Posts written by Lara Shepherd

How to DNA sex birds.

Sex chromosomes in birds and mammals.

The males and females of many bird species are difficult to distinguish by their appearance (peacocks are a notable exception). There are many situations where it is useful to know the sex of birds including captive breeding programmes, behavioural studies and even species delimitation in extinct taxa. DNA sexing provides a simple and quick way… Read more »

A few more botanical highlights from the Foxton fieldtrip….and a katipo spider!

  • Taking a break from botanizing Viv McGlynn managed to locate this female Katipo spider under a piece of driftwood in the dunes.
  • Sand coprosma (Coprosma acerosa). The fruit colour of this species can vary but the plants we saw in the dunes near Foxton had striking blue fruit.
  • The keen eyes of Bot Soc member Bev Abbott spotted the tiny fruit of sand gunnera (Gunnera arenaria).
  • The distinctive asymmetric flower of Selliera rotundifolia.

I also spent an enjoyable few days over Easter on the Wellington Botanical Society fieldtrip (see Leon’s blog about the trip). Here are a few more photos from the trip. It is difficult to believe that this tiny native species is in the same genus as the huge Chilean rhubarb. The leaves of this weedy… Read more »

Is this the world’s biggest nettle leaf?

Ongaonga leaf - note the ruler starts at 500 mm.

Whilst recently chasing seabirds on Titi Island we came across tree nettles (ongaonga, Urtica ferox) with super-sized leaves. The largest leaf we measured was 28 cm long, much longer than the maximum leaf length of 18 cm given for this species in the Flora of New Zealand. Perhaps the abundant seabird droppings on this island… Read more »

Oops-a-daisy! How many flowers do you see?

  • Marlborough rock daisy disc floret (top) and ray floret (bottom). Note the long petal on the ray floret.
  • Marlborough rock daisy ray floret.
  • Marlborough rock daisy disc floret. Note the reduced petals and long stigma.
  • Marlborough rock daisies (Pachystegia insignis).

How many flowers do you see in the photo below? Two is the obvious answer, but there are far more than two flowers in the picture. Each daisy ‘flower’ is actually made up of numerous tiny flowers, also called florets. The Marlborough rock daisies pictured above have two types of florets. Around the outside are… Read more »

DNA finds kiwi’s origins: Introducing Stewie

Articulated kiwi skeleton from Te Papa's collection. Photo by Lara Shepherd.

A number of biological specimens in Te Papa’s collection, particularly old specimens, lack information about when and where they were collected. This information may have been lost since the specimen was collected or was simply not recorded at the time. However, all is not lost! Sometimes we can use DNA to determine where a specimen… Read more »

When did little spotted kiwi become extinct on the New Zealand mainland?

Map of the locations where three post-1940 little spotted kiwi were found (names in black type). Today’s little spotted kiwi all derive from birds that survived on Kapiti Island (red type). Base map supplied by Geographx (http://www.geographx.co.nz/).

Little spotted kiwi  only occur in New Zealand, where there are around 1500 individuals remaining.  They are the smallest kiwi species, about the size of a bantam hen, and are very susceptible to predation by introduced mammals, such as stoats and dogs.  Today they survive on predator-free offshore islands and the fenced mainland sanctuary Zealandia… Read more »

Caring for museum collections in a molecular world

Leon and Lara in the Te Papa's collections. Photo Carlos Lehnebach.Te Papa

Museums are embracing technologies, such as DNA sequencing, to both enhance understanding of their collections and showcase scientific research to the public.  Many museums around the world now have molecular laboratories.  DNA sequencing has many useful applications for museum research; for example, it can be used to distinguish new species, determine the evolutionary relationships between… Read more »