April 3 - Queensland Museum

The Queensland Museum, mostly a museum of Natural History, is just over the river from our hotel in downtown Brisbane. The central part of the city, like Sydney, is a mixture of old and new architecture, with a pleasant, if busy, pedestrianized Queen Street running through its heart. Plenty of restaurants, pubs, and shops. Even at rush hour the pace seems more relaxed than your average city. There is a genuine international feel to Brisbane both in terms of its peoples and its cuisine. Anglo-western, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian and so on. No apparent aboriginal influence though, which is too bad because apparently the settlement of the region was peacable with the local inhabitants (to begin with anyway).

Our task at the Museum is a fairly straightforward one: find the type specimens for those species that are on record here, photograph them and record all of the label information in their respective jars. A type specimen is that individual animal that defines the species, the one upon which the species was described, and the one upon which ultimate comparisons can and must be made if trying to decide whether or not some critter found in the woods is this species, that species or a new species. All species have a type specimen somewhere. The type of Giraffe giraffe is wrapped in gauze standing in the bottom of a stairwell in the British Museum of Natural History in South Kensington London, for example.

Some in our field want to do away with this proceure of designating types, thinking it to be an arcane, even parochial, practise. Others see that there is something critically important to being able to accurately and unambiguously identify species. Regardless, the Natural History Museums of the world are the libraries of biodiversity in the form of these type collections, and other collections.

There is much to be gleaned from collections. For example, just by looking at the holotype of Amicobdella niger (at right), which we will be hunting in earnest two days from now, we have a good sense of size, shape, and patterning of colors on the back. Of course the colors are faded considerably after years in formalin and alcohol; all the more reason for our field shots of terrestrial leeches. As well, though, among the non-type collections there is a wealth of information, most of it never having made it to a published paper, all of which concerns the precise localities at which various leeches have been found, some of them identified to species, others not.

We have downloaded all of this information from the QM databases and have jotted down notes of our own from the labels themselves. The information from the types will be compiled, along with similar information we have gathered from leech collections at museums around the world, into a single on-line source. The task of digitially recording the information contained for all of the type and non-type collections of all of the plants and animals in all of the museums and herbaria around the world is an onerous one. But this is being done, and not just by us. The information is too precious to be subject to the fading effects of that inevitably degrade ink on paper labels gingerly placed in jars by avid collectors the world over.

Alas, the only wildlife we have seen, excepting the odd drunken backpaker staggering back to "The Palace", are the ibises that here supplant pidgeons as the earnest beggars around your lunch table, and a lone lizard well out of place on the river bank surrounded by concrete, glass, steel and curious tourists.

Tomorrow is our last day in Southeast Queensland before flying North to Darwin. Still no rain to speak of. We might try a locality up near the Sunshine Coast, or maybe just pop into Steve Irwin's Australian Zoo along the way.