Paleontologists find first fossil monkey in North America – but how did it get here?

April 20th, 2016
This white-headed capuchin, Cebus capuchinus, from Panama resembles what Panamacebus transitus probably looked like in the flesh. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

This white-headed capuchin, Cebus capuchinus, from Panama resembles what Panamacebus transitus probably looked like in the flesh.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Seven tiny teeth tell the story of an ancient monkey that made a 100-mile ocean crossing between North and South America into modern-day Panama – the first fossil evidence for the existence of monkeys in North America.

The find provides the oldest fossil evidence for the interchange of mammals between South and North America and challenges long-held views of South America as an island continent that evolved in isolation before the Isthmus of Panama was formed and animals began crossing between the continents about 3.5 million years ago, said Jonathan Bloch, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus. Study findings are detailed online today in the journal Nature.

Scientists uncovered the teeth belonging to the 21-million-year-old forest-dwelling primate during recent excavations related to the expansion of the Panama Canal.

The new genus and species, dubbed Panamacebus transitus, (more…)

New featured exhibit on ‘Wicked Plants’ opens May 14

April 20th, 2016

16434 Wicked Plants FB Graphic 1 FNLGAINESVILLE, Fla. —While the effects of marijuana, mushrooms and poison ivy are fairly well-known, many people may be surprised to learn about the potential danger of common plants in and around their homes.

And beginning May 14, Florida Museum of Natural History visitors will learn about the power that plants hold in its newest featured exhibit, “Wicked Plants: The Exhibit.”

The exhibit features more than 100 plants and is designed to educate guests about botanicals that are harmful to humans and animals, including evildoers lurking in the home and backyard. The story is brought to life inside an old home, where visitors will encounter a deadly dinner in the dining room, terrible toxins in the parlor, social misfits in the bathroom and (more…)

George Washington’s little buttercup

April 15th, 2016

How an extinct ancestor of the plant is helping solve Darwin’s ‘abominable mystery’

Nathan Jud rediscovered this fossil of Vernifolium tenuiloba, which shows the delicate veins of the leaf, in the Smithsonian Institution collections. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Nathan Jud

Nathan Jud rediscovered this fossil of Vernifolium tenuiloba, which shows the delicate veins of the leaf, in the Smithsonian Institution collections.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Nathan Jud

Two men set out on the Potomac River in 1892 looking for fossil plants from the days when dinosaurs roamed the Atlantic Coast nibbling on conifer leaves and ferns. Their paddling came to a halt when up ahead in a bluff on George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, a section of chocolate-colored stone caught the eye of paleobotanist Lester Ward and volunteer Victor Mason. Within minutes of digging, 105-million-year-old branches, leaves and seeds spilled from the mudstone, known for preserving fine details—a plant scientist’s gold mine. Scraps of partial fossils littered their findings. Among them was a tiny, seemingly insignificant leaf, thus beginning the modern history of George Washington’s little buttercup.

Except for a brief mention in Ward’s 1905 book, (more…)

New $1.2 million NSF grant to promote STEM education in grades 6-12

April 8th, 2016
Science educator Laura Beach, from Soquel High School in California, and iDigFossils project coordinator Claudia Grant review 3-D images of a fossil. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeffrey Gage

Science educator Laura Beach, from Soquel High School in California, and iDigFossils project coordinator Claudia Grant review 3-D images of a fossil.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — There is new hope for kids who spend their free time digging in their backyards in search of dinosaur bones, wishing they could be like the paleontologists from “Jurassic Park,” but maybe with a tamer outcome.

Florida Museum of Natural History and University of Florida researchers at the College of Education recently received a $1.2 million grant to provide 3-D scanners and printers, new laptop computers, and curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering and math for students in grades 6-12 in Florida and California.

“I don’t think this project would be successful without the collaboration of the College of Education and the museum,” said UF associate professor of educational technology and (more…)

Two former archaeology curators receive lifetime achievement awards

April 8th, 2016
Jerald Milanich was curator of archaeology at the Florida Museum for 35 years. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jill Ribich

Jerald Milanich was curator of archaeology at the Florida Museum for 35 years.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jill Ribich

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History curators emeritus Kathleen Deagan and Jerald Milanich were recently honored with 2015 lifetime achievement awards from the Southeastern Archaeological Conference for their many years of research on early American and Caribbean societies.

