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…)

New species of threatened Florida indigo snake could aid conservation efforts

August 1st, 2016
Florida Museum researchers describe a new species, the Gulf Coast indigo snake, Drymarchon kolpobasileus, pictured here, in a study published in Zootaxa this month. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kenneth L. Krysko

Florida Museum researchers recently described a new species, the Gulf Coast indigo snake, pictured here.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kenneth L. Krysko

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — They seem similar at first glance, but it turns out the indigo snakes found on Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts are not two of a kind.

Ten years of research by Florida Museum of Natural History scientists led to new information about the origins of Florida’s largest native snake species, which may impact efforts by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to conserve the reptiles and their environments.

Museum researchers confirmed that two distinct lineages of indigo snakes live on opposite sides of Florida. Differences in the genetics and appearances of the Gulf Coast and (more…)

First ‘Murder Mystery at the Museum’ program set for Aug. 3

July 22nd, 2016

17542 Murder Mystery_fb1_FNLGAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History will host its first murder mystery event Aug. 3 as part of the University of Florida Creative B program.

The “Murder Mystery at the Museum” event features an interactive theatrical show presented by a company from Orlando, and guests are encouraged to come help crack the case dressed in 1920s attire.

“This is a great opportunity to get the best of both worlds,” said Paul Van Duyn, The Murder Mystery Company assistant private sales manager. “You get to enjoy ‘Wicked Plants: The Exhibit’ and participate in a fully immersive murder mystery event that has connections to the exhibit.”

The opening reception begins at 6 p.m. with heavy hors d’oeuvres and (more…)

Map of Life named among 2016 best teaching, learning apps

July 14th, 2016

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The American Association of School Libraries recently announced its 2016 list of the Best Apps for Teaching & Learning, including the interactive data-gathering application Map of Life created by a partnership between the University of Florida and Yale University.

Built on 100 years of knowledge, users can log, track and identify species from anywhere in the world thanks to a recording feature on the mobile app. Citizen scientists contribute to the biodiversity data available to scientists by (more…)

Cicadas are the Barry White of the insect world

July 11th, 2016
A new study shows Emblemasoma erro flies like this mating pair are attracted to cicada calls. Photo courtesy of Brian Stucky

A new study shows Emblemasoma erro flies like this mating pair are attracted to cicada calls.
Photo courtesy of Brian Stucky

Summer days resonate with the sound of cicadas trying to make a love connection. But like a lot of singles, male cicadas don’t always attract the kind of mates they’re hoping for.

Cicada calls, it turns out, attract not just female cicadas, but sarcophagid flies in the mood for love, according to a study by Brian J. Stucky, a post-doctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.

Here’s where it gets weird. The love song also attracts pregnant sarcophagid flies looking to deposit maggots that burrow into the cicada and (more…)

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