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…)

‘T. rex Named Sue’ Jan. 24 opening features fossils, family fun with Ronald McDonald, UF mascots Albert & Alberta

January 16th, 2015
Sue cast

Visitors to “A T. rex Named Sue” view a fully articulated cast skeleton of the dinosaur.
© The Field Museum

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History will celebrate the opening of its new featured exhibit “A T. rex Named Sue” from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24 with family fun including a fossil dig and other dinosaur-themed activities.

Visitors will have the opportunity to interact with museum researchers and representatives from fossil clubs, sample McDonald’s iced coffee while meeting Ronald McDonald, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and see University of Florida mascots Albert and Alberta from noon to 1 p.m.

“Because our state was underwater while dinosaurs lived, this is a rare chance for Floridians to glimpse the lost world of Tyrannosaurus rex right here in Gainesville,” said Florida Museum educator Tiffany Ireland. “It’s also important for children to speak with scientists and (more…)

Famous ‘A T. rex Named Sue’ exhibit to open Jan. 24, 2015

December 19th, 2014
Sue front

A fully articulated cast skeleton of the dinosaur is the centerpiece of “A T. rex Named Sue.”
© The Field Museum

Editors: Press materials are available at

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The world’s dinosaur “Sue”-perstar returns to the Florida Museum of Natural History on Jan. 24, 2015, in the featured exhibition “A T. rex Named Sue.”

This bilingual exhibit presents the story of “Sue,” the largest, most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever unearthed. It features a life-size, 42-foot-long cast of the dinosaur and family-friendly interactive components exploring the paleontology that has helped scientists reconstruct Sue’s life and legacy.

In 2002, the Florida Museum was the state’s first venue to host the traveling exhibit, which has been seen by more than 20 million visitors worldwide.

“A whole generation of kids has been born since ‘Sue’ was last here, and (more…)

View personal collections at 36th Collectors Day Jan. 10

December 11th, 2014
PEZ dispensers are one of the many collections to be displayed during the Florida Museum's 34th Collectors Day Saturday Jan. 12. Photo by Jeff Gage

PEZ dispensers are one of the many collections that have been displayed during the Florida Museum’s Collectors Day.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Collectors can share their passion with Florida Museum of Natural History visitors during Collectors Day Jan. 10, 2015, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This free event is the museum’s longest-running public program and allows visitors to interact with regional collectors and learn about the identity, history and context of their collections.

“A collection is a representation of someone’s time in their life,” Florida Museum educator Tiffany Ireland said. “We’ve had collectors as old as 4 and as young as 80.”

Visitors will have the opportunity to view more than 100 collections, some containing objects that are more than a century old. More than 1,300 visitors attended the 2014 event.

Returning fan-favorites include antique and primitive tools, classic cars, plastic models, paintings of World War II fighter planes, dolls, James Bond merchandise and (more…)

Global ‘tree of life’ study shows insects ruled Earth 400 million years ago

November 6th, 2014

Florida Museum lepidopterist Akito Kawahara displays insects that illustrate the large variety of species used in a new international study appearing in the journal Science this week. Kawahara is one of more than 100 scientists from 10 countries who contributed to the research.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new study involving more than 100 researchers from 10 countries, including the University of Florida, has reconstructed the insect tree of life and found, among other things, that insects ruled the land 400 million years ago.

The cover story in Friday’s issue of the journal Science answers many long-held questions about the evolution of the world’s largest and most biodiverse group of animals, information essential to understanding the millions of living insect species that shape our terrestrial living space and support and threaten our natural resources.

The new tree of life incorporated many fossils, making it the first dated evolutionary tree of this magnitude, said co-author Akito Kawahara, assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, who leads the butterfly and moth initiative for the ongoing project.

“Until now, we didn’t have a good understanding of how these diverse groups of insects are related to each other,” “Until now, we didn’t have a good understanding of how these diverse groups of insects are related to each other,” said Kawahara, a researcher in the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, which holds one of the world’s largest collections of butterflies and moths. “Many insects important to everyday life and scientific research were included in the study, (more…)

Trashformations art competition winners on display Nov. 22-Dec. 1

November 5th, 2014
Trashformations winner

Sarah Boon won third place in the middle school division of the 2012 Trashformations art competition for her piece “Beauty in the Beast.”
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kate Martin

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — One man’s trash will be another man’s treasure during the 16th annual Trashformations student recycled art competition awards ceremony at the Florida Museum of Natural History from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Nov. 21.

Middle school, high school and college students are eligible to enter the contest, which requires entries contain at least 70 percent recycled materials. The application deadline is Nov. 14, and entries must be delivered to the Florida Museum on Nov. 20 between noon and 5 p.m.

“Trashformations showcases the museum’s commitment to sustainability in our practices and exhibitions,” said Florida Museum educator Tiffany Ireland.

