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Today I would like to write about a very exciting new and free science project for upper school and nature groups all around the UK called The Microverse.

 

You may not have thought about what a microbe is before, but there are millions - possibly billions - of different kinds. So why should we care? Well, firstly, most life on earth exists because of one group - the cyanobacteria. Then there are all those important ecosystem services that microbes provide. And remember the 'healthy bacteria' in your gut, which have been linked to all sorts of health benefits (or diseases, when things go wrong).

 

We now know that human activity is changing the world we see, but what is it doing to the world we can’t? Nobody really knows. There are many questions to answer about about the microbial diversity that can be found in urban environments in cities, towns and villages. What is microbial diversity like on concrete pavements and glass skyscrapers? How can they survive the temperature extremes, lack of nutrients and high levels of pollutants?

 

The Microverse project is asking schools and nature groups to take samples from buildings for analysis at the Natural History Museum in London. Are our cities a disaster for microbial diversity, or are there thriving, species-rich communities out there? Who knows? It’s a whole new world we’re entering. More information on the biology, science and activities in this Microverse clip.

 

 

 

 

It is is easy and free to join the project. Just sign up on the The Microverse webpage.

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At this time of year deciduous trees can look their most beautiful silhouetted against the sky, revealing their true form and structure. Some shapes are obscured in a wrapping of ivy (Hedera helix), its lush, dark green growth providing a source of food and habitat for a variety of wildlife, as well as a traditional Christmas decoration in our homes.

 

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Ivy covering a tree stump © Jonathan Jackson.


Although ivy is no parasite it can sometimes cause damage as it climbs and clings to trees and hedges competing for plant nutrients in the soil, and its thick evergreen leaves, competing for light. Occasionally, if left unchecked, the sheer expanse of an ivy wrapping will act like a sail and in winter strong winds will cause the host tree and ivy stems to snap and capsize.


We restrain ivy growth on our trees on our trees in the wildlife garden by cutting it back to just below the crown before it competes for light in the tree canopy. We also keep it in check on the ground, preventing it covering large areas of ground where it would restrict the growth of other woodland plants such as primroses (Primula vulgaris) and lesser celandine (Ficaria verna).

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Ivy growth on the lime tree in the centre of the Wildlife Garden © Jonathan Jackson.

 

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Ivy starting to spread along the ground © Jonathan Jackson.


But no wildlife garden is complete without a wealth of ivy – albeit restrained.


Just two months ago, we watched our bees (Apis melifera) entering the bee tree laden with pollen from ivy. On a sunny autumn day there’s a constant humming from ivy flowers as bees and wasps congregate around the late autumn nectar. And during evenings a variety of moth species silently feed on ivy’s nectar-rich flowers

 

3. Bees on ivy flowersIMG_5672.jpg.
Bees nectaring on ivy flowers.


But both holly and ivy are Important in the life cycle of the holly blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus). The female lays her eggs on ivy in autumn in time for the larvae to feed on developing flower buds – the chrysalis overwinters and the adult emerges in spring.The spring adult lays eggs beneath the  flower buds of holly (Ilex aquifolium).

 

4. Holly Blue f on Bluebell_Tim Melling 1.jpg

Holly blue (Celastrina argiolus) on bluebell © Tim Melling, Butterfly Conservation.


Ivy leaves are a food source for the larvae of several moth species, notably the Swallow-tailed moth (Ourapteryx sambucaria)

 

5. Swallow-tailed Moth_Robert Thompson.jpg

Swallow-tailed moth (Ourapteryx sambucaria) on ivy © Robert Thompson, Butterfly Conservation


Ivy-clad trees and other structures provide thick cover and camouflage for nesting birds as well as hibernating insects – I inadvertently disturbed four common plume moths (Emmelina monodactyla) last week from the base of an ivy-clad fence.

 

Berries provide nest cover and food for birds as we have written about in a previous blog

 

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Blackbird feeding off ripe ivy berries in March © Jonathan Jackson.

 

But what of ivy’s seasonal associations and other uses? Roy Vickery tells us more:

 

Although it’s associated with Christmas, at least in urban areas ivy is not used a great deal as a Christmas decoration. Like holly it would remain looking fresh throughout the festive season before the widespread installation of central heating, now when homes are warmer and drier its leaves soon lose their sheen and then the twigs lose their leaves. Sometimes stretched crepe paper, usually red, was wrapped around fruiting ivy to make ornamental ‘roses’.

 

 

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Fruiting ivy – still green this week and unpalatable to birds © Jonathan Jackson.


However, there are records from places as far apart as Morayshire and Essex that ivy was considered to be unlucky and should not be brought indoors. Alternatively, as reported from Staffordshire in 1983: ‘Holly and ivy must not be taken in house until Christmas Eve and must be removed by January 6th.’


Presumably an exception was made on washdays when water in which ivy leaves had been boiled was used to clean the blue serge fabric from which the uniforms of railway men, postmen, and others was made. In County Derry: ‘With an old clothes brush take your husband’s serge suit and proceed to brush in the liquid, especially [into] the lapel and neck and cuffs.  Then take a clean cloth and iron it all over. It’s like new.’

 

 

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Ivy beginning its ascent up a London plane tree (Platanus x hispanica) in the Wildlife Garden

                                         © Jonathan Jackson.

 

And ivy leaves, either fresh, boiled or seeped in vinegar, tied on to corns and left on for about three days, will successfully remove the corn and its root so that it doesn’t return. Other medical uses included the treatment of burns in County Cork and eczema in Derbyshire.


Farmers would tempt sick sheep by offering them ivy: ‘If they did not eat ivy, they were going to die.’


