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Congratulations to 8-year-old Beth Sparkes pictured here, who is the overall winner in the Wild Planet Art Competition organised by Oldfield Park Junior School, following their visit to the Wild Planet exhibition currently on show in the centre of Bath.

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Young Beth with her winning Leopard Cub painting in front of Peter Chadwick's Leopard Cub image at Wild Planet in Bath. Photo courtesy Bath Chronicle

Beth’s picture of a leopard cub was selected from more than 50 pieces of artwork created by the Year 3 pupils. As part of their study of habitats they were encouraged to choose one of the Wild Planet photographs.

 

All of the completed artworks will be on display during the summer holidays in the shop next to the Wild Planet store on Stall Street (opposite the Roman Bath's shop).

 

Oldfield Park Junior School teacher Penny Jenner said, ‘The Year 3 children have shown great enthusiasm for this project. They enjoyed visiting the Wild Planet exhibition and have shown talent and ingenuity in their artwork. We were proud of the results which will be shown in this special exhibition throughout the summer.’

 

Our Wild Planet outdoor photographic exhibition is displayed in Bath’s Abbey Churchyard and along Union Street until 23 September and features images from the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

 

A visit to the Wild Planet exhibition has something for all ages. From cheeky meerkats and baby gorillas, to strolling tigers and snorkelling elephants, children can get close to nature with the large-scale, dramatic images that aim to inspire and educate a new generation of nature enthusiasts.

 

There's also the chance to become a nature explorer by collecting a special quiz from the Wild Planet Store on Stall Street opposite the Roman Bath’s shop, and have fun hunting down the answers. Children who return their completed questionnaires are invited to choose a free Wild Planet postcard from the shop as a memento of their wild day out.

 

Other mementoes of this magical exhibition include affordable gifts for children like their own fluffy meerkat to take home, sticker books and animal fridge magnets. The Wild Planet Store also has Animal Detective; Travel the Globe animal spotting game, crystal growing boxes, pocket microscopes, paint and play African animals, and rock hopper penguin and green turtle jigsaw puzzles for rainy day entertainment.

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On 20 July 2011, we celebrate the 207th birthday of Sir Richard Owen, the driving force behind the creation of the Natural History Museum, which during his time was called the British Museum of Natural History.

 

It was in 1856 that Owen became the first Superintendent of the British Museum's natural history departments and immediately began to campaign for a new museum dedicated to natural history. The rest is history.. well, natural history to be exact.

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Portraits of the Museum's founding father and inventor of 'dinosaurs', Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892) as a young man and later on in life

Sir Richard Owen was one of the most important scientists in history, but many may not know his name. Besides being the founding father of our Museum, he achieved many great things in his long life, from coining the word 'dinosaur' to revolutionising the study of animal anatomy and creating the life-size Crystal Palace dinosaurs that we can still see today (pictured below).

 

Without him the world of natural history and the Museum would be very different. During the height of his power he was a celebrity of Victorian England and even gave the Queen's children biology lessons.

 

But Owen was also a controversial figure. His gifts to science and the country brought him incredible fame and power. With these came enemies. His manipulative and hostile personality didn't gain him favours and his rivalry with Darwin and Darwin's supporters was well-known. Later on, his reputation suffered as allegations of taking credit for other scientists’ work abounded.

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After his death, his legacy was forgotten and it has only been in the last two decades that his story has been revived.

 

Join us on Wednesday 20 July at 14.30 in the Attenborough Studio for a special Nature Live talk celebrating Sir Richard Owen's birthday. We'll rediscover exactly what Owen did for us, explore his life and delve into why he is still controversial today.

 

Left: Admire our statue of Sir Richard Owen in the mezzanine gallery behind the Central Hall when you next visit. (Turn left at the top of the grand Central Hall staircase.)

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Right: Dinosaur models sculpted by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins working closely with Joseph Paxton and Sir Richard Owen, were installed in the world's first dinosaur park which opened at Crystal Palace Park in 1854.

 

Find out more about Sir Richard Owen online

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The Museum's Sensational Butterflies exhibition is definitely the fluttery flavour of the week. Not only has an incredibly rare half-female-half-male butterfly hatched in the exhibition's butterfly house very recently, Sir David Attenborough also made a very special appearance there today.

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The rare dual-sex butterfly recently hatched in our Sensational Butterflies exhibition is a great mormon, Papilio memnon, from Asia. One half is female, with paler colours and blue, red and tortoiseshell flecks. The other half is male and is darker.

