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Kew and the Natural History Museum are working together on large scale digitisation of their plant collections - #digitalherbarium #Kew #NHM



Trolleys containing green boxes.


Packing specimens at Kew. Kew is sending 41,000 specimens.


Plants preserved as herbarium specimens provide the evidence of what plants there are, where they grow and when they were collected. They provide the basis for modelling plant distribution over time, act as evidence that ensures plants are named consistently, and are a source of material for analyses of anatomy, disease and disease control, biochemistry and evolutionary relationships. Together, the herbaria at Kew and the Natural History Museum, London, contain more than 12 million specimens and are consulted by many visitors from around the world. Much of the information that these researchers need is stored away in cupboards, and is therefore not discoverable until a scientist visits the institution and looks inside. By providing images and data from these specimens online, anyone interested in plant diversity, for research or just for interest, can discover what our institutions hold and then access the information they need.


Recently some large European herbaria such as the Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle in Paris and Naturalis in The Netherlands have had digital images made of their entire collections in order to make both specimen images and data about each collection available. Kew and the Natural History Museum have been working closely with Picturae, the company involved in the digitisation of the Naturalis herbarium, to develop cooperative workflows to make digital images and capture data from part of the two institutions’ collections.

Jacek Wajer and Jonathan Gregson selecting specimens for packing at the Natural History Museum


We are embarking on the first stage of this adventure starting the last week of January. This first stage is a pilot to refine workflows and to gather information so we can plan larger scale projects in the future. We are focusing our efforts on several groups of economic plants, the genus Solanum (potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines), the St. John’s Worts (Hypericum) and the family Dioscoreaceae (yams). In all, approximately 70,000 specimens will be digitised using Picturae’s ‘digistreet’ methods. A ‘digistreet’ is essentially a purpose-built conveyor belt system that minimises manual handling of fragile herbarium specimens and captures high resolution images of each. After quality control and checking at both Picturae and the respective institutions, detailed information on where and when each plant was collected will be transcribed from the labels on the specimens by a team in Suriname.

Our objectives for this pilot phase are:

  • Image all Kew’s and NHM’s selected pilot herbarium specimens to an agreed common standard
  • Transcribe all the label collection data from these specimens to an agreed standard.
  • Incorporate all of the images and data into the institutions’ specimen catalogues to make them discoverable on-line.
  • Work together to refine accurate costing of mass digitisation using Picturae’s methods and develop joint workflows that will facilitate future work involving more partners across the UK.


This important pilot will lay the foundation for future collaborative work, with the eventual goal of providing access to the rich botanical collections held in UK institutions. We will share the results of our pilot with other institutions to help increase access to the wealth of information on global plant diversity held within the UK and to maximise the scientific and conservation impact of data held in plant collections worldwide. We hope that others will want to join in on this adventure!


The Picturae conveyor belt imaging system in Amsterdam.



The pilot began on the 19th of January with material being sent to Picturae in the Netherlands. We will be tweeting and blogging on the progress of the project as the specimens are shipped, imaged and transcribed - follow us on Twitter using the hashtags  #digitalherbarium #Kew #NHM



Find out more:

Picturae Digistreet

Natural History Museum: Digital Museum

Kew Herbarium


Two species of wasp have been identified as belonging to a whole new genus endemic to the isolated Atlantic island of St Helena.


St Helena, a British Overseas Territory, is home to more than 400 species that can't be found anywhere else. However, the wildlife is under serious threat from development and invasive species.

Napoleon complex

The new wasp genus, named Helenanomalon in honour of its home territory, belongs to a family of parasitoid wasps - those that spend a part of their lifecycle on another organism that they eventually kill. However, little is known about the specific lifestyle of Helenanomalon since only a handful of specimens are known to exist.


One of the new wasps species, Helenanomalon bonapartei


The most recent specimens came to the Museum following a collecting expedition in 2006 that included the former Head of Entomology collections at the Museum, Howard Mendel. On re-examining the specimens, and a couple of others at the Musée de l'Afrique Centrale, Museum hymenoptera curator Dr Gavin Broad assigned them to two different species in the new genus:

These little wasps belong to the family Ichneumonidae, a huge family with over 24,000 described species in the world, but with only six species known to have made it all the way to St Helena. That two of these species form a genus not known anywhere else in the world is remarkable.

One of the new species, Helenanomalon bonapartei, is named after St Helena's most famous exile, whilst Helenanomalon ashmolei is named after Philip and Myrtle Ashmole, who have led recent work in exploring and documenting the fauna of St Helena.