Although it widely assumed that ivy is poisonous, Brian Bonnard in his Channel Island Plant Lore (1993) record that during the German occupation of the Islands in 1940-5 ‘ivy berries were boiled and eaten’. We do not recommend this.


Thank you Roy. You can read more about the uses of ivy and much more on Plant-lore Archive.

 

With seasonal evergreens in mind, you may like to see the progress of our mistletoe (Viscum album), planted in 2009 by Jonathan Briggs and featured in our wildlife garden blog two years ago. The plant has grown considerably in 2 years and .......

 

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Five and a half years after planting, our mistletoe has produced berries for the first time…

© Jonathan Jackson.

 


And finally, garden sightings this week also included…

 

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A healthy young fox captured on camera today © Daniel Osborne.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy new Year!

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Classification

Class              Arachnida

Order              Araneae

Family            Theridiidae

 

The False widow spiders (Steatoda spp.) form a group of species that, because of their general resemblance to the much more notorious Black widow spiders (Latrodectus spp.), can cause concern when found in Britain. In fact, these False widow spiders and the true Black widow spiders belong to the same family, the Theridiidae (comb-footed spiders).

 

Identification

Six species of False widow spiders occur in the UK (Steatoda nobilis, S. grossa, S. bipunctata, S. albomaculata, S. triangulosa and Asagena phalerata), all are black or brown, rotund species up to about the size of a small finger-nail (maximum body length of adult female 15 mm). An additional species, Steatoda paykulliana, is an occasional import in fruit shipments. Females have a globular shiny abdomen, while males have a smaller one with clearer markings. All species have a narrow white or lighter band around the front of the abdomen. A trait that gives the name to the family is the presence of a particularly well-developed comb of serrated bristles on female’s fourth tarsus, visible with a lens on the largest species. The webs are a tangle of criss-cross threads which may become quite dense in the centre if left undisturbed. Here are some details for the species most likely to be seen in Britain:

Noble false widow spider Steatoda nobilis         ♀ 8.5–14 mm;   ♂ 7–10 mm.      Always larger than S. bipunctata and usually larger than S. grossa. Abdomen pattern often described as “skull-shaped” but more like a pentagon, clearer in males and dimmer or sometimes absent in females. Legs uniformly red to brown.

Cupboard spider Steatoda grossa                     ♀ 6.5–10 mm;   ♂ 4–6 mm.        Females usually darker than S. nobilis and S. bipunctata, purplish-brown, evenly-coloured dark legs or with lighter stripes, pattern of two clear triangles and lateral bars (see photo) often dim or missing in the darkest specimens. Both sexes with lighter crescent on the front of the abdomen, but this is often absent too. Front legs longer that in S. nobilis and S. bipunctata.

Rabbit hutch spider Steatoda bipunctata            ♀ 4.5–7 mm;     ♂ 4–5 mm.        Distinctive appearance with median band on abdomen, clearer in male, but fainter, partial or missing in female. Dark transversal lines over the tip of the abdomen. Legs with dark stripes visible more than in any other Steatoda in Britain.

False widow spider Steatoda paykulliana           ♀ 8–13 mm;      ♂ 4.5–6 mm.     Black body and legs, with characteristic midline pattern on abdomen, with triangles or chevrons on median band. Both these and the band in front of the abdomen can be white, pale yellow, orange or red.

 

steatoda spp blog.jpg

Photo credits: Steatoda nobilis (2) © Michelle Brown, (4) © Joaquim Alves Gaspar / Wikimedia Commons, (5) © Graham Sant; S. grossa (6) © Mark Smith, (7) © Algirdas / Wikimedia Commons; S. bipunctata (8) © M. Virtala / Wikimedia Commons, (9) © Sanja565658 / Wikimedia Commons; S. paykulliana (10) © Eitan f / Wikimedia Commons, (11) © Yaniv Kessler / Wikimedia Commons.

 

Distribution and habitat

Noble false widow spider Steatoda nobilis         Well established in the southern counties and spreading north. It has been introduced with bananas from the Canary Islands and Madeira. In and around houses and other buildings. Prefers elevated positions such as the top corners of rooms and conservatories, where it hunts flying insects.

Cupboard spider Steatoda grossa                     Has colonised England, Wales and Ireland; widespread in northern Europe. Usually in houses, but occasionally in sheltered spots outside and away from habitations. Prefers hidden areas near the ground under furniture, dark low corners, where it hunts for woodlice and crawling insects.

Rabbit hutch spider Steatoda bipunctata            Widespread and common in Britain and northern Europe. It lives mainly in and around sheds, pet houses and clutter in gardens, but sometimes on tree trunks. Frequent in domestic rubbish which has been dumped illegally, well away from houses.

False widow spider Steatoda paykulliana           Not so far established in Britain, but repeatedly imported with produce from the Mediterranean, especially with grapes. It hides in cracks in the ground and under stones.

 

Life cycle

False widow spiders are synanthropic species (= living almost exclusively in association with man) hanging upside down in small webs known as tangle webs. Adult females can live for a few years and survive for long periods without water. Adult males live for only a few months and are usually seen in summer and autumn. They cease to feed once mature, their sole purpose being to mate. The males have smaller and more clearly marked abdomens. They also have a stridulatory apparatus of file and scraper type (ridges on the rear of the carapace and teeth under the front end of the abdomen). They court females with sounds just about audible, produced by rapid vibrations of the abdomen. The females lay eggs in white, spherical egg-sacs produced at intervals. Their number depends on the food supply and are laid from spring through to autumn. The eggs hatch in 2-4 months. Local dispersal is achieved through ballooning on silk threads. Longer distance dispersal is aided by transportation of goods by road, rail and the shipping network.

