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It's been a while but we have now the penultimate installment of the Peruvian Adventure by Dave the driver Hall...enjoy.

 

I think that fourth night must have been the first one I've spent at 2,700m and I didn't seem any the worse for it. I tugged at the wooden shutters to see what day five on the road might have in store. Weather: acceptable for driving on dodgy roads. High, thin clouds cut with watery pastels. A shabby old town in diluted blue and sunbleached turquoise. The plaza mayor was just creaking into life. A cluster of women in straw hats held conference outside a grocer's. A policeman heaved open the giant wooden double doors of an eroded old police station, yawned, and spat.

 

I took a cold shower, dressed and started lugging trunks and sample boxes from last night's sorting. Prof. Knapp was already up (of course) dismantling the drier. The daily task of packing seemed a little more arduous this morning. Either the altitude, or the shin-barkingly steep antique stairs. The van was parked in a square pound at the back of the hotel, which looked appealingly like the OK Corral. Sandy had been a little concerned that the truck might not still be there this morning, but the locals seemed harmless enough to me, if not exactly chummy.

 

The growing light revealed our hotel to be of a certain vintage; much of the rear was semi-derelict and empty. I creaked back and forth with my boxes through creepy cavernous dusty backrooms, using the return trips to investigate dark passages and musty staircases leading nowhere, the only sounds my wheezing and the drip of an old tap. And here an appealingly dilapidated old dining room-dance hall I could imagine thronging with local revellers.

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Morning in Celendin.

 

After breakfast I took a few moments to explore the town, too. It might be old hat for the Dr Livingstones in our midst but I was unlikely to set eyes on the place again. Erica likes telling me how amusing it is reading my rhapsodic perspective on what she sees as routine grubby fieldwork: I see cascades of mountains; she sees dirty socks drying on the dashboard.

 

(Erica here - not exactly how I phrased it - he was bemoaning us for failing to see the beauty all around us - Sandy and I were concentrating on flies and spuds )

 

The market was already open for a day's easygoing trade. I ambled over. Three schoolboys kicked a burst ball to each other on the way to classes. The policeman hadn't moved. Stallholders unhurriedly erected awnings and set out their wares along the narrow thoroughfares, the alley-tunnels filled with the pungent aroma of meat, overripe fruit and hawker-stall breakfasts. I bought plump oranges and tomatoes for lunch from one of the impassively leather-faced vendors and wandered back to the hotel, ready for another day behind the wheel.

 

But no! Erica announced she'd be driving today, to 'give me a break'. The cheek. I protested firmly, in my quietest voice. This felt like cheating, but I was anticipating incredible scenery, ahead so I didn't flap.

 

(Erica again - they are long days driving- even we are not that nasty to make him drive continuously)

 

In contrast to other towns thus far it was a fair doddle finding the route out of town. Without at least two simultaneous sets of directions being offered in each ear, the going seemed somehow easier. Being fair, it wasn't hard to navigate. There was little traffic, and thanks to the colonial grid system we simply had to find the edge of the town and keep going until we hit a road going east.

 

Nevertheless, this road looked unpromising – a narrow back-street cluttered with the detritus of townsfolk's lives: bits of motorbike, smashed agricultural implements, underfed dogs...

 

But here a sign, which told us it was a mere 150km to our next stop, Leymebamba, and presently we started climbing.

 

The narrow road wound up again through foothills scarred with gold-mining quarries, many illegal. The locals had been protesting for some time, largely to deaf ears, that these mines – many sponsored by American multinationals – are polluting the water supply.

 

Above the scarred hillsides we rose... the road surface was perfect and I couldn't help thinking what an epic bike ride this would make for the stout of heart. Eventually the treeline gave way to rousing views of Celendin far below, where the light-blue double steeple of the church in the town square poked above the ramshackle rooftops. The town nestled in a half-bowl surrounded by hills. It must have looked attractive to the early Inca settlers and, unfortunately for them, the Spanish too. The head of the valley ended in an unseen drop, and far beyond were mountains whose peaks seemed oddly level with the town itself... now it was clear how high up the town was.

