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Field work with Nature Live

15 Posts tagged with the new_species tag
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Following an early start watching Hornbills yesterday and a late night linking live (via satellite) to the Museum in London, everyone was looking forward to a lie-in this morning….but no-one had explained this to the local Bearded Pigs.  At about 5am there was a huge commotion with snorting and bellowing right outside our bunkhouse, goodness knows what about, but Kerry was the only person not to be woken by it!

 

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A regular visitor to the Studies Centre, the Bearded Pigs are aptly named.

 

Today is our final day in Maliau and everyone has been busy packing and preparing for the journey to Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah.  Not only do we need to worry about how everything will fit back in our suitcases/bags, the samples of invertebrates and lichens need to be carefully sorted and packed, to ensure they are not damaged on the long (inevitably bumpy) car journey tomorrow. 

 

 

Lichens that are going to be used by Holger and Pat, who will identify and describe them, need to be carefully prepared and packed.  I asked Pat how she goes about doing this…

 

The lichens will all be added to collections held at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) and then those that require further study will be sent to the Natural History Museum (in London) for Pat and Holger to identify and where necessary describe new species to science.

 

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Kishneth’s bark samples cover the floor of the laboratory, ready to be packed and transported back to Kota Kinabalu.

 

Meanwhile, the sections of tree bark and further (cross-referenced) samples of lichens will be analysed by Charles and his team of chemists, including Kishneth, at UMS and their chemistry studied.

 

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Kishneth gets to grips with the intricate structure of some of the lichens the team have collected.

 

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Keiron empties the containers that have been collecting material at the bottom of the Winkler bags.

 

Elsewhere, Dan, Kerry and Keiron have been emptying the final Winkler bags and gathering their various samples together.  There’s a noticeable difference in the volume of material that the different traps have collected.

 

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A ‘line-up’ of samples – a pair of Malaise trap samples on the left, SLAM traps, pitfall traps, and finally a pair of leaf litter samples on the far right.

 

The Malaise traps have been particularly successful in sampling a large number of forest invertebrates, while the pitfall traps have caught some of the larger specimens.

 

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A Whip Scorpion found in one of the pitfall traps.

 

While walking towards the forest today for a final stroll beneath the mighty Dipterocarp trees, I couldn’t help but notice a small flowering plant on the side of the road.  Particularly memorable because of what happens when you touch it….

 

 

The leaves of Mimosa pudica quickly fold inwards or droop when touched.

 

Mimosa pudica, while intriguing, shouldn’t be here.  It is a species native to South and Central America, but is an invasive weed across much of the tropics.  It seems incredible that such a small plant could have made it all the way from South America to the depths of Sabah in Borneo, and yet it’s not an uncommon tale.

 

We’re looking forward to a change of scenery when we get to Kota Kinabalu tomorrow but for now, with the closest village 2 hours drive away, games of cards and charades are the mainstay of our evening’s entertainment.

 

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It’s a film…..four words….

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Following on from two amazing trips to Costa Rica and the Bahamas earlier this year, I'm preparing to fly out to Borneo in South East Asia this weekend! 

 

I'm going to be joining a group of Museum scientists who have already been steeped in the hot and humid rainforests of Borneo for the past four weeks, and have been blogging about their experiences so far.  I'll be reporting back on their research, giving you an insider's view on their ingenious sampling methods, keeping you updated on exciting wildlife sightings and recounting the highs and lows of life in the field.

 

You can join in by following our blog and using the comments section at the end of each daily post, or by visiting the Museum in person for some very special Nature Live events in the Attenborough Studio including live-video-links to Borneo:

 

Thu 11 October at 14.30: Biodiversity in Borneo

Sat 13 October at 12.30 and 14.30: Caught in a Trap: Borneo (the 14.30 event will be British Sign Language interpreted)

Wed 17 October at 14.30: Eaten Alive in Borneo

 

Time to get packing......

 

Charlotte Coales

 

P.S. We also have a special series of Nature Live in the Field videoconferences and live-chats for Schools. The first is on Friday 9 October so if you want your school or class to take part, contact us as soon as possible.

