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5 Posts tagged with the vietnam tag
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Before I tell you about our time in the lab, I thought I would share with you another video taken by Paul Pearce Kelly in Cuc-Phuong. The video below is of a predatory slug species from the genus Atopos. These slugs either eat small microsnails whole or bore through larger snails' shells using their toothed, tongue-like radula.

 

 

 

After our exciting and productive time in Cuc Phuong National Park we headed back to Hanoi to process the material for frozen tissue collections. Our expedition has been jointly funded by the Natural History Museum and the Frozen Ark, and one of our aims is to collect frozen tissue material and viable cells.

 

The Frozen Ark was set up in 1996 and is run by a consortium of 22 universities, museums, zoos and aquaria from 8 different countries, with the aim to conserve frozen cells containing DNA from endangered animals before they go extinct. Since many limestone habitats are under threat from the construction industry (the limestone is used in the manufacture of cement and other building materials), we decided that terrestrial molluscs would be a great addition to the Frozen Ark collections.

 

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Chris preparing tissue whilst Jackie puts the samples on ice.

 

The specimens used for these processess have been brought back from Cuc-Phuong live, to be processed in the laboratory. For the frozen tissue samples, small slices of the foot of the snail (the part it moves on) are placed in sterile tubes and frozen at -80 degrees Celsius. These samples will hopefully yield high quality DNA. Five multiple sets are stored for our current research, long term Museum storage, the Frozen Ark in London, the Frozen Ark in Nottingham and for the Frozen Ark in Vietnam.

 

The viable cell preparations are also taken from tissue samples but they are mashed up in an antibiotic solution (to prevent damage by bacteria etc.), and then mixed with a buffer chemical so that as the tissues are frozen, again at -80 degres Celcius, the cells will not fracture and will remain whole. It is hoped that future technology will allow us to use these cells and the genetic content within to re-create and re-introduce extinct species.

 

lab.JPG(L-R) Jackie, Chris and Fred hard at work on the cold-chain-gang (sorry terrible molecular joke).

 

The two experts in our group helping us with these processes are Jackie Mackenzie-Dodds and Dr. Chris Wade, who are both on the advisory board of the Frozen Ark. Jackie is the collections manager of the molecular and frozen tissue collections at the Museum, and Chris is a lecturer of genetics and a molecular biologist at Nottingham University. I'm glad they are both here as the frozen tissue preparations are complex and intricate and I have never done anything like this before.

 

We have spent the last few days collecting in Huu Lien Nature Reserve and tomorrow will be our last day collecting in the field so in my next blog I'll be telling you all about the strange and wonderful things we have found, and a little about our last few days in Hanoi.

 

Fruit for Thought

 

As well as the delicious savoury dishes we have been sampling a wealth of unusual (at least to me) fruit. My favourite has to be the Rambutan, a egg-sized red fruit covered in green hairs. I'm afraid I don't have any pictures because I ate them all before I thought to take a photo so you'll have to Google them. They taste a bit like a grape but are sweeter and juicier - delicious.

 

fruit.JPGPersimmon (the red fruit) and Guava's (the green ones) with a little lotus tea - what a lovely afternoon treat.

 

We've also been eating ...

 

Pomelo - a sharp citrus fruit with a grapefruit-like taste

Guava - like a tropical quince

Persimmon - a bit like across bewteen a plum and a tomato, much nicer than it sounds

Longans - like large lychees but sweeter

Forest Bananas - shorter but wider than our usual bananas, tastes earthier and banana-ery if that makes any sense

Jicama - a tuber that tastes like apple and is often served with savoury courses

 

Bite Me

 

0 Leech bites ... all though I have a funny feeling this may change tomorrow as it is due to be a stormy evening

12 mosquito bites

Ant bites, fading and almost gone

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We've been amazed by the amount and diversity of snail species in Cuc Phuong. We knew it was rich but we have found so many new and exciting species that we are struggling to process all the material (a good problem to have). The weather has improved slightly (good for us) but the ground and leaf litter is still really damp for collecting (good for the snails, everyone wins!).

 

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Limestone outcrops in Cuc Phuong National Park, the perfect habitat for a snail hunt.

 

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Megaustenia sp. is a semi-slug, see how the body (also called the mantle) almost completely covers the shell.

