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If you've joined us from our last blog post where we introduced the team, hello again! I'm really excited to be taking part in the Museum's newest citizen science project, The Microverse, that we launched at the end of 2014. This is a research project that will explore what microorganisms are living on UK buildings.

 

 

The research is being led by Dr Anne Jungblut, who studies microorganisms in extreme environments, exerting much of her research effort on the microorganisms that are found in Antarctica. Despite taking field trips to Antarctica, Anne is also very keen to explore the life that lives on buildings here in the UK, which - perhaps surprisingly - have received very little attention with respect to their microbiology to date.

 

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Cyanobacteria are the specific type of microorganism that Anne studies in Antarctica.

 

Like Antarctica, buildings are an extreme environment for life, exposing microorganims to extremes of wet and dry and - sometimes - high levels of pollution, while providing little access to nutrients. Anne approached Lucy Robinson and I to see if we could help her to recruit members of the public into collecting data (it would take Anne years if she collected the data from across the UK herself).

 

So we want to get 250 secondary schools to step out of the classroom and swab a local building.

 

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Students will find a local building and collect samples from the wall using a cotton swab.

 

Throughout January and February, A-Level Biology students from across the UK will be swabbing buildings and recording data about the building's environment and form. The students will collect the samples on cotton wool swabs and post them back to the Museum in a preservative. Once here, Anne will then extract DNA from the swabs and sequence it, to reveal what types of microorganism groups are living there and how many different types.

 

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Samples are added to labelled tubes of DNA preservative to be sent back to the museum for analysis.

 

Schools will literally be contributing the genuine scientific research and to the Museum's collection, because Anne will use the data to publish academic research in a scientific journal and the specimens will be incorporated into our Molecular Collections Facility. This research project aims to determine the diversity of microorganisms on buildings across the UK and what types of variables are impacting on that diversity. It will form a foundation of knowledge from which more detailed questions can be asked.

 

If you are an A-Level Biology student or teacher, or you know of anyone that might like to get involved in The Microverse, there is still time to join the programme, just visit our webpage to find out how to take part. It's completely free and each school receives a pack with equipment and resources guiding both teachers and students through the method and the science. Data collection has already started in January and will continue throughout February, and the results will be returned to students by the end of March 2015.

 

Jade Lauren

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Today I would like to write about a very exciting new and free science project for upper school and nature groups all around the UK called The Microverse.

 

You may not have thought about what a microbe is before, but there are millions - possibly billions - of different kinds. So why should we care? Well, firstly, most life on earth exists because of one group - the cyanobacteria. Then there are all those important ecosystem services that microbes provide. And remember the 'healthy bacteria' in your gut, which have been linked to all sorts of health benefits (or diseases, when things go wrong).

 

We now know that human activity is changing the world we see, but what is it doing to the world we can’t? Nobody really knows. There are many questions to answer about about the microbial diversity that can be found in urban environments in cities, towns and villages. What is microbial diversity like on concrete pavements and glass skyscrapers? How can they survive the temperature extremes, lack of nutrients and high levels of pollutants?

 

The Microverse project is asking schools and nature groups to take samples from buildings for analysis at the Natural History Museum in London. Are our cities a disaster for microbial diversity, or are there thriving, species-rich communities out there? Who knows? It’s a whole new world we’re entering. More information on the biology, science and activities in this Microverse clip.

 

 

 

 

It is is easy and free to join the project. Just sign up on the The Microverse webpage.

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Here in the identification service we don’t need a diary or calendar to know what time of year it is, in fact we don’t even have to look out of the window!  We can tell the time of year by trends in the enquiries we get by email, phone, through the post or on our forum. 

 

Many species of insect have a lifecycle that lasts for a year, with the larvae or nymphs around in one season, and the adults around in another.  Last year we blogged about the amazing bee fly and how it is a sure sign that spring is on the way, but it’s not the only enquiry with a strong seasonal distribution.

 

I searched our database and the forum for enquiries right back through the mists of time to 1992 to collect data on 3 of our common seasonal species – bee flies (Bombylius sp.), the excellently named cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha) and house spiders (Tegenaria sp.). 

 

seasonal enquiries.JPG

 

 

Bee flies

These amazing little critters are around in April and May making the most of the spring flowers.  The two species we see most often are the common bee fly (Bombylius major, see picture) and the dotted bee fly (Bombylius discolour).  They have a fascinating life cycle and you can find out more about them here -


 

 

 

Bombylius major 2.JPG

 

Cockchafers

No, we didn’t make that name up, the common English name for Melolontha melolontha is indeed the cockchafer.  Although they are beetles they are also commonly called May bugs, and you can see why from the graph above.  These large beetles emerge as adults in May or June after living in the soil as larvae for 3-5 years. They are strong though inelegant fliers and are attracted to light, meaning they often fly through open windows and gatecrash evening barbeques!  But don’t worry; they are not harmful to humans.  Find out more here  -

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/life/insects-spiders/common-bugs/cockchafer/index.html

 

2011-0759 Melolontha melolontha DSC_0121.jpg

 

House spiders

There are several species of common house spider in the UK which are difficult to tell apart.  However, they all belong to the genus Tegenaria.  They are around all year, but are most commonly encountered between August and October when the fully grown males set out to find love.  This is when they are most likely to run out from under your sofa or turn up in the bath – just in time for Halloween!  You can find out more here -

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2010/october/house-spiders-prefer-the-shed-shock85297.html

 

2007-1030 Tegenaria sp. 4 for web.JPG

 

On a more serious note this little project shows how the identification service records are a mine of fascinating and potentially useful information.  This data also shows that both bee flies and cockchafers emerged significantly earlier in 2011 than 2010, so it would be interesting to see how they fare in 2012 – keep your enquiries and observations coming in to our forum!

