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They may be small and spotty, but ladybirds were certainly one of the most photographed and collected creatures on our Big (and blustery) Nature Day at the Museum. Actually, this may cause our scientists a bit of concern because many of the ones found were the invasive harlequin ladybirds, Harmonia axyridis.
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A selection of ladybird photos taken on Big Nature Day. Top row: All harlequin ladybirds, first is a larva. Bottom row: Left, an orange harlequin; middle and right, a 7-spot ladybird emerging from its pupa - its yellow colour turns to red in about 24 hours.

On the day hundreds of visitors, including many excited children and myself, joined in the Big Nature Count, a bioblitz of the Museum's Wildlife Garden. Researchers and volunteers were out and about with traps, nets and  cameras, conducting samples of wildlife in the 24-hour nature census. A  big malaise trap tent had been set up for flying insects, light traps  for moths and pitfall traps - little jars in the ground - to attract   ground beetles and slugs.

 

We were celebrating the International Day for Biological Diversity on 22 May. It was sure to be a busy event. With over 300 plant species in the garden there is a lot to attract a wide variety of insects.

Watch the Big Nature Day highlights in this video

The meeting point was the Base Camp tent outside on the Darwin Centre Courtyard, where groups could follow Big Nature Count guided tours with our Museum scientists. But many people simply made their own trails through the Wildlife Garden.

 

Inside the Base Camp tent, scientists sorted through the samples collected. There were lots of things to see, like a huge stag beetle that I even let run across my hand.

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Base Camp: Visitors and researchers sift through samples collected and get hands-on. Right: Investigating plant galls on a sycamore leaf, the red swellings are the plant's defensive response to attack from mites. Select all images to enlarge them

Out in the Wildlife Garden on our discovery trails, we stopped at various tables dotted around the meadows and ponds. Here, helpful experts suggested places to search. On the tables were displays of creatures and samples already collected. My favourite place was the pondlife table. I got rather attached to a shy toad.

 

Heading into the Darwin Centre atrium after our garden adventures, we had some of our photos printed and added to the Photo wall (below left). After that, it was off to the Specimen Roadshow (below right) to marvel at Ed Buller's flies and wasps, Sandy Knapp's vegetable extravaganza and some 'mucky' soil identification tests.

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Because of the gusty weather, there weren't many moths collected in the traps set the night before. And the

recent dry spell meant the worms decided to stay underground. Emma Sherlock who led the worm charming sessions said:

 

'There were lots of people, but not many worms sadly. Strangely the winning worm charming technique was the stamping while playing the tamborine... hmmm!'


big-nature-day-specimen-roadshow.jpgOur entomologists, however, were excited to discover an unusual fly in the day's bioblitz. The little drab wood soldier fly, hasn't been seen before in the Wildlife Garden. Read the news story about the unusual fly found in the Museum's garden bioblitz.

 

All in all, hundreds of plant and animal species were found in the Big Nature Count. Most of the creatures collected were set free after they had been recorded, but a few individual specimens will be kept in the Museum's collection because they are important for research. It will take a bit more time to identify everything and interpret the findings so we can understand more about our local wildlife, but we hope to have a final count shortly.

 

Look out for a video account of the day coming soon.


Find out more about the Wildlife Garden

 

Learn more about harlequin ladybirds


Get involved in British natural history

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Here's one of my favourite photos taken at the Big Nature Day of a flower beetle, Oedemera lurida, feeding on the pollen of an ox-eye daisy.
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There's no doubt about it, when you join us for our Big Nature Day extravaganza this Sunday on 22 May, you'll get your hands dirty.


But that's pretty essential if you're going to help our scientists and wildlife experts in the Big Nature Count to find and identify how many different species of plant and animal there are in our Museum Wildlife Garden. It's a 24-hour census - or a bioblitz race for those familiar with the term -  to celebrate International Day for Biological Diversity and International Year of Forests, as well as the start of the UN's Decade on Biodiversity.

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Can you handle it? Find out which worm charmer to be on Big Nature Day with our experts in the BBC film clip on our website

As Stuart HIne, manager of our Centre for UK Biodiversity says: 'We have many visitors to the Wildlife Garden, from our regular human ones to more unusual visitors such as honeybees, damselflies and hawkmoths. In fact, since the garden opened in 1995, we’ve recorded more than 2,000 different species and it would be great to know what's about on Sunday.'

