Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Research by Grey Gustafson, Ph.D., a postdoc studying with Andrew Short, coauthored by Alexander A. Prokin, Rasa Bukontaite, Johannes Bergsten & Kelly B. Miller, entitled "Tip-dated phylogeny of whirligig beetles reveals ancient lineage surviving on Madagascar” has been published in Scientific Reports. 

The study reveals the oldest endemic lineage of animal or plant currently known from Madagascar, the Malagasy striped whirligig beetle, which lives on the surface of water, and has many interesting adaptations for life on the surface of water including four eyes and paddle-like legs. On Madagascar, the striped whirligig beetle is only known from small mountain streams in a few areas in the mountainous region of the southeastern part of the island. The study shows the striped whirligig beetle is not only a relict, but the last surviving member of a group of whirligig beetles that were dominant during the Mesozoic Era. Similar to the Tuatara lizard of New Zealand, the Malagasy striped whirligig beetles survive solely on an isolated island while its other continental relatives went extinct. These findings are especially exciting because there are no other such examples known from Madagascar, despite its lengthy isolation following the breakup of Gondwana over 90 million years ago. [Link]

Entomology
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The National Science Foundation has awarded support for a team that includes Biodiversity Institute researchers in ornithology and herpetology. The project, “Open Exploration of Vertebrate Diversity in 3D,” or informally, the “scan all vertebrates” project, aims to run 20,000 preserved vertebrate specimens from university and museum collections through computerized tomography, or CT scans, over the next 4 years. Scientists from the 16 participating institutions hope the oVert museum digitization effort will form the backbone of future research in fields such as developmental biology, evolution, and biomimetics. The project will cover about 80% of living vertebrate genera.  

KU’s  role is mainly to provide specimens from the collections to scanning facilities. Funds awarded to KU for the project will  be used to pull specimens from the collections and ship them to facilities with CT scanners. Most of the money will go toward summer support for graduate students who will be completing the required work.

 

Herpetology
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The National Science Foundation has awarded support for a team that includes Biodiversity Institute researchers in ornithology and herpetology. The project, “Open Exploration of Vertebrate Diversity in 3D,” or informally, the “scan all vertebrates” project, aims to run 20,000 preserved vertebrate specimens from university and museum collections through computerized tomography, or CT scans, over the next 4 years. Scientists from the 16 participating institutions hope the oVert museum digitization effort will form the backbone of future research in fields such as developmental biology, evolution, and biomimetics. The project will cover about 80% of living vertebrate genera.  

KU’s  role is mainly to provide specimens from the collections to scanning facilities. Funds awarded to KU for the project will  be used to pull specimens from the collections and ship them to facilities with CT scanners. Most of the money will go toward summer support for graduate students who will be completing the required work.

 

Herpetology
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The National Science Foundation has awarded support for a team that includes Biodiversity Institute researchers in ornithology and herpetology. The project, “Open Exploration of Vertebrate Diversity in 3D,” or informally, the “scan all vertebrates” project, aims to run 20,000 preserved vertebrate specimens from university and museum collections through computerized tomography, or CT scans, over the next 4 years. Scientists from the 16 participating institutions hope the oVert museum digitization effort will form the backbone of future research in fields such as developmental biology, evolution, and biomimetics. The project will cover about 80% of living vertebrate genera.  

KU’s  role is mainly to provide specimens from the collections to scanning facilities. Funds awarded to KU for the project will  be used to pull specimens from the collections and ship them to facilities with CT scanners. Most of the money will go toward summer support for graduate students who will be completing the required work.

 

Herpetology
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The National Science Foundation has awarded support for a team that includes Biodiversity Institute researchers in ornithology and herpetology. The project, “Open Exploration of Vertebrate Diversity in 3D,” or informally, the “scan all vertebrates” project, aims to run 20,000 preserved vertebrate specimens from university and museum collections through computerized tomography, or CT scans, over the next 4 years. Scientists from the 16 participating institutions hope the oVert museum digitization effort will form the backbone of future research in fields such as developmental biology, evolution, and biomimetics. The project will cover about 80% of living vertebrate genera.  