 

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I can't wait to get back to the Museum to try and identify this large, keeled Camaenid.

 

 

Paul Pearce Kelly, the Senior Curator of Invertebrates and Lower Vertebrates at London Zoo, is joining us on field work for the first time. His aim (apart from helping us to collect snails) is to build up links with different groups in Vietnam to help conserve and study threatened species.

 

After finding some thought-to-be-extinct snails on our Vietnam trip in 2012, we hope that Paul, in conjunction with the Vietnam National Museum of Nature, will be able to set up a breeding programme to protect them against threats in future. As well as helping us collect, Paul took some great videos of animals alive in the field and he has kindly let me share them with you in my blog. In this one you can see the as yet unidentified  'looping snail':

 

 

 

The as yet unidentified 'looping snail'. See how only a small portion of the foot is in contact with the rock at any one time.

 

Another member of our group I'd like to introduce to you to is Jonathan Fenn, a biology placement student from Manchester University. Jonathan has been working with Fred and I for the past year on producing an illustrated guide of the slugs and snails of Northern Vietnam, as well as a species list with distribution data for terrestrial molluscs across the whole of Vietnam. The aim of the trip is to teach Jonathan more about fieldwork, collecting and preserving snails, and to gain experience in preserving viable cells (which I will discuss in my next blog).

 

sang-paul-jonathan.jpgSang van Pham and Paul Pearce Kelly (left) in the national park, and Jonathan Fenn in collecting mode.

 

As well as snails, the forests and local areas are home to an amazing array of different animals. One of my favourites (not including the enormous spider that lives in my toilet, didn't think you would want a picture of that) was the praying mantis species I found outside my bedroom (see below). Sadly I missed the Vine Snake (Ahaetulla sp.) that my co-workers found when searching the trees for snails.

 

Praying mantis.

"What you lookin' at?"

 

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So gutted I missed this Vine Snake (Ahaetulla sp.), what a beauty!

 

Since we'd all been working so hard we decided we deserved a visit to the Endangered Primate Rescue Center (EPRC) in Cuc Phuong National Park. The centre was established in 1993 and is dedicated to the rehabilitation, breeding and research of endangered primates as well as the protection of their habitats. The EPRC is home to over 150 primates from 15 Vietnamese species, including lorises, langurs and gibbons. My favourites were the wonderfully playful Gray Shanked Douc Langurs.


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Grey Shanked Douc Langur family (Pygathrix cinerea), a critically endangered species endemic to Vietnam.


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Some of the team with Liam Shepheard (centre in Green T-shirt), one of the head animal keepers at the Endangered Primate Rescue Center.

 

Our guide for the afternoon was Liam Shepheard, head animal keeper, who showed us the remarkable centre and told us about the amazing work they do in rescuing and when possible re-introducing animals back in to the wild. One species of Laotian Langur (Trachypithecus laotum) named 'Airport' is the only individual of its kind in captivity and is thought to be critically endangered in the wild. At times the stories were a sad and sobering experience but the success they are having is remarkable and it was real treat to be able to see these beautiful creatures up close.

 

Carnivore and Pangolin Rescue Center

 

After meeting the directors of Cuc Phong National Park over dinner the previous evening, we were invited to visit the Carnivore and Pangolin Rescue Center, a massive privilege as this is not normally open to the public. Many mammal species are being hunted for meat, the pet trade and in the case of the Pangolin, for Chinese medicine (the scales are used in medicines and the meat is regarded as a, ahem, male performance enhancer). The centre was set up to rescue illegally found animals and to develop techniques and procedures to allow the rehabilitation, breeding and reintroduction of such species back in to the wild.

 

We visited the centre at night, which is the best time to see the majority of the animals. Pangolins are my favourite mammal and I have never seen one before so this was a real highlight for me. The animal we met was called 'Lucky', a Sunda Pangolin who had been saved from captivity but who was sadly too tame to be re-introduced.

 

A Binturong.

The Binturong (Arctictis binturong) - the cutest thing I have ever seen. Numbers have dropped due to hunting.

 

Sunda Pangolin.

A Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica) rescued from an illegal trader but sadly too tame to be released.

 

I also got to see another favourite of mine, the Binturong, a south-east Asian mammal related to civets whose numbers have been declining in the region due to threats from poachers.

