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11 Posts tagged with the darwin_centre tag

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.



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. 



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!



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.


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


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.....

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.

Today's Nature Live event was a real crowd pleaser.  Almost as popular as a dinosaur event (!), we caught up with the curator of our Pterosaur collection, Lorna Steel. 


Lorna did a great job of enthusing about the myriad of Pterosaur species that once filled the skies.  With an incredible variety of shapes and sizes, these creatures were around during the time of the dinosaurs and were very successful until the mysterious extinction that caused their demise as well as that of the dinosaurs.


Pterosaurs were flying reptiles and ranged in size - some were as small as the your average garden bird, others had a 10 - 12 metre wingspan!


There are a range of images on the Museum website, showing what these impressive animals may have looked like.  My favourite is the Tapejara



Lorna's off to a conference on Pterosaurs in China soon, so hopefully she'll find out the very latest on Pterosaur research and be able to fill us in at her next event.  She's already on a mission to count how many bones are in an average Pterosaur skeleton and how fast they flew....






Picture:  Pteranodon was a giant flying reptile - a pterosaur - a close relation of the dinosaur. They lived during the Cretaceous period aroun 85 to 75 million years ago. Illustration by Neave Parker.


Are we half-way through the year already?  How did that happen?!


It's been pretty busy in the Nature Live office recently, hence we've been a little slack on the blogging front, apologies.  With one member of the team back in her home-land of Australia and another about to go on maternity leave, we've all been doing alot of juggling.  But it's exciting juggling!


We've just finished hosting the 5th annual student summit here at the museum and I got to interview one of my wildlife presenting hero's.....Chris Packham.  He was wearing a rather radical squirrel print skirt (for which I shall forgive him!) and we chatted about the International Year of Biodiversity and the importance of conserving biodiversity.


It gave me lots of ideas for our upcoming evening event in October, when I hope to challenge the politicians, media and public and ask whether we're doing enough to conserve biodiversity and if what we're doing is working.  Well, that's the plan at the moment anyway!  It's still in the brainstorm phase.....


Anyway, my half-year new-year's resolution is to try and blog more regularly.  So if you don't hear from me, give me a nudge at or @NatureLive on twitter and spur me into action! 




Oops, it's been a while since my last post, apologies, all got a bit hectic for a while but I shall try to ensure it doesn't happen again! 


We've had lots happening - International Biological Diversity Day (or Biodiversity Day for short) where I finally got to meet and interview Chris Packham (well, I was excited, even if most of my friends didn't know who I was talking about!), half term holidays with a range of drop-in events with our scientists, the May evening event (very topical, all about synthetic biology) and plenty more besides.


Right now, I'm preparing for a daytime event tomorrow all about Richard Owen (ever heard of him?!) and this month's evening event - Six-Legged Wonders: The Return!  The perfect night out if you'd like to learn more about the mini-beasts in our collections and sample some edible insects!  We'll be joined by Erica McAlister (our infamous diptera blogger) plus a butterfly/moth curator and a soil biologist (who secretly prefers worms from insects but we're going to try and convince him that six-legged creatures are more interesting!)  If you can't make the event, fear not, we'll be tweeting live (@NatureLive) during the event with all the juicy bits!


Exciting times!


For a sneak preview of what we'll be discussing on 25th March and the chance to see one of our speakers in action (Rob Parry-Jones from TRAFFIC Europe) have a look at -


And to see our very own Richard Sabin in action (who will also be speaking on the 25th), have a look at this film all about the Thames Whale....remember that, it was a while ago now...!




A couple of weeks ago I hosted an event with mammal curator Richard Sabin.  Richard helps to look after the mammal collections here at the museum, but is also involved in helping HM Revenue & Customs crack down on the illegal trade in endangered animal species.



When customs find suspicious items being shipped or flown into the country, they turn to Richard to help them find out whether the bracelet/ornament/piece of furniture in question is made of a harmless material or whether it contains components of an endangered animal.


Richard specialises in hard materials, such as bone and horn. By studying items closely underneath microscopes, such as the bracelet above, he is able to spot the tell-tale signs that suggest what it has been made out of (ie plastic, bone or horn) but also what animal it may have come from.  Incredibly, the tusks, horns and teeth of different species have different characteristics which, after years of training and experience, Richard is able to recognise.


