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Natural History

November 2014

Magnificent Molluscs

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 25 November 2014

Our 'Magnificent Molluscs' Storify story about #MolluscMonday

Every Monday curatorial staff from the Department of Natural Sciences at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales highlight some of the fantastic mollusc specimens from our collections, on Twitter using the hashtag #MolluscMonday

The Molluscan collections at Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales number some 180,000 lots from many different collections which have been amalgamated into one systematic sequence.

The most historically important part of the collections is the Melvill-Tomlin collection which came to us in 1955 and contains over 1,000,000 specimens!

Want to find out more? Why not follow us on Twitter @CardiffCurator or @NatHistConserve or follow the hashtag #MolluscMonday to find out about this fascinating group of animals. Lots of people have been joining in so why not join in the fun!

We have compiled a collection of our favourite #MolluscMonday Tweets on Storify. We also do #BotanicMonday, #WormWedneday and #FossilFriday

Storage of entomology collections in museums

Posted by Christian Baars on 25 November 2014

What is the best way to store insect collections? Recently an enquiry was posted on NHCOLL-L (electronic forum for the care and use of natural history collections) about the use of wood as a material for insect storage cabinets. The question was:

What kind of preservative should be used to treat some new storage cabinets made of eucalyptus wood, that would not harm the insect specimens stored inside them?

The post sparked a discussion about ideal insect storage. Below is a little summary of the factors to consider when planning storage for your entomology collection.

The ideal solution

The ideal solution for insect storage in most situations are metal cabinets, which are robust, relatively cheap, made with a high degree of consistency and can be made air tight (well, almost). This will protect the collection against insect infestations, airborne pollutants and humidity fluctuations (although not temperature fluctuations – cf. Szcepanowska et al. 2013.

Why use wood preservatives?

However, if you do need to use wood for the cabinets, you should consider the following concerns.

Usually, the reasons for treating wood with preservatives are either:

  • to make it more hard-wearing (in the case of wooden floors), or
  • to stop it being attacked by fungi or insects, or
  • to prevent it from greying when exposed to UV light.

Most of these issues are problems mainly in outdoor applications of wood, and there are a number of ways of dealing with these: wood can be varnished to make it protect it from physical impacts, stained to protect it from UV light, and pressure-treated or painted with insecticides and fungicides (ranging from highly toxic substances, such as pentachlorophenol, to less hazardous ones, such as borax).

Assuming the entomology store is dry, has a low relative humidity, clean and there is no problem with insect pests – which should all be the case to safeguard the collection, never mind the storage cabinets – there is really no reason why the cabinets need a finish at all. This applies to all woods – whether in a museum or in a domestic situation, wood used indoors should not require any treatment to protect it from fungal or insect infestations, or greying. Coming back to eucalyptus wood in particular: this has a naturally high content of polyphenols, which makes it naturally resistant to mould growth and insect attack, further negating the need to treat it.

There is one exception: if old cabinets are bought from another institution there is a danger that pest insects may be present already, which could introduce them into the new location. It is advisable therefore to check any old cabinets thoroughly before they are installed – better still, before they are transported to the new location. This then gives time to investigate appropriate treatment options, which are not restricted to chemical means; instead, the units may be frozen, heat-treated or treated in a nitrogen chamber. But that is an entirely different subject which shall be discussed in detail elsewhere.

Organic acid emissions

A further question was the issue of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Wood naturally emits many different VOCs, including acetic and formic acids, which is a problem in many museum collections (e.g. causing Byne’s disease in Mollusca and egg collections, and enhancing pyrite decay in geological collections). There does not appear to be a problem with VOCs affecting insect specimens themselves, although organic acids frequently lead to pin corrosion in insect collections. Many wood preservatives may exacerbate the problem of VOC emissions from storage cabinets. As we always look for ways of lowering such airborne pollutants in museum stores and galleries there is another reason against the use of wood preservatives in entomology stores – actually, ANY museum stores.

