Look Inside: 100 Natural History Treasures of Te Papa

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100 Natural History Treasures of Te Papa 100

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Introduction 6 100 Natural History Treasures

A–B Objects 001–013 12

C–E Objects 014–025 44

F–G Objects 026–039 72

H–M Objects 040–058 104

N–P Objects 059–072 146

R–S Objects 073–087 178

T–Z Objects 088–100 212

The collectors 242

The collection and the field 248

Authors 262 Image credits 266 Index 267

Introduction: Susan Waugh 009 020 041 042 050 054 056 058 068 071 080 083 089 097 099

The publication of 100 Natural History Treasures of Te Papa coincides with, and we hope complements, two events that are significant to Te Papa’s natural history collections – an opening and an anniversary. 2019 sees the launch of Te Taiao | Nature, the renewed natural environment exhibition in the museum, while October 2019 marks the 250th anniversary of the meeting of two peoples in this country – iwi and hapū Māori and the (mostly) European members of James Cook’s Endeavour expedition – and the encounter of their distinctive world views.

That anniversary commemorates the landing here of the first European naturalists, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, with their shipmate, artist and scientific illustrator Sydney Parkinson. They were the first eager collectors of the local flora and fauna in this (from their perspective) virgin territory for Western science, introducing to it their rational and systematic understanding of its nature.

In Te Papa’s collections, we have physical links with that early scientific expedition: some of the specimens they collected; priceless taonga that make for us a special connection with the anniversary.

As a bicultural institution, we also use that anniversary to acknowledge the longestablished presence of Māori understanding of the natural world in this land. For as much as science is about describing relationships in the web of life, mātauranga Māori – Māori knowledge – with its emphasis on whakapapa, or interconnectedness, offers a coherent and systematic universe of described relationships. We mark at least seven centuries of detailed observations and discoveries prior to Western contact – the original scholarship about nature in New Zealand, whose application enabled communities to live and thrive within their environment. After twenty years of display since the museum’s opening at its current site, Te Papa’s natural history exhibits have been rebuilt with a new focus on the public’s connection to nature. We integrate narrative from mātauranga Māori into the new exhibits, exploring the intimate connection of New Zealanders to the whenua, the land, and the power of the elements, and the importance of the natural world in our existence as dwellers in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Te Papa has had a long association with science, having recently commemorated 150 years since the Colonial Museum’s opening in 1865 under Director James Hector, later Sir James. The museum’s major focus then was on providing an inventory of natural resources around the nation, with geology being a key feature, and to map the potential for the extractive industries. But Hector also had a penchant for making collections and describing biological life, including

Bat-winged fly (see page 34) Crabeater seal skull (see page 60) Laughing owl (see page 128)
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Photographer Jean-Claude Stahl, Kaitiaki Taonga Collection Manager for Vertebrates Tom Schultz and Head of Science Susan Waugh in one of Te Papa’s collection storage rooms at its Tory Street, Wellington, collections facility.

Antipodean Durvillaea

Durvillaea species

One of the first cabinet drawers I opened during my first days working with Te Papa’s botany collection revealed an impressive specimen: a Durvillaea, a massive brown seaweed more commonly known as bull kelp. This specimen was collected in 1985 from one of the remote corners of New Zealand, the Antipodes Islands.

While out on a marine survey at this time, museum collector Cameron Hay and Director John Yaldwyn discovered the large plant at depth and collected it, knowing that it was different. They had the large specimen flown by helicopter from the island, from where it was brought on board a navy vessel, frozen, and transported all the way back to Wellington.

Te Papa’s botany curator Nancy Adams was waiting for it. She carefully processed and meticulously hand-pressed it over a number of very large sheets, as though to also preserve every bit of effort that went into collecting it. The specimen is now part of the incredible library of seaweeds held by Te Papa. Many of the specimens are well understood, while many more await study and even a name, like this Durvillaea.

The species was known to have been new to science since it was first collected in 1969. With only a few specimens to work with, it’s taken time – and perhaps advancements in tools and techniques, such as DNA identification – to really understand it. Nearly forty years later, the Durvillaea is nearing the end of its long wait for a formal name.

There are many such examples in Te Papa’s natural history collections: what we know to be unknown is pretty extraordinary. This Durvillaea has always been a conspicuous, and my favourite, reminder of this. JD

Manager Science and Humanities Collection Jenn Dalen and Kaitiaki Taonga Collection Manager of Botany Antony Kusabs examine the Durvillaea specimen laid out in the Botany storeroom.

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Aorangi skink

Oligosoma roimata

People know New Zealand as a land of birds, but few are aware that it is equally a land of lizards. When the first waka touched our shores, there were about one hundred species of native land or freshwater bird on the three main islands, but at least 110 species of lizard. So why are so few New Zealanders aware that we share our islands with so many endemic lizards?

