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Nature Live

October 2009
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Here in Nature Live we never miss an opportunity to celebrate and Halloween is no exception.  

 

Today we were on a mission to find the scariest creature in the sea. It was a face-off between Ollie Crimmen, fish curator, and Jon Ablett, mollusc curator, and it got pretty competitive in the studio!  

 

Both of them chose some 'scary' sea creatures and had to convince our audience to vote for them. Who had the power to scare? 

 

Jon chose to advocate the Geography Cone Snail, which looks harmless enough, and Ollie went with the angler fish. 

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Image credit: Kerry Matz

Above: Jon chose the venomous cone snail

 

Jon explained that although it looks unassuming do not underestimate this snail. To catch its prey it shoots a harpoon which contains venom so potent that it could kill a human. Some say that it could be the most venomous creature in the world in relation to its size.  

 

Ollie chose the angler fish which definitely got the desired 'wow' effect when he revealed an impressive specimen that has been kept in alcohol for 15 years. He tried to win over the audience by explaining that these creatures live in the deep dark oceans and if you were the poor little fish it had lined up for lunch all you’d see are a few pretty lights and then it's lights out...for you.

 

Dying to find out who was crowned our Halloween winner? Well, no surprises for guessing that fangs beat the snail but if my vote counts for anything I would have chosen the deadly snail! 

 

Do you know any really scary sea creatures? And no, the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t count...

 

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Image © Natural History Museum

Above: The football fish that won Ollie the game

 


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A Perfect Storm....

Posted by vanessab77 Oct 28, 2009

.... was how the Museum was described to me on Sunday morning by a front of house colleague. He wasn't exaggerating! It was one of the busiest days I have seen in ages, the culmination of half term and the opening of the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year. It was also suggested that the extra hour of sleep marking the end of Daylight Savings motivated parents to get their kids out of the house.

 

Nature Live was a humbling experience this weekend, featuring seven of the photographers featured in the exhibition. The exhibition seems to get better every year and hearing about the time and effort that went into each picture, I can see why.

 

The photographers spoke of the thousands of photos taken, miles walked and hours waiting to get that one perfect photo. One compared having his photo win in his category as "on a par with winning an Oscar".

 

It was such an honour to meet the winners and hear the audible gasps from the audience as they showed images from their portfolios, collected in wild places around the planet.

 

This photo, "Bald eagle and blackbird" won the Behaviour: Birds category. Taken by Rob Palmer from the USA, the photo helped lead to the discovery that the birds had eaten a poison that disabled their usually excellent defense mechanisms, leaving them as easy prey for eagles such as this one.

 

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Image  © NASA

Above: NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured images of ice deposits, which would be crucial for the terraforming of Mars.

 

 

Today’s Nature Live featured Dr. Matt Genge, a planetary scientist who works at Imperial College. The event was part of the Future for Nature  season, so Matt began by reminding us that the population of the Earth is 7 billion and rising. If this continues we will eventually need the resources of  another planet, but is this even possible?


 

If humans do end up having to move to another planet, the most likely candidate is Mars. It is within the ‘goldilocks’ zone, ie not too close and not too far away from  the sun, so that temperatures are ‘just right’. Actually Mars is still too chilly for me -  rising to only a few degrees above freezing at the equator, but it’s definitely preferable to Venus, where the temperature is about 400 degrees centigrade.


 

But before we start packing, moving to a new planet is no easy task, so where do we begin? A common theme in science fiction is terraforming – changing the atmospheres of planets to make them habitable for humans.


 

Matt outlined one plan, based in science fact, for terraforming Mars. It would involve diverting asteroids or comets so that they crash into the planet, thereby melting ice deposits under the surface. The water vapour produced by these impacts would thicken the atmosphere, which would mean that  more heat is retained, so that temperatures slowly rise. With a warmer, wetter  atmosphere, microorganisms such as algae could be seeded to convert CO2 to  oxygen, making the atmosphere breathable for humans. Sounds simple enough.


 

Alas, all this will take a while to get going so I'm not hoping to see it ready in my lifetime, but at least it's nice to know that there are people out there who are thinking about the long-term future of our species.


 

In order to benefit from the terraforming technology we just need to survive the next few hundred years in the face of drastic environmental changes and dwindling resources. If we can do that then it would seem that anything is possible. Energy-saving light bulb anyone?


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Finally, Nature Live evening events are back!  Due to planning and preparation for the opening of the Darwin Centre, we haven’t been able to run any for quite some time…but that’s all about to change.    On the last Thursday of every month we hope to engage and enthuse with new vigour, starting this month. I have the unenviable task of hosting the first event!  ‘Great’ I thought and ‘uh oh…’ a certain amount of responsibility forcing it’s way upon my shoulders.  What if nobody comes?  What should the event be about?  How can I ensure it’s a success? Don’t get me wrong, I love hosting evening events.  But they’re longer and more complicated than daytime events….which means we’re able to offer more but also have to put in more effort! Advertising image sml.jpg

This month’s evening event is entitled Six-Legged Wonders….and is about, can you guess?  Insects!  Often misunderstood and commonly trodden upon (!), squashed and maligned, these animals are crucial to the well-being of our planet and have the most diverse and wonderful lifestyles imaginable. So, why not come along and join us for an evening of wine, nibbles and insect trivia.  Test your creepy crawly knowledge, lay your preconceptions aside and be inspired by the smaller creatures in life.  We’ll be in the brand new Attenborough Studio and will be joined by three museum entomologists (including Diptera blogger Erica McAlister).  Come and ask them your questions, take a closer look at some of our specimens and get an insight into what goes on behind the scenes of the Entomology Department.
Tickets cost £6 each and can be booked in person at one of our museum information desks, by phone on 0207 942 5555 or click here to buy online. See you there

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DSCN8315.JPGYesterday morning I have to admit I was a little worried when Max Barclay told me “Oh, and I won’t forget your beetle soup”. I had to wait for the event at 14.30 to be reassured that he wasn’t doing an all too literal recreation of life in the field for the Nature Live audience! Although he did mention that on occasion he has had to choose between starving and eating bugs for dinner; today beetle soup was actually the name of the amalgam of insects he collects in fieldtrips and brings back in bottles of alcohol.

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He brought along the bits and bobs from his collection kit, took us through some amazing landscapes, talked about the challenges of carrying the equipment through the forest (and how this is becoming easier because the forest is now much less vast and you can reach its 'heart' much faster). He also spoke about how he chooses where to go on an expedition and how to identify puma pee with butterflies!! (Handier than you might think!)

 

 

So, from the traps to the beetle soup: Max, live in the studio, sorted out one of his beetle soup bottles from Colombia and showed us all the identification and taxonomical work that takes place, which means that you can then find out if you have discovered new species.Picture10.jpg

 

All this, plus Max’s characteristic enthusiasm, questions and comments from the visitors, and lots of WoWs when some of the jungle beetles were revealed! After all this exploration, we hope to have inspired some of our visitors to not only be amazed by the beautiful beetles in our collections but realise their importance within the Earth’s ecosystems. Our collections are huge - 28 million of insects, 22,000 drawers of beetles – and aim to represent the entire world so they can be relevant in understanding life and defining strategies for the sustainability of our Planet!