New study shows megalodon shark became extinct 2.6 million years ago

October 22nd, 2014
Pimiento in lab

Lead researcher Catalina Pimiento measures a megalodon tooth at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

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 (more…)

Answer to restoring lost island biodiversity found in fossils

September 22nd, 2014
Croc skull

A new study shows scientists are only beginning to understand the roles of native species in prehistoric island ecosystems. Researchers discovered this 3,000-year-old fossil skull of a Cuban Crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer, in the Bahamas. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

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 (more…)

Celebrate ninth annual ButterflyFest Oct. 4

September 18th, 2014

12694 BFest Digital Material_FB2GAINESVILLE, 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 (more…)

Marston Library, museum resurrect science art contest

July 28th, 2014

12790-The-Elegance-of-Science-rotatorGAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida Elegance of Science art competition that stresses the connection between artistic and scientific perceptions of reality is now accepting submissions until Dec. 20.

After a three-year hiatus, the Marston Science Library and Florida Museum of Natural History are re-introducing the contest to UF students, staff and faculty who have created two-dimensional images as part of their research or that feature scientific tools or concepts.

Art is often sacrificed in schools because people emphasize science for students’ (more…)

Buchholz High School student wins prestigious grant to research moth wings

July 24th, 2014
Zhong

High school senior Minjia Zhong holds a Saturniid moth, Citheronia splendens, while conducting fieldwork in Arizona.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Geena Hill

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A high school student working in the Florida Museum of Natural History McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity recently received a $2,000 Mu Alpha Theta grant to research moth wings.

Only about a dozen U.S. high school students receive the grant each summer from the national high school and two-year college mathematics honor society.

The grant will allow Buchholz High School senior Minjia Zhong to complete a paper she wrote and submit it for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

“A $2,000 research grant is an incredible accomplishment for someone who has yet to start college,” said Florida Museum assistant curator of Lepidoptera Akito Kawahara, who is supervising Zhong’s research.

Zhong uses her math skills to apply and understand geometric morphometrics, a field of statistics used to quantify complex shapes. Kawahara said Florida Museum researchers think diverse wing shapes evolved as a defense against nocturnal predators, such as bats.

Zhong said she developed an interest in moths as a collections assistant through the Florida Museum’s summer Junior Volunteer Program, and studying wing shapes of the Saturniidae moth family satisfied her desire to combine math and (more…)

Community support sought for butterfly gardens at local schools

July 17th, 2014
Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

A monarch butterfly feeds on a Fragrant Delight Heliotrope plant in the Butterfly Rainforest.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Many young children today are disconnected from the natural world, but a project to plant local butterfly gardens in area schools is closing the gap that exists between urban students and nature.

Florida Museum of Natural History scientists partnered with educators at Duval Elementary School last fall to open children’s eyes to the unique metamorphosis that occurs during butterfly development and the responsibilities involved in caring for a garden. Now, the museum is raising funds and accepting plant donations for gardens at other schools, including a project at Williams Elementary School set to begin this fall.

“We live in an environment where kids do not have enough exposure to nature in order to learn how it operates,” said Duval teacher Anterria Ellerbe. “Thanks to the garden, these students do (more…)

Active military, families receive free admission May 26-Sept. 1

May 6th, 2014

BSM-no-tagGAINESVILLE, Fla. — As part of the Blue Star Museums program, the Florida Museum of Natural History will offer free admission to all fee-based exhibits for active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day 2014.

This is the third consecutive year the Florida Museum has participated in the Blue Star program, a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense and more than 2,000 museums across America. The program runs from May 26 through Sept. 1.

“We are honored to be part of the Blue Star Museums program and help provide our nation’s active duty military personnel with a high-quality museum experience,” said associate curator for Lepidoptera Jaret Daniels, who also oversees the museum’s exhibits and (more…)

Museum researcher receives 2013-2014 UF Excellence Award

May 2nd, 2014

Neill Wallis Swift Creek Pottery lowresGAINESVILLE, Fla. — A Florida Museum of Natural History researcher recently received a 2013-2014 UF Excellence Award for his research on social networks and communities in pre-Columbian North America.

Neill Wallis, assistant curator in Florida archaeology, was one of 10 University of Florida assistant professors selected to receive the award. Recognizing excellence in research from junior faculty, the $5,000 award may be used to fund travel, equipment, books, graduate student assistants and other research-related expenses.

Wallis’ research programs focus on the development and change of Native American social networks and communities between 3,000 and 500 years ago. Centered primarily on Florida and the southeastern United States, his research more broadly redefines understandings of political and social life in these societies.

“Dr. Wallis is an exceptional young faculty member whose scholarly productivity is outstanding,” said Florida Museum Director Doug Jones, who nominated Wallis for the award.

Since 2011, in addition to senior authorship on six peer-reviewed articles and five book chapters (more…)

Barbara Ornstein, Robert Tarnuzzer named 2014 volunteers of the year

April 11th, 2014
The 2014 James Pope Cheney Volunteer of the Year Award was given to Barbara Ornstein for her contributions to exhibits and public programs and to Robert Tarnuzzer for his work in vertebrate paleontology collections. Florida Museum photos by Kristen Grace

The Florida Museum named Barbara Ornstein and Robert Tarnuzzer its 2014 volunteers of the year.
Florida Museum of Natural History photos by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Hard work has paid off for Barbara Ornstein and Robert Tarnuzzer, who were recognized last week by the Florida Museum of Natural History as winners of the 2014 James Pope Cheney Volunteer of the Year Award.

Ornstein served 199 hours at the museum during 2013 and has completed more than 1,600 hours since she began volunteering in 2000. In addition to her role as a school programs docent, she also participates in outreach programs and exhibit fabrication.

“The keyword that I think best describes Barbara’s volunteer work here at the museum is ‘versatility,’ ” said Center for Science Learning project manager Dale Johnson.

Tarnuzzer served more than 443 hours in the museum’s vertebrate paleontology collections during 2013 and has completed more than 2,800 hours since becoming a volunteer in 2007. He collects fossils in the field and (more…)

Study shows ‘dinosaurs of the turtle world’ at risk in Southeast rivers

April 10th, 2014
This alligator snapping turtle was photographed on the Suwannee River in 2011 after being caught in a trap as part of a three-year research project. Photo courtesy of Kevin Enge

This alligator snapping turtle was photographed on the Suwannee River in 2011 after being caught in a trap as part of a three-year research project.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Enge

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Conservation of coastal rivers of the northern Gulf of Mexico is vital to the survival of the alligator snapping turtle, including two recently discovered species, University of Florida scientists say.

A new study appearing this week in the journal Zootaxa shows the alligator snapping turtle, the largest freshwater turtle in the Western Hemisphere and previously believed to be one species, is actually three separate species.

The limited distribution of the species, known to weigh as much 200 pounds, could potentially affect the conservation of rivers the turtles inhabit, including the Suwannee, said lead author Travis Thomas, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission scientist and former Florida Museum of Natural History volunteer who began the research as a UF wildlife ecology and conservation student.

“We have to be especially careful with our management of the Suwannee River species because this turtle exists only in that river and its tributaries,” Thomas said. “If something catastrophic were to occur, such as a chemical spill or something that affects the entire river, it could potentially devastate this species. The turtle is extremely limited by its habitat. All it has is this river and it has nowhere else to go.”

In the study, scientists revised the genus Macrochelys, often called the “dinosaurs of the turtle world” by lay people, to include Macrochelys temminkii and (more…)