects are related to each other,” said Kawahara, a researcher in the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, which holds one of the world’s largest collections of butterflies and moths. “Many insects important to everyday life and scientific research were included in the study, (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — One man’s trash will be another man’s treasure during the 16th annual Trashformations student recycled art competition awards ceremony at the Florida Museum of Natural History from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Nov. 21.
Middle school, high school and college students are eligible to enter the contest, which requires entries contain at least 70 percent recycled materials. The application deadline is Nov. 14, and entries must be delivered to the Florida Museum on Nov. 20 between noon and 5 p.m.
“Trashformations showcases the museum’s commitment to sustainability in our practices and exhibitions,” said Florida Museum educator Tiffany Ireland.
Judges select winners based on creative expression and innovative use of reused materials. Students in each level compete for cash and other awards, and the Florida Museum will display winning entries through Dec. 1.
The Florida Museum hosts the Trashformations awards ceremony in collaboration with the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners and Office of Waste Alternatives.
Patrick Irby, an Alachua County waste alternative specialist, said discarded materials, either buried or burned, impact human lives every day. Buried garbage can leak into soil and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s written in the stars that Florida Museum of Natural History visitors will have an opportunity to observe the universe with astronomy experts during the eighth annual Starry Night from 6 to 10 p.m. Nov. 14.
Visitors can stargaze during a planetarium show and with professional-quality telescopes provided by area astronomists at this free, family-friendly event. A 3-D “AstroWall” will also allow visitors to view the cosmos in another dimension.
Representatives from the Alachua Astronomy Club, Santa Fe College natural sciences department’s astronomy program, the Kika Silva Pla Planetarium and UF astronomy department will help visitors uncover the mysteries of the night sky.
“I think people love space because it is something we are completely surrounded by but also something most of us have never experienced first-hand,” said Florida Museum educator Amanda Harvey. “We’re really lucky to have an opportunity like Starry Night where people that specialize in the field come together to share what they’ve learned and are learning to help us understand space and to make it more familiar.”
The event features UF astronomy department professor Fred Hamann who will discuss “Quasars and Black Holes: A Journey Toward the Gravitational Abyss.”
Attendees will earn a prize by tracking their activities with a “Passport to the Universe.” They also have an opportunity to dine under the stars by visiting the event’s food vendor, High Springs Orchard and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new University of Florida study dismisses claims that megalodon is still alive by determining a date of extinction for the largest predatory shark to ever live.
Researchers from UF and the University of Zurich hope the study appearing online today in the journal PLOS ONE showing the species became extinct 2.6 million years ago will clarify public confusion. The study may also one day help scientists better understand the potential widespread effects of losing the planet’s top predators, said lead author Catalina Pimiento.
“I was drawn to the study of Carcharocles megalodon’s extinction because it is fundamental to know when species became extinct to then begin to understand the causes and consequences of such an event,” said Pimiento, a doctoral candidate at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “I also think people who are interested in this animal deserve to know what the scientific evidence shows, especially following Discovery Channel specials that implied megalodon may still be alive.”
The study represents the first phase of Pimiento’s ongoing reconstruction of megalodon’s extinction. As modern top predators, especially large sharks, are significantly declining worldwide due to the current biodiversity crisis, Pimiento said this study serves as the basis to better understand the consequences of these changes.
“When you remove large sharks, then small sharks are very abundant and they consume more of the invertebrates that we humans eat,” Pimiento said. “Recent estimations show that large-bodied, shallow-water species of sharks are at greatest risk among marine animals, and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are invited to get a closer look at the natural world by participating in their next adventure at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
On Nov. 9, Girl Scouts will have the opportunity to practice scientific investigation at the Florida Museum’s “She’s A Scientist: A Girl Scout Exploration” program.
The program from 1 to 4 p.m. allows Brownie or Junior Girl Scouts to experience hands-on activities and experiments while meeting local scientists. The Scouts can earn a museum patch created for the event.
