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As I mentioned on my Twitter account @NHM_FossilFish, myself and several colleagues from the Museum and another institutions recently went on a collections-enhancing trip to Morocco. It was absolutely amazing! Over several blog posts myself and Zoe Hughes will take you through our adventures, so make sure you check out her Brachiopod and Cephalopod collections blog!

 

Over the last few years lots of fossils and minerals from Morocco have flooded the market. We are even seeing an increase in people bringing them to events for us to identify. Currently our collections from Morocco are limited, so during the trip we wanted to:

  • expand the Museum's collections
  • see famous sites like the Kem Kem (famous for dinosaurs) and Goulmimia (famous for ammonites and fish)
  • collect some of our own samples

 

Over the last year the Museum's former Palaeontology and Mineralogy Departments merged to form the new Department of Earth Sciences, and because both minerals and fossils from Morocco are of interest to the wider scientific community we mounted our first earth sciences fieldtrip

 

The palaeontologists of the group were myself, Martin Munt, Martha Richter, Zerina Johanson, Zoe Hughes, Mark Graham our fossil preparator, research associate David Ward and regular Fossil Fish visitor Charlie Underwood from Birkbeck, University of London. The mineralogists were Mike Rumsey, Helena Tolman and analytical chemist Emma Humphreys-Williams.

 

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Back row: Mark Graham, Zerina Johanson, Martin Munt, Charlie Underwood, David Ward, Martha Richter, Mike Rumsey, Helena Toman and Emma Humphreys-Williams. Front row: Myself (Emma Bernard), Moha (our guide) and Zoe Hughes.

 

On Wednesday 18 September our group arrived at Heathrow Airport for our flight out to Casablanca, Morocco. We arrived late at night and were met by our drivers and our guide Moha. We went straight to the hotel and settled in for the evening ready for our first day in the field.

 

On Thursday 19 we were all up ready for a trip to a farm near the town of Oued Zem. This area is known for the phosphate mining industry, a by-product of which is fossil material, specifically Cretaceous reptiles such as mosasurs and thousands upon thousands of shark teeth!

 

It was a warm day, about 30 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. We went to a farm where Charlie and David had previously collected samples and have a good relationship with the owners. Here we wanted to sample different beds to see what sharks and other marine animals were present in each layer.

 

We collected large samples and them put them through several fine sieves and then picked out what fossils we could find. This mainly consisted of shark and ray teeth and small fish bones. We collected over 20 bags of this sediment to bring back to the Museum so we can have a closer look.

 

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Charlie Underwood digging in the rock face and sieving for shark teeth.

 

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Emma and Zoe enjoying the sun and picking the sediment for shark teeth.

 

For lunch we went to another local farm where I think we all agreed, we had one of the best tagines any of us have every had. It was delicious. The farm also had a fossil shop and it was great to look around at what they had on offer.

 

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Just some of the fossil specimens on offer in a Moroccan farm shop.

 

In the afternoon we were back at the farm with all the shark teeth and we were in for a real treat. Part of their land included an old phosphate mine which they now use for excavating fossils, and inside there was a near complete shark belonging to the genus Otodus of Yspresian age (Early Eocene in age, about 50 million years old). Shark skeletal material is cartilaginous and therefore rarely fossilised, but this specimen has several articulated vertebrae and lots of teeth preserved.

 

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All set and ready to go down the mine.

 

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Me with the shark skeleton, the round white circles are the vertebrae.

 

The mine was a lot cooler inside than outside which made for a nice change when we were still adjusting to the temperature difference. After we stumbled back outside we were greeted with some lovely saffron tea (a first for me) and we packed all our specimens and sediment into the van and headed off for the hotel discussing what we had found that day.

 

From here on, myself and Zoe Hughes will be taking each day in the field in turn, so make sure to check back to find out what else we did...