 

Still we climbed, this time without finding any locals to pester about their potatoes. Spying as yet no specimens, we meandered upward and upward, through rugged moorland, ever closer to the clouds that before had seemed so far off. As the sun finally renewed hostilities and the clouds began to leak a bit of sunshine, we reached a high pass of about 3,500m where a tiny village sat incongruously amid the rugged landscape, complete with a tiny football pitch and neatly planted conifers. The place had a strangely manicured feel.

 

Then, suddenly, the other side. As we breached the other side of the pass, a completely different panorama opened up. A dramatic series of valleys and mountain ranges rolled into the east, rib upon rib wreathed in mist, multiple horizons fading toward the Amazon. Somewhere to our right, far below and well beyond view, the Marañón River was thundering on its 1,700km looping journey toward the king of rivers. My head span at the spectacle. Sandy and Evelyn discussed tomatoes. Erica drove on without comment.

 

Our way wasn't getting any wider. As we wound downwards, hugging the cliffsides, the road only narrowed further. The bends were like fishhooks, and here and there were patches where the roadworks had not reached or where recent repairs had simply slid down the cliff. There were no barriers to protect motorists from the yawning 1,000-foot drops a matter of inches from the wheels. Superfluous roadsigns warned us to slow down and keep right. Erica didn't need much encouragement. Everyone in the car seemed to become silent. I tried to look far ahead to see if anything was coming the other way. We could only imagine what it must be like for lorry and bus drivers.

 

I was beginning to enjoy myself.

 

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A yawning 1,000-foot drop inches to the left.

 

In the clouds now. I like being in clouds, but it doesn't help with the driving. Breaks in the mist revealed teasing glimpses of dark, sheer mountainsides. Here and there the sun poked through and a rainbow made a perfect technicolor arch over the road.

 

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Driving through the Peruvian mountains.

 

Then just as suddenly, out of the mist, full sunshine, the scenery changing from hairpin to hairpin. We were descending toward a lush shoulder of high land, an upper valley nestled in a crown of mountains far below, dotted with tiny farmhouses and quiltwork cornfields, into which the road descended in a series of insane switchbacks. It was a perfect lost valley; a prime spot for Eldorado.

 

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A prime spot for Eldorado.

 

I still have no idea how Sandy spots specimens from the car even at the modest speeds we were achieving. But at last Prof Knapp bade us stop for our first samples amid a gradually drier landscape.

 

The sun was melting the clouds away and the morning was mellowing nicely. Nearby, an allotment of sorts, a small bungalow and what I thought were petrol pumps. The immediate area was lush, catching runoff rainwater in a small series of irrigation ditches. Prime mozzie territory, I thought. Again, parts of the area had been cleared recently – the solanum species again proving keener than mustard to move in quick on new space.

 

My ridiculous sample notes about the sampling area – for 'twas my job – read: “A small irrigation ditch is nearby and a 'petrol station' nearby also.”  I see now it was not a petrol station, but someone's dwelling, but their toilets seemed public enough at the time.

 

Sandy and the Fly Girls exited, rummaged in the back for Sucky and Sweep, then set off into the undergrowth. Evelyn swished gamely. Erica bothered a bush. I made notes. Sandy snagged some excellent samples of Solanum dilleni. I went to the toilet again.

 

(Erica once more - many conversations on fieldtrips revolve around toilets - how often you need to go, the facilities etc)

 

On we went. As we sank riverwards, hopes rose in the back of the truck that the ever-more arid terrain may harbour the tomato relatives we had encountered in similar habitats earlier in the trip: habrochaites perhaps. It was getting drier and drier. I prefer the lush stuff up in the mountains.

 

We fairly freewheeled to the next stop a couple of miles hence, where a sharp bend in the road concealed a small clutch of solenum arcanum known from Sandy's notes to be in this location many years previously. It was still there. All manner of insects waited to be sucked from the bushes, but nearby sat a sizeable troop of Homosapiens Peruensis, taking a break from mending the road. They were much animated by the sight of Erica's immense suction apparatus. We had disturbed the species in its natural habitat, so had to bear with good grace the sniggering and what I imagined to be Spanish double entendres. The Challenges of Fieldwork.

