News Article | April 11, 2017
More than 50 new species of spider, including a peacock spider with a “wonderful courtship behaviour, like dancing”, have been discovered in Queensland Australia’s Cape York region, during a 10-day trip by scientists from the Queensland Museum. The new arachnids, which are now being formally classified, include a brush-footed trap-door spider, a large black creature that looks like a funnel web with the added power of being able to walk up glass doors; a new species of swift spider, with fuzzy black and white front legs; and several new species of ant spider. It is the most new spiders ever discovered on a research trip by Bush Blitz, an Australian government funded ecological research body. Bush Blitz has funded 34 similar surveys and discovered almost 1,200 new species since being established four years ago, of which 201 have been spiders. Dr Barbara Baehr, a research biologist at the Queensland Museum, said the ecological richness of the area, combined with a successful wet season which had made the area green and thriving, meant they were discovering new species every day. “It’s so vibrant – so many spiders are out there,” she told Guardian Australia. “When you just cup leaf-litter together, it’s crazy.” Of particular interest to Baehr was a new species of peacock spider, which has “a wonderful courtship behaviour, like dancing,” and a new species of jumping spider, which also danced. “Jumping spiders have a nice courtship behaviour: they dance for their women,” she said. “I once described one after Mao’s Last Dancer because I had seen the ballet and it danced like that. There is a lovely side to spiders, there’s not just a terrible, dangerous side.” Baehr is now in the process of describing a number of spiders for formal scientific classification. Over her career she has described 600 new spider species, including 250 new species of ant spider. There are about 3,500 known species of spider in Australia and anywhere between 7,000 and 15,000 yet to be formally classified. With the exception of a redback spider or a funnel-web, Baehr said, most will not hurt more than a bee sting, and will not attack at all “if you don’t pinch them”. “I am from Germany, and I came over because of that richness of fauna here, and because it’s like a paradise for biologists,” she said. “I think Australians, they aren’t aware of it that much, they just live here.” The research expedition was conducted on Quinkan country, near Cooktown, which is currently being considered for national heritage listing. It is the first time the area has been biologically surveyed. Brad Grogan, manager of the Western Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation, whose rangers and traditional owners guided the research, said it provided valuable information about the conservation values of the area. “Hopefully this expedition will help us identify areas of natural values that we can protect for the future,” he said.
News Article | September 30, 2016
Three-dimensional prints of a 400-million-year-old fish fossil from around Lake Burrinjuck in southeast Australia reveal the possible evolutionary origins of human teeth, according to new research by The Australian National University (ANU) and Queensland Museum. ANU and Queensland Museum digitally dissected the jaws of a fossil Buchanosteus - an armored fish from the extinct placoderm group - and used the 3-D prints to learn how the jaws moved and whether the fish had teeth. Gavin Young, one of the ANU researchers, said the study helped determine when and how teeth - a characteristic feature of all animal species with jaws, including humans - had originated in evolutionary history. "We have used CT scanning facilities at ANU to investigate the internal structure of very fragile fossil skulls and braincases that have been acid-etched from limestone rock," said Young, a palaeontologist at the ANU Department of Applied Mathematics. "We are conducting further research on the internal tissue structure of tooth-like denticles in the mouth of the fish fossil, to determine whether they represent a transitional stage in the evolution of teeth." Co-researcher Yuzhi Hu from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences said the evolutionary origin of teeth was a major scientific question. "We are researching this question using new evidence from an exceptionally preserved fossil fish about 400-million-years-old," said Hu, a PhD candidate. The research team used high-resolution CT scanning facilities developed at ANU to investigate the ancient fish fossil, found about 50km north-west of Canberra. The ANU researchers and Carole Burrow from Queensland Museum published the research results in Biology Letters, disputing findings in an article the journal published last year suggesting that the extinct placoderms had real teeth. "It's great that we are able to use recent technology, such as micro-CT scanning and 3-D printing, to examine some of the earliest known evidence of tooth-like structures in the most primitive jawed fishes," Burrow said. "Placoderms have been a common focus in the question of tooth origins. Our team has been able to examine the gnathal plates of placoderms from the Early Devonian period, and compare their internal and external structure with those of younger placoderms as well as with the true teeth in other jawed fishes."
