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Nature Live

41 Posts tagged with the nature_live tag
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November 2 to the 6 was National Pathology Week, and we were joined by the Veterinary Pathologist Alun Williams to find out about the afflictions that animals of all shapes and sizes can suffer.


 

A quick question to start you off. what is the round thing that Ana Rita is holding in the picture below? Read to the end to get the answer.

 

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If you thought that a pathologist was just someone who told the guys in CSI what the victim died of, then think again! Pathologists find the causes of disease, so if you have ever had a blood sample taken, or any other kind of sample then the person who worked out what was causing your illness was a pathologist. And it's not just for humans; a veterinary pathologist does the same work for animals, and it turns out they suffer from much the same illnesses and injuries as us which makes sense; we are after all just another kind of animal.

 

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In the event, we saw evidence in bones and brains for the tell tales signs of disease and trauma, and found out about the effects the diseases have on the animals themselves.

 

 

Alun has worked on a huge variety of creatures over his career, from dogs, cats and calves, to lions and elephants, which he encountered while starring in Channel 4's documentary Inside Natures Giants.

 

 

So what is Ana Rita holding? It’s a giant hairball from the stomach of a cow! Alun tells me that this didn’t bother the cow at all! Its stomach is so large, it wouldn't even have noticed it!

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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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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!

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Talking Rubbish

Posted by Aoife Sep 25, 2009
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To find out just what gets washed up on our beaches over the summer, apart from shells and seaweed, I joined in with a beach clean that happened in Wembury, Plymouth as part of the OPAL BioBlitz.

 

The rubbish we collected was taken back to the Museum (and washed thoroughly!) for last Sundays Nature Live event with Tim Ferrero, a scientist in the Zoology department. This event was part of an EU funded project called 4SEAS.

 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vast majority of rubbish washed up came was plastic, which can affect wildlife in many different ways. The larger pieces of rope and fishing line can entangle larger animals like fish, cetaceans and birds. The smaller pieces can be mis-identified as food, causing poisoning or simply blocking up the animals digestive systems. Even when broken down so much that they are no longer visible to the naked eye, the microscopic pieces can turn up in tiny organisms such as shrimp.

 

What was a little more surprising though was just how much rubbish had clearly come from picnics by the sea. From lots of bottle lids, to crisp packets, to an entire 'disposable' barbecue, a significant amount of rubbish originates from, well, us! As Tim said, we are clearly very messy eaters.

 

So what can we do? Well, the best advice when you visit the seaside is to take all your rubbish home with you! Then, at home, try to recycle your waste and dispose of it properly – we found lots of cotton bud sticks on the beach that had been flushed down toilets and ended up in the sea!

 

And finally, if you want to get directly involved, join in with a beach clean, and that way you can make sure the beaches are not only nice and clean for visitors, but also for the wildlife that calls them home.

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So last night we finished our special Attenborough Studio showcase events for the Royal Launch of the Darwin Centre - it was a real treat with no less that 6 scientists involved, live video links from the field as well as behind the scenes and some of the most amazing specimens we have ever seen in the studio. Topping it all off Sir David himself was in the audience.

 

Spider curator Jan kicked off with some tongue-in-cheek comparisons between spider and human courtship – just a few of the tricks used by the >40,000 different species of spiders to get all eight of their legs over. To honour the occasion we also saw spiders collected by Darwin himself.

 

We then went live to Adrian's deep sea observatory off the coast of Sweden and had a quite surreal conversation with Bjorn – who was diving next to a whale carcass at the time. We saw a new species of  bone eating snot flower worm (translation from the scientific name!) that Adrian has discovered that, as the name suggests lives on bones of dead whales and such like. You can watch the live stream from the whale bones  - I can't guarantee that Bjorn will be there - though you are quite likely to see the crabs and starfish.

 

From the deep sea we switched to deep time with Paul, just back from South Africa where he had been digging up early dinosaur fossils like this one we have on display. We saw another new species but we can't be sure until Scott, the Museum's fossil preparator, grinds, drills and picks all of the rock away. There were a few grimaces as his dentist's drill wirred away but it was cool to have a live demonstration in the studio and some of the kids even had a go.

 

Anyhow, the finale, if you like, was Al and Caroline from mineralogy. Al showed off some enourmous sparkly diamonds, the ultimate mineral from 200 km into the mantle - deep earth - and Caroline, who started in the basement collections area, showed us the meteorite Ivuna – the best example of the building blocks of the solar system and one of just 9 such meteorites (out of thousands) known to exist - from deep space. They wrapped up with a mineral face off – asking a visitor to hold a 460-carat dirty diamond - over 3 billion years old and formed deep within the earth – in one hand and a small piece of the planet Mars in the other. To Al's dismay Mars won - 7 times out of 8.

 

It sounds quite chaotic but was a huge team effort that all came together in less than 30 minutes and was all snippets taken from some of the great events happening in the studio over the next couple of weeks.Attenborough studio launch team photo.JPG

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Batty about bats

Posted by vanessab77 Sep 15, 2009

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My bordering-on-obsessive love for bats has grown since I started working at the Museum. I was already fascinated by the large, fruit-eating flying foxes but now appreciate just how diverse this group of mammals is, having seen the enormous collections of hundreds of different species, most of them smaller than a sparrow.

 

Horrible news today that the beautiful Christmas Island pipistrelle is almost certainly doomed to extinction. Recent attempts to capture some of these tiny bats for an Australian conservation breeding program, have sadly failed.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/christmas-island-bat-months-from-extinction-1677667.html

Hopefully our batty Nature Live events will continue to show people how important these animals are and help prevent future losses to bat biodiversity

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Today will go down in history. Not world history but this momentous day should at least figure as a footnote in the Museum’s vast annals. It’s the very last Nature Live event in the Marine Invertebrates Gallery. Obviously I’m excited about moving into the brand shiny new Attenborough Studio where there’ll be lots of new technology for us to break but having hosted events in MI for the last 3 years it’s the end of an era.

 

The last show was with Dr Shelley Cook who works in our entomology department and I think has probably been to nearly every country on my wish list. She looks for new viruses that are carried by mosquitoes and could potentially be passed on to other animals and maybe even humans.

 

We spoke about the importance of her science and mosquito diversity; did you know that there are some mosquitoes that are so specialised they only live in the water that collects in elephant footprints! We got some good questions; my favourite being ‘how fast do mosquitoes fly? Answer: we don’t know.

 

Then we get on to the ‘best’ bit…how you collect them. I suggest that maybe she offers herself up as a sacrifice; I seem to get bitten within the confines of the M25 so it shouldn’t be too difficult in a Thai jungle. But she can go one better. The ghostbuster pack. Yes, it looks just like something that was used by Bill Murray. It’s basically a 20kg mosquito vacuum that is worn as a backpack but when they spot some mossies they flip the switch and the fun begins. Call me evil but there must be some joy in collecting the insects that feasted on your flesh the previous evening. So once they have been collected up they are put on ice at minus 80C. Where you find those sorts of temperatures in a jungle is one of the wonders of modern science!

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