 

Along with the regular Big Nature Count guided tours, worm charming (above) will be a popular highlight of the day. There are two sessions at 12.00 and 15.00. The recent rain should help lure the worms to the ground's surface. Although we're hoping that the sun will shine gloriously on the day, of course.

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Spot the spots on the ladybirds you find and watch out for cockchafer May bugs on the Big Nature Count guided tours. Select images to enlarge

Other garden action includes the Bugs Count, Tree Hunt, moth trap checking, investigating pond life, and check out the Bee Tree.

 

Inside the Darwin Centre, head over to the Specimen Roadshow to identify your favourite specimens (or bring in a picture) and there are nature talks in the Darwin Centre's Attenborough Studio.

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Look around and above, plants and trees may hide moths (like this Poplar hawkmoth, left) and butterflies. There are eight common trees in the Wildlife Garden to identify. Select images to enlarge

Take pictures on the day

Most important of all, though, bring your cameras or have your mobile phone to the ready to snap the species you do manage to spot. With these, you can help us create a spectacular Photo Wall in the Darwin Centre atrium at the Interactive Media area. You can print your pictures here for the display or upload them with your comments to our Big Nature Day guestbook on the computers available or at home afterwards.

 

Big Nature Day is a free, drop-in event that will appeal to all ages, but you'll need to book on the tours and worm charming sessions.

 

When you arrive at the Museum head for the West lawn or Darwin Centre atrium where you'll be directed to the Base Camp in the Darwin Centre Courtyard, the hub for the day's activities, and where you can see lots of special displays.

 

Keep up to date on our Big Nature Day website for the Big Nature Count tours schedule and latest information

 

Get prepared for the activities on Big Nature Day by watching some great how-to nature videos on our website

 

Explore the Museum's Wildlife Garden

 

Discover what else is on for the International Year of Biodiversity

 

Visit our newly-launched Decade on Biodiversity website

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Yann Arthus-Bertrand film treats at the French Institute on 22 May and on the International Year of Forests website

If you want to see an amazing nature documentary by The Earth From Above photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, head over to the nearby French Institute for a special free screening of Home at 18.30. Our Museum botanist Sandy Knap is introducing the film. Although it's free you need to book a place on their website.

 

Find out about booking for the special screening of Home at the French Institute

 

You can also catch a glimpse of Yann's special short fiilm for the International Year of Forests on the official website

 


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Rare bird and egg specimens collected more than 100 years ago take the spotlight in an intriguing new exhibition, the Secret World of Museum Science, opening today, 16 May, in the Natural History Museum at Tring's Gallery 2. The exhibition is free and runs until 6 November.

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Rare specimens in The Secret World of Museum Science exhibition opening today at our Tring Museum have helped scientists in their research. Left: Peregrine falcon egg similar to ones used to explain the dramatic decline of the species back in the 1960s. Right: Rockhopper penguin, Eudyptes chrysocome, feather samples have recently been analysed against live birds today to find out why there is a drop in population.

Our Tring Museum has the largest collection of bird specimens in the world and this new showcase will give us a glimpse not only of these historic, behind-the-scenes specimens and their stories, but of their importance to Museum research and science.

 

'The exhibition explores the relevance of what has been collected and identifed at Tring and demonstrates how the collection is being used for current scientific purposes' says Dr Robert Prys-Jones, head bird curator at Natural History Museum at Tring.

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Another highlight in the exhibition is a rare composite skeleton of a dodo (left) Raphus cucullatus collected during the 1860s from the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean. It is seldom seen on public display.

 

I asked Alice Dowswell the exhibition's curator how things were going with the installation:

 

'We’ve been working closely with the bird group curators to install all the specimens, including the fragile dodo skeleton. Staff members have been testing out the video unit, watching clips of interviews with our bird curators talking about some of the projects they and our specimens have been involved in including clips about Darwin’s mockingbirds, fraud in the collections and peregrine falcon eggs.

