Cristy Burne


Leave a comment

Going batty on International Bat Day

Ever seen 10 million bats? Would you like to? How amazing would it be to see the fruit bat migration in Zambia’s Kasanka National Park?!!?

Five to ten million straw-coloured fruit bats migrate every year through Zambia’s Kasanka National Park.

When the bats feast on fruits in the national park’s swamp forest, they’re hard to miss.

But after they leave, they can fly on journeys of thousands of kilometres. Tracking them has never been easier, thanks to GPS.

93517_web.jpg

Dr Martin Wikelski, director of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, tags the bats with mini high-resolution global positioning systems (GPS).

“The [tracking] devices can be downloaded from afar,” Martin says. “Also, they record 3D-acceleration, so we can reconstruct the behaviour of the bats while on the move.”

We can use this tracking data to answer many batty questions: How do bats interact with humans and wildlife? What foods do they eat? How do bats help the environment with services like spreading seeds?

We can also combine this bat data with data from other tracked species and from environmental sensors to help understand what’s happening in the broader ecosystem.chris-meyer-kasanka-bats-2.jpg

A version of this article first appeared in CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine… Bats do give me a bit of the creeps, but I also think they’re beautiful. Anyone keen to head to Zambia for the next migration? Happy International Bat Day!


Leave a comment

Happy National Science Week…and making the 2019 Environment Award for Children’s Literature shortlist!

WIlderness Society shortlist.png

Happy National Science Week!

I’m spending the week as an Author in Residence at a local primary school, working with kids from pre-primary to Year 6 on ways to use real-life-science to inspire their creative writing. It’s loads of fun and the kids are coming up with fabulous ideas…

I feel so lucky to spend my days doing this and hope these kids keep imagining and creating and innovating in their stories…and in their lives.

And I feel especially lucky when stories I’m passionate about get recognised…stories like OFF THE TRACK, a book about getting outside into the bush, and camping, and exploring, and coping when things don’t go exactly as planned.

Well GUESS WHAT???? 

OFF THE TRACK has just been shortlisted for The Environmental Award for Children’s Literature by none other than The Wilderness Society as a book that inspires kids to care for our planet and fill up on love for all the wild and magical things that live on it.

WOO HOOOOO! THANK YOU to Fremantle Press and The Wilderness Society and the Bibbulmun Track Foundation and to everyone who has supported and shared and read my little book 🌳🌳🌳🥰🥰🥰

I wrote OFF THE TRACK to inspire tech-addicted children and families to rediscover the magic and fun of being together in the bush, so I’m absolutely over the moon to have it recognised by the Wilderness Society in this way.

As many of you know, I’m passionate about our planet, and I really believe sharing stories is a powerful way of sharing our passions with the next generation of leaders.

Congratulations to everyone on the list for sharing stories that inspire a love for our planet, and a special shout out to my fellow West Aussies Mike Speechley and Ian Mutch. YAY!!!!!

Off the Track Instagram.jpg

 


Leave a comment

Fun, festival, leeches…and a shortlisting!

Guess what?

ZEROES AND ONES has been shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year awards. Yeee-ha-balls. I’m so honoured…My funny history of computing is sharing space with a whole load of awesome and amazing books on that list!

IMG_20190707_112449309.jpg

 A beginner’s guide to attracting leeches….

Meanwhile, I’ve been exploring in north Queensland with my fam and we’ve had such a terrific time. We went hiking through the rainforest in Eungella every day we were there, averaging around 10 kilometres a day and approximately 47 million leeches on the days that it was wet.

If you’re not a fan of leeches, wait till the rain stops falling before you explore. If you do that, you won’t see a single one. If, like us, you decide you want to experience the rainforest in flooding rain, well, then, yes. What can I say?

We also went snorkelling on the reef off Airlie Beach and were lucky enough to see rays, turtles, whales and giant fish that behaved more like puppy dogs than fish.

It was the first time the kids had snorkeled in the deep and they did a marvellous job. They were scared but faced their fear and now they’re hooked on sharing space with tropical fish.

67373950_2898396530202832_3657752659336626176_o.jpg

Having a ball talking black holes 

And I’ve just returned from the fabulous Whitsunday Voices Youth Literature Festival, which was such an honour and a laugh.

So many wonderful people, flawless and friendly organisation, plus the buzz of sharing the green room and the general good times with a terrific bunch of fellow book creators. I feel SO lucky.

IMG_20190719_123120139.jpg

Testing for which type of ear wax we have… Yum!

There were more than 5000 kids at the festival and they all had giant smiles on their faces all day. Love it!

Thank you too all the organisers and sponsors of this awesome event.


Leave a comment

Cosmic news about Alice and Bob

A&B Image SQR.jpg

Great news for fans of The Cosmic Adventures of Alice and Bob…

Everyone’s favourite inventors are now available for purchase online. After an initial print run of 10,000 copies, it’s now only available online for a tiny $2.50.

