You are here:  > 
Cymraeg

Natural History

January 2014

Collections Review at Carmarthen Museum

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 27 January 2014
Weaver bird nest
Vasculum

On Friday, Adrian Plant and I, along with Christian Baars, took part in a Collections Review at Carmarthen Museum as part of the Esmee Fairbairn ‘Linking Natural Science Collections on Wales’ project. The museum, was in a lovely old house, the old Bishop’s Palace, just outside Carmarthen. We spent the day in the natural history store, systematically going through all of the boxes to see what was in each one and assess it’s condition and potential importance. As not all of it had been accessioned even the curators were not sure what might be there and we had a very interesting time never knowing what might be in the next box. Amongst the specimens we found were a collection of weaver birds’ nests and a ‘vasculum’ (metal box containing botanical specimens) containing an old seed collection along with the original bill of sale. Hopefully, some of these specimens may now find their way out to public display at some point in the future.

 
Blog by Teresa Darbyshire

Dydd Santes Dwynwen

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 24 January 2014
True Heart Cockle
Sweet Violet (Viola odorata)
Purple Heart Urchin (Spatangus purpureus)
Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus)

To celebrate Dydd Santes Dwynwen we have searched our Natural History Collections at the Museum for some love related specimens:

The True Heart Cockle, found on reef systems in the Indo-Pacific.

Fioled Bêr/Sweet Violet (Viola odorata), which represents faithful love in the language of flowers.

The Purple Heart Urchin (Spatangus purpureus), a large heart-shaped urchin often found buried in sands and gravels. This is one of the specimens on display in the Life in the Sea Gallery.

Or for an alternative Dydd Santes Dwynwen, how about the Love-lies-bleeding plant (Amaranthus caudatus). This example was collected in Roath Park, Cardiff back in 1924 and is now in the National Welsh Herbarium at National Museum Cardiff.

More information on Dydd Santes Dwynen

Post by Sally Whyman, Jennifer Gallichan and Katie Mortimer-Jones

Exploring Insect Diversity in Thailand

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 16 January 2014
Dr Adrian Plant sampling a stream on Doi Inthanon
Bog in moist hill evergreen forest, Doi Inthanon
Doi Phahompok National Park
Moist Hill Evergreen forest Doi Inthanon
» View full post to see all images

(Searching for the ‘missing millions’) 

To an explorer of biodiversity, especially invertebrate biodiversity, tropical forests remain largely unknown and unmapped territory. I study the insect Order Diptera (flies), and while some 150,000 species have already been found and described world-wide, perhaps 2-10 million (maybe more!) remain completely unknown to science and a large proportion of these will undoubtedly be found in tropical forests. As Principal Curator of Entomology, much of my research effort is devoted to finding and describing the ‘missing millions’ (taxonomy), understanding how and where they evolved (phylogeny and biogeography) and investigating the roles they play in modern ecosystems (ecology).

One of my favorite areas to work in is southeast Asia, particularly Thailand where my studies have already described about 70 new species of fly in the group known as Empidoidea (dance-flies and their allies). I recently began a project with Wichai Srisuka, my colleague in the Entomology section of the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden in Thailand, in which we are using Malaise traps (a tent-like structure into which insects fly and can be trapped) to sample dance-flies and other insects on two of Thailand’s highest mountains; Doi Inthanon and Doi Phahompok. The samples collected will no doubt contain many new species for me to describe for the first time and should also yield valuable data on how communities of insects on the mountains vary with altitude. The summit slopes of Doi Phahompok and Doi Inthanon are covered in a type of thick luxurious wet forest known as Moist Hill Evergreen in which many endemic species occur (an endemic species is one entirely confined to a particular locality). Our earlier results suggest that although these two mountains are only 150km apart and have many similarities in their fly fauna, both have many endemic species on them too. By comparing the degree of ‘endemicity’ on the two mountains we hope to better understand some of the historical processes that gave rise to the exceptional biodiversity of these areas.

