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Deadly delights at Halloween

Posted by Rose Oct 28, 2010

Ever heard the squeal of the Death's-head hawkmoth? As a Halloween treat, you can now.


Acherontia atropos, Death's-head hawkmoth in action

The Death's-head hawkmoth has one of the most devilish reputations of any insect, says moth expert Ian Kitching in this short video. One of the  reasons why we feature it as our special Species of the day on Halloween. Another reason, of course - aside from being large - is the moth's skull-like marking on its thorax which has contributed to its mythical status.

Get a sneak peak at Sunday's Death's-head hawkmoth, our Species of the day.


Another frightening creature you can get to know better this Halloween is Teraphosa blondi, the Goliath bird-eating spider (pictured above), and the world’s heaviest spider. It usually feeds on insects such as crickets and beetles, but also eats small mammals, frogs and reptiles, injecting venom into its prey with its 20mm fangs. Nice.


Despite its formidable appearance, a bite from this tarantula species is apparently no worse than a wasp sting. Goliath tarantulas are often kept as pets.


Both these critters will get you in the Halloween mood, so browse our Species of the day at the weekend for more deadly details. The Goliath spider features on Saturday and the Death's-head hawkmoth on Sunday.
Explore Species of the day online

Halloween at the Museum

If you're looking for an excuse to avoid the local trick or treat brigade, then come to the Museum on Halloween and join our free Myths and Monsters of the Mediterannean event. You'll see the fossil that may have inspired the legend of the one-eyed Cyclops, and discover why the devil has horns. There are 2 events at 12.30 and 14.30 on the Sunday, 31 October.


Over the weekend, bring the kids and explore our Creepy Crawlies gallery and visit the Wildlife Garden. It's the last weekend the garden is open and there are bound to be some spiders about.


For adults there is Night Safari on Monday evening, 1 November, although I think it's now sold out. The lucky safari visitors with tickets will be treated to a night of wondrous spookification including albino bat specimen, cursed gems, scarab beetles and demonish cocktails at the bar.


Slime on.


Spider photo courtesy G. Beccaloni


Last night, after months of anticipation, Bence Máté became the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year for 2010. The winners were announced at a gala awards ceremony held here at the Natural History Museum. The ceremony was hosted by BBC presenter and wildlife expert, Chris Packham.


The coveted title of Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year was awarded to Hungarian photographer Bence Máté from Pusztaszer for his image A marvel of ants. This simple shot captures the complexity of the behaviour of leaf-cutter ants in the Costa Rican rainforest. Bence’s winning photograph is from the competition’s Erik Hosking Award given to the portfolio of 6 images that represent the best work of young, talented photographers between the ages of 18 and 26. This award has not been given since 2007, when Bence last won it.


Go to the overall winners in the exhibition 2010 online gallery


Fergus Gill from Scotland was crowned Veolia Environnement Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year for the 2nd year in a row. His image of a fieldfare, The frozen moment, was judged to be the most memorable of all the pictures by photographers aged 17 or under.


Browse all the winning and commended images in the exhibition 2010 online gallery


The amazing exhibition opens on Friday, 22 October.

Book Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition tickets now


Join our great new online community area, where you can upload your own wildlife photos, share photography tips and talk about the exhibition and your favourite images.

Visit the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010 forum.


Read the Winning wildlife photos announced news story


Find out about leaf-cutter ants in our special Species of the day


It’s one week to go until the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010 exhibition opens its doors to the public on Friday 22 October.


Today, as I write this post, the images are being installed in their new panel placements in the Museum’s iconic Waterhouse gallery.


This year the exhibition space has a more airy theme. Its 100 and more prize-winning images from the 2010 competition’s 18 categories are displayed in light panels. It’ll be interesting to see how this compares to last year’s dark, atmospheric ‘pavillion of shadows’ design.


Peschak's giant female Aldabra tortoise that features in the exhibition's publicity


At the entrance to the exhibition gallery, you’ll meet Thomas Peschak’s giant Aldabra tortoise that appears in the main poster for the exhibition. It looks magnificent in the huge banner, towering from on high to greet visitors.


