A butterfly in hiding takes wing on social media

April 17th, 2014
Pink-spot

Before 2011, the Pink-spot Sulphur was unknown from Florida, but with the help of Florida residents, scientists found it to be one of Miami’s most common butterflies.
Photo courtesy of Stephen Baig

By Stephenie Livingston

Thanks to social media and museum collections, a butterfly species was recognized in 2011 after more than 50 years of flying up and down the metro streets of South Florida unnoticed.

With the involvement of the public, scientists at the Florida Museum of Natural History are continuing to learn more about one of Miami’s most common butterflies.

While working in the vast collections of the Museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, lepidopterist and senior collections manager Andy Warren noticed a unique butterfly captured in Dade County in 1959, with bright pink spots near the base of its wings.

“It just kind of jumped out at me,” Warren said, noting he didn’t recall seeing the specimen previously.

Warren identified the specimen as Aphrissa neleis, or (more…)

97,000 newly acquired artifacts tell the story of America’s Spanish past

March 13th, 2014
Maps

Kathleen Deagan (center) shows the Fraser family a few of the recently discovered maps from the 1950s excavations in the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, St. Augustine, Fla.
From left to right: John W. Fraser, Elaine Fraser, John W. Fraser II, Steven Binninger, and Gene Kirker.
Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage

By Stephenie Livingston

Early in the 1930s, a gardener discovered a skull while planting an orange tree at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine. The find precipitated in-depth fieldwork by archaeologists during the ’70s and ’80s’, yielding discoveries that raised the possibility of the site being America’s ephemeral first colony, founded by explorer Pedro Menendez in 1565.

“After finding the kind of artifacts that would have been with Spaniards, we thought, could this be the Menendez settlement?” said Kathleen Deagan, retired distinguished curator of historical archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “We knew very little about the colony and had nothing on which to build a hypothesis. It was like having a giant, thousand-piece puzzle, with lots of pieces missing, and (more…)

Museum program inspires teachers to seek new horizons in science

February 14th, 2014
California secondary school science teachers Chris Carlson and Laura Beach view marine malacology specimens in Dickinson Hall. Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage

California secondary school science teachers Chris Carlson and Laura Beach view marine malacology specimens in Dickinson Hall.
Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage

By Stephenie Livingston

From a fossil museum curated by students to a garden used for experimentation, an innovative program that exposes educators to scientific fieldwork is significantly impacting classroom curriculum in California and Florida.

The Florida Museum of Natural History’s Panama Canal Projects’ Partnership for International Research and Education program brings scientists and teachers together to engage in the real world of science through inquiry-based curriculum development during a two-week field trip to Panama. California teachers from Santa Cruz and Watsonville were joined this year by (more…)

New Museum study suggests seashell loss due to tourism may have global impact

January 16th, 2014

By Stephenie Livingston

These Donax trueloides shells from the Florida Museum collections are the same type of seashells found on the Mediterranean coast of Spain where researchers surveyed a small stretch of shoreline. Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage

These Donax trueloides shells from the Florida Museum collections are the same type of seashells found on the Mediterranean coast of Spain where researchers surveyed a small stretch of shoreline.
Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage

Tourism may be damaging the very destinations treasured by visitors. Global tourism has increased fourfold over the last 30 years, resulting in human-induced shell loss that may harm natural habitats worldwide, according to Florida Museum of Natural History Thompson Chair of Invertebrate Paleontology Michal Kowalewski.

