Skip navigation
You are here: Home > NaturePlus > Blogs > Tags

Blog Posts

Blog Posts

Items per page
1 2 Previous Next
1

Before I tell you about our time in the lab, I thought I would share with you another video taken by Paul Pearce Kelly in Cuc-Phuong. The video below is of a predatory slug species from the genus Atopos. These slugs either eat small microsnails whole or bore through larger snails' shells using their toothed, tongue-like radula.

 

 

 

After our exciting and productive time in Cuc Phuong National Park we headed back to Hanoi to process the material for frozen tissue collections. Our expedition has been jointly funded by the Natural History Museum and the Frozen Ark, and one of our aims is to collect frozen tissue material and viable cells.

 

The Frozen Ark was set up in 1996 and is run by a consortium of 22 universities, museums, zoos and aquaria from 8 different countries, with the aim to conserve frozen cells containing DNA from endangered animals before they go extinct. Since many limestone habitats are under threat from the construction industry (the limestone is used in the manufacture of cement and other building materials), we decided that terrestrial molluscs would be a great addition to the Frozen Ark collections.

 

chris and jackie.JPG

Chris preparing tissue whilst Jackie puts the samples on ice.

 

The specimens used for these processess have been brought back from Cuc-Phuong live, to be processed in the laboratory. For the frozen tissue samples, small slices of the foot of the snail (the part it moves on) are placed in sterile tubes and frozen at -80 degrees Celsius. These samples will hopefully yield high quality DNA. Five multiple sets are stored for our current research, long term Museum storage, the Frozen Ark in London, the Frozen Ark in Nottingham and for the Frozen Ark in Vietnam.

 

The viable cell preparations are also taken from tissue samples but they are mashed up in an antibiotic solution (to prevent damage by bacteria etc.), and then mixed with a buffer chemical so that as the tissues are frozen, again at -80 degres Celcius, the cells will not fracture and will remain whole. It is hoped that future technology will allow us to use these cells and the genetic content within to re-create and re-introduce extinct species.

 

lab.JPG(L-R) Jackie, Chris and Fred hard at work on the cold-chain-gang (sorry terrible molecular joke).

 

The two experts in our group helping us with these processes are Jackie Mackenzie-Dodds and Dr. Chris Wade, who are both on the advisory board of the Frozen Ark. Jackie is the collections manager of the molecular and frozen tissue collections at the Museum, and Chris is a lecturer of genetics and a molecular biologist at Nottingham University. I'm glad they are both here as the frozen tissue preparations are complex and intricate and I have never done anything like this before.

 

We have spent the last few days collecting in Huu Lien Nature Reserve and tomorrow will be our last day collecting in the field so in my next blog I'll be telling you all about the strange and wonderful things we have found, and a little about our last few days in Hanoi.

 

Fruit for Thought

 

As well as the delicious savoury dishes we have been sampling a wealth of unusual (at least to me) fruit. My favourite has to be the Rambutan, a egg-sized red fruit covered in green hairs. I'm afraid I don't have any pictures because I ate them all before I thought to take a photo so you'll have to Google them. They taste a bit like a grape but are sweeter and juicier - delicious.

 

fruit.JPGPersimmon (the red fruit) and Guava's (the green ones) with a little lotus tea - what a lovely afternoon treat.

 

We've also been eating ...

 

Pomelo - a sharp citrus fruit with a grapefruit-like taste

Guava - like a tropical quince

Persimmon - a bit like across bewteen a plum and a tomato, much nicer than it sounds

Longans - like large lychees but sweeter

Forest Bananas - shorter but wider than our usual bananas, tastes earthier and banana-ery if that makes any sense

Jicama - a tuber that tastes like apple and is often served with savoury courses

 

Bite Me

 

0 Leech bites ... all though I have a funny feeling this may change tomorrow as it is due to be a stormy evening

12 mosquito bites

Ant bites, fading and almost gone

1

We've been amazed by the amount and diversity of snail species in Cuc Phuong. We knew it was rich but we have found so many new and exciting species that we are struggling to process all the material (a good problem to have). The weather has improved slightly (good for us) but the ground and leaf litter is still really damp for collecting (good for the snails, everyone wins!).

 

IMG_1034.JPG

Limestone outcrops in Cuc Phuong National Park, the perfect habitat for a snail hunt.

 

megaustenia.JPG

Megaustenia sp. is a semi-slug, see how the body (also called the mantle) almost completely covers the shell.

 

keeled-camaenid.jpg

I can't wait to get back to the Museum to try and identify this large, keeled Camaenid.

 

 

Paul Pearce Kelly, the Senior Curator of Invertebrates and Lower Vertebrates at London Zoo, is joining us on field work for the first time. His aim (apart from helping us to collect snails) is to build up links with different groups in Vietnam to help conserve and study threatened species.

 

After finding some thought-to-be-extinct snails on our Vietnam trip in 2012, we hope that Paul, in conjunction with the Vietnam National Museum of Nature, will be able to set up a breeding programme to protect them against threats in future. As well as helping us collect, Paul took some great videos of animals alive in the field and he has kindly let me share them with you in my blog. In this one you can see the as yet unidentified  'looping snail':

 

 

 

The as yet unidentified 'looping snail'. See how only a small portion of the foot is in contact with the rock at any one time.

 

Another member of our group I'd like to introduce to you to is Jonathan Fenn, a biology placement student from Manchester University. Jonathan has been working with Fred and I for the past year on producing an illustrated guide of the slugs and snails of Northern Vietnam, as well as a species list with distribution data for terrestrial molluscs across the whole of Vietnam. The aim of the trip is to teach Jonathan more about fieldwork, collecting and preserving snails, and to gain experience in preserving viable cells (which I will discuss in my next blog).

 

sang-paul-jonathan.jpgSang van Pham and Paul Pearce Kelly (left) in the national park, and Jonathan Fenn in collecting mode.

 

As well as snails, the forests and local areas are home to an amazing array of different animals. One of my favourites (not including the enormous spider that lives in my toilet, didn't think you would want a picture of that) was the praying mantis species I found outside my bedroom (see below). Sadly I missed the Vine Snake (Ahaetulla sp.) that my co-workers found when searching the trees for snails.

 

Praying mantis.

"What you lookin' at?"

 

P9100373.JPG

So gutted I missed this Vine Snake (Ahaetulla sp.), what a beauty!

 

Since we'd all been working so hard we decided we deserved a visit to the Endangered Primate Rescue Center (EPRC) in Cuc Phuong National Park. The centre was established in 1993 and is dedicated to the rehabilitation, breeding and research of endangered primates as well as the protection of their habitats. The EPRC is home to over 150 primates from 15 Vietnamese species, including lorises, langurs and gibbons. My favourites were the wonderfully playful Gray Shanked Douc Langurs.


DSC_0052.JPG

Grey Shanked Douc Langur family (Pygathrix cinerea), a critically endangered species endemic to Vietnam.


DSC_0090.JPG

Some of the team with Liam Shepheard (centre in Green T-shirt), one of the head animal keepers at the Endangered Primate Rescue Center.