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A little while ago CSIPs head honcho Rob went to Devon to get a dolphin and came back with 3 5 post mortem animals for 2 trips this time he went and only came back with the one, standards are obviously dropping (just joking boss!).

 

We got wind of a live strandings over the weekend from BDMLR, the local coastguard and one of my favourite volunteers David J. Despite some local surfers staying in the water with the common dolphin for what sounds like hours, the local vet had to make the hard decision to put the animal down. I know everyone on the scene worked really hard to keep the animal alive and were understandably disappointed at the outcome. It’s not the perfect end to the story but hopefully our post-mortem will help answer some questions about why the animal had to die.

 

David J just emailed me this picture of one of the guys trying to save the dolphin, such a shame it didn't work out.

 

1-11-2011- to 6-12-2011 290.JPG

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It's been a busy week for pick ups, CSIP's head honcho Rob did a gallant round trip to Devon to pick up 2 animals and whilst on the road I got a call about a 3rd on Hayling Island beach. With a squeal of the brakes and a quick turn around Rob was able to squeeze the third animal in the back of his car.

 

There was then a 'mass' stranding in Kent, nr Folkstone. I say 'mass' as it was 2 animals, probably not quite what you'd term as mass but scientific history states 2 or more animals to be recorded as 'mass'. Unable to get anyone to check the animals were still there and not being too far away myself, I headed there on the Monday morning. I had a fun time scouting what is possibly one of the larges beaches I've ever seen for 2 not very large harbour porpoises. With the help of a very lovely couple (sorry I didn't get your names) we managed to track down the animals and secure them for pick up by James (who was on his way from the museum).

 

Unfortunately I've been unable to put up PM results so far as they all have to go to Defra first, but after talking to head honcho Rob he said we may be able to put up some basic results a bit sooner, fingers crossed!

 

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Photo of one of the 'mass' strandings from New Romney, photo by Susanna Clerici

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Good Halloween title for you there!

 

Apart from recording stranded cetaceans, we are also linked to various research project. One is run by Dr Adrian Glover here at the museum and in simple terms he studies what lives off whale bone that has sunk to the bottom of the sea.

 

 

Bone-eating ‘zombie’ worms may be good at keeping out of sight, living off dead whales in the darkness of the sea floor, but scientists have found out how to detect them, even if there’s no trace of their bodies or a few million years have gone by!

 

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There is an interesting artical about it on the front page but here is a link  http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2011/october/bone-eating-zombie-worms-can-no-longer-hide105243.html

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I've not updated for a few weeks as I've been on holiday and we've had a bit of a busy run of things.

 

A live stranded harbour porpoise on the Isle of Wight was picked up for pm by our team http://www.islandpulse.co.uk/b2/british-divers-attempt-to-rescue-porpoise-8756/

 

I went to Dorset on Friday to pick up another porpoise that stranded in Dorset last week, a massive thank you to Dave and Dorset council for all their help!

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Had a couple of animals coming in over the weekend at this stage they are all believed to be harbour porpoises, although I'm waiting on photos to confirm this.

 

1 came in on Berwick beach in Northumberland, thanks to the local council for all their help with this animal.

1 at Thurlstone beach in the Wirral, thanks to Gemma for reporting it and for still managing to find time to chat to me this morning dispite dogs and kids all wanting her attention!

Finally thanks to HM Coastguards at Happisburgh for reporting their porpoise that stranded at Cart Gap in Norfolk.

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We've had several reports of a fin whale at Lynmouth beach in Devon. Its on a very popular beach in the middle of summer so unsurprsingly the press is all over this one! The animal is approximatly 55ft and believed to be female.

 

Our CSIP collegues are also all over it and I believe will be performing a post mortem today.

 

fin whale.jpg

Photo by Apex

 

As always I'll up date this post when we get the pm results back.

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Massive thankyou to Tim Kenny for reporting a harbour porpoise to us that had stranded at Thorpness in Suffolk. Sadly due to a mix of vets on holiday/being exusted from the pilot whales in Scotland and no space in the fridge or freezer, we were unable to collect this little guy for post mortem.
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A few weeks ago we had a report of one harbour porpoise in Waxham and one unidentified (rather smelly) cetacean in Brancaster harbour.

 

A massive thanks to the coastguard for forwarding this information to us!

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If you missed it, you can catch up with Inside Natures Giants on 4oD, it shows a post mortem of a sperm whale, so probably not best for lunch time viewing!

 

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/inside-natures-giants/4od#3219787

 

All the guys in red with ZSL on their arms are our gang from Cetacean Strandings Investigation Program, I'm like a proud mum!

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A dead common dolphin was found at Egremont Promenade in Liverpool.

 

Not got a lot of info but thanks to Jane at WDCS for forwarding on the email.

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Just had a record of a rather decomposed harbour porpoise at Rossall beach, nr Fleetwood, Blackpool, I shall save you and not post the photo. First spotted a few weeks ago.

 

A second was seen at Blackpool South Beach a week later.

 

Thanks to David for these and many, many, many other reports!

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On Wednesday we had a report about a dead white beaked dolphin stranded at Druridge Bay Northumberland. Its very fresh and as it's a quite an unusual species, we have rallied the troops and it is being picked up for post-mortem. We generally only see around 10 strandings of white beaked dolphins each year, and they are normally in Scotland or Northern England.

 

 

I honestly think the white beaked is one of the most beautiful of the dolphins. They are distinguished by their very clear, white beak (as seen in the pic), which is nice and easy to remember.

 

wbd.JPG

 

The animal should be pm'd in the next few weeks, but results can take a little while to come back but I'll up date when I get them.

 

Massive thanks too Claire Carey and Iain from the Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast European Marine Site who have been a great help with animal.