Lost giants

Islands like St Helena often host unique organisms that have evolved in isolation for millions of years. However, these species are also extremely vulnerable to changes such as introduced predators and habitat loss.


St Helena used to be home to the world's largest earwig, the giant earwig, which reached over 8cm long and lived in deep burrows. Only a few specimens of the giant earwig have been recorded, and several scouting trips since the 1960s have failed to find any living examples. It is now considered extinct.


St Helena giant earwig, Labidura herculeana


Says Dr Broad:

The extinction of the giant earwig was a sad reminder of how vulnerable island endemics can be. There is still much work to be done on assessing just how unique the St Helena fauna is, and Philip Ashmole tells me that they have collected other potentially new genera of insects and spiders but the taxonomy of the groups concerned is difficult and there are few people with the expertise.


The native vegetation has been massively reduced by the usual pressures of introduced goats, non-native species, inappropriate agriculture, and so on. Restoring the native vegetation, particularly the seriously denuded forests, is the most important step in conserving the unique invertebrates.


We are delighted to welcome you to our Popocatépetl blog, which for the next three weeks will be fed with facts, anecdotes, pictures and maybe even videos of our fieldwork at two of the currently most active volcanoes in the world: Popocatépetl (henceforth: Popo) and Colima (henceforth: Colima).


1 - First Popo glance.jpg

Our very first view on Popo, at dawn in Amecameca. Not yet convinced? Scroll down and prepare to be amazed!


But first things first: introductions. Our team includes Chiara, volcano-addicted petrologist at the Museum, Julie, passionate geochemist and lecturer at Imperial College, and me (Martin), their new PhD student. I'll be focusing all my energy on Popo in the coming years.


Together, we're setting out to shed light on what makes Popo erupt, a poorly understood yet very important issue, since there are more than 30 million people living around Popo – that’s about half the population of the UK! By analysing the rocks and crystals that Popo has erupted in the last 23,000 years, Chiara, Julie and myself are trying to find out more about how Popo works, which will hopefully help in forecasting future eruptions and keeping the people living there safe.


But to do all this, we first need rocks – a lot of rocks! And that’s exactly why we are in Mexico right now. Together with our local colleagues, Hugo and Guillem, we will spend our days at the volcano, looking for the freshest rocks around and putting them into plastic bags. As Popo is quite active in the moment, this is a quite exciting and dangerous task!


2 - Puff.jpg

Popo is in a steamy mood these days.


But before we dive into excitement and danger with you, we want to give you an idea of our experiences during the last 48 hours. We started in London Heathrow (25.3m above sea level) on Sunday night, arrived in Mexico City twelve hours later, went straight up to Paso de Cortes (3,400m a.s.l) to get a close grasp of Popo, then had a decent rest in our hotel in Amecameca, just to get up again at 5.30 the next morning for a 10-hour day of die-hard pumice sampling at almost 4,000m a.s.l.


Now we are a bit tired – so we thought we would give you and us an easy start with some Popo pictures, taken all around the volcano. You will surely agree that Popo is in good shape, and a truly admirable volcano – ‘a proper strat’, as Julie put it musically.


3 - PasoCortes.jpg

Popo as seen from Paso de Cortes - preparing for the big bang?


4 - cow.jpg

Volcanic eruptions are not the only danger lurking at Popo's flanks. Luckily Julie knows no fear and chases away the feral cow.


5 - pumice-strata.jpg

After the cow-shock we seek comfort in some good old volcano stratigraphy!


If you want to know what Popo does next, how we deal with the thin air and the cows, and how fashionably we collect both hard and soft rocks, we urge you to come back here. Also, don’t be afraid to leave comments, questions, and general thoughts about volcanoes.


Welcome to the Museum's new blog about citizen science! Before we get started, we should probably give you a quick outline of what citizen science actually is... here's a snippet from our official blurb:


'...the involvement of volunteers in scientific projects that contribute to expanding our knowledge of the natural world, through the systematic collection, analysis or interpretation of environmental observations.'



Cubs learning about British natural history from one of the Museum’s experts at a Big Nature Day event in our Wildlife Garden.


And here it is in a little bit more depth... It's at its essence a type of volunteering for the Museum that absolutely anyone can get involved with. Each of our citizen science projects have a specific scientific goal and a flexible approach to participation - you can take part at a time that suits you, at a location of your choice, and either with your friends and family or on your own.


