Study finds central image of Aztec sun stone shows dying sun god killed by eclipse

March 27th, 2017
Aztec sun stone color illustration

Evidence suggests the sun god’s face was unpainted or colored black, as shown in this illustration, representing the sun darkened during an eclipse. Florida Museum of Natural History graphic by James Young, with images from El Commandant and Keepscases / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new study on one of the most important remaining artifacts from the Aztec Empire, a 24-ton basalt calendar stone, interprets the stone’s central image as the death of the sun god Tonatiuh during an eclipse, an event Aztecs believed would lead to a global apocalypse accompanied by earthquakes.

Many scientists believe the heart of the stone to be the face of Tonatiuh (pronounced toe-NAH-tee-uh), atop which Aztecs offered human sacrifices to stave off the end of the world. Researcher Susan Milbrath, a Latin American art and archaeology curator (more…)

New beer with augmented reality label supports endangered Miami blue butterfly

March 21st, 2017

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History is partnering with First Magnitude Brewing Co. on a new limited-edition beer to help conserve the critically endangered Miami blue butterfly.

glass of Miami Blue Bock beer

A portion of the proceeds from sales of the new Miami Blue Bock will support the Florida Museum’s Miami blue research program. Photo courtesy of Jaret Daniels

Miami Blue Bock, a medium-bodied, malty, golden lager, will debut during a special event Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. at First Magnitude, 1220 SE Veitch St. Entry is free. Drafts and six-packs of the beer will be discounted with the purchase of a $10 wristband. All wristband sales and a portion of the proceeds from beer, drinking glasses and T-shirt sales support the museum’s Miami blue research program.

Cans of Miami Blue Bock, as well as drinking glasses and T-shirts, sport augmented reality features: After downloading the free Libraries of Life app, anyone can use a mobile device to scan the Miami Blue Bock logo for a 3-D projection of the butterfly, an audio narrative about its biology and photos of its life stages.


Plant sale March 24-26 features new native, pollinator-friendly species

March 17th, 2017

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History will host its spring plant sale March 24-25 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and March 26 from 1-5 p.m. in the University of Florida Cultural Plaza on Hull Road.

people look at plants

Attendees of the fall 2014 sale look at plants available for purchase. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

More than 150 species will be available with prices ranging from $3 to $15, including many varieties of Florida native flowers, shrubs and trees.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to get some butterfly-oriented plants if people are interested in starting a garden,” said Ryan Fessenden, assistant manager of the Florida Museum’s “Butterfly Rainforest” exhibit.

This year’s sale includes fruit trees as well as two new species of native azaleas.

A complete list of available plants may be viewed online at (more…)

Dig into geology at 11th annual ‘Can You Dig It?’ March 18

March 3rd, 2017

Editors note: A complete list of activities follows this release

Visitors enjoy activities during the 2015 "Can You Dig It?" program. Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

Visitors enjoy activities during the 2015 “Can You Dig It?” program.
Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History visitors will have the opportunity to discover Earth’s ever-changing landscape through immersive activities including a virtual reality headset, erupting volcanoes and more during the 11th annual “Can You Dig It?” event March 18 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This free, fun-for-all-ages geology program includes hands-on activities and demonstrations to provide visitors with a better understanding of the Earth’s environment and the role its processes plays in our lives.

“There are many interactive activities that are geared for a wide range of ages,” said program coordinator Matt Smith, a senior lecturer and undergraduate adviser in the University of Florida department of (more…)

Elegance of Science art contest winners to be honored March 21

March 2nd, 2017

This photograph of a mosquito, Psorophora ferox, carrying a load of botfly eggs in French Guiana won first place.
Photo by Lawrence Reeves

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The winning entries in this year’s Elegance of Science art contest — ranging from a mosquito carrying a load of botfly eggs to a representation of cells in the olfactory bulb of a human brain — will be recognized during an award ceremony at the Florida Museum of Natural History from noon to 1:30 p.m. March 21.

Several winners also will present the science behind their images in a series of short talks during the celebration of the diversity of scientific exploration throughout the University of Florida. The free event to be held in the museum’s Lucille T. Maloney classroom at 3215 Hull Road in the UF Cultural Plaza is open to the public. Attendees arriving early may enjoy refreshments catered by Panera Bread.