Ever wanted to find the answer to BIG questions?

Or dreamed of inventing the Next Big Thing?

The Universe is an amazing place, and we’re only beginning to understand it. There’s still so much to be discovered…

The Cosmic Adventures of Alice and Bob is part-fiction, part-fact, and all fun.

3D Alice and BobCreated as a collaboration with the amazing illustrator Aska and the star-gazing team at CAASTRO, this book is SO exciting to look at and loads of fun to read.

  • Uncover true stories of scientific failure, fluke and fame
  • Find the everyday inventions that began with space research
  • Meet the world’s next-generation telescopes, jump on board with Citizen Science, and tackle the big questions with CAASTRO: Australia’s keen team of all-sky astronomers.
  • Model creative thinking skills, innovation, thinking outside the box, trial and error and resilience….all the things the scientific method demands, and the skills our kids will need to make the most of our technology-driven STEM and STEAM world.

Free teaching notes


Leave a comment

Celebrating sawfish on Shark Awareness Day

Did you know sawfish are related to sharks?

When I took on this story for CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine I didn’t know much about sawfish at all.

Now I know they’re a type of ray. I know they use their saws to detect the heartbeats of their prey, and also to stun fish and defend against predators. And I know they used to live around the world, but are now endangered. How cool is it to be a science writer and learn all these things as part of my job!!!

Double Helix Sawfish.JPGFishing up a huge surprise

It started out as just another fishing trip.

Lisa Smiler was using a handline in Wattie Creek, 900 kilometres south-west of Darwin, in the Northern Territory, when she felt that unmistakeable feeling: a bite on the end of her line!

“I thought it was a barramundi, or a catfish, or something,” Lisa says. Whatever it was, it was big.

“I was pulling the line, then my sister helped pull the line, and her partner pulled the line, all the way up to the edge of the river,” Lisa describes. “All of a sudden, my sister pulled up the nose part, and I said, ‘Oh no, I don’t want this fish, it’s freaky.’”

At 2.7 metres long, the fish weighed more than Lisa did. When she posted its picture on social media, Lisa set the scientific world alight.

Record-breaking fish?

According to Western science, Lisa’s sawfish is the first ever observed swimming so far inland—nearly 500 kilometres from the ocean!

But Indigenous knowledge says differently. Local rock art of a sawfish, or kunpulu, suggests Lisa’s ancestors had seen the fish already.

Ursula Chubb, a Gurindji ranger, monitors the rock art site. “When we go out on country trips with Elders, they talk about it, and I listen to them telling us stories,” she says. “It’s a very important fish from long ago, when our ancestors were living in this country.”

Lisa says she never dreamed she’d see a live kunpulu. “I’d just heard about the sawfish in the rock painting … I wasn’t thinking I would catch one.”

Tracking language

Kunpulu’ means ‘sawfish’ in Gurindji, and in other Indigenous languages too, even those spoken hundreds of kilometres from Gurindji country.

Dr Felicity Meakins has studied Indigenous languages for over 20 years. She says different words tell their own stories, and she uses these stories to learn about changes over time.

“You can use different languages to trace the path of the fish,” says Felicity.

“I would guess at some point this fish has appeared, and people have said, ‘This is a stranger in our country. What’s this?’ And they’ve asked more northern people…and that’s how that word kunpulu has been passed along.”

Solving the mystery

We don’t know when Gurindji people first saw sawfish, but with ochre samples from the rock art, we hope to be able to solve the mystery. Scientists have also taken DNA samples from Lisa’s sawfish, to help work out how many sawfish are in the river.

“We’re using Indigenous ecological knowledge and western knowledge to build up a picture of what’s happened with the sawfish,” Felicity says.

Endangered wonders

Sawfish once lived around the world but are now endangered. Baby sawfish are born in the ocean, at the mouth of rivers like the Northern Territory’s Victoria River or Western Australia’s Fitzroy River.

The pups swim upstream, spending years growing in the river before swimming out to the ocean. Adults can reach up to seven metres long.

 

My article was first published in CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine.


Leave a comment

How to tickle a rat: serious news on International Joke Day

giggling rats Helix.JPGIt’s International Joke Day, but let’s get serious. Evidence suggests a good laugh is great for our health. But what if you just don’t feel funny? Can tickling help?

That’s where research comes in. Dr Shimpei Ishiyama is studying tickling and laughter in rats. It turns out, anyone can learn to tickle a rat, he says.

“It is very easy…though there are some techniques, such as flipping them and tickling the belly, which you may need to practice a bit.”

Shimpei is studying the way rats’ brains react to a good tickling. He hopes to learn more about how our own brains work.

“Our results suggest that ticklishness has been conserved through evolution, and is related to playfulness. We speculate ticklishness is perhaps a brain’s trick to make us play with others, and have fun,” he says.