 

Image copyright: Tim Cockerill

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As you’re reading this I’m flying across the Atlantic home, to what I hear is a sunny London! I’ve had an amazing experience following the scientists as they look for new species and experiment with REX in the waters around the Bahamas.

 

The scientists will have a lot of work to do when they get back to the Museum with all their samples. They will be busy checking to see if the species they have found here in the Bahamas are actually undescribed and new to science and we'll keep you updated with any results.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed following the blog as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Highlights for me have been seeing the amazing footage that REX was sending back to the control room, helping the scientists sieve for worms in the mangroves, sharing in their ups and downs as they looked for the experiments and, of course, waking up with an amazing view every morning!

 

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Above: Our office for the last 10 days – not bad

(Click images to see them full size)

 

Now it’s time for the credits… there are lots of people to thank for making this happen!

 

Firstly to Stephen, Martin and Honor for allowing me to spend 10 days out of the office. To everyone in the Learning department for their support but especially my fantastic colleagues in the Nature Live team – Jo, Ana Rita, Natalie and Tom.

 

Extra special thanks to Tom and Natalie for hosting the shows so professionally and dealing with any technical problems so gracefully – I bet the audience had no idea what was happening behind the scenes! Also to Verity Nye, who came up from Southampton, and Museum scientist Geoff Boxshall who were our anchors in the studio during the live-links. Geoff, great news, we collected you a sample from Hatchet Bay and I have a big bruise on my leg to prove it!

 

Thanks to Adam and the special effects team for making sure the live-video-links back to London worked so smoothly.

 

To Jonathan for setting up the fantastic live-chat sessions and to Grace for organising the entire schools component of the fieldtrip. It was so great having that interaction with pupils.

 

In the Bahamas we have a lot of people to thank – firstly Janet and Harvey Higgs and the rest of Nick’s family for being so hospitable – no request was ever too much, and we requested a lot!

 

Big thank you to our fantastic skipper Howard, not only was he a great Captain, he’s also a great cook too – preparing freshly caught fish while we were busy with REX...

 

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Above: Howard making lunch as everyone looks on

 

Thank you to Kendra from the Bahamas Marine Mammals Research Organisation who supplied the whale bones that we sank for our experiments. I bet the sharks are grateful for that too!

 

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Above: Kendra joined us to see what we had done with her donated whale bones!

 

The science team have been amazing and so accommodating to my requests; whether that was asking to interview them, taking part in Nature Live and other events or my personal favourite, ‘how do you spell that again’?!

 

Big thanks to Diva, Leigh, Nick, Helena and Gill for being great field companions. Thanks to Tony for always being at the ready with the camera and making those live-video-links happen from this end.

 

Finally, a big thank you to Adrian for making this whole fieldtrip possible! I’ve had a fantastic time following science as it happens in the field – capturing their discoveries and sharing them with you - and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it!

 

I asked Adrian to sum up the trip for us…

 

 

Keep in touch with the Field work with Nature Live community and subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog and you’ll receive updates whenever a new post appears.

 

And remember, you can meet more Museum scientists every day at Nature Live events held in the Museum’s Attenborough studio at 14:30 (and also at 12:30 at weekends and holidays).

 

I hope to see you at a Nature Live event soon!

 

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Above: Team Bahamas (except Tony, who was taking the photo!)

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After collecting so many samples over the last few days it was now time to sit down and sift and sort through all of them to see what species we found.

 

Diva spent the morning looking over the bits of wood that were brought up yesterday. She picked off as much of the fauna as she could and put them directly into salt water and alcohol to preserve them for the journey back to London. So far she has found crabs, shrimps, polychaetes and some hydroids growing on the worms.

 

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Above: Diva is trying to pick off all the animals she can see living on the wood

(Click on images to see them full size)

 

She also put the pieces of wood out to dry in the sun so that she can take those back with her and put them in the CT scanner. She will be looking for wood-boring molluscs but won’t have the results for a while.

 

We all got slightly preoccupied by seeing a grass snake in the bushes...

 

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Helena spent most of the day going over the only piece of whale bone the shark left behind. She has found lots of polychaete worms living on the bones but no evidence of any whale fall specialists, like Osedax, yet.

