“Everyone resigned”, Australian Entomologist R. J. Tillyard.

By Joe Ibrahim – 6th February 2017

While digitising the collection of Haswell slides at the museum, I came across a very old set of insect wings, all labelled with the name R.J. Tillyard. These slides were all about a hundred years old, ranging from 1914-1917. This, of course prompted a google of the name R.J. Tillyard.

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Tillyard inspecting rock specimens

Tillyard was a Linnaean Macleay fellow in zoology, he was appointed chief of the department of biology at the Cawthron Institute, he was conferred an honorary Doctorate of Science from Cambridge, and was the most influential and internationally known Australian entomologist in his time. However, the story begins when R.J. Tillyard was born on the 31st of January, 1881 in Norwich, England. Tillyard attended a school called Dover College, an English private boarding school that still runs today. Upon graduating, Tillyard tried to join the army but couldn’t due to his case of rheumatism. Alternatively, he went on to learn Mathematics at Cambridge University, which he had won a scholarship for, and went on to graduate as a senior optime (a Cambridge term for second class) in 1903.

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“In the field” portrait of Tillyard

A year later in 1904, Tillyard moved to Sydney and taught mathematics and science at the Sydney Grammar School. Seven years of teaching later, Tillyard decided to study zoology at the University of Sydney. Tillyard went through with the Linnaean Macleay fellowship program, a research degree which allowed him to conduct research full time while earning a degree. Tillyard developed a fondness for insects here, and during this time he released many publications on dragonflies, lacewings and scorpionflies. It would also be during this fellowship where he created the microscope slides we are imaging at the Haswell Museum today, a hundred years later. He then published “The biology of Dragonflies” in 1917, and was awarded with a Doctorate of Science from the University of Sydney in 1918, followed by an honorary doctorate from Cambridge in 1920. In 1919, New Zealand was having an issue with declining trout numbers, so they invited Tillyard over to investigate due to his knowledge of aquatic insects. After Tillyard managed to link their problems with a single parasite, he went on to become the chief of the biology department of the Cathron Institute in New Zealand. During his time there he wrote a textbook named “The Insects of Australia and New Zealand” which was published in 1926.

Left: Some of Tillyard’s insect wing specimens created at the University of Sydney and held in the Haswell Museum. Right: his book, “Insects of Australia and Zealand”.

CSIRO created an “Economic Entomology” division in 1928, Tillyard, being the most internationally known Australian entomologist at the time was named its first chief. However, Rohan Rivett, the CEO of CSIRO at the time claimed that he received resignations from “almost every scientist who came into frequent contact with Tillyard”. In 1933 Tillyard had a breakdown and went on sick leave, but he did not end up coming back. Tillyard then passed away in a motor accident in 1937.

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Left: a micrograph of a Crane Fly wing specimen prepared by Tillyard. Right: a similar Crane Fly wing diagram featured in his book.

Tillyard left behind sets of different entomology slides in the museum. The slides are slightly weathered down but the specimens can still be observed easily under a microscope. Tillyard’s legacy will hopefully be preserved with the rest of the Haswell amuseum indefinitely, and this small bit of history won’t be lost.

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Turning Haswell specimens into gifs for sharing

By Rosanne Quinnell @ah_cue @campusfloraoz

Fyuse. A strange name for one of the neatest imaging apps I’ve come across in ages.  What does it do? This app generates gifs. There are two options – either the in-frame subject moves and the phone is static. Or the phone moves changing frame in the process.  The results are just wonderful and particular important for the Haswell digitisation project. Here are some of my first attempts.

[If anyone can work out how I can add some htlml code to control the speed of the gifs animation, please let me know :).]

1 EchinodermThe first fyse gif I generated was of an Echinoderm specimen and I used a hand-turned lazy susan, and whilst it moves like a drunken sailor, it was still very impressive as you can virtually turn the specimen and you can zoom in.

3 Gin gifThe second fyuse gif was with ‘turntable’ settings and was of a bottle of gin (appropriately named “the Botanist“); again I hand-turned the lazy susan. Here I was holding the phone. The wonkiness of these two testers really highlights the need to support the phone and to align the subject and the phone.

