‘Passport’ gala Feb. 20 to support student programs

January 28th, 2015

PassportGAINESVILLE, Fla. — Prepare for a dizzying race around the globe and join the Florida Museum of Natural History for a thrilling quest at the “Passport to: Around the World in 80 Days” gala Feb. 20 from 7 to 11 p.m.

This year’s event features dinner catered by Blue Water Bay, the ultimate voyage created by Keith Watson Productions and dancing with The Savants of Soul. This is the first year the gala is raising funds for children’s educational programming through the museum’s Center for Science Learning.

“We want to offer a variety of engaging opportunities that foster students’ sense of wonder and discovery,” said Betty Dunckel. Florida Museum Center for Science Learning director. “We hope these experiences will generate excitement, expand interests and deepen understanding of science and its importance in our daily lives.”

Proceeds will provide critical funds to support museum projects for pre-K through 12th-grade students, including admission assistance for Title 1 schools, outreach to elementary classrooms and (more…)

Fossils link Caribbean bat extinction to humans, not climate change

January 22nd, 2015
Soto-Centeno with bat skull

Study co-author J. Angel Soto-Centeno displays the fossilized skull of a Cuban fruit bat, Brachyphylla nana.
Photo courtesy of J. Angel Soto-Centeno

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Sharing caves with millions of bats, the Caribbean’s first humans may have driven some species of the winged mammals to extinction.

The new study appearing online today in Scientific Reports rejects previous research that directly connected climate change and the loss of land with the disappearance of bat populations.

Knowing when and how Caribbean bats went extinct could contribute to better understanding biodiversity and how to save modern-day wildlife from meeting the same fate, said co-author David Steadman, a University of Florida ornithologist.

“Ours are the first radiocarbon dates for bat fossils in the whole West Indies,” said Steadman, curator of ornithology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.  “The new dates prove that certain bat populations were still in existence much later than previously thought — around the same time humans arrived.”

The new dates demonstrate that at least five species of bats withstood this climate change and (more…)

New UF study reveals oldest primate lived in trees

January 20th, 2015
Dryomomys szalayi reconstruction

Scientists believe Purgatorius looked similar to Dryomomys szalayi, another primitive primate discovered near Yellowstone National Park by co-author Jonathan Bloch.
Illustration courtesy of Doug Boyer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Say “primate” and most people wouldn’t think of a tree-dwelling, squirrel-like creature that weighs no more than a deck of playing cards, but a new study suggests that may perfectly describe humans’ earliest primate ancestors.

Found in the same area of Montana that yielded the massive Tyrannosaurus rex, new ankle bones smaller than a penny provide the first fossil evidence that the oldest primates lived in trees.

That’s important because living in trees gave those early primates access to food sources that other species lacked – likely a critical factor in why primates succeeded in evolution where others may have failed.

The study appearing this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes the first bones below the skull of Purgatorius—previously known only by its teeth. The shape of the teeth allowed paleontologists to determine the tree shrew-like animal ate insects and (more…)

‘T. rex Named Sue’ Jan. 24 opening features fossils, family fun with Ronald McDonald, UF mascots Albert & Alberta

January 16th, 2015
Sue cast

Visitors to “A T. rex Named Sue” view a fully articulated cast skeleton of the dinosaur.
© The Field Museum

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History will celebrate the opening of its new featured exhibit “A T. rex Named Sue” from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24 with family fun including a fossil dig and other dinosaur-themed activities.

Visitors will have the opportunity to interact with museum researchers and representatives from fossil clubs, sample McDonald’s iced coffee while meeting Ronald McDonald, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and see University of Florida mascots Albert and Alberta from noon to 1 p.m.

“Because our state was underwater while dinosaurs lived, this is a rare chance for Floridians to glimpse the lost world of Tyrannosaurus rex right here in Gainesville,” said Florida Museum educator Tiffany Ireland. “It’s also important for children to speak with scientists and (more…)

Famous ‘A T. rex Named Sue’ exhibit to open Jan. 24, 2015

December 19th, 2014
Sue front

A fully articulated cast skeleton of the dinosaur is the centerpiece of “A T. rex Named Sue.”
© The Field Museum

Editors: Press materials are available at www.flmnh.ufl.edu/pressroom/a-t-rex-named-sue/.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The world’s dinosaur “Sue”-perstar returns to the Florida Museum of Natural History on Jan. 24, 2015, in the featured exhibition “A T. rex Named Sue.”

This bilingual exhibit presents the story of “Sue,” the largest, most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever unearthed. It features a life-size, 42-foot-long cast of the dinosaur and family-friendly interactive components exploring the paleontology that has helped scientists reconstruct Sue’s life and legacy.

In 2002, the Florida Museum was the state’s first venue to host the traveling exhibit, which has been seen by more than 20 million visitors worldwide.

“A whole generation of kids has been born since ‘Sue’ was last here, and (more…)

Global ‘tree of life’ study shows insects ruled Earth 400 million years ago

November 6th, 2014
Kawahara

Florida Museum lepidopterist Akito Kawahara displays insects that illustrate the large variety of species used in a new international study appearing in the journal Science this week. Kawahara is one of more than 100 scientists from 10 countries who contributed to the research.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

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…)

Tour the cosmos during Starry Night event Nov. 14

October 30th, 2014
Stargazing

Visitors stargaze using professional-quality telescopes during the 2011 Starry Night event.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

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…)

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 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…)

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 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…)

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 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…)