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Natural History

May 2015

Super Scientist Awards 2015

Posted by Penny Tomkins on 1 May 2015

One of a number of accurately drawn and labelled images sent in by Stanford in the Vale CE Primary School - Gardening Club. 

A bar chart sent in by The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School.

One hundred schools across the UK are to be awarded Super Scientist Certificates on behalf of Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales in recognition for their contribution to the Spring Bulbs - Climate Change Investigation.

Huge Congratulations to all these schools!

A big ‘thank you’ to every one of the 5,539 pupils who helped this year! Thank you for working so hard planting, observing, measuring and recording - you really are Super Scientists! Each one of you will receive a certificate and Super Scientist pencil, these will be sent to your school by mid-May.

 Many thanks to the Edina Trust for funding this project.

 

Super Scientist Winners 2015

Well done to our three winners for their consistent weather data entries! Each will receive a class trip of fun-packed nature activities.

St. Brigid's School - Wales

The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School - England

Winton Primary School - Scotland

 

Runner's up:

Betws Primary School

Carnforth North Road Primary School

Corsehill Primary School

St. Laurence Primary School

St. Michael's Primary School

St. Paul's Primary School

Wormit Primary School

 

Highly commended schools:

Balcurvie Primary School

Carnegie Nursery

Coleg Meirion Dwyfor

Coleg Powys

Eastfield Primary School

Fairlie Primary School

Freuchie Nursery

Gibshill Children's Centre

Greenburn School

Howwood Primary School

Keir Hardie Memorial Primary School

Kilmory Primary School

Maes-y-Coed Primary

SS Philip and James CE Primary School

St. Ignatius Primary School

St. Peter's CE Primary School

Wildmill Youth Club

Ysgol Bro Eirwg

 

Schools with special recognition:

Bancyfelin

Bickerstaffe CE Primary School

Binnie Street Children's Centre

Brodick Primary School

Carstairs Primary School

Coppull Parish Primary School

Dallas Road Primary School

Dyffryn Banw

Euxton Church of England Primary School

Garstang St. Thomas' CE Primary School

Guardbridge Primary School

Henllys CIW Primary

Kirkton Primary School

Llanharan Primary School

Morningside Primary School

Newport Primary School

Orchard Meadow Primary School

Pittenweem Primary School

Rhws Primary School

Rivington Foundation Primary School

Sacred Heart Primary and Nurseries

Skelmorlie Primary School

Stanford-in-the-Vale CE Primary School              

St Athan Primary

St Mellons Church in Wales Primary School

Trellech Primary School

Woodlands Primary School

Ynysddu Primary School

Ysgol Bryn Garth

Ysgol Deganwy

Ysgol Hiraddug

Ysgol Syr John Rhys

Ysgol Clocaenog

 

Schools to be awarded certificates:

Abbey Primary School

Albert Primary School

Arkholme CE Primary School

Baird Memorial Primary School

Balshaw Lane Community Primary School

Chapelgreen Primary School

Christ Church CP School

Chryston Primary School

Colinsburgh Primary School

Darran Park Primary

Fintry Primary School

Glencoats Primary School

Hafodwenog

Kilmacolm Primary School

Kings Oak Primary School

Llanishen Fach C.P School

Mossend Primary School

Our Lady of Peace Primary School

Preston Grange Primary School

Saint Anthony's Primary School

Silverdale St. John's CE School

St. Nicholas CE Primary School

St. Philip Evans RC Primary School

Swiss Valley CP School

Thorn Primary School

Tongwynlais Primary School

Torbain Nursery School

Townhill Primary School

Ysgol Bryn Coch

Ysgol Glan Conwy

Ysgol Iau Hen Golwyn

Ysgol Nant Y Coed

Ysgol Pencae

Ysgol Rhys Prichard

Ysgol Tal y Bont

Ysgol Treferthyr

Ysgol Y Plas

Glyncollen Primary School

Rougemont Junior School

 

 

Thank you for all your hard work Bulb Buddies,

Professor Plant

Adrian in the Amazon - final part

Posted by Adrian Plant on 1 May 2015

Adrian at work in the lab

Now the hard work really begins!