The discovery of this unusual dual-sex butterfly - such creatures are called gynandromorphs - caused huge excitement in the Sensational Butterflies exhibition when it was originally spotted. Gynandromorphy happens very occasionally across a range of species, from spiders to crabs. The word comes from gyn which is Greek for female and andro which is Greek for male.

 

Luke Brown (below right), manager of the exhibition's butterfly house says:

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'Pure bilateral gynandromorphs are incredibly rare. I have only ever come across two in my whole career. So you can understand why I was bouncing off of the walls when I learned that a stunning half male, half female bilateral gynandromorph had emerged in the puparium at this year’s Sensational Butterflies exhibition. Many permanent butterfly exhibitions will go through their entire existence without ever seeing one of these rarities.’

 

The gynandromorph butterfly, however, may not be around for much longer. These species, sadly, only live for two to three weeks.

 

Read the news story and learn more about the gynandromorph discovery at Sensational Butterflies

 

Our other exciting and famous visitor to Sensational Butterflies today, which some lucky schoolchildren were lucky to catch a glimpse of, was Sir David Attenborough. He was here to help launch the Big Butterfly Count project organised by the Butterfly Conservation group which asks us to help record butterfly sightings from 16 to 31 July.

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Children from The Russell School in Richmond with Sir David Attenborough are charmed by a swallowtail at the Big Butterfly Count launch in our butterfly house this morning.

'Butterflies are one of the stars of the British countryside. Summer just wouldn’t be summer without them' says Sir David

 

It's the second year running for the Big Butterfly Count and last year more than 10,000 people took part with 189,000 butterflies counted This year's results may help reveal the impact of our record-breaking spring weather.

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Our Sensational Butterflies exhibition with its butterfly house full of 100s of live exotic butterflies and moths is highly recommended for a summer holiday visit. Open until 11 September 2011. Tickets £3.50.

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As you approach the butterfly house marvel at the glorous outdoor garden (above) where you can learn butterfly-attracting tips for your own garden. Inside the butterfly house, who knows what else may hatch in the coming months? You might even catch sight of the extraordinary Madagascar moon moth (right). But remember when you visit, it's hot, hot, hot in the house, 'cos that's the way the butterfly beauties like it.

 

Find out about our Sensational Butterflies exhibition

See some exhibition highlights

Buy Sensational Butterflies tickets online

 

The nationwide OPAL Bugs Count also asks you to look for butterflies, in particular the small tortoiseshell butterfly. There are a humungous 380,041 bugs counted so far at the time of writing, but it grows larger every minute!

 

Learn more about the butterfly life cycle

More photos taken at the Sensational Butteflies exhibition this week. Select images to enlarge them

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Last week we honoured Captain Scott's heroic three-man team who on 27 June 1911 set off on one of the worst Antarctic journeys ever known to find Emperor penguin eggs in Cape Crozier.

 

Coincidentally, it was also the week we remembered some much younger Arctic explorers and their school teacher Philippa Wood. This courageous team were marooned on the Canadian Arctic's tiny Qurlatuq Island in 1978 while collecting plants, crustaceans and butterfly specimens for a scientific youth project. Before the trip, the team were trained by some of our scientists at the Museum.

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Science teacher Pip Wood (right) presents Museum scientists Roy Vickery and Blanca Huertas with Arctic plant and butterfly specimens collected on a school expedition in 1978 that we helped to train up.

Pip (Philippa) now teaches at a girls school in Reigate and she visited the Museum last week with thirty of her pupils to donate the plant and butterfly specimens she collected on the original 1978 Arctic expedition. She told us:

 

'The plants and other artefacts such as mounted seal flipper bones, a caribou hoof, a snowy owl pellet, and polar bear poo (full of bear fur from either preening or possibly a cub meal for an adult male) have been visual teaching aids over the years.

 

'I intend to retire in July 2012, and as my present school, Dunnotar Girls School in Reigate, is such a lovely place to work, I hoped a donation could somehow involve the girls and be used as a source of inspiration. Every teacher can only hope to provide an experience which may lead who knows where in later years for the students.'

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The original Arctic school trip known as BYEX 78 - Baffin Island Youth Expedition of 1978 - took place in the summer months of that year and lasted six weeks.

 

The BYEX 7-strong team of 16-19-year-old boys and girls from three Surrey state schools were the first team of youngsters that included girls to climb to the height they reached in the Arctic. In fact, it was the first-ever state school trip. They were accompanied by four adults including Pip who was responsible for collecting plants on the trip.

 

Their exploration was full of dramatic, ice-cracking adventures!  The expedition was even featured in a BBC programme about young explorers.