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Saturday and Sunday at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival were busy in the tent. Lots of people swarmed around our fossil table to see the invertebrates and sharks on display, talk to our experts and get their own fossil finds identified.

 

Adrian Glover was showing off his ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle), sending it out into the sea to get live images of the sea floor! Alex Ball was showing people the wonders of the scanning electon microscope and the meteorites team were explaining impacts using pink gravel.

 

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Laetitia Gunton launching "REX" the ROV and Adrian Glover controlling from inside the tent.


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Just some of the Museum scientists at work on Saturday.

 

Martin Munt, Emma Bernard and I were also called upon to do a live link-up with the Nature Live studio back at the Museum, to talk about the fossil festival and going fossil hunting. We took along a selection of specimens to help us talk about some of the things that can be found in Lyme Regis.

 

David Nicholson was live in the Attenborogh Studio with Ana Rita and some specimens from the collection we selected last week. Our filming took place at the Cobb (harbour) in glorious sunshine. This did however mean that both Emma and I got slightly sunburnt! If you do come down, make sure you've got plenty of sun cream.

 

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Martin being interviewed for the 12.30 show (top). Me and Emma talking about a nautilus and a shark with Charlotte for the 2.30 show (below).

 

It's not just specimens on display - outside you can visit a pliosaur cinema and go on the Jurassic airline!

 

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The Pliosaur Cinema!

 

We also had some special guests come along to talk to us: Mary Anning and Charles Darwin! (well...people dressed as them at least).

 

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Mary Anning and Charles Dawrin.

 

Today is the last day of the fossil festival and its looking like is will be another busy day in the tent with lovely weather and lots of people on the beach eating ice cream.

 

We hope you have enjpyed reading this blog and hope to see you next year at the festival!


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Today was the first day of the festival on the beach at Lyme Regis, Otherwise known as primary school day! Through the day, hundreds of school children from twenty local primary schools filltered through the tent, enjoying all of the fabulous activities and sights! A popular activity was the shark sieving, with children searching through sediment from Abbey Wood to find and identify shark teeth and shells - which they got to keep at the end!

 

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The equipment for shark sieving and the sediment

 

The British Geological Survey were showing off their 3D scanning equipment and printer. This was rather amazing! I was also very impressed with the British Antarctic Survey's specimens, particularly one ammonite  that had incredible sutures.

 

Museum staff had a very busy day with all of their activities, with Mike Rumsey and Helena Toman especially busy with their gold panning. Jerry Hooker and Noel Morris dealt with many fossil identifications.

 

I was sucessful in identifying the meteorite in a task designed by Caroline Smith and Deb Cassey - it is often difficult to identify a true meteorite! The DNA activity got many children very excited, with lots going past our fossil stand waving their tubes and enthusiastically telling us that they had DNA.

 

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A girl hunting for 'gold' at the gold panning station.

 

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'Barry' our Baryonyx skull watching over us as we work.

 

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Many of the Museum stations and associated staff inside the tent (but not all of us!)

 

Emma and I were also intervied for Palaeocast, a podcast about palaeontology. Emma talked to them about fish and I discussed ammonites.

 

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Emma and me being interviewed for Palaeocast

 

Tomorrow the tent will be open to the public so we are expecting a busy couple of days ahead. If you are nearby do pop in and say hello!

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Yesterday, we went to a secondary school in Dorchester. We set up our stand along with several others from the Museum, local fossil groups and the school's fossil club. At our stand we were giving students a brief explanation of taxonomy (how you classify all living things), specifically cephalopods.

 

We explained the difference between three major groups of cephalopod: ammonites, belemnites and nautiloids. The belemnite phragmacone we found yesterday proved to be very useful in explaining how a belemnite dealt with buoyancy control. The children enjoyed examining the recent nautilus we had with us to locate the hole for the siphuncle.