 

Spider bites and first aid

If handled unwisely or accidentally, False widow spiders are capable of biting humans. False widow bite effects are similar to the Black widow’s, but milder and without diaphoresis (profuse sweating).The bite is always followed by regional pain, sometimes (25%) severe (greater than a bee sting), lasting between 1-12 h, rarely over 24 h. The pain can radiate from extremities (hand, foot) towards the body. Some bites (30%) produce nausea, headache, lethargy, and malaise. Most bites cause only minor effects and resolve with no medical intervention. False widow venom cannot cause necrotic ulcers. Allergic (hypersensitivity) reactions or infections are very unlikely. Very often skin and soft-tissue infections are wrongly reported by patients as ‘spider bites’ although a spider was not actually caught biting. Doctors must be aware, so that they can recognise the real cause and treat it effectively.

If bites happen, clean the bite with mild soap and water to prevent infections. You may apply a cold pack to relieve the pain and to slow the spread of venom, but don’t apply ice directly on skin! Mild analgesics (pain killers) may help relieving the pain. If you begin to experience any serious symptoms, you should seek immediate medical help.

 

Conservation and control

False widows are not native to Britain and thus not granted any conservation status. You can treat them as pests and remove them from your property if you wish to reduce the risk of getting bitten. However, most people are reluctant to kill spiders and prefer to live in harmony with them. False widows seem to have found an unoccupied niche in British habitats; we have no evidence that they upset the natural balance since their arrival. In houses, they are natural enemies of many unwanted insect guests. To prevent getting bitten, be careful when putting on gloves or boots that have been left unused for a while, as spiders may seek refuge and hide in those.

If you decide sharing your home with spiders is too risky, you can catch and release them in the garden. You can buy different spider catchers which will help you handle adult spiders without actually touching them, or improvise your own devices from cups and cards – anything that will avoid you getting bitten or the spiders getting crushed in the process.

 

To find out more:

Is it or isn't it? False widow spider update:

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2013/october/is-it-or-isnt-it-false-widow-spider-update124607.html

Don't panic: it's only a false widow spider

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/life/insects-spiders/false-widow/index.html

Steatoda nobilis (false widow spider):

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/species-of-the-day/biodiversity/alien-species/steatoda-nobilis/index.html

Falsehoods about false widows put to rest:

http://www.buglife.org.uk/news-%26-events/news/falsehoods-about-false-widows-put-rest

 


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Professor Richard Fortey, one of the world’s leading palaeontologists, has been awarded the Lapworth Medal this week at the annual meeting of the Palaeontological Association.

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The award recognises Professor Fortey’s contribution to palaeontology over his entire career, more than 40 years of which have been at the Museum.

 

Said Prof Fortey of receiving the honour:

‘It is a great honour to receive the Lapworth Medal, which is the only ‘lifetime achievement’ medal in British palaeontology. Charles Lapworth, after whom the medal is named, was one of the great nineteenth century scientists - and the originator of the Ordovician period, the age of the rocks on which I have spent much of my research life. And my old professor Harry Whittington was the first ever recipient of the same medal.

 

Diverse  research

 

Prof Fortey’s research career has focused around the evolution of some of the earliest animals, but he has contributed to a wide variety of geological and palaeontological topics.

 

Fellow palaeontologist Professor Derek Briggs of Yale University, one of those who nominated Prof Fortey, commented:

Richard’s research is remarkable for its breadth, covering topics as diverse as Palaeozoic biostratigraphy and biogeography, the evolutionary history and biology of trilobites and graptolites, and the emergence of major groups during the Cambrian explosion.


Prof Fortey began his career at the Museum more than 40 years ago, and still works here as a research associate. Throughout this time he has received numerous honours and awards. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1997.

The great thing about palaeontology is that it is always moving somewhere new. There are always new and wonderful fossils to be discovered, so really the ‘book of life’ is constantly being rewritten.

A major part of Prof Fortey’s research has focused on one group of ancient marine animals, the trilobites, of which he says:

[They] may seem rather esoteric, but the fact that trilobites were around for nearly 300 million years and number many thousands of species, with more being discovered all the time, means that there is no shortage of new work to do.

 

drystoreroom1.jpg

One of Prof Fortey's seven general-audience books

 

Public engagement


Prof Fortey says he dislikes the ‘ivory tower’ view of science and has combatted this through seven critically-acclaimed books aimed at a general audience. These include: Life, an unauthorized biography (1998), which tells the story of the evolution of life on earth as seen through his scientific experience, and Dry Store Room No. 1, about the weird and wonderful secrets of the Museum’s collections. He is also a TV presenter, with his most recent series, Fossil Wonderland, airing on BBC Four earlier this year.

 

Related links

 


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Other names: Drugstore beetle, Bread beetle

 

Classification

Class             Insecta

Order             Coleoptera

Family            Anobiidae

 

The Bread beetle, Stegobium paniceum, also known as the Biscuit beetle (or the Drugstore beetle in the U.S.A.) is one of the commonest pest insects of stored food. It is able to feed on a variety of plant and animal products including bread and flour and even hot spices and drugs. However, this beetle is not harmful to health and despite its close resemblance to the Common furniture beetle or Woodworm beetle (in the adult stage), it does not feed on wood.

 

Identification

The adult beetles are usually noticed first.  They are small, between 2 and 4 mm in length, reddish-brown and, under magnification, reveal fine grooves running lengthways along the wing cases.  Furniture beetles (or Woodworms) are similar but are somewhat larger and darker and their antennae are shorter than the legs (in Bread beetles the lengths are similar). There are three flattened segments at the tip of antennae. The head is partially hidden by the pronotum (the plate that covers the upper part of the thorax). Biscuit beetles have large dark eyes.