 

My notes say we came away with some samples of “Solanum simplefolium” but, according to Google, this doesn't exist. That's a shame – I liked that name. I can only imagine it was Solanum pimpenellifolium. This sports little purple flowers and tiny tomatoes – tomatillos – which are edible. It's a really close relative of our tomatoes. Indeed, it is sometimes called a wild tomato.

 

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Some Peruvian geology.

 

Further we sank toward the Marañón in our search for tomato and potato data, through spectacular peaks and pyramids of twisted volcanic rock where lava seams poked through like ribcages, past abandoned pasture and the occasional hungry-looking donkey picking through the brush.

 

At last we reached the valley floor, at the village of Chacanto in the district of Las Balsas – gateway to the Amazonas region. It was now all firmly semi-desert, reminiscent of parts of Nevada or Utah, catching the full ferocity of the sun. It felt like being stir-fried. The river looked inviting, but the Marañón slides through at a good clip here even in the dry season. It is a mere stream compared with what it would become downstream, but the bridge that spans it is a good 100m in length. We rolled over the bridge, stopped only a few minutes for a coffee in the sleepy village, and went on our way. We still had a long way to go...

 

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The Marañón River at the bottom of the valley.

 

Erica - since writing these blog pieces we have been analysing some of the data and trying to figure out what some of the insects that we sampled are. It has taken months to do this and there have been at least 9 people so far going through the insects. many are about to be sent of to specialists across the globe. Upstairs from where I am typing this at my desk we have two people imaging some of the specimens before they are sequenced for their DNA....its a very exciting time for this project.

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Every four years the International Society of Hymenopterists gather for a conference, in a different venue each time. This July, 120 or so wonderful waspy folk gathered in Cusco, in the Peruvian Andes.

 

Natalie Dale-Skey, Andrew Polaszek and I headed off from the Natural History Museum to the land of the Andean Condor (we didn’t see any) and the gateway to one of the wonders of the world, Machu Picchu (we didn’t visit).

 

The first important consideration, of course, was how many shirts to pack, given that we were also visiting a field station for a quick post-conference collecting trip at the end. One shirt per day, surely? Invest in a travel iron?

 

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Apparently real travellers (i.e. Natalie) carry three shirts at most, washing them daily in rainwater, and are prepared to make new clothes from abandoned sacking and banana leaves. I am not a real traveller.

 

What happens at a wasp conference?

 

Andy presented a new, interactive key for identification of Hymenoptera families that his intern, Miriam Gurpegui, had created. Natalie Dale-Skey presented a poster on the wonders of our chalcid collection. And I gave a presentation on the importance of reliable data when trying to interpret distributions of parasitoid wasps; basically, mistrust all the data and most of the identifications. It’s a bit of a hobby horse of mine at the moment.

 

I talked about the potential for using museum collections and light traps for quantifying changes in the distribution of British ichneumonid wasps, concentrating on nocturnal Ophion and Netelia species, with an example shown in the maps below. But most of the specimens have been misidentified in the past, and almost none of the literature can be trusted, so it is hard work interpreting whether or not big apparent changes in range are real. I also pointed out some examples of spurious results in published studies that are based on rubbish published data. As scientists we need to be aware of bias in our data.

 

Ophion_mocsaryi_maps.jpgThe first distribution maps for a British Ophion (an ichneumon wasp); pre-and post-2004. Real range expansion or just better recording?

 

In the session that I chaired, I forgot only one speaker, so it was really quite a success. And we were able to fit him in at the end of the day anyway.

 

So what’s going on in the world of wasps? Big data are big. We saw a phylogeny - the evolutionary development and history of a group of organisms - constructed from 30,000 genes. There are new approaches to phylogenomics that should allow us to sequence thousands of genes even from relatively old, pinned specimens.

 

But taxonomy, ecology and morphological phylogenetics are all still active fields. Some of my highlights were a presentation on the manipulation of spider behaviour by ichneumonid parasitoids and some innovative methods of examining fossil Hymenoptera – yes, fossilised wasps, bees, ants and sawflies. The student presentations were of uniformly great quality, which put the rest of us to shame.