 

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Above: Helena shows us on the big screen the creatures she is looking at under the microscope

 

Helena has already spotted 2 potential new species of worm from the mangrove samples and once she's back at the Museum she’ll be able to say for certain. If they are, then that leaves one more thing. The name…

 

 

Tomorrow we're hoping to go over to Ocean Hole on Eleuthera to drop REX down to 200m and hopefully see lots of animals using the HD camera. Maybe sharks too. We’ll also be collecting some copeopods that Geoff asked us to collect for him from the Attenborough Studio during the Nature Live event last week! All weather dependent, of course...

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Welcome to...

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(Click images to see them full size)

 

We are all waking up really early - around 6am when the sun comes up. After breakfast we loaded up the golf carts with spades, sieves and sampling jars and we were ready to go panning for worms. We ventured out to the mangroves on the other side of the island, where we were relieved to find that the wind was much less intense.

 

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Above: Helena is ready to find some worms in the Bahamian sand

 

Once we reached the marina we had to get out to the sampling site and what better way than to kayak. Then we had to do some serious digging, put the muddy sand into a bucket and kayak the samples back to the shore. To be fair, Nick did a lot of the hard work!

 

It was then up to Diva and Helena to sieve through all the mud, this may sound easy but when you’re looking for tiny creatures you have to be very precise and it can take quite a while.

 

 

We found a few large creatures, such as sea cucumbers and a giant anemone, but the really exciting stuff is only visible under the microscope. Helena was really excited as she thinks she has found a new species of the marine worm Ophryotrocha under the microscope! Obviously we can't tell for sure until we get back to the Museum but it's great to think that it might be so.

 

 

Above: Could this be a new species of the marine worm Ophryotrocha?

 

One of the other highlights of the day was that Gill got to see Cassiopeia jellyfish for the first time in the wild!

 

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Above: Cassiopeia made Gill’s day!

 

After lunch (which was rice and beans!) we spent a good part of the day testing REX before we send him into the deep later in the week. Adrian and Leigh set up a mission control in a repurposed bathroom on the beach and we sat and watched REX manoeuvre through the shallow sea grass beds.

 

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Above: Yes, Adrian is sitting on a toilet!

 

Here is when REX met a lionfish…

 

 

On Thu 8 Mar (which is tomorrow for me as I write this) we'll be linking live to the Attenborough Studio so do join us if you can!

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One of the objectives of our field trip to the Bahamas is to see if a species of the bone-eating worm, Osedax, can be found there, which would be a first for science. However, if we're to find Osedax worms in tropical waters we need to lure them to us.

 

We know that these bizarre creatures bore into the bones of dead whales that have fallen to the seafloor. Finding a whale skeleton naturally in the waters in the Caribbean could take weeks or months and although a stay that long sounds like an attractive prospect it wouldn't be the most economical. Instead, the team thought to sink pieces of whale bone and wood to attract the worms.

 

So, in October 2011, Adrian Glover and Nick Higgs went to the Bahamas to do just that. Here is a picture of the experiments...

 

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Weighted baskets with bones and wood attached - the floats will (hopefully!) help to locate them
(Click images to see them full size)

 

The baskets were dropped to the sea floor at different depths; one each at 19m, 30m and 55m.

 

Here is the experiment that was lowered at 19m in October - will we be able to find it on our return?

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The basket on the sea floor, at a depth of 19m below the surface

 

Now, 6 months later, we're going to retrieve them and hopefully in that time an Osedax species will have colonised them and we'll find the first record of the worms in the Caribbean. We’ll keep you posted!

 

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Will we find Osedax in tropical waters?

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On Friday and Saturday, I introduced everyone else who is going to the Bahamas, and now there’s only me left:

 

Being a Nature Live host, I have always worked closely with Museum scientists but I’ve never had the opportunity to accompany them on a field trip. I feel extremely lucky to be going to the Bahamas and it will definitely make a change from being in the Attenborough Studio at the Museum (see me hosting a recent session about the Bahamas with Adrian Glover here).

 

The really exciting thing for me about this field work trip is being able to engage our visitors with Museum science as it happens, live, on the other side of the Atlantic. Hopefully it will help people see we are much more than the ‘Dinosaur museum’!

