GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Conservation of coastal rivers of the northern Gulf of Mexico is vital to the survival of the alligator snapping turtle, including two recently discovered species, University of Florida scientists say.
A new study appearing this week in the journal Zootaxa shows the alligator snapping turtle, the largest freshwater turtle in the Western Hemisphere and previously believed to be one species, is actually three separate species.
The limited distribution of the species, known to weigh as much 200 pounds, could potentially affect the conservation of rivers the turtles inhabit, including the Suwannee, said lead author Travis Thomas, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission scientist and former Florida Museum of Natural History volunteer who began the research as a UF wildlife ecology and conservation student.
“We have to be especially careful with our management of the Suwannee River species because this turtle exists only in that river and its tributaries,” Thomas said. “If something catastrophic were to occur, such as a chemical spill or something that affects the entire river, it could potentially devastate this species. The turtle is extremely limited by its habitat. All it has is this river and it has nowhere else to go.”
In the study, scientists revised the genus Macrochelys, often called the “dinosaurs of the turtle world” by lay people, to include Macrochelys temminkii and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History recently announced the winners of the 2014 Austin Award and Bullen Award. Two University of Florida students received the awards from the museum’s University Teaching Committee for their research and contributions to the museum’s collections.
Francois Michonneau received the Austin Award for his work on the systematics and evolution of sea cucumbers. The Austin Award honors Oliver Austin, a former Florida Museum ornithology curator, and recognizes one UF graduate student performing research guided by a Florida Museum curator, collection manager or research scientist.
Michonneau conducted his research under the mentorship of Gustav Paulay, the museum’s marine malacology curator, and traveled on expeditions to the French-Polynesian Islands, Japan and Madagascar to collect sea cucumbers, sea urchins and other invertebrates from coral reefs. After more than 20 expeditions, he has contributed about 12,000 invertebrate specimens to the Florida Museum collections.
Jeffrey Vadala received the Bullen Award for his research on the architecture of the Mayan archaeological site Cerros in Belize and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History will host the 37th annual Herpetology Conference Friday and Saturday (April 4-5) at the Paramount Plaza Hotel and Conference Center.
Hosted each year by the Florida Museum Herpetology Division, the conference is the country’s longest-running regional herpetology symposium. The conference aims to bring together the herpetological community for discussion of reptile and amphibian research, education and conservation in a constructive and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History Director Douglas S. Jones was elected president of the Association of Science Museum Directors at the association’s annual meeting in Salt Lake City in March.
Jones was named interim director of the Florida Museum in 1996 and director the following year. As a curator of invertebrate paleontology, his research focuses on tracking ancient climate changes by studying chemical variations in organisms including sea shells, fish otoliths (ear bones) and mammal teeth.
Jones has been a member of the museum directors association since 1998 and served on its board for six years. As president, he will represent the association to the media and other museum organizations, and run the association’s business meetings.
“I am honored to serve the ASMD as president, being a huge believer in the role of science museums in advancing the public’s understanding and appreciation of science in today’s society,” Jones said.
Jones also serves on the board of directors of the American Alliance of Museums in Washington, D.C., as well as the boards of The Toomey Foundation for the Natural Sciences Inc. and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History invites visitors to explore the wonders of the planet this Earth Day weekend with activities April 19 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and a butterfly-friendly plant sale April 18-20 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The museum’s Earth Day exploration event features outdoor activities in the adjacent University of Florida Natural Area Teaching Laboratory and diverse specimens from the museum’s collections.
“This year’s theme is ‘Florida Biodiversity and Cultural Diversity,’ ” said Florida Museum public programs coordinator Catherine Carey. “Guests will have a rare opportunity to see treasures from the museum collections and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Visitors will have an opportunity to discover the unique wildflowers that inspired Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513 to name this state “place of flowers” at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s newest photography exhibition.
On display April 19 through Aug. 3, “La Florida: 500 Years in the Place of Flowers” showcases images from Gainesville nature photographer John Moran, who roamed the state to capture the beauty and mystique of Florida’s original Garden of Eden. It features 15 large-format photographs showing the timeless beauty of wildflowers along with a panel describing the history and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Shake out your snake boots, fasten your trademark fedora and join the Florida Museum of Natural History for a thrilling adventure at the Passport to Discovery: Raiders of the Lost Ark gala April 25 from 7 to 11 p.m.
This year’s annual fundraiser is part of a three-year campaign to create a 2,000-square-foot Discovery Room exhibit for children 8 and under set to open in 2016.
“Our spectacular new Discovery Room is sure to be a family destination,” said Betty Dunckel, director of the museum’s Center for Science Learning. “A vast array of awe-inspiring objects, interactive activities and media resources will provide countless opportunities for shared discovery and fun.”
This year’s event includes dinner catered by Blue Water Bay, dancing with Gosia & Ali and the Indiana Jones experience created by Keith Watson Events. The museum’s campaign is in its last year and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida begins its 20th season of archaeological fieldwork since 1976 this week in St. Augustine at the site of America’s first colony, founded by explorer Pedro Menendez in 1565.
Though the original colony lasted only nine months, researchers have uncovered more than 97,000 artifacts left behind by Spanish immigrants, valued at nearly $3.5 million and recently donated by the Fraser family to the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. Now researchers will begin unearthing the colony’s fortifications to better understand its defenses, said Kathleen Deagan, retired distinguished curator of historical archaeology at the Florida Museum.
“These artifacts are the only evidence we have as to how people lived in the colony and what objects they used,” Deagan said. “The documents from the period only briefly describe the settlers’ time at the site. There is nothing there about their lives and how people coped with being in a new, strange place. Now that we know more about their lives within the colony, we want to understand how they defended it.”
The Frasers own and operate the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park where the first colony site is located. In February, the family visited the museum’s historical archaeology collections at Dickinson Hall on the UF campus to observe how the donated artifacts are being pieced together and (more…)
Editors: A complete list of activities follows this release
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Visitors will have their world rocked with volcanic eruptions and geological discoveries at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s eighth annual “Can You Dig It?” event on Saturday, March 15 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
This free, family-friendly event provides hands-on activities and demonstrations to educate visitors about the many aspects of geology and the Earth.
“At ‘Can You Dig It?’ we try to create things of interest for people of all ages and backgrounds,” said event coordinator Matt Smith, a senior (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Students ages 12-17 looking for scholarship hours, a great resume builder or hands-on experience may apply beginning Monday for the Florida Museum of Natural History’s summer junior volunteer program.
The museum will accept applications through March 28 for its popular program, which provides students the opportunity to work alongside museum staff in a variety of positions, including discovery cart attendant, Discovery Room assistant and camp teacher’s assistant.
“The Florida Museum’s junior volunteer program is a great way for youth 12 to 17 years old to gain experience working with younger children, interacting with the public and (more…)