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Nature Live

28 Posts tagged with the attenborough_studio tag
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In his book titled ‘What is Life?', British-born scientist JBS Haldane wrote:

‘The creator would appear as endowed with a passion for stars, on the one hand, and for beetles on the other’.

 

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An example of the beetle collections at the Museum.


Haldane was referring to the numerous nature of the coleopteran, or beetles as they are more commonly known. This order consists of more species than any other group. In fact, beetles make up around 40% of the total insects described. The Museum itself boasts an amazing collection of over 10 million species, meticulously stored in 22 thousand draws. This collection is constantly evolving and expanding.

 

Zambia

 

Nature Live took the opportunity to learn more about the entomologists' latest adventure – a trip to Zambia. Entomologist Lydia Smith spoke to the Nature Live team about their findings.


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The  landscape in Zambia.

 

Lydia spent 6 weeks travelling around Zambia collecting samples. Zambia has very varied terrain which provides plenty of scope for a diverse community of beetles and other organisms. The Museum's team worked closely with local guides to navigate the hostile environments. Lydia explained that their help was invaluable, she described them as ‘extremely helpful and excitable people’.

 

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Lydia with members of the Museum team and local guides.

 

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The team vehicle surrounded by dense vegetation.


Being in Zambia, the team was constantly surrounded an incredible array of wildlife, some of which interfered with their sampling. Hyenas and civet cats were both suspected of disturbing the insect traps.

 

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An elephant caught on film by a camera trap.

 

Camera traps caught glimpses of a variety of species, from elephants to elephant shrews. One day Lydia recalls picking up a beetle and receiving quite a shock – the beetle's backend exploded in her hand!  She had encountered a beetle she had only previously read about, the elusive ‘Bombardier beetle’. As a defence mechanism, this particular type of ground beetle ejects a chemical spray from the tip of their abdomen,  accompanied by a loud popping sound.


Field techniques

 

During the expedition, a number of techniques were used in order to obtain samples. Light traps were used at dusk to attract insects onto a large sheet or tent like structure where they could then be collected. This type of trap can be extremely effective at gaining samples of nocturnal species.

 

The team often used pitfall traps, which consist of a plastic cup that is submerged in the soil and partially filled with a preservative. An attractant is then suspended above the traps to draw insects towards the area. Dung or carrion is typically used. The dung is collected from local ungulates – or, in more remote areas, the dung is supplied by the researchers themselves!

 

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Dung and carrion are used to lure insects into these pitfall traps.

 

Mid-flight traps consist of a piece of Perspex suspended in the air and below the Perspex, a number of colourful trays that contain a small amount of water.

Perspex trap.jpgMid-flight traps in action

 

Another method involves beating branches and collecting the falling samples on a modified umbrella to capture tree-dwelling species. A pooter is then used to collect the samples from the umbrella.


Lydia explained the critical nature of the permits that allowed the team to bring samples back into the country. Samples, usually suspended in alcohol for preservation, are drained ready for transportation. They are then flown back. Upon hearing this, a younger member of the Nature Live audience curiously enquired…


‘Do the beetles sit next to you on the flight?’


Sadly invertebrates are not permitted in the cabin and are relegated to the hold. Once back at the Museum, the samples are refreshed with a new batch of alcohol and then the sorting process begins.


Back at the Museum


After a six week trip the team will spend up to six months processing all of their findings. While Lydia’s team is only particularly interested in beetles, they process the entire selection and divide the other insects into orders. These insects are then sent to their respective experts for further classification.

 

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A tiger beetle from the subfamily Cicindelinae, collected by Lydia Smith and the rest of the team.

 

From this particular expedition, the team have identified a number of new species, including wasps and rove beetles. The total number of new species is difficult to define as a rigorous procedure is followed, involving a number of different specialists before a final decision is made. Often insects are named after the region in which they are found, which helps to highlight the importance of the region and increase the likeliness that this area will be protected in the future.


Beetlemania was yet another superb insight into work at the Museum and in the field. If you are interested in beetles and would like to chat to an expert, there will be a number of the collections displayed at the Museum's upcoming event Science Uncovered on the 26 September.

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Fascinating giants that roamed four continents from circa 700,000 to 4,000 years ago: woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) have been the subject of countless conversations here at the Museum in recent months. So Nature Live thought they would go with the flow by tackling the question of just 'Why did the mammoths go extinct?' Prof Adrian Lister, an expert in vertebrate palaeobiology, led this Nature Live and presented the two main arguments.