 

Our guide for the afternoon was Liam Shepheard, head animal keeper, who showed us the remarkable centre and told us about the amazing work they do in rescuing and when possible re-introducing animals back in to the wild. One species of Laotian Langur (Trachypithecus laotum) named 'Airport' is the only individual of its kind in captivity and is thought to be critically endangered in the wild. At times the stories were a sad and sobering experience but the success they are having is remarkable and it was real treat to be able to see these beautiful creatures up close.

 

Carnivore and Pangolin Rescue Center

 

After meeting the directors of Cuc Phong National Park over dinner the previous evening, we were invited to visit the Carnivore and Pangolin Rescue Center, a massive privilege as this is not normally open to the public. Many mammal species are being hunted for meat, the pet trade and in the case of the Pangolin, for Chinese medicine (the scales are used in medicines and the meat is regarded as a, ahem, male performance enhancer). The centre was set up to rescue illegally found animals and to develop techniques and procedures to allow the rehabilitation, breeding and reintroduction of such species back in to the wild.

 

We visited the centre at night, which is the best time to see the majority of the animals. Pangolins are my favourite mammal and I have never seen one before so this was a real highlight for me. The animal we met was called 'Lucky', a Sunda Pangolin who had been saved from captivity but who was sadly too tame to be re-introduced.

 

A Binturong.

The Binturong (Arctictis binturong) - the cutest thing I have ever seen. Numbers have dropped due to hunting.

 

Sunda Pangolin.

A Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica) rescued from an illegal trader but sadly too tame to be released.

 

I also got to see another favourite of mine, the Binturong, a south-east Asian mammal related to civets whose numbers have been declining in the region due to threats from poachers.

 

A Few Thoughts from my Stomach

 

We have had some delicious and some challenging food in the last few days. Fried mixed mushrooms and chilli roasted chicken have been superb, whereas mixed offal and pak choi soup was something I am keen to avoid in the future (and I like offal). But today I thought I would tell you a bit about some of the mealtime extras I have enjoyed.

 

Nước chấm is the name of a group of dipping sauces that are commonly served with meals that have a fish sauce base, often mixed with garlic, bird's eye chillis, garlic and sugar, with the precise mixture depending on the region. This sauce is, I think, delicious with morning glory and .. well, actually pretty much anything although a few of our group find it a bit overpowering (I would take some home but it is prohibited by most airlines as if it leaks it tends to smell forever!)

 

At the behest of our Vietnamese colleagues of course, we like to round the day off with a glass or two of Mountain Apple Brandy. The precise ingredients of this sour but delicious beverage are a closely guarded secret, and it is homemade by the wife of our driver, Mr. Kiem. I have however managed to find out that it contains a sour apple-like fruit, rice wine, mixed berries and a selection of herbs and bark. Whatever it is I'm sold!

 

Bite Count

0 Leech Bites (I cannot tell you how happy this makes me)

8 Mosquito Bites (in total, 5 new ones)

More Ant bites than a man should ever have to deal with! Itchy does not even come close.

0

We arrived in Cuc Phuong National Park on Friday afternoon. Set up in 1962, the park is the oldest in Vietnam and covers an area of over 22,200 ha. It is home to more than 2,000 species of trees, 110 species of reptiles and amphibians, 308 species of bird and 125 species of mammal, including the Clouded Leopard, Delacour's Langur, Owston's Civet and the Asian Black Bear.

 

Since the national park is so rich in snail diversity we could barely wait to start collecting and bagged our first few specimens as we excitedly stepped out of our van. After a hearty meal (more later) and a good night's sleep under our mosquito nets we were ready to head out into the field. Our first collecting site was a limestone outcrop, which also contains an archaeological cave where human tools and remains dating to over 7,500 years ago have been recovered.

 

Chasing Snails

 

Collecting snails is harder than it sounds, as we have to make sure we get specimens that live in soil and leaf litter, on the rocks and stones, in the trees and on vegetation. In the hot and humid conditions of the tropics this is difficult and sweaty work, but at least when we do find them they aren't too hard to catch.

instructer Frd.jpgFred Naggs (R) gives Hao Luongvan (L), Mr Kiem, our driver (C), and myself a quick Iecture.

 

On our first day we found an amazing variety of specimens, from microsnails less than 1mm tall that hide in the crevices of the limestone rock face, to larger and often strikingly coloured species. One of my favouites was the white form of Camaena gabriellae (pictured below left) which we found crawling on the bark of trees and managed to catch by knocking them with a stick in to a traditional conical Vietnamese hat, which did the job perfectly.

 

I am also particularly fond of the elongate group of snails called the Clausiliidae (pictured below right), which are found on limestone in large numbers, their bodies barely peaking beyond the shells as they graze on lichens and algae.

 

2  snails small.JPG

Species found on day one include Camaena gabriellae (L) and Tropidauchenia sp. from the Clausillidae (R).

 

Today I would like to introduce you to another Vietnamese member of our team, Mr Hao Luongvan (pictured in first image). Hao works for the Forestry Commision and is based in Hoang Lien National Park, Sapa in northen Vietnam. He has been studying molluscs for the last ten years.

 

We first met Hao on our visit to Cuc Phuong in 2007 and have worked closely with him ever since. Not only does he a have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the variety of habitats, plants and animals across Vietnam, but he has been instrumental in helping us gain access to different national parks and make vital links with important government and conservation departments.

 

Turtle Power

 

After a hard day's work we managed to fit in a visit to the Cuc Phuong Turtle Sanctuary. The centre was set up in 1998 as a safe area to house and breed the 19 native species of Vietnames turtles (of which 3 are found in Cuc Phuong), as well as to increase public awareness of the threats poaching poses to these amazing creatures.

 

TURTLES.JPG

Terrapin in Cuc Phuong Sanctuary. Poaching is the main source of their decline.

 

The centre was really inspiring, as to date over 900 turtles have been born there from animals confiscated from illegal traders. Plus we got to sit on a life-size model of the Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swingoei), which can reach over a metre in length.

 

Specimen Sorting, Identification and Preservation

 

After our brief foray in to the world of chelonians it was time to get back to work. The first job is to sort all the snails into species based on shell and body shape, colour and sculpture (sculpture means the 3D surface - is it ridged, smooth or bumpy etc.). Once we have done this we choose one specimen to take a tissue sample from, and preserve this in 100% ethanol for molecular analysis.

 

snail-sorting.jpgSorting snails in the sunshine, it's a hard life ... honest.

 

We then split the remainder of the individuals into those to be preserved in 80% ethanol for anatomical analysis and those to be taken back to Hanoi alive for viable cell preservation (more on this in a future blog post). This is my favourite part of the collecting day as we get to compare what we have found and there is always something unusual or unexpected - this time we had both aplenty! On our first haul we could not believe the diversity and volume of species we managed to collect - this really is an amazing habitat for molluscs and even more exciting than usual as we think in our first day we not only have a new species or two but possibly even a new genus .... so watch this space.

