New exhibit marks 100-year anniversary of Passenger Pigeon extinction

August 15th, 2014
Passenger Pigeons

These well-preserved Passenger Pigeons mounted in the 1890s are part of a new exhibit marking the 100-year anniversary of the bird’s extinction.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A Florida Museum of Natural History gallery exhibit opening Sept. 1 illustrates how human actions can lead to the extinction of a species—even those considered common just a century ago.

“A Shadow Over the Earth: The Life and Death of the Passenger Pigeon” marks the 100-year anniversary of the bird’s extinction, and features illustrations, artwork and poetry from famed naturalists who documented the pigeon’s biology and its decline. Visitors may also learn about related Florida Museum research and view a well-preserved pair of Passenger Pigeons mounted in the 1890s.

Prior to its extinction 100 years ago, the Passenger Pigeon was one of the most abundant birds in the world, with population estimates ranging from 3 billion to 5 billion.

“James Audubon witnessed a flock that took three days to fly over a locality in north central Kentucky,” said Jessica Oswald, a former Florida Museum ornithology graduate student.

The populous pigeons couldn’t (more…)

Popular ‘Wolf to Woof’ exhibit extended to Sept. 7

August 8th, 2014

E000498GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Due to popular demand, the Florida Museum of Natural History has extended the closing date for “Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs” to Sept. 7.

Originally on display through Sept. 1, “Wolf to Woof” is the largest and most comprehensive traveling exhibit on the history, biology and evolution of dogs. It shows how dogs have secured a special place in human society as an incredibly diverse and versatile species that serves as hunters, herders, guards and companions.

“ ‘Wolf to Woof’ has been a very popular summer visitor attraction, so we’ve decided to give our community an extra week to see what all the ‘howling’ is about,” said Florida Museum exhibit developer Tina Choe.

The exhibit reveals an in-depth history of dogs and their connection with wolves through four themed sections featuring artifacts, multimedia displays, photomurals and (more…)

UF study advances ‘DNA revolution,’ tells butterflies’ evolutionary history

July 30th, 2014
Kawahara

Assistant curator of Lepidoptera Akito Kawahara led the yearlong study that revealed monumental discoveries about the evolutionary history of butterflies and moths.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — By tracing nearly 3,000 genes to the earliest common ancestor of butterflies and moths, University of Florida scientists have created an extensive “Tree of Lepidoptera” in the first study to use large-scale, next-generation DNA sequencing.

Among the study’s more surprising findings: Butterflies are more closely related to small moths than to large ones, which completely changes scientists’ understanding of how butterflies evolved. The study also found that some insects once classified as moths are actually butterflies, increasing the number of butterfly species higher than previously thought.

“This project advances biodiversity research by providing an evolutionary foundation for a very diverse group of insects, with nearly 160,000 described species,” said Akito Kawahara, lead author and assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “With a tree, we can now understand how the majority of butterfly and moth species evolved.”

Available online and to be published in the August print edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, the study builds the evolutionary framework for future ecological 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…)

Museum to host Panama Canal Zone centennial celebration, exhibit

July 25th, 2014
Panama Canal

Two ships travel along the Panama Canal, which turns 100 this year.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History is celebrating the Panama Canal’s 100th birthday this August with a new gallery exhibition and family-friendly event.

Opening Aug. 9, “Panama: Tropical Ecosystem” focuses on the region’s biodiversity and the cultural importance of nature in a country of rain forests, volcanic beaches and mountains. On display through May 31, 2015, the exhibit features photographs, stereographs, plant illustrations, books and artifacts highlighting the rich variety of flora and fauna in the land between North and South America.

“Visitors will learn about Panama’s natural environment, including how it’s represented in art and (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…)

Students with ‘A’ in science statewide receive free admission

July 2nd, 2014

A for ScienceGAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History is continuing its popular “A for Science” free admission program for K-12 students statewide.

Students who receive an “A” or “E” grade in a science may present their most recent report card at the front desk and receive a free admission with the purchase of a paid regular price adult admission.

The offer is valid for the “Butterfly Rainforest” exhibit, the “Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs” exhibit open through Sept. 1, or a value admission for both exhibits.

“The ‘A for Science’ program directly supports our emphasis on youth education,” said Darcie MacMahon, who oversees the Florida Museum’s Exhibits and (more…)

Florida Museum kicks off free movie series with ‘The Wolf Man’ July 11

June 26th, 2014

Creative BGAINESVILLE, Fla. — Get ready for a ‘howling’ good time during a month of free movie screenings at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Beginning with “The Wolf Man” (1941) on July 11, the Florida Museum will show werewolf-themed movies Fridays during the Summer B semester as part of the University of Florida “Creative B” program. The museum will be open to the public from 6 to 10 p.m. and UF students receive free admission to the “Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs” exhibit each movie night with a valid Gator 1 card.

The series includes a question-and-answer panel discussion on the balance between science and art beginning at 7 p.m., followed by the movie.

“The theme for Creative B this year is ‘forests and deforestation,’ so we are tying the concept of man versus nature and (more…)

UF unearths foundation of only stone mission church in St. Augustine

May 27th, 2014
Florida Museum archaeologists work to uncover the foundation of the Nombre de Dios church in St. Augustine, which is providing clues about daily life in 17th- and 18th-century Spanish Florida.   Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Gifford Waters

Florida Museum archaeologists work to uncover the foundation of the Nombre de Dios church in St. Augustine, which is providing clues about daily life in 17th- and 18th-century Spanish Florida.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Gifford Waters

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Large-scale excavations by the University of Florida are underway in St. Augustine of the 337-year-old remains of one of the largest and most ornate churches known to Spanish Florida.

Florida Museum of Natural History researchers have unearthed more than half of the coquina stone and tabby foundations of the church, which was discovered in 2011 and may be the first stone structure completed in colonial Spanish Florida—predating the famous Castillo de San Marcos fort.

Newly discovered architectural features, including a room that possibly served as the friar’s residence and other interior rooms, are providing researchers with a window into daily life at the first and longest-lasting Franciscan mission in Florida, said Gifford Waters, Florida Museum of Natural History historical archaeology collection manager.

“This building at the Nombre de Dios mission gives us insight into the late 17th and early 18th centuries, a time period of the mission that (more…)

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