Our expedition has now drawn to a successful close. Our collections of several thousand specimens have (mostly) been successfully exported from Ecuador and initial analysis of them has started. Entomological expeditions to remote areas are great fun of course. However the less glamorous but harder work comes later, involving months or years of detailed study during which new species are described, evolutionary trees constructed, and ecological or biogeographic conclusions etc. are developed.

In the field there may be great excitement about finding a particular insect but to a scientist, the level of excitement can only grow as the real significance of the finding is revealed subsequently through painstaking study and reference to our already extensive collections. Already we have glimpses of results that might tell us more about how the insect fauna of the upper Amazon Basin came about. For example the unexpected presence of Cladodromia (a classic ‘Gondwanan’ genus) suggests there has been immigration from Patagonia whereas the high diversity of Neoplasta (which is essentially North American) hints at a south-bound migration along the Andes. On the other hand, an almost complete absence of Hemerodromia puzzles us as it is widespread in the lower Amazon so why didn’t we find it higher up? We suspect that the answer may be that it has only recently arrived in South America and is still spreading to Ecuador. Then again the unseasonal rains (due to a strong El Niño this year) may be a factor. Investigations continue.

In the field, our successes were often hard-won; difficult slogging through trying terrain, inclement weather, frustrating officialdom and many other factors sometimes worked against us it seemed, and intermittent access to the internet made writing these blogs challenging at times. We have been very fortunate in that our expedition was entirely and well-funded by the Brazilian Government as a part of their noble and ambitious efforts to understand the biodiversity of the Amazon. Our own exertions will plug one significant hole in knowledge and contribute to greater appreciation of Amazon biodiversity.

To read all of Adrian's entries, go to our Natural History Blog

April 2015

Adrian in the Amazon - part 9

Posted by Adrian Plant on 30 April 2015

Josenir Camara crossing the Rio San Francisco

One of the many butterflies in the forest

One of the many species of hummingbird encountered

Back to civilization again - the regional capital of Loja, a small town nestled under forested Andean slopes and home to the regional Ministry of Environment where we must go once again, to obtain permission to move the samples we have collected back to Quito.

Unlike our previous brush with officialdom in Tena (our samples from there still have not been released!... but we have some local support to ensure that they eventually will be), the officials in Loja were helpful, polite and efficient! We had allowed 2 days to process the permissions in Loja, but in the event, we received our permits within 30 minutes, leaving us the best part of 2 days to explore the town and sample the local culture and cuisine.

Meanwhile, here are some more photos from our time in the field.

To read more about Adrian's travels, go to our Natural History blog page

Adrian in the Amazon - part 8

Posted by Adrian Plant on 28 April 2015

A giant pantophthalmid fly

Malaise traps and carrion traps in action

Rio San Francisco at ECSF Loja

The calls of the forest cicadas are ever present

A week has passed during which the rains slowly abated (at least for part of each day). Dryer vegetation means that our nets (and ourselves) don’t rapidly become water-sodden and we can catch insects more easily and effectively. Whenever the weather has allowed, we have been climbing through the forest searching for flies and enjoying a good measure of success in our quest.

Many of the species we have been catching belong in genera with which we have little familiarity; being rare and little-known, even to specialists such as ourselves. Finds such as these make all the hard slogging up precipitous slopes, cutting through dense vegetation, deep sucking mud and scratches and bites from a myriad of thorny plants and man-eating insects worthwhile! I guess you have to be a shade unhinged to enjoy this sort of thing. . . or a field entomologist perhaps?

Our time at Estación Científica San Francisco is now drawing to a close and tonight we have been sorting and labelling our samples carefully to ensure they are ready for shipment back to our bases in Cardiff and Manaus. Proper field curation of collected specimens is a vital part of expeditions such as ours, ensuring that all data (where/when an insect was captured, what it’s habitat was and how it was behaving etc. etc.) is properly cross-referenced with the actual samples. Were the samples to become detached from their data they would be rendered useless, of mere cosmetic interest.

To read more about Adrian's travels, go to our Natural History blog page

Adrian in the Amazon - part 7

Posted by Adrian Plant on 27 April 2015

We have made it to the Estación Científica San Francisco in Podocarpus National Park, Loja Province. Well, we made it but one of our bags didn’t, apparently having been left behind in Quito. We are hopeful that it will arrive tomorrow in Loja and we can arrange for a taxi to bring it the hour or so’s drive to the Estación. Meanwhile we are getting to know our new home for the next week.