The Marston Science Library and Florida Museum organize the annual competition for UF students, staff and faculty who create two-dimensional images as part of their research or that feature scientific tools or concepts. The contest emphasizes the connection between artistic and (more…)

Summer, field camp registration begins March 15

March 1st, 2017

A camp participant uses clay to create a leaf imprint.
Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History invites students to dive into the sciences during summer and field camps, including a new program featuring the “Frogs! A Chorus of Colors” exhibit.

General registration opens March 15, and Florida Museum members may register early beginning today. Pre-registration is required and is available online at

Camps are designed for students in grades 1 through 8 for the 2017-18 school year and run from June 12 to Aug. 4. Students in grades 5 through 8 may register for the “Lep Camp” that teaches about butterfly research or the nature photography field camp, which (more…)

Mollusk graveyards are time machines to oceans’ pristine past

February 28th, 2017

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A Florida Museum of Natural History study shows that mollusk fossils provide a reliable measure of human-driven changes in marine ecosystems and shifts in ocean biodiversity.

collection of mollusk shells

Shells left behind by dead mollusks provide a glimpse into how marine ecosystems looked before human activities altered them.
Photo courtesy of Carrie Tyler

Collecting data from the shells of dead mollusks is a low-impact way of glimpsing how oceans looked before pollution, habitat loss, acidification and explosive algae growth threatened marine life worldwide. Mollusk fossils can inform current and future conservation and restoration efforts, said Michal Kowalewski, the Jon L. and Beverly A. Thompson Chair of Invertebrate Paleontology and the study’s principal investigator.

“You can think of these fossils as marine time machines that can unveil bygone habitats that existed before humans altered them,” he said. “Shells can help us understand past marine life and more precisely gauge recent changes in marine ecosystems. Fossils are the only direct way of learning what these ecosystems looked like before human activities disturbed them.”


Florida Museum to host 40th annual herpetological conference

February 20th, 2017

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Snake, frog, turtle and lizard enthusiasts from around the world will gather at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s 40th annual herpetological conference in March.

The symposium will bring together amateurs and professionals for talks, workshops and exhibits on the latest herpetology research March 25-26 at the Wyndham Garden Gainesville, 2900 SW 13th St.

Turtle head looking up at reflection

Conference session topics include threatened species, such as the alligator snapping turtle, pictured here.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Eric Zamora

“This will be a chance to learn about new species from all over the world, from here in Florida all the way to Africa,” said Max Nickerson, a herpetology curator at the Florida Museum. “It’s also an opportunity to meet with colleagues of diverse age groups who share common interests.”

Students with valid identification and adults can register to attend and present at the conference online or mail their registration to Max Nickerson, University of Florida, P.O. Box 117800, Gainesville, FL 32611-7800. Registration is $55 for students and $119 for adults. The cost for an adult one-day pass is $89, and a ticket to the social, dinner and live auction is $35.

Conference organizers are (more…)

Museum to mark 100th anniversary with gala, new exhibits and more

February 14th, 2017

The Florida Museum of Natural History is celebrating its 100-year anniversary as the official state natural history museum with a series of special events this year.

On Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, the museum will host a gala from 6 to 11 p.m. at Powell Hall on the University of Florida campus, with dinner, live entertainment and dancing.

Other anniversary weekend activities include a public presentation featuring National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, who will speak at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, April 21 at 8 p.m.

An exclusive birthday party for museum members is planned for Tuesday, May 30.

New exhibits include the permanent “Beverly and Jon Thompson Discovery Zone” scheduled to open July 17 (more…)

Extinct tortoise from Bahamas yields oldest tropical DNA

February 10th, 2017

An extinct tortoise species that accidentally tumbled into a water-filled limestone sinkhole in the Bahamas about 1,000 years ago has finally made its way out, with much of its DNA intact.

tortoise fossil shell under water

The extinct tortoise fossil shown here was discovered by divers about 75 feet below the surface of Sawmill Sink in the Bahamas. Florida Museum of Natural History photo courtesy of Nancy Albury

As the first sample of ancient DNA retrieved from an extinct tropical species, this genetic material could help provide insights into the history of the Caribbean tropics and the reptiles that dominated them, said University of Florida ornithologist David Steadman. It could also offer clues to the region’s future, as the tropics undergo significant transformation due to climate change.

“This is the first time
anyone has been able to put a tropical species into an evolutionary context with molecular data,” said Steadman, an ornithology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus and co-author of the study discussing the finding.

“And being able to fit together the tortoise’s evolutionary history together will help us better understand today’s tropical species, many of which are endangered.”

He called the finding “boundary-pushing” and said (more…)

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