2 Cnidarian specimen gifFor the third Fyuse I had a helper (Kerry) who turned the lazy susan a bit more smoothly (we attached some chord to the turntable and this was pulled gently.

With the grid visible (another function in Fyse) it was a bit easier to keep the specimen aligned with the phone. This third Fyuse is by far the best.

Haswellian Velvet Worms. Part I.

Lindsey Gray – 22.8.2016

Down in a quiet corner of your garden or local park, there might be an extraordinary IUCN Red List threatened species and important evolutionary “missing link” waiting for you to come and meet it.

Looking like a five year old’s rendering of a caterpillar brought to life, these charismatic little creatures wait out the heat of the day burrowed in moist leaf litter, rotting logs, or squeezed into the tiniest of soil crevices.

These creatures are Onychophorans, or velvet-worms, and they provide some stiff competition to our other friends in the cutest invertebrate category. They are basically fuzzy-worms with chubby tentacle legs (“parapodia”) and furry antennae – like a cross between a Muppet and a centipede. They have beautiful velvety skin (hence the name) that depending on the species can take on some extraordinary Persian-carpet like geometric patterns.

Onychophorans, or velvet worms, have beautifully textured though extremely thin skin. Don’t leave them out in the sun.

They are also super squishy, with their only really hard body parts being little grasping hooks on the end of their fat legs. They cope with the lack of hard exo- or endo-skeleton by moving through using a hydrostatic skeleton. Hydrostatic skeletons are cool. Imagine that instead of our hard bone skeleton, we had a series of tough, fluid filled tubes embedded in our muscle system instead. Imagine that all these tubes were connected together, a bit like a framework built from interconnected water-bombs. When the muscles in one part of body contracted, it would force the liquid to another location where are muscles are relaxed. Just like squeezing one end of a long water-bomb and watching all the water move to and bulge at one end. I can’t imagine how we would get about with this human-hydrostatic skeleton (we’d probably slosh around all over the place – see you later facial features), but thankfully velvet worms can expertly manage their own.

You should definitely check out some videos of velvet worms crawling. They move extremely slowly, gliding along a rhythmic wave of legs on either side of their body. By the way, they can also walk backwards. Impressive.

(http://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-14805973-stock-footage-costa-rica-a-velvet-worm-slowly-crawls-along-a-mossy-branch.html)

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A handsome Onychophoran

The beautiful skin of velvet worms is apparently only one micrometre thick! Even the finest human hair is a whopping 40 micrometres wide. Their thin-skin is also very stretchy and porous. So while being squishy and stretchy is good for things like absorbing soil water and for squeezing into tiny soil spaces, it does mean velvet worms dry out rather quickly when exposed to dry air. Next time you find one (which hopefully you will), following the obligatory examination and iphone photo-shoot, return it to its soily home ASAP.

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Other cute but ruthless predators! Sugar gliders eat swift parrot chicks (above) and tarsiers… ruthless (below).

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A hungry velvet worm holds nothing back. They have earned a special place for themselves alongside swift-parrot munching sugar-gliders and live-lizard eating tarsiers. Animals whose super-cute and adorable appearance belies the uncomfortable fact that they are actually terrifying, hardened predators.

Velvet worms have two huge slime glands on either side of their mouths that eject high-pressure streams of slimy, enzyme rich saliva that encases their unwitting snail, termite or worm prey in a sticky net. This slime not only stiffens up, preventing prey escapees, it also kicks off the process of prey digestion extra-orally. Similar to what happens in spiders, by coating the prey tissue in enzyme rich saliva, velvet worms save on chewing (remember no hard parts) and simply sup up the pre-prepared nutritious broth. Lucky we are big hey? Most velvet worms are only a few centimetres long, so we are fortunately outside their target prey range.

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A velvet worm dousing its prey in sticky, digestive enzyme laden slime. 

You should definitely try and meet a velvet worm. Have a fossick under logs, in the soil and amongst the leaf-litter. They are not common though – you will have to be dedicated in your quest. One reason why so many velvet worms are considered endangered is because they are so rare (more on that in Velvet Worms. Part II). Here at the Haswell Museum, we only have microscope slide velvet worm specimens. These slides are of velvet worm body cross-sections. The slides are very old and are used in teaching Zoology students comparative invertebrate anatomy.