 

A Few Thoughts from my Stomach

 

We have had some delicious and some challenging food in the last few days. Fried mixed mushrooms and chilli roasted chicken have been superb, whereas mixed offal and pak choi soup was something I am keen to avoid in the future (and I like offal). But today I thought I would tell you a bit about some of the mealtime extras I have enjoyed.

 

Nước chấm is the name of a group of dipping sauces that are commonly served with meals that have a fish sauce base, often mixed with garlic, bird's eye chillis, garlic and sugar, with the precise mixture depending on the region. This sauce is, I think, delicious with morning glory and .. well, actually pretty much anything although a few of our group find it a bit overpowering (I would take some home but it is prohibited by most airlines as if it leaks it tends to smell forever!)

 

At the behest of our Vietnamese colleagues of course, we like to round the day off with a glass or two of Mountain Apple Brandy. The precise ingredients of this sour but delicious beverage are a closely guarded secret, and it is homemade by the wife of our driver, Mr. Kiem. I have however managed to find out that it contains a sour apple-like fruit, rice wine, mixed berries and a selection of herbs and bark. Whatever it is I'm sold!

 

Bite Count

0 Leech Bites (I cannot tell you how happy this makes me)

8 Mosquito Bites (in total, 5 new ones)

More Ant bites than a man should ever have to deal with! Itchy does not even come close.

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We arrived in Cuc Phuong National Park on Friday afternoon. Set up in 1962, the park is the oldest in Vietnam and covers an area of over 22,200 ha. It is home to more than 2,000 species of trees, 110 species of reptiles and amphibians, 308 species of bird and 125 species of mammal, including the Clouded Leopard, Delacour's Langur, Owston's Civet and the Asian Black Bear.

 

Since the national park is so rich in snail diversity we could barely wait to start collecting and bagged our first few specimens as we excitedly stepped out of our van. After a hearty meal (more later) and a good night's sleep under our mosquito nets we were ready to head out into the field. Our first collecting site was a limestone outcrop, which also contains an archaeological cave where human tools and remains dating to over 7,500 years ago have been recovered.

 

Chasing Snails

 

Collecting snails is harder than it sounds, as we have to make sure we get specimens that live in soil and leaf litter, on the rocks and stones, in the trees and on vegetation. In the hot and humid conditions of the tropics this is difficult and sweaty work, but at least when we do find them they aren't too hard to catch.

instructer Frd.jpgFred Naggs (R) gives Hao Luongvan (L), Mr Kiem, our driver (C), and myself a quick Iecture.

 

On our first day we found an amazing variety of specimens, from microsnails less than 1mm tall that hide in the crevices of the limestone rock face, to larger and often strikingly coloured species. One of my favouites was the white form of Camaena gabriellae (pictured below left) which we found crawling on the bark of trees and managed to catch by knocking them with a stick in to a traditional conical Vietnamese hat, which did the job perfectly.

 

I am also particularly fond of the elongate group of snails called the Clausiliidae (pictured below right), which are found on limestone in large numbers, their bodies barely peaking beyond the shells as they graze on lichens and algae.

 

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Species found on day one include Camaena gabriellae (L) and Tropidauchenia sp. from the Clausillidae (R).

 

Today I would like to introduce you to another Vietnamese member of our team, Mr Hao Luongvan (pictured in first image). Hao works for the Forestry Commision and is based in Hoang Lien National Park, Sapa in northen Vietnam. He has been studying molluscs for the last ten years.

 

We first met Hao on our visit to Cuc Phuong in 2007 and have worked closely with him ever since. Not only does he a have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the variety of habitats, plants and animals across Vietnam, but he has been instrumental in helping us gain access to different national parks and make vital links with important government and conservation departments.

 

Turtle Power

 

After a hard day's work we managed to fit in a visit to the Cuc Phuong Turtle Sanctuary. The centre was set up in 1998 as a safe area to house and breed the 19 native species of Vietnames turtles (of which 3 are found in Cuc Phuong), as well as to increase public awareness of the threats poaching poses to these amazing creatures.

 

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Terrapin in Cuc Phuong Sanctuary. Poaching is the main source of their decline.

