GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida researcher has described a new genus and species of extinct saber-toothed cat from Polk County, Fla., based on additional fossil acquisitions of the animal over the last 25 years.
The 5-million-year-old fossils belong to the same lineage as the famous Smilodon fatalis from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, a large, carnivorous apex predator with elongated upper canine teeth. Previous research suggested the group of saber-toothed cats known as Smilodontini originated in the Old World and then migrated to North America, but the age of the new species indicates the group likely originated in North America. The study appeared online in the journal PLOS One Wednesday.
“Smilodon first shows up on the fossil record around 2.5 million years ago, but there haven’t been a lot of good intermediate forms for understanding where it came from,” said study co-author Richard Hulbert Jr., vertebrate paleontology collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “The new species shows that the most famous saber-toothed cat, Smilodon, had a New World origin and it and its ancestors lived in the southeastern U.S. for at least 5 million years before their extinction about 11,000 years ago. Compared to what we knew about these earlier saber-toothed cats 20 or 30 years ago, we now have a much better understanding of this group.” (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Butterflies are among the most vibrant insects, with colorations sometimes designed to deflect predators. New University of Florida research shows some of these defenses may be driven by enemies one-tenth their size.
Since the time of Darwin 150 years ago, researchers have believed large predators like birds mainly influenced the evolution of coloration in butterflies. In the first behavioral study to directly test the defense mechanism of hairstreak butterflies, UF lepidopterist Andrei Sourakov found that the appearance of a false head – a wing pattern found on hundreds of hairstreak butterflies worldwide – was 100 percent effective against attacks from a jumping spider. The research published online March 8 in the Journal of Natural History shows small arthropods, rather than large vertebrate predators, may influence butterfly evolution.
“Everything we observe out there has been blamed on birds: aposematic coloration, mimicry and various defensive patterns like eyespots,” said study author Andrei Sourakov, a collection coordinator at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity on the UF campus. “It’s a big step in general and a big leap of faith to realize that a creature as tiny as a jumping spider, whose brain and life span are really small compared to birds, can actually be partially responsible for the great diversity of patterns that evolved out there among Lepidoptera and other insects.”
Sourakov’s behavioral experiments at the McGuire Center showed the Red-banded Hairstreak butterfly, Calycopis cecrops, whose spots and tail imitate a false head, successfully escaped all 16 attacks from the jumping spider, Phidippus pulcherrimus. When 11 other butterfly and moth species from seven different families were exposed to the jumping spider, they were unable to escape attack in every case. Sourakov videotaped the experiments and analyzed the results in slow motion. (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History will offer behind-the-scenes tours of its archaeology collections at Dickinson Hall March 23 and other activities for all ages in celebration of Florida Archaeology Month.
“These programs will give our community multiple opportunities to engage with different sides of Florida archaeology,” said Amanda Harvey, museum education assistant.
The museum’s Randell Research Center in Pineland will host its eighth annual Calusa Heritage Day Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a variety of activities including tours, demonstrations and presentations. Florida Museum archaeology curator emeritus Jerald T. Milanich will give the keynote address, “Ponce de Leon’s 1513 Voyage to Florida.” Admission is $5 for adults and free for children and Randell Research Center members. For more information, visit http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/rrc/ or call 239-283-2062 or 239-283-2157. (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History is seeking students ages 12-17 for its junior volunteer program. Applications are available starting Monday and must be returned by April 5.
Junior volunteers participate in various activities with different museum departments, including sorting and preserving specimens in the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity collections, interacting with the public in the Butterfly Rainforest and others exhibits and working as a camp education assistant
The program’s popularity has increased its competitiveness and interested youth are encouraged to apply early. New applicants are selected based on their interview, experience and availability. Preference is given to experienced junior volunteers invited to return.
New applicants are required to interview April 27-28 and all junior volunteers must attend a mandatory training session June 2. Volunteers are required to work morning or afternoon shifts for two consecutive weeks. (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Spend a day watching volcanic eruptions and sifting for gems, minerals and other treasures at the Florida Museum of Natural History and University of Florida Department of Geological Sciences’ seventh annual “Can You Dig It?” event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 16.