Anyone can take part in our projects and we have and have had a wide variety to suit any interest: our current projects include collecting samples of microorganisms for DNA analysis, reporting stranded whales and dolphins, transcribing hand-written registers that detail the Museum's collections, or recording observations of bluebells, orchids, seaweeds or invertebrates.


You can find out more about how to take part in our projects here and - of course - by following our new blog where we intend to show you what happens behind-the-scenes and what happens next when you have submitted your data to us.


Over the next few posts we'll introduce you to the team and, from that point on, we'll be sharing regular updates and news of exciting developments. We hope you feel inspired to take part and contribute to the Museum's scientific research!



Naturalists sorting and identifying specimens in the field.

SPECIMEN LABELS are very important because they provide information that will help with identification and provide useful scientific data (without this information specimens have not scientific value). Please feel free to adapt the specimen labels in the document attached



1. Print specimen labels before you visit a locality, this will make collecting quicker and easier.

  • You can adapt the specimen labels attached and insert your name to save time and effort.What to include?
  • exact location: name of beach/field/garden/farm
  • Was it loose on the ground or dug up?
  • name of town
  • county
  • country


2. If you don't have a label, even a scrap of paper will do ....(I have inserted bus and train tickets which show the date and destination).

3. Keep specimen labels, a pencil and notebook handy along with plastic bags so you can wrap and label your specimens as soon as you find them.


4. Newspaper is very useful for wrapping specimens, which also prevents them drying out too quickly



THE FOSSIL COLLECTOR'S TOOLKIT:Always follow the Geological Code
  • hand lens
  • notebook, pencil and marker pen
  • newspaper for wrapping specimens, which also prevents them drying out too quickly
  • appropriate footwear and clothing
  • long-handed trowel, fork, long shoe-horn for overturning small nodules
  • camera
  • First Aid kit
  • hygienic wipes
  • water and a snack!


A hammer is useful, but do remember to wear goggles when splitting rocks.

Brushes and a sieve can be useful to avoid carrying unnecessary sand or clay



Always follow the Geological Code:

The Scottish code may be found:


Consider all aspects of heath and safety regarding the site and also from your perpective and the people with you. A useful place for fossil localities, the sorts of fossils that you might find, specific safety considerations and  may be found here. You THere is ofte


IMPORTANT - Check the times of tides before the visit


The essentials of the Scottish Fossil Code:
  • Seek permission – You are acting within the law if you obtain permission to extract, collect and retain fossils.
  • Access responsibly – Consult the Scottish Outdoor Access Code prior to accessing land.

        Be aware that there are restrictions on access and collecting at some locations protected by statute.

  • Collect responsibly – Exercise restraint in the amount collected and the equipment used.
    • Be careful not to damage fossils and the fossil resource.
    • Record details of both the location and the rocks from which fossils are collected.
  • Seek advice – If you find an exceptional or unusual fossil do not try to extract it;
    • but seek advice from an expert.
    • Also seek help to identify fossils or dispose of an old collection.
  • Label and look after – Collected specimens should be labelled and taken good care of.
  • Donate – If you are considering donating a fossil or collection choose an Accredited museum,

                       or one local to the collection area.


The Code and associated leaflet may be viewed and downloaded from - See more at:

hand lens and collecting bag.JPG
Interested in fossils, rocks and minerals and want to get involved?

The Geologists’ Association has its own club for young geologists and families, Rockwatch. For more information:

More information and useful websites:


Leeds Museum Crinoid Geoblitz.

I thoroughly enjoyed a crinoid Geoblitz (systematic review of crinoids using Geoblitz criteria below) with the curator Neil Owen of Leeds Museum. There were some interesting specimens - I particularly enjoyed seeing the large slab of Woodacrinus crinoids - there were juveniles as well adult crinoids.


Stars were given GOLD= High (meets all four of he criteria), Silver and Bronze .

  1. Scientific – is of taxonomic or other research importance; including being cited or published.
  2. Historic – associated with a known collector, donor, locality, site, discovery, date or institution; support research in a specific field
  3. Rarity/Uniqueness – internationally, nationally or regionally important; rare in museums collections and/or from an important local or SSSI site
  4. Public Engagement – has an interesting history, has good public engagement potential for display, events or publicity.

GEOBLITZ photo 1 (5) (1).jpg


BACKGROUND - Leeds Museum Geology Collection (over 24, 000 Minerals, Rock Types and Fossils from around the world)

The Geology Collection dates back to the 1820’s and has been awarded a “Designated Outstanding Collection” by the Arts Council England.