 

Conference chums

 

New collaborations were forged, often over coffee and cakes (we all put on weight), and of course over beer in the evenings. The altitude (Cusco is at 3,500m) discouraged some of the wilder over-indulgence (at least at first) but we couldn’t resist cocktails in the wildly inappropriate ‘Era Caos’, a ‘disco lounge bar’, apparently the disco cousin of A Clockwork Orange’s Korova Milk Bar.


Era_caos.JPGEsteemed hymenopterists in their natural setting - Cusco's finest DiscoLoungeBar, shortly before being moved to another, even stranger room, to make way for people in suits, with more money.

 

For me, one of the highlights was meeting people I’d corresponded with and assisted. There was a large Brazilian contingent, testament to the funding for taxonomy in Brazil and the enthusiasm for working on their incredibly rich fauna.

 

Natural History Museum highlights

 

Other highlights for the Museum were John Noyes receiving (in his absence) the society’s distinguished research award for his decades of work on the Universal Chalcid Database and prolific taxonomic output, and Andy was voted president-elect of the society, taking over in two years’ time.

 

Bull’s testicles proved not to be a culinary highlight.

 

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Curator of Hymenoptera in Stockholm, Hege Vårdal, and Gavin are the envy of the other hymenopterists, with their big plate of bull's balls. The perspective is correct: the glasses of Chicha were unfeasibly large (photo courtesy of Kazuhiko Konishi).

 

Guinea pig also proved unpopular but Alpaca was a hit. Pisco sours were even more popular. I think everybody was sick of pan pipes after about ten minutes.

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Hymenopterists getting sunburnt.


 

An excursion day allowed some of us to add a few nice birds to our lists. Giant Hummingbird was, indeed, big. For a hummingbird.


Time for a wasp hunt


 

Of the several post-conference collecting options, we headed off to the Wayqecha research station, in the cloud forest of the Kosñipata Valley. Mainly because ‘cloud forest’ sounded rather cool. It was indeed cool, in both senses of the word. Nights were very chilly and collecting was fitful as clouds and rain drifted in and out of the valley.

 

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Clouds rolling in, Kosñipata Valley.

 

We were treated to Hooded Mountain-tanagers eating fruit above our heads and Amethyst-throated Sunangels (hummingbirds again) zipping around. When the sun did shine the wasps were flying and we managed a fairly good haul. At least for Natalie and I, this was our first experience of live Eucharitidae. These are strange chalcid parasitoids of ant larvae. Elegant but bumbling, an undescribed Orasema species is common at Wayqecha.

 

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Lovely, bumbling male of an undescribed Orasema sp. (Hymenoptera: Eucharitidae) (photo courtesy of Miles Zhang).

 

John Heraty and his students had managed to find its host on the first night there, partly through the ingenious deployment of cookie crumbs, but mainly through luckily uprooting some vegetation, revealing an ant nest with eucharitid pupae.

 

Most excitingly, there is a canopy walkway, a rather wobbly affair taking you through the tree-tops at the level of the bromeliads and orchids. Leaning over the edge and tapping the vegetation over a net caught me about five Hymenoptera but obviously had to be done for the heroics.

 

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Thrilling canopy walkway at Wayqecha.


collecting.jpg Collecting (ineffectively) from the walkway (photo courtesy of Miles Zhang).


 

What do we gain from a conference like this? Specimens, obviously, although not all that many, from three days’ collecting. Much more importantly, we get to network, get involved in grant applications, spread the word about the work we do at the Natural History Museum, hear what exciting work is being carried out elsewhere, make friends, taste strange foods and feel like an appreciated part of a vibrant community of researchers, in a refreshing break from work. Now to put the renewed enthusiasm in to practice, back in London. After coffee. Or tomorrow.

 

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Light-trapping at Wayqecha.

 

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And saying goodbye (reluctantly) to Wayqecha (photo courtesy of Miles Zhang).

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Time for a guest blog from Mike Rumsey, to tell you all what the Mineralogists got up to on the days they split up from the Palaeontologists.

