Researchers discover oldest evidence of nails in modern primates

August 15th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – From hot pink to traditional French and Lady Gaga’s sophisticated designs, manicured nails have become the grammar of fashion.

But they are not just pretty – when nails appeared on all fingers and toes in modern primates about 55 million years ago, they led to the development of critical functions, including finger pads that allow for sensitive touch and the ability to grasp, whether it’s a nail polish brush or remover to prepare for the next trend.

In a new study co-authored by University of Florida scientists, researchers recovered and analyzed the oldest fossil evidence of fingernails in modern primates, confirming the idea nails developed with small body size and disproving previous theories nails evolved with an increase in primate body size. More than 25 new specimens of Teilhardina brandti – an extinct primate originally described from a single lower molar – include pieces of upper teeth and ankle bones that show the mammal lived in trees. Its nails allowed the lemur-like animal to grasp onto branches and move through the trees with more agility, researchers said. (more…)

Florida Museum shark expert to speak in Senegal regarding work leading to sawfish addition to U.S. endangered list

July 21st, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The University of Florida shark expert George Burgess is slated to speak at an international conference Monday about research that allowed the largetooth sawfish to be named a U.S. endangered species last week.

Burgess and other UF scientists conducted the documentary research allowing the National Marine Fisheries Service to list the largetooth sawfish as endangered July 12. He is scheduled as a keynote speaker to discuss sawfish populations during the 2011 International Symposium on Sharks in Dakar, Senegal, Monday through Wednesday.

“It’s a fairly desperate situation,” said Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “Anything that swims is eligible to be eaten – you have poor countries reaping their resources because they have no choice.” (more…)

Updated field guide includes more than 100 newly recognized fish species

July 18th, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — While Florida Museum of Natural History ichthyologist Larry Page collected specimens in Thailand this spring, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt released one of his most significant publications, the second edition of the “Peterson Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North America North of Mexico.”

“I use it myself all the time, believe it or not,” said Page, a curator at the museum located on the University of Florida campus. “We keep copies in every lab and every office because specimens come in all the time and we need it for our own research and work.” (more…)

Museum archaeologist receives $20,000 to analyze Swift Creek pottery

July 11th, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History researcher Neill Wallis recently received a $20,000 grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation to analyze and digitally document pottery made by prehistoric people of the southeast U.S.

The grant will help Wallis analyze Swift Creek Complicated Stamped pottery used by hunter-gatherers of northern Florida, Georgia and eastern Alabama from A.D. 100 to 800. Methods include recording vessel shape and form, photographing designs, and conducting neutron activation and petrographic analyses and radiocarbon dating soot on the pottery. The grant will fund the neutron activation and petrographic analyses.

“This will be useful to many archaeologists working in Florida, Georgia or Alabama – there are a lot of sites that have Swift Creek pottery,” Wallis said. “It’s really going to give us a sense of how hunter-gatherers interacted with other hunter-gatherers.” (more…)

UF, FSU receive $10 million for project to digitize U.S. biology collections

July 8th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The National Science Foundation announced today its award of a $10 million grant to the University of Florida and Florida State University to coordinate 92 institutions in 45 states working to digitize the nation’s biological collections.

Available to anyone online, the natural history data and its increased accessibility will help researchers identify gaps in scientific knowledge and could assist government agencies and others making decisions related to climate change, conservation, invasive species, biodiversity and other biological issues.

“There are probably a billion specimens in the U.S., but information isn’t easily accessible,” said Larry Page, principal investigator of the five-year project and a research scientist at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “This program is about making that information available to researchers, educators, policymakers and the general public – anyone who wants it.” (more…)

New study documents first cookiecutter shark attack on a live human

June 30th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new study co-authored by University of Florida researchers provides details on the first cookiecutter shark attack on a live human, a concern as warm summer waters attract more people to the ocean.

The study currently online and appearing in the July print edition of Pacific Science warns that swimmers entering the cookiecutter’s range of open ocean tropical waters may be considered prey. The sharks feed near the surface at night, meaning daytime swimmers are less likely to encounter them. The species is small, with adults reaching about 2 feet, but their unique jaws specialize in scooping out a piece of flesh, leaving victims with a crater-like wound.


Rare deep-water giant squid from South Florida brought to UF for research

June 28th, 2011

University of Florida researchers received a rare 25-foot-long, deep-water giant squid Monday, the only one of its kind in the collections of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Recovered by recreational fishermen who found the creature floating on the surface about 12 miles offshore from Jensen Beach Sunday, museum scientists collected the specimen from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Tequesta Field Laboratory in Palm Beach County and returned to the Gainesville campus late Monday.

“It’s so rare to get these specimens and they’re such deep-water animals that we don’t know much about how they live,” said John Slapcinsky, Florida Museum malacology collection manager. “This specimen provides an excellent opportunity to learn things about these creatures we couldn’t find out any other way.” (more…)

UF researchers unearth only stone mission church in St. Augustine

June 2nd, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida archaeologists uncovered the remains of a more than 300-year-old building Friday in St. Augustine that may predate the famous Castillo de San Marcos fort.

Researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History located coquina stone and tabby foundations of an at least 90-by-40-foot-structure, making it one of the largest churches in colonial Spanish Florida and the only mission church made of stone.

The team believes the church may be the oldest stone structure from Spanish colonial Florida. It was found on the site of the first Franciscan mission in Florida, the Nombre de Dios, which was the longest-enduring mission in the Southeast, in operation from 1587 until 1760. (more…)

Florida Museum shark expert to investigate recent Mexico attacks

May 31st, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History shark expert George Burgess departs for Mexico today to research three shark attacks near Cancun on Jan. 31 and March 21 and 24.

This marks Burgess’ fourth trip to Mexico to investigate shark incidents in the last 20 years. While attacks in Mexico are not as common as in more populated areas, the events of early 2011 drew media attention because of the tourists involved, Burgess said.

“It’s the same thing as Egypt in December, just a different language,” said Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File housed at the Florida Museum, whose work is featured in the current issue of Playboy magazine. (more…)

UF researchers link oceanic land crab extinction to colonization of Hawaii

May 17th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida researchers have described a new species of land crab that documents the first crab extinction during the human era.

The loss of the crab likely greatly impacted the ecology of the Hawaiian Islands, as land crabs are major predators, control litter decomposition and help in nutrient cycling and seed dispersal. Their disappearance was caused by the arrival of humans to the islands and resulted in large-scale changes in the state’s ecosystem. Researchers said the full impact of the extinction on Hawaii is unknown, but they are certain it led to changes in the diversity of the food web, a continuing concern to conservationists studying species loss in other habitats. The study will be published online May 16 in PLoS ONE. (more…)

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