Here's how Thomas describes his mighty tortoise shot:


"Aldabra giant tortoises normally graze on 'tortoise turf', a blend of herbs and grasses that grows close to the ground in response to being cropped. Often, though, the tortoises will wander onto the beaches to eat washed-up seedpods. This female, who is probably at least 100 years old, regularly forages along the beach in front of a research station on Aldabra in the Seychelles. Tortoises are known to have made sea crossings between islands," says Tom, "and so I was pleased to be able to use the ocean as a backdrop. I lay in her path on the sand, using an extreme wide-angle lens. The moment I took the shot, I had to roll out of her way to avoid her clambering right over me."


Watch this space for the overall winners’ announcement which should be after midnight on Wednesday 21 October.


It's also worth mentioning that you can enjoy the exhibition After Hours every last Friday of the month starting on 29 October, excluding December.


Honey and hedges

Posted by Rose Oct 5, 2010

We've been harvesting some delicious honey from our Wildlife Garden bees. I was visiting the garden when Luke Dixon, the Museum’s beekeeper and Caroline, our Wildlife Garden manager, were shaking and brushing out our bee hive trays. We've added a video clip of the honey collecting on YouTube.


Beekeeper Luke Dixon shaking out bee hive trays in the Wildlife Garden


Watch the Wildlife Garden honey collecting video clip on YouTube.

Discover the delights of the Museum's Wildlife Garden.


The beginning of September is the honey collecting season, explains Luke in the video, as he enthuses about the deliciousness of urban honey and especially London honey. I can support him wholeheartedly on this as I was one of the lucky staff members and volunteers who managed to get our hands on a jar before they all disappeared. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough to sell to the public. Our bees have created a distinctive taste that is really flavoursome and floral. It truly reflects the amazing variety of flora in the garden.


By the way, the smoke you’ll see in the video is there to calm the bees so they don’t get too anxious and angry about losing the fruits of their hard work all summer.



On Saturday 25 September, the Wildlife Garden team was joined by staff and volunteers from the RSPB and OPAL for its last public event. You can see one of the day’s highlights pictured here. The hedge laid by hedgerow expert Rob Graham at Hedgerow Harvest was much admired by all.


Caroline was delighted it was such a success and a wonderful event to end this year's Wildlife Garden events season.


'As well as highlighting the importance of hedges for wildlife both in the countryside and in our gardens and parks,' said Caroline, 'it was about talking to our visitors about the many different hedgerow plants and associated insects, birds and other animals - some of which they could see in the garden - and introducing hedgerow plants used in folk medicine and edible plants. There were also some tasty samples of jams and wines made from wild fruit such as sloes, bramble and elderberries.'


Today, 4 October, we can give you the first glimpse of a selection of the commended images from this year's competition that will be on show at the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010 exhibition.


Click here to see a slideshow of the selected commended images.


The exhibition opens on 22 October and the Waterhouse gallery is currently being adorned with this year's spectacular images we all can't wait to see.


For now, feast on this wonderful photo story that is specially commended in the new Wildlife Photojournalist of Year Award. The award is for six pictures that tell a memorable story, whether featuring animal behaviour or environmental issues. The story is called 'The House in the Woods' by Finnish photographer Kai Fagerstrom.


Kai Fagerstrom. From his series 'A House in the Woods'


Here's what Kai says about the series of 6 photos: The sun’s last rays bounce off the old windowpanes, as though a fire roars within. But this old  house near Salo, Finland has long  been deserted. The roof has holes, the walls are crumbling and draughts hiss through the windows. But as darkness falls, the house comes alive. It was a waiting game for the yellow-necked mouse. ‘Many days passed before conditions were right, and the setting sun threw shadows on the peeling, textured wallpaper,’ Kai explained. The raccoon dog puppy dropped by at the same time every night. He paused by the half-open door, sniffing the air. ‘The light was perfect and, a moment later, he melted back into the night.’ The pygmy owl seemed to know the house well and wasn’t happy about Kai’s  presence. ‘It seemed to stamp its foot and say, “Go away, this is my place”, so I went.’ Red squirrels often build their dreys inside abandoned homes, and so Kai was not in the least surprised  to discover one inside the house. ‘I love the fact that it is looking out of the window,’ he said, ‘as though expecting guests to arrive any minute’. The badger cubs were born in a sett under the floorboards, and the fireplace was their entrance to the house. Taking the picture through the window, Kai wanted to give an impression of the badger family going about its daily business. ‘Badgers hardly feature in Finnish folklore and people don’t realise what fascinating characters they really are.’