 

The centre was really inspiring, as to date over 900 turtles have been born there from animals confiscated from illegal traders. Plus we got to sit on a life-size model of the Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swingoei), which can reach over a metre in length.

 

Specimen Sorting, Identification and Preservation

 

After our brief foray in to the world of chelonians it was time to get back to work. The first job is to sort all the snails into species based on shell and body shape, colour and sculpture (sculpture means the 3D surface - is it ridged, smooth or bumpy etc.). Once we have done this we choose one specimen to take a tissue sample from, and preserve this in 100% ethanol for molecular analysis.

 

snail-sorting.jpgSorting snails in the sunshine, it's a hard life ... honest.

 

We then split the remainder of the individuals into those to be preserved in 80% ethanol for anatomical analysis and those to be taken back to Hanoi alive for viable cell preservation (more on this in a future blog post). This is my favourite part of the collecting day as we get to compare what we have found and there is always something unusual or unexpected - this time we had both aplenty! On our first haul we could not believe the diversity and volume of species we managed to collect - this really is an amazing habitat for molluscs and even more exciting than usual as we think in our first day we not only have a new species or two but possibly even a new genus .... so watch this space.

 

Food For Thought

 

After a long but fruitful day it was time to retire for dinner and no blog post of mine would be complete without some mention of food. Tonight was the first time on this trip that I got to have some of my favourite Vietnamese food; a green vegetable called Morning Glory (rau muống in Vietnamese or Ipomoea aquatica in science speak). The spinach-like stems and leaves are fried in garlic and chilli and are bitter but wonderfully moreish. I ate more than I should have with fried chicken, sesame roasted pork and sumptuous sticky rice washed down with locally made Vietnamese brandy (don't ask!).

 

DSC_1016_small.JPGMorning Glory (Ipomoea aquatica) the green stuff on the left ... much nicer than it looks!

 

As I write this (in the courtyard of our accomodation with toads barking and cicadas chirping) I have just finished sorting out Sunday's specimen haul, also an impressive bounty, and I will be reporting back shortly on some new and exciting discoveries along with some of our further adventures in Cuc Phuong.

 

Biting animals update

 

As of Sunday evening (our time) I have;

0 leech bites

3 Mosquito Bites

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Hello again - I'm sure you'll be glad to hear that we have all arrived safely in Hanoi. It's a hot and humid 25 degrees here but there has been constant heavy rain since we arrived and it looks set to continue for the next week or so. Whilst this may not sound ideal it is great weather for collecting slugs and snails as the wet weather tends to bring them out of their hiding places in the soil and the leaf litter, making them far less difficult to find and collect.

 

 

jackie rain.JPGJackie and Jonathan walk back in the rain .. how Hanoi-ing (sorry I love a bad pun).

 

Our first visit of today was to the Vietnam National Museum of Nature where we met the new director, Profesor Nguyen Dinh Cong and other senior staff members, and were given a tour of the new and soon to be opened exhibition spaces.

 

The museum opened in 2004, and houses over 40,000 animal, plant, fossil and geologicical specimens. The staff are heavily involved in studying the biodivertsity of Vietnam and promoting its importance for science and conservation, as well as in educating the local community about the natural history of Vietnam, the research and the collections that it houses.

 

We spent the afternoon sorting out all our collecting equipment that we need when working in the field. It's a bit like moving house packing boxes, and labeling them so that we can find everything easily when we arrive. It's good to find that everything we needed has arrived safely but I'm a bit worried about how we are going to fit it all in to our van.

 

Expert collectors

 

This seems as good place as ever to introduce you to one of the members of our team, Sang van Pham, who has previously joined us on our collecting trips in 2011 and 2012. Sang works in the Vietnam National Museum of Nature, primarily on the preservation and preparation of specimens for the collections and exhibitions, but on our trips he has become an expert in finding the smaller species that are often missed by the untrained eye.

 

During previous visits we have been helping to train Sang in the collection, identification and preservation of land snails, and Sang's knowledge of the biodiversity and ecology of Vietnam has been a great help in helping us to plan where we should sample on our various trips in Vietnam.

 

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Sang van Pham sorting and preserving specimen in Vietnam in 2011.