 

Having another geological commitment to attend I arrived in the middle of the night a couple of days after everyone else had settled into the Morrocco fieldtrip – a long taxi drive by darkness and a rough couple of hours sleep and then it was off into the field with the other mineralogists. (We split up so the palaeo people and the min people could get as much done as possible). First up was the amazing abandoned mining town of Angil, nestled in a steep valley once mined for its copper and lead content.

 

 

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Looking over a town in the valley.


Although an incredible vista, the many hundreds of steps leading up to the top of the valley was difficult in the heat and having only had a few hours sleep – it was a real fieldtrip wake-up call! We found some representative material with our local guide and then moved onto the main important task for the day – Mibladen.

 

The Mibladen area is famous for beautiful bright red crystalline specimens of vanadinite, which are probably the best in the world, and as such Mibladen is well known to most mineralogists and it was great to visit such a famous locality. Vanadinite from here has been known for a long time, but most of the material that ends up in the UK is poorly located and is often just labelled vanadinite from Mibladen, Morocco - this is not really fit for some of the scientific purposes of the museum, so we wanted to collect material directly from a number of different outcrops, mines and workings so we could record exactly where subtly different specimens of vanadinite occurred.

 

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Vanadinite


Another feature of the material that reaches the UK on the commercial market is that it has often been heavily prepared. This might involve cleaning in acids or selective trimming or removal of other less aesthetic mineral species that get in the way of the bright red vanadinite crystals. This is unfortunate as we are losing geologically relevant information when this happens, so I wanted also to obtain some ugly, fresh material that might have all sorts of natural alterations, erosion crusts and associated minerals combined that could tell us or future geologists something a little extra about this place than the readily available specimens.

 

After a few hours of driving between localities and getting some quick representative samples the day was complete before I knew it, but I had lots of samples and was happy - we met some really interesting people and saw some incredible hand-dug mines and pits in the middle of the desert where prospectors had been searching for vanadinite.

 

On the second split day from the palaeo guys, we mineralogists visited the area of M’fis and Taouz, M’fis is a famous area for barite specimens and Taouz is another area famous for its vanadinite. Both these places were really out in the middle of the desert and it was very, (very!) hot - a specific locality called the wulfenite vein at M’fis – was so open and exposed, it felt a bit like some horror film where we might have been abandoned in a desert oven.

 

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The hot desert in M'fis


Still we got to it and collected some really interesting specimens from some more off the beaten track spots in M’fis including areas that have never really been written about or documented in any systematic fashion. At the main site of M’fis we picked up some good representative barite specimens and saw some pretty scary mining operations that I’m certain you would not see in the UK.

 

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An example of scary mining operations

 

At Taouz we didn’t collect much as I had been lucky enough to visit the locality the previous year. However, we did get some nice specimens from the local miners and we got a quick tour inside the mine workings to see some of the vandinite in situ, both of which we documented to better illustrate the geological environment of the finds from my trip to Taouz the year before.

Analysis of the minerals is still ongoing, but it seems successful so far, with a few species being identified and/or documented for the first time at specific localities and in one case, possibly the first documented occurrence in Morocco… and perhaps the first even for the planet, which considering there are only 4800 known minerals is a fairly rare occurrence.

 

Huge thanks to Mike for writing this so I could share his experiences of Morocco!

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For the next two weeks I am fortunate to be joining a Museum field trip to the Isles of Scilly, 30 miles off the southwest corner of Cornwall. Alongside my Nature Live colleague Ana Rita Rodrigues and Media Technician Tony Vinhas, we will be reporting back from the trip in daily posts and organizing live-video-links to for 4-days-worth of Nature Live events in the Museum's Attenborough Studio.

 

If you want to experience the project live and direct come to the Attenborough Studio for one of the following events, and keep checking the blog for updates:

 

 

All the events are are free to attend (as is entry to the Museum) and each will last 30 mins. You’ll be able to see and talk live to scientists in the field, see specimens collected during the trip and meet a Museum scientist in the studio.

 

The team in the Isles of Scilly comprises scientists studying topics as varied as flowering plants, fishes, lichens and flies! I will introduce the different scientists and their areas of specialism over the coming days but for now - to set the scene - here are some photos the trip's leader, Mark Spencer, took last time he visited the islands.

