World’s oldest chameleon found trapped in amber fossil

March 4th, 2016
These ancient amber fossils from Myanmar in Southeast Asia provide a look at “missing links” in the evolutionary history of lizards. Photo courtesy of David Grimaldi

These ancient amber fossils from Myanmar in Southeast Asia provide a look at “missing links” in the evolutionary history of lizards. The chameleon is located in the far-right lower corner.
Photo courtesy of David Grimaldi

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — About 100 million years ago an infant lizard’s life was cut short when it crawled into a sticky situation.

The early chameleon was creeping through the ancient tropics of present-day Myanmar when it succumbed to the resin of a coniferous tree. Over time, the resin fossilized into amber, leaving the lizard remarkably preserved. Seventy-eight million years older than the previous oldest specimen on record, the dime-size chameleon along with 11 more ancient fossil lizards were pulled—encased in amber—from a mine decades ago, but it wasn’t until recently that scientists had the opportunity to analyze them.

In “Jurassic Park,” fictional scientists cloned dinosaurs with blood extracted from amber, but these real-life fossils hold snapshots of “missing links” in the evolutionary history of lizards that will allow scientists to gain a better understanding of where they fit on the tree of life, said Edward Stanley, a University of Florida postdoctoral researcher in herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural History.  (more…)

Celebrate geology during 10th ‘Can You Dig It?’ March 12

February 29th, 2016

Editors note: A complete list of activities follows this release

Florida Museum of Natural History visitors observe a simulated volcanic eruption. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

Florida Museum visitors observe a simulated volcanic eruption.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History is celebrating its 10th year of volcanic eruptions and geological discoveries at “Can You Dig It?” March 12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This free, fun-for-all-ages event provides visitors an opportunity to uncover Earth’s geological wonders through hands-on activities and educational demonstrations.

Those who haven’t attended in recent years can look forward to new additions and changes. University of Florida geology professor Thomas Bianchi, who worked on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, will lead an activity allowing participants to discover how chemistry is used to clean up these environmental accidents.

“As we continue to drill in deeper waters, it is important for people to look at some of the problems with deep sea drilling and challenges with cleanup,” Bianchi said.

Other returning favorites include the augmented reality sandbox, make your own earthquake and deep ocean drilling, where participants can sample their own “drill core.” (more…)

Summer, field camp registration begins March 15

February 29th, 2016
Catherine Carey, museum public programs coordinator, right, observes campers learning to distinguish a species belonging to the spiny lobster family during a 2013 summer camp. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

Students handle a species belonging to the spiny lobster family during a 2013 summer camp.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Registration for Florida Museum of Natural History summer and field camps opens March 15, and includes a new “Lep Camp” this year for students in grades 5-8 to experience field collection, specimen preparation and the conservation of butterfly and moth specimens with museum scientists Aug. 1-5.

Pre-registration is required for all camps and is available online at www.flmnh.ufl.edu/summer-camps. Florida Museum members may register early beginning March 1.

With “Wicked Plants: The Exhibit” opening this summer, students enrolled in grades 1-4 for the 2016-2017 school year will have the opportunity to learn about some of Mother Nature’s most appalling creations during a “Botany Gone Bad” camp. Participants also can examine fossils, discover ancient cultures, learn about past and (more…)

Shark attacks hit all-time high in 2015

February 9th, 2016

Editors note: An infographic follows this release. 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s the kind of record no one wants to break: the most shark attacks in a single year. But 2015 did just that, with 98 unprovoked attacks worldwide, beating the previous record of 88 set in 2000, according to the International Shark Attack File housed at the University of Florida.

Six of the attacks were fatal.

The all-time high came as no surprise to George Burgess, curator of the world’s clearinghouse of shark-attack data housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. With shark populations rebounding and more and more people in the ocean, bites are inevitable, he says.

“Sharks plus humans equals attacks. As our population (more…)

‘Passport’ gala Feb. 19 to benefit educational programs

February 5th, 2016

16314 Passport FB 1 FNLGAINESVILLE, Fla. — Prepare for an island-hopping adventure and join the Florida Museum of Natural History for its annual “Passport” gala fundraiser Feb. 19 from 7 to 11 p.m. to support pre-K through 12th grade education programs.

Organized by the Florida Museum Associates Board, “Passport to Caribbean Nights” proceeds will help fund education initiatives including admission assistance for Title I schools, outreach to elementary classrooms and after-school programs, and funding for camp scholarships and the junior volunteer program.

“Children who visit the museum discover the excitement and wonder of science and of the natural world,” said Anne Shermyen, Florida Museum Associates Board vice president. “They also can experience history and learn of our diverse cultural heritage.”