The illegal trade in endangered species is an ongoing and international problem.  Some say that it is worth more than the arms trade. It's an issue that is being tackled by governments and independent organisations around the world, but one that is far from black and white. There are many reasons for why people chose to kill and sell endangered animals, and many different demands for how these animals are used such as to make medicine, jewellery and food.


CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments, which aims to ensure that the survival of plant and animal species is not threatened by trade. It influences legislation and laws that help protect threatened species. The 175 governments that have signed up to CITES are currently meeting in Qatar to discuss new measures and suggest changes to previous guidelines.  At the top of the agenda are issues such as banning the trade of blue-fin tuna and legalising the sale of ivory stockpiles.  


We'll be discussing the work of CITES and extent of the illegal trade at this months evening event, Crossing Borders: The Illegal Trade in Endangered Species on Thursday 25th March.  Tickets are available on our website and by phone 020 7942 5555.  Richard Sabin will be speaking about his involvement, as well as representatives from TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network), Defra and a researcher from Oxford Brookes University who is involved in undercover work in South East Asia.




Today the studio was taken over by lichen. Yes, lichen.


The first question for me (embarrassingly) was 'what are they…or it?' Turns out, pretty cool.


Pat Wolseley who works in our Botany department explained that lichens are actually two types of organisms living together, a fungus and an alga. They have managed to carve out an existence by working together in a symbiotic relationship. The fungus makes the body that protects the alga and the alga provides the food for the fungus. Who said nature is red in tooth and claw!


Fun fact of the day No. 2, lichens are hardcore. They have been found everywhere from the cold arctic and hot deserts to rocky beaches and inner-city gravestones. Not only are some very tough, others are very sensitive to air quality and this makes them perfect when it comes to monitioring air pollution.


In simple terms, if you see this fluffy greenish beard lichen on trees (Usnea florida) you can be sure the air is clean or getting cleaner. However, if you find trees and stones covered with the golden shield lichen (Xanthoria parietina) there is a lot of nitrogen about.

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Image caption: Usnea florida (above) and Xanthoria parietina (below)


Now you can tell the difference why don't you get involved in the OPAL air survey? Join the hundreds of people logging on and helping scientists answer questions about the quality of the air we breathe.


To help scientists collect data on the air quality in your local area visit


Happy surveying!


Last Thursday museum scientist Paul Barrett (the man when it comes to dinosaurs) took part in a Nature Live event on Dinosaur Diversity.  We covered everything from the latest news about ginger dinosaurs to how we know what noise dinosaurs made.  We also talked about Oxford Street!!  More commonly associated with massive department stores and high street fashion, Oxford Street is currently home to some impressive animatronic dinosaurs!


As you can see from the photo below, Paul brought a few things from the museum collections with him.  Notice the large lower jaw on the left of the photo (next to Paul) - a cast from a T-rex specimen.  And, of course, there was the poo....dinosaur poo (hiding in the white box on top of the table and referred to as coprolites).  Believe it or not, it is possible to find fossilised dinosaur poo - it's pretty hard, and no longer smells (!), but it can still help scientists to understand more about these remarkable animals.


Brilliant stuff! 




As part of our Future for Nature season (which has been running on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the past few months) last Thursday I hosted an event about how much oil is left.  Needless to say, it was very thought-provoking.  Andy Fleet, from the mineralogy department, used to work in the petroloeum industry.  He explained how oil is formed over millions of years and how it is found and extracted.  For further information, he suggested visitors have a look at the website of The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO)  Here you'll discover the debate and discussion surrounding how much oil is left and whether we have reached a peak in oil production....or not.  To give you an idea of the varying estimates, have a look at the graph below.  This shows various predictions for when we will reach peak oil production, the majority of which suggest we have already reached the peak or will do so in the next ten years.  There are a few estimates that suggest a continuing increase in oil production, but whatever the conclusion, one thing is for some point, whether today or tomorrow, oil production will decline and we need to be ready with an alternative. 


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Graph sourced from The Oil Drum