 

'We’ve also been having fun with our dodo dig - brushing away sand to reveal model dodo bones and comparing them to the real thing on display nearby.'

 

The exhibition includes games and four videos of bird research, historic and current, featuring Darwin's mockingbirds research, the restoration of the Mauritian ecoystem where the dodo became extinct, the Meinertzhagen collection fraud and peregrine falcon egg findings.

 

You can see one of these online on our website. Watch the Restoring the Mauritian ecoysytem home of the dodo video.

 

Find out about visiting Tring Museum

 

More about our bird research at Tring

Enjoy some more photos of specimens featuring in the exhibition. Select them to enlarge.

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This Blue lorikeet parrot, Vini peruviana, from an island in southeast Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean, is one of  the oldest specimens in the Tring bird collection. It was probably  collected on one of Captain Cook's voyages between 1768 and 1779. That  means it's at least 232 years old.
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Wild budgerigars, Melopsittacus undulatus, are small, streamlined parrots, the wild ancestors to pet budgies. There are many such specimens in the Tring collections. Budgerigars can see ultraviolet (UV) light and have patches of plumage that glow under IV.

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Red kite, Milvus milvus, became extinct in England from 1871 but was introduced in 1989 in the Chilterns with a growing population today. This is the first specimen of this species in our collection from the Chilterns area since their re-introduction and was donated to the Museum after it was found dead on a roadside.

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This is the only example of the extinct
Fiji bar-winged rail, Nesoclopeus poecilopterus, preserved in spirit anywhere in the world, held in our collection.

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Clutches of cuckoo and host eggs, like the nightingale and hedge sparrow used to research how cuckoo eggs match the host eggs

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Beautiful tail feathers of the Bohemian waxwing, Bombycilla garrulus, carefully cleaned and preserved by our curators. This specimen is a recent addition to the collections and was presented to the Museum in the winter of 2010 after it collided with a window and died.

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Specimens like this Steller's sea eagle, Haliaeetus pelagicus, claw shows the structure of the foot, with bones and tendons still in place

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Yes today, our most iconic and much-loved Central Hall Diplodocus dinosaur display is 106 years old! And looking good on it too.

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Diplodocus carnegii in the Central Hall. The famous skeleton cast is 26 metres long and has 356 individual bones. Select image to enlarge

Thanks to King Edward VII and the Scottish-born millionaire Andrew Carnegie, Dippy - as our 26-metre-long sauropod skeleton plaster cast is affectionatey known here - was unveiled at 1pm in the Museum on 12 May 1905.

 

It was the first full skeleton of a sauropod dinosaur to go on display in the world and understandably caused a stir. Sauropods were the very large, plant-eating dinosaurs, with famously long necks and tails that lived about 150 million years ago in the Late Jurassic Period.

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Diplodocus means 'double-beam' which refers to the shape of some of the lower tail bones, called chevrons. Although there are estimations that Amphicoelias is the longest dinosaur, Dippy is still the longest dinosaur from a completely known individual.

 

A recent Museum book about Dippy written by our dinosaur expert Paul  Barrett (along with Polly Parry and Sandra Chapman), opens with this:

 

dippy-book-angle-drop-800px.jpg''Dippy is not a real skeleton, but an exact plaster replica of fossilised  bones found in the badlands of Wyoming, USA, and now housed in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh. The London Diplodocus was first revealed to an astonished public in 1905 and became an instant media star, depicted in numerous newspaper cartoons and news reports. Dippy continues to enthral the public and has even had a  starring role in movies and TV shows.'

 

According to the book, visitors often ask how to pronounce Diplodocus. As the name is a combination of two Greek words, it should sound like 'dip-low-dock-us' with the emphasis on the 'dip' and the 'dock'. However, there are lots of variations on this, ranging from 'dip-low-doe-cus' to 'dip-lod-oh-cus'. I'm still not sure myself, which is probably why a lot of us just stick with Dippy.

 

Dippy: the tale of a museum icon is a great read, and is on sale in the Museum shop and our online shop.

 

Read all about Dippy's 106 years here at the Museum in the latest news story


Other dinosaur delights for our visitors and featuring animatronic models are the Age of the Dinosaur summer exhibition and the Dinosaurs gallery.