 

Pip recalls the scientific challenges on the expedition (pictured right and below):

 

'We were on Baffin Island in Arctic Canada, but the majority of specimens we collected were from a one-mile-square island, called Qurlatuq, southeast of Broughton Island, where we were marooned for two weeks as the sea wasn't passable by either sledge or boat!

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'We managed to do a line transect across the top of the island (about 200m) using surveying and climbing skills, data collection (pH, salinity, aspect, altitude, etc) and identification skills.'

 

When the 1978 expedition group returned home, the crustacean specimens collected were handed over to our Museum. But Pip hung on to the plant and butterfly specimens as more time was needed to verify and label them. They then became teaching aids. And now they have arrived here 33 years later.

 

Among the scientists who trained Pip and her team before they headed out on their original expedition was Museum botanist Roy Vickery (above left with Pip). Roy has now retired but still works at the Museum as a Scientific Associate.

 

Both Roy and our butterfly curator, Blanca Huertas, were present at the handover of Pip's specimens last week. Roy says:

 

'When we gave advice about how to collect to school and university expeditions like this one, it was usual for them to donate their collections soon after the completion of their expeditions, but it was often far more difficult to obtain the label data for them. So it's good, after all these years, to receive Pip's specimens, which have been beautifully prepared and fully labelled.

 

'At a time when climate change threatens the Arctic flora, it's great to have Pip's specimens as a record of what was growing in her expedition's area 33 years ago.'

 

The 36 plant specimens donated include an Arctic poppy, rose, sunflower, evening primrose, bluebell, mustard and willow, as well as one fern family. Of the beautiful butterflies, 'one is a 'yellow' and four are fritillaries,' says Pip. They are now being examined and identified by our scientists.

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The Arctic Baffin Island Youth Expedition of 1978 lasted six weeks. Crustaceans, plants and butterflies were collected.
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On a summer’s day in the Wildlife Garden and the Museum grounds, you might find several hundred different kinds of insects. If you count the individuals, including the honey bees and ants, then maybe thousands. Who knows, they might even outnumber the daily throng of human visitors to our galleries and exhibitions.

 

Indeed, there are more species of insect in the world than any other  group - experts have named over 1 million. (Some entomologists even  estimate 10 million species.) And not a day goes by for us humans, I’m  sure, without an encounter with at least one or many of them.

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Discover insect life this weekend in the Wildlife Garden as you  explore the meadows by the ponds. There are displays, activities and  tours and also talks in the nearby Darwin Dentre to join.

Come along on Saturday and Sunday, 2 and 3 July, to Insect Weekend in the Wildlife Garden and Darwin Centre and meet some of this multitudinous and diverse group. Find out about the buzzers, flutterers and crawlers from bees to beetles and damelflies to butterflies and moths.

 

On both days, there will be lots of fun activities for all ages, and many displays to explore.

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What will you see at Insect Weekend under the microscope? And tread carefully by the ponds, froglets are about. Select images to enlarge

Recent sightings in the garden includes lots of butterflies, from large white to comma, holly blue and speckled wood varieties.

 

Tiny froglets and toadlets are emerging from the ponds, so you'll need to tread carefully in the grasslands by the ponds. And don't forget the hundreds of tropical butterflies to see next door on the East lawn in our Sensational Butterflies exhibition.

 

Another highlight of the weekend event on Sunday will be botany expert Roy Vickery's tour of the garden about the 'forgotten uses of wild plants'. The 30-minute tours start around 1.45 and 3.15.

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Spiders are distant relatives of insects but that doesn't seem to bother them when it comes to their dietary requirements. Not sure what would escape this spider web photographed recently in the Wildlife Garden!

Visitors will get an insight into the insect diets of other creatures like bats, spiders and frogs. Apparently, at last month's Bat Festival in the Wildlife Garden, a lttle pipestrelle  bat spent nearly an hour flying over and around the main pond, in  pursuit of midges and other small insects. It caused a bit of a stir! And the Wildlife Garden team will be doing a bat survey on Saturday.

 

Max Barclay's Beetlemania talk and his collection highlights on Saturday are sure to be popular and another talk on Sunday, Caught in a Trap, will reveal the secrets of collecting insects. Both free talks are in the Attenborough Studio at 12.30 and 14.30.

 

Find out about the Wildlife Garden online

What is an insect?

Insects (from the Latin insectum) are a class of living creatures within the arthropods that have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body (head, thorax, and abdomen), three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae.

 

Find out more about insects and spiders on our Nature Online pages

 

Every day we get enquiries about identifying strange looking insects on our online Identification forum

 

Join the OPAL Bugs Count survey - an amazing 204,205 bugs have already been counted so far.

 

Read the Bug Count launch news story and find out the 6 minibeasts to look out for