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            Dorsal view                     Lateral view                  Ventral view       Biscuit (L) and Furniture beetle (R)

 

Photo credits: Siga / Wikimedia Commons. Line drawings © The Natural History Museum.

 

 

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Possible confusion

 

Furniture beetle (woodworm)

 

Anobium punctatum

Somewhat larger and darker brown, antennae shorter than legs.

Pronotum with obvious ‘hump’ like a monk’s cowl.

Larvae bore into wood, where they feed for 3-5 years.


Photo credits: Siga / Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

 

 

 

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Possible confusion

 

Cigarette beetle (Tobacco beetle)

 

Lasioderma serricorne

Antennae with many serrations, while Biscuit beetle has three large ones at the tip. Has much weaker punctures on the surface of the wing covers (elytra). Eyes easier to see from above. Different shape of pronotum.

 

Photo credits: Kamran Iftikhar / Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distribution and habitat

The Biscuit beetle occurs in houses, stores, warehouses and kitchens throughout central and northern Europe, including the UK, sometimes in very large numbers. It is known as a cosmopolitan species.

 

Life cycle

In common with other beetles, this species passes through four life‑stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult (pictured below).  The speed of development through the life cycle depends on temperature, moisture, quality and abundance of food.  In cool temperatures (below 15ºC) there is only one generation per year, in moderate temperatures two, while at higher temperatures (above 23ºC) there may be five or more.larva.jpg

 


Eggs are laid by mated females on or near the foodstuff.  When the larva emerges from the egg, it is less than 1mm in length. In its search for food, it may bite into packaged or hidden food sources. The larva increases in size and, at about 5mm in length, it enters the pupal stage.  Before emergence as an adult beetle, a minimum of nine days is spent as the pupa in an oval shaped cell moulded by the larva using the food material.


Damage and control

Because the Bread beetle larva thrives in dark, warm, undisturbed places, it is essential to search thoroughly for the food‑source of the larva if adults are found wandering around.  Rarely-used dried-foods such as flour or spices are often the source of an infestation. Removing disused and old foodstuff should eliminate an infestation.

Adult beetles may be seen around fire‑places and air vents with no apparent food‑source available. These are likely to have come from nests of wasps or birds in the attic.  Beware also of bread in fire‑places that has been dropped down the chimney by birds.  With suitable hygiene, and by preventing access into the attic by nest‑builders, the successful eradication of this pest should be assured.

 

To find out more:

Info sheet on Cornell University website:

http://idl.entomology.cornell.edu/files/2013/11/Cigarette-and-Drugstore-Beetles-2014-ocf7nv.pdf

Another info page on University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences:

http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/stored/drugstore_beetle.htm

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First things first - I know our new Stegosaurus is no longer behind the scenes, and now grandly stands at the Museum's Exhibition Road entrance. I know that a lot has already been written and reported about it, so there can't be much more left for me to reveal. But the opportunity to write about the acquisition of an internationally significant and scientifically invaluable new specimen doesn't come along every day. In fact, it rarely comes along for the Museum, with this being the first near complete dinosaur fossil to be acquired by us in the past 100 years. So for that reason, I had to pick our new fossil skeleton as December's Specimen of the Month.

 

However, there is a 'behind the scenes' aspect to this piece. I was one of the few members of staff lucky enough to actually get behind the hoarding which protected the view of the construction process from the public while the Stegosaurus was being assembled. On that Monday, 1 December, looking down from the first-floor balcony of the Earth galleries (where an interactive digital display, 3D printed touch objects and specimen interpretation now stand), it was impossible not to get excited by the magnitude of the occasion. It was momentous not just for the Museum, but for any human being with even a passing interest in nature and history.

 

Much to the varied amusement/excitement/jealousy of my friends and followers, I tweeted:

Today at work I'm watching the (re)construction of a dinosaur skeleton #standard #museumlife @NHM_London

— Amy Freeborn (@amyfreeborn) December 1, 2014

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My view from the balcony before the (re)assembly commenced. Of course, I couldn't tweet this, or any subsequent pictures, until the 22.00 embargo on Wednesday 3 December had passed.

 

Things kicked off around 10.45, as senior conservator Lu Allington-Jones attached the dinosaur's feet. Then she was joined by our dinosaur expert Prof Paul Barrett and they both slipped the left tibia into place.

steg-tibia-bone-700.jpg

Lu and Paul install the first major Stegosaurus bone of the build - the tibia, or shin bone.

 

The bones are supported by a specially-designed steel armature. Surfaces of the armature in contact with the skeleton are cushioned to prevent vibration damage. The supporting plinth, which handsomely rises up under the dinosaur's tail, is also designed to dampen vibration from visitor footfall, as well as external traffic and building works.

 

Once the legs and pelvis were in place, it really was quite amazing to see how fast the neck, spine, ribs and tail then came together. The whole thing was complete - topped out with the final of the four tail spikes - in under four hours. But, Paul said, it wasn't their quickest time:

We did mount the skeleton on three earlier occasions behind the scenes, partly to test that the armature was strong enough in the right places. We can assemble the skeleton in about two hours, but the mounting in the Earth Hall took twice that time as the plinth made it a little more awkward to work around the frame and we needed the Genius lift to get to some parts that we could previously reach from the floor or a regular ladder.

 

Watch this time-lapse video created on 1 December to see just how impressive the build process was, as four hours becomes about 24 seconds:

 

 

Senior curator Tim Ewin, who was mostly responsible for mounting the large back plates and tail spikes, explained of his contribution:

The plates are both heavy and large but very thin and fragile. It was like trying to stack bone china on its thinnest point!