The fossil collection comprises (approx. 12,000 specimens – some were donated from well known collectors:

  • The Ethlered Bennett’s collection of rocks and fossils,
  • Ernest E. Gregory collection of rocks and fossils
  • Cyril P. Castell collection of fossils.


What is a Geoblitz? what is the aim?


  • To assess the collection and to identify individual specimens, therefore highlight specific key taxa for star grading system.


This assessment/identification will be used to enable greater usage/engagement of the collection and promote Star specimens for :

  • Future events
  • Public engagements/Outreach
  • Research.


Fiona E. Fearnhead


Answering questions about the collections and subject areas of expertise is a 'bread and butter' job for a curator that often goes unnoticed at end-of-year reporting. Since January 1996 I have kept notebooks recording details of all the external enquiries I have answered. In this post I look back over my enquiries books to choose some that gave me most satisfaction, made me sad, nostalgic, resulted in important discoveries, were smelly or just weird!



My enquiry books with details of every enquiry I have answered since 1996.


I have been asked so many different things over the years. Here are some general themes with the most common listed at the top:


  • Can I visit the collections/micropalaeontology library?
  • Do you have a particular species in the collection?
  • Do you have material collected by so-and-so?
  • Do you have Cretaceous/Jurassic (or any other age) material from (substitute name of country/city/town/site etc)?
  • Can you provide an image of one of your specimens?
  • Can I borrow material?
  • Please can you provide a copy of one of your papers or an article present in the Museum Library?
  • Please can you peer review a manuscript for a journal/book/magazine?
  • Do you have any volunteer opportunities?
  • Do you have any job opportunities?
  • Can you identify my fossil? (Usually these are images for microfossils but I have on rare occasions received actual microfossil specimens by post)
  • Who do I contact to gain access to the dinosaur collection?
  • Can you provide information about techniques to collect, process and illustrate microfossils?
  • Please provide a letter of support for our grant proposal to fund a project that will use your collections.
  • Can you provide a reference for a job application by one of your former volunteers or staff members?
  • Can you carry out some commercial work to date a rock sample?
  • Can you present an evening lecture at our local geological society?
  • Please provide information about UK stratigraphy or microfossil collecting sites.
  • Please provide advice on curation policies and procedures.
  • Please comment on these museum display/book figure captions.
  • Can you provide career advice?
  • Can you value or provide advice on how to value museum objects?
  • Can you provide information for a press article?
  • Can we film you?
  • And finally... Tell me all you know about micropalaeontology (yes, I was once asked this).


Who asks the questions?


Most questions come from academics or students, but we also deal with commercial enquirers, local amateur groups, artists, general members of the public, media and personal contacts. My post on who visits our collections and why? looks at this in more detail.


Have the types of enquiries changed over 20 years?


When I first arrived at the Museum many enquiries came from contacts I had made prior to coming to the Museum and were often requests for literature or details of my PhD work. At the time I was in charge of the Former BP Collection. Nobody knew we had it and BP had placed some restrictions on access so very few of my enquiries related to collections access.


As my career progressed I became responsible for larger parts of the collection until in 2011 I became responsible for the entire microfossil collection and now receive at least one enquiry per working day of the year and five times as many enquiries per year as I did at the start of my career.


What enquiry gave me the most satisfaction to answer?


Looking back it was particularly satisfying to see enquiries that led to visits that started major research projects or resulted in key publications. In a previous post I mentioned a visit by Paul Pearson of Cardiff University that initiated a long term research project on exceptionally preserved material from Tanzania.


Which enquiries made me most nostalgic?


These would have to be ones where I made first contact with people who subsequently became colleagues or long term collaborators. For example I was amazed to read that I first met Dermeval do Carmo when he visited in 1997. He recently invited me to Brazil to give a course on managing collections. Another enquiry from the late 1990s was from another Brazilian - Martha Richter who wrote a paper with me, subsequently applied for a job here at the Museum and later became my boss!



Part of one of the ichthyosaurs on display in Waterhouse Way at the Museum and the outline of an ichthyosaur used elsewhere in the display.


What was my smelliest enquiry?


When I first came to the museum in 1993 there used to be a desk in the department foyer where enquiries officer Vie Wasey sat and members of the public would bring specimens for identification. When she was away we took it in turns to stand in for her. One time a member of the public brought a shoe box in which he said there a was an ichthyosaur skull he'd found on the beach at Lyme Regis. As he unwrapped the specimen a terrible rotting stench filled the room and I sent him quickly off to the Zoology Department as it turned out to be a dolphin skull!