 

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They are clearly exceptionally beautiful, a fact that makes the involvement of the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty even more pertinent and this collaborative project will strive to further our understanding of these incredible islands.

 

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I am so excited to be visiting the islands and to be accompanying the team. Spending any time with our scientists is an education in the natural world and two weeks exploring a stunning part of the world with such experts is a very exiting prospect. On a more personal note, I am also very pleased to be able to relive one of my Dad’s dinner time stories. Many a family meal have been the forum for a retelling of the old man’s ‘best ever, EVER dream. In his own words ...

 

‘At some point it the 70s, or was it the 80s(?), I was in Bryher in the Isles of Scilly. Half way through a walk around the island I lay down on the beach for a nap. During the dream that followed I became a professional tennis player and managed, against all odds, to win Wimbledon. Having raised the trophy and flushed with pride, I woke up and finished my walk.'

 

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Some say he [my dad] never fully woke up from that nap on the Isles of Scilly ...

 

See you again next week when we will all have arrived!

 

Tom

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With our satellite dish at the ready, the sun shining and half a dozen Museum scientists raring to go, last weekend's Nature Live events went down a storm!

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Linking back to the studio from the harbour in Lyme Regis, we brought the annual Fossil Festival to South Kensington. For visitors who were unable to visit the south coast in person, we revealed why Lyme Regis is THE place to go fossil hunting and showed our audiences some of the weird and wonderful specimens that can be found there.

 

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Museum curator Zoe Hughes reveals an Ammonite, found in the local area.

 

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Does this count as Big Pond dipping?

 

Sunday's events brought us up to date with the organisms that call our seashore home. I was out first thing trying my luck with my bucket and net. I think I was the oldest 'rock-pooler' on the beach!  Unfortunately, I didn't manage to find very much, except for lots of seaweed ... but this proved to be far more interesting than I had first thought!

 

Museum scientist Lucy Robinson explained that there are many different species of seaweed to be found along our coastline, varying in colour, shape and size. She also explained the various ways seaweeds and their extracts can be used - in toothpaste, ice-cream, fertilizer and cosmetics (to name but a few).

 

And of course, some types of seaweed can be eaten - such as sea lettuce. Lucy and I decided to give it a go ... our conclusion, it's very salty and a bit crunchy (but I think that may have been sand!)  To find out more about seaweed and how to identify them, visit our Big Seaweed Search pages.

 

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Yum!

 

Lyme Regis is a great place to visit at any time of the year. If you're interested in fossil hunting, look out for the many guided walks that are on offer throughout the year, giving you the opportunity to explore the beaches with a local palaeontologist who knows what to look out for and who can tell you more about the fossils that are found there.

 

And if you'd like to experience the Fossil Festival for yourselves, put this date in your diaries: Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 May 2014. If this year is anything to go by, it will be another great weekend!

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Having arrived in Lyme Regis yesterday, greeted by sunshine and sweet salty sea air, we have been exploring the seashore and getting our bearings today.

 

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Lyme Regis

 

No visit to Lyme is complete without a trip to the beach to go fossil hunting!  Keeping an eye on the tides, we headed out first thing this morning to try our luck.  Museum scientist Ed Baker is a regualr visitor to the Jurassic Coast and showed us what to look for.  Rounded rocks can sometimes contain beautiful fossils...but need to be cracked open to reveal the animal or plant within.  This requires a special geological hammer (ordinary ones can shatter if used!) and a touch of experience/skill (cracking the rock open at the right angle is important).  Fortunately Ed has both of these things and showed us how it was done....

 

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Rounded rocks are hit along the edge using the blunt end of the hammer


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Several ammonites are revealed within the rock

 

But you can also find fossils without the need for hammers.  By looking carefully and sifting through the rocks on the beach, you never know what you might find.  Ammonite fossils are pretty common and vertebrae and other bones from fossil marine reptiles can be found by the keen eyed.

 

With our pockets bulging with our dicoveries and faces glowing from the sun and sea air, we headed back into town to start setting up the satellite equipment for this weekend's live links.  If you can't make it down to Lyme Regis, why not join our museum scientists in the Attenborough Studio at the Museum as we link to you live from the festival....