 

Climate problems?

 

The first argument Adrian presented was the climate change theory: that mammoths used to rely on grasses as their primary food source, and were exclusively vegetarians. These grasses produced a meadow-like landscape, which was a hugely rich and high quality food source for the mammoths.

At the end of the last ice age, around 14,000 years ago, a warming climate caused forest habitat to spread north and gradallly replace grasslands that the mammoths relied on for food.

 

During the last ice age, these grass meadows expanded across the northern hemisphere, expanding the mammoths' geographic range. These grass meadows were above the tree line, as the grasses could successfully survive in lower temperatures than trees. Here fascinating video footage lit up the Attenborough Studio's big screens, showing the growth and change of distribution of these meadow grasslands across the last ice age.

 

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Woolly mammoths roamed the earth between ca. 700,000 to 4,000 years ago, before they were driven to extinction.

 

Adrian then described the range of specialist adaptations that woolly mammoths used to survive in this extreme habitat. The most obvious of these was the thick hair which insulated them from the harshly cold weather conditions. It turns out that mammoths actually had two types of hair: a very fine hair close to the skin trapping and warming the air for insulation, and a coarser hair on the outside to help shield them from cold wind and rain. In addition to these adaptations, woolly mammoths also had a thick layer of fat underneath their skin to further insulate them.

 

To the audience's amazement at this point a true sample of woolly mammoth hair was put underneath the visualiser in the Studio. The hair was thousands of years old yet fully intact, but this was only the start. Adrian then stepped forward to pick up a whole mammoth lower jaw, illustrating how it would swing back and forth when chewing.

 

Holding this in his hands in front of the live audience visually demonstrated just how large the teeth of a mammoth were, and the large size of the surface area required for chewing tough plant material like grass. Adrian made it clear that studying mammoth teeth gives researchers a much clearer idea of what they ate. With this increased understanding of what mammoths ate, researchers can better pinpoint factors that could have eventually led to their extinction.

 

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A woolly mammoth lower jaw like the one presented during the Nature Live by Adrian Lister, demonstrating their huge teeth used for grinding plant matter.

 

Frozen mammoths have even been discovered with food content still inside their stomachs or intestines, their 'last supper', as it were. Studying these remains of partially digested plant matter taken from inside a preserved woolly mammoth has proven that they certainly did eat grass as a food source.

 

Knowing for sure that mammoths ate grass supports the climate change theory of habitat change, as the grass plains began to contract at the end of the last ice age around 14,000 years ago. This was because the earth's climate was warming, and forest habitat was spreading north so gradually displacing the grasslands that mammoths relied on for their food.

 

Adrian explained how, by using radiocarbon dating, we can age mammoth remains very accurately, and this has now been used to age and plot every mammoth fossil ever found. This in turn means that scientists like him can identify and mark the change in woolly mammoth distribution over time. This crucial extinction timeline can then be matched against the known changes in reduced grass cover and the increased spread of forest growth up into the woolly mammoth's natural range.

 

When scientists compare the changing distribution of woolly mammoths to the changing distribution of their grasslands, they match. This suggests that the spread of the forest upwards into the higher latitudes would have pushed the woolly mammoths north. So it was this change in vegetation from grassland to forest that was a major contributing factor, ultimately leading to the mammoth's extinction.

 

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As the woolly mammoths' range contracted they became extinct. Studying them now could help prevent future mammal extinctions.

 

At this point Adrian then put forward a second theory, saying that "nothing in science is ever that simple." This second theory is that early humans could themselves have been responsible for driving the woolly mammoths to extinction. 

 

Hunted to extinction?

 

Evidence for the 'people theory' is that the period of time that woolly mammoth numbers were declining also coincided with a rapid increase in the numbers of people. There have been skeleton remains of mammoths found which show damage from a flint tool splintered off in the bone. In the studio, images of this were brought up on the screen, clearly showing a human-crafted spearhead lodged within a mammoth bone. This is evidence that early humans did at least occasionally hunt mammoths as large game, either as a source of food, or for materials to build shelter.

 

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Flint spear heads have been found splintered-off within mammoth fossils proving that they were occasionally hunted by early humans.