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A micrograph by volunteer Joe Ibrahim of a velvet worm in cross-section showing its internal organs. Its legs (parapodia) can be seen sitting at the top left and right hand sides of the section. 

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Another micrograph by Joe. This one is also a transverse section (cross section) and shows many of the organs drawn in the diagram below, including the slime or salivary glands. See if you can spot them (source: http://lanwebs.lander.edu/faculty/rsfox/invertebrates/peripatus.html).

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We were so astonished at how amazing velvet worms are that we could not fit all of the amazing details about them in a single post. Please come back soon for a second Onychophoran instalment to learn about their unusual mating behaviours, where in the world they live and why they are so important to students studying evolution.

The Cupboard Under the Stairs

By Monique Newberry – 16.5.16

The Haswell wet lab, where most of our exciting wet specimens are kept could easily be the hidden secret at this university. In a tiny room, underneath the Macleay Museum are thousands of specimens, meticulously organized and tucked away inside compacting shelves.

Inside the cupboard under the stairs, you’ll find beautiful specimens of reptiles, spiders, amphibians and sponges, but sometimes the most wonderful things can be the jars the specimens are stored in.

My role in Project Haswell, so far at least, has involved conservation work and curation management of some of the specimens found in the wet lab. So, ensuring all these specimens are in good condition, and if not giving them a bit of TLC.

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Here’s one of my finds that needs a bit of TLC. A baby croc that needs some upkeep and labelling!

One of my favourite finds so far, is an example of a beautiful old tea chest found 17 fathoms deep, off Masthead Island (part of the Great Barrier Reef).

An amazing historical metal tea-box filled with Formanifera from the Great Barrier Reef

This was the very first specimen I encountered here at Haswell, and as the label suggests, this old tea tin contains Foraminifera. Perhaps because it was the first thing I laid eyes on in Haswell or perhaps because of how mysterious it looks, but I was determined to get to the bottom of this. Did 17 fathoms refer to depth? Or did 17 fathoms refer to the shipwreck in Ontario? What did Masthead refer to? (Well I’ve spoiled any surprises there- Masthead Island but let’s keep the mystery alive!!)

Using the current card system in place, which our supervisor Lindsey is in the process of adding to her extensive Haswell database, I determined that “Masthead” on the physical specimen is referring to Masthead Island, and therefore that 17 fathoms is in reference to depth and not a mysterious shipwreck.

It hasn’t all been old tea tins and marine protists, I’ve found some tardigrades (which will always fascinate me) and a whole host of Acanthocephalans-parasitic worms (almost all collected from pig intestines). Each of these discoveries is more fascinating then the next and I feel part of something truly incredible, every time I conserve a specimen.

Here are some photos I’ve taken recently of some things you might not traditionally think as beautiful, but these creatures are spectacular

 

An Echiura which I found rather captivating

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A Sipunculid which I’ve found equally captivating.

Roz’s Return: Meet Emeritus Associate Professor Rosalind Hinde

By Rosalind Hinde – 16.5.16

My first contact with the Haswell collection was as an undergraduate, majoring in Zoology. As is still the case, our labs were wonderfully enhanced by materials from the collection. Incidentally, we had one whole year to learn about inverebrates and another to study vertebrates.

Later I taught in Biology Animals units for about 30 years; we used the collection every year. As Head of School in the noughties, I learned of the difficulties in caring for this historically and pedagogically valuable material, and I am really glad, now, to be able to help give it a sustainable future.

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At a Biological Sciences weekend trip at Warrah in 1991, photo from Sonia Wansorough, Biology News, July 2012.

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Second year Genetics, Cellular and Development Biology class in 1990, photo, The University of Sydney Annual Report 1990.

My own research interests are in the physiology of symbioses between animals and microorganisms. My PhD was on the intracellular symbiotic bacteria of aphids; I also taught in Agricultural Entomology. As a post-doc in Oxford, I had a fascinating opportunity to work on the association between sea slugs and the chloroplasts of their food algae. The chloroplasts not only survive inside the animals’ digestive cells for several months, but photosynthesize and provide food to the animal cells they are “living” in. Because the animals are very good at producing thick, sticky mucus, it is difficult to separate their cells from the chloroplasts, limiting physiological studies on this type of association. So I started to work on symbiotic algae in corals and other cnidarians, where it was easy to separate the partners for experiments – this became my main research interest for the rest of my working life. I also worked on symbioses of sponges, which can associate with either microalgae or seaweeds.