Proceeds from last year’s event were used to bring more than 1,800 Alachua County fourth-grade students to the museum as part of a two-hour free program to visit the “First Colony: Our Spanish Origins” exhibit. The grant from the Florida Museum Associates Board covered (more…)

Museum reaches 500,000 digitized mollusks online, largest worldwide

February 5th, 2016
This jeweled topsnail, Calliostoma annulatum, from the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington, is one of the species found in the Florida Museum’s digital catalog of more than 500,000 mollusk specimen records. The database includes about a third of the world’s 100,000 identified species. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Gustav Paulay

This jeweled topsnail, Calliostoma annulatum, from the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington, is one of the species in the Florida Museum’s digital catalog of mollusk specimen records.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Gustav Paulay

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History recently surpassed half a million cataloged mollusk specimen records in its online database, making it the world’s largest digitally accessible collection for the shellfish group.

Museum researchers have been building the online catalog for more than 30 years, and it includes about a third of the word’s approximately 100,000 identified mollusk species, said Florida Museum curator of marine malacology Gustav Paulay.

“Researchers as well as the public may access the database and (more…)

Best-selling author Randy Wayne White to host Randell fundraiser Feb. 11

January 18th, 2016
Author Randy Wayne White will host the fundraiser at Doc Ford's Bar & Grill on Captiva Island.

Randy Wayne White

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History’s Randell Research Center in Pineland will hold a fundraiser featuring best-selling author Randy Wayne White Feb. 11 from 3 to 6 p.m. for the preservation of Southwest Florida history and culture.

White will host the event at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille on Captiva Island featuring stories, food, cocktails and a live auction to help the Randell Center reach its 20th anniversary endowment goal of $850,000. Tickets are $200 and limited to 100 guests.

“Many people love Randy White’s “Doc Ford” and “Hannah Smith” novels and this is a rare opportunity to have some fun hanging out with Randy while helping a (more…)

Registration opens Jan. 18 for K-5 spring break camps

January 15th, 2016
Stephanie Stocks, a doctoral student in the UF Department of Entomology and Nematology, shows children an emperor scorpion, Pandinus imperator, during the museum's Spring Break Camp in 2013. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

Stephanie Stocks, a UF department of entomology and nematology doctoral student, shows children an emperor scorpion during a museum 2013 spring break camp.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Students will have an opportunity to uncover centuries of history about America’s first European settlement as well as the land and environments protected by the National Park Service during Florida Museum of Natural History spring break camps March 21-25.

Developed for students enrolled in grades K-5 for the 2015-2016 school year, the camps provide natural history exploration through museum exhibits and hands-on activities.

“Museum camp is a superfun way to explore the world without leaving Gainesville,” said Florida Museum public programs coordinator Catherine Carey.

Registration is now open for museum members and will open Jan. 18 for non-members. Pre-registration (more…)

Celebrate 37th Collectors Day Jan. 9

December 17th, 2015

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Collectors can share their personal treasures with Florida Museum of Natural History visitors during the 37th Collectors Day Jan. 9, 2016, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Collectors Day is the museum’s longest-running and one of its most popular public programs.
Photo by Jeff Gage

This free event is the museum’s longest-running public program, allowing visitors to interact with collectors from across the region and learn about the context and historical significance of their collections.

Collectors Day was originally created to recognize collectors’ contributions and donations to the museum’s vast collections. The museum holds one of the nation’s largest collections with more than 40 million specimens, and was visited last year by more than 1,000 scientists and others from around the world last year researching various topics.

“Museum collections are the library of life,” said Florida Museum educator Tiffany Ireland. “They provide (more…)

Researchers discover six new African clawed-frog species

December 16th, 2015
mellotrop_gabon_BLS13506_NCSM78871_IMGP0156

A new study describes six new species of African clawed frogs, including Xenopus mellotropicalis, pictured here in Gabon, Central Africa.
Photo courtesy of Bryan Stuart

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — African clawed frogs have been widely studied, but turns out at least six species fooled researchers for more than a century with their nearly identical appearances.

The discovery of six new African clawed frogs and one redescribed species increases the number of known species in the group from 22 to 29. Now researchers can begin asking questions about the genetics of these species, nearly all of which are the product of hybridization among ancestral species and can have up to six duplicated sets of DNA. The new species are described online today in the journal PLOS ONE.

A better understanding of the species’ genetic variations could improve conservation biology in biodiversity hot spots by helping to define those regions, said study co-author David Blackburn, associate curator of herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

“While we know a lot about African clawed frogs (more…)

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