 

As this Nature Live approached its end, Adrian explained that both of these theories could in fact have worked together at the same time to conspire against the woolly mammoth, thus driving it to extinction. The change in the climate driving forests to spread north would have forced the woolly mammoth into very restricted habitat patches, making them a heavily endangered species; this, combined with hunting by humans could have dealt the final blow to the woolly mammoths, sending them to the icy grave of extinction.

 

The event did end on a more positive note when Adrian explained that the woolly mammoths' death was not in vain. Studying and understanding the reasons why large mammals like mammoths went extinct could help scientists like Adrian prevent the extinction of other large mammals in future. And research on mammoths is now being used to help try and protect African elephants (Loxodonta africana) from following their footsteps.

 

Watch Adrian summarise the theories behind the extinction in the Museum's film from the Mammoths: Ice Age Giants exhibition, which closes on 7 September:

 

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Intelligent, colour-changing, deep-water creatures that possess a beak as well as thousands of 'mini claws' and suckers on each tentacle... Not to mention different species going by the names of Giant and Colossal Squids... Cephalopods certainly made for interesting viewing in a specimen-packed Nature Live here in the Attenborough studio. Dr Jon Ablett showed us around these fascinating creatures one tentacle at a time in this aptly named 'Tentacle Tales' Nature Live.

 

As the audience strolled into the studio there were some dazzled-looking faces before the event had even started, due to the sheer array of pickled creatures and cephalopod limbs on display. However, when the lights dimmed all attention turned to Jon as he kicked off the event by describing the colour changing capabilities of cephalopods.

 

He explained that the biology behind cephalopod colour changing is far more advanced than that of the chameleon, the reptile often thought of as the master of colour change (e.g. we often say 'they demonstrated a chameleon-like ability to adapt to their surroundings'). Chameleons use differing levels of hormones in their blood stream to trigger their colour change. However, using the blood stream to achieve this means that the speed of the change is limited by the rate of blood flow around the body.

 

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The blue ringed octopus which uses its nervous system to trigger skin colour changes.

 

Cephalopods, on the other hand, trigger their colour changes via their nervous system, which is a far more rapid method of transmitting signals across the body. At this point a video showed exactly how music with a heavy baseline can trigger a cephalopod skin sample to change colour to the beat, as the nerve endings are stimulated.

 

Following on from this, Jon drew the audience's attention to what it was in the large jars in front of them. In these jars were the remains of squid arms and tentacles. When these specimens were removed it was clear exactly what the difference between a cephalopod arm and tentacle actually is. Cephalopod arms have suckers down their entire length, while the tentacles only have suckers at their tip.

 

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Sharp ring-lined suckers found on the arms (n.b. not tentacles) of some cephalopods.

 

The range of different types of suckers that cephalopods possess was highlighted through these specimens. It was clear that some cephalopods have arms covered with many round suckers that are also lined with sharp teeth like projections. Others, such as the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) have even more vicious looking ones, each wielding a single large claw projection rising out from their centre that can also rotated.

 

Having these impressive adaptations allows the cephalopods to not only grab onto but also hold onto their prey when subduing them. For these reasons, coupled with the strength of cephalopod limbs, it is clear why many researchers choose to wear chainmail, akin to that worn my mediaeval knights, for protection when diving with these animals, just in case things do take a nasty turn.

 

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Suckers with claw projections that colossal squid use to not only grab onto but also to hold onto their prey when subduing them.

© British Antarctic Survey

 

As this Nature Live drew to a close one of the Museum's true gems of the deep sea stored in the tank room was brought up on the big screen. Archie the giant squid (Architeuthis dux), who was accidentally caught in a fishing net off the coast of the Falkland Islands, is a fully intact specimen over 8 metres in length from tip to tentacle. Archie really put into perspective just how giant, a giant squid really can be.

 

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Archie the giant squid, who can be seen up close and personal during one of the Museum's free Spirit Collection Tours.

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Parasites: the name sends a shiver down the spine of many and makes the hairs rise on the back of my own neck, which is exactly why parasites made for a fascinating subject for a Nature Live here at the Museum. Ranging from human-flesh-eating ones, to those that live happily inside the stomach of a live rhino, Zoë Adams one of the Museum's passionate entomologists presented just how she became so 'attached' to studying parasites.