News Article | December 9, 2016
Famous for their carefully camouflaged burrows – some with lids or 'trapdoors' from which they launch themselves to catch their prey – trapdoor spiders are remarkable animals. The females of some species are known to live in the same burrow for more than 25 years. Led by the University of Adelaide, in collaboration with the Western Australian Museum, the Queensland Museum, the Department of Parks and Wildlife (WA) and The University of Western Australia, the scientists have compared numbers of trapdoors at various locations across Australia's southern agricultural and arid zones with survey data from the 1950s to the present. The findings have been published in the journal Austral Entomology. "We have good historical records of trapdoor spiders going back 60 years which showed population numbers were reasonably good, but recent surveys of the same areas show numbers are extremely low, and in some cases spiders are completely absent," says project leader Professor Andrew Austin, from the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Evolution Biology and Biodiversity. Trapdoor spiders are sometimes encountered in domestic gardens in towns and cities around Australia when they emerge from their burrows to feed or look for a mate. However, these represent just a few common species, when in fact there are several hundred species found in particular habitats, most of which haven't even received a formal scientific name. Now there is concern that this major and unique component of Australia's fauna may be threatened. "The problem in some areas looks to be that the few spiders surviving are old females, and an absence of males means there is no capacity to reproduce, and they eventually die and the population disappears," says team member Dr Mark Harvey, a national expert on spiders based at the Western Australian Museum. "The reasons for this decline are probably complex but are undoubtedly linked to a century of intensive land clearing and the fact that trapdoor spiders are susceptible to soil disturbance around their burrows." Lead author Dr Mike Rix, who did his research at the University of Adelaide and is now at the Queensland Museum, says the results of this research are concerning on their own, but may also be representative of a decline in populations of other invertebrate animals. "To get a better handle on the extent of the problem, there is a real need for more detailed follow up surveys, including to assess where remnant populations still exist," he says. Explore further: What's hiding behind the trapdoor? Spiders, of course More information: Michael G Rix et al. Where have all the spiders gone? The decline of a poorly known invertebrate fauna in the agricultural and arid zones of southern Australia, Austral Entomology (2016). DOI: 10.1111/aen.12258
News Article | December 9, 2016
Recent surveys by Australian scientists have identified an apparent significant decline in the numbers of trapdoor spiders across southern Australia. Famous for their carefully camouflaged burrows - some with lids or 'trapdoors' from which they launch themselves to catch their prey - trapdoor spiders are remarkable animals. The females of some species are known to live in the same burrow for more than 25 years. Led by the University of Adelaide, in collaboration with the Western Australian Museum, the Queensland Museum, the Department of Parks and Wildlife (WA) and The University of Western Australia, the scientists have compared numbers of trapdoors at various locations across Australia's southern agricultural and arid zones with survey data from the 1950s to the present. The findings have been published in the journal Austral Entomology. "We have good historical records of trapdoor spiders going back 60 years which showed population numbers were reasonably good, but recent surveys of the same areas show numbers are extremely low, and in some cases spiders are completely absent," says project leader Professor Andrew Austin, from the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Evolution Biology and Biodiversity. Trapdoor spiders are sometimes encountered in domestic gardens in towns and cities around Australia when they emerge from their burrows to feed or look for a mate. However, these represent just a few common species, when in fact there are several hundred species found in particular habitats, most of which haven't even received a formal scientific name. Now there is concern that this major and unique component of Australia's fauna may be threatened. "The problem in some areas looks to be that the few spiders surviving are old females, and an absence of males means there is no capacity to reproduce, and they eventually die and the population disappears," says team member Dr Mark Harvey, a national expert on spiders based at the Western Australian Museum. "The reasons for this decline are probably complex but are undoubtedly linked to a century of intensive land clearing and the fact that trapdoor spiders are susceptible to soil disturbance around their burrows." Lead author Dr Mike Rix, who did his research at the University of Adelaide and is now at the Queensland Museum, says the results of this research are concerning on their own, but may also be representative of a decline in populations of other invertebrate animals. "To get a better handle on the extent of the problem, there is a real need for more detailed follow up surveys, including to assess where remnant populations still exist," he says. This research was funded by the Australian Research Council, with additional support from BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Biota Environmental Sciences, the South Australian Museum, and the Western Australian Museum. Dr Mike Rix, former University of Adelaide, now at Queensland Museum. Mobile: +61 (0) 407 694 713, firstname.lastname@example.org
News Article | August 31, 2016