What material to choose for the drawers? Experience has shown that plastic drawers have problems with static electricity charging, which attracts dust. Metal drawers can be heavy and unwieldy. Wooden drawers still appear to be very much the most practical way of storing insects. However, the type of wood used should not emit large amounts of VOCs, and the drawers should have well-fitting lids to keep out pests. If you wanted to use a locally sourced (sustainable and ethical) wood you might have to undertake a little research. Generally, hard woods are better than softwoods (drawers made from softwood can warp with time and often contain large amounts of resin), although many imported tropical woods used in days gone by are now controversial for environmental and social reasons. When researching the potential suitability of different wood types, try tracking down a comparative study of the VOC emissions of different local hardwoods, which would give you an indication of those high emission species to avoid in the construction of drawers.

Further guidance

The UK’s Natural Sciences Collections Association [http://www.natsca.org/] has published some guidance on the construction of insect storage units:

NHCOLL-L is a general purpose electronic forum for those with an interest in the care, management, computerization, conservation and use of natural history collections. Hosted by Yale University, NHCOLL-L is co-sponsored by the Society of the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) and the Association for Systematic Collections (ASC, Natural History Collections Alliance).

Disclaimer: The links in this article are purely examples of potential pest management but by no means an endorsement of particular companies or organisations.

The Adventures of Arthur the Arthropleura

Posted by Annette Townsend on 11 November 2014

Arthur before conservation

Arthur has a bath

Arthur after conservation

Arthur visits the impressionists

» View full post to see all images

In June this year the Natural Sciences Department received a rather special donation from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; a life size model of a giant millipede, Arthropleura, that would have lived in the Carboniferous Period, 300 million years ago. Arthropleura is the largest invertebrate (creepy-crawly) ever known to have lived on land, reaching up to 2.6 metres in length, but despite its monstrous proportions it is thought to have been a harmless herbivore.

The model was originally on display in Kew Garden’s Evolution House but when the space was dismantled in preparation for the HLF funded restoration of the Temperate House, it was no longer needed. So it was donated to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, thanks to the generosity of Chris Mills, David Cook and Jonathan Farley at Kew.

The Arthropleura model was in need of some substantial conservation work when it arrived at AC-NMC. It had been on open display for many years in a glass house alongside living plants and was damaged and rusty. The humid display environment had caused the surface paint to flake away and several spiders and snails had taken up residence on the underside of the model!

The first job was to give the model a good wash with hot soapy water and remove the dirt and cobwebs! Then all the flaking paint was scrubbed off, the damaged areas on the legs and head were rebuilt with an epoxy putty and the surface textures recreated. The nuts and bolts of the removable antennae had rusted together, so the metal parts were replaced with new stainless steel threaded rods.

Once the repairs were complete the model was carefully painted with acrylics and then coated in a durable varnish, making it once again suitable for public display.

Some of the Natural Science staff had become rather attached to the impressive 1.5m long millipede model whilst it underwent conservation work in the lab and named it Arthur the Arthropleura! We also decided to have a bit of Halloween fun with Arthur… so he “escaped” and went on the run around the museum galleries! We posted pictures of his adventures on the @CardiffCurator Natural Sciences Twitter account and had a fantastic response from our followers. Arthur the Arthropleura is now a social media star and is a really wonderful addition to our collections!         

Fire burn and cauldron bubble!

Posted by Jennifer Gallichan on 5 November 2014

Our ghoul infested Herbarium

Learning more about the Ghost slug

Arthur the Arthropleuran

Bugs and beasties on the Entomology (Insects) stand

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‘From ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night…’

Last Friday, Natural Sciences staff celebrated Halloween in grand style with a host of truly ghoulish and grizzly specimens out in the main hall at National Museum Cardiff. The National Herbarium was transformed into a ghoul filled graveyard, and a large mosquito model leered down from the entomology (insects) stand, any moment threatening to jump on the jugular of an unsuspecting member of the public. Younger visitors to the OPAL stand were encouraged to stealthily walk through a spider’s web without disturbing its occupant, and learn about glow in the dark scorpions. Meanwhile the biggest creepy crawly that ever lived, Arthropleura, a 300 million year old extinct giant millipede, escaped from the Palaeontology (fossil) stand and went off to explore the Impressionist galleries.