 

The event started by defining a parasite as a species that lives off or within another organism (the host), but at that organism's expense. With the audience then giving estimates on how many different types of parasites there are in the world, the answer was that up to one third of all life on earth could be technically classed as a parasite.

 

This then led onto the question, 'is there likely to be a living parasite present right here, right now inside the Attenborough Studio?' A question to which multiple audience members turned to each other with rather concerned looks on their faces. In truth it was revealed that there would almost certainly be a parasite present in the studio, because many of our own eye lashes and eyebrow hairs are home to the humble but harmless follicle mite (Demodex folliculorum). The follicle mite feeds off the sebum that our skin secretes in order to stay supple, and at least one in every three people is predicted to be a host to them.

 

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The follicle mite (Demodex folliculorum) that lives in the eyebrows of many people

 

The talk then proceeded with some rather nasty looking images displayed on screen, showing a botfly larva parasitising a human host. However, what Zoë went on to highlight was that this particular human host was none other than her own boss, who had become home to one of these blood hungry larval creatures while on a field trip in Bolivia! One of the images showed how a botfly larva obtains oxygen by using a small breathing tube which pokes out of the surface of the skin. The botfly larva eventually had to be surgically removed.

 

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Botfly larva, showing the breathing tube that it uses while buried under the skin of its host

 

With this newfound knowledge, and an audience suddenly more likely to think twice before booking there next holiday to exotic climes, the Nature Live moved onto other, more familiar, wild mammals that suffer from parasites... a personal favourite parasite of Zoë's being the rhinoceros stomach botfly (Gyrostigma rhinocerontis).

 

Zoë expertly explained how these parasites have a very interesting lifecycle which relies on the rhinoceros being a creature of habit, choosing to respond to the call of nature and deposit their dung in the same places each time throughout their natural range. This particular botfly larva chooses to house itself within the stomach of rhinos as it is warm and safely away from natural predators. Once the rhino has 'done its business' the larva pupates in the faeces now outside of the rhino, where it can emerge and wait for another rhino host to do the same.

 

After another rhino has visited and deposited another stomach botfly larva in the same pile of dung, the botflies are able to emerge from pupation and mate, creating a new generation which can then repeat the lifecycle. This unique life cycle of the rhinoceros botfly is only made possible by the rhino using these same areas for defecation, just like humans repeatedly use the same locations for their own business (i.e. public toilets).

 

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An adult rhinoceros stomach botfly (Gyrostigma rhinocerontis), whose larvae happily reside within the stomach of a living rhino as part of its lifecycle

 

By the end of the Nature Live, the audience was certainly left feeling slightly baffled by the sheer numbers and range of different life strategies that parasites have evolved to occupy their niche in the natural world. Though, one hopes, they also left with a new found respect for the amazing and effective strategies that parasites use to live their lives.

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With our satellite dish at the ready, the sun shining and half a dozen Museum scientists raring to go, last weekend's Nature Live events went down a storm!

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Linking back to the studio from the harbour in Lyme Regis, we brought the annual Fossil Festival to South Kensington. For visitors who were unable to visit the south coast in person, we revealed why Lyme Regis is THE place to go fossil hunting and showed our audiences some of the weird and wonderful specimens that can be found there.

 

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Museum curator Zoe Hughes reveals an Ammonite, found in the local area.

 

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Does this count as Big Pond dipping?

 

Sunday's events brought us up to date with the organisms that call our seashore home. I was out first thing trying my luck with my bucket and net. I think I was the oldest 'rock-pooler' on the beach!  Unfortunately, I didn't manage to find very much, except for lots of seaweed ... but this proved to be far more interesting than I had first thought!

 

Museum scientist Lucy Robinson explained that there are many different species of seaweed to be found along our coastline, varying in colour, shape and size. She also explained the various ways seaweeds and their extracts can be used - in toothpaste, ice-cream, fertilizer and cosmetics (to name but a few).

 

And of course, some types of seaweed can be eaten - such as sea lettuce. Lucy and I decided to give it a go ... our conclusion, it's very salty and a bit crunchy (but I think that may have been sand!)  To find out more about seaweed and how to identify them, visit our Big Seaweed Search pages.

 

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Yum!

 

Lyme Regis is a great place to visit at any time of the year. If you're interested in fossil hunting, look out for the many guided walks that are on offer throughout the year, giving you the opportunity to explore the beaches with a local palaeontologist who knows what to look out for and who can tell you more about the fossils that are found there.