When scientists try to identify geographical areas of conservation importance they like to map not only diversity (essentially, how many different species there are) but also endemicity. Knowing exactly where biodiversity and endemicity hotspots are enables conservation planners to better target their efforts. In the tropics, knowledge of diversity and endemicity is largely confined to a few groups of plants and vertebrates. Unfortunately, these creatures represent only a small fraction of the variety of life so prioritizing conservation efforts using them alone is imperfect. Furthermore, measures of plant and vertebrate variety are not effective surrogates of invertebrate diversity whereas knowledge of invertebrate diversity does in fact tell us much about that of other animals and plants. We are slowly starting to produce maps of invertebrate endemicity which we hope will provide better tools to help conservation authorities in Thailand prioritize their conservation efforts.

Dr Adrian Plant

Vintage postcard heaven!

Posted by Jennifer Evans on 15 January 2014

From an original watercolour by E. W. Trick

Published by Valentine's & Sons Ltd

 Some people really are very kind. An anonymous donor left a little packet of these delightful Welsh postcards in one of our departmental pigeon holes. They will be sent over to the Archives Department at St Fagans: Museum of National History but I couldn't resist posting a small selection of them here first.

 

From an original watercolour by Edward H. Thompson

Published by Valentine's & Sons Ltd

 

"CARBO COLOUR" postcard

Published by Valentine's & Sons Ltd

 

Published by E. T. W. Dennis & Sons Ltd, London and Scarborough

 

From an original watercolour by Brian Gerald

Published by Valentine's & Sons Ltd

 

From an original watercolour by Edward H. Thompson

Published by Valentine's & Sons Ltd

 

 

The cards are mostly landscape views of Llangollen but this bright little quartet was also included

 

 

Seven of the more picturesque cards were published by Valentine's & Sons Ltd as part of their "Art Colour" series and there is a good a bit of information available on the company via the links below: 

http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb227-ms38562

http://www.collections.co.uk/postcards/publishers/valentine.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Valentine_(photographer)

Other publishers include E. T. W. dennis & Sons [London and Scarborough], N. P. O. Ltd [Belfast], J. Arthur Dixon Ltd. [G.B.], Judges Ltd. [Hastings, England], Walter Scott [Bradford], J. Salmon Ltd. [Sevenoakes, England], and Photo-Precision Ltd. [St Albans]. 

 

Unfortunately, none of the cards has been written on.

 

December 2013

12 Specimens of Christmas

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 18 December 2013

The Museum holds over 5 million Natural History Specimens in its collections. Our curators have been looking amongst the racking, shelving and within cabinets to find our top '12 Specimens of Christmas’.

 

1. Christmas Gold, Dactylioceras athleticum, a Jurassic ammonite from Whitby, North Yorkshire.

Dactylioceras athleticum, a Gold Jurassic ammonite

2. Angel Wing Clam, Cyrtopleura costata (Linnaeus, 1758), which burrows to nearly a metre in sands and muds. The two valves of the clam do not completely close.

Angel Wing Clam, Cyrtopleura costata

3. A festive Robin from our Vertebrate Collections.

Robin

4. A Water Colour of the Common Fig (Ficus carica Linnaeus, 1753) painted by Dale Evans, a contemporary botanical artist. The museum holds over 7000 prints and original works of botanical illustrations.

Water Colour of the Common Fig

5. Christmas Beetle (Anoplognathus sp.) from Australia. The adult beetles mostly appear around Christmas time. This species is one of the many thousands of beetle species in the collection.

Christmas Beetle (Anoplognathus sp.)

6. A gold nugget from the Mineral Collections, nicknamed ‘the cat’, from Afon Mawddach, which forms part of a large collection recently acquired by the museum.

Gold nugget nicknamed ‘the cat’

7. The Welsh National Herbarium at the Museum holds over 265,000 accessioned specimens. This is British native Holly (Ilex aquifolium) collected from the hedge in the museum car park back in 2012. Harry Potter fans will know that this is the wood used to make Harry’s Wand.

British native Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

8. Parasitic Mistletoe (Viscum album) found in Cardiff in 1929.

Parasitic Mistletoe (Viscum album)

9. A British Holly Blue Butterfly, Celastrina argiolus (Linnaeus, 1758). The caterpillar of this fairly common butterfly feed on the flowers and developing berries of holly and ivy.