The largest survey of its kind in the southern hemisphere examined 61 species, including 370 inidvidual birds from eastern Australia. Dr Kathy Townsend from the School of Biomedical Sciences and the Moreton Bay Research Station said 30 per cent of species investigated had ingested marine debris. "How the birds feed effects the type of debris they ingest, along with their habitat," Dr Townsend said. "For example, pursuit-diving species such as shags and cormorants ingested things like fishing hooks and sinkers, while surface-feeders such as albatross and short-tailed shearwaters ingested buoyant plastics and balloons. "The study showed that marine birds were highly selective of the physical characteristics, types and colours of debris they ingest." Dr Townsend said that for the short-tailed shearwater their unorthodox diet was likely a case of mistaken identity. "These birds feed extensively on red arrow squid and they were found to particularly favour red and orange balloons which may look similar when they are foraging." Lead author Lauren Roman, now with the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in Tasmania, conducted research as part of her UQ Honours thesis. Ms Roman said species which ingested debris included the near-threatened Buller's albatross (Thalassarche bulleri) and shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta). The vulnerable Westland petrel (Procellaria westlandica) and Gould's petrel (Pterodroma leucoptera) were also found to feed on rubbish. Ms Roman said the birds investigated in the study were collected dead by citizen scientists and wildlife care groups across eastern Australia and the contents of their stomach examined during necropsies. "Pollution of the world's oceans is having direct impacts on marine birds but the extent is yet to be fully investigated in Australia," she said. Australian Seabird Rescue, Pelican and Seabird Rescue, Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, RSPCA Wacol Wildlife Hospital, the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital and Queensland Museum all contributed to the survey. The study has been published in PloS One. More information: Anthropogenic Debris Ingestion by Avifauna in Eastern Australia. dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0158343
News Article | March 7, 2016
In an unusual medical case, a man in Australia lost his sense of smell for more than a year after he was bitten by a venomous snake, according to a new report of his case. The man has since regained some of his sense of smell, but he is still unable to fully detect smells the way he did before his encounter with the reptile, called the mulga snake, said the doctors and other experts who examined the man's neurological condition about a year after he was bitten and who wrote the report of his case. "As far as I know, he is still affected but somewhat improved," said Kenneth D. Winkel, a toxinologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, who co-authored the report. The otherwise healthy 30-year-old man went to a neurology clinic at St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, telling doctors that he'd lost his sense of smell about a year before and had not regained it. The man first noticed this bizarre symptom a week after he was bitten by a snake while he was traveling in the Australian outback. The snake bit the man on two of his fingers while he was washing his hands at a roadside restroom, the man told the doctors. A local resident helped out, trapping the snake in the sink and killing it. The man preserved the snake in a jar of alcohol. [3 Unusual Snakebite Reactions] Shortly after the incident, the man went to the emergency department of a regional hospital. The doctors who treated him there found that he had temporary problems with blood clotting, too much protein in his urine and blisters that oozed with a clear liquid. The man stayed at that hospital for three days, during which his doctors gave him medication to prevent the bite wound from becoming infected. However, those doctors did not give the man anti-venom because they considered his symptoms to be "mild enough to not warrant anti-venom administration," according to the report, published Feb. 17 in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience. The administration of anti-venom is normally recommended when a person is experiencing severe symptoms from a venomous bite, the authors of the report said. A few days after the man was released, he noticed his sense of smell began to deteriorate, and within weeks, he completely lost the ability to smell. A year later, when the man went to the neurology clinic at a different hospital, neurological tests confirmed that he was unable to detect smells — a condition that doctors call anosmia. However, the examination of his nose and nervous system did not reveal any other abnormalities, which meant his anosmia did not have a structural cause and therefore was most likely caused by the snakebite, the researchers said. Because more than a year had passed since the man was bitten and his loss of smell was severe, there was not much his doctors could do to treat his condition at that point. Meanwhile, the snake specimen that the man had kept in the jar was sent to the Queensland Museum's herpetology department, where experts identified it as the mulga snake (Pseudechis australis). The mulga snake is the largest terrestrial venomous snake in Australia, according to a previous study on mulga snake bites. In that study, which looked at 27 cases of people bitten by mulga snakes, the researchers noted that although the bites can be fatal, the most recent case of a fatal mulga snakebite was reported more than 40 years ago. In most cases, bites from a mulga snake can cause symptoms such as inflammation at the bite site, muscle pain and destruction of blood cells. But effects on the nervous system rarely have been reported for bites inflicted by this snake species, the researchers said. However, cases of long-term and permanent anosmia attributed to bites by other types of snakes have been reported, the researchers said. [Oddest Medical Case Reports] It's unclear how often people may develop anosmia after a snakebite, Winkel told Live Science. Overall, it appears to be "uncommon, but not rare," he said. In a previous study done in Australia, researchers examined the effects of the bites from the red-bellied black snake, and found that 1 in 57 affected patients developed anosmia, he said. The red-bellied black snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus) belongs to the same family of snakes as the mulga snake, called elapids. It is not clear whether administering anti-venom soon after a person is bitten may help prevent anosmia, the researchers said. Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
