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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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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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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....

 

Pterosaur2.jpg

 

 

 

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.

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...just incase you doubted my last blog or were curious to see the squirrel print shirt!

 

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Biological Diversity Day at the Natural History Museum, May 2010

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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 naturelive@nhm.ac.uk or @NatureLive on twitter and spur me into action! 

 

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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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Easter eggs

Posted by Aoife Apr 6, 2010

From the tiny Hummingbird egg, to the awesome Ostrich egg, for Easter Nature Live went a little egg-crazy.

 

I have to apologise in advance, its going to be impossible to get through this without making some terrible egg-related puns. So I might as well start with one.

 

Our egg-cellent egg curator Douglas Russell joined us from the bird group, based out at the NHM in Tring, Hertfordshire, for our eggy celebrations. Douglas looks after some really rather special collections, going back hundreds of years, and his egg-spert knowledge was put to good use as he egg-splained why he thinks eggs are 'The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe'.

 

Its all to do with just how perfectly they have evolved to look after the tiny, developing chick - and to show us, he cracked open a massive Ostrich egg - its much easier to see the features scaled up! From tiny pores that allow the exchange of gas through the shell, to a self-righting system inside so that the embryonic chick is always closest to the warmth from its brooding parents, all a tiny bird could need to start its life off is contained within the calcium carbonate shell. The same features are present right down to the tiniest bird eggs around - the Hummingbird egg, about the size of your little finger nail!

 

Although Ostriches produce the biggest egg of any bird alive today, there used to be one to beat it - the Elephant Bird, now sadly extinct, used to produce an egg even bigger!

 

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And if you want to see for yourself, you can see a range of amazing eggs if you visit the Bird Gallery, in the Green Zone at the Museum.

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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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Richard Sabin from our Mammal Department uses microscopes to identify whether products siezed by HM Revenue & Customs have been made from protected species such as elephant and rhino.  But scientists elsewhere use DNA to identify species - such as in this film which shows how shark fins can be tested and the species of shark identified.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHCzdQHre1U

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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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Animal Attraction

Posted by Aoife Feb 17, 2010

Ah, Valentines Day. A day when red roses, gifts of chocolates, and lingering glances abound. Its all about showing the one you love, that you love them.

 

But what happens in the animal world?

 

There are lots of different ways that animals attract and win a mate. Some of them are similar to what humans, do, and others are..umm..slightly different.

 

In the deep sea, its so hard to find a significant other that when the male angler fish finds the lady of his dreams, he never lets go. Special nostrils help him detect her in the blackness down in the depths, then he gives her a little nip, latches on, and stays put. Over time, he actually fuses with her, sharing her blood supply and nutrients. Together forever!

 

The Adele Penguin inhabits one of the coldest regions on Earth: Antarctica! So when the males think they have found someone to snuggle up to, they will present them with some beautiful shiny stones, to build their nest with. Together, they will raise their family, but actually they don't see much of each other after wooing and mating; each takes turns watching the nest, so its only when they swap over that they meet up.

 

And finally; spiders! These amazing creatures have so many different ways of attracting and winning the lady of their dreams, and not surprising. Firstly, with so many thousands of species out there, you have to get it right. Secondly, its a dangerous game for the males - put a foot wrong, and they may end up a dinner for the lady! So some species will do a special dance, waving their colourful legs around, others like Tarantulas will soothingly stroke the females long, lovely, hairy legs, and other species give the spider equivalent of a box of chocolates; a nice big juicy fly wrapped in silk. Mmmmmm delicious!

 

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Spider curator Jan Beccaloni and Ana Rita.

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From today the Nature Live blog will become the Nature Live community. This means that we will still have regular blog posts, but we now have our own area on the website where you can discuss what’s happening with Nature Live, including questions or issues that are thrown up by our discussion events.

 

If you are attending a Nature Live in person you can now continue the conversation online. If you are too far away from London to attend a Nature Live you can put your question or comment on the forum instead.  Have a look at the discussions that have already started, or start your own. And don’t forget to vote on our current poll.

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