 

Food For Thought

 

After a long but fruitful day it was time to retire for dinner and no blog post of mine would be complete without some mention of food. Tonight was the first time on this trip that I got to have some of my favourite Vietnamese food; a green vegetable called Morning Glory (rau muống in Vietnamese or Ipomoea aquatica in science speak). The spinach-like stems and leaves are fried in garlic and chilli and are bitter but wonderfully moreish. I ate more than I should have with fried chicken, sesame roasted pork and sumptuous sticky rice washed down with locally made Vietnamese brandy (don't ask!).

 

DSC_1016_small.JPGMorning Glory (Ipomoea aquatica) the green stuff on the left ... much nicer than it looks!

 

As I write this (in the courtyard of our accomodation with toads barking and cicadas chirping) I have just finished sorting out Sunday's specimen haul, also an impressive bounty, and I will be reporting back shortly on some new and exciting discoveries along with some of our further adventures in Cuc Phuong.

 

Biting animals update

 

As of Sunday evening (our time) I have;

0 leech bites

3 Mosquito Bites

0

The dolphin that recently appeared in the River Dee in Wales was fortunate to survive. Being a marine species, it was not used to a fresh water environment and very nearly perished after beaching on a sand bank. Fortunately, the RNLI were able to rescue the animal and return it to the sea where it could more easily hunt and find food.

 

Not all marine cetaceans that find themselves caught upriver are so fortunate. On Tuesday 27 August, at around 8.30pm, Greg Fonne took the following image from the Thames embankment, just east of Tower Bridge.

 

harbour-porpoise-river-dee.jpgThe animal in question appears to be a Harbour Porpoise, or Phocoena phocoena.


The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (of which we are a part) records around 300 cases of dead Harbour Porpoise on UK coasts each year. On many occasions, we collect the bodies, and take them for post-mortem examination. This is because we want to find out the cause of death, as well as monitoring levels of disease, toxins and pollutants, parasites, and all kinds of things that can only be discovered from taking a look inside the animal.

 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Museum's whale and dolphin strandings monitoring programme. This porpoise found in the Thames will add to our data which shows us how populations are changing.

 

Cetacean statistics

 

Our data shows that in recent decades, the number of reports has increased dramatically. This could be explained by an increase in strandings, as well as an increase in communication methods and their ease of use and, of course, by the ever increasing human population with their eyes on the coast.

 

While the death of these beautiful animals seems a somewhat tragic event, an increase in the number of strandings is not necessarily a bad thing. It is evidence that the animals are living in UK waters, and surviving to breeding age. Through our work, which is government funded, we can keep watch on the effects of human behaviours on cetacean species.

 

Please help us to continue our work by spreading the word about the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, and by following us on twitter @WhaleStrandings.

 

Find out more about the Museum's Cetacean strandings project

 

Meet us in person at the Oceans Station at Science Uncovered on Friday 27 September

1

Hello again - I'm sure you'll be glad to hear that we have all arrived safely in Hanoi. It's a hot and humid 25 degrees here but there has been constant heavy rain since we arrived and it looks set to continue for the next week or so. Whilst this may not sound ideal it is great weather for collecting slugs and snails as the wet weather tends to bring them out of their hiding places in the soil and the leaf litter, making them far less difficult to find and collect.

 

 

jackie rain.JPGJackie and Jonathan walk back in the rain .. how Hanoi-ing (sorry I love a bad pun).

 

Our first visit of today was to the Vietnam National Museum of Nature where we met the new director, Profesor Nguyen Dinh Cong and other senior staff members, and were given a tour of the new and soon to be opened exhibition spaces.

 

The museum opened in 2004, and houses over 40,000 animal, plant, fossil and geologicical specimens. The staff are heavily involved in studying the biodivertsity of Vietnam and promoting its importance for science and conservation, as well as in educating the local community about the natural history of Vietnam, the research and the collections that it houses.

 

We spent the afternoon sorting out all our collecting equipment that we need when working in the field. It's a bit like moving house packing boxes, and labeling them so that we can find everything easily when we arrive. It's good to find that everything we needed has arrived safely but I'm a bit worried about how we are going to fit it all in to our van.

 

Expert collectors

 

This seems as good place as ever to introduce you to one of the members of our team, Sang van Pham, who has previously joined us on our collecting trips in 2011 and 2012. Sang works in the Vietnam National Museum of Nature, primarily on the preservation and preparation of specimens for the collections and exhibitions, but on our trips he has become an expert in finding the smaller species that are often missed by the untrained eye.

 

During previous visits we have been helping to train Sang in the collection, identification and preservation of land snails, and Sang's knowledge of the biodiversity and ecology of Vietnam has been a great help in helping us to plan where we should sample on our various trips in Vietnam.

 

sang-sorting.jpg

Sang van Pham sorting and preserving specimen in Vietnam in 2011.

 

The second member of our team I would like to introduce is Fred Naggs. Fred is the leader of the expedition and Biodiversity Officer at the Natural History Museum. His main area of interest is the diversity of terrestrial land snails in south-east Asia and India, and finding out how these species have spread over time and the factors which ave influenced their distribution.

 

Fred has a lot of experience in identifying and collecting snails in the tropics and always seems to know the best places to search. Although it seems to me that if this 'best place' is in an area that is hard to reach or excessively muddy it is me who is sent off to do the collecting whilst Fred stands in the dry shouting "left a bit" ... "no not that one" ... "just a bit higher" and other useful phrases.

 

fred-collecting.jpg

Fred Naggs collecting snails in Sri Lanka.

 

Tomorrow we have an early start as we are traveling to Cuc Phuong National Park, 100 miles south-west of Hanoi, where we can start our fieldwork proper. I'm a little hesitant as the constant rain means the likelihood of being intimately attached (literally) to the local leech population is a likely occurrence.

 

Food update

 

On a side note, as someone who is mildly obssessed with food, good things I have eaten in the last 24 hours include:

 

  • Bun-Cha: A Hanoian delicacy of grilled pork and noodles flavoured with mint, basil and a sweet sticky sauce.
  • Bánh xèo: A Vietnamese pancake of pork, prawns, bean sprouts and rice batter wrapped up in a lettuce leaf - messy but delicious.
  • Pho: Traditional beef noodle soup for breakfast, one of the (non-science) things I was most looking forward to on this trip (much tastier than cereal!).

 

Anyway, internet-availability depending, I hope to report back soon on our first day in the national park and let you know how our initial collecting went.

1

Before our field trip to the Isles of Scilly, I conducted the following short interview with Jo Wilbraham, an algae and seaweed specialist:

GA: Can you tell me about your fieldwork methods when collecting seaweeds?

JW: When searching the intertidal zone, we aim to spot all distinct species and collect samples where necessary for identification/voucher preservation. It is important to get an eye in for spotting seaweeds that look different, which probably are (but not necessarily) different species. Observation is the key to finding and recording species diversity. Photos of species in situ and the general habitat are very useful as are notes on observations in the field etc.

 

GA: What do you do with the specimen after it has been collected?

JW: We Identify the samples. We tend to take a microscope and ID book to the field station with us if possible, and work on identifications in the evening before pressing the specimens.

 

GA: Can drawing help to tune the scientist’s observation, benefiting their scientific fieldwork?