KU’s  role is mainly to provide specimens from the collections to scanning facilities. Funds awarded to KU for the project will  be used to pull specimens from the collections and ship them to facilities with CT scanners. Most of the money will go toward summer support for graduate students who will be completing the required work.

 

Herpetology
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Michael Engel has been recognized twice by the Entomological Society of America in the past month. He is among 10 new fellows,  the highest honor awarded by ESA, (link) and the ESA recognized Michael with the Thomas Say award, which acknowledges significant and outstanding work in the fields of insect systematics, morphology, or evolution (link). 

Entomology
Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Dyche Hall with scaffolding

Four of the iconic hand-carved grotesques of mythical beasts that have adorned Dyche Hall for almost 115 years will be taken down Friday, Sept. 1, and placed in the Panorama Gallery of the KU Natural History Museum.

The fantastical limestone animals, each about 3 feet tall, have suffered serious erosion since their installation in 1903 when Dyche Hall was built. They will be wrapped and crated, then removed by crane starting at 8 a.m. The museum will completely unwrap one or two of grotesques for display in the gallery. The museum plans to raise funds to hire an artist to replace each of the grotesques with carved replicas, as the originals are irreparable.

“Each is a work of art created by Joseph Frazee at the turn of last century,” said Leonard Krishtalka, director of the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. “They are a unique mythological menagerie created specifically to honor Kansas and KU. They have suffered more than 100 years of Kansas wind, sun, snow and rain, and we are committed to replacing them with new hand-carved replicas.”

Four additional grotesques on the east side of Dyche Hall will be removed later this fall and added to those on display in the museum.

A request for bids for carving new grotesques is forthcoming.

The removal of the grotesques is part of a $4.2 million renovation funded by the state of Kansas. It will clean and repair the exterior stonework, replace the roof, windows and all internal walls, and install a new HVAC system for the seventh floor of the 1903 building. It will also restore the seventh floor to its original splendor, Krishtalka said.

“The drop ceiling will be removed, exposing the beams of the vaulted roofline,” he said. “Scrolled woodwork will be stripped of paint and restored.”

The seventh floor of Dyche is home to thousands of mammal and bird specimens, and it houses the research offices and laboratories of KU Biodiversity Institute graduate students and scientists. Once completed in February 2018, the environment on the seventh floor will conform to established conservation standards that are ideal for study and housing of the research collections.

To support the fund for recreating the grotesques, please visit the Biodiversity Institute website

Photos: Construction at Dyche Hall. Top photo courtesy of Andy White, KU Marketing Communications. Bottom right photo courtesy of the Natural History Museum.

Monday, July 17, 2017

As the first day of University of Kansas classes and the paths of the sun and moon intersect during a rare solar eclipse Aug. 21, KU will host an eclipse celebration on campus.
 
Organized by the Department of Physics & Astronomy and the KU Natural History Museum, the Eclipse at KU will be offered from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at the Shenk Sports Complex near Higuchi Hall. The Shenk soccer fields border Iowa and 23rd streets in Lawrence.
 
The eclipse will peak at approximately 1:10 p.m. Lawrence will experience 99.3 percent coverage, meaning the sun will be covered 99.3 percent by the moon. If it is a sunny day, it will be somewhat like dusk at midday.
 
“We recognized that on the first day of classes, many people will have work, school or classes that don’t allow them to go further north to experience a 100 percent eclipse, or totality,” said Barbara Anthony-Twarog, professor of physics and astronomy. “We want to provide astronomers, telescopes and activities to celebrate the eclipse on campus.”
 
It’s never safe to look at the sun directly without special eclipse glasses. KU purchased 15,000 pairs of glasses for KU students and staff that will be distributed on campus in the days prior to and the day of the eclipse. Locations and announcements about distribution points will be announced via university social media.
 
To help K-12 students in Lawrence view the eclipse, the physics & astronomy department, the KU School of Engineering, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the Natural History Museum purchased and distributed 11,000 pairs of eclipse glasses to the students and teachers of USD 497 public schools in Lawrence. Hundreds of pairs of glasses also will be available on a first-come, first-served basis at the eclipse celebration at Shenk Sports Complex.
 
