View UF bats online this Halloween with new Fla. Museum video cameras

October 24th, 2011

Streaming videos of the colony, new website available online today

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With Halloween around the corner, it’s time to look out for those fabled creepy night-flyers, from ghosts and ghouls to blood-sucking bats. But don’t confuse fact with legend – bats are too busy eating insects to worry about sucking blood or getting tangled in your hair.

It’s no wonder these flying mammals have suffered centuries of misconceptions. Yet, bats have proven more intriguing than spooky when provided a home in an urban setting, as the University of Florida campus sees thousands of visitors to its stilted bat structures every year. UF has the world’s largest continuously occupied bat houses, located in a field across from Lake Alice on Museum Road, and for the first time beginning at 10 a.m. EDT today, the Florida Museum of Natural History will launch 24-hour streaming videos of the colony. (more…)

Fossil bird study describes ripple effect of extinction in animal kingdom

March 7th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A University of Florida study demonstrates extinction’s ripple effect through the animal kingdom, including how the demise of large mammals 20,000 years ago led to the disappearance of one species of cowbird.

The study shows the trickle-down effect the loss of large mammals has on other species, and researchers say it is a lesson from the past that should be remembered when making conservation, game and land-use decisions today. (more…)

UF study of lice DNA shows humans first wore clothes 170,000 years ago

January 6th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new University of Florida study following the evolution of lice shows modern humans started wearing clothes about 170,000 years ago, a technology which enabled them to successfully migrate out of Africa.

Principal investigator David Reed, associate curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, studies lice in modern humans to better understand human evolution and migration patterns. His latest five-year study used DNA sequencing to calculate when clothing lice first began to diverge genetically from human head lice.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study is available online and appears in this month’s print edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution. (more…)

UF research provides new understanding of bizarre extinct mammal

October 11th, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida researchers presenting new fossil evidence of an exceptionally well-preserved 55-million-year-old North American mammal have found it shares a common ancestor with rodents and primates, including humans.

The study, scheduled to appear in the Oct. 11 online edition of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, describes the cranial anatomy of the extinct mammal, Labidolemur kayi. High resolution CT scans of the specimens allowed researchers to study minute details in the skull, including bone structures smaller than one-tenth of a millimeter. Similarities in bone features with other mammals show L. kayi’s living relatives are rodents, rabbits, flying lemurs, tree shrews and primates. (more…)

UF study shows carnivore species shrank during global warming event

August 24th, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new University of Florida study indicates extinct carnivorous mammals shrank in size during a global warming event that occurred 55 million years ago.

The study, scheduled to appear in the December print edition of the Journal of Mammalian Evolution and now available online, describes a new species that evolved to half the size of its ancestors during this period of global warming.

The hyena-like animal, Palaeonictis wingi, evolved from the size of a bear to the size of a coyote during a 200,000-year period when Earth’s average temperature increased about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Following this global warming event, Earth’s temperature cooled and the animal evolved to a larger size. (more…)

Museum researcher receives $900,000 grant for worldwide human lice study

September 14th, 2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History mammalogist David Reed has received a $900,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award to study the evolutionary biology of human lice.

Reed, an associate curator of mammalogy at the Florida Museum, will use the five-year, $934,498 grant to trace the evolutionary history of lice, and he hopes the study will shed light on human migration, development and evolution.

“Parasitic lice have evolved alongside, but much faster than their human hosts,” Reed said. “The lice have given researchers a more detailed look at the process of species migration and evolution.”

The study also will analyze genetic similarities between the evolution of lice and humans as they have evolved over time. Reed said human and chimpanzee lice branched from a single evolutionary line at about the same time their hosts did and the study will use DNA sequencing data to more closely examine other similarities between the two types of lice. (more…)

54-million-year-old skull reveals early evolution of primate brains

June 22nd, 2009

Photos available at:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Researchers at the University of Florida and the University of Winnipeg have developed the first detailed images of a primitive primate brain, unexpectedly revealing that cousins of our earliest ancestors relied on smell more than sight.

The analysis of a well-preserved skull from 54 million years ago contradicts some common assumptions about brain structure and evolution in the first primates. The study also narrows the possibilities for what caused primates to evolve larger brain sizes. The study is scheduled to appear online the week of June 22 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The skull belongs to a group of primitive primates known as Plesiadapiforms, which evolved in the 10 million years between the extinction of the dinosaurs and the first traceable ancestors of modern primates. The 1.5-inch-long skull was found fully intact, allowing researchers to make the first virtual mold of a primitive primate brain. (more…)

UF study finds ancient mammals shifted diets as climate changed

May 29th, 2009

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new University of Florida study shows mammals change their dietary niches based on climate-driven environmental changes, contradicting a common assumption that species maintain their niches despite global warming.

Led by Florida Museum of Natural History vertebrate paleontologist Larisa DeSantis, researchers examined fossil teeth from mammals at two sites representing different climates in Florida: a glacial period about 1.9 million years ago and a warmer, interglacial period about 1.3 million years ago. The researchers found that interglacial warming resulted in dramatic changes to the diets of animal groups at both sites. The study appears in the June 3 issue of PLoS ONE.

“When people are modeling future mammal distributions, they’re assuming that the niches of mammals today are going to be the same in the future,” DeSantis said. “That’s a huge assumption.” (more…)

Mummy lice found in Peru may give new clues about human migration

February 7th, 2008

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Lice from 1,000-year-old mummies in Peru may unravel important clues about a different sort of passage: the migration patterns of America’s earliest humans, a new University of Florida study suggests.

“It’s kind of quirky that a parasite we love to hate can actually inform us how we traveled around the globe,” said David Reed, an assistant curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus and one of the study’s authors.

DNA sequencing found the strain of lice to be genetically the same as the form of body lice that spawns several deadly diseases, including typhus, which was blamed for the loss of Napoleon’s grand army and millions of other soldiers, he said. (more…)

Fla. Museum study: Human pubic lice acquired from gorillas provide evolutionary clues

March 7th, 2007

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Humans acquired pubic lice from gorillas several million years ago, but this seemingly seedy connection does not mean that monkey business went on with the great apes, a new Florida Museum of Natural History study finds.

Rather than close encounters of the intimate kind, humans most likely got the gorilla’s lice from sleeping in their nests or eating the giant apes, said David Reed, assistant curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus, one of the study’s authors. The research is published in the current edition of the BMC Biology journal.

“It certainly wouldn’t have to be what many people are going to immediately assume it might have been, and that is sexual intercourse occurring between humans and gorillas,” he said. “Instead of something sordid, it could easily have stemmed from an activity that was considerably more tame.” (more…)