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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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Having arrived in Lyme Regis yesterday, greeted by sunshine and sweet salty sea air, we have been exploring the seashore and getting our bearings today.

 

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Lyme Regis

 

No visit to Lyme is complete without a trip to the beach to go fossil hunting!  Keeping an eye on the tides, we headed out first thing this morning to try our luck.  Museum scientist Ed Baker is a regualr visitor to the Jurassic Coast and showed us what to look for.  Rounded rocks can sometimes contain beautiful fossils...but need to be cracked open to reveal the animal or plant within.  This requires a special geological hammer (ordinary ones can shatter if used!) and a touch of experience/skill (cracking the rock open at the right angle is important).  Fortunately Ed has both of these things and showed us how it was done....

 

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Rounded rocks are hit along the edge using the blunt end of the hammer


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Several ammonites are revealed within the rock

 

But you can also find fossils without the need for hammers.  By looking carefully and sifting through the rocks on the beach, you never know what you might find.  Ammonite fossils are pretty common and vertebrae and other bones from fossil marine reptiles can be found by the keen eyed.

 

With our pockets bulging with our dicoveries and faces glowing from the sun and sea air, we headed back into town to start setting up the satellite equipment for this weekend's live links.  If you can't make it down to Lyme Regis, why not join our museum scientists in the Attenborough Studio at the Museum as we link to you live from the festival....

 

 

You can also follow us on Twitter @NatureLive

 

For more information about the Fossil Festival, visit www.fossilfestival.com

 

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Honorary member of the team Ed Baker helps Media Techs Tony and Eddie set up our satellite equipment

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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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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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Phew, hot off the press, we've just released tickets for our October evening event.....Biodiversity: The Next Step

 

If you enjoyed the Big Nature Debate, or you're interested to know more about biodiversity, why it's important and what's being done to conserve it, then this is the event for you!

 

We've got some fantastic speakers and the event will be discussion based, so there'll be lots of opportunity for you to ask questions and discuss your ideas and concerns.

 

Details below or look on our website.

 

Biodiversity: The Next Step

 

Why is biodiversity important? In this, the International Year of Biodiversity, are we any more aware of its significance in our lives, and the fact that it is declining at an unprecedented rate?

This October, the United Nations is holding a global conference to discuss the continued decline in animal and plant species and set new targets to prevent a global disaster. But is it too late? We have already failed to meet the targets set in 2002. Will this time be any different?

Join us and hear from the following invited speakers:
Prof Geoff Boxshall (Merit Researcher, Zoology Department, Natural History Museum)
Peter Unwin (Director General for Environment and Rural, Defra)
Tony Juniper (Writer and environmentalist)
Prof Tom Burke (Environmentalist and Environmental Policy Adviser to Rio Tinto)


Take part in the discussions as we consider what needs to change, and how the goals set by the UN in Nagoya will influence both our own future and that of global biodiversity.

Part of Nature Live Nights.

Tickets £8 each (£7.20 members) plus £1.50 booking fee. Please book online, visit an information desk or phone 020 7942 5725.
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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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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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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!  http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/events/programs/naturelive/six-legged_wonders%3A_the_return.html?date=24.06.2010  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!

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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 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oX1ewcnlbDA

 

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...!  http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/nature-live/video-archive/videos/sperm-whale-skull/

 

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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 http://www.opalexplorenature.org/

 

Happy surveying!

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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! 

 

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The Name Game

Posted by Ivvet - Nature Live host Jan 16, 2010

Why do scientists insist on using long complicated scientific names?


Well one reason is that they are universal. Take the common grove snail (below). In English this creature is also known as the brown-lipped snail or the dark lipped banded snail. It becomes even more confusing if you go abroad; in Germany the same creature is called Hain-Baenderschnecke. So how do scientists make sure they’re all speaking the same language? They speak in science of course; usually a combo of Latin and Greek.

There are estimated to be 6809 different languages spoken around the world but wherever you go ‘Cepaea nemoralis’ will always mean the grove snail (or the brown-lipped snail or Hain-Baenderschnecke).


Some Latin names can be weird and wonderful; take Osedaz mucofloris, also known as the bone eating snot-flower. In today’s show we asked our visitors to pit their wits against a panel of scientists and guess which one was lying. Can you work it out? Which of these names is made up?


Abra cadabra or Megadoris russelensis or Rasta thiophila

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Image: Cepaea nemoralis - or the common grove snail in England or the Hain-Baenderschnecke in Germany

 

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‘What’s a megatherium?’  That’s what I asked Saturday’s Nature Live audience.  They looked as blank as I would have done, had I not already met palaeontology curator Andy Currant. 

 

Andy looks after all the large mammal fossils within the palaeo department, and has a hoard of wonderful stories to tell about ancient giant animals that once roamed the land….Megatherium was a giant ground sloth, found in north and south America. 

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They’re a distant relative of today’s living tree sloths, and didn’t look that dissimilar.  They went extinct about 10,000 – 12,000 years ago, but have left certain ‘evidence’ behind of their existence.  As you would expect, there are bones – it’s estimated that a giant ground sloth could weigh about 2.5 tonnes, so their skeletons are massive!  However, they also left behind skin and poo, of which we have some great examples!  During Saturday’s event, Andy had a large piece of skin and a ball of dung, both about 13,000 years old.  We let the audience have a feel and a closer look afterwards, and I was amazed at how fresh they still appear!  The dung ball no longer really smells, but trust me, it still looks pretty fresh!  If you missed the event but would like to see a Megatherium for yourself, there’s an impressive example at the end of the Marine Reptiles Gallery – an exhibit not to be missed on your next visit!

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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