What enquiry made me saddest?


I was once standing in for my boss and as a result I received a detailed enquiry relating to a specimen in a collection managed by one of my colleagues. Shortly afterwards the enquirer sent me an irate e-mail asking why I could not immediately locate and give advice on a specimen in another part of the Museum collection that they wanted to cast/borrow/prepare. 'Surely anyone should be able to do this?' was their response. That particular correspondence prompted me to write a blog post entitled Do we need specialist curators?


What was my strangest enquiry?


In the very early days of email correspondence I was contacted by someone who was convinced that I was witholding information about microfossils present in the stones at Stonehenge. It took some time before they stopped asking me for details. They even asked if they could visit to see the collections as they did not believe me.


Did any enquiries lead to important discoveries?


In 2006 I was sent a sample of limestone to analyse by an oil company in Oman. They wanted me to recover conodonts to date a rock formation. The rock contained no conodonts but it did contain tiny fragments of some of the oldest fossil fish ever discovered. Since then I have visited Oman twice to collect more and I have been sent much more rock from Oman to analyse that has yielded both conodonts and fish and has led to several publications.


Sacabambaspis tail_scale_blog.jpg

Reconstruction of the early fish Sacabambaspis (with permission from Ivan Sansom, University of Birmingham) and a scanning electron microscope image of a Sacabambaspis scale from the Ordovician of Oman.


My job is changing over the next few months to 'Collections Manager of Micropalaeontology, Petrology and Ores'. This means that curators under my management will have responsiblity for answering many of the types of collections enquiries I have listed above. I have decided to stop keeping my enquiries book but I shall continue to blog!


Deep Diving, New Species Discovery and the Greatest Library on Earth


Special Science Seminar on communicating how biodiversity is the Earth's most valuable asset


Richard L. Pyle

Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii


Wednesday 14 January, 4pm Flett Theatre, NHM London


Preceded by coffee & tea in Flett Foyer from 3:15pm


The number of species on planet Earth that remain unknown to science exceeds (perhaps vastly) the number of species that have so far been discovered, let alone formally documented. Earth's biodiversity, which represents a library of accumulated information shaped by nearly four billion years of evolution, is arguably the most valuable asset on the planet for the long-term survival of humanity. Within the global biodiversity library, we are at this point in human history like toddlers running through the halls of the Library of Congress, largely unaware of the true value of the information that surrounds us. At the current pace of species discovery and documentation, in the context of what appears to be the dawn of the sixth great extinction, we are losing the race to document this enormous wealth of information before it is lost forever. Taxonomists are the librarians, developing new tools to build the card catalog for the Greatest Library on Earth. The tools include new research and means to access and integrate information. What we accomplish within the next twenty years will impact the quality of life for humans over the next twenty thousand years. 


Rich Pyle is globally recognised as an ichthyologist exploring extreme deep reef habitats, a bioinformatician and an ICZN Commissioner, a SCUBA re-breather engineer and and a two-time, two-topic TED Speaker. Here’s his TED blurb:

  • Ichthyologist Richard Pyle is a fish nerd. In his quest to discover and document new species of fish, he has also become a trailblazing exploratory diver and a pioneer of database technology.  A pioneer of the dive world, Richard Pyle discovers new biodiversity on the cliffs of coral reefs. He was among the first to use rebreather technology to explore depths between 200 and 500 feet, an area often called the "Twilight Zone." During his dives, he has identified and documented hundreds of new species. Author of scientific, technical and popular articles, his expeditions have also been featured in the IMAX film Coral Reef Adventure, the BBC series Pacific Abyss and many more. In 2005, he received the NOGI Award, the most prestigious distinction of the diving world.
  • Currently, he is continuing his research at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, outside Honolulu, Hawai'i, and is affiliated with the museum's comprehensive Hawaii Biological Survey. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Association for Marine Exploration, of which he is a founding member. He continues to explore the sea and spearhead re-breather technology, and is a major contributor to the Encyclopedia of Life.

Clay minerals on Mars: updated views on distribution, mineralogy and geologic context


Joe Michalski, Earth Sciences Department, NHM


Earth Sciences Seminar Room (Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room)


Tuesday 13th January, 1600h


While some Martian meteorites contain minor abundances of clays formed on Mars, most of our understanding of the clay mineralogy of Mars comes from orbital infrared remote sensing measurements. The European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft was, in 2004, the first mission to detect clay minerals on Mars. Since that time, both Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have detected >10,000 deposits spanning a range of geologic contexts and mineralogies. These deposits are extremely interesting for many reasons, not the least of which is that they seemingly date to an era not preserved on Earth (>3.7 Ga). 


