Posts categorized as Science

Cinematic Renaissance animation starring Ursula the bear

Bears Plate 3

No bunnies but a bear this Easter. Dr Mark Stocker, Curator Historical International Art, explores a highly unusual set of etchings in Te Papa’s collection. Meet Ursula… In a pioneering set of prints, the Flemish artist Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder (c. 1520–1590) chronicled a day in the life of a huge, shaggy brown bear whose Latin… Read more »

Coastal kōwhai in the south of its range – natural or planted?

Coastal kōwhai (Sophora chathamica). This species can be distinguished from other kōwhai species by its overlapping leaflets and lack of divaricating stage when it is young. Photo by Leon Perrie.

Science researcher Lara Shepherd explores the distribution of kōwhai in New Zealand – largely found in the north and likely introduced in the south.  Coastal kōwhai (Sophora chathamica) has a very unusual distribution. Some of its outlying populations are suggested to have been planted by Maōri. We recently published our research studying the relationships of all eight New Zealand kōwhai… Read more »

Cuckoos and their toxic prey – ‘urticated’ inside and out

  • Shining cuckoo. Photograph by Nathan Hill, New Zealand Birds Online
  • SC_SW53098
  • Red admiral butterfly caterpillar (pale morph). Photograph by Norm Twigge
  • Red admiral butterfly (Vanessa gonerilla). Photograph by Colin Miskelly, Te Papa

Cuckoos can stomach toxic caterpillars, but it appears they are also impervious to being stung externally, as bird expert Colin Miskelly discovers. A previous blog on this topic referred to shining cuckoos seeking out and eating prey that are toxic to other birds – including caterpillars with urticating hairs. ‘Urticating’ refers to hollow spines that… Read more »

What can kōwhai tell us about the location of New Zealand’s forests during the ice ages?

  • A flower-laded large-leaved kōwhai (Sophora tetraptera) from the Wairarapa. Photo: Leon Perrie
  • A flower-laded large-leaved kōwhai (Sophora tetraptera) from the Wairarapa.
  • Collecting genetic samples from prostrate kōwhai (Sophora prostrata) on the POrt Hills. This species is restricted to the eastern South Island and has zig-zag branches with small leaves and flowers. Photo: Leon Perrie.
  • Collecting genetic samples from prostrate kōwhai (Sophora prostrata) on the POrt Hills. This species is restricted to the eastern South Island and has zig-zag branches with small leaves and flowers. Photo: Leon Perrie.

Science researcher Lara Shepherd explores kōwhai trees, one of New Zealand’s most widely recognised native plants and our unofficial national flower. Did you realise that we actually have eight species of kōwhai in New Zealand? Our DNA research investigating the relationships of these kōwhai species and where kōwhai trees were located during the ice ages has… Read more »

The global hunt for the original wandering albatross

"Chocolate albatross" in Vienna

Vertebrate Curator Alan Tennyson explores the history of the name of the wandering albatross and the hunt for the original specimens. The wandering albatross is one of the world’s greatest ocean wanderers, with individuals circumnavigating the Southern Ocean and travelling 120,000 km in a year. These albatrosses have been among the most high-profile of seabirds ever since… Read more »

Congratulations to Pat Brownsey who has just been awarded the New Zealand Journal of Botany annual prize for 2016. In even-numbered years, this prize is for “established researchers”. This is “awarded to a person who has made a sustained contribution to the journal during the last five years (regularly publishing and reviewing papers), and whose… Read more »

DNA reveals relationships of the extinct Scarlett’s shearwater

Scarlett's Shearwater, Puffinus spelaeus, collected 18 Oct 1991, Te Ana Titi Cave, Fox River (station 131, cave metre grid -82N -98E), New Zealand. Field Collection 1986. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (S.028002)

Research scientist Lara Shepherd and vertebrate curator Alan Tennyson look at the relationships of extinct seabird, the Scarlett’s shearwater (Puffinus speleus) in a newly published paper. New Zealand is the seabird capital of the world with more endemic seabird species than anywhere else. But before humans arrived with their exotic predators we used to have even more species…. Read more »

Plague skinks invade the Coromandel

  • Marlborough green gecko (Naultinus manukanus). Image: Colin Miskelly, Te Papa
  • Plague skink (aka rainbow skink). Papa Aroha, January 2017. Image: Colin Miskelly
  • Copper skink (Oligosoma aeneum). Papa Aroha, January 2017. Image: Colin Miskelly
  • Shore skink (Oligosoma smithi). Papa Aroha, January 2017. Image: Colin Miskelly

In my previous blog I listed four Australian bird species that have colonised the Coromandel Peninsula in the last four decades. But it is not only birds that are contributing to the Aussification of northern New Zealand. Australian plague skinks are now dominating the local lizard fauna. New Zealand lizards New Zealand has an astonishingly… Read more »

Wellington’s summer spiders

Male sheetweb spider

Ever felt like you’re removing more spiders from your home in summer compared to the rest of the year? Our bug expert Phil Sirvid explains why spiders are so prevalent in summer, and what kinds commonly turn up in Wellingtonian’s homes. The black-headed flax jumping spider While spider numbers in general are up during the warmer months,… Read more »

Sunshine, fishing – and changes in Coromandel birdlife over 45 years

  • Papa Aroha beach. Image: Colin Miskelly
  • Brown teal, Papa Aroha, December 2016. Image: Colin Miskelly
  • Part of the Motukawao island group. Gannets nest on Motukaramarama (Bush) Island on the left. Image: Colin Miskelly
  • Spotted shags, Firth of Thames. Image: Jenny Atkins, NZ Birds Online

From welcome swallows to Australian magpies, bird expert Colin Miskelly looks at the variety of birdlife who’ve come to call Coromandel home over the past half-century. Spending the summer at the beach is part of the great New Zealand holiday tradition. For many families, attachment to a particular location results in them returning to the… Read more »