“I am very excited for this new program,” said Florida Museum educator Amanda Harvey. “The Scouts will have a unique opportunity to meet with many of our local scientists and to learn what kind of research is being done right here in Gainesville.”
The program is $5 per Scout including the patch. Girls may attend with their guardians or (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History is planning a “fintastic” celebration for the “Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived” exhibit from 1 to 4 p.m. Oct. 26.
The free, family-friendly event celebrates the prehistoric shark and its connections to modern-day species, including conservation efforts needed to protect sharks.
“I hope visitors are inspired to learn about their environment’s past and protect their environment’s future,” said Florida Museum educator Tiffany Ireland.
Employees and students from the museum’s departments of ichthyology, invertebrate paleontology and paleobotany, as well as the FOSSIL program, will have displays on sharks and fossils. Visitors may also speak with representatives from the Florida Paleontological Society, Florida Fossil Hunters and other area fossil clubs about their discoveries and research, including prehistoric sharks that swam over and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Many native species have vanished from tropical islands because of human impact, but University of Florida scientists have discovered how fossils can be used to restore lost biodiversity.
The key lies in organic materials found in fossil bones, which contain evidence for how ancient ecosystems functioned, according to a new study available online and in the September issue of the Journal of Herpetology. Pre-human island ecosystems provide vital clues for saving endangered island species and re-establishing native species, said lead author Alex Hastings, who conducted work for the study as graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History and UF department of geological sciences.
“Our work is particularly relevant to endangered species that are currently living in marginal environments,” said Hastings, currently a post-doctoral researcher at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. “A better understanding of species’ natural roles in ecosystems untouched by people might improve their prospects for survival.”
Thousands of years ago, the largest carnivore and herbivore on the Bahamian island of Abaco disappeared. The study reconstructs the ancient food web of Abaco where these two mega-reptiles, the endangered Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Visitors are invited to flutter, flap and frolic at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s ninth annual ButterflyFest from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 4.
The free event features live butterfly releases, butterfly gardening workshops and one of the museum’s largest plant sales of the year. The three-day sale from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 3-5 includes more than 150 species and 2,500 plants.
“ButterflyFest is one of the museum’s signature events and fun for everyone,” said Florida Museum public programs coordinator Catherine Carey. “There is something for the serious and casual gardener, as well as families, scouts and students.”
The event celebrates the importance of backyard wildlife with an emphasis on pollinators like butterflies, bees and birds by providing family-friendly activities and presentations. This year’s theme is “Wings, Wildlife and Biodiversity.” The festival also features a children’s activity area, entertainment and food and merchandise vendors.
Festival attendees may march in costume at the Pollinator Parade, watch the University of Florida juggling club Objects in Motion and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Students will have the opportunity to investigate monster myths and explore celebrations from around the world with the Florida Museum of Natural History during school holiday camps Nov. 24-25.
Pre-registration for students enrolled in grades K-5 for the 2014-2015 school year is required for all camps and is available online at http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/events/camps/school-holiday/. The camps provide natural history exploration through museum exhibits and hands-on activities.
“Museum camps are all about having fun while learning,” said Florida Museum public programs coordinator Catherine Carey.
On Nov. 24, students will explore the “Monster Myths” behind megalodon, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and giant squids, and learn about the difference between science and storytelling. This camp complements the museum’s featured fall exhibit, “Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived,” which explores the evolution, biology and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Over the past 4 million years, North American fauna migrated to South America via the Isthmus of Panama. University of Florida scientists and K-12 educators recently made the same trek to dig up the past.
A new $350,000 National Science Foundation grant is engaging Florida Museum of Natural History researchers with K-12 science educators in the real world of science through fieldwork and collaboration, including a two-week trip to Panama last month.
Florida teachers, including three from Gainesville area schools and one from Tampa, joined educators from California and New Mexico in Panama to work with scientists discovering fossils that tell the story of the Great American Interchange—the dispersal of plants and animals from North America to South America and vice versa, said project leader UF Bruce MacFadden, Florida Museum vertebrate paleontology curator and (more…)