In this talk, Joe will describe an updated perspective on the mineralogy of Martian clays, and their implications for ancient aqueous geological processes on and habitability of Mars.




More information on attending seminars at


Maybe it was too much cheese and wine... over the festive break I had dream about a potential blog topic: detailing the different designs used by the Museum on wax seal stamps over the years.


Of course, when I woke up and my dreamy head cleared, I realised that in all likelihood the Museum never used wax seals.


The invention of the automatic envelope folding machine in the 1840s, followed by self-gumming machines in the 1860s, meant that by the time the Museum opened in its current location in 1881 wax seal use was well on the wane.


But just to be sure, when I returned to the office this week, I got in touch with our trusty archivist and asked if she could double-check for me. The reply was an 'I don't think so', but with a consolatory 'we do have various ink stamps that were used at different times'.


That's better than nothing, I thought, so off I went to have a look. Inside a box marked "Historical Objects & Memorabilia" was a manilla envelope containing 17 ink stamps from different eras and different departments.



The 17 stamps (above) ranged from the complimentary ('From the Directors Room', etc) to the functional ('Rothschild bequest 1938' and various departmental libraries) to the celebratory ('Centenary 1881-1981').



The designs above included initials, crowns and crests, as well as more contemporary logos.


In a second, smaller, envelope marked "Hand stamp for Museum documents c1880" was another example. But when I tried this one out, something struck me immediately - the intricate coat of arms I could see in reverse, was showing no detail in its positive impression. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the design was recessed, rather than raised. That could only mean one thing: this old stamp was not for ink, but for wax!



The wax seal stamp features a lion and unicorn holding a crowned crest. In the top two corners it says "British Museum" and along the bottom "(Natural History)". Suspected Latin on the ribbon under the coat of arms is illegible.


And so it seems, sometimes dreams really do come true (well, sort of). Here's to a happy 2015!



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.


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.


1. WildlifeGarden_23122014-017.jpg
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).

2. WildlifeGarden_23122014-022.jpg

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


3. WildlifeGarden_23122014-058.jpg

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


7. blackbird and ivy berriesWLG_06032014-067.jpg

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’.



6, WildlifeGarden_23122014-052.jpg

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.’



9. WildlifeGarden_23122014-034.jpg
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 .......


10. Mistletoe WildlifeGarden_27112014-034.jpg

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… fox 23_12_14.jpg

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


Merry Christmas and Happy new Year!



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).



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:

Falsehoods about false widows put to rest:



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.


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.



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



Other names: Drugstore beetle, Bread beetle



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.



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.


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


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





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.








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:

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


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


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.


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.



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

— Amy Freeborn (@amyfreeborn) December 3, 2014



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.



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.



Anne working at the microscope.



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



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



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.



The team drilling a hole in the ice.


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.


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.



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’.


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.



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!


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.


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.




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.




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.


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!



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


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.


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,




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.


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


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.



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.



Staph we did this summer in Beetle blog

Posted by Blaps Nov 30, 2014

Emeline Favreau, our long-standing volunteer and recently graduated MRes in Biosystematics from Imperial College, London, and Josh Jenkins Shaw, also a long-standing volunteer and MSc Entomology student at Harper Adams share a little of what they did at the Museum this summer.


We have been quite busy this summer investigating the diversity of beetle infra-order Staphyliniformia. This is the group of Coleoptera whose popular members have short elytra (Staphylinidae), like the devil's coach horse. Using the same method as in the Biodiversity Initiative, we have used their DNA to unveil the evolutionary relationships between species.


The Devil's coach horse, Ocypus Olens, Müller, 1764


The idea was to understand the evolution of this group, as scientists have yet to pin point the exact placement of some families in the tree of life, like Pselaphidae for example. If we identify the close relatives to the Pselaphinae, we would be able to understand how this family evolved from a common ancestor. How would this common ancestor look like? What would have been its preferred habitat? What would it have been eating? These are the questions we want to answer.


In the laboratory, we first get the DNA from Staphyliniformia specimens and we spend (quite a lot of) time on a computer to figure out their evolution from molecular data. We use algorithms that convert the DNA into meaningful data, which in turn is used to create the tree of life (see the recent research on all insects). And this is when Josh comes in, as a fantastic volunteer in the molecular lab and here at Origins:


“I'm Josh, a volunteer in the molecular systematics lab at the NHM but I have previously volunteered in the beetle collection during the summer of 2011. Now I'm bringing the two areas together to complement each other.