 

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Zuzanna Wawrzyniak and Emma Bernard with our taxonomy stand (Zoe Hughes as photographer)

 

After the school event we returned to Lyme Regis to help set up the tent for the main event: the Fossil Festival. Our main earth science table is set up, with specimens for the public to handle starting today. We constructed the Baryonyx skull and helped David Ward set up his shark sieving activity.

 

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Nearly finished setting up in the tent (with the Baryonyx spine and skull on the left)

 

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David Ward setting up the shark sieving (to find fossil teeth, etc).

 

Today is the primary school day and we have been told approximately 600 children willl be visiting - wish us luck and we will report back soon!

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The specimens are packed and tomorrow the first Museum staff will make our way down to Lyme Regis for the fossil festival (3-5 May). We have a nice selection of ammonites, brachiopods, fish, sharks, and a replica dinosaur skull of a Baryonyx and its claw to show people different types of fossils which can be found on the Jurassic Coast. We do seem to have a lot of things to take...

 

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Emma Bernard (left) and Zoe Hughes (right).

 

This first group is Martin Munt, Zuzanna Wawrzyniak, Zoe Hughes and me, Emma Bernard. We will be heading out to do some fieldwork on Wednesday (Hopefully we’ll find lots of ammonites!), though we haven’t yet quite decided where we will head to, it might be weather dependant, so hope for sunshine.

 

Thursday will take us to a school event in Dorchester where we will be talking about the wonders of cephalopod taxonomy. Over the weekend it is the festival and the Museum will be represented by many staff and lots of fun activities including sieving for sharks teeth, learning all about the wonders of the Rhynie Chert (which is 407 million years old) and gold panning. There is also an opportunity for people to bring along any fossils of their own for identification.

 

The festival is important as Lyme Regis is at the heart of the Jurassic Coast and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

For more information about Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, visit their website.

 

Zoe and I will be posting updates all week here on our blog. Stay tuned!

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Phew! We are all somewhat tired but very inspired by our long weekend in Lyme Regis, and some us have the sniffles from hanging about in the cold weather and doing too much talking! The Fossil Festival's own broadband was disconnected before I could update my blog on Sunday evening , so I am writing from the comfort of my office at the Museum.

 

Sunday was possibly the busiest day of the whole weekend! The sun came out and the weather warmed up, bringing in lots of visitors. Some of them brought yet more local fossils for us to identify - two that I remember were an uncommon Chalk sea urchin called Conulus, that I recalled seeing only once before many years ago, and a rather lovely black coprolite. Do you know what that means? It means 'poo rock', and it was probably produced by one of the Jurassic marine reptiles or fish whose skeletons are found in the rocks at Lyme. Its young owner was very pleased with himself! Here it is:

 

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Coprolites contain the remains of meals - things like fish scales, bone fragments or whatever the animal had been eating. Cool eh?

 

Those of us that were staying until Monday were very kindly invited to join the fossil walk departing from Lyme Regis Museum at 11.30, led by expert collectors Chris and Paddy. They provided their own brand of lively fossil edutainment for over three hours, and the sun shone for most of that time!

 

We heard an explanation of the geology and palaeontology at this site, and before approaching the toe of the landslip, we were briefed on how to find fossils safely. At the end, Paddy split some nodules and gave all the youngsters an ammonite to keep. Apparently I wasn't young enough.

 

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Do note that Paddy wears eye protection and uses a proper geological hammer. He still has both of his eyes and all of his fingers, and would like it to stay that way.

 

Maybe you were wondering what I found? Here is is. Can you guess?

 

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Yes, it's another coprolite, but mine was left by a shark. They have a spiral valve in their intestine, which causes the poo to come out in a spiral shape, like a fat corkscrew. Or a 'Mr Whippy' as one lady said. Some people asked how I spotted it - I am not sure, but I do own a small dog... He wasn't with me on this trip though! (sorry Dookie, maybe next time).

 

All too soon, it was time to leave the beach but we are already looking forwards to the next Fossil Festival. I will leave you with a view of Lyme seafront and the huge festival marquee. See you there next year?

