Apply for junior volunteer program March 2-27

February 23rd, 2015

New public speaking, leadership opportunities available

Junior volunteers pin butterfly specimens in the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.  Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

Junior volunteers pin butterfly specimens in the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Students ages 12-17 searching for hands-on experience and leadership roles may apply from March 2 through March 27 for the Florida Museum of Natural History’s summer junior volunteer program.

This year, the museum is offering returning junior volunteers the opportunity to speak with visitors in the current featured exhibit, “A T. rex Named Sue,” which tells the story of the largest, most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered. Volunteers in this new position will give brief talks while standing in front of the fully-articulated cast of Sue, and then answer visitor questions.

With the debut of this summer’s leadership program, the museum will invite a small number of returning applicants to help train their peers, facilitate daily assignments and plan the end-of-summer awards ceremony.

Junior volunteers also will have the opportunity to learn alongside museum staff in a variety of positions that include discovery cart attendant, “Discovery Room” assistant and (more…)

Tropical turtle discovery in Wyoming provides climate-change clues

February 23rd, 2015
University of Florida paleontologist Jason Bourque reconstructs the 56-million-year-old shell of a newly described genus and species of ancient tropical turtle in his lab on Feb. 9, 2015. The fossil turtle gives clues to how today’s species might react to warming habitats. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

University of Florida paleontologist Jason Bourque reconstructs the 56-million-year-old shell of a newly described genus and species of ancient tropical turtle in his lab on Feb. 9, 2015. The fossil turtle gives clues to how today’s species might react to warming habitats.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tropical turtle fossils discovered in Wyoming by University of Florida scientists reveal that when the earth got warmer, prehistoric turtles headed north. But if today’s turtles try the same technique to cope with warming habitats, they might run into trouble.

While the fossil turtle and its kin could move northward with higher temperatures, human pressures and habitat loss could prevent a modern-day migration, leading to the extinction of some modern species.

The newly discovered genus and species, Gomphochelys (pronounced gom-fo-keel-eez) nanus – provides a clue to how animals might respond to future climate change, said Jason Bourque, a paleontologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF and the lead author of the study, which appears online this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The wayfaring turtle was among the species that researchers believe migrated 500-600 miles north 56 million years ago, during a temperature peak known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Lasting about 200,000 years, the temperature peak resulted in significant movement and diversification of plants and animals.

“We knew that some plants and lizards migrated north when the climate warmed, but (more…)

Study finds luna moths evolved long spinning tails to defend against bats

February 16th, 2015
A new study shows luna moths, Actias luna, such as this specimen from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity collections, spin their long hingwing tails to divert bat attacks.  Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Geena Hill

A new study shows luna moths, Actias luna, such as this specimen from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity collections, spin their long hingwing tails to divert bat attacks.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Geena Hill

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In the cover of night, an unseen war between bats and moths has been raging for 60 million years—and a new study suggests the insects have evolved long tails as a defense.

The collaborative work between University of Florida and Boise State University researchers is a first step in determining why bats are lured into striking a false target and could have implications on sonar development for the military, said study co-author Akito Kawahara, assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

“This finding expands our knowledge of anti-predator deflection strategies and the extent of a long-standing evolutionary arms race between bats and moths,” Kawahara said.

The study appearing today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows luna moths spin their long hindtails as they fly, confusing the sonar cries bats use to image prey and other objects. Diversionary tactics, such as false eye spots and (more…)

Humans altering Adriatic ecosystems more than nature, UF study shows

February 13th, 2015
Shellfish

These shellfish species from coastal areas of the Northern Adriatic Sea were also found in sediments providing a detailed quantitative record of mollusks that thrived in the region 125,000 years ago.
Photo courtesy of Paolo Ferrieri and Daniele Scarponi, University of Bologna

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The ecosystems of the Adriatic Sea have weathered natural climate shifts for 125,000 years, but humans could be rapidly altering this historically stable biodiversity hot spot, a University of Florida study says.

The study details a major shift in bottom-dwelling species in Italy’s Po Basin, a region south of Venice known for its ecologically and commercially important shellfish as well as its tourism industry.

“The fossil record suggests that human activities can alter even those ecosystems that have been immune to major changes naturally occurring on our planet,” said the study’s lead author, Michal Kowalewski, the Thompson Chair of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

“We may be witnessing a permanent shift,” Kowalewski said. “This restructuring could have lasting consequences for regional biodiversity, including the overall health of the broader marine ecosystems of the Adriatic.”

Mollusks preserve well in the fossil record and (more…)

Visiting Phi Beta Kappa scholar to present free dinosaur lecture Feb. 16

February 12th, 2015
Rowe

Timothy Rowe

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History will host a free presentation with paleontologist Timothy Rowe at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 as part of the 2014-2015 Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholars Program.

Rowe will present a lecture titled “What Happened to the Dinosaurs?” at Powell Hall, 3215 Hull Road, on the University of Florida campus. His talk complements the museum’s current featured exhibition, “A T. rex Named Sue,” which presents the story of the largest, most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered. A reception will follow the presentation.

The J. Nalle Gregory Regents Professor of Geology at the University of Texas at Austin, Rowe primarily studies the evolution and (more…)

Register for summer, field camps beginning March 15

February 9th, 2015
Campers explore a recreated Calusa leader's house in the "South Florida People & Environments" exhibition during a 2011 summer camp. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

Campers explore a recreated Calusa leader’s house in the “South Florida People & Environments” exhibition during a 2011 summer camp.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

Early sign-up for museum members opens March 1

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Register your child beginning March 15 for adventures and scientific exploration at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s summer and field camps.

Students in grades 1-4 for the 2015-2016 school year can examine fossils, discover ancient cultures, learn about past and present ecosystems and meet some of the most interesting members of the animal kingdom during the weeklong camps that run June 8-July 31. Students in grades 5-6 may register for a field camp focusing on nature photography the week of Aug. 3.

“Museum camps are always an exciting and fun way to learn about everything from insects, collecting, engineering and chemistry to (more…)

Register now for K-5 spring break camps March 23-27

February 2nd, 2015
Atlatl lesson

Children learn to use an atlatl, a prehistoric hunting tool, during a 2013 spring break camp.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Students will have the opportunity to explore Florida habitats and learn how living things move during the Florida Museum of Natural History’s new series of spring break camps March 23-27.

The camps for students enrolled in grades K-5 for the 2014-2015 school year provide natural history exploration through museum exhibits and hands-on activities.

“Museum camps are a great way to channel your child’s spring fever,” said Florida Museum public programs coordinator Catherine Carey. “Here is a chance to learn about nature and have fun all at the same time.”

Pre-registration is required for all camps and (more…)

‘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…)

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