 

Owing to the way the armature was constructed, it was not as simple as just plonking the bones in place either. Each plate almost invariably had its own unique technique to getting into the right position so it was properly supported and could not jump out and smash itself, other remains, or onto the viewing public. This involved trying a variety of approach directions, rotations and physically moving some of the supports out of the way for each element.

 

This was not so bad for the more robust, smaller and lighter elements, such as the vertebrae, but was really butt-clenching when it came to trying to install the largest plates at full stretch whilst 12 feet off the ground. Fortunately, there were no breakages, although several took a few goes and a little rest! I was, however, very relieved when we had finished.

 

Indeed, the whole team in the Earth Hall was relieved when that final fossil bone was put into place, and a spontaneous round of applause broke out. For me, and everyone else, it really was a proud moment to be part of the Museum.

 

steg-tail-spike-700.jpg

Tim affixing the final Stegosaurus bone, seconds before applause broke out at the completion of the assembly.

 

Lu told me that the tail spikes are known collectively as the 'thagomizer' that, Tim revealed, is actually a term that originated from a Far Side cartoon. He directed me to Wikipedia, where it says:

The term "thagomizer" was coined by Gary Larson  in a 1982 Far Side comic strip, in which a group of cavemen in a faux-modern lecture hall are taught by their caveman professor that the spikes on a Stegosaur's tail are so named 'after the late Thag Simmons'.

 

The term was picked up initially by Ken Carpenter, a paleontologist at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, who used the term when describing a fossil at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting in 1993. Thagomizer has since been adopted as an informal anatomical term.

 

Vital Stegosaurus statistics:
  • Our specimen is a Stegosaurus stenops.
  • It is the first complete dinosaur specimen to go on display at the Museum in about 100 years.
  • It is 560cm long, 290cm tall, and composed of around 300 bones.
  • Its 19 back plates and four tail spikes form the most complete set ever discovered.
  • It is nearly complete, missing only the left arm and base of the tail, as well as a few smaller bones from the hands, toes and tail.
  • It is the best preserved and most complete of only about six Stegosaurus skeletons in the world.
  • It's the only Stegosaurus in a public collection outside the USA.

 

 

Following the assembly, I was finally able to tweet at 22.01 on Wednesday 3 December:

We got a new dinosaur at work! @NHM_London #Stegosaurus pic.twitter.com/rbLwPAdsS4

— Amy Freeborn (@amyfreeborn) December 3, 2014

steg-by-me-700.jpg

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This year, we went back to Lake Joyce to study the benthic biology in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. The 3D microbial structures that are growing out of the mat are particularly interesting because most of them have a calcite skeleton. This is the only lake in the Dry Valleys where microbial mats have such distinctive calcite skeletons.

 

The calcite skeleton makes these microbialites particularly interesting for geobiology, where modern microbial mats are studied to enable a better interpretation of microbialite fossils from early Earth. 

 

Over the last three weeks we collected samples that will allow us to investigate if the water chemistry, light and sedimentation effect the growth of microbialites in the lake. We also collected mat material to carry out DNA and microscopy analysis to evaluate the role that cyanobacteria, other bacteria and eukaryotes play on the formation of microbialites and their calcite skeleton.

 

cyano.jpg

Microscopy image of Phormidium cyanobacterial filaments in Lake Joyce mats. Most of the Phormidium filaments have a strong purple pigmentation though the production of Phycoerythrin for a better utilisation of the limited light that is available in Lake Joyce.

 

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Anne working at the microscope.

 

Untitled-1.jpg

Close-up image of microbialites with calcite skeleton covered by thin microbial mat webs .

 

blog3.jpg

Microbialite structures with calcite skeleton collected from Lake Joyce by diving.

 

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The team getting ready for a dive to collect microbial mats.

 

The main efforts of the field event led by researchers from UC Davis, California, were to map the distribution of the microbial structures in the lake and to test what the influence of sedimentation is on the microbial structures.

 

The imaging is done by a drop camera that is held on a rope through a hole in the ice. The team installed several traps in the ice that will collect sediment from now until next season.Each hole is individually drilled with a jiffy drill in order to insert the traps and document the microbial mas and microbial structures.

 

blog2.jpg

The team drilling a hole in the ice.

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To celebrate the countdown to Christmas, two of our geology curators have been revealing daily treats from their collections.

 

Last December, micropalaeontology curator Dr Giles Miller tweeted a series of patterned slides made up of microfossils including a miniature Christmas card, and this year he’s back with something a little bigger.

micro2.jpg

Model of Globigerinoides 'Santa' sacculifer.

 

In fact, the specimens are 10s to 100s of times larger than they are in real life – they’re samples from our new microfossil tree. The tree is a gift from scientist Zheng Shouyi of the Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, who oversaw the creation of a foraminiferal sculpture park in Zhongshan City, China.

 

The tree is made up of 120 plastic models of usually microscopic single-celled marine organisms. The delicate models represent the wide variety of shell compositions and structures found in nature.

 

microfossiltree1-700.jpg

The microfossil tree.

 

The tree is not only full of beautiful specimens, but a welcome addition to our collections. Says Dr Miller:

It helps us explain the relevance of tiny objects normally hidden behind the scenes and illustrate our science. Eleven of the species modelled are species for which we hold the type specimen and are amongst the specimens that I curate.

The tree was first unveiled at this year’s Science Uncovered event, and while a permanent spot in the galleries is found for it, a few examples of the little sculptures will be on display in 2015.

