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What's new at the Museum

192 Posts authored by: Rose
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Our Sexual Nature exhibition peeps out of its gallery shell and darts onto the streets in August, with the help of the Q20 Theatre group's musical Snail Courtship Show on the South Bank.

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The Snail Courtship Show rehearsing here on the Darwin Centre Coutyard before moving to the South Bank. Select images to enlarge them

Snail courtship is one of the many weird and wonderful examples of animal mating rituals that are currently on display in our Sexual Nature exhibition.

 

'The courtship ritual of the snail can be an unusual affair,' explains the exhibition's Interpretation Developer Tate Greenhalgh. ‘Roman snails shoot darts at one another in s&m-style foreplay. These darts stimulate the partners and aid fertilisation.’

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Incidentally, Roman snails (right) - so called because it is believed that they were introduced into the UK by the Romans - are now an endangered species and have legal protection from collection, killing and trade here.

 

The live snail show performance at South Bank combines music, theatre and science to tell its sticky love story, and is an example of how the Museum is bringing the science of its exhibitions to life. Each performance runs for about 20 minutes.

 

At the show, lucky onlookers will get the chance to grab an exclusive 2-for-1 deal on tickets to the Sexual Nature exhibition.

 

You can catch the gastropod peep show on the South Bank by the Q20 Theatre group on:

 

  • Friday 12 August, from 15.00 - 22.00
  • Sunday 21 August, from 12.00 - 17.00
  • Monday 29 August, from 12.00 - 17.00

 

As well as the Roman snail, visitors to our Sexual Nature exhibition here can learn about a cacophony of other animal mating habits and discover the surprising scientific truth behind sex in the natural world .The exhibition contains frank information and imagery about sex.

 

The 2-for-1 ticket offer will be available to Snail Courtship Show audiences until the close of the exhibition on 2 October 2011. The tickets are only usuable on weekdays.

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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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Animal fashion at Tring

Posted by Rose Jun 24, 2011

Some of our most well-known animal specimens at the Museum at Tring have inspired an exclusive fashion collection and also formed the backdrop to a recent fashion shoot in the Tring Museum's galleries.
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Beauty and the beasts: Tring's specimens inspired an exlusive scarf collection photographed and modelled at the Museum at Tring this month. Photos courtesy of Andy Barnham.

The exclusive new collection of fashion scarves is the creation of Royal College of Art (RCA) final-year textiles student, Emily Shipley. Her beautiful print designs were revealed at the RCA's graduate show in London this week.

 

Emma explains, 'I grew up near Tring and used to visit the Museum as a child. I always loved it. It seemed the perfect place to shoot my evolution-inspired scarf collection. Tring is a unique location: the quintessential home of zoology.

 

'The animals served as a perfect background to echo the prints on my scarves and I'm delighted with the final images.'

 

The designs feature gorillas, snakes and a variety of flora and fauna, and are influenced by the Darwinian theory of evolution and patterns in the natural world.

 

Read the news story about the exclusive fashion shoot at the Museum at Tring

Find out about the Natural History Museum at Tring

See Emma Shipley's nature-inspired designs

Enjoy some photos of Emma's designs from the fashion shoot at Tring. Select images to enlarge them

Those who know the weird and wonderful galleries at Tring may be familiar with the animals in the backgrounds and on the prints.

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Who's the daddy of them all?

Posted by Rose Jun 17, 2011

It's Father's Day this Sunday, and so time to salute the male of the species who go the extra mile in parenthood and childcare.

 

Top of the list must be the Pregnant male seahorse, Hippocampus angustus. This new-age man goes further than any other to get involved with parenting. The female seahorse impregnates the male, pumping him full of her eggs, which he fertilises and nurtures, giving birth to 100s of fully formed tiny babies. His reward is guaranteed paternity.

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Homemakers and hunters: Adelie penguins (left) and Swedish wolves (right) set great examples as dedicated dads.

Other dedicated dads are the Adelie penguins, Pygoscelis adeliae, (above left) who are house-proud homemakers. The males arrive at breeding grounds early and build nests from stones, often stealing from each other. When females arrive, the males invite them in and present them with pebbles to demonstrate their position on the propery ladder.