News Article | January 21, 2016
Australia is well known for its extensive deserts and savanna habitats. However, a great number of native Australian species are restricted to the wet tropical forests along the east coast of northern Queensland. These forests are also the home of the recent discoveries. Most of the weevil species now recognised as new have already been collected in the 80s and 90s of the past century. Since then they had been resting in museum collections until German researcher Alexander Riedel had the opportunity to study them. "Usually a delay of decades or even centuries occurs between the encounter of a new species in the field and its thorough scientific study and formal naming," he explains. "This is due to the small number of experts who focus on species discovery," he elaborates. "There are millions of unidentified insect specimens stored in collections around the world but only few people have the training necessary to identify those of special interest." However, old museum specimens alone are not enough either. Nowadays, researchers try to include DNA data in their descriptions, and the necessary sequencing techniques work more efficiently with freshly collected material. Therefore, the scientists set off to the field after they have studied the collections of others. Nevertheless, the German team were led to the discovery of one additional new species, which had never been seen before. They called it Trigonopterus garradungensis after the place where it was found. All of the newly described weevils are restricted to small areas. Some are found only in a single locality. Presumably, this is a consequence of their winglessness, which has prevented them from spreading around. Furthermore, most of them dwell in the leaf litter where they are easily overlooked. Usually, they come to light during specific surveys of the litter fauna. This is what Geoff Monteith from the Queensland Museum in Brisbane, for instance, has done in the past. As a result, his work is now relevant to conservation because highly localised species are extremely vulnerable to changes of their habitat such as climate change or the arrival of invasive species. It is likely that Trigonopterus weevils have originated in Australia, the oldest landmass in the region. The island of New Guinea is geologically much younger, but there the genus has quickly enough diversified into hundreds of species. Studies investigating such evolutionary processes depend on names and clear diagnoses of the species. As a result of the present research, for the Australian fauna these are now available. Besides the publication in the open-access journal ZooKeys, high-resolution photographs of each species are uploaded to the Species ID website, along with the scientific description. All this puts a face to the species name, and therefore is an important prerequisite for future studies on their evolution. More information: Alexander Riedel et al. Revision of the Australian species of the weevil genus Trigonopterus Fauvel, ZooKeys (2016). DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.556.6126
News Article | November 9, 2016
From butterflies to plain old flies, south-east Queensland is experiencing a two-phase swarm of insects amid weather conditions that allow both species to thrive. Last Friday residents began reporting a sudden surge of butterflies, an influx of tens of millions of caper whites in what experts said was a phenomenon that occurred about once a decade. As the butterflies’ numbers began thinning this week, they were set to be replaced by a less majestic spectacle: myriad black flies prompted by a warm spring after a wet winter. The presence of the caper whites was the result of a mass migration from west of the Dividing Range from insects looking to lay eggs. The migration was an annual event but this year took place at a scale seen once every six to 10 years. Residents took to social media remarking on the spectacle, one joking it was “snowing butterflies”, others struggling to capture the flurry of tiny white dots with their cameras. Ross Kendall, a butterfly farmer based in Indooroopilly in Brisbane’s west, told the Courier-Mail the uncommon number of butterflies across the city could be a result of heavier rainfall out west. “If the season is right out west of the divide they breed up into the millions,” he said. “Last year we didn’t get a big migration, but I think we are seeing more because of good rain out west.” Christine Lambkin, the entomology curator for Queensland Museum, has said there are no simple explanations for waves of butterflies. But Lambkin said in a 2015 blog that they could relate to hot and humid conditions, which provided “perfect flying weather for butterflies as they don’t need to consume as much energy to keep warm and hydrated”. Brisbane’s peak temperatures at the weekend moved to above 34C, followed by several thunderstorms this week. Parts of Queensland are expected to swelter on Thursday, with some areas predicted to hit top temperatures well above average. The area around Ipswich and Amberley is expected to top out at 38 degrees. Lambkin told the ABC that the weekend weather had also provided perfect weather for twin pests for Brisbane households: house flies (Musca domestica) and bush flies (Musca vetustissima). “The conditions were perfect last weekend and I think they’ve all broke out of their pupal cases after developing over our damp winter,” she said. “Most insects respond to the time of year — and when it’s spring, insects decide to become adults.” Lambkin said Australia had an estimated 28,000 species of flies but only a quarter had scientific names to date.