 

Highlight?

A highlight for me would be to see sharks, even if it is through our eyes in the ocean - the remotely operated vehicle, REX. I also hope we find a new species of Osedax so that I can have first dibs on naming it! (I realise I won’t get the honour but a girl can dream!)

 

Anything worrying me?

I am a little worried about the possibility of getting sea sick. I don’t do well on boats – a fact I have kept to myself until now!

 

I hope you’ll follow our trip and check in for the latest on our journey...

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What do you study at the Museum?

I study string jellyfish, or siphonophores, which are very delicate deep sea species that pass their whole life cycle in the plankton, and are not normally found anywhere near the shore because of turbulence.

 

The only jellyfish that lives on the surface of the water is the Physalia - also known as the Portuguese man of war. Once it has matured it has a massive float which means it cannot sink below the water.

 

What are you most excited about finding/seeing on the trip?

Rarely collected species of siphonophores from the Tongue of the Ocean - several new species were described from the area in the 1980s to 1990s - but have not been found since. I have only ever seen about 2 live siphonophores in my life, as I work on preserved material, so anything will be exciting for me.

 

What do you miss the most when you go on field work?

Probably my husband, who will be at home whilst I’m in the Bahamas. This trip is a first for me because I am a non-funded Scientific Associate in the Museum, and just do my research for fun, not money! This is the first time I’ve ever been offered a place on a Museum expedition, so I am very excited to be going, and grateful for being invited to participate.

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What do you study at the Museum?

I study polychaetes (marine segmented worms), from the deep sea and from whale-falls and hydrothermal vents. Polychaetes are related to earth worms but usually a lot prettier and more colourful. I am describing new species that we discover in the deep sea samples, and I sequence their DNA to see how they are related to each other.

 

The DNA sequences can also be used to study how these worms move around in the sea. It can be useful to know if they can go anywhere else if their current habitat becomes inhospitable or if they're stuck in one place and doomed when bad things happen.

 

What are you most excited about finding/seeing on the trip?

If we get those whale bones up from the sea floor, I am sure that there are undescribed worm species on them. I am very curious to see what they look like, and also to bring them back to the lab and sequence their DNA to see where they belong among the other worms from similar habitats.

 

Where have you been previously on field work?

In my undergraduate studies I spent one year on Svalbard studying Arctic Biology, and we went on several field trips both on sea and on land. And then I've been to New Zealand, Chile and on an expedition to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and on several expeditions at sea back home in Sweden.

 

What is your favourite thing about going on field work?

My favourite thing is getting the samples! It's a lot like looking for treasure; whenever the sampling gear comes aboard we're all very excited to see what is brought up with it. Even a heap of mud can cause quite a shuffle when everybody wants to see what's in it and pick out the things they work on.

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What do you study?

I am studying for a PhD at the University of Southampton, based at the National Oceanography Centre, but I work with colleagues at the Natural History Museum. I use video footage taken by a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) to study animals that live at hydrothermal vents.

 

What are you most excited about seeing/finding on the trip?

Taking REX into the Blue Hole. Who knows what we will find 200m down…

 

Where have you been previously on field work?

I have worked in the North Sea, English Channel and the Antarctic, so I am looking forward to working somewhere hot for a change!

 

What is your best experience whilst on field work?

Being one of the first people to see the hydrothermal vents in the Antarctic. They're not easy to find, but we managed to discover two new vent fields. This new discovery yielded several new species to science, including the much talked about 'Hoff crab'.

 

Is anything worrying you about the trip?

Working with electronics and water is always a risky business! Let’s hope everything is plugged in and water-tight!

 

What advice would you give to someone going on field work for the first time?

Take your favourite tea bags and your own mug!

 

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That's it for today - tomorrow we'll meet the rest of the team.

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What do you study at the Museum?

I study animals that live on dead whale skeletons and how this affects the formation of whale fossils. I am particularly interested in the Osedax bone-eating worms!

 

What are you most excited about seeing on the trip?

I am really excited about seeing what kind of animals live in the deep water of the Bahamas. I grew up nearby and have always wondered what was living beyond the shallow water that I could reach while diving.