 

There was even a pair of male penguins at New York Central Zoo that hatched an egg and raised the chick together.

 

Then there's the super-heroes like the Midwife toad, Ayltes obstetricans, who keeps his kids tied to his apron strings by wrapping the eggs round his legs until he can take them safely to the water, when the tadpoles are ready to hatch. Or the Swedish wolf, Canis lupus (pictured above right from Sexual Nature exhibition) whose tireless hunting skills are crucial in the rearing of his wolf pups. The pups are born blind and deaf and utterly dependent on dad and mum.

 

For more insights into the world of parenting in the animal kingdom, visit the Sexual Nature exhibition showing now at the Museum.

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Been wondering why there are seahorses adorning the entrance to our Sexual Nature exhibition? Maybe it's because the males are so unique,

In the meantime, Happy Father's Day, human dads!


Find out about the Sexual Nature exhibition on our websiteor

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As Bath and nearby Glastonbury rev up for the festival season, the odds are on that our Wild Planet beech tree tee shirt is set to become a festival fashion hit. Glastonbury Festival owner, Michael Eavis, seemed very chuffed with his.

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Glastonbury festival owner, Michael Eavis, shows off his 'eco-chic' style with a Wild Planet exhibition tee-shirt in Bath. Photo by Lloyd Ellington of the Bath Chronicle

Wild Planet's stunning outdoor installation of wildlife images has been attracting lots of attention in Bath's busy central pedestrianised shopping area near the Abbey Churchyard, since opening in April. And the striking beech tree design, shown above, adorns several of the high-quality exhibition gifts. The design is inspired by 'Beech in the mist', one of the 80 photographs featured from past Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions.

 

The full range of gifts is on sale in the Wild Planet Store next to the exhibition and in the Museum's online shop.

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Wild Planet exhibition in Bath brings wild animals and places to the busy city centre and Abbey Churchyard. Select image to enlarge them

Another amazing photograph featured in Wild Planet is 'Rival kings', (pictured below left) by local photographer Andy Rouse (below right on location). Andy has won seven awards so far in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions and will give a Wild Planet lecture in Bath Abbey on Thursday 23 June at 18.00.

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From courting penguins to charging bull elephants, Andy will talk about some of his most extraordinary encounters with wildlife and the top locations he's visited to photograph the lives of animals and birds in the wild. He is known as a charismatic presenter, so all budding wildlife and photography enthusiasts if you're in or near Bath on Thursday, make his lecture a date for your diary.

 

You can book your free advance Andy Rouse lecture tickets at the Wild Planet store, located in Stall Street, Bath, near the exhibition. Or email: wildplanettickets@gmail.com

 

Find out about Wild Planet in Bath

 

Browse Wild Planet gifts online


Buy Wild Planet prints including Beech in the mist

 

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Left: 'Rival kings' by Andy Rouse. Highly commended in the Behaviour: Birds category for Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition 2006.

The photograph was set in the icy and eerily beautiful Falkland Islands landscape and provides an insight into the courtship between two king penguins. 'Kings are such  cool penguins... I love photographing them' says Andy.

See 'Rival kings' on display in Bath's Wild Planet outdoor exhibition.

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Right: Explore the exhibition images further in the Wild Planet book, available at the Wild Planet Store and online
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Do you know what bugs are living near you? Are some spiders more common in cities or in the countryside?

 

Help us find out by joining in the new nationwide Bugs Count survey launched today, 8 June, by the Museum and OPAL partnership. The scientists asking for our help want to know what bugs are out there and the differences between what we find in the cities or rural areas.

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Hunt for bugs in soil, short or long grass. Search on paving and outsides of buildings and on plants and shrubs.small-tortoiseshell-butterfly-crop.jpg

On your bugs hunt, keep a special eye out for six specific minibeasts, including the small tortoiseshell butterfly (right), which is in decline. Use the Species Quest bugs sheet to help in your identification.