I have now retired and spend a lot of time gardening and looking after our very old house, as well as reading (frivolously).

 

 

 

Small World: Haswell and Haddon

By Jude Philp – 11.5.16

In the Macleay Museum are a number of large old bound volumes stamped ‘zoological papers’ in gold lettering on their spines, most with a pasted decaying paper listing of the contents and volume number. Each of these unwieldy volumes contains a number of published papers, roughly grouped by subject. It was a kind of filing system that Haswell (1854-1925) used to keep together articles useful in his work. On picking out one at random I was stunned to see the familiar handwriting of University of Cambridge ethnographer, Alfred Cort Haddon (1855-1940).

That the famous anthropologist Haddon would be writing on zoological matters was not strange, as his interests were initially concerned with marine fauna. It was the connection between these two that surprised me, and it is interesting to see just how similar the two men’s careers were initially.

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NHC.216 – Lambrus longimanus (Linnaeus), collected Erub (Darnley) Island, Torres Strait 1875. One of Macleay’s Chevert specimens that Haswell worked on at the Watson’s Bay station.

Haddon’s zoological interests came from his exposure to the new questions in biological study in London during his youth, and in Cambridge as a student of the new natural history tripos. Conscientious, inquisitive, ambitious and enthusiastic by equal measure, after his studies Haddon was appointed curator for the Cambridge zoological collections and then demonstrator in comparative anatomy before gaining a permanent professorial position at the Royal College of Science in Dublin in 1883.

In the same period Haswell, just one year older than Haddon, had finished a degree in Edinburgh, emigrated to Sydney and struck up a working relationship with William John Macleay. Just as Haddon had taken up a research opportunity at the Naples research station, Haswell took up the opportunity to work at a sister institution, the Watson’s Bay marine station. Haswell initially researched the Chevert collections, that had been brought back from the Torres Strait by Macleay in 1875. He then gained a curatorship at Queensland Museum, a place on the 1881 HMS Alert survey of the Barrier Reef, and then in 1882 he returned to NSW to take a position as demonstrator in comparative anatomy at the University of Sydney, where he flourished. Just 8 years later he was appointed the first Challis Professor of Zoology.

Like Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) who was an enduring inspiration for them both, Haswell and Haddon were field-based zoologists and like Huxley visiting the Great Barrier Reef was life-changing. Haddon came to Australia to study Actiniae of the Torres Strait in 1888-89. But his experiences would push him away from zoology thereafter. The Islanders of Tudu, Mabuiag and Mer in the Torres Strait had influenced his thinking to such an extent that on return to Britain he spent ten years commuting between Ireland and England so to work on ethnography at Cambridge while fulfilling his professorial duties in Dublin.

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Wax model with stand

SC2001.42.11 – Model #11 from series showing development of the crustacean, Euastacus serratus.  One of the many models from the Haswell Museum that were integral in teaching.

For his part Haswell forged strong academic principles for the teaching of science at the University, and literally wrote the textbook on zoology in 1897. That same year Haddon was getting the finances together to return to the Torres Strait with the Cambridge University Anthropological Expedition to Torres Strait that he is so well remembered for.

Haddon’s handwriting was so familiar to me because the ethnographic collections he acquired from Islanders in Torres Strait were the focus of my doctorate at Cambridge. Returning to Australia to eventually take up the curatorial post at the Macleay Museum I have increasingly been involved in research on the natural history collections. Thanks to Macleay, these are rich with species from the remarkable ecological and cultural environment of the Great Barrier Reef that hugs the eastern islands of the Torres Strait.

 Sources:

Disseminating Darwinism: The Role of Place, Race, Religion, and Gender Ronald L. Numbers, John Stenhouse

 Before Social Anthropology: Essays on the History of British Anthropology James Urry

 

Brains Trust: Science Communicator Dr Cecily Oakley

By Lindsey Gray – 3.5.16

Team Haswell asks School of Life and Environmental Science’s Science Communicator Dr Cecily Oakley about the Brain practical class she created partially inspired by the Haswell Museum’s amazing brain specimens.
 