 

The second member of our team I would like to introduce is Fred Naggs. Fred is the leader of the expedition and Biodiversity Officer at the Natural History Museum. His main area of interest is the diversity of terrestrial land snails in south-east Asia and India, and finding out how these species have spread over time and the factors which ave influenced their distribution.

 

Fred has a lot of experience in identifying and collecting snails in the tropics and always seems to know the best places to search. Although it seems to me that if this 'best place' is in an area that is hard to reach or excessively muddy it is me who is sent off to do the collecting whilst Fred stands in the dry shouting "left a bit" ... "no not that one" ... "just a bit higher" and other useful phrases.

 

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Fred Naggs collecting snails in Sri Lanka.

 

Tomorrow we have an early start as we are traveling to Cuc Phuong National Park, 100 miles south-west of Hanoi, where we can start our fieldwork proper. I'm a little hesitant as the constant rain means the likelihood of being intimately attached (literally) to the local leech population is a likely occurrence.

 

Food update

 

On a side note, as someone who is mildly obssessed with food, good things I have eaten in the last 24 hours include:

 

  • Bun-Cha: A Hanoian delicacy of grilled pork and noodles flavoured with mint, basil and a sweet sticky sauce.
  • Bánh xèo: A Vietnamese pancake of pork, prawns, bean sprouts and rice batter wrapped up in a lettuce leaf - messy but delicious.
  • Pho: Traditional beef noodle soup for breakfast, one of the (non-science) things I was most looking forward to on this trip (much tastier than cereal!).

 

Anyway, internet-availability depending, I hope to report back soon on our first day in the national park and let you know how our initial collecting went.

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Today I am heading off on a plane to Vietnam. Not for a sumptuous seaside sojourn or a historic amble around Hanoi, no instead I will be on fieldwork collecting terrestrial slugs and snails in the national parks of Vietnam.


I'm Jon Ablett, curator of non-marine Mollusca and Cephalopoda at the Museum. I've been on collecting trips to Vietnam before in 2007, 2011 and 2012, but I'm really looking forward to heading back there not only for the wonderful food, landscape and people (and did I mention the food?), but also for the interesting slugs and snails that we hope to find.

Picture1_forblog.jpgCollecting snails in Vienam in 2011; definitely not a competition to see who has found the best specimen.

 

Why Vietnam? Well, Vietnam is an amazingly diverse country with a broad latitudinal range - from north to south it is over 1,000 miles long. It also has a wide altitudinal range, from over 3,000m in the Hoang Lien Mountains in northern Vietnam, to coastal lowlands and the Mekong Valley.

 

The Annamese Mountains, which run north to south between Vietnam, Laos and NE Cambodia, are the most extensive limestone hill ranges in Asia. Snails require calcium to form their shells, and as a rule snail diversity increases as the amount of calcium in the environment increases. The rich calcium limestone in these mountains provides incredibly diverse habitats for a highly diverse range of molluscan species that, until now, have barely been studied.

 

Why snails?


Apart from the fact that I am the curator in charge of the land snail (and cephalopod...) collections at the Museum, there are more recorded extinctions of land snails than for all other animal groups combined. This makes land snails a key group for recognising why and where extinctions are taking place. It also means that snails could be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of various conservation measures, by acting as sensitive indicators of environmental change.

 

Also, since the Museum has a large historical collection of slugs and snails from Vietnam, by collecting specimens over a variety of timescales we can look at changes within and between species.

Cyclophorus for blog.jpgCyclophorus sp. in leaf litter. Notice the trap door like operculum by the tail.


The aim of our work in Vietnam is to collect new terrestrial land snail material to enhance the collections of both the Natural History Museum and the Vietnam National Museum of Nature, to provide tissue samples for molecular work, and to test new collection and storage techniques for our frozen tissue collections.

 

My colleagues and co-conspirators for our fieldwork include Museum staff and students as well as scientists from Nottingham University, the Zoological Society of London, the Vietnam National Museum of Nature and the Vietnam National Park Service. I hope that throughout my time in Vietnam I can tell you a little bit about the work that will be done by me and the team, explain some of the collection and preservation techniques we use and also a little about the trials and tribulations, highlights (and lowlights?) that occur along the way.

 

I'm just off to finish up packing up my collection equipment, suncream and mosquito repellent and hopefully the next time I blog I will be settled in Hanoi with a few new stories to tell.