 

 

You can also follow us on Twitter @NatureLive

 

For more information about the Fossil Festival, visit www.fossilfestival.com

 

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Honorary member of the team Ed Baker helps Media Techs Tony and Eddie set up our satellite equipment

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The sun is shining, the bank holiday weekend is approaching, what better time to head down to the coast? But this is no regular seaside jaunt because this weekend Nature Live is joining scientists from the Museum, Plymouth University, the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton to name but a few (! ) for the annual Fossil Festival in Lyme Regis. It's free, open to all and crammed full of exciting events and activities. 

 

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The coast at Lyme Regis

 

 

Nature Live will be linking live, via satellite, back to the studio in South Kensington, reporting on all the comings and goings at the festival, new fossil discoveries along the coast of Lyme Regis and where's the best place in town for a decent ice-cream (extensive sampling will be taking place throughout the weekend!)

 

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A seagull stole Natalie's (centre) ice-cream shortly after this photo was taken at Lyme Regis last year!

 

So, if you're free this bank holiday weekend, come and join us in Lyme Regis - more details about the festival can be found here - or join us in the Museum for the following events:

 

 

You can also follow us on Twitter @NatureLive

 

Now, it's time to track down some ammonites ...

 

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Last week, Nature Live caught up with Museum scientist Dan Carpenter who has just returned from the wilds of Borneo!  I was lucky enough to join him for the last two weeks of his trip in the state of Sabah (in the North East of Borneo) and was blown away by the size and beauty of the rainforests there.

 

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The trees in Borneo are massive and often have buttress roots.

Dan and his team were using similar methods to those they've used previously in the New Forest, and were trying to find out more about the diversity of invertebrate species living in the rainforests of Borneo. 

 

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A large earthworm found in the rainforest

To carry out their work, Dan and the team used a variety of collecting methods, including pitfall traps and something called a SLAM trap - which looks a bit like a tent hanging up in the trees!

 

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A SLAM trap hanging up in the trees

 

In last week's Nature Live event, Dan explained how all these different collecting methods worked and what it was like to spend six weeks living in the rainforest. 

 

To find out more, catch up with Dan's blog or read my blog about the work being carried out by Dan and other Museum scientists in Borneo (including Holger and Pat, who study lichens) and see some great film footage of the wildlife we encountered.

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Now that Tom has returned safely from his botanical trip to Costa Rica, I'll be heading off to the Bahamas with scientists from the Museum and the University of Southampton. Our destination is the remote island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas and most of our time will be spent on a boat.

 

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(Click images to see them full size)

 

We’ll be using a Remotely-Operated Vehicle (ROV), called REX, to survey the fauna that live in this little explored part of the Caribbean. The really exciting bit is that in some cases this will be the first time that scientists have dropped a camera into these waters.

 

Aside from the observatory work, the team are also looking for a particular worm that likes to live on whale bones. Osedax worms have been found in every ocean in which scientists have looked for them, including the Antarctic, but will they also be found in the tropical waters of the Caribbean?

 

As part of the Museum’s Nature Live programme, I’m lucky enough be joining the trip and I’ll be sending back daily reports in the form of blog posts, pictures and videos. Get in touch with the field trip by using the comments section at the end of each blog.

 

For a chance to experience the trip come to the Museum's Attenborough Studio at 14:30 on 8, 9 and 10 March to see us in a live-video-link to the Bahamas.

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Ivvet Modinou

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I will leave in two days for my trip from London (UK) to Antarctica. I will first fly to New Zealand and then fly down to Antarctica (also called "Ice Flight"). This year I will work with the US Antarctic (USAP) and the New Zealand Antarctic (ANTNZ) Programs. They share some of their logistics and therefore everybody comes first to Christchurch, New Zealand and then flies to Antarctica from there using special aircrafts such as Globemaster or Hercules.

 

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Today the studio was taken over by lichen. Yes, lichen.

 

The first question for me (embarrassingly) was 'what are they…or it?' Turns out, pretty cool.

