From Spiny Ant-Eater to Promiscuous Spiky Baby Killer: An Incomplete Natural History of Echidnas presented by Associate Professor Stewart Nicol, in the Meeting Room, QVMAG at Inveresk, 2.00pm Sunday 24th May 2015
Admission: $6 General Public, $4 Friends of the Museum and Students
Free for members of The Royal Society of Tasmania
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Assoc. Prof. Nicol will discuss the controversies provoked by the arrival of the first specimens of echidnas and platypuses in Europe at the end of the 18th century, and some of the larger than life personalities involved. It wasn’t until 1884 that the debate about their mode of reproduction was fully settled, and surprisingly little work was done on the field biology of the echidna until recently, and it was not until 1986 that it was shown that the echidna is a “classical” hibernator. Studies of echidnas in the wild have shown surprising interrelationships between hibernation and reproduction, and explain why male echidnas have such large testes. Recent observations provide a possible explanation of why males mate with females that have not yet completed their hibernation, why females may re-enter hibernation when pregnant, and while they continue to mate when pregnant. Assoc Prof. Nicol will also provide new information on the unusual properties of echidna milk.
Stewart Nicol, was born in Launceston and attended Launceston High School and Launceston Matriculation College before studying zoology and geology at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, obtaining first class honours in Zoology in 1968. After a brief period as a teacher at Launceston College he returned to Hobart as Demonstrator in Physiology in the Medical School and completed a PhD on the thermal physiology of the potoroo in 1978. He eventually became Head of Anatomy & Physiology and Deputy Dean of Health Science, but his research interests were mainly in the physiology of native mammals and in 2007 he transferred to the School of Zoology. Since 1990 his principal research interest has been the biology of the echidna and he has published over 50 papers on various aspects of their biology, ranging from haematology, respiration and hibernation to reproduction, maternal care, olfactory communication and milk composition, as well as several book chapters. He retired in 2012 but continues with his research.