 

In the meantime, you can get a sneak preview by following Dr Miller on Twitter where he’s posting a different specimen every day in the run-up to Christmas using the hashtag #MicropalaeoAdvent.

micro1.jpgFlintinoides labiosa (in fancy dress as Blitzen!) showing off its aperture.

 

Although not dressed up in festive gear, Dr Miller’s favourite specimens tweeted so far are the star-like pair of Hantkeninids, which he says are ‘amazingly beautiful and scientifically important for climate change studies’.

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Ore-some festive treats

 

Ores collection curator Helena Toman decided to highlight a select few samples from the Museum’s extensive collection of ores - naturally-occurring minerals or assemblage of minerals from which economically important constituents, particularly metals, can be extracted.

I like to think of economic geology as occupying one of those crucial interfaces between science and society and so one of my challenges is to make the science accessible to society.

 

I wanted people to understand just how crucial economic geology is to their everyday lives - how each and every one of us act as a catalyst for mining.

ore-some-reveal.jpgGo to the ore-some Christmas reveal calendar >

 

 

She had a lot of choice for specimens – the collection began its life in the Museum of Practical Geology in 1838, and has now grown to more than 16,000 specimens, representing one of the best historical records for global mining activities.

 

The collection is very active – constantly growing through fieldwork, donations and acquisitions, and being used for research and public outreach.

 

One of her favourites even made it to Parliament this year to help inform ministers about the importance and relevance of the UK’s geological heritage. The sample is from the famous Geevor tin mine in Cornwall, and includes veins of copper.

 

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Sample of ore from the Geevor tin mine.

 

Another favourite is a stunning example of cobalt ore from Morocco, which Helena collected herself on a recent fieldtrip.

This sample not only represents the experience of a wonderful and successful fieldtrip but also highlights the cutting edge research that Museum scientists are taking part in, using microbes to extract metals from their ores. The textures within this sample are also incredible – ores rarely get prettier!

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Cobalt ore from Morocco.

 

All our curators are enthusiastic about their collections, and Helena hopes her and Dr Miller’s efforts will inspire others to dust off some of their favourite specimens:

I would love the format to be adopted by other curators as an annual method by which the Museum promotes the important work that curators have done, behind the scenes, that year. The calendar is a fun, approachable method that allows curators to have a voice/corner in which to show the world why our collections matter.


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Last week was my first AGM as Chairman of the Geological Curators' Group. The pre-AGM talks meeting was at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and covered 'Writing Effective Grant Proposals for collections projects', featuring seven different speakers from across the UK who gave us the benefit of their wisdom as both grant assessors and successful applicants for a variety of different collections-related grants. In this post I summarise seven key themes mentioned by the speakers during the meeting as a guide for anyone wishing to apply for funding.

 

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Members of the Geological Curators' Group under Fluffy the Mammoth at Dudley Museum on the second day of the 2014 AGM meeting on a trip led by Graham Worton, Keeper of Geology, Dudley Museum (photo courtesy of Cindy Howells, National Museum of Wales).

 

The speakers were:

Luanne Meehitiya, Birmingham Museums Trust - Welcome and Birmingham Museum's geology collections

Nick Poole, CEO Collections Trust. The answer's in the question - common pitfalls in writing grant proposals

Matthew Parkes, National Museum of Ireland - Grants for museums and geological projects in Ireland - success factors

Clare Brown, Leeds Museums and Galleries - From molluscs to meadows: recent grant-funded natural science projects at Leeds Museums and Galleries

Mike Howe, British Geological Survey - JISC and the GB3D types on-line project - a remarkably supportive funder

Jon Clatworthy, Lapworth Museum - Recent developments at the Lapworth Museum

Jonathan Larwood, Natural England and Geologists' Association Archivist - How to order a Curry Fund 

 

Here are seven common recommendations mentioned by the speakers throughout the day: 

 

1. Put time aside to apply

All the speakers mentioned that it is important to be ready, keep your eyes open for possible future funding opportunities and to leave enough time to write a great application when the funding is announced.

 

2. Speak to the funder about your application

Nick Poole has been an assessor for the Heritage Lottery Fund and said that most funders are happy for you to contact them before applying or during the process of application. This can allow you to tailor your application or let you know quickly whether you are wasting your time in applying if your proposed project is not alligned to the remit of the funder. Jonathan Larwood had a similar message from his position as an assessor for the Curry Fund, a Geologists' Association fund set up by Dennis Curry, former director of the Currys chain and amateur palaeontologist/micropalaeontologist/geologist.

 

3. Provide evidence of support from the sector

Both Clare Brown and Jon Clatworthy achieved this by asking for letters of support from relevant organisations. The Geological Curators' Group is often asked to provide such letters and recently helped towards successful funding bids for a Geoblitz project involving the hire of a temporary Assistant Geology Curator at Leeds and a mainly HLF funded redevelopment of the Lapworth Museum at the University of Birmingham. The GCG have also recently provided letters of support for the new Steve Etches Museum in Kimmeridge and following the AGM I have been asked to write a letter of support from the GCG for another collections grant application to the John Ellerman Foundation.

 

4. Evidence the need

Sometimes is it easy to show the need for funding. Matthew Parkes showed a mineral collection poorly stored in temporary shipping containers outside University College Dublin and highlighted the UCD Minerals Project where funding was obtained to rehouse the specimens at the National Museum of Ireland - Natural History. Nick Poole passed on the tip that funders love to have their own research quoted back at them while several other speakers referred to collections reviews or published research/articles that supported the need for their projects to be carried out. The GCG recently carried out a survey that aims partly at gathering information to support a funding application.

