GAINESVILLE, Fla. —A new University of Florida study describes a 16-foot, 900-pound ancient species of crocodilian that swam in the same rivers as Titanoboa 60 million years ago in the world’s oldest-known rain forest.
The newly named reptile, which has an unusually blunt snout for species in the dyrosaurids family, lived alongside the 58-foot Titanoboa as portrayed in the Smithsonian Channel documentary on the ‘monster snake.’ Scientists assigned the species’ name, Anthracosuchus balrogus, in a study appearing online today in the journal Historical Biology. Unearthed from the same layer of rock as Titanoboa in theCerrejon coal mine of northern Colombia, the species is named for a ferocious fictional creature (the “Balrog”) that appeared in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel “The Lord of the Rings” and dwelled deep in the middle-Earth “Mines of Moria.”
The new species opens a window to the early adaptability and diversity of tropical crocodyliforms, which may help scientists better understand how living crocodiles adapt to changing environments today, said lead author Alex Hastings, a post-doctoral researcher at Martin Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg and former graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History and UF’s department of geological sciences.
“It quickly became clear that the four fossil specimens were unlike any dyrosaur species ever found,” Hastings said, noting the species’ short snout paired with large jaw muscles typical of dyrosaurids, would give it an incredibly powerful bite. “Everyone thinks that crocodiles are (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A 5-million-year-old saber-toothed cat, the world’s oldest grape and a bizarre hermit crab were among more than 100 new species discovered by University of Florida scientists last year.
Driven in part by the urgency to document new species as natural habitats and fossil sites decline due to human influences, researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History, located on the UF campus, described 16 new genera and 103 new species of plants and animals in 2013, with some research divisions anticipating higher numbers for 2014.
An online search shows the only other major research institution reporting similar information is (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As part of the Blue Star Museums program, the Florida Museum of Natural History will offer free admission to all fee-based exhibits for active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day 2014.
This is the third consecutive year the Florida Museum has participated in the Blue Star program, a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense and more than 2,000 museums across America. The program runs from May 26 through Sept. 1.
“We are honored to be part of the Blue Star Museums program and help provide our nation’s active duty military personnel with a high-quality museum experience,” said associate curator for Lepidoptera Jaret Daniels, who also oversees the museum’s exhibits and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A Florida Museum of Natural History researcher recently received a 2013-2014 UF Excellence Award for his research on social networks and communities in pre-Columbian North America.
Neill Wallis, assistant curator in Florida archaeology, was one of 10 University of Florida assistant professors selected to receive the award. Recognizing excellence in research from junior faculty, the $5,000 award may be used to fund travel, equipment, books, graduate student assistants and other research-related expenses.
Wallis’ research programs focus on the development and change of Native American social networks and communities between 3,000 and 500 years ago. Centered primarily on Florida and the southeastern United States, his research more broadly redefines understandings of political and social life in these societies.
“Dr. Wallis is an exceptional young faculty member whose scholarly productivity is outstanding,” said Florida Museum Director Doug Jones, who nominated Wallis for the award.
Since 2011, in addition to senior authorship on six peer-reviewed articles and five book chapters (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — From working behind-the-scenes in museum collections to guiding school groups through exhibits, the Florida Museum of Natural History provides volunteer opportunities for people with many interests.
The museum will hold an orientation session May 21 from 2 to 4 p.m. where prospective adult volunteers ages 18 and older will learn about the various opportunities available. Pre-registration is required.
“We have a variety of positions that appeal to those who enjoy interacting with people, those who prefer to work quietly and everything in between,” school programs coordinator Dianne Behringer said.
Barbara Ornstein, who received the 2014 James Pope Cheney Volunteer of the Year Award, said she is always learning something new as a museum volunteer.
Since becoming a docent in 2000 due to her interest in science and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Girl Scouts will have the opportunity to plant a seed of knowledge at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s “Girl Scouts Explore: Botany” program May 9.
The program from 6 to 9 p.m. allows Brownie or Junior Girl Scouts to explore and investigate plants from around the world, and earn a museum patch with an accompanying “Botany” bar especially designed for the event.
“I remember participating in scouting events at the museum when I was a Brownie Girl Scout so I am very excited to share this experience with current Brownies and Juniors,” said Florida Museum educator Amanda Harvey. “I hope they make memories and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Hard work has paid off for Barbara Ornstein and Robert Tarnuzzer, who were recognized last week by the Florida Museum of Natural History as winners of the 2014 James Pope Cheney Volunteer of the Year Award.
Ornstein served 199 hours at the museum during 2013 and has completed more than 1,600 hours since she began volunteering in 2000. In addition to her role as a school programs docent, she also participates in outreach programs and exhibit fabrication.
“The keyword that I think best describes Barbara’s volunteer work here at the museum is ‘versatility,’ ” said Center for Science Learning project manager Dale Johnson.
Tarnuzzer served more than 443 hours in the museum’s vertebrate paleontology collections during 2013 and has completed more than 2,800 hours since becoming a volunteer in 2007. He collects fossils in the field and (more…)
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 work to help create and curate an exhibit on his research in 2012. Florida Museum curator of Latin American art and archaeology Susan Milbrath nominated Vadala for his work in Yucatan and Belize and praised his computer modeling skills that allowed him to (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…)