Ready, set, tickle

Shimpei and his team of ticklers have even noticed differences in rat personalities. Shy rats tend to laugh less, while playful rats laugh more.

Shimpei loved being tickled as a kid, but now he hates it. “It is also the same for rats. Young rats enjoy being tickled, while adult rats are annoyed,” he says.

meme-ratTop tickler’s tip:

Before you attempt to tickle your rat, take a deep breath. It’s important that you’re feeling relaxed and friendly.

“Rats…can sense the stress hormone in sweat on my palm, which could potentially make them nervous,” says Shimpei.

Is your rat missing its sense of humour?

Worried that your rats are too serious? Don’t worry. It’s normal to feel this way. And it could be your rats are having a super time, you just don’t realise.

Rats laugh at ultrasonic frequencies, so the human ear cannot hear their giggles.

I originally wrote this article for CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine 🙂 


Leave a comment

How to spot (and help) platypuses 

DSC_0020I’m lucky enough to be heading to the Whitsundays Voices Festival a couple of weeks early. Why? For some sun and beaches, but also some forests and hiking…

I’m also hoping to see a small, furry critter I’ve adored from afar but never actually laid eyes on:

The platypus.

On a scale of one to weird…

On a scale of one to weird, platypuses score super-high. They’re venomous, lay eggs, make milk, breathe air and live in fresh water. How cool is that!?!?!

“It doesn’t get much weirder,” says Josh Griffiths, a senior ecologist with 10+ years’ experience working with platypuses.

“They’re the most unusual creature on the planet. There’s still so much we don’t know about them, so any time I go out or do research, I’m going to see something new.”

DSC_0306.jpgWhat do we already know about platypuses?

Well, we know platypuses are amazing.

Bill: Their super-sensitive bill can detect underwater electrical pulses made by tasty beetles, insect larvae and yabbies. This means platypuses hunt with their eyes, ears and nostrils closed.

Limbs: Their short limbs are webbed (great for paddling) and clawed (great for digging).

Spur: Males have venomous spurs on their ankles. “The venom causes excruciating pain and massive swelling in humans,” says Josh. Platypus venom is so odd, we’re hoping it can be used to treat diabetes.

Coat: Their thick waterproof fur is perfect for staying warm and dry.

Tail: Flat and wide like a paddle, their tail is great for swimming. It’s also filled with fat, for energy reserves.

Size:  1–3 kilograms. “Like a small rabbit,” says Josh, “but they’re a very strange shape, because they’re long and streamlined.” Think 40–50 cm from tip of tail to tip of bill.

Eggs: The female lays her eggs in a 25-30-metre-long burrow that she’s dug into the riverbank. “It’s quite an effort for a one-kilogram animal,” says Josh. “The eggs around about the size of a 5-cent piece when they’re laid.” After just ten days, the eggs hatch.

Jellybean babies: “When platypus hatch, they’re the size of a little pink jellybean,” says Josh. “They’re basically a mouth, with not much else. Mum stays with them almost constantly for the first few weeks.” During this time, she feeds her bean babies with milk.

Milk: A CSIRO team led by Janet Newman has found a curly protein in platypus milk is great at killing bacteria. “Platypus are such weird animals that it would make sense for them to have weird biochemistry,” says Janet.

Where to see platypuses

Platypuses live across eastern and southern Australia. They’re mostly nocturnal, live alone, and are super-shy. “We don’t see them easily, so we don’t know whether they’re disappearing or not,” says Josh.

However, fingers crossed, they’re relatively easy to spot in the Eungella National Park, which is where I’ll be heading before the Whitsundays Voices Festival. Wish me luck!

Join the platypus party

Next time you go platypus-spotting, be a citizen scientist and record your success (or failure) on platypusSPOT.

“You can see where other people have seen platypus and try your luck in those hot spots,” says Josh. Even better, your information helps us learn more about where platypus live.

IMG_1723-2.jpg

Platypus can drown in yabby traps

What you can do to help platypuses today

There are two big ways we can all help platypuses:

  • Save water. “Every time we take a shower or turn on the tap, we’re using water from a platypus’ home,” says Josh.
  • Pick up litter: “It’s easy for a platypus to get tangled rubber bands or hair ties or bits of string,” says Josh. Platypuses also drown in yabby traps.

Injured platypus? Who you gunna call?

If you find an injured or sick platypus, don’t pick it up. “You could get put in hospital for your trouble,” says Josh. Platypus venom isn’t fun! Instead, call your local wildlife rescue operation.

Did you know?

Platypuses are one of only five living species of egg-laying mammals, called monotremes. The other four are all echidna species. Monotremes only live in Australia and New Guinea.

This post is adapted from an article written by me that first appeared in CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine. (c) CSIRO