 

Find out lots of fantastic facts about Diplodocus on our Dino Directory Top 5 fact file.

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Mark Dion's slide lecture My Taxidermy Taxonomy on Thursday afternoon, 12 May, here in the Attenborough Studio promises to present a fascinating look at the issues of the preservation of animal skins and pickled organs and the many practices of taxidermy and their cultural significance.

 

This public lecture is a rare opportunity to hear Mark Dion speak at the Museum.

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What is it about stuffed animals? Artist Mark Dion will be talking about one of his pet obsessions at this week's talk. Installation detail:  An Account of Six Disastrous Years in the Library for Animals, At the Centrum Sztuki Wspólczesnej, Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw 1992.

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We'll get to share in the stories, curiosities and oddities that Mark unearths from museum archives around the world. And the artist will discuss how taxidermy is linked to extinction and colonialism and how it defines the wider role of the museum in contemporay society.

 

Mark Dion (left) is an American artist whose work features aspects of archaeology, ecology and detection and collecting. He is fascinated by the principles of taxonomy - the systems by which people seek to bring order to the world. He has been inspired by 19th-century naturalists like Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.

 

We worked with Mark previously on the Systema Metropolis exhibition in 2007. Mark has a new exhibition in Monaco.the-collector-1000.jpg

 

You can see some of his previous work online at the Tanya Bonakdar gallery in New York where he has a permanent dsplay.

 

Our lecture this week is a preview to a closed workshop being held here the following day for the museum and collections collaborative AHRC (Arts and Humanities Reseach Council) Network Cultures of Preservation. The Afterlife of Specimens between Art and Science since the Eighteenth Century. Invited experts will gather at the Museum to consider the aesthetics and cultural significance of anatomical and zoological specimens.

Right: Mark Dion's The Collector, 2004, on show at the Tanya Bonakdar gallery in New York.
Enjoy some more of Mark Dion's catalogue. Select to enlarge

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Library for the Birds of Massachusetts, 2005

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Library for the Birds of Massachussets detail, 2005

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Urban Wildlife Observation Unit, installation in Madison Square Park, New York. 2002

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Alexander Wilson - Studio, 1999

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Library for the Birds of Antwerp, 1993

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Polar Bears and Toucans [from Amazonas to Svalbard], 1991

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The Wildlife Garden is gorgeously green at the moment and smells ever so lush. And this weekend it unveils its lusciousness on Sunday 8 May for the first in a series of weekend events that will be happening each month until October.

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Pink delights in the Wildlife Garden, open for its first weekend event on 8 May: Left, ragged robin and right, red campion. Select all images to enlarge them

Our Spring Wildlife event on Sunday starts at midday and along with the cakes, refreshments and a plant sale, there will be great discoveries to make at the display tables dotted around and in the meadows and the big garden shed.

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Join the bluebell demonstration and take a peep inside the bee tree (photographed last year) - once again home to a thriving colony this spring

You can try identifying seeds and fruits through microscopes, do a spot of leaf rubbing, find out about spring-flying insects and life in the nettle patch as well as spotting enormous tadpoles in the pond.

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If you want to learn how to attract birds or bats to your own garden, catch the advice of the experts who will be in the garden. There will also be a chance to witness a demonstration of how to survey bluebells and tell the difference between native and hybrid ones, just before they vanish for the year.

 

Walk along the pathways carpeted with plane tree seeds and secluded by pretty guelder roseand dog roses (most of the blossom has gone now) and look out for the dainty orange-tipped butterflies (right) flitting about and a few busy bees making their way back to the bee-tree colony (above). Also watch out for the cute little moorhen chicks on the pond. Caroline, the garden's manager, counted five last week.

 

There are yellow iris, red campions and ragged robin wildlflowers to enjoy too.

 

At 12.30 and 14.30, you can see more specimens close up and hear from our Nature Live team at the Springing into Life talk.in the nearby Darwin Centre Attenborough Studio.

 

Coming up next this month in the garden is the Great Museum Bioblitz on our Big Nature Day on 22 May with a tree hunt that's also being trialled this Sunday. So watch out for more news of that.

 

Find out more about the Wildlife Garden

 

Join our online bluebell survey