And here's another little favourite of mine, Tim Laman's Night Eyes, which has been highly commended for the competition’s Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife.




Nearly 7,000 people turned up on the night for our biggest-ever After Hours event in 2010. Double the numbers we had hoped for. By 8pm there were queues stretching far down the Cromwell Road outside the Museum, South Kensington tube was rammed and the atmosphere in the Central Hall was buzzing.


(Click on the images to enlarge them.)

First visitors arriving in the afternoon

I went down around 4ish to the Central Hall just as the event was starting and was lucky enough to get a glimpse of some of the great things at the science stations: Alan Hart's gold nugget, Ed Baker's domino cockroaches (scampered up my sleeve!), and Richard Sabin's rare dolphin skull, before passing by some very excited toddlers observing wriggly worms in a petri dish at the Natural History Roadshow in Dinosaur Way. This was the family time of the event and not so crowded. Although it was still too difficult to get near to Max Barclay's huge beetle collection at the Entomology Station, due to the avid fans around him.


Ed Baker's Past and Present Insects Station - live cockroaches in the container to the right of the boy!


When I returned later from the office, around 8pm, it was really packed and Central Hall along had that amazing feeling of 'the place to be'. But the Museum tours were by now fully booked up, so I missed these. I met friends who had joined The Vault tour and were raving about Alan Hart our mineralogist who led this tour. They were also charmed by the live chameleon that had greeted them near the front desk.

The live chameleon at the front desk, what a charmer

Around mid-evening it was pretty difficult to get close to any of the science stations so we headed to The Science Bar. Aoife, the bar's stewardess for the night, was shepherding the next batch of guests to their tables, with scientists at the ready to join the conversations. It was obvious they were all having a brilliant time. Aoife told me afterwards: 'It was probably the most intense and rewarding experience I've ever had. The scientists loved it. But I didn't get to sit down all evening or have a minute's break." I think the latter sentiment was echoed by many of the scientists and volunteers involved in the night's activities.


The Whale Hall tour led by Roberto Miquez, especially popular because there was also a Spanish translator to hand


The Darwin Centre's Forensics Station was a real hit, thanks to lots of recent press coverage for our forensic insect experts

Drifting over finally to the Darwin Centre, past a huge bone (or what is it a fossil?) being presented at the Natural History Roadshow, we made it to the Hendrick's Bar of Curious Concoctions. Annoyingly it was closing, but the manager proudly announced to us that they'd given away over 700 gin and tonics. He waved a huge wadge of postcards at us, shouting, 'we'll have to sort all these next, it's been fantastic.' I guess we'll hear more of those quirky 'natural history' stories exchanged for free spirits at a later point. But Hendrick's gin has now joined many of my colleagues' drinks collections that's for sure.


'We gave away over 700 free gin and tonics' announced the Hendrick's bar manager proudly at closing time

On my way out as the event was finishing, I met Laura Harmour the event co-organiser with press officer, Sam Roberts. Both had big smiles on their faces. 'Wow, what a success, worth all the hard work and why were we panicking people wouldn't come!' we laughed. Ringing in my ears were Sandy Knapp's witty observations on freeze drying potatoes up in the Andes and Mike Rumsey's erudite identification of an opal that a visitor had thrust in his face on her ringed finger. Let's hear it for the scientists, thought I. It really was their night.



Rare botanical books revealed by Mark Spencer on the Leafing through the Past tour behind the scenes

There were disappointments for those who couldn't get on the Museum tours and frustration at not getting as close to some of the scientists and their specimens as some would have liked. But hey, it was the first time we staged such a massive science event. Lessons to be learned and as Stephen Roberts, organiser of the event says, 'we'll do it better next time.'


The atmospheric Fossil Way bar


Science Uncovered, au revoir.


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