JW: Observation is critical in fieldwork as you are trying to visually pick out the species diversity of the group you are looking for against a lot of background ‘noise’. This is where drawing is very helpful and delineation can show important morphology and omit surrounding details. We never have much time as we also have to press the specimens/change wet drying papers etc. So there is no time to do drawings or extensive notes.

 

Shared methods

 

During the trip, the field methods of exploring, observing and collecting were shared by the artist and the scientist. It is the motivations, selection criteria and outcomes of the fieldwork that differentiate what we do.

 

method-700.jpg

Diagram showing where artistic and scientific fieldwork methods converge and diverge.

 

As an artist, I identify the morphological subset of forms within the specimen and then re-order and re-classify the specimen through drawing methods. I spend time with the specimen in it’s three-dimensional form, observing and drawing, building on my previous drawing and observational practice. The scientists take lots of photos of the specimen and then process it for the Museum collections, pressing plants into two dimensional forms and pinning insect material.

 

Although observation is still important in many scientific practices, the motivation behind observation in fieldwork is to identify the specimen (to name) and observational drawing is rarely prioritised in contemporary practice. I do not want to name the specimen, but to creatively explore it’s morphology through drawing methods in order to expand what and how I can know about the object.

 

Drawing the ‘uncollected’ fieldwork specimens

 

The collected fieldwork specimens are immediately pressed; their three-dimensional form squeezed into two dimensions before anyone - scientist or artist - has observed them in detail. It becomes clear that there is no time on fieldwork for the scientists to draw the collected specimens, or even for an artist to draw them!

 

But I am still determined to draw what the scientists have collected, and I decide to ask  if I can draw the specimens that  will not be taken back to the Museum - ‘the collected, uncollected’. These specimens, which have been brought together by the scientists, create a very unusual species combination at the field station. They are superfluous to the needs of this field trip, and would otherwise be thrown away as rubbish, so drawing them transforms them into a different material, it is a nice form of recycling!

 

etching-process700.jpgDrawing leftover specimens: the etching process.

 

I draw the specimens together to create a micro environment, where the work of the scientists and the artist combine. As an artist I am interested in how these specimens, which have been valued and subsequently devalued, can be re-valued and re-known through drawing practice; a practice which scientists are valuing less and less in contemporary scientific work.

 

finished-etching.jpgA scan of the finished etching: 'Collected, uncollected'.

 

I have explored these ideas further in my recent research paper ‘Endangered: A study of the declining practice of morphological drawing in zoological taxonomy’ (Published by Leonardo Journal, MIT Press 2013). I focus on the established drawing practice of three zoologists at the Natural History Museum in relation to my own drawing practice, adapted to the camera lucida device.

 

Posted on behalf of Gemma Anderson, an artist and PhD researcher who accompanied Musuem scientists on a field work trip to the Isles of Scilly between 17 and 23 August 2013.

2

In previous posts I described how I have been lucky enough to travel to Borneo on fieldwork for the Museum. I explained how moths are collected using light traps, and we also got to meet some of the moths I found during this trip.

 

The four light traps at our camp were obviously very popular with many different species of moths, but when you put up a light trap in areas which are biologically rich - and this is particularly true in tropical regions - a whole range of other insects show up too.

4th Post pic1.JPG

Enthralled by the many exotic species of moths attracted to one of our light traps.

 

Many species of beetles, attracted by the bright ultraviolet light of our traps, kept the coleopterists on the trip, Beulah, Max and Howard, busy collecting their favourite invertebrates.

Pic 14 copy.jpg

Collecting our favourite species at the light traps.

 

Some interesting and rare species were sampled in this way, including the magnificent Chalcosoma, a dynastine beetle.

Pic 15.jpg

The striking dynastine beetle Chalcosoma moellenkampi (female on the left and male on the right) was one of the many interesting and rare insects visiting the light trap.

 

Other frequent visitors to the light traps were mantises and crickets which, true to their predatory habit, invariably found a tasty prey to feed upon. Hefty cicadas and large bees and wasps were also numerous; their blatant cries and unpredictable flight paths were a source of constant distraction for us, as we tried to concentrate on less vociferous and placid species. Many flies, stink-bugs, frog- and leaf-hoppers, parasitic wasps and flying ants and termites were also regular visitors at our light traps.

Pic_16-png.jpg

A great variety of other species of insects are commonly attracted by light traps.

 

Terrestrial Crab.JPG

…and even a terrestrial crab!

 

At times, it seemed that the arthropod fauna of the entire neighbourhood was paying a visit to our light traps and every night we were pleasantly surprised to find a new species of moth or beetle appearing at the trap for the first time. The number of insects visiting the traps only decreased during a few nights at the end of the trip; this is because the moon was full and clearly visible from early evening to late night. However we were still up late, trying to collect the few interesting species which, untouched by the resplendent show in the sky, were still paying a visit to our comparatively dingy traps.

Pic 17.jpg

There is no way a light trap can compete with such a large and incredibly luminous celestial body!

 

During the mornings, while my colleagues were checking the Flight Interception and Malaise traps we put up in the forest, or collecting beetles using other methods, I was busy pinning the moths collected the night before. 

 

Pic_18-png.jpg

Setting micro- and macromoths in the field.

 

This has definitely been an amazing field working experience and judging by the number of specimens we have brought back a very successful one too. We’ve collected in the region of 13,000 specimens, which, after having gone through the freezing process, will soon be ready to be sorted and identified, mounted and labelled, electronically recorded and finally incorporated in our ever growing collections.

0

Today I am observing the fieldwork methods of Museum scientists Jo Wilbraham (algae, including seaweed) and Mary Spencer Jones (bryozoans). We depart on the boat from St.Mary's to St. Agnes at 10.15am in calm waters, under clear blue skies.

 

St. Agnes is a beautiful island, with many interesting locations to collect specimens. We arrive at low tide, which is ideal for finding a diverse range of seaweed and bryozoan specimens. Jo chooses a beach 10 minutes walk east of the quay, where it is possible to wade far out. It takes a while, and some skilled rock climbing to reach where we are going but once we arrive at the tidal interface the diverse range of species is quickly apparent. We see a wide range of seaweeds, sea anemones and polychetes patiently waiting for the tide to come back in and relieve them from the stress of exposure to the mid-day August sunshine.

st-agnes-seaweed.jpgJo Wilbraham examines seaweeds great and small at the beach on St. Agnes.

 

Jo seems quite happy with the spot and comments on the range of species whilst pulling collecting bags and knife out of her pocket and rucksack to begin collecting, making the most of the low tide. The method of exploring and collecting are surprisingly similar to the methods that I use when working in the landscape or on a residency, although the selection criteria and motivation differ considerably. Some of the specimens collected are Furcellaria, Bifurcaria bifurcata and Palmaria palmata.

 

By this point my walking shoes have flooded after being submerged in shin deep seawater and I am inspired to draw some of the collected species on dry land. I am also preparing for the drawing workshop of creative morphology (a method inspired by Goethe’s ‘Delicate Empiricism’) at Phoenix art studios in the evening.

seaweed-field-drawing.jpgDrying out my feet and drawing seaweed specimens on the beach.

