Posts categorized as Science

Another extinct bird: Northland’s unique shag

Leucocarbo Tennyson 216

Curator of vertebrates Alan Tennyson discusses another previously unknown New Zealand bird extinction, published in a new article today.  Last month it was revealed that New Zealand had lost its unique swan in prehistoric times. That list of extinctions continues to grow at an alarming rate as research, led by an Otago University team, published… Read more »

In photos: Giant eggs, tiny eggs, and the eggceptionally rare

  • Eggstremes. South Island giant moa and rifleman eggs to the same scale. Specimens ME.012749 and OR.007264 (latter collected by Captain John Bollons at Akaroa, date unknown). Photogtaph by Jean-Claude Stahl. Te Papa
  • Laughing owl egg (44.2 mm x 39.5 mm). Locality and date unknown. Specimen OR.030062. Photograph by Jean-Claude Stahl. Te Papa
  • New Zealand dotterel clutch, Maketu Spit, Bay of Plenty, October 2011. Specimen OR.029416, eggs approx. 45 mm x 32 mm. Photograph by Jean-Claude Stahl. Te Papa
  • South Island kokako egg (42.0 mm x 27.4 mm), Hokitika, date unknown. Specimen OR.007626. Photograph by Jean-Claude Stahl. Te Papa

Bird expert Colin Miskelly highlights some of the treasures in our egg collection, including those thought to be held only by Te Papa – as well as giant moa eggs, tiny rifleman eggs, and eggs that were acquired during dramatic events in New Zealand’s conservation history. Digitising our egg collection Most of the bird eggs held… Read more »

Another extinct bird: New Zealand’s prehistoric swan

Cygnus chathamensis skeleton

Curator of vertebrates, Alan Tennyson, discusses new findings published today that New Zealand and the Chatham Islands had their own unique prehistoric swan.  Black swans (Cygnus atratus) are a common and prominent part of New Zealand’s wetland fauna today – but have they always been here, or are they recent invaders? For many decades it has been unclear… Read more »

Myrtle rust: why local New Zealand species are under threat

Myrtle rust is characterised by yellow pustules. Photo by Scot Nelson.

Sadly, the discovery of more sites in New Zealand infected with myrtle rust suggests that it is here to stay. Originally from South America, myrtle rust invaded Australia in 2010 and rapidly spread.  Botanist Lara Shepherd discusses what Australian scientists have discovered about myrtle rust over the last seven years. What does myrtle rust infect?… Read more »

A new bird for New Zealand – Cox’s sandpiper

  • New Zealand’s first Cox’s sandpiper, Lake Ellesmere, November 2016. Photograph: Michael Ashbee, NZ Birds Online
  • Pectoral sandpiper. Photograph: Steve Attwood, NZ Birds Online
  • Curlew sandpiper. Photograph: Neil Fitzgerald, NZ Birds Online
  • Sharp-tailed sandpiper. Photograph: Tony Whitehead, NZ Birds Online

The latest addition to the New Zealand bird list is a legendary shorebird so rare that there are times when it is likely that none exist anywhere in the world. Bird expert Colin Miskelly introduces the Cox’s sandpiper. Sandpipers are small wading birds that separate people with a serious interest in bird identification from casual… Read more »

Cinematic Renaissance animation starring Ursula the bear

Bears Plate 3

Dr Mark Stocker, Curator Historical International Art, explores a highly unusual set of etchings which depicts a day in the life of a huge, shaggy, brown bear.  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… 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 »