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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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What fish have your eaten in the last month? If it includes Cod, Salmon, Tuna or Haddock, then you are not alone! These are the most commonly eaten fish in the UK, and our appetite for them is putting pressure on their survival.

 

We are often told we should eat two portions of fish a week, as it's a really nutritious food, but at the same time warned that some fish are severely over-fished, that their stock levels are dangerously low, and that several species should be listed as endangered!

 

So what are people supposed to do?

 

This was the focus or our Nature Live Nights evening event, on Thursday 28th January, also a 4SEAS event.

 

Well, there were lots of suggestions from our speakers. Oliver Crimmen, one of the foremost fish experts at the Natural History Museum, stated that there actually lots of different types of edible fish out there - by widening the types of fish we eat, and not just sticking to the same four main ones, that could help take the pressure off. However, we do need to have a good understanding of the ecology of our new choices.

 

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               Jo from the Billingsgate Seafood Training School prepared some delicious samples for our taste test - results up soon!

 

 

Tim Ferrero and Geoff Boxshall, also from the Zoology Department, talked about checking how your fish was caught, and also the aquaculture or fish farming option - with the global human population set to soar, could this be an answer?

 

Background to the quota system, and possible options at a governmental level were the focus of both Dr Kenneth Patterson from the European Commision, and Zoe Hodgson from DEFRA.

 

And finally, sustainability, eco labels, and how consumers can make a difference by Tom Pickerell, from the Shellfish Association of Great Britain. There are lots of different eco labels out there for fish - Tom recommends the Marine Stewardship Council stamp, as it takes into account lots of different considerations including stock levels, fish ecology, and how they are caught.

 

So next time you fancy some fish and chips, try a different fish (Coley was very popular in our taste test!) and check to see whether your fish has the MCS seal of approval.

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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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Happy New Year everyone!  We've got heaps of great events lined up for you in 2010 and exciting changes happening to our blog....so stay tuned, it's going to be an awesome year! 

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With Christmas fast approaching, here in the Nature Live team we were thinking what would be a good subject to cover? Robins, mistletoe, frankincense? No, we decided to go with the story of the whale that swam up The Thames nearly 4 years ago! Sadly it died but did you know that we have its skeleton here in our reference collection?

 

Today we spoke to Louise Tomsett, mammal curator at the Museum, who talked us through the long and somewhat gory process that got it from the dockside into our collection. It took nearly a month and involved stripping and cleaning each of the bones individually in large vats of detergent. To get the really small bones clean they used the Museum’s smallest workers…flesh-eating beetles! It wasn’t until all the bones were clean that they could start piecing the skeleton together.

 

The Thames Whale holds a special place in the hearts of Londoners and it’s good to know that it will be preserved forever in the national collection where scientists researching these fascinating animals can study it.

 

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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) http://www.peakoil.net/  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 sure.....at 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 http://www.theoildrum.com/story/2006/11/13/225447/79

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long with Darwin's 200th birthday celebrations, 150 years since the publication of On the Origin of Species and the International Year of Astronomy (marking 400 years since Galileo first looked up at the sky through a telescope).....2009 is also Year of the Gorilla. 

 

To help celebrate Year of the Gorilla, we held an event with tropical biologist Ian Redmond last Tuesday. Ian is a well known figure in the world of gorilla and great ape conservation and speaks passionately about the plight of gorillas and the forests they live in. This year, he travelled to 8 of the 10 countries where gorillas are still found in the wild and wrote a blog as he went.  He also filmed the people he met and recorded interviews with government officials, bushmeat traders and park wardens amongst others. To find out more, visit the Year of the Gorilla website

 

 

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More to your morning cuppa...

Posted by Aoife Nov 28, 2009

Did you start the day with a cup of tea? Well, if you did you are not alone – over 165 million cups of tea are drunk in the UK in a year…that’s a lot of tea! We were joined by museum botanist Vilma Bharatan to find out more about the world of tea – and there is a lot to find out about.

 

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     Tea Plantatation in India                                         The Tea Plant, Camellia sinensis

 

There are lots of teas available in the market today; black, green, white, yellow, pu-erh, but it turns out that all these different types of tea come from just two varieties or subspecies of the one plant, Camellia sinensis – ALL of them! It all comes down to which bits of the plant were picked, which variety, and how they are processed afterwards. Where they are grown and what time of year the tea is picked can also affect the taste of the tea – a bit like vintages in wine. And then we come on to scented teas, like jasmine tea where the leaves are scented with Jasmine flowers, and flowering teas which open to reveal a ‘flower’ in the tea pot when you add hot water; truly a performance tea.

 

The chemistry of tea also means that, although by weight it has more caffeine than coffee, it releases it much slower, so its refreshing rather than giving you that coffee 'buzz'. And why does it have the caffeine? Well, its a natural insecticide and so protects the plant from pests, particularly the new green shoots at the top of the plant, which are the bits most used for tea.

 

There are lots of different things to try! The great news is that its much easier than it used to be to find all these different types of tea. We got ours from the Tea Box, a tea shop in Richmond, London, and there are lots of other places that stock them.


So the next time you decide to have a cuppa, why not try some of the other amazing types of tea out there, and get a little experimental.

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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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