This free, family-friendly event is sponsored by the University of Florida’s Department of Geological Sciences and the Florida Museum in collaboration with Geohazards Inc., Creative Environmental Solutions Inc. and Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. and features many hands-on activities.
Attendees will learn many different aspects of geology, from why some volcanoes erupt explosively, while others do not, to how scientists study the ocean floor.
“We’ve once again added some new activities this year,” said Matt Smith, lecturer for the UF department of geological sciences. “We really want to get people–especially kids– out to see what geology is all about. Lots of kids don’t know what geologists actually do, so every year we try to mix it up and make the event better.”
New activities this year include investigating how groundwater flows and shapes the earth’s surface, discovering how increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can threaten the ocean’s coral reefs and using a computer and 3-D camera to create real-time images of landscapes made in a sandbox. (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida paleontologists have discovered remarkably well-preserved fossils of two crocodilians and a mammal previously unknown to science during recent Panama Canal excavations that began in 2009.
The two new ancient extinct alligator-like animals and an extinct hippo-like species inhabited Central America during the Miocene about 20 million years ago. The research expands the range of ancient animals in the subtropics — some of the most diverse areas today about which little is known historically because lush vegetation prevents paleontological excavations — and may be used to better understand how climate change affects species dispersal today. The two studies appear online today in the same issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The fossils shed new light on scientists’ understanding of species distribution because they represent a time before the formation of the Isthmus of Panama, when the continents of North and South America were separated by oceanic waters. (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Discover Juan Ponce de Leon’s life and times as a Spanish explorer and his 1513 arrival in the state at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s “Science Café” March 12.
The event from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Chef Brothers Custom Catering, 5240 NW 34th St. (across from the YMCA), includes a limited, Florida-themed menu for participants. Kathleen Deagan, Florida Museum distinguished research curator of historical archaeology, will describe the daily life and times of Ponce de Leon before he came to Florida, and how he became governor of Puerto Rico and Florida.
“I hope people will come away with a better understanding of the origins of the Spanish settlement in the Americas,” Deagan said. “I also hope they leave with a better understanding of the conditions of life for the earliest settlers as well as the reality of being a ‘conquistador.’ ” (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida study on louse evolution shows the parasite’s genetic structure differs based on geographic region, information essential for developing more effective insecticides.
Hundreds of millions of head louse infestations affect children worldwide every year and numbers continue to rise, partly due to resistance to insecticidal shampoos. The study appearing online in the journal PLOS One today is the first to analyze nuclear genetic variation of head lice, providing a more complete evolutionary history of the parasite. Understanding genetic structure worldwide allows researchers to make insecticides tailored to a particular population, because control methods effective in one region may not be successful in others.
“Insect populations will develop resistance to insecticides in different ways and to create an effective management plan, you need to take into consideration the genetic profiles of these populations (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History and UF Office of Sustainability will present a free screening of the award-winning documentary “The Clean Bin Project” Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. at the museum.
Filmmakers Grant Baldwin Jen Rustemeyer will answer questions after the film, which chronicles their yearlong competition to buy no material goods and produce as little waste as possible while examining the larger issue of garbage in North America.
“There are very few family friendly events that deal with important issues in our society like waste and the environment in a way that is insightful, entertaining and empowering for all ages,” said Florida Museum education assistant Tiffany Ireland. (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Turn your time circuits on and travel “Back to the Future” at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s annual “Passport” gala Feb. 22 Gala. Proceeds will help construct a permanent Discovery Room at the museum.
Admission is $100 for the event, part of a three-year campaign to raise $1 million to create a 2,000-square-foot innovative, permanent Discovery Room where families can engage in hands-on science activities. The museum raised more than $400,000 during the first year of the campaign.
“It is very important to the Florida Museum to create a place for children that fosters critical thinking, collaboration and creativity, and the Discovery Room does that,” said Leslie Ladendorf, museum assistant director of development and membership. “We want to develop a space for families to interact and learn together.”
“The Discovery Room provides a safe, fun and engaging place for families to explore and learn together about the natural world and more intimately connect to the museum’s collections,” said Jaret Daniels, Florida Museum assistant director for exhibits and public programs. (more…)