 

And if you'd like to experience the Fossil Festival for yourselves, put this date in your diaries: Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 May 2014. If this year is anything to go by, it will be another great weekend!

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The sun is shining, the bank holiday weekend is approaching, what better time to head down to the coast? But this is no regular seaside jaunt because this weekend Nature Live is joining scientists from the Museum, Plymouth University, the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton to name but a few (! ) for the annual Fossil Festival in Lyme Regis. It's free, open to all and crammed full of exciting events and activities. 

 

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The coast at Lyme Regis

 

 

Nature Live will be linking live, via satellite, back to the studio in South Kensington, reporting on all the comings and goings at the festival, new fossil discoveries along the coast of Lyme Regis and where's the best place in town for a decent ice-cream (extensive sampling will be taking place throughout the weekend!)

 

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A seagull stole Natalie's (centre) ice-cream shortly after this photo was taken at Lyme Regis last year!

 

So, if you're free this bank holiday weekend, come and join us in Lyme Regis - more details about the festival can be found here - or join us in the Museum for the following events:

 

 

You can also follow us on Twitter @NatureLive

 

Now, it's time to track down some ammonites ...

 

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Phew, it's been a busy few weeks at the Museum!  With snow outside and schools on holiday, everyone was keen to visit the Museum and to mark the Easter holidays we decided to programme some suitably festive Nature Live events ... my favourite being Eggs-tinct! If you weren't able to see it in person, here are a few highlights:

 

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No egg event at the Museum is complete without reference to dinosaurs and Museum curator Lorna Steel brought along this beauty! A REAL dinosaur egg!

 

Equally, no egg event would be complete without the largest egg in the world ...

 

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No, this isn't some clever perspective, camera trickery - this really is the size of the largest kind of egg in the world (with Lorna's average sized hand above). This one belongs to an extinct Elephant Bird, a species that once lived in Madagascar. These birds were huge - at 3 m tall they were far larger than today's Ostriches - and consequently laid very, very big eggs. EGGs-traordinary!

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Last week, Nature Live caught up with Museum scientist Dan Carpenter who has just returned from the wilds of Borneo!  I was lucky enough to join him for the last two weeks of his trip in the state of Sabah (in the North East of Borneo) and was blown away by the size and beauty of the rainforests there.

 

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The trees in Borneo are massive and often have buttress roots.

Dan and his team were using similar methods to those they've used previously in the New Forest, and were trying to find out more about the diversity of invertebrate species living in the rainforests of Borneo. 

 

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A large earthworm found in the rainforest

To carry out their work, Dan and the team used a variety of collecting methods, including pitfall traps and something called a SLAM trap - which looks a bit like a tent hanging up in the trees!

 

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A SLAM trap hanging up in the trees

 

In last week's Nature Live event, Dan explained how all these different collecting methods worked and what it was like to spend six weeks living in the rainforest. 

 

To find out more, catch up with Dan's blog or read my blog about the work being carried out by Dan and other Museum scientists in Borneo (including Holger and Pat, who study lichens) and see some great film footage of the wildlife we encountered.

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Recently we were joined by American filmmaker and writer Erin Espelie who was in London to show her film True Life Adventure at BFI London Film Festival. We hosted the second ever screening of the film in Nature Live.

 

True Life Adventure highlights the communities of insects found in and around freshwater streams, from stone fly larvae emerging from the water to spiders hoping to catch a meal in their web. Erin filmed the footage in less than two hours in an area of just 3.25 square feet on a single day in June, reminding us of the diversity of life that can be found on our doorstep.

 

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A still from Erin's film. Woodlice shelter under a rock.

 

Erin was joined by David Urry who works in the Angela Marmont Centre at the museum. He had been for a pond dip that morning and brought along the creatures that he found. Even in October the pond is teeming with life, from tiny water fleas to small snails to long leeches.

 

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Even in October there is lots of life in the Wildlife Garden pond. The small red creatures are water fleas or daphnia.

 

Most of the animals in the pond are in a constant battle to survive. David talked us through some of the adventures that the animals in the pond undergo every day such as the fearsome damselfly nymphs which prey on aquatic organisms using their extendable jaws. Damselflies are similar to dragonflies and live as nymphs in ponds or streams for most of their lives, shedding their skin when it becomes too tight as they grow.