How do the Haswell specimens help bring your work as a Science Communicator to life?
 
The Haswell Museum specimens help me show students a huge diversity of organisms which otherwise I’d be unable to share. We just don’t have access to the live animals. They also give me the ability to show more than one example of the same type of animal. I can show the small but interesting and important variations that exist between individuals of the same species.
 
The collection also has lot’s of preserved organs and dissections of organ systems, like the brains. I’m able to use these to help students conduct comparative analyses. It’s great to be able to show them how the same structure, like a brain, can differ in size and shape across the animal groups because of evolution.
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Haswell’s salt-water crocodile (Crocodylus porous) skull and a historic Haswell alligator brain specimen. In life the two animal’s bodies would have been about the same size.

Who did you create the brain practical class for?

I created this for year 11 students interested in undertaking tertiary studies. They come along to the University for a day to “try before they buy”. Everyone likes a dissection, so I created a lamb’s brain dissection practical class. I use brain specimens from the Haswell Musuem as well to get across that comparative anatomy message. It is great being able to show the students the alligator and the horse brain. Both these animals are about the same size, but the alligator brain is comparatively tiny (and also very smooth). I get asked whether the alligator brain is from a juvenile or a baby alligator, but no! Their brains are just tiny. It is really interesting to see how the students react. It’s great being able to use the specimens as a way to open up discussions about the evolution of intelligence in animals. 

 
Why did you create a practical class about brains?
 

Because student’s think brains are cool! Though most of them assume brains are just mushy. They have no idea about their real texture or structure and how these things differ between the brains of different animals. Also the HSC year 11 syllabus doesn’t feature much information about the brain, but there is so much public interest. The brain is such a flexible topic area too. You can go a deep or shallow as you like depending on the student’s interest. 

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Dr Oakley’s favourite Haswell specimen – a stuffed koala (Phascolarctos cinereus).

Do you have a favourite Haswell specimen?

There is a stuffed koala specimen that I love to borrow for the University Open Days. The new international students get a real kick out of it!

Haswell’s Ghost is Famous

By Lindsey Gray – 19.4.16

Inhabitants of the University of Sydney Building, Heydon Laurence (or “A08” to those in the know) openly acknowledge the friendly presence of Professor William A. Haswell’s ghost ghouling about the building’s labyrinth like passages. Like many senior Biologists, he just can’t bring himself to leave…

A08beforeThe Heydon Laurence Building as Haswell knew it, c. 1902 (University of Sydney)

Those most prone to discussing and perhaps encountering the ethereal Haswell tend to be our most brain-fried and delirious Honours and Ph.D students burning the midnight oil deep in A08’s belly.

Left Heydon Laurence following major renovations in the 1920’s (Office of Environment and Heritage). Right A08 today (Glebe Walks.com)

While knackered students get to know Haswell best, everyone seems to know or know of the apparition, and as we were surprised to discover, past and present A08 dwellers are not Haswell’s only friends.

Researching Haswell last night, I came across Haunted Sydney a ghost spotting guide for our city. Professor Haswell’s ghost is something of a tourist attraction! Here is the excerpt on Haswell’s ghost from Haunted Sydney,

(http://www.visitsydneyaustralia.com.au/haunted.html)

University of Sydney Zoologogical (sic) Department The ghost of Scottish-born Australian zoologist William Aitcheson Haswell (1854-1925), who specialised in crustaceans, is said to haunt the University of Sydney Zoologogical Department. In 1882 he was appointed demonstrator, and later, lecturer, in the subjects of zoology, comparative anatomy, and histology at the University.  When the Challis professorship of biology was founded in 1889, Haswell was given the position and held it until its division in 1913. Haswell then became professor of zoology, but resigned his office at the end of 1917 and was appointed professor emeritus. He continued doing research work until shortly before his death from heart disease at Sydney on 24 January 1925. Zoology Department – University of Sydney – where ‘old Haswell’, Scottish-born Professor William Haswell, It is said that Haswell still keeps a watchful eye over the department.”