Appearing in the journal PLOS One on Jan. 8, 2014, the new study by researchers from the Florida Museum on the UF campus and the University of Barcelona demonstrates that increased tourism on the Mediterranean coast of Spain correlated with a 70 percent decrease in mollusk shells during the tourist season in July and August and a 60 percent decrease in other months. Kowalewski, lead author on the study, said scientists fear shell removal could cause significant damage to natural ecosystems and (more…)

Museum researcher discoverers remarkable new true crab-like hermit

December 13th, 2013

By Stephenie Livingston

The dorsal view of Patagurus rex, a new species of hermit crab found off the coast of Moorea in French Polynesia, shows a broad, hardened body—similar to the hardened bodies of true crabs. Photo credit by Arthur Anker

The dorsal view of Patagurus rex, a new species of hermit crab found off the coast of Moorea in French Polynesia, shows a broad, hardened body—similar to the hardened bodies of true crabs.
Photo by Arthur Anker

There are countless known species on the planet, but a new hermit crab found by a University of Florida researcher proves some interesting creatures remain to be discovered.

Dredged from the deep sea near the island of Moorea in French Polynesia in 2009, the species exemplifies the rarely documented process of carcinization, in which hermit crabs move out of their shells and harden their bodies to resemble true crabs. The new species, Patagurus rex, has a broad, armored body with pointy spines and long legs connected to large claws—making it one of the most distinctive hermit crabs discovered in decades, said Gustav Paulay, invertebrate curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. Paulay and Florida Museum post-doctoral researcher Arthur Anker describe the species in the journal Zootaxa in October 2013.

“Out of all the animals we collected in Moorea, probably the most interesting for me was this species of hermit crab,” Paulay said. “While dredging at 400 meters off the coast, up came a tiny little thing that at first looked like a crab, but (more…)

New Museum study describes world’s oldest known grape fossils found in India

November 15th, 2013

By Stephenie Livingston

This specimen of Indovitis chitaleyae from India contains 66-million-year-old raisin and characteristic grape seeds.   Photo by Steven Machester

This specimen of Indovitis chitaleyae from India contains 66-million-year-old raisin and characteristic grape seeds.
Photo by Steven Machester

Mysterious unidentified fossilized seeds from India, donated to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in 2005 and stored among the museum’s botany collections, were recently described by a Florida Museum of Natural History researcher as the world’s oldest-known grape species.

Described in the September 2013 issue of the American Journal of Botany, Indovitis chitaleyae pushes the record of the Vitaceae (grape) family into the Late Cretaceous, about 66 million years ago. Researchers have long believed the grape originated during the Cretaceous, though they lacked fossil evidence, said lead author Steven Manchester, Florida Museum curator of paleobotany.

“Visiting the Cleveland Museum collections while working on an unrelated project, I happened across the specimens and was able to recognize the distinctive grape seed outlines within the preserved fruit fossils,” Manchester said. “This helps to solve a mystery about the missing early fossil record of the grape family. DNA evidence suggests that the grapes diverged from the rest of the Rosid family tree, a major group of flowering plants including (more…)

Fossil record shows crustaceans vulnerable as modern coral reefs decline

October 9th, 2013

By Stephenie Livingston

Adiel Klompmaker, a University of Florida postdoctoral researcher,  is lead author of a new study available online and scheduled to appear in the November issue of Geology suggesting a direct correlation between the abundance of coral reefs and the diversity of many crustaceans.  Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Postdoctoral researcher Adiel Klompmaker is lead author of a new study suggesting a direct correlation between the abundance of coral reefs and the diversity of many crustaceans.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Nearly 150 million years ago, many ancient crustaceans went extinct following a massive collapse of reefs across the planet, and new Florida Museum of Natural History research suggests modern species living in rapidly declining reef habitats may now be at risk.

Available online and scheduled to appear in the November 2013 issue of Geology, the study shows a direct correlation between the amount of prehistoric reefs and the number of decapod crustaceans, a group that includes shrimp, crab and lobster. The decline of modern reefs due to natural and human-influenced changes also could be detrimental, causing a probable decrease in the biodiversity of crustaceans, which serve as a vital food source for humans and marine animals such as fish, said lead author Adiël Klompmaker, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum on the University of Florida campus who started the study at Kent State University.

“We estimate that earth’s decapod crustacean species biodiversity plummeted by more than 50 percent during a sharp decline of reefs, which was marked by the extinction of 80 percent of (more…)

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