 

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After a week of busy media and VIP events, our Animal Inside Out exhibition bared all to the public for its Easter opening yesterday on Good Friday.

 

The exhibition, which is adapted from Gunther von Hagens' famous Body Worlds plastinated shows, is set to flex its momentous muscles and open hearts throughout the coming summer months. As well as being an illuminating anatomical journey, it really is something to behold. At times the exhibits appear more like artworks than plastinated animals with exposed inner organs. The gallery has been beautifully designed and lit. There's no doubt it will be big success.

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Actress Miranda Richardson contemplates the enormous 4-tonne, plastinated elephant at our recent Animal Inside Out celebrity event.

Among the VIPs who attended the exhibition's recent celebrity launch were Miranda Richardson, Bill Wyman, Celia Sawyer, Will Self, and John Humphrys. Enjoy some of the photos from the night and some of the other stars of the show.

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Musician Bill Wyman looks into the eyes of the goat

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Four Rooms dealer Celia Sawyer gets interior design tips from the plastinated cuttlefish

For the launch events, Dr Angelina Whalley from the Insitute for Plastination and co-founder of Body Worlds was at hand to answer questions. I asked her if there was an animal they hadn't yet plastinated but would like to. She told me: 'It's Gunther's dream to plastinate a blue whale. But the elephant was such an enormous challenge, and so costly, I am not wishing for that to come true too quickly'.will-self-horse-head-1000.jpg

Writer Will Self looks a stripped horse head in the mouth.. the horse's head is cut into three sections to show it's inner workings.

The exhibition focuses on six different internal anatomical systems: the muscular, blood, skeletal, digestive, nervous, and reproductive. From tiny chicks to towering giraffes, it features nearly 100 plastinated animals.

 

If you are considering visiting with children, have a look at the exhibition website and highlghts slideshow to see what's inside.

 

Buy tickets for Animal Inside Out

 

Find out more about the exhibition and plastination

 

Read the news story about the exhibition and the plastination of the elephant

More celebrity photos at Animal Inside Out's launch event. Select images to enlarge them

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Actress Olivia Grant
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Presenter John Humphrys

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Fashion designer Pam Hogg

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Journalist Kate Adie

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Actor Rafe Spall

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Presenter Evan Davis
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Presenter Dallas Campbell
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Today we invited the local school children to SWIMS (Spanish Wells Institute of Marine Science, remember!) to have a look at what we have been up to. They really enjoyed sieving for worms in the sand but I think they thought we were all crazy for wearing summer clothes in March!

 

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Above: Diva and Leigh leading a sieving workshop on the beach

 

While we were sieving with the pupils we came across a tiger shark tooth. Yet more evidence that they are abundant in these waters ... but we still haven’t managed to actually see one on this field trip!

 

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Above: More evidence of sharks - but still no sighting

 

After the schools children left the team got back to work looking at samples under the microscopes. The big question on everyone’s lips was whether the goat skull we found yesterday had any Osedax on it.

 

The scientists spent a long time studying the skull and debating the findings. They can see tubes on the skull that belong to a worm but that doesn’t necessarily have to be Osedax.

 

Adrian is not convinced that it’s Osedax at all. He believes they may have found another polychaete worm from the family Terebellidae.

 

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Above: Terebellidae found on the goat skull

 

However, if it is Terebellidae then it shouldn’t be living on a goat skull. Usually they live in limestone crevices but the goat skull may be close enough for it to call home. Basically you can see how sometimes discoveries can create more questions than answers! I don’t think we are going to get a conclusive answer before we get back to the Museum.

 

We only have one day left here in the Bahamas but here are some of the great pieces of footage that REX has shot over the last week.