Get in touch if you think we should run some ghost-tours of the Building. It could be a fun way of engaging people in history and zoology (lindsey.gray@sydney.edu.au).

Meet Brittany and Richard – undergraduate student volunteers

By Brittany Mitchell and Richard Dimon – 5.4.16

Our roles as part of Project Haswell to date have included summarising information about the major phyla and families found within the collection, and revising the taxonomic names and ranks of all catalogued specimens. We have spent many hours trawling through various databases and literature to find the most up to date taxonomic revisions, and occasionally Britt has gone insane.

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Though after lunch, she normally calms back down again.

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Some of the highlights while working on this project have been discovering some of the exquisite and wondrous specimens (including Richard). Some of these are below:

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Though in the last couple of weeks, we’ve been helping out on the photography side of the digitisation process. This has included finding, preparing and photographing all of the samples. It’s been a fantastic excuse to use the photography studio and all the fancy camera equipment available. In the process we’ve had the opportunity to take some really great snaps of the specimens.

Overall, we’ve had a lot of fun and it’s been a really fantastic experience. We look forward to photographing the wet specimens in the near future! We will keep you posted. 

Haswell, a Biology Brain

By Marion McCann – 4.4.16

The digitisation process is not for the faint of heart. Amongst William Haswell’s vast zoological collection, are a series of animal brains, still preserved in glass jars with alcohol. Over the past couple of weeks the team has been working to have all these jars photographed, and while the flying fox brain with scalp and fur still attached has alarmed some, their value to budding zoologists is hard to ignore.

Haswell expressed interest in all areas of zoology, including the study of brains, and their difference between species. In 1884, he wrote an article for the New South Wales Linnean Society, about his study on the brain of the Gray’s Whale, recently acquired by the Australian Museum.[1] In the article he commented on the specimen’s ‘remarkable peculiarity’ when compared with the brain of a common dolphin, found of the coast of NSW.[2] Haswell was so impressed by the brain of the Gray’s Whale, that he went on the include a dorsal image of the brain in the second volume of his seminal work A Text-book of Zoology.[3] In today’s collection, we hold a preserved Gray’s Whale brain. Unfortunately, it is unclear whether it was acquired during Haswell’s time, but even if it was collected later, it is clear that he would have been delighted to have such a specimen in his collection.

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Haswell Museum’s Greys Whale brain. This is possibly the very brain Haswell discussed in his Text-book of Zoology.

Amongst the brains preserved in alcohol, we have also uncovered a series of teaching models, designed to aid in the classroom, reminding us that the collection was foremost assembled for teaching zoology students. The model ‘Brain of the Pigeon’ directly links to Haswell’s own co-authored book A Text-Book of Zoology Vol. II in which he uses the common pigeon as an example of ‘Class V – Aves.’[4] In this he describes the way that the brains of birds differ from other Chordata, and the figures shown in the textbook feature the same numbering system as on the model, allowing the model and textbook to be used together to aid learning.

 

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Model pigeon brain purchased by Haswell for his laboratory teaching and matching illustration drawn by Haswell for his zoology text-book

In a 1929 memoriam to Haswell, Linnean Society President H. J. Carter cited the Zoological Museum created by Haswell as one of his greatest legacies to the University of Sydney and its value as a ‘supplement to the oral and written work of his teaching.’[5] Through digitising, objects from the museum that are often unavailable for viewing by zoological students and the public, we hope that the legacy of Haswell’s Museum will continue to assist and inspire students for a long time to come. Even if that means photographing a whole lot of brains.

[1] W. A. Haswell, ‘On the brain of Grey’s whale (Kogia Grey),’ in Proceeding of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, Vol 8., 1884, 437 – 439.

[2] Haswell, op. cit., 438.

[3] T. Jeffrey Parker and William A. Haswell, A Text-book of Zoology, Vol II, Macmillan and Co., Limited, London, 1910, 580.

[4] Parker and Haswell, op. cit., 404 – 405.

[5] H. J., Carter, ‘William Aitcheson Haswell,’ in Proceedings of The Linnean Society of New South Wales, Vol 53., 1928, 488.