 

Find out how to join in the OPAL Bugs Count and what resources you'll need

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You'll be surprised at what buggy creatures you can find in towns and the countryside.

 

On the recent Big Nature Count of our Wildlife Garden, we found over 60 species of bugs in a morning and the final count hasn't been done yet. As well as the unusual drab wood soldier fly, Solva marginata, discovered, there was a new Coleophora glaucicolella moth found, not recorded in the garden before. And just the other day, a Museum volunteer out on a field trip in Surrey's Bookham Common, found a population of scarlet malachite beetles, left, one of the UK's rarest insects.

 

Read the news story about the bug count and which six specific minibeasts you should look out for

 

Come along to the Museum's Attenborough Studio this Saturday, 11 June, to hear two Big City Big Hunt talks at 12.30 and 14.30 with our scientists. Afterwards, you can take part in various bug-hunting activities and pick up a Bugs Count pack in the Wildlife Garden.

What's a bug?

The term ‘bug’ is a widely used name for insects. In our Bugs Count we are including non-insect groups such as spiders, centipedes, millipedes and woodlice. These are all collectively part of the group called arthropods and are invertebrates.

 

True bugs are a specific group of insects that include shield bugs, water bugs, aphids, scale insects and others.

 

More bug information

 

Find out about bug identification in our Nature Online section

 

Join the Bug forum

 

Browse our Young naturalists page and enjoy the Big Nature Day video

 

Discover how to identify the Cockshafer May bug and watch the video


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Last year's Bat Weekend and its stars (see below) was one of our most popular events in the Wildlife Garden in 2010. And this year will be battier and better, because we're celebrating the Year of the Bat.

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Our Bat Festival this weekend on 4 and 5 June promises to be a great family day out. You can go on the bat bed and breakfast trail through the Wildlife Garden to find out what insects they eat and where they sleep, try out things like bat box building, make willow bats and do other batty crafts, as well as see bat specimen displays. I've also heard a rumour there will be bat-shaped shortbreads on the refreshments stalls.

 

If you head over to the nearby Darwin Centre, you can learn about echolocation and bat detection in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity. And in the Attenborough Studio there are two free bat talks at 12.30 and 14.30 on both days.

 

baby-bats.jpgJune is a particularly active month for bats because it's when the young are born, so it's a good time to find things out about them.

 

As in past years, the Sussex Bat Hospital and the Bat Conservation Trust will be joining us over the weekend and telling us about what they've been doing to help our bat community.

 

About 25 per cent of the world's bats are threatened with extinction. At least 12 species, such as the Puerto Rican flower bat, have already become extinct. That said, there are more than 1,100 species of bats worldwide, making up around  one-fifth of all mammals. And new bat species are

still being discovered.

 

The United Nation's Year of the Bat campaign is spearheaded by the Convention on Migratory Species and EUROBATS. It aims to highlight the unique role bats play in the environment and stress the urgency for global bat conservation. Historically bats have had a bit of a bad press - think Dracula, vampire bats etcetera - and the campaigners also want to give bats a fresh image.


So don't miss our festival, bats are depending on you to show support. And it's free.

Bats
  • are one of the most widely distributed groups of mammals. Flight has enabled them to live almost everywhere in the world. Bats are most numerous in the tropics, and Central and South America are home to almost one-third of the world’s bats. Indonesia has 175 species of bats while here in the UK we have 18 speciesbat-book.jpg
  • can be as big as a small dog or as small as a bee. The largest bats are the flying foxes with wingspans of up to 2 metres and a body weight of 1.5 kilograms. At the other end of the scale is the bumblebee bat or Kitti's hog-nosed bat, weighing only 2 grams – the world’s smallest mammal
  • are not blind
    • help replenish our forests and sustain other important eco-systems from deserts to wetlands. Through insect control, bats reduce crop damage and slow down the spread of disease. Many foods, medicines and other products are created thanks to bats, (including shortbread bats no doubt!)

    If you want to delve further into the world of bats, the Museum has just published a new edition of Bats by bat expert Phil Richardson.






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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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