THE DUGONG IS the only surviving species in the family Dugongidae. There was one other modern member — Steller’s sea cow; a huge, slow-swimming northern Pacific mammal that ate seaweed and may have reached weights of up to 10 tonnes. Sadly, the species is now best known as a cautionary conservation tale: it was discovered and hunted to extinction in three decades during the 18th century. Dugongs belong to the order Sirenia (the sirens), the name being a nod to mermaid mythology. The other living members are three species of manatee, all found in coastal areas and rivers of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, the Amazon Basin and West Africa. There are similarities between the two groups, particularly their size, appearance and histories. But, in the evolutionary sense, they’ve been separated for a long time and there are significant differences. Sirenians have a similar shape to whales, dolphins or seals, but are not closely related. They have a clearer evolutionary connection to elephants and small rodent-like animals called hyraxes, found in Africa and the Middle East.
Sprouting in the most unlikely locations, fungi thrive across the Australian continent, pushing through dry desert soils and lush rainforest floors. The ‘fruit-body’ that you see growing up through the ground is but a fraction of the organism — as little as two per cent — and it’s only there for a short time. Here is a sample of some of our most common fungi, many of which you’re likely to encounter in your own backyard. Text by Erin Frick.
Lightning Ridge has the greatest number and diversity of opalised fossils in Australia. It is one of the most productive and scientifically significant fossil sites in the country, and the only major site in NSW with dinosaurs. Three Australian dinosaur species have been described from Lightning Ridge material, but there are many more dinosaur specimens in the AOC collection that have not yet been studied or named. Other fossils include: turtles, crocodiles, fish, birds, early mammals, mussels, snails, giant marine reptiles, pine cones, plant stems and seeds. The Australian Opal Centre has 4000 or more fossils in its collection, worth an estimated $3 million, but with Jenni and Elizabeth the only palaeontologists on site, much of it has yet to be studied.
The significance of stamp art often goes under appreciated. Compacted into small, square dimensions, featured illustrations offer a slice of Australian history. We’ve been using postal stamps as early as 1812 and since this time we’ve communicated our landmarks, our icons and treasured moments in our history. However nothing communicates the beauty, rich and rare of the country quite like our native flora. Here, we look back on the intricate botanical illustrations that have adorned Australian stamps over the decades.