 

The free drawing workshop is fully booked, and attendees will be almost exactly half Museum scientists and half St.Marys residents or visitors. Due to the demands of fieldwork some of the Museum scientists are late, which means they have a bit of catching up to do. The workshop builds up observational drawing techniques that prepare the individual for a creative exploration of the morphology of the specimen.

 

Creative morphology drawing workshop

 

The group produce some very interesting drawings and discussions. One scientist remarks that they did not expect drawing to have method, rather that it was something they associated with scientific work. This point was important as it helped the scientist to acknowledge artistic research and methodology.

 

Another scientist remarks that drawing helped them to identify important characters of the specimen, and to engage with it. This was helpful as it led to a discussion of the values of drawing and photography/SEM technologies in scientific work. We end the workshop by considering the relationship between the practice of creative morphology and creative evolutionary processes. 

herbarium-sheet-specimen.jpgSpecimens collected at the beach on St. Agnes are arranged on a herbarium sheet, ready for entering the Museum's collections.

 

After the drawing workshop I put a few questions to Jasmin Perera, an entomologist at the Museum:

GA: Do you feel the method helped you to 'know' or think about the specimen in a new or different way? If so, could you try to describe this difference?

JP: Yes the method did make me think a lot more about the specimen. It made it far more memorable structurally. There are parts that I would never have thought of analysing so much that I now know exist, which is great because I would feel far more confident in identifying the specimen if I came across it in future.

 

GA: Do you feel that the method helped you to deepen your engagement with the specimen?

JP: I think I did engage a lot with the specimen, however I feel I get a similar experience when identifying flies under the microscope as the keys we have to follow go into details as little as the length and direction of the little hairs on their body.

 

GA: Do you think this method could be useful in your scientific or artistic work? If so, how?

JP: I would find this method useful in a scientific environment as it would really make me remember any specimen I came across. Especially by pulling the specimen apart, figuring out all the bits that put it together.

 

After the drawing workshop I visit the Museum field station at the Garrison, St.Mary’s, where I find Jo sorting through the day's collections, soaking and pressing before carefully arranging on a herbarium sheet. The sun is setting, the team is tired and tomorrow awaits...the marvellous world of insects!

 

Posted on behalf of Gemma Anderson, an artist and PhD researcher who accompanied Musuem scientists on a field work trip to the Isles of Scilly between 17 and 23 August 2013.

0

Today I am heading off on a plane to Vietnam. Not for a sumptuous seaside sojourn or a historic amble around Hanoi, no instead I will be on fieldwork collecting terrestrial slugs and snails in the national parks of Vietnam.


I'm Jon Ablett, curator of non-marine Mollusca and Cephalopoda at the Museum. I've been on collecting trips to Vietnam before in 2007, 2011 and 2012, but I'm really looking forward to heading back there not only for the wonderful food, landscape and people (and did I mention the food?), but also for the interesting slugs and snails that we hope to find.

Picture1_forblog.jpgCollecting snails in Vienam in 2011; definitely not a competition to see who has found the best specimen.

 

Why Vietnam? Well, Vietnam is an amazingly diverse country with a broad latitudinal range - from north to south it is over 1,000 miles long. It also has a wide altitudinal range, from over 3,000m in the Hoang Lien Mountains in northern Vietnam, to coastal lowlands and the Mekong Valley.

 

The Annamese Mountains, which run north to south between Vietnam, Laos and NE Cambodia, are the most extensive limestone hill ranges in Asia. Snails require calcium to form their shells, and as a rule snail diversity increases as the amount of calcium in the environment increases. The rich calcium limestone in these mountains provides incredibly diverse habitats for a highly diverse range of molluscan species that, until now, have barely been studied.

 

Why snails?


Apart from the fact that I am the curator in charge of the land snail (and cephalopod...) collections at the Museum, there are more recorded extinctions of land snails than for all other animal groups combined. This makes land snails a key group for recognising why and where extinctions are taking place. It also means that snails could be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of various conservation measures, by acting as sensitive indicators of environmental change.

 

Also, since the Museum has a large historical collection of slugs and snails from Vietnam, by collecting specimens over a variety of timescales we can look at changes within and between species.

Cyclophorus for blog.jpgCyclophorus sp. in leaf litter. Notice the trap door like operculum by the tail.


The aim of our work in Vietnam is to collect new terrestrial land snail material to enhance the collections of both the Natural History Museum and the Vietnam National Museum of Nature, to provide tissue samples for molecular work, and to test new collection and storage techniques for our frozen tissue collections.

 

My colleagues and co-conspirators for our fieldwork include Museum staff and students as well as scientists from Nottingham University, the Zoological Society of London, the Vietnam National Museum of Nature and the Vietnam National Park Service. I hope that throughout my time in Vietnam I can tell you a little bit about the work that will be done by me and the team, explain some of the collection and preservation techniques we use and also a little about the trials and tribulations, highlights (and lowlights?) that occur along the way.

 

I'm just off to finish up packing up my collection equipment, suncream and mosquito repellent and hopefully the next time I blog I will be settled in Hanoi with a few new stories to tell.

0

After all the talk (and film) about the bee-fly and its long proboscis, I thought you should see the actual insect with the longest proboscis in terms of body size - and of course it is a group of fabulous flies - but that goes without saying! So this week’s blog is all about tangle-veined flies, known as Nemestrinidae.

 

fly.jpg

Nemestrinus bombiformis - showing their lovely wings

 

What has sparked this blog piece was my finally looking through some recent material collected by a colleague Duncan, one of the other fly curators. He has recently returned from Morocco with loads of my flies - the chunky ones including bee-flies, robberflies and these tangle-veined flies. This reminded me about some that had been collected by another colleague in South Africa. So I went to find where I had stored them, and track down all the literature I would need to identify it. But along the way I became quite obsessive about this little family.

 

So what are these tangle-veined flies? There are about 300 species worldwide in 23 genera, although none, sadly, are found in the UK. There is still much confusion about this family and the subject is crying out for a major overview. These flies are most closely related to the hunchback flies also known as the spider-killing flies (Acroceridae); and as with the Bee-flies and the hunchback flies, the larvae of this family are also endoparasites.

 

The adults are generally medium-to-large flies, often with hairy bodies, but all with a complicated vein pattern on their wings.

 

nemestrinidae wing.jpg

 

They are often brightly coloured, but if you look through the collection you will see many covered in pollen, which gives an indication to what the adults are feeding on! Within the family, some species have atrophic mouthparts - that is, they are no longer there or they are non-functional but most have the characteristic tube-like proboscis, which is often very long.

 

In the collection at the Museum we have 149 species registered from 14 different genera. The Museum houses about half the number of described species of Nemestrinidae.

 

We are always trying to increase the collections and enable greater access to them. There is not much point to a collection that is hidden away, and we are gradually enabling more of our collections be digitised for online access, as well as tweeting and blogging about them informally.

 

Not much is really known about this family (a common theme across the whole of Diptera). We do have some fossils - the oldest recorded is from the Middle-Upper Jurassic Karabastau Formation (a geological formation in Kazakhstan; about 160 to 145 million years ago) but when it comes to the extant flies we still have huge gaps in knowledge.