 

Where have you been previously on field work?

I have been to California, Japan and Sweden on field work before to study what happens to dead whales in these areas.

 

What is your least favourite thing about going on field work?

I’m really lucky be to able to travel to so many places as part of my job and I love it. But my least favourite thing is the preparation involved. Going to another country and bringing back samples involves a LOT of paperwork and planning, especially if you’re dealing with specially protected animals like whales.

 

Is anything worrying you about the trip?

I’m a little worried about not finding all of the experiments we prepared last time we were in the Bahamas. We dropped one very near an underwater cliff so let’s hope it didn’t fall down into the abyss!

 

What advice would you give to someone going on field work for the first time?

Remember that other people have different cultural backgrounds with different norms that you should respect. This is easy to forget when travelling to English speaking countries.

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What do you study at the Museum?

My main interest is deep-sea biology and in particular the diversity, evolution and ecology of the marine annelid worms - the polychaetes. These are incredibly diverse in the deep-sea, the least explored and largest ecosystem on the planet.

 

What are you most excited about seeing/finding on the trip?

Although our main science goal is the retrieval of a set of important colonisation experiments, I am secretly most excited about taking our little underwater robot 'REX' to its deepest depth rating - 200m. I would like to take it below the warm surface waters into the cooler, darker deep waters - the twilight zone - to observe the marine life using this new low-cost deep-sea approach that we are pioneering on this trip.

 

Where have you been previously been on field work?

I have been fortunate enough to be involved in field work all over the world. Mostly it has been in rather cold places (the Southern Ocean, the Antarctic and the North Sea). I am looking forward to a tropical trip for a change!

 

What is your best experience whilst on field work?

The best experience has been our first discovery of the enigmatic Osedax worms whilst on a sampling trip in Sweden. It was incredible to find these bizarre animals living so close to a marine lab, in shallow water. It reinforced to me how little we know even the accessible parts of our oceans.

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At the end of day 8, in order to be nearer our site for the next day's work and to finish pressing, we did decide to camp out on the peak (see yesterday's post).

 

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(Click images to see them full size)

 

We set up our tent at the top and set about making a dinner of soup and pasta.

 

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This was the most incredible place to eat and sleep - on top of a rock, the forest floor hundreds of metres below on either side of us. The picture below shows the peak.

 

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Over dinner we watched the weather, which was better than any TV programme. It was amazing to see clouds form below us and then race up the side of the mountains and roll by while turning the color of the setting sun to orange and then grey.

 

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I tried to capture it on film.

 

 

The next day, having been buffeted by the wind all night, we rose early and made some coffee and scrambled eggs. Someone (either Daniel or Alex ) took this horrific photo of me in the night!

 

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What is it? A Yeti?

 

We had a tin of tuna going spare, but couldn’t face it that early!

 

Today we are collecting on the neighbouring peak and after lunch we will walk back to our hut for the remainder of our stay. The descent and climb between the two peaks was dramatic. I did most of it on my backside! Sliding down the mountain holding on to anything that didn’t come away in my hand.

 

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Every time we venture further into the forest, all the places we’ve already been to seem to feel less wild and more hospitable.

 

Coming down the peak from our camp last night, the forest below began to feel familiar and safe (I promptly fell between two trees, bringing me back down to earth, metaphorically and literally - with a bump) and I completely understand why visiting places like this can become addictive.

 

Apologies for waxing (poorly) philosophical - it is Valentine's Day as I write this and I’m feeling whimsical!

 

Back to why we're here... Species of the day goes to Daniel and is a new species (probably)!

 

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It is a member of the genus Blackea and normally this genus is epiphytic (i.e. it would grow on other plants) but this one is a small tree, three metres high and has pale translucent green flowers unlike any other species in the genus that we're aware of.

 

Daniel is pretty sure it is a new species but we can’t be 100% until it has been checked.

 

Also, I should have said a few days ago, Holger and Jo stayed back at the hut as there are more sites of interest to them in that area than up the peaks, so we’ll catch up with them this evening.

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Breakfast was sausages – yes! Salty and oily they took my good friends rice and beans to a whole new level.