This is the moment that REX went over the Grand Bahaman Canyon that goes down to 3,000m …

 

 

For me, some of the most amazing footage we have seen was when REX went through the purple bacteria in Ocean Hole. Also, look out for when REX meets the goat skull…

 

 

Tonight is our last night in the Bahamas. We’re saying goodbye in an appropriate manner – a drink on the beach at sunset!

 

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Above: Our last sunset in the Bahamas

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Our last Nature Live event from the Bahamas was a bioblitz with Helena and Diva. It was great fun as we trawled the beach, against the clock, to find whatever we could for the family-friendly audience.

 

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Above: Helena, Diva and 1 talk to the Nature Live audience in London

(Click images to see them full size)

 

With yesterday’s shark incident still at the fore of our minds, we set out to recover the 2nd package and to try and find and recover the 3rd package.

We made visual contact with the 2nd package late last night but it was getting too dark to bring it to the surface. So we returned to the spot today and hauled it up on to the boat.

 

The shark damage was obvious but we got a piece of good news…it hadn’t taken all of the whale bones! We found a small bone still attached to the basket which lifted everyone’s spirits. Helena was particularly excited – even though it was a small piece she will be analysing it under the microscope for any evidence of Osedax.

 

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Above: Helena was very pleased that some of the whale bones had been recovered

 

After lunch we moved on to the 3rd and final package which was perched on the edge of the Great Bahamian Canyon. If it wasn’t were we left it six months ago then it had slipped into the abyss, far out of REX’s reach. It took nearly 2 hours to locate it and the control room was full of people waiting to catch a glimpse of it in the blue. This is the moment Nick spotted it…

 

 

After the initial excitement of finding the package we quickly realised that it would be a challenge to recover. At 55m deep, it was too deep for divers to go down to get it so we had to make sure that REX had a good grip on it so as it didn’t drop as it came to the surface. We carefully raised it to the surface and Nick and Leigh jumped in to retrieve it.

 

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Above: Despite its appearance we were very glad to see our basket!

 

Using REX meant that we knew, even when the experiment was still on the sea floor, that it too had been visited by a curious/hungry shark as all the whale bones were missing. But this time all the wood was still attached to the baskets. We now know that sharks, if given the choice, don’t like eating wood! The best bit was seeing how many lionfish were surrounding the basket…

 

 

That wrapped up our time on the boat and it was great that we managed to recover all 3 experiments using REX, it’s just a shame that sharks got to the them before we could!

 

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Above: This sums it all up beautifully. Lesson #1: Sharks like whale bones.

 

Tomorrow will be a long day of microscope work but the day after we head out to Blue Hole to drop REX down to nearly 200m. Will we get to finally see sharks instead of just their bite marks?!

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We started the day early with another successful round of live-video-links to the UK to talk to school pupils and the Nature Live audience in the Attenborough Studio.

 

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Above: Adrian speaks to students back in the UK

(Click images to see them full size)

 

With the weather improving everyday, we got the news we'd been waiting for yesterday - that we could finally head out to sea and look for the experiments that were laid down six months ago. We left port full of hope for the day ahead and with a large supply of seasickness tablets.

 

It took nearly an hour to get out to the first site and there was a lot of waiting around but once REX hit the water, the excitement set in. I couldn’t believe I was getting just as excited about finding these whale bones as the scientists were. Would we find the first package and would we find Osedax?

 

 

It wasn’t long before we found the package however it wasn’t exactly how we left it…

 

 

When the remains of the basket were pulled aboard we saw that there were no whale bones left, let alone Osedax. I had no idea that whale bones were that attractive to sharks but the shark bite marks on the plastic basket were conclusive evidence!

 

Although everyone was a little disapppointed that the experiment had been lost they quickly started working on the other creatures found living on the basket. They found many different polychaetes and as I type they are still analysing them under the microscope.

 

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Above: Helena and Diva inspecting the remains of the experiment for any life

 

As we moved on to the 2nd site many in the team were left wondering, what state would the next experiment be in?!