Holly Blue Butterfly, Celastrina argiolus

10. A real star for Christmas: a fossil starfish called Palaeocoma, 420 million years old, from Herefordshire.

Fossil starfish, Palaeocoma

11. A Snow Flea, Boreus hyemalis (Linnaeus, 1767), this small predatory insect is commonest in upland areas and can be found on snow covered ground in winter. This specimen was collected by Bangor University around Snowdon in 1991.

Snow Flea, Boreus hyemalis

12. Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) often flowers from January, but this was collected in December 1884 at the museum.

Christmas rose (Helleborus niger)
Blog by: Katie Mortimer-Jones,Caroline Buttler, Anna Holmes, Harriet Wood, Heather Pardoe, Brian Levey, Tom Cotterell, Sally Whyman,Cindy Howells and James Turner
 

November 2013

Kids take-over National Museum Cardiff!

Posted by Ciara Hand on 21 November 2013
evaluating the galleries
testing the activities
testing the activities
testing the activities

Last Thursday 14th November Year 6 pupils from Trelai Primary School took part in National Taking Over Museums Day - a celebration of children and young people’s contribution to museums, galleries and heritage sites across the UK.

The pupils worked with Learning Staff and Natural Science Curators at the National Museum Cardiff to help develop content for a new family science exhibition, which is due to open in July 2014.

Pupils gave us feedback on existing science galleries, chose objects for the exhibition and tested some potential activities for this hands-on exhibition.

It was a really successful day and the feedback from the children was so insightful, with lots of really useful ideas that will help inform our planning of the exhibition.

We’re really looking forward to inviting them back to the exhibition launch in July.

 

More information on Kids in Museums can be found here: 

http://kidsinmuseums.org.uk/takeoverday2013/taking-over-museums-2013/

Spooky Specimens!

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 8 November 2013
Botanists at work
Bats and Insects
Fungus!
Fungus models made by the general public
» View full post to see all images

On Wednesday 30th October, National Museum Cardiff came alive for a haunting day of Halloween fun. Curators (and witches!) from the Natural History department filled the main hall with spooky specimens from our collections to share with the public on a busy half term day.

The botanists made a real impression by opening up the Herbarium and creating a spooky graveyard of deadly plants. This was a real hit with the children who left repeating some of the delightfully ghoulish names to their parents such as “Stinking Hellebore!” and  “Bloody Cranesbill!”

The Fungus table had a case of wonderful wax models where you could match each fungus with its creepy name, such as the Trumpet of Death, Scaly Tooth and Witch Heart. Children, and adults, could make their own fungus with the colourful modelling clay provided, creating some amazing new species!

Two witches stirred their potion in a cauldron alongside an eerie ‘Herbs in Medicine and Magic’ display.  All Harry Potter fans would have immediately recognised the famous Mandrake, a plant often used in magic rituals due to its hallucinogenic properties, but there was no need for ear muffs as the real plant does not let out a fatal scream!

Marine and Mollusc curators put out an array of Halloween treats from ghost slugs and dead man’s fingers to blood cockles and pumpkin snails. Visitors enjoyed being able to touch sea urchins, spiny oysters and star fish. The pickled cuttlefish and squid were a real treat and produced a great mixed response, from awe to disgust, from children and adults alike.

The giant bloodsucking mosquito model dominated the Entomology stand whilst a witch displayed a table of British bats, from the largest Noctule to the smallest Pipistrelle.

Geologists enticed visitors with ‘fossils in folklore’, including echinoderms that were thought to be ‘fairy loaves’, and ‘dragon claws’ that come from dinosaurs. Those brave enough stayed to see the ‘Hell, Fire and Brimestone!’ stand which revealed specimens of larva, ash and volcanic rocks.

The Open Day was underpinned with an educational trail provided by the Education department. The trail took children around all of the displays, answering questions on blood stained petals and thunder stones, fungal fingers and tails of worms, to name a few. It was an excellent way to get families involved and encouraged children to interact with the curators. The trail proved to be extremely popular with 170 families taking part.

For those who wanted to know more, there was a scary ‘Dragons’ tour in the Evolution of Wales gallery and two behind the scenes tours of the Biology and Geology collections.