 

5. Have a realistic plan

Both Jon Clatworthy (Lapworth Museum) and Mike Howe (BGS) mentioned that further funding for their projects was pre-dated by feasibility studies that demonstrated that they had the capacity to deliver the aims of their projects. Mike pointed to two previously unsuccessful applications for funding before the GB3D types on-line project was successfully funded by JISC. The earlier applications had not demonstrated that the project was feasible and at the time, the technology was not proven or cost effective enough until the prices for scanning equipment had become more realistic. Clare Brown suggested that it is good practise to mention previously successful projects as templates for future funding. Several speakers mentioned that funders found their applications more attractive because they had seed funding for feasibility studies or matching funding had been already been obtained.

 

6. Assume nothing

It was really interesting to hear from Nick Poole and Jonathan Larwood who regularly assess applications. You can be sure that knowledgable experts in geology will assess applications to the Geologists' Association Curry Fund and will spot an inaccuracy that could put them off your application. Other applications may be read by experts in humanities rather than scientists so it is important to spell everything out very clearly so all readers of your application can be clear what you are planning, how you plan to carry it out and why. If in doubt, get several people to read your application before submission, but certainly find out how your application will be assessed.

 

7. Be consise and use images

It goes without saying that a clear and consise application will always be better than a verbose and unclear one. Clare Brown also showed an example of the use of images in her succesful Geoblitz application.

 

I picked out seven common threads from the presentations we heard. Nick Poole went one better in his presentation outlining eight golden rules for applying for funding. His presentation is available on the Collections Trust website and is well worth a read as it includes further tips for putting a great application together and a list of potential funders for collections projects.

 

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Members of the Geological Curators' Group on a visit to the Dudley Limestone caves (photo courtesy of Cindy Howells, National Museum of Wales). Why not join us for our next meeting? Here are details of how to join the Geological Curators' Group.

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Back online! We just got back from our wonderful field camp at Lake Joyce and are busy cleaning our camping equipment and repacking equipment and samples for shipping back to our home institutions. Meanwhile, here is an update on what we have been doing during the last few weeks by Lucy Coleman. Lucy is a teacher in California and part of PolarTrec, and in her blog she talks about the science happening on the cyanobacterial mats, microbialites, sampling, and camp life.

 

PolarTrec is an amazing programme that allows teachers and researchers to come together through hands-on field experience in Antarctica. It is great to have a chance to work together and learn about teaching, education and outreach!

 

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               Lucy working on blog, video and image updates that will later be taken back to the station and posted online.

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We are pleased to announce that the Library and Archives team recently installed the 3rd rotation of natural history artworks into the Images of Nature Gallery. This new rotation features the wonderful artworks of a further eighteen women artists whose artworks are represented in the Musuem's collections.

 

The featured artists in this penultimate rotation are :

 

Norma Gregory (b.1942) - Bergenia cordifolia, elephant-eared saxifrage

Elizabeth Cameron (1915-2008) - Rhododendron eclecteum, Rhododendron

Jean Webb (b.1943) - Piseum sativum, pea 'Commander'

Angela Gladwell (b.1945) - Strigops habroptilus, kakapo or owl parrot

Claire Dalby (b.1944) - Caloplaca verruculifera and Lecanora poliophaea, lichen

Barbara Nicholson (1906-1978) - Meadow flowers

Beatrice Corfe (1866-1947) - Juniperus communis, Juniper ; Quercus robur, English oak ; Sorbus torminalis, Wild service orange tree ; Castenea sativa, sweet chestnut

Augusta Withers (c.1791/2-1876) - Cone of Encephalartos longifolius

Mary Grierson (1912-2012) - Orobanche crenata Forsk.

Guilelma Lister (1860-1949) - Trichia affinis, slime mould

Mary Eaton (1873-1961) - Phallus impudicus, veiled stickhorn

Sarah Stone (c.1760-1844) - Goura cristata, western crowned-pigeon ; Rupicola rupicola, Guianan Cock-of-the-rock

Harriet Moseley (fl.1836-1867) - Rubus macrophyllus, large leaved bramble ; Iris foetidissima, stinking iris

Janet Dwek (b.1944) - Bellis perennis L., common daisy ; Rosa canina L., dog rose

Lilian Medland (1880-1955) - Parotia lawessi, Bird of paradise

E. Getrude Norrie (fl.1900s) - Parribacus antarcticus, slipper lobster ; Anampses cuvier, pearl wrasse

Joan Procter (d.1953) - watercolour drawings of frogs and toads

Olive Tassart (d.1953) - Spodoptera litura

 

 

Lilian Medland
Mary Grierson
E. Gertrude Norrie
Guilelma Lister
Medlandsmall.jpgGriesensmall.jpgnorrie 1small.jpgLister 1.jpg

 

 

For more highlights of the gallery please see here.

 

The artworks will remain on display in the Images of Nature Gallery until the end of February 2015.     

 

Entry to the Gallery is free.    

 

For more information on the Women Artists in our collections, the book Women Artists features examples of the artworks of over 100 women artists held by the Library and explores their various influences and motivations in the creation of some of the most visually stunning natural history illustrations of the past four centuries.

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Hello newcomer!

 

Many visitors seem to have troubles registering to our ID forum, or they register and don't know how to start posting enquiries, how to attach photos, etc.

 

If you have the same problems, please download the pdf guide attached here and follow the step-by-step advice in it.

 

Looking forward to seeing your posts on the forum,

 

Florin

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It's been a while since we reported from our Wildlife Garden but work continues outdoors - and we've been enjoying the season's wildlife gardening and wildlife watching. Here we share a few hightlights from the past two months.