Josh might be a little confused; this looks like the ladybird section; or is he just looking for out-groups?


This summer I've been working with MRes student Emeline Favreau trying to understand the phylogenetic and evolutionary relationships of the infra-order Staphyliniformia (that is the series that contains the Histeroids, Hydrophiloids and Staphylinoids - basically a lot of beetles - more than 74,000 described species!!)


Other than looking at DNA sequences on a computer and scratching my head a lot when faced with using odd computer programmes, I have been trying to identify specimens which have had their DNA sequenced already. Building phylogenetic trees is brilliant, but they only really make sense when the end points (nodes) have a name at the end! Identifying beetle specimens is often made much easier when you have a reference collection to hand, so it's rather fortuitous that the Coleoptera collection is two minutes' walk from where I've been based!


I also assisted Beulah with putting together a Staphylinid loan which mostly consisted of specimens belonging to the genus Bolitogyrus - a geographically interesting lineage, but they are also extremely cool looking!


josh coll.jpg

A collection drawer packed full of Bolitogyrus!


I recommend having a read/look at the photos in a recent taxonomic revision by Brunke & Solodovnikov:


A revision of the Neotropical species of Bolitogyrus Chevrolat, a geographically disjunct lineage of Staphylinini (Coleoptera, Staphylinidae)


This revision uses NHM specimens and also describes many new species. Some of the NHM specimens were collected over 100 years ago and form part of the BCA collection.



Ladybirds getting in on the act once more! Emeline at last Christmas' Coleoptera party...Happy Christmas!


The topic of my blog today came about via two quite random and seemingly un-related incidents. The first was a lunchtime walk to Hyde Park and a sneak through an open gate to catch a view of the Victorian-era pet cemetery near Bayswater Road. Among the small headstones for the likes of 'Rover' and 'Tiny' was one inscribed with 'Wasp'.



A tombstone for 'Wasp' (centre) in Hyde Park's Victorian pet cemetery. Most likely not the burial place of an actual wasp, although the Museum's wasp expert joked: 'A wasp makes an ideal pet in a cramped London apartment'.


The second incident took place at an after-work networking event when one of my colleagues relayed that she'd just been talking to someone about a particular wasp held in the Museum's entomology collection. And hence the logical conclusion of these two experiences was a post about John Lubbock's pet wasp.



'A little gentle[wo]man in a brown overcoat, with black and yellow nether garments.' Lubbock's pet wasp.


Sir John Lubbock (1834-1913), the first Lord Avebury, was a banker, politician, naturalist and Museum Trustee. In his political life, he was responsible for introducing bills giving us more bank holidays and preventing the destruction of ancient monuments, including the stone circle in Avebury (which inspired his title when awarded a peerage in 1900). In his guise as a naturalist, he was responsible for the identification of several new crustacean species, and years of study of the habits of ants, bees and wasps.


It was in May 1872 that he acquired his pet wasp. On a visit to the Spanish Pyrenees he found the female insect in a tiny nest with around 20 un-hatched larvae. Lamenting its state of being 'alone in the world', Lubbock brought the wasp back to England with him on the train, housed in a small bottle. In his 1884 book Ants, Bees and Wasps, Lubbock wrote:

I had no difficulty in inducing her to feed on my hand; but at first she was shy and nervous. She kept her sting in constant readiness; and once or twice in the train, when the railway officials came for tickets, and I was compelled to hurry her back into her bottle, she stung me slightly - I think, however, entirely from fright.


Gradually she became quite used to me, and when I took her on my hand, apparently expected to be fed. She even allowed me to stroke her without any appearance of fear, and for some months I never saw her sting.


So fond of the wasp was Lubbock that in the August of 1872 he took it with him to a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, on which The Telegraph reported, describing the pet insect (partially incorrectly) as:

A little gentleman in a brown overcoat, with black and yellow nether garments.


Come the new year, Lubbock's little lady, originally described as Polistes bimaculata but later revised to Polistes biglumis, took a turn for the worse. He wrote:

When the cold weather came on she fell into a drowsy state, and I began to hope she would hibernate and survive the winter. I kept her in a dark place, but watched her carefully, and fed her if ever she seemed at all restless.


She came out occasionally, and seemed as well as usual till near the end of February, when one day I observed she had nearly lost the use of her antennae, though the rest of the body was as usual. She would take no food. (Two days later) she could but move her tail, a last token, as I could almost fancy, of gratitude and affection.