 

We think all the species across the subfamilies have hypermetamorphosis larvae - that is, the larval stages go through distinctly different phases of their development. And all of the family parasitise other insects (as far as we know). The female is quite extraordinary, as she can lay several thousand eggs in her lifetime on plants and surfaces that are generally off the ground (a housefly only lays about 500).

 

After about 10 days, these will hatch into very mobile larvae. These will disperse readily, often helped by the wind, to seek out their hosts. They can survive for up to two weeks in this state seeking out their hosts. This is just as well as they have very active hosts - the larvae of subfamily Trichopsideinae are all parasitoids of grasshoppers; the Hirmoneurinae seek out scarab beetles; and with Atriadopsinae it’s bush crickets.

 

neorhynchocephalus larvae.jpgneorhynchocephalus emerging.jpg

(Images taken from US Department of Agriculture website)

 

Within our collection we have four subfamilies represented. There is still discussion about how many subfamilies there are and where the different genera should be placed but I will work on the basis of the following groupings for the moment.

 

      1. Atriadopsinae
        1. Atriadops
        2. Ceyloniola
        3. Nycterimorpha
        4. Nycterimyia
      2. Hirmoneurinae
        1. Hirmoneura
      3. Nemestrininae
        1. Moegistorhynchus
        2. Nemestrinus
        3. Prosoeca
        4. Stenobasipteron
        5. Stenopteromyia
        6. Trichophthalma
      4. Trichopsideinae
        1. Fallenia
        2. Neorhynchocephalus
        3. Trichopsidea

 

There are some nice features to tell these subfamilies apart. Being me I have to get genitalia into a blog post somewhere, and for a change it is the female genitalia that holds the key to their ID - or rather, it is her ovipositor (egg-laying tube). The subfamilies Hirmoneurinae and Nemestrininae have telescope-shaped ovipositors that have retractile segments like a pump-action egg-laying machine! The other two subfamilies have sabre-shaped ovipositors, which bare two very long and slender valvulae (a scientific term for Diptera lady bits) from which she shoots her eggs.

 

But there is a more obvious way the subfamilies can be split apart: by their mouthparts.

 

Medium proboscis.jpg

Hirmoneura anthracoides

 

They vary from rudimentary, reduced, short, medium and long - in some instances very long. In fact one species of Nemestrininae called Moegistrorhynchus longirostris has the longest mouthpart in relation to body size of any insect.

 

longirostris.jpg

When I came across these in the collection I actually squealed in excitement. They have such a long proboscis because of the flowers they feed on - plants with very long necks; mainly the orchids and the irises. They do not generally fly with them out in front of them but held underneath their body:

 

94123bfb176759057e8d7d00c84a23ef.jpgFrom http://www.ispot.org.za

 

In South Africa there are a lot of very long-tongued flies (as they are known). There are also horseflies that have evolved from blood sucking to nectar feeding, with the development a disproportionately long mouthpart. Philoliche longirostris (= "long mouth"... no point having different names if it the best descriptor!) is one such horsefly, and Dr Shelah Morati has a fab website with some amazing images of them.

 

The tangle-veined flies are also are adapted to feeding from long-necked plants.

 

long tubular flower - Lapeirousia oreogena by Judd Kirkel W.jpg

These irises seem to have 'landing strips' for flies

 

The irises in the photo above seem to have landing strips that help guide the fly in. Work conducted by Dennis Hansen when he was at the University of Kwazulu-Natal discovered that if you paint over these strips, the flies cannot find the nectaries at the base of the tube!

 

cae63e6fe8068a9b8c08bccbdf3176de.jpg

From http://www.ispot.org.za

 

And many people have studied these groups, as they are amazing examples of co-evolution with very good models correlating corolla (the petals of the flower) length and proboscis, including work by Dr Bruce Anderson at the University of Stellenbosch! Great stuff!

 

The collection of tangled-vein flies the museum has been static for a while but we are now collecting more in South Africa, and recent additions to the collection prompted me to recurate the specimens. The drawers were shallow (resulting in many of the pinned specimens being put in in a jaunty angle) and they were also on slates.

 

uncurated nemestrinid drawer.JPG

Old-style storage

 

So after a week or so of updating the database and checking out any changes in nomenclature I have transferred the little cuties into new trays with spanking new labels into new deeper drawers. Job done!

 

curated nemestrinid drawer.JPG

New-style storage

1

In my last post, I described how and why I was in Borneo. Time now to feature some of the moths I collected...

 

First, let me illuminate you on light trapping as this is one of the most favoured ways of collecting moths, and indeed the method we have used to collect the majority of the ca. 2700 specimens of Lepidoptera we brought back from this trip. 

 

Moths seem to be more attracted by UV light than by normal tungsten bulbs and there are different devices used to lure them. A functional and unsophisticated device is a white sheet hanging on a vertical support with a UV light bulb suspended in front of it. One just stands next to it and enjoys the flying critters attracted by the light from the dark surroundings.

 

Pic 12.jpgOne of the 4 moth traps at the camp. We would spend hours every night, checking each of them in turn

 

A popular (and more expensive) method is to use designed light traps, such as the Robinson, Skinner and Heath traps. They still have UV bulbs but they are contained traps. There is a box under the light bulb where the moths fall after being attracted and confused by the light, egg cartons are placed inside the trap to create hiding places for the moths.

 

The advantage of using these types of light traps is that there is no need to stand around them because the moths that have fallen inside often remain in the trap, and are found the morning after, resting under the egg cartons.

 

Light trap meadow National Moth Night 22 May 2004 landscape cropped.JPG

The Robinson Moth Trap in the Wildlife Garden of the Museum. My colleague, curator Martin Honey, has been monitoring moths in the Garden since 1995 and so far 600 species have been recorded in this modest but vital green space in Central London

 

Designed light traps are generally used in temperate areas. On the other hand, in the tropics the white sheet is the favoured method because, in these regions, there are many more species of moths that are often more numerous and larger than the ones found in temperate localities. Therefore, it is much better to use a larger surface to collect them.

 

Collecting Moths in Borneo.jpg

Collecting moths at one of our light traps in Borneo

 

It is still uncertain why many species of moths - and indeed the majority of species of insects - are attracted to artificial light sources, but I won’t delve in conjecturing here as a simple search in the web will give you plenty of hypotheses, none of which has been so far validated. However, below is a series of photos of some of the moths that were visiting our moth traps… absolutely gorgeous stuff (for me at least!)

 

Hypeninae1.jpg

Marapana flavicosta a moth of the Erebidae family with very long labial palps. This moth has been recorded only in Borneo in montane forests between 1200 and 1900 m. We have the type* of this species here in our Museum! 
* When a new organism is described and named, the specimen (or specimens) on which the author based the description becomes the 'type' (or types) for the species. Our beetler Beulah has a fun post about this here

 

Cyana.JPG

This pretty little moth that reminds me of a clown is very likely Cyana costifimbria, or a species very close to it. It also belongs to the Erebidae.

 

Acherontia lachesis.JPG

Acherontia lachesis, the oriental death's-head hawkmoth. An awe-inspiring moth and a skilled honey stealer! The adults (and even the pupae!) of the three known species of hawkmoths squeak when disturbed. Hear one here.