Despite all of the fun, visitors gained an insight about some of the 6 million specimens that are held behind the scenes at the museum, and the incredible work of the staff that care for them.  From bats to giant squid, volcanic rocks to fungi, we covered them all. One of my favourite parts of the day was taking visitors behind the scenes on tours of the Entomology and Molluscan sections to see insects and shells and the Spirit store (not ghosts, but where we keep our specimens preserved in fluid such as sea worms and crabs). It is such a rewarding experience to see the excitement of people visiting the collections for the first time, and proudly talking about all of the great research work that we do.

If you missed it, don’t worry! We have a whole host of open days and curator led sessions coming up. See our What’s Onto find out more!

Museum scientists pop up at Fairwater Library

Posted by Lucy McCobb on 4 November 2014

A beautiful display of freshly-pressed leaves and fruits

Marine specimens from the Invertebrate Biodiversity Collections

Slug identification 

A range of fossils from different periods of the Earth’s history

Museum scientists were out and about during half-term week, when the I Spy…Nature pop-up museum paid a visit to Fairwater Library on 30th October.  Curators from the Botany, Invertebrate Diversity and Palaeontology sections took along specimens from their collection areas to show the public, along with a microscope and quizzes to encourage them to look even closer.

Ingrid Jüttner challenged people to identify as many trees as they could, using beautiful displays of freshly-pressed leaves and fruits.  This activity was a big hit with grown-ups, and it was very pleasing to see so many parents and grandparents encouraging children to learn more about these important plants, which bring our living spaces to life.

The library’s meeting room became temporary home to an impressive array of marine and mollusc specimens from the Invertebrate Diversity section.  People were fascinated by the creatures on display, which evoked a range of reactions (including ‘they’re really gross!’) depending on how they felt about slugs and worms!  Teresa Darbyshire showed some of the diversity of life found around our shores, with beautiful sea shells, lobster, starfish, and a pickled octopus and giant sea worm.  Visitors tried their hands at identifying shells using a key, all good training for trips to the beach!  Ben Rowson challenged people to identify mystery objects under the microscope, and introduced them to slug identification using his recently published book and life-like models.

Lucy McCobb showed visitors a range of fossils from different periods of the Earth’s history, ranging from an Ice Age mastodon tooth and horse’s leg bone, through Jurassic ammonites and ichthyosaur bones, to trilobites, which are among Wales’s oldest fossils.  The ‘what’s in a name?’ quiz was popular with children, and asked them to use the meanings of scientific names to match up the name with the correct fossil.

This was I Spy..Nature's  first venture into libraries, and showed that they have great potential as venues for taking the Museum’s collections and experts out into communities.

October 2014

Unknown Wales 2014

Posted by Chris Cleal on 23 October 2014

Stephen Moss talking about Britain's Big Wildlife Revival

Museum Curator Ingrid Jüttner talking about diatoms

Unknown Wales is a free annual public event organised by Amgueddfa Cymru’s Department of Natural Sciences in collaboration with the Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales, to highlight the natural history treasures found in Wales.  It allows the museum to tell a wide general audience about the collaborative efforts that we are a party to, fighting to protect the wildlife and its habitats across the country.

This year’s meeting, held on the 11th October in the Reardon Smith Theatre at National Museum Cardiff, had an audience of nearly 250 people.  They heard talks about bank voles, diatoms (by the museum’s Ingrid Jüttner), sand lizards, dung beetles, fossil forests and rare fish.  The meeting was rounded off by Stephen Moss of the BBC Natural History Unit, talking about conservation activities in Wales, such as the success story of the recovery of the red kite.

As in previous years, the event has been sponsored by one of our very generous Patrons.