Judges select winners based on creative expression and innovative use of reused materials. Students in each level compete for cash and other awards, and the Florida Museum will display winning entries through Dec. 1.

The Florida Museum hosts the Trashformations awards ceremony in collaboration with the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners and Office of Waste Alternatives.

Patrick Irby, an Alachua County waste alternative specialist, said discarded materials, either buried or burned, impact human lives every day. Buried garbage can leak into soil and (more…)

Tour the cosmos during Starry Night event Nov. 14

October 30th, 2014

Visitors stargaze using professional-quality telescopes during the 2011 Starry Night event.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s written in the stars that Florida Museum of Natural History visitors will have an opportunity to observe the universe with astronomy experts during the eighth annual Starry Night from 6 to 10 p.m. Nov. 14.

Visitors can stargaze during a planetarium show and with professional-quality telescopes provided by area astronomists at this free, family-friendly event. A 3-D “AstroWall” will also allow visitors to view the cosmos in another dimension.

Representatives from the Alachua Astronomy Club, Santa Fe College natural sciences department’s astronomy program, the Kika Silva Pla Planetarium and UF astronomy department will help visitors uncover the mysteries of the night sky.

“I think people love space because it is something we are completely surrounded by but also something most of us have never experienced first-hand,” said Florida Museum educator Amanda Harvey. “We’re really lucky to have an opportunity like Starry Night where people that specialize in the field come together to share what they’ve learned and are learning to help us understand space and to make it more familiar.”

The event features UF astronomy department professor Fred Hamann who will discuss “Quasars and Black Holes: A Journey Toward the Gravitational Abyss.”

Attendees will earn a prize by tracking their activities with a “Passport to the Universe.” They also have an opportunity to dine under the stars by visiting the event’s food vendor, High Springs Orchard and (more…)

New study shows megalodon shark became extinct 2.6 million years ago

October 22nd, 2014
Pimiento in lab

Lead researcher Catalina Pimiento measures a megalodon tooth at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new University of Florida study dismisses claims that megalodon is still alive by determining a date of extinction for the largest predatory shark to ever live.

Researchers from UF and the University of Zurich hope the study appearing online today in the journal PLOS ONE showing the species became extinct 2.6 million years ago will clarify public confusion. The study may also one day help scientists better understand the potential widespread effects of losing the planet’s top predators, said lead author Catalina Pimiento.

“I was drawn to the study of Carcharocles megalodon’s extinction because it is fundamental to know when species became extinct to then begin to understand the causes and consequences of such an event,” said Pimiento, a doctoral candidate at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “I also think people who are interested in this animal deserve to know what the scientific evidence shows, especially following Discovery Channel specials that implied megalodon may still be alive.”

The study represents the first phase of Pimiento’s ongoing reconstruction of megalodon’s extinction. As modern top predators, especially large sharks, are significantly declining worldwide due to the current biodiversity crisis, Pimiento said this study serves as the basis to better understand the consequences of these changes.

“When you remove large sharks, then small sharks are very abundant and they consume more of the invertebrates that we humans eat,” Pimiento said. “Recent estimations show that large-bodied, shallow-water species of sharks are at greatest risk among marine animals, and (more…)

Scouting programs offer badges, nature exploration

October 16th, 2014
Members of various girl scout troops attend a workshop to earn a special badge.

Members of various Girl Scout troops attend a workshop to earn a special badge.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are invited to get a closer look at the natural world by participating in their next adventure at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

On Nov. 9, Girl Scouts will have the opportunity to practice scientific investigation at the Florida Museum’s “She’s A Scientist: A Girl Scout Exploration” program.

The program from 1 to 4 p.m. allows Brownie or Junior Girl Scouts to experience hands-on activities and experiments while meeting local scientists. The Scouts can earn a museum patch created for the event.

“I am very excited for this new program,” said Florida Museum educator Amanda Harvey. “The Scouts will have a unique opportunity to meet with many of our local scientists and to learn what kind of research is being done right here in Gainesville.”

The program is $5 per Scout including the patch. Girls may attend with their guardians or (more…)

‘Megalodon’ celebration activities set for Oct. 26

October 15th, 2014

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History is planning a “fintastic” celebration for the “Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived” exhibit from 1 to 4 p.m. Oct. 26.

The free, family-friendly event celebrates the prehistoric shark and its connections to modern-day species, including conservation efforts needed to protect sharks.

“I hope visitors are inspired to learn about their environment’s past and protect their environment’s future,” said Florida Museum educator Tiffany Ireland.

Employees and students from the museum’s departments of ichthyology, invertebrate paleontology and paleobotany, as well as the FOSSIL program, will have displays on sharks and fossils. Visitors may also speak with representatives from the Florida Paleontological Society, Florida Fossil Hunters and other area fossil clubs about their discoveries and research, including prehistoric sharks that swam over and (more…)

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