 

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The Museum as seen through the Garden's trees

© Jonathan Jackson

 

Throughout October and early November flashes of deep orange were spotted over the ponds, belonging to the common darter dragonfly (Sympetrum striolatum). They darted from the chalk to main pond, male and female in tandem, with the female ovipositing (laying eggs) near clumps of water soldier (Stratoides aloides) that I'd already eyed up for removing during our planned pond clearing day. The sight of this acrobatic pair laying eggs did of course change our plans slightly to avoid disturbing recently laid eggs.

 

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Common darter dragonfly in September. The last sighting this year was on 4 November

© Jonathan Jackson

 

The female lays eggs directly into the water during the late summer months, and sometimes into autumn as was the case this year. The eggs over-winter and hatch into larvae the following spring. Later in the summer, the full-grown larva crawls out of the water up on to a plant stem - such as purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) or reed sweet grass (Glyceria maxima) - before emerging transformed into a beautiful dragonfly. To find out more about dragonflies visit the British Dragonfly Society's website.

 

Flashes of gold and red goldfinches have recently been seen foraging amongst alder cones and teasels. Our beautiful autumn visitors, goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis), have also been heard and seen squabbling amongst greenfinches (Carduelis chloris) around the bird feeders.

 

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European goldfinch feeding on teasels

© David Tipling Photo Library

 

Throughout the mild days of October our Bee Tree honey bees were still collecting pollen from ivy and any remaining flowers such as black horehound. They were also spotted around the entrance to the hives on warm November days. They are fastidious in their personal hygiene and, as bee-keeper Luke Dixon informs me, will take advantage of warm winter days to exit the hive and freshen up.

 

There are a few flowers remaining in our garden now and they include several blooms of bedraggled hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo), the bright pink of red campion (Silene dioica) and dwarf gorse. There is one new flower of the season and this is the fresh yellow of common gorse. As the flowers of dwarf gorse (Ulex minor) fade the flowers of common gorse (Ulex europaeus) begin to bloom and next year dwarf gorse will take over again for a few months ... giving rise to the old saying "When gorse is in blossom, kissing is in season."

 

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Common gorse - the first flowering date this autumn was on 28 October

© Jonathan Jackson

 

But it is the golds and yellows of beech, hornbeam and field maple that are sensational again this year. Museum photographer, Jonathan Jackson, captured these colourful images just last week:

 

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Beech (Fagus sylvatica) between meadow and chalk downland habitats

© Jonathan Jackson

 

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Beech leaves

© Jonathan Jackson

 

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Field maple (Acer campestre) in a hedgerow

© Jonathan Jackson

 

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Hazel (Corylus avellana)

© Jonathan Jackson

 

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Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)

© Jonathan Jackson

 

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Pedunculate oak (Quercus robur)

© Jonathan Jackson

 

And though few berries remain - the blackbirds have stripped rowan of its fruits early this autumn compared to last year - there are still remains of shocking pink spindle berries, with their orange seeds just visible.

 

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Fruits of spindle (Euonymus europaeus)

© Jonathan Jackson

 

For more about seasonal sightings in other areas visit Nature's Calendar from the Woodland Trust.

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Prof. Mel Greaves FRS, Institute of Cancer Research

 

Friday 5 December 12 noon,  Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

 

All cancers share the common feature of being clonal expansions of mutant cells that, over years or decades, disseminate within and between tissues, hijacking essential normal functions. But cancers differ widely in their tissue of origin, underlying mutational spectra, time frame of progression, pathological impact and clinical course. The systematics or classification of cancer subtypes therefore poses a considerable challenge with biologists, histopathologists and oncologists applying differing criteria.

 

Over recent years, a new conceptual framework has emerged that makes biological sense of all the diversity. This views cancer as a process of somatic cell evolution driven by mutational diversification and natural selection or adaptation within the specialised ecosystem habitats of the body. The implications of this new vision for diagnosis, prognostication and control of disease are very substantial.

 

More information on attending seminars at http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/news-events/seminars/

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A Kickstarter project has launched to raise funds for a new app that reveals the beauty and diversity of the world's bees, using many Museum specimens.

 

1000 Bees is an interactive art project to raise the profile of bees and highlight their plight across the globe. While many people are aware that honeybee colonies are facing collapse, 'honeybee' is a term applied to just 11 species, and many other bee species are also important pollinators.

 

As the project creators Ana Tiquia and Callum Cooper say:

Wild bees are just as important for pollination and play a crucial role in ecosystems throughout the world. Many wild bees face similar threats to the honeybee: bee-killing pesticides, loss of habitat for forage and nest sites, and climate change.

1000 Bees aims to raise £90,000 in order to create the dynamic app, including an animation that flicks through all of the one thousand species in its gallery.

Enormous bee resource

The 1000 Bees app will showcase high-resolution images of bee specimens, many of which are housed at the Museum. As well as photographs, the Museum contributed information on specific bee specimens, including a couple of bees collected at least 212 years ago and a giant bee collected by noted naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace.

 

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A giant carpenter bee, Xylocopa perforator, collected by Alfred Russel Wallace on the island of Timor.

 

 

Museum bee curator David Notton said:

As a curator, art projects aren’t my core work but it’s nice to have one now and again, as it gets the collection to new audiences and realises the wider cultural value of the collection.

There are over 20,000 species of bee in the world, but Notton's favourite is probably a rare species he recently managed to find on Blackheath in southeast London called the shrill carder bee. Described by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust as 'probably the UK's rarest species of bumblebee', it is one of 90 bee species found on Blackheath and was spotted by Notton while intensively surveying the area for bees during 2014.