 

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(Click the images to see them full size)

 

Today we set off from our hut, to the camp we are going to stay at for the next two days – N 09 08 09.4, W 082 57 38.4 are the co-ordinates: view on a map.

 

Our route took us along the river.

 

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We walked for a couple of hours before climbing up to a point called Jardin. This area is completely different from anything I have seen so far on the trip – it’s a peat bog and is dominated by tree ferns that have islands of mosses, lichens and sedges growing around them. It was a rare break in the forest canopy and there were some spectacular views.

 

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It was a really challenging crossing - impossible to know whether your next step was going to hold fast or leave you knee deep in the bog.

 

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We then dipped backed down through the forest – not so much a trail as a thrash through the bush!

 

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Once at the camp, I set up the equipment for sending you my post - solar charger and satellite phone - and made a little tour of the camp.

 

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On the way here I saw the first sign of a wild cat – this is Ocelot poo, apparently!

 

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Species of the day goes to Neil (though Alex is making a spurious claim!). It is in the genus Pilea (in the nettle family) and Alex thinks it may be a new species! He is a world expert in the nettle family and, in particular, this genus - although this looks similar to another species of Pilea it has a key difference in that the leaves are of equal size to each other as opposed to being different sizes.

 

If it is a new species Alex will be able to publish a description of it and give it a name, but he can only be sure that this is a new species once he has checked it against similar species housed in herbaria.

 

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This really highlights the importance of the trip and of collecting in general. In order to know exactly what is in the park and make as complete a check-list of the species as possible, we have to know what lives here. These specimens will be available for future generations, who may have other uses for the data they provide.

 

Of course, it is important not to collect too much, we rarely collect a whole plant and always make sure we don’t collect without the correct permits which are provided by the Costa Rican government.

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Today we rose early! By 7.00 we had left base camp and were beginning the 6-8 hour trek [I sit here smug, we did it in just over 6] to the hut that is to be our home for the next week and a bit. Breakfast was rice and beans (a theme is emerging!).

 

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(Click the images to see them full size)

 

The first half of the trek was uphill (i.e. absolutely knackering) but the views from the occasional break in the canopy were breathtaking and kept us pushing on.

 

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We are working alongside Costa Rican botanists, one of whom is Daniel. He has an incredible knowledge of the local environment and found this plant, Satyria warszewiczii on our trek.

 

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The flower’s corolla (a corolla is when all of the flower’s petals have fused into a tube) is edible and tastes a little bit like bitter lemon or blueberries (or vinegar depending on who you ask!):

 

 

After 4 hours we reached the continental divide, the point at which Costa Rica splits between Atlantic and Pacific forest. Water that falls either side of this divide ends up in either the Pacific or Atlantic ocean. Alex had a unique way of explaining this:

 

 

The forest changed dramatically once we were on the Atlantic side - on the Pacific side our path had been dry and dusty but once we crossed over, the forest was damper, darker, cooler and wetter. This is because the prevailing wind blows from the West.

 

The wind picks up moisture from the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea and carries it to the western Atlantic slopes of the forest before dumping it there. Therefore, because less water reaches the Pacific side, it’s much drier.

 

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The rain increased as we got closer to our hut. We arrived damp and tired but very excited about the days ahead.

 

The camp is made from naturally fallen trees from the forest and the roof is corrugated iron - the sound of the rain drumming above me as I sit inside with a coffee is wonderful!

 

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I’ll post some more pictures of the camp tomorrow - the battery in my camera has run out of juice and our generator is not yet up and running.

However, we found some really nice things on the way, this is a beetle grub:

 

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And this beautiful moth:

 

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I'll have to see if the Museum's enotmologists know what species they are...

 

Tomorrow we start collecting and the hard work begins but Holger has already had success after popping down to a nearby stream and finding two species of lichen never recorded in Costa Rica before.

 

Tonight, more beans and rice and early to bed.

 

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Remember we'll be live-linking from Costa Rica to the Museum's Attenborough Studio at 12:30 and 14:30 on Saturday 11, Sunday 16 and Saturday 18 February so, if you are in London, come along to see how we are getting on!


The Attenborough Studio is located in the Darwin Centre in the Museum's Orange Zone.