 

Adrian did a great job of piloting the ROV and we found the second package in a relatively short period of time. But REX delivered some more bad news…

 

 

We were asked today by a student during our live video link if Jaws could happen. Well, I suppose if you’re a plastic basket it most certainly can!

 

We're heading out tomorrow to look for the third package which is deeper down at 55 metres. Will it be sharks - 3, scientists - 0?

 

And don't forget you can speak to Helena and Diva live in the Bahamas today at 2.30pm in the Attenborough Studio.

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What do you study?

At the museum, my project looks at organic falls - these are large packages of food like dead whales and trees that sink to the seafloor. Once on the seafloor they provide lots of food and shelter for many deep sea animals and a whole new ecosystem is formed. My background is mainly deep sea biology but growing up in the Caribbean has allowed me to have good knowledge of tropical biology also.

 

What are you most excited about seeing/finding on the trip?

It would be incredible to find some Osedax worms on the bone packages we put down in October when we were last there, as they would be the first ones found in tropical waters. I’m also really looking forward to seeing some sharks as the Bahamas recently declared their national waters as a shark sanctuary.

 

Where have you been previously on field work?

I have previously done some field work off Bermuda and more importantly, I was part of the scientific team that journeyed to the Cayman Trench to discover the world's deepest hydrothermal vents. I've also done some work in my home of Trinidad and Tobago.

 

What is your best experience whilst on field work?

The best experience I've had while on field work would be when we saw the first live footage of the world’s deepest hydrothermal vents and the amazing animals living around them. It was so amazing to realise that our expedition were the first people on the planet to see this environment. I definitely shed a tear or two.

 

What advice would you give to someone going on field work for the first time?

Preparation is key - always have a back-up plan!

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Palaeontology  Seminar - Cranial morphology of fossil  hybodont sharks: new information from CT scan studies

Thursday - TODAY - 7th April, Neil Chalmers Seminar Room, DC2,  16:00

Dr.  Jennifer Lane, Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Geologie,  Munich

 

The  growing field of palaeontological CT scanning has only recently begun to be  applied to fossil chondrichthyan fishes (i.e., sharks, rays, and chimaeroids).  In recent years, CT scan-based studies have provided new information on  chondrichthyan cranial morphology, particularly regarding internal features such  as the interior surface of the braincase and the inner ear.

 

Many of these  features have turned out to be significant in shedding new light on patterns of  chondrichthyan evolution. Hybodonts, the sister group of modern sharks, are of  particular interest in what they can reveal about the evolutionary history of  their living relatives.

 

The inner ear of modern sharks (neoselachians) is highly  adapted toward low-frequency semi-directional sound detection (LFSDP). New  investigations of two fossil hybodonts (Tribodus limae and Egertonodus basanus) using  high-resolution CT scanning confirms that the structure of the inner ear in  these sharks was also adapted for LFSDP. However, this adaptation is absent in  earlier chondrichthyans (e.g., symmoriiforms, ctenacanths, Pucapampella), suggesting that it arose  only after the divergence of the hybodont/neoselachian lineage from these  earlier groups. Other features of evolutionary interest include.the loss of the  cranial fissures and elaboration of the vagal and glossopharyngeal nerve canals;  development of a medial capsular wall; and changes in patterns of cranial  arterial circulation.

 

In facilitating identification of key features such as  positions of nerve and blood vessel pathways and foramina, CT scanning and  digital reconstruction techniques may also pave the way for future developmental  studies (such as reconstructing the positions and growth patterns of the  embryonic cranial cartilages).

 

Contact: Greg Edgecombe  g.edgecombe@nhm.ac.uk

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Richard Sabin from our Mammal Department uses microscopes to identify whether products siezed by HM Revenue & Customs have been made from protected species such as elephant and rhino.  But scientists elsewhere use DNA to identify species - such as in this film which shows how shark fins can be tested and the species of shark identified.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHCzdQHre1U

 

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