 

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Large red damselfly in the museum's Wildlife Garden. Photographed by Derek Adams.

 

After about a year (but it can be longer) the damselfly nymph climbs out of the water and clings to a leaf or twig. Its body dries and after an hour or so its skin begins to crack and the adult damselfly wriggles out complete with fully-formed wings. The adult damselfly only survives for a few weeks and in this time it attempts to find a mate and avoid being eaten.

 

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Children getting a closer look at pondlife after the event.

 

David brought along some OPAL Water Survey packs so that the audience could explore the life in their local pond or stream. By taking part in the OPAL water survey you can help scientists learn more about the water quality of our lakes and ponds.

 

If you weren’t able to attend the event you can download a pack here.

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To my delight I get to host Zoology Curator Professor Barry Clarke, twice this festive season for Nature Live. No stranger to the blog, Barry's event Cool Frogs and Climate Change this Thursday is brand new and includes beautiful specimens such as this Strongylopus fasciatus (Striped stream frog) and on New Year's Eve visitors get the chance to see Incredible Frogs from the Collection, hand chosen by Barry for their adaptations, reproductive methods and sometimes startling appearance. What better way to see out 2011.

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Meet Ollie Crimmen, fish section, Zoology. A scientist with a 37 year history at NHM. Earlier today I hosted his event (14:30 to be precise, come see a Nature Live sometime!) where he spoke with our audience about the likelihood of great whites in the UK. It seems the water temperature would suit and they have certainly been known to travel huge distances before. Food sources aren't a problem here either. So why no confirmed sightings? Maybe it's just a matter of time.....

The specimen here is from the massive collections Ollie cares for and is from a great white found stranded on a beach in Port Fairy, Australia. From at least as far back as 1831. For those of you located on UK shores, pop Ollie on your speed dial. He'll want to be the first to know if you spot Carchorodon carcharias roaming our coastal waters....
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Hopping Mad

Posted by Charlotte - Nature Live host Mar 13, 2011

It's been a busy weekend of events....first Tadpoles on Saturday and then Dwarf Elephants on Sunday.  A curious combination of topics, but each equally fascinating!

 

Our Tadpole event was timed to tie-in with the first frog spawn starting to appear in our ponds.....which apparently it is, although warmer weather should help more appear.  Apparently (according to our amphibian curator Barry Clarke) frogs have been known to produce spawn as early as December some years, but hard frosts kill the eggs and it's not until the weather becomes milder that the tadpoles are able to start developing.  In fact, the warmer the weather, the quicker they devlop from tadpoles to adults.

 

Barry was a complete star as always and brought along lots of specimens from our zoology collections.

 

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Note the specimen in the centre of the bottom row.....this is a Midwife Toad.  They show great parental care (unlike our common frogs which lay their eggs and then leave them!)  The female Midwife Toad lays her eggs and the male then wraps them around his back legs.  He then carries them around with him (swimming and moving about seemingly unhindered) until the tadpoles are ready to emerge and swim off.  Because of this parental care, the eggs are far safer and have a greater chance of survival than if they were left unprotected.

 

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However, for the ultimate in parental care, go onto the BBC website and use their 'wildlife finder' to watch some incredible footage of Darwin's frog.  You won't believe your eyes    http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Darwin%27s_Frog#p004j5y9

 

As for the Dwarf Elephants today, well, they were certainly small!  Tori Herridge (a researcher in our Palaeontology Department) brought along some fossils from our collections....including lots of teeth.  The photo below shows the tooth of an extinct Straight-Tusked Elephant at the bottom and an extinct Dwarf Elephant tooth at the top of the photo.  Quite a difference in size!  The Straight-Tusked Elephant was one of the largest elephants ever to live, and could grow to as much as 4 metres tall.  In comparison, Dwarf Elephants were sometimes only 1 metre tall as adults!

 

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We'll be repeating Tori's Nature Live event later this month, at 2.30pm on Wednesday 30th March in the Attenborough Studio.  As always, the event is free and lasts for 30 minutes.  So come and join us if you can and discover more about these mysterious Dwarf Elephants.....

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Who doesn't love a good dinosaur event?!  Triceratops, T-Rex, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus....the list goes on.  But have you ever heard of Scelidosaurus, the topic of our event last Sunday??