The day was a real success with 3127 members of the public coming through the museum doors. So, if you didn’t make it this time keep your eyes peeled on the ‘What’s On’ guide  for more upcoming Natural History Open Days throughout the year.

Blog by Harriet Wood

Alfred Russel Wallace

Posted by Julian Carter on 7 November 2013
Alfred Russel Wallace

Today marks the centenary of the death of the great naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. We are marking the occasion with our exhibition 'Wallace: the Forgotten Evolutionist?' which celebrates the many great achievements of this brilliant Welsh born scientist.

Come visit the exhibition or join in on some of our associated events and talks. You can also follow events and activities nationwide on the Wallace100 website.

October 2013

Wallace; the Forgotten Evolutionist?

Posted by Julian Carter on 25 October 2013
Alfred Russel Wallace from the frontpiece of his autobiography 'My Life'.
The 'hut' and associated displays.
Wallace's Hut and 'shadow wall'.
The 'Timeline' of cartoons created by Huw Aaron especially commissioned for the exhibition.
» View full post to see all images

This week our exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the death of the brilliant naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace has opened for exploration. But who was he?

Wallace was many things - an intrepid explorer, a brilliant naturalist, a social activist, a political commentator – overall a remarkable intellectual. By the time of his death in 1913, Wallace was widely praised as the 'last of the great Victorians'.

Wallace is most famously associated with co-discovering the process of evolution by natural selection alongside Charles Darwin. Yet we have all heard of Darwin, whilst Wallace has become more of a forgotten figure.

In his time Wallace travelled extensively, surviving malaria, numerous fevers and even shipwreck! He covered thousands of miles, lived with indigenous tribes and collected over 125 000 animal specimens. He also wrote widely on a range of subjects, publishing more than 800 articles and writing 22 books.

This exhibition attempts to explore some of Wallace's life and work, and in doing so raise our awareness of this remarkable man. The exhibition uses a mix of media, and has rich diversity of specimens on display, including specimens collected by the great man himself.

Associated with the exhibition are a range of workshops, talks and tours. Check out the website for an up-to-date list of ‘whats on’.

 

We really hope you enjoy the exhibition and welcome feedback on your visit

False Widow Spiders: not really that horrible…

Posted by Julian Carter on 25 October 2013
Steatoda grossa from the museum's collections.

There has been a great deal of press attention recently on the ‘false black widow spider’. Sadly allot of this information has been unnecessarily alarmist and often wrong. So what is this spider?

The term ‘false widow spider’ has arisen because the spiders look very like the real ‘black widow’ spider. There is good reason for this - the spiders are closely related and belong to the same taxonomic family, the Therididae.

This spider family is very large, and is made up of many different genre, or species groups, of spider e.g. ‘black widows’ belong to the genus Latrodextus, whilst the ‘false widows’ belong to a different genus called Steatoda. So whilst they are related, they are different enough to belong to different taxonomic species groups.

Of these two spider groups only Steatoda is found in the UK. In total we have seven species of Steatoda, six of which are native and one of which is an introduction. Of these species at least three get called the ‘false widows’ – these are S. bipunctata, S. grossa and S. nobilis. The only way these spiders can be accurately identified is by checking key diagnostic characters as the abdominal patterns can be very variable.

S. nobilis, and to a lesser extend, S. grossa are the species causing the concern. They can inflict a painful bite, and very rarely these bites can cause more severe medical issues. However these are not aggressive spiders and will only bite if trapped or badly handled.

So are there plagues of these spiders this year? Well certainly not to my knowledge. This time of year we have large numbers of the ‘orb web’ spiders around our homes and gardens and many of the so called ‘false widow’ reports are actually these common and harmless spiders.

Even if you have a species such as S. nobilis around your garden or shed, you still should not be worried. Contrary to press reports they do not gather to attack you. In fact they would rather be left alone in the quite, dark corners where you usually find them. This posting on the Natural History Museums website provides a sensible overview of these spiders and their habits.

If you do find a spider you are concerned about then I’m happy to try and identify it. If you can get a good image then do so, and email it across. If you have the spider and can get it to the museum then drop if off for my attention – the front desk aren’t always too happy about having live spiders delivered so make sure the lid is secure!