March 2013

  • 27 March 2013

    Tales on a Tablet

    For many visitors to museums and art galleries around the world, there is nothing more enticing than a section devoted to Ancient Egypt. The fascinating stories and relics of this famous era offer insights into the lives and beliefs of those who inhabited this ancient world.

    The South Australian Museum's Ancient Egypt Gallery includes an exciting array of items that represent the spiritual underworld of the time – from mummified humans and animals to artworks and stelas or tablets — that were placed above or near a tomb of somebody after their death.

    The Museum's Honorary Research Associate in Egyptology, Michael O'Donoghue (also a Senior Lecturer at the University of South Australia) working with his colleague Dr Anne Morrison, has recently had a paper published about one of the stelas on display in the Museum. A regular consultant for scientists and the media, Mr O'Donoghue is passionate about the exotic tales of Ancient Egypt, especially gathering as much information about the lives of its community as possible to better understand how they lived and why.

  • 21 March 2013

    Scientists Discover Reason Behind Snakes' 'Shrinking Heads'

    Did you know that some species of animal can look drastically different in appearance, yet have nearly identical genes?

    An international team of scientists led by Dr Kate Sanders from the University of Adelaide, and including Dr Mike Lee from the South Australian Museum, has uncovered how some sea snakes have developed 'shrunken heads' – or smaller physical features than their related species.

    Their research is published today in the journal Molecular Ecology.

    A large head – "all the better to eat you with" - would seem to be indispensable to sea snakes, which typically have to swallow large spiny fish. However, there are some circumstances where it wouldn't be very useful: sea snakes that feed by probing their front ends into narrow, sand eel burrows have evolved comically small heads.

  • 15 March 2013

    Biodiversity in a Pellet

    The South Australian Museum is tracking the biodiversity of our outback wildlife species in a curious manner – by studying regurgitated food pellets from owls.

    A dedicated team of experts and volunteers has been working on the project for many years and has identified new species to help the South Australian Government design better conservation programs. By analysing the indigestible material in the pellets, the team has provided a clearer picture of which rodents, marsupials, birds, reptiles, frogs and arthropods live where, and how they fit into the food chain of the ecosystem.

    For small mammals, the skull or skull fragments with teeth are the telltale items for identification. The team has even been able to study the impact of drought on species populations, without actually collecting live animals.

    Sifting through animal remains in regurgitated pellets may not sound glamorous, but it's something our Subfossils Honorary Research Associate and the project leader, Graham Medlin, is incredibly passionate about. He heads the dedicated team which gathers every week to pull apart the regurgitated material to find creatures' remains and articulate their skeletons.

  • 07 March 2013

    Strange New Fish Discovered

    A new species of blind cave fish, the Barrow Cave Gudgeon (Milyeringa justitia), has been discovered by a collaborative team of scientists from the South Australian Museum, the Museum & Art Gallery of NT (MAGNT) and the Western Australian Museum.

    The South Australian Museum's Ichthyology Collection Manager, Ralph Foster says "based on the genetics, and what we know about the break-up of the ancient 'supercontinents', it seems this population of cave fish has been locked beneath the surface of their little piece of Gondwana for some 80 to 100 million years."

    The new species is restricted to the aquifers of Barrow Island, located 50 km off the Pilbara coast in Western Australia. It is just the third subterranean fish species to have been discovered in Australia.

    The Barrow Cave Gudgeon specimens were collected from wells and bores sunk in the course of oil exploration.