 

I certainly hadn't until I met Palaeontology Curator Tim Ewin.  Scelidosaurus was the first whole dinosaur ever to be discovered (before that, only parts of dinosaurs had been found, and no-one had discovered any skulls)....and what's more, it was found right here in England, along the coast at Lyme Regis.

 

 

Scelidosaurus wasn't a massive dinosaur, diplodocus and the like were all ALOT bigger, but it had some fantastic armour plating which may have helped protect it from predators but also may have acted as a form of display, to deter opponents or attract a mate.

 

 

But what's so special about the Scelidosaur remains in Lyme Regis (which are continually being discovered as the cliffs slowly erode) is their quality.  The fossils have been brilliantly preserved and scientists are able to study the bodies of these animals in great detail, including their skin which remarkably has also been fossilised.  

 

 

So next time you're talking about your favourite dinosaur, spare a thought for the often (and wrongly) forgotten Scelidosaurus.  The first whole dinosaur ever to be discovered, found right here on our fair isle and with fossilised skin too - you don't get much better than that!

 

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Scelidosaurus is the dinosaur at the bottom of the picture.  Megalosaurus is at the top.

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Eaten Alive - Live!

Posted by Aoife Sep 7, 2010

Small maggoty larvae eating their way through the caterpillar. Yuck! But that was what happened in Nature Live last Saturday, and we caught it on camera for your..err..enjoyment?

 

 

Gavin Broad, who works in the Entomology Department, came along to open our eyes to the gruesome world of parisitoid wasps. These amazing organisms lay their eggs on or in other insects, and when the larvae emerge from the eggs they feed on their host, chomping their way through the fatty flesh of a caterpillar, or sucking away at the liquid haemolymph of a spider. And all the while they do this, the insect they are feeding on is still alive! It can get even worse for the victims of some parasitoids, as they can also release chemicals into the victim to change its behaviour. The difference between a parasite, which draws its nourishment from a host, and harms but does not kill it, is that parasitoids do eventually kill their hosts, by literally eating them alive.

 

 

They are am amazingly abundant group of organisms, and there are thousands to be found in the UK, literally in your back garden.

To show us just how abundant they are, Gavin brought along some Cabbage White caterpillars that had been munching their way through his prized cabages - one caterpillar was happily sitting on its cabbage leaf, though Gavin pointed out that it may well have little wasp larvae inside it. The second caterpillar was standing guard over a small collection of yellowish cocoons - these were the cocoons of the wasps, Gavin explained. The day before the event, the larvae had all emerged from the caterpillar, and clustered nearby, spinning themselves their protective wrappings in silk, inside which they were beginning the transformation into adult wasps. The caterpillar they came from was still alive, at least for a little while longer.

 

 

There were some brilliant questions from the audience, and no-one seemed to mind just how gory these things can be  (don't worry - there are no parasitoids of humans!) but it got even more disgusting when caterpillar number one, which had seemed okay all through the event, suddenly and all at once sprouted dozens of tiny larvae, which burrowed their way out of its side...on their way to freedom! Not so great for the caterpillar, but a great way of keeping down the numbers of them on your cabbages.

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At about midday my mind drifts from the numerous emails and office politics and starts to consider my lunch options. Do I fancy a hot meal, a quick sandwich, healthy salad or maybe something a little more exotic? Sushi perhaps? Well not after speaking to Eileen Harris who works on parasitic worms! She’s doing a Nature Live event on the 31st August and I just met her to find out more about what her work involves. It’s fascinating, but you do need a strong, and preferably empty, stomach.

 

Parasitic worms live in everything from the largest whale to the smallest insects. Eileen will be bringing out a whole host (no pun intended!) of parasites to the event including her personal favourite, Eric; the 7m long tapeworm…definitely not one to be missed!

 

Back to sushi and let me introduce you to Anisakis simplex. This marine roundworm can be found in fish, eel and octopus and when you eat raw, unprepared seafood you could be also be swallowing live larval forms of this parasite. Needless to say once inside your system you’re going to know about it but the good news is that they usually die after a few weeks.

 

If, like myself, you’re a big sushi fan then rest assured that high-street sushi is safe as chefs are trained to identify these little parasites but they’re definitely something to look out for if you’re making it at home. Luckily Anisakis simplex is visible to the naked eye so happy hunting!

 

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Above: Anisakis simplex is commonly known as "herringworm"

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