Deagan, Florida Museum distinguished curator emerita of historical archaeology, has discovered multiple archaeological sites in the St. Augustine area and uncovered new information about the role women played in early Spanish American and Caribbean societies.

As archaeology curator at the Florida Museum for 35 years, Milanich explored many sites throughout Florida, uncovering ancient artifacts that detail the everyday lives and (more…)

Earth Day event April 16 to feature theater workshop

April 6th, 2016

Earth-Day-LogoPollinator plant sale April 15-17 includes early opening Sunday

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History and Harn Museum of Art will celebrate Earth Day on Saturday, April 16, with various activities for University of Florida Cultural Plaza visitors.

The Florida Museum will start the weekend with a three-day plant sale beginning Friday, April 15, and running from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Featuring more than 150 species, the sale is one of the museum’s largest of the year. Saturday’s celebration from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. features many activities, (more…)

High tides: Florida’s early climate-change resettlements could guide modern sea level rise planning

March 28th, 2016
Former UF students Andrea Palmiotto and Melissa Ayvaz, and researcher Paulette McFadden collect a sediment core in Horseshoe Cove on Florida’s northern Gulf Coast. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Stephen McFadden

Former UF students Andrea Palmiotto and Melissa Ayvaz, and researcher Paulette McFadden collect a sediment core in Horseshoe Cove on Florida’s northern Gulf Coast.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Stephen McFadden

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Miami residents dodging sea-water spewing manhole covers take note: You’re not the first Floridians to deal with climate change.

That honor belongs to the state’s earliest residents, some of whom faced the problem 2,000 years ago and quickly learned how to adapt, a new University of Florida study shows.

The remains of Florida’s first climate-change resettlements offer important lessons from the past, just as rising seas again threaten the peninsula’s coastal populations, says a University of Florida scientist.

Targeting areas affected by rising seas after the last ice age, (more…)

Austin, Bullen 2016 student research award winners named

March 24th, 2016
Biology graduate student Andrew Crowl received the Austin Award for 2016. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Biology graduate student Andrew Crowl received the 2016 Austin Award.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History recently announced the winners of the 2016 Austin Award and Bullen Award for student research and significant contributions to the development of museum collections and programs.

Biology graduate student Andrew Crowl received the Austin Award for his research on the evolution and biogeography of plants, particularly a group of rare Bellflowers restricted to the Mediterranean Basin called the Roucela complex.

Anthropology graduate student Meggan Blessing received the Bullen Award for her research on past human practices using modified bones from Stallings Island, Georgia, a shell-bearing site from the Late Archaic period, about 5,800 to 3,800 years ago.

Crowl collected Bellflower specimens throughout the Greek islands and (more…)

Science photo contest winners to be honored March 30

March 21st, 2016
Bowfin (Amia calva), UF 18751

Zachary Randall’s image of a Bowfin won first place.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The winning artists’ images ranging from nanoparticles to a Florida Harvester Ant will be recognized in an award ceremony at the University of Florida Marston Science Library on March 30 at 4:30 p.m.

The Elegance of Science contest was judged by a six-member committee from Gainesville’s art and science communities that evaluated 58 entries on their scientific and artistic merit.

“I look for the same things I would look for in art: appealing composition and color, visual interest and movement in the work, and intellectual intrigue,” said judge Ellen Knudson, (more…)

Is Alaska’s first new butterfly species in decades an ancient hybrid?

March 16th, 2016
Oeneis tanana female, dorsal (top) and ventral views.

This female Tanana Arctic butterfly, Oeneis tanana, showing the dorsal (top) and ventral wing patterns, was misidentified as a close relative for years before being recognized as a separate species. Florida Museum of Natural History photos by Andy Warren

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Some might say it takes a rare breed to survive the Alaska wilderness. The discovery of a possible new species of hybrid butterfly from the state’s interior is proving that theory correct.

Belonging to a group known as the Arctics, the Tanana Arctic, Oeneis tanana, is the first new butterfly species described from the Last Frontier in 28 years and may be its only endemic butterfly.

University of Florida lepidopterist Andrew Warren suggests the butterfly could be the result of a rare and unlikely hybridization between two related species, both specially adapted for the harsh arctic climate, perhaps before the last ice age. Details of the finding are available online today in the Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera. Digging deeper into the Tanana Arctic’s origins may reveal secrets about the geological history of arctic North America and (more…)

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