She died in February, 1873. Lubbock noted:

As far as I could judge, her death was quite painless.


It's rumoured that her passing was commemorated with an obituary in The Times. This has not been substantiated, but her demise was recorded with a paragraph in the journal Nature.


The expiration of Lubbock's wasp noted in the journal Nature, Volume 7, Number 177, on 20 March, 1873.


Promptly following her death, Lubbock donated his pet wasp to the Museum (at that time, a part of the British Museum). Her registration number shows that she was the Museum's eighth acquisition of 1873. Her final resting place today is on a pin in a Polistes collection tray, now under the care of Gavin Broad, the Museum's Senior Curator of Hymenoptera.



Gavin says:

It's a very common species for the parts of Europe where it's from, but this particular one has gained quite a bit of notoriety.


So much so, he says, that it is part of an informal pilgrimage made by Lubbock fans, which also includes sites such as Stonehenge and Avebury.

There's a band of Lubbock enthusiasts out there and about every two years I have a pilgrim to visit the wasp.


This includes the gentleman my colleague (and, later, I) met at that networking event. When I mentioned to Gavin the prospect of Lubbock's pet wasp featuring in this blog, he said:

I look forward to her having her day online.


Today, Gavin (and Sir John, and all you Lubbock fans out there), is that day.


What are the benefits of natural history museums working with local record centres?


Thursday 4 December 1430-1600 Flett Theatre, NHM.


Steve Hewitt, Curator of Natural Sciences, Tullie House Museum and Gallery

Teresa Frost, Manager Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre


The relationship between natural history museums and local records centres was once strong, complementing and supporting each other. The pooling of historical museum collections with contemporary data provided a valuable perspective on the country’s changing biodiversity. But in recent decades this important link has diminished.


Join this session to hear about the relationship between Tullie House Museum, Carlisle Natural History Society and the Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre (CBDC). Together they support each other to create a momentum for biodiversity study. As well as the management and dissemination of collections data through CBDC, the museum gains from relationships with external organisations engaging with the centre. What can we at the Natural History Museum learn from these and other benefits of a now rare arrangement?


Open to all.  The seminar is open to all Museum staff.  We welcome colleagues from other institutions.


If you would like to attend please email:


Climate Confusion: Lessons and Pitfalls in the study of Climates Past


Professor John Lowe – Royal Holloway, University of London


Earth Sciences Seminar Room, (Basement, WEB 05, Mineralogy Seminar Room)


9th December - 4.00 pm


Accurate reconstruction of the timing and pattern of past climate variations is pivotal to a wide range of scientific studies.  Climate modellers may use the results to test the functioning and/or predictive capabilities of numerical climate simulations.  Earth scientists use them to assess the role of climate forcing on a range of earth surface processes, operating over very different timescales. Archaeologists have long considered the possible influence of climate on human evolution and dispersal.  Part of the remit of environmental science is to understand how climatic factors regulate processes of major societal significance, such as groundwater recharge, aridification and flood recurrence. 


These various studies all depend upon the availability of reliable climatic histories, and an understanding of how the global climate system works.  However, recent discoveries are increasingly pointing to a serious and pervasive problem in this regard, especially with regard to how we measure the global environmental response to abrupt climatic events (those that take place in less than one hundred years). 


In this talk I will endeavour to address, and to stimulate debate about, three things: (a) the nature of the problem, by referring to recent advances in our understanding of the history of global climate variability during the late Quaternary (the last c.150,000 years or so); (b) the promise that new approaches in geological dating offer for delivering more precise chronologies of past climatic variation;  and (c) the challenges that lie ahead, and that need to be met, before the stamp of climate change on the geo-archaeological record can be appraised with more assurance.


More information on attending seminars at


Life Science Seminar: The unique development of the fox tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis: a hopeful, but terrible monster


Uriel Koziol, Seccion Bioquimica y Biologia, Universidad de la Republica, Iguá, Uruguay & University of Würzburg, Germany


Wednesday 26 November 11:00,  Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)



The larva of the fox tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis causes a zoonotic disease called polycystic hydatidosis that is difficult to treat and almost impossible to cure. The reason why it is so dangerous is directly related to its unique morphology and development, that unlike most tapeworms, involves proliferative, tumour-like growth within the tissues of the host as well as asexual multiplication. In this talk, I will describe the unique development of E. multilocularis and our current efforts to elucidate its genetic underpinnings and evolutionary origins.




More information on attending seminars at