News Article | February 24, 2016
Two new and extinct kangaroo species were named recently. Scientists said these modern-day kangaroo ancestors didn't hop but instead, moved on all fours. These extinct kangaroo species - Cookeroo bulwidarri and Cookeroo hortusensis - lived between 18 to 23 million years ago. The researchers named the new genus Cookero in honor of Dr. Bernard Cooke, a Queensland Museum researcher who spearheaded a research program on Riversleigh's ancient kangaroos' evolution. In the Aboriginal Waanyi language, bulwidarri means "white." The Cookeroo bulwidarri was named after the Riversleigh White Hunter Site where it was discovered. In Latin, Hortusensis means "belonging to the garden." The Cookeroo hortusensis is named after the Neville's Garden Site. Dr. Kenny Travouillon, Western Australian Museum's mammal curator, became interested in an unidentified skull at the Queensland Museum. The skull, along with other fossils, was unearthed in north-west Queensland at a Riversleigh World Heritage during the past 30 years. Due to the lack of scientific papers on kangaroos in recent years, Travouillon found the skull belonged to a new kangaroo species. Kaylene Butler, one of Travouillon's PH.D. students at the University of Queensland (UQ), analyzed and named the new species. During her analysis, she discovered another unnamed kangaroo species among the University of New South Wales' collections. Butler said the new species walked on all four legs and scurried across a thick, forested habitat that is far from the dry outback in today's modern Queensland. Travouillon said that the new and extinct kangaroo species looked similar to modern-day ones. However, they were smaller, about the size of a wallaby. But unlike modern-day kangaroos, these extinct ancestors didn't hop, instead, they walked on all four legs. An analysis of the leg bones found no evidence that could support hopping. "Hopping actually occurred much later in the evolution," said Travouillon, who is a former Robert Day Fellow at UQ. Gilbert Price from UQ and Riversleigh researchers Professor Suzanne Hand and Professor Michael Archer from the University of New South Wales were part of the research team. The discovery was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology on Feb. 17.
News Article | November 8, 2016
Long before the Vikings reached America, and before doomed Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan sailed into the unknown for history’s first circumnavigation of Earth (completed in 1552), a group of spiders was already crossing the oceans and settling faraway lands in the Southern Hemisphere. An international team of spider experts, zoologists and biogeographers from Argentina, Switzerland and Australia has reconstructed the incredible adventure of a genus of coastal spiders called Amaurobioides, which has traveled around the world in the last eight million years. Today these ancient explorers can be found in three continental areas: Chile (between La Serena and Puerto Montt), Africa and Australasia. “Ancestors of those spiders, which today live near the sea at the southern end of the continent, departed from South America and arrived in South Africa during the Miocene epoch, about 10 million years ago,” says arachnologist Martin Ramirez, chief of research at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina, at the Argentina Museum of Natural Sciences in Buenos Aires. “In South Africa they settled on the coastline and developed the ability to withstand immersion in water, about eight million years ago. From there they dispersed over time, helped by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), into Australia and New Zealand, and then came to Chile. This is the first study demonstrating a high level of detail in terms of the transoceanic dispersal of these spiders.” Until now it was not known whether an ancestral population of this species had arisen in ancient supercontinent Gondwanaland and then moved away from one another when it split—or if the spiders evolved on a single continent and then scattered across the oceans. To solve this mystery, scientists collected 45 specimens of Amaurobioides in South Africa, Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand and Chile. They then analyzed the spiders’ genetic information, reconstructed their evolutionary family tree and explored their movement around the world. “My job is to figure out how certain species got to be where they are now,” says Sara Ceccarelli, a Swiss biogeographer also at the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences. “In this case, thanks to genetic analysis, we could determine the age of the species in each area. It was not a single event, but several waves of spiders, enough to establish a viable population.” Spiders are incredibly diverse, and many kinds are innate explorers and conquerors. For example, they are often among the first species to show up on volcanic islands emerging from the oceans. Amaurobioides spiders are small—between one and 1.5 centimeters in length—and in coastal areas they tend to build tiny cells within rocks, so their homes are not flooded when the water rises. Whereas there are species that travel long distances pushed by the wind, researchers suspect Amaurobioides crossed vast stretches of water floating on matter ranging from algae remains to logs. “They can survive for months without food,” says arachnologist Robert Raven of Queensland Museum in Australia, co-author on this research, which was published in PLoS ONE. And these minuscule explorers did not need an engine or sails—they had the ACC and prevailing winds flowing from west to east in their patient and silent conquest.