Biology Rocks! at National Museum Cardiff

Posted by Lucy McCobb on 20 October 2014

Some of our younger visitors getting to grips with our marine collections

Exploring seabed life

Botanist curator taking part in the pollination game

Our seabed mural being put together by museum visitors

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Biology rocked at National Museum Cardiff on Saturday 11th October, when over 3000 visitors joined scientists from Amgueddfa Cymru, Cardiff University and the Society of Biology to celebrate National Biology Week and Earth Science Week. 

Visitors got the opportunity to see some of the specimens from our collections that aren’t usually on display and to talk to Museum experts about their work.  Specimens from the Marine and Mollusca collections provided inspiration for a mural depicting life in the seas around Wales, which became more colourful and populated throughout the day!  

As part of the Geological Society’s ‘100 Great Geosites’ campaign, Museum geologists displayed rocks, fossils and minerals from our collections, as well as stunning images of some of the most beautiful and iconic landscapes in Wales.  Members of the public were invited to vote for their favourite site in Wales, with the dinosaur footprints from Bendricks Rocks, near Barry, emerging as the clear favourite on the day.

To mark the recent arrival of two hives on our roof, staff from the Entomology and Botany Sections gave visitors the opportunity to take a closer look at bee specimens from our collections and to experience a ‘bee’s eye view’ of the world by playing a pollination game, collecting ‘pollen’ and ‘nectar’ from various flowers.

Scientists from Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences and School of Earth and Ocean Sciences put on a variety of displays and activities throughout the Museum.  Among the many activities on offer, visitors could try their hand at organ transplant using a life-size Operation game, race maggots, work out how big a dinosaur was from its footprint, discover first-hand how fungi get their spots, and learn the importance of reporting road kill with the Splatter Project.

Unlocking records from backlog collections

Posted by Harriet Wood on 17 October 2014
Seren Thomas working with Ben Rowson on the Mollusca collections
Photo1: Seren Thomas working with Ben Rowson on the Mollusca collections
The first drawer of British specimens that Seren is working on
Photo 2: The first drawer of British specimens that Seren is working on

This week we were delighted to welcome our new intern, Seren Thomas, to the Department of Natural Sciences. Seren is already known to the department having volunteered for us in the Mollusca and Botany Sections whilst studying for her degree five years ago. Now, with her degree behind her, including a professional training year at Kew Gardens, and a Masters degree starting late next year, Seren was keen to work with us once again. So, what will she be doing… 

There is so much useful information held in our collections that we are continually trying to make available and disseminate. Seren will be helping unlock data from our non-marine British backlog collections in Mollusca (primarily slugs and snails). These specimens date from before 1900 to the present, cumulatively spanning almost the whole of Britain and Ireland, representing many species and habitats. The project will involve repackage and re-labelling each species in turn, and extracting, verifying and georeferencing the species and site data. This will allow the data to be exported to the national environmental recording networks via the Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. It will also help the material to be used more efficiently and widely in our research projects and other activities.

Watch this space to see how the project progresses over the next year and beyond.

More I Spy Competition Winners

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 14 October 2014

Winner in the under 6 age category receiving her prize

Winner in the 10-13 age category receiving her prize

The winners and their families after the special behind the scenes tour of the Natural Science Collections

Behind the scenes in the shell (mollusc) collections

We were joined this Saturday by two more of our I Spy…Nature drawing competition winners and their families. The winners were shown around the mollusc (shell), marine invertebrate and vertebrate collections as part of their special behind the scenes tour by museum curators Katie Mortimer-Jones and Jennifer Gallichan. The visitors were able to select draws from the mollusc collections to look in and saw a Giant Clam and a cone shell known as Glory of the Seas (Conus gloriamaris), a once sort after shell found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, to name but a few. Next onto the fluid store, where we keep our fluid preserved specimens such as marine bristleworms, starfish, crabs, lobsters and fish specimens. Lastly the tour finished up in the Vertebrate store where we keep some of the Museum’s taxidermy and skeleton specimens. After the tour, the winners were given their prizes of natural history goodies from the Museum Shop.