The Estación is perched on the side of a narrow ravine in dense forest through which flows the Rio San Fransisco. All our routes into the forest start with a spectacular crossing of the river using a wire cradle suspended from a rope running through pulleys at either end high over the water. Progress is made by pulling hand over hand on the opposing rope until the other side is reached. Once over, the ground is very steep and densely forested. Our intial forrays into the near reaches of this wilderness indicate a spectacularly diverse fly fauna. . . and that is what we are here for. We have set our Malaise traps but the incessant rain is making other fieldwork difficult so we will have to wait for better weather to get further afield and explore more.

You can read more about Adrian's travels on our blog page

Adrian in the Amazon - part 6

Posted by Adrian Plant on 24 April 2015

Having completed our work at Yanayacu we have moved further down the eastern slopes of the Andes to the town of Tena in Napo Province. Here at only 500m above sea level it is much hotter than in the mountains - a truly tropical climate. The town is placed on the last slight hills before the Andes sweep down and merge onto the flatlands of the Amazon Basin. West of here, the rivers are fast and furious having dropped 3000m or more in just 50km through the mountains whereas to the east they become sluggish and it will take another 3000km for them to drop the remaining 500m to the sea.

Our visit to Tena is necessary to complete administrative formalities and to obtain permits allowing us to move the specimens we have collected between different provinces within Ecuador. After three visits to the Ministry of Environment, numerous phone calls, support from a well-connected colleague at the newly established university in Tena and from colleagues in Quito we are still waiting for a positive outcome!

Josenir and I have to move on to our next study site in Loja Province and we have no chance or getting the permits through in time. Fortunately, Eduardo has to remain in the town to deliver a 3-day entomology course to the students at the university. The hope is that he can complete the formalities and bring our specimens with him when he moves back to Quito next week and we can take them from him when we pass through Quito on our way out of the country. Meanwhile Josy and I have a plane to catch….

Find out more about what Adrian has been up to by reading his past blogs.

Adrian in the Amazon - part 5

Posted by Adrian Plant on 22 April 2015

Our time at Yanayacu has drawn to a close. The final days fieldwork saw us collecting in the Malaise traps we had previously set and making several forays to a particularly good stream site where we had hoped to find more species of Hemerodromia. Hemerodromia is the focus of Josenir’s PhD work at INPA and we have been searching hard for specimens to help her studies.

Alas, many hours of wading up streambeds, sloshing through mud and slithering over mossy spring sources has yielded but a handful. These will be valuable for her studies but we can’t help but feel a bit disappointed by the results on this aspect of our expedition. We have speculated long and hard as to why Hemerodromia has been so hard to find. Perhaps these aquatic insects have been washed out of their streams by the unusually strong rains we are experiencing? It seems that a particularly strong El Nino event has commenced bringing late rains throughout Ecuador.

During the evenings we have been running an ultraviolet light to attract nocturnal insects to the Biological Station. A couple of nights ago we were absolutely inundated by insects with vast numbers of hawk moths, tiger moths, giant Hercules beetles and enormous stoneflies (Plecoptera) known as Dobson Flies in the US, coming to the light. It’s odd but the best nights for attracting insects are not warm balmy ones but those with torrential rain and enveloping cloud. And such were the conditions on this particular occasion.

To read more about Adrian's expedition - read his past blog posts.

Adrian in the Amazon - part 4

Posted by Adrian Plant on 8 April 2015

Josenir and Eduardo studying collected samples

We have now settled into a routine at the Yanayacu Biological Station. Our days are spent out in the forest collecting flies and in the evenings we examine the results of the days efforts, preserving the specimens and collating data about where and how we found them. Josenir and I are especially interested in a group of flies known as Hemerodromiinae and in our fieldwork efforts we mostly target streams, rivers and springs where we expect to find them.

