SciBlogs

Archive October 2011

the end of the world is nigh. again… Alison Campbell Oct 12

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So, it seems that Harold Camping is back – this is the man who said the world would end in May this year. Apparently he Got It Wrong, and the deadline is now 21 October ie Friday next week. Given where NZ sits relative to the dateline, I’m sure we’ll be among the first to know.

Except, of course, that he’s not the only purveyor of doom-filled prophecies. According to those who buy into the significance of parts of the ancient Mayan calendar, we’re to expect Extremely Bad Things on 21 December 2012 (all based,it seems, on substantial misinterpretation of said calendar). Oh noes! Who to believe?

Well, since there’s been a plethora of such predictions, mostly proved wrong after the (non)event, I’d say, none of them. They lack evidence, or even a firm basis in scientific concepts; you might as well go with the lolcats

old fossils on a spoil heap Alison Campbell Oct 07

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It wasn’t all koala-spotting on our trip across the ditch (the Tasman Sea, for those readers not familiar with New Zild as it is spoken, lol). Apart from the glories of Melbourne (lovely old buildings, the stunning King Tut exhibition in Melbourne Museum, floral Doc Marten boots mmmmmm – & of course the restaurants of Lygon Street!), we also spent time on the Great Ocean Road & with friends in Ballarat.

Now, our friends know how much the husband likes fossils, & so for our visit they’d scoped out a few sites that weren’t too far afield, & last Sunday we drove out to Castlemain, picked up a friend of the friends, & headed out to see what could be found. We were sort of expecting a canyon or something, so were slightly surprised to end up out in the bush, not far from a road. It turned out that the road had been driven through some ancient rocks, around 450 million years old, & there were rich pickings in the roadside spoil heaps.

fossils on a spoil heap.JPG

Before long the sound of rock hammers striking slate or chisel was ringing through the air (fortunately unaccompanied by curses as all thumbs remained unscathed). And the husband was absolutely rapt to find that slate after slate, as the rocks were split, contained fossils of graptolites. In the rocks the happy fossickers were splitting, the remains of these strange little animals looked rather like little saw blades, or maybe fern fronds. (There are some nice photos here on the Museum Victoria site – we haven’t yet set things up for some decent shots of our own.)

However, graptolites were actually animals. Each tiny creature lived in a cup-like structure (which, preserved, formed one ‘tooth’ on the saw), and they were interconnected, forming a colony in which the individuals were joined by something akin to a nerve cord. Graptolites diversified in the ancient Ordovician oceans (before dwindling & finally going extinct in the Carboniferous), & may have floated there supported by tiny gas-filled bladders. Strange creatures indeed! However, in phylogenetic terms they were hemichordates, which means that they are placed in a lineage that also includes acorn worms, Amphioxus (Branchiostoma) - and us.

Not every slate contained a fossil, of course. And some concealed other, quite different and very much alive animals:

centipede.JPG

I will admit that I was glad it wasn’t me who turned over that particular rock (even though this rather handsome beast was only about 10cm long)!

we saw koalas! Alison Campbell Oct 06

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We’ve just got back from a holiday over in Australia – hence the lack of blogging after the last burst. (If I’d done anything work-related I suspect I’d have experienced a rapid divorce!)

Of course, before we left our friends were all saying “we hope you spot some koalas.” We hoped so too, but after a fair bit of driving through various eucalypt forests we were beginning to wonder. Until we went down to the Cape Otway region & headed down to the Cape Otway Lightstation.

tall eucalypt forest, Cape Otway.JPG

It’s really lovely through there. Once we turned off to the lighthouse we were driving through this tall fairly open forest. The husband drove & I craned upwards. No koalas… Then all of a sudden, there was one lolloping along the road towards us! We stopped the car & it stopped running, gave the vehicle the once-over, & then ambled over to the side of the road & climbed up into a low tree in a rather leisurely manner.

our first koala!.JPG

We were rapt :-) After watching – & being watched – for a while & taking a couple of photos, we idled on down the road, and into a new area of forest with a much lower canopy of spreading gum trees. And wow! koalas in just about every other tree! One mother & her joey were particularly accommodating, feeding on what looked like a rather dangerously thin branch just above the heads of some very happy tourists:

koala & joey, Cape Otway.JPG

We were close enough to see the little fellah reaching up to mouth a leaf or two.

koala joey feeding.JPG

Which was rather nice; most of their compatriots spent the time with their backsides resolutely towards the camera :-)

sleeping koala.JPG

The lighthouse, when we got there, was pretty stunning too (you could go up inside for the view from the top – with advice to hang onto one’s glasses as the wind had been known to tear them from unsuspecting noses). But the koalas were absolute tops :-)

Cape Otway lighthouse.JPG

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