World Octopus Day

Posted by Harriet Wood on 8 October 2014

Portrait of William Evans Hoyle from the Amgueddfa Cymru library archive

Hoyle’s library stamp identifies the books he donated to the Mollusca library

A few examples from Hoyle’s Cephalopod collection

An Octopus close up from the Hoyle collection

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Today is a very special day…it’s World Octopus Day! So, what better opportunity to celebrate the life of the eminent Cephalopod expert Dr William Evans Hoyle. Here at Amgueddfa Cymru Hoyle has a particularly special place in our hearts as he was our first Director and donated part of his Cephalopod collection to our museum containing some 463 jars of specimens.

So, who was this man…?

Born in Manchester in 1855, Hoyle followed a varied and interesting career but his passion was always for science and nature. From an Oxford degree in Natural History to a diploma in medicine; from writing Challenger Reports to being Keeper and Director of the Manchester Museum; whatever the challenge, Hoyle took it on with energy, enthusiasm and a great sense of humour.

The challenge of Challenger:

It was in 1882 that he was invited to be a naturalist on the editorial staff of the “Challenger” Expedition, under the supervision of Sir John Murray. This was to be the start of his life-long love for cephalopods. All of the cephalopods collected over the four years of the expedition (1872-1876) were passed through his hands. His skills in dissection and anatomy meant he was an excellent candidate to carry out their thorough examination. He produced diagnoses and descriptions of these creatures which were compiled into a preliminary report in 1885 and a final report in 1886.

His tenure with the Challenger team lasted six years but for the remainder of his life he studied and analysed cephalopods from all over the world and produced numerous publications. Examples of some of his studies are those collected by Herdman from Ceylon (1924); Stanley Gardiner from the Maldives and Laccadives (1905); those collected on the National Antarctic Exhibition (1907); and the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (1912). Hoyle was a meticulous worker and drew many of his own beautiful illustrations for these publications, some of which now reside in the archive at Amgueddfa Cymru. He quickly became recognised as a chief authority in the subject.

Director of the National Museum of Wales

After 20 years of working at the Manchester Museum, including a period as Director, Hoyle took his final career change in 1909 when he was appointed Director of the National Museum of Wales (now Amgueddfa Cymru). By this time he was already considered the most prominent science museum director in Great Britain. For Hoyle this was the perfect job and represented the fulfilment of a life long ambition. It allowed him to be involved in the development of a museum, both as a building and a concept, from the beginning. The museum was chartered in 1907 but Hoyle joined the team at a time when he could participate in the architectural discussions and was responsible for some major changes in the design of the building. As part of his research he visited many museums in both Europe and America so he could learn from their mistakes and find the best methods of development. He noted particularly that often not enough space was allocated for collections and their future growth.

A place for exploration and discovery

Hoyle applied great energy to his work and with his exceptional organisational skills and knowledge he pushed this museum forward. With such a strong scientific background, and experience of working with material from expeditions, he was a strong promoter of the museum as a science and research institute. He promoted it as an arena for exploration and discovery of the world. Hoyle also had good acquaintances with fellow natural historians, especially as a member of the Cardiff Naturalist Society, and so encouraged them to donate their collections. His years at NMW put this museum on the scientific map and made it a place where eminent scientists were proud to bequeath their collections.

As a concept Hoyle was a great believer that museums should be “Schools for learning” as well as store houses for interesting objects. He was very well known as a popular lecturer in a great many subjects and his sense of humour and enthusiasm brought his talks alive. He was also known to have a wonderful ability to interest children and pass this enthusiasm onto them.

He was Director through the First World War which proved a great difficulty at times and caused frustrating delays in the development of the building. Sadly, Hoyle retired due to ill health in 1924 and was never to see the completion of the museum as he died on 7th February 1926 in Porthcawl. 

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