 

Barsine roseororatus.JPG

Barsine roseororatus - another erebid moth - frequently found in the forested and disturbed habitat of Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia. The type of this species is also here in the Museum!

 

Callidrepana argenteola.JPG

Callidrepana argenteola, a moth in the Family Drepanidae (the hook-tip moths). The caterpillar of this species resembles a bird dropping but unfortunately I could not find one to photograph. Again, we have the type specimen of this species in our collections.

 

Kunugia basinigra.JPG

Kunugia basinigra belongs to the family Lasiocampidae, commonly known as eggars, snout or lappet moths and this little fellow has certainly a snout to be proud of.

 

Lyssa Zampa.JPG

The Tropica Swallow Tail moth (Lyssa zampa), an uraniid moth distributed from North East Himalaya to South China and Thailand, also Philippine, Sulawesi, Borneo and the Malayan Peninsula. This species is relatively common particularly in montane forest, where it’s been recorded as high as 2600m on Mount Kinabalu. The caterpillar of this species feeds on plants of the Genus Endospermum in the family Euphorbiaceae. The type specimen of this species was also deposited in our Museum.


P4210260.JPG

Tarsolepis sommeri, a moth in the family Notodontidae (the prominents and kittens), is relatively well distributed in various lowland forest areas of the Oriental region. The moth looks rather prickly with those amazing tufts of reddish scales and spiky hairs at the base of the abdomen… I feel itchy just looking at them! In some species of the Notodontidae family the females are known to cover their batch of eggs with scales and hairs from the abdominal tuft, to give them protection. This moth has been observed feeding from mammalian lachrymal secretion in Peninsular Malaysia.

 

I’m going to leave you with a collage I created with some drawings (not mine) of moths and an outstanding palindrome (a phrase that reads the same way in both directions) I found on the web. The palindrome is in Latin and translates: “We wander in the night, and are consumed by fire”, which I thought fitted particularly well with the subject of this post.

 

In girum   _hf.jpg

“We wander in the night, and are consumed by fire”

 

I hope you have enjoyed reading, and marvelled (as we did!) at the various amazing moths we encountered in Borneo.

 

I shall feature some more photos of nice invertebrates in my next post. 

Thanks for reading and see you then.

0

Miniatures, morphology and molecules: problems with the phylogenetic position of Paedocypris

 

 

miniture fish.jpg

 

 

Ralf Britz

Vertebrates Division, Dept. Life Sciences, NHM

 

Wednesday 26 June 11:00

Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

 

The highly miniaturized fish species of the cyprinid genus Paedocypris are among the smallest of all vertebrates. Their skeleton shows a puzzling mixture ofhighly reductive and morphologically novel characters. Numerous structures present in most bony fishes are absent in Paedocypris due to an organism wide case of progenesis or developmental truncation. I highlight the problems associated with working morphologically with such a truncated organism and offer some solutions. I also look in detail at the evidence from recent molecular systematic analyses some of which are in sharp contrast to the results based on morphology. I touch upon the general issue of morphology versus molecules and discuss it in the context of the phylogenetic position of Paedocypris.

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html

1

With the weather still glorious on Sunday I was very happy to hear that Mark had arranged a trip to the island of Bryher, north west of St Mary's.

 

Bryher.JPG

Bryher

 

The habitat here was a lot more sandy and less rocky than previous sites and also there were beds of sea-grass which provide an excellent nursery ground for young fishes. With the seine net we soon managed to get some nice specimens; a 15-spined stickleback (a marine relative of the 3-spined variety often found in freshwater), some sandeels, some baby plaice and a female dragonet. This last specimen was beautifully camouflaged and we were lucky to spot it.

 

DSCF1242.JPG

Dragonet (not sure which species yet)

 

After we had denuded the sea-grass of its inhabitants we transferred our attentions to some of the large stones amongst the seaweed. Lifting a few of these uncovered a wealth of invertebrates, including the most furious crab I've yet seen. As soon its rock was raised it scuttled forth with claws snapping and, although I have seen a lot of crabs come and go, this particular one really spooked me.

 

I mentioned it to one of the locals who had come to see us collect and they immediately asked, did it have red eyes? Yes, I said and they laughed and told me it was a velvet swimming crab - aka the devil crab - and they are renowned for being especially radge (dangerously mad) as they say in Scotland. Very gingerly I managed to grab both its claws and thus obtained the photograph below (you can see its swimming paddles on its lower legs):

 

102_1043.JPG

Devil crab (Necora puber)

 

Thankfully we managed to get some nice fish specimens too, including our first rockling and some butterfish.

 

DSCF1243.JPG

Shore rockling (Gaidropsarus mediterraneus)

 

 

DSCF1227.JPG

Butterfish (Pholis gunnellus) and head of 15-spined stickleback (Spinachia spinachia)

 

The following day Andreia Salvador and I stayed on St Mary's and went to the town beach near Hugh Town to look for molluscs, fishes and anything else interesting. As always, the first fish I found was a shanny but with a bit more effort a few nice rock gobies were captured.

 

DSCF1252.JPG

Rock gobies (Gobius paganellus) - how many can you see in this picture? *

 

After some more boulder hefting I found another fish that at first sight I thought was just another shanny but turned out to be the much more elusive Montagu's blenny.

 

DSCF1257.JPG

Montagu's Blenny (Coryphoblennius galerita)

 

These can be distinguished from the shanny by the small bristles on the top of the head, which shannies don't have.

 

On our final day of collecting, we went to Porth Wreck and back to Porth Hellick on the south-east of St Mary's. Porth Wreck was fairly barren apart from a decent sized rockling and a clingfish but Porth Hellick was much more productive. Using the seine net with deadly effect we got sand gobies, two-spot gobies, baby pollock and a big sandeel.

 

Previously sandeels never really meant that much to me other than as fishing bait and something that puffins like to eat but I have a whole new respect for them now. Firstly, they are beautiful to look at, a dark blue top blending into iridescent green and shining silvery flanks, but also extremely tenacious. Our specimen took a long time to capture as every time we had it cornered it would burrow down into the sand and we would have to dig it up and go after it again. Of all the fish I collected this trip, apart from maybe the wrasse, this was the one I felt saddest about consigning to the collecting pot. The photograph below doesn't begin to do it justice.

 

DSCF1275.JPG

Lesser sandeel (Ammodytes tobianus)

 

DSCF1271.JPG

Pollock (Pollachius pollachius)

 

DSCF1279.JPG

Two-spot goby (Gobiusculus flavescens)

 

And a couple of non-fish pictures to finish on. Maybe I really am getting too sentimental but I found the parental care shown by this centipede (I think) rather touching. We found it while helping my friend and colleague Jonathan Ablett look for snails.

 

Centipede with eggs.JPG

A centipede demonstrating rather touching parental care

 

 

DSCF1297.JPG

One of our toilet swallows, who will be very happy to see us go

 

So that's about it from me, it's been a pleasure and a privilege to take part in this field trip and have seen so many amazing things, not all of which were fish. If anything interesting turns up when I go through all the specimens back in London I'll let you know.