 

Pat Wolseley who works in our Botany department explained that lichens are actually two types of organisms living together, a fungus and an alga. They have managed to carve out an existence by working together in a symbiotic relationship. The fungus makes the body that protects the alga and the alga provides the food for the fungus. Who said nature is red in tooth and claw!

 

Fun fact of the day No. 2, lichens are hardcore. They have been found everywhere from the cold arctic and hot deserts to rocky beaches and inner-city gravestones. Not only are some very tough, others are very sensitive to air quality and this makes them perfect when it comes to monitioring air pollution.

 

In simple terms, if you see this fluffy greenish beard lichen on trees (Usnea florida) you can be sure the air is clean or getting cleaner. However, if you find trees and stones covered with the golden shield lichen (Xanthoria parietina) there is a lot of nitrogen about.

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Image caption: Usnea florida (above) and Xanthoria parietina (below)

 

Now you can tell the difference why don't you get involved in the OPAL air survey? Join the hundreds of people logging on and helping scientists answer questions about the quality of the air we breathe.

 

To help scientists collect data on the air quality in your local area visit http://www.opalexplorenature.org/

 

Happy surveying!

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Finally, Nature Live evening events are back!  Due to planning and preparation for the opening of the Darwin Centre, we haven’t been able to run any for quite some time…but that’s all about to change.    On the last Thursday of every month we hope to engage and enthuse with new vigour, starting this month. I have the unenviable task of hosting the first event!  ‘Great’ I thought and ‘uh oh…’ a certain amount of responsibility forcing it’s way upon my shoulders.  What if nobody comes?  What should the event be about?  How can I ensure it’s a success? Don’t get me wrong, I love hosting evening events.  But they’re longer and more complicated than daytime events….which means we’re able to offer more but also have to put in more effort! Advertising image sml.jpg

This month’s evening event is entitled Six-Legged Wonders….and is about, can you guess?  Insects!  Often misunderstood and commonly trodden upon (!), squashed and maligned, these animals are crucial to the well-being of our planet and have the most diverse and wonderful lifestyles imaginable. So, why not come along and join us for an evening of wine, nibbles and insect trivia.  Test your creepy crawly knowledge, lay your preconceptions aside and be inspired by the smaller creatures in life.  We’ll be in the brand new Attenborough Studio and will be joined by three museum entomologists (including Diptera blogger Erica McAlister).  Come and ask them your questions, take a closer look at some of our specimens and get an insight into what goes on behind the scenes of the Entomology Department.
Tickets cost £6 each and can be booked in person at one of our museum information desks, by phone on 0207 942 5555 or click here to buy online. See you there

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DSCN8315.JPGYesterday morning I have to admit I was a little worried when Max Barclay told me “Oh, and I won’t forget your beetle soup”. I had to wait for the event at 14.30 to be reassured that he wasn’t doing an all too literal recreation of life in the field for the Nature Live audience! Although he did mention that on occasion he has had to choose between starving and eating bugs for dinner; today beetle soup was actually the name of the amalgam of insects he collects in fieldtrips and brings back in bottles of alcohol.

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He brought along the bits and bobs from his collection kit, took us through some amazing landscapes, talked about the challenges of carrying the equipment through the forest (and how this is becoming easier because the forest is now much less vast and you can reach its 'heart' much faster). He also spoke about how he chooses where to go on an expedition and how to identify puma pee with butterflies!! (Handier than you might think!)

 

 

So, from the traps to the beetle soup: Max, live in the studio, sorted out one of his beetle soup bottles from Colombia and showed us all the identification and taxonomical work that takes place, which means that you can then find out if you have discovered new species.Picture10.jpg

 

All this, plus Max’s characteristic enthusiasm, questions and comments from the visitors, and lots of WoWs when some of the jungle beetles were revealed! After all this exploration, we hope to have inspired some of our visitors to not only be amazed by the beautiful beetles in our collections but realise their importance within the Earth’s ecosystems. Our collections are huge - 28 million of insects, 22,000 drawers of beetles – and aim to represent the entire world so they can be relevant in understanding life and defining strategies for the sustainability of our Planet!