The public is welcome at the event. The Shenk Sports Complex is on the KU bus route and accessible on foot. Limited parking will be available near Higuchi Hall. The event will be held rain or shine. Feel free to bring some lawn chairs and blankets along with you. 
 
Highlights of the Eclipse at KU:
 

  • Telescopes and astronomers on hand to help people learn about the eclipse.
  • Food trucks such as Kona Ice and Ad Astra Food Trucks will offer food and cool treats for purchase.
  • Lawrence Public Library, the Spencer Museum of Art and the KU Natural History Museum will offer activities such as an opportunity to decorate and launch water bottle rockets.
  • Eclipse viewing glasses will be available while they last.

 
Total eclipses are rare for any one location, Anthony-Twarog said. There are two to five lunar or solar eclipses each year on earth, but not all are total, and the path of a total eclipse is small, less than 100 miles across. About 375 years on average pass between two solar eclipses at any one particular location. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

LAWRENCE — Most people think of picks, dental tools or small hand-held spades as the tools of the paleontologist’s trade. But today, when University of Kansas paleontologist David Burnham heads back to Montana for an expedition, he’s calling in much larger tools: a jackhammer, a demolition hammer and a backhoe.

These will help clear a new area of a cliffside near Jordan, Montana, where Burnham, students and volunteers are excavating a Tyrannosaurus rex bit by bit and bringing it back to KU. 

Burnham and expedition team members have so far found about 25 percent of the skull, about 60 percent of the hips and 45 percent of the legs of a juvenile, female T. rex. There are teeth and many fragments, too. Much of what has been found so far is on display at the KU Natural History Museum. 

The expeditions wouldn’t be possible without the help of dozens of donors, who have so far given more than $15,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on KU Endowment’s LaunchKU site. The campaign continues until June 5. Although it has already exceeded its goal of $14,500, the more funds that are raised, the more resources Burnham will have for the expedition and to hire students to prepare the fossils and to study and display them. 

The campaign began with a major contribution from Boston residents John Weltman and Cliff Atkins, whose son, Kyle Atkins-Weltman, is a KU student and paleontology enthusiast.

When he first arrives, Burnham will work on setting up the field site, which is on federal land. The crew will set up a new large shade tent; last year’s tent was destroyed by storms and wind. They will concentrate on a small ledge of “bone zone” where a femur was found in the last few days of the 2016 expedition.

“We will be carefully looking for plants and rock samples since we will need these to document the site, which may be the first occurrence of T. rex in the Hell Creek Formation,” Burnham said.

The backhoe operator will then remove more of the cliff, or overburden, to make it easier to access fossils. 

“The weeks that follow bring us into the unknown,” Burnham said. “We certainly expect to find more of the T. rex. Our hope is to get upper skull bones, more backbones, and the icing on the cake would be finding those tiny T. rex arms.”

The volunteers and students help the expedition run smoothly, Burnham said. 

“I really enjoy the revolving cast of characters that we interact with and there is a special camaraderie that develops while we are out there,” he said. “Everyone is so focused on the mission and it thrills me to have such enthusiasm. Each new crew member or volunteer breathes fresh life into the work as we go along.”

Vertebrate Paleontology
Thursday, May 19, 2016

Michael Engel, senior curator of entomology, and Laura Breitkreuz, a graduate student in the entomology division, have recently been published in the journal of Current Biology regarding their work on Cretaceous mesochrysopids. In their article titled "Early Morphological Specialization for Insect-Spider Associations in Mesozoic Lacewings" Engel and Breitkreuz report on the discovery of a unique mode of life among mid-Cretaceous mesochrysopids, an early stem group to modern green lacewings exhibiting a combination of morphiological modifications in both adults and larvae unkown among living and fossil Neuroptera (lacewings, antlions, and their relatives) even across winged insects. For more on this topic and the implications of such a discovery, click through to the full article here

Entomology