 

* There are 10 gobies in the picture

0

I am very happy to reveal that I have now finally had success with obtaining some decent specimens. Over the past three days myself and various assistants have used a variety of methods (seine nets, fishing rods, hands) on three different islands (St Mary's, St Agnes and Bryher) and have collected at least 16 different species of fish. It's hard to say for for sure exactly how many until I can get back to the Museum and look at some of them under a microscope.

 

Most of them are on the list of fishes I made before I left but there are a few which will be new records for our collection from this locality. It's been a great pleasure to meet naturalist and local legend Rosemary Parslow, who collected most of our Scillonian fish specimens back in the 1970s and compare notes and get some advice about where to get certain species.

 

On Friday, despite grim weather conditions, we headed down to Porth Hellick on the southern side of St Mary's. At this point all I had to show was one baby sandeel so my joy was unconfined when our first drag of the seine net through a large rock pool produced tens of little bodies flopping about.  Most of these were sand gobies - some of the fattest I've ever seen - but there were also some juvenile flatfish.

 

Blog_3_image_5.JPG

Fat sand gobies (Pomatoschistus minutus)

 

A few more drags produced some other species of goby and a very dark looking shanny.

 

Blog_3_image_6.JPG

Shanny (Lipophrys pholis)

 

The best find of the day for me was a worm pipefish which I found underneath a rock. These are not very fast swimmers but are hard to spot as they look just like a bit of seaweed. A closer look at the specimen revealed something interesting, a cluster of orange eggs stuck to the belly of the fish indicating that this was a male specimen.

 

Pipefishes are in the same family as seahorses (syngnathidae), and like them, the male takes care of the eggs after they have been laid by the female.  I felt a bit guilty taking this specimen but I had never seen one like this before. I should point out that all the fish I collect are anaesthetised using clove oil before preservation so the process is as painless as possible (this also makes for nicer looking specimens).

 

Blog_3_image_3.JPG

Male worm pipefish (Nerophis lumbriciformis) with eggs

 

The following day the weather had improved vastly and we boarded a boat for St Agnes, the island to the south of St Mary's. Rosemary had recommended a particular bay called Porth Killier so we headed there full of optimism. Upon looking at it my heart fell slightly as the whole area was thickly blanketed in various kinds of seaweed - lots of places for fish to escape and tricky to use the seine. Nevertheless, Tom and I carefully ventured forth and after about half an hour of rummaging about in the kelp I found my first ever clingfish!

 

St Agnes.JPG

Porth Killier, St Agnes

 

Sadly this escaped a bit later due to an incident with the bucket and I did my best to be philosophical about this. We got some more pipefish and some rock gobies so all was not lost but then Tom developed some kind of clingfish sixth sense and within half an hour or so we had seven specimens of two different species (shore clingfish and small-headed clingfish).

 

DSCF1175.JPG

Shore clingfish (Lepadogaster lepadogaster)

 

DSCF1187.JPG

Two rock gobies (Gobius paganellus) and a small-headed clingfish (Apletodon dentatus)

 

If there's one thing I have really got out of this trip it's a greater appreciation of other people's specialities. Suddenly I find myself looking at flies and plants and shellfish in a whole new way (one of the other nice results from our trip to St Agnes were the discoveries of blue-rayed limpets and spotted cowries in the kelp). But in particular crabs.

 

Previously I thought there were shore crabs (the browny-green ones) and edible crabs (the pinky-purple ones) and that was probably about it, but my crab universe has now expanded exponentially. On St Agnes I found what I think were five or six different species, some of which were relatively benign when disturbed, some of which were furious. Every rock we turned over also revealed a wealth of fascinating creatures, and at times I almost forgot about fish.

 

DSCF1207.JPG

A strange crab

 

Returning home triumphant we decided to round off the day with a spot of fishing at Penninis Head. This was initially extremely successful and I caught a nice big ballan wrasse on a fishing rod that telescopes into something the size of a pen and Tom got a fine pollock. Although both of these are edible (although opinions vary about the wrasse) the national collection trumps our stomachs and they were placed in the freezer when we got back. I have never before seen the attractive blue inner lips of the ballan wrasse, another first for our trip.

 

DSCF1210.JPG

Ballan wrasse (Labrus bergylta)

 

DSCF1211.JPG

The blue inner lips of the ballan wrasse

 

I'm afraid I have now run out of time and I think the limpet risotto is just about ready. More soon and I will leave you with this, one of the black rabbits - descended from escaped pets - that live just outside our bunker.

 

Blog_3_image_7.JPG

Black rabbit of St Mary's

0

I spent day 8 of our trip with Andreia Salvador, curator of marine molluscs, looking at some of the stunning creatures she has found here in Scilly.

 

PIC 1 (Custom).JPGAndreia Salvador collecting marine molluscs

 

 

PIC 2 (Custom).JPGMarvellous marine molluscs

 

A curator’s job is to ‘future proof’ their collection; in the future, a specimen may be researched using techniques we don’t yet know of and Andreia is keen to perfect preservation methods that allow for as much of a mollusc to be accessible as possible. The molluscs known as gastropods, (things like top shells and winkles) have a trap door called an operculum which completely seals the animal inside.

 

PIC 3 (Custom).JPGA firmly shut operculum

 

In the past, researchers who needed the soft parts of molluscs may have had to break the shell open, destroying the specimen. Andreia is keen to work out the best way to preserve both the shell and the soft parts intact. The process of encouraging the animal out of its shell is called relaxing. This may take anything up to 12 hours to do, but it is crucial in providing future researchers with the specimens they may need.

 

PIC 4 (Custom).JPGA specimen beginning to ‘relax’

 

We have found some exceptionally beautiful molluscs over the past few days. When I was out with James, we found these spotted cowries and blue-rayed limpets.

 

PIC 5 (Custom).JPGSpotted cowrie

 

PIC 6 (Custom).JPGBlue-rayed limpets

 

The limpets in particular, were exciting for Andreia because, in her native Portugal, they are know as beijinho, a ‘little kiss’. We found them inside the kelp forests and they have absolutely stunning, electric colors. Although not rare, they provided quite a challenge to locate, as they lived in the 'hold fasts' at the base of the kelp.

 

PIC 7 (Custom).JPGA blue-rayed limpet living in the hold fast of kelp

 

Andreia was delighted when we returned with the good news that we had got some. I felt a little left out but, as the bigger man, kept my feelings to myself ...

 

PIC 8 (Custom).JPGBitter? Me?

 

Last night we had a BBQ - organised by Jon and Tony, it was to make the most of the nice weather that has now turned for the worse. It was a very serious affair...

 

PIC 9 (Custom).jpgWho has a hat specifically for BBQ? Tony Vinhas!

 

... Tony put on his ‘BBQ hat’ and began to refer to himself, in the 3rd person, as the grillmaster.

 

PIC 11 (Custom).JPG

The grillmaster in the world's biggest barbecue pit - how long ‘til it’s ready?

 

He expertly worked his way through various meats and veggie options and as the sun set behind us we enjoyed a lovely evening all together.

 

PIC 10 (Custom).JPG

Relaxing on the Woolpack