Part of the reason is that predation by introduced rats, mice, stoats and cats (in particular) has led to most lizard species becoming very rare or confined to tiny portions of their original range. Also, only recently has the true diversity of New Zealand lizards been recognised.

When I first took an interest in New Zealand lizards, in the late 1970s, there were about twenty known species of skink and fifteen known species of gecko. Why has the known number of lizard species increased more than threefold over the past forty years? Part of the reason is that many new species with restricted ranges have been discovered, but the main reason is awareness that many of the ‘species’ recognised before 1990 were actually clusters of similarlooking species. Recognition of these ‘cryptic species’ has been mainly undertaken in the laboratory, using a combination of microscopy and genetic techniques.

One of the new species (described in 2013) is the Aorangi skink, known only from the Poor Knights Islands off the Northland coast. Closely related to the more widespread ornate skink, the Aorangi skink has been separated from it for at least 6.2 million years – much longer than the one to two million years since this island group was last connected to the nearby mainland. CM

Aorangi skink (Oligosoma roimata), RE.001626/32, snout to vent length 57 mm, collected G Hardy and L Moran, Aorangi Island, Poor Knights Islands, November 1973.

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The Art Album of New Zealand Flora

This delightful book was published in three parts between 1887 and 1889. The authors, Edward and Sarah Featon, were keen to disprove the commonly held belief of the time that New Zealand had no flowers of any note. The Featons asserted that ‘the flowers of our adopted land … display a beauty of form and character which in many instances are peculiarly their own’. Native plants are held in much higher esteem these days, but in the late nineteenth century the Featons’ views were radical.

The book was ground-breaking in other ways. It was the first volume containing full-colour illustrations to be produced and published entirely in New Zealand. The text was written by Edward Featon, and the forty plates were printed by the exacting technique of chromolithography from original watercolours painted by Sarah Featon, including this one showing three species of Metrosideros. It was produced by the Wellington firm of William Bock and Alfred Cousins, who were renowned for their skill in designing and engraving postage stamps.

Unfortunately, the book was expensive to produce and published at a time of economic depression. It was not a commercial success, and the firm was dissolved soon afterwards. Two further volumes had been planned, and Te Papa still holds another ninety-three unpublished plates, but these volumes were never completed.

Despite its lack of commercial success, the book was well received by the public, and Sarah’s bright colours opened many people’s eyes to the beauty and diversity of the New Zealand flora. The government even presented a copy, in a specially made casket of native timbers, to Queen Victoria at the time of her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. PB

Aka, Rata, watercolour by Sarah Featon, c. 1885, 1992-0035-2277/77, 264 mm x 214 mm. Published as Plate 36, Metrosideros scandens, Metrosideros robusta, Metrosideros parkinsonii, in Edward and Sarah Featon, The Art Album of New Zealand Flora (Bock and Cousins, Wellington, 1889).

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Psychrolutes microporos

The blobfish Psychrolutes microporos, family Psychrolutidae, occurs widely in the New Zealand region, from the southern Kermadec Ridge and southern Lord Howe Plateau to the Campbell Plateau. It lives on or close to the bottom at depths of 780–1780 metres. As with a number of deep-water fishes, it has loose skin and watery muscles, which are adaptations to life at depth. Out of water, the fish’s body is limp and flabby, sagging out of shape because it can’t support its own weight.

A photograph of a saggy-baggy specimen looking sad and wistful, affectionately called ‘Mr Blobby’ by scientists and crew on board the RV Tangaroa, was published on the website of the 2003 NORFANZ Expedition, a joint Australian–New Zealand biodiversity research voyage. The image quickly went viral; ‘Mr Blobby’ had arrived, gaining immediate international fame.

His achievements are many: his image has appeared on an album cover; he has his own Facebook page and Twitter account; he was voted the World’s Ugliest Species by the Ugly Animal Preservation Society and became their official mascot; he was deemed huggable enough to promote plush toys; was a model for slippers; appeared on T-shirts; and inspired an ocean of poems, apps and smartphone games with tag lines like ‘Build Up Your Hero and EVOLVE!’ and ‘Go Home Evolution: You’re Drunk’. He also inspired a song by a children’s book author; and even appeared in a cameo role in the Hollywood movie Men in Black 3!

Science exploration can be sensational – sometimes in the strangest of ways. CR + AS

‘Mr Blobby’ (Psychrolutes microporos), AMS I.42771-001, length 285 mm, trawled by RV Tangaroa, NORFANZ Expedition, at depth of 1013–1340 m, Norfolk Ridge, north Tasman Sea, June 2003.

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Kaitiaki Taonga Collection Manager for Molluscs Bruce Marshall, far left, Curator of Invertebrates Rick Webber and Postdoctoral Researcher Rodrigo Salvador in the mollusc storage area of Te Papa’s Tory Street facility.

72 Objects

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