The terrain in this part of the Andes is generally very steep and many of the stream banks have washed-out and slipped allowing a dense understorey of bamboo to grow. Because of this, simply getting into the streams can involve much machete work hacking through the vegetation and a slithering half-controlled descent of muddy slopes until we finally splash into the stream bed and can begin work. Our general procedure is to wade upstream using a net to sweep insects off surrounding vegetation, or selectively picking flies off wet rocks, wet moss etc. It is hard, dirty and wet work and we inevitably return soaked to the skin and mud-splattered but we have been rewarded by many interesting finds.

Yesterday we found perhaps 30-50 species (it’s not really possible to be more precise until we begin detailed examinations back in Cardiff and Manaus) and we think that around 90% of these will be completely new species that have yet to be described. I was particularly delighted to find no less than 5 new species of the genus Chelipoda. I have studied this genus intensively in the past and attempted to construct a ‘phylogenetic tree’ showing the systematic relationships between the living species and inferring the sequence of their evolution.

It is not yet clear if most South American species of Chelipoda evolved from ancestors that migrated south from North America in the distant past or if they have developed from so-called ‘Gondwanan’ species - ones which originated on the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana before it broke apart and its fragments drifted apart to form modern day New Zealand, South Africa and Patagonia for example. Careful examination of the Ecuadorian species should reveal clues hidden in their anatomy as to which theory (if any) is correct.

Adrian in the Amazon - part 3

Posted by Adrian Plant on 7 April 2015

Yanayacu Research Station

Hummingbird feeders in front of Yanayacu Station

In Quito we met up with the third member of our team Eduardo Carlo Amat Garcia, a specialist in blow-flies from Bogota, Columbia and together travelled with surprising ease to the Estacion Biologica Yanayacu, a biological research station on the eastern slopes of the Andes. Here the field work starts in earnest. This morning we were up early and after a breakfast punctuated by hummingbirds hovering around the outside breakfast table, headed off into the forest.

A couple of hours heavy machete work through steep dense bamboo-choked forest lead us to a high ridge covered with thick lush Andean forest, festooned with various creepers and epiphytic plants. This made an ideal place to place our first Malaise trap. These traps are constructed rather like a tent, insects flying or blown onto a central vane move up to a central ridge and are collected by placing a receiving bottle across a small hole at the top. While Josenir and I set out traps, Eduardo was placing a different kind of trap to catch his blow-flies - traps baited with a disgusting mixture of decomposing fish-heads and chicken giblets to which blow-flies are attracted to lay their eggs.

For the rest of the day we made/cut our way through the forest setting traps in different kinds of habitat in the hope that we will catch a greater variety of flies by sampling different areas. Now the traps are set, they will continue to work until we bring them down in a week’s time. They will continue to work even in the pouring rain when other means of sampling are difficult. And it has been raining all day, but despite this we have made a few early discoveries such as a very little-known genus of flies called Chvalaeae which none of us had seen before. And of course the other wildlife provided some consolation - including numerous spectacular birds and recent signs (tree scratching) of an Andean Bear. What a pity we did not see the actual animal. Maybe tomorrow! Now with traps set and forecast of better weather tomorrow, we are hopeful of an exciting time in the days ahead.

March 2015

Adrian in the Amazon - part 2

Posted by Adrian Plant on 31 March 2015

Ecuador at last! Josemir Camara and I have now arrived in Quito, after a long dog-legging flight from Manaus up to Panama City and back down to Ecuador. While we arrange the logistics of our onward travels, we have a little time to explore some of the sights of the world’s highest capital city and to visit the insect collections at the museum of Quito’s Catholic University. The collections of museums around the World house a vast treasure-trove of knowledge and visits between curators of different museums can be significant in unlocking this knowledge for wider appreciation and usefulness.

Specialists such as myself and my Brazilian colleagues José Albertino Rafael and Josenir Câmara are able to provide insight into the significance of these collections, promote wider recognition of their value and significance as well as provide pointers to how their importance may be communicated to their own nationals. Of course we have a vested interest too - we get to see specimens of animals we have only ever dreamed of!

Sometimes we can arrange loans between our institutions to support our own research or to facilitate contact with others who have something to contribute to the understanding or interpretation of the collections. While it is certainly true that most of insect biodiversity has never been seen (or knowingly seen) by a human being, it is also true that a proportion of that unknown diversity is represented in museum collections and people like me and my Brazilian colleagues are in the very special situation of being able to recognize its importance.

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