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Natural History

March 2014

National Science and Engineering Week

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 21 March 2014

Yesterday, Natural Sciences Staff took part in the 'Meet the Pollinators' Event run by First Campus, a partnership between higher education institutions, further education colleges and schools in South East Wales. The event was part of National Science and Engineering Week and was attended by approximately 100 Year 9 pupils from six schools. The pupils had the opportunity to speak to the curators and find out about 'a day in the life of museum scientists'. 

Twin Peaks Blog Update

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 20 March 2014
Adrian Plant sorting samples of flies from Thailand
Sorting samples of flies from Thailand
A Malaise Trap in Deciduous Dry Dipterocarp forest, Doi Inthanon

There are two sides to exploring biodiversity. One is fieldwork, often in interesting and remote places looking for new or otherwise interesting forms of life. As an entomologist with an interest in tropical flies this often means extended trips under challenging conditions armed with a net, various kinds of insect trap, a pair of binoculars and a notebook. We know so little about tropical insects that discovery of new species is a daily occurrence and almost everything encountered is interesting for one reason or another. Unfortunately, identification of most insects in the field is quite impossible, let alone proper recognition of new species. This is where the second and perhaps less glamorous part of exploring biodiversity comes in involving long hours of study back in the laboratory when the true identity of captures may be revealed and their significance evaluated. My ongoing collaboration with Wichai Srisuka as the Entomology Section of Queen Sirikit Garden in Thailand (http://www.qsbginsects.org/) is starting to provide thousands of specimens for study. Wichai and his staff have been running a type of trap known as a Malaise trap to sample insects on the forested slopes of two of Thailand’s highest mountains, Doi Inthanon and Doi Phahompok. Specimens they have collected have been sent to me in Cardiff where I am beginning the process of ‘working up’ the samples. This involves first sorting the specimens into groups (or families and genera as systematists call higher groupings of species). Insect diversity is so great that no one person can be an expert in all of them. For this reason, many of the sorted samples are sent to collaborating colleagues around the world who are specialists in the groups concerned. I retain the rest for my own specialist studies.

Thereafter each specialist concentrates on identifying species that are already known and describing as new to science those that are not. The work does not stop there as once we have data on actual species and where they are found it can be interpreted to tell us more of, for example, the evolutionary history of a group of insects, their ecology or their biogeography (the study of how species and ecosystems are distributed geographically and historically). Furthermore, the results are of profound interest to conservation planners as they enable important areas of biodiversity to be recognised. As the work progresses I hope to feed back some of the more interesting finds through this blog.

by Adrian Plant

Previous Information:

http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/blog/2014-02-17/Exploring-Insect-Diversity-in-Thailand

http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/blog/2014-01-16/Exploring-Insect-Diversity-in-Thailand

So many flowers!

Posted by Catalena Angele on 14 March 2014
Super Scientist Certificate — Will it have your name on it?
Crocuses and bumblebee at St Fagans National History Museum
Professor Plant recording the weather with a Super Scientist Pencil!
Wow bulb buddies – so many of you have seen you flowers open since the last blog! It must look beautiful in your playgrounds and school gardens! Thankyou for all your flower records.

Which schools have had their first flowers?

St Bernadette’s Primary School in Scotland and Abergwili VC Primary, Darran Park Primary, Henllys CIW Primary, Llanishen Fach CP School, Ysgol Bro Tawe and Ysgol Gynradd Dolgellau in Wales, have all seen their first flowers open. In England, Balshaw Lane Community Primary School, Dallas Road Community School, Golden Hill School, Holy Trinity CE Primary School, Manor Road Primary School, Red Marsh School, St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, St Michaels CE (Aided) Primary School, St Nicholas Primary School and The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School all sent their first flower records. Well done to all these schools!

Only 2 weeks to send me your records

Will you be a Super Scientist this year? The deadline for sending in your records is 28 March. If you send me your weather and flower records (if they have opened) then you will be a Super Scientist! All Super Scientists will receive a Certificate and a fabulous Super Scientist pencil. You will also have the chance to win a Nature Activity trip or some seeds to grow your own Sunflowers!

Why not send me your drawings for the Daffodil Drawing Competition? The deadline is also 28 March. For this competition I will be looking for botanical illustrations – these are pictures of plants drawn in a scientific way. Please send me your lovely drawings, but I would also like them to have clear labels to show the different parts of the Daffodil. You can follow this link to see the winners and runners up from last year’s competition. Winners will get a bird watching kit with mini binoculars for their class, runners up will get flower seeds to grow!

My plants in pots have still not flowered, but over at St Fagans National History Museum the crocuses growing in their garden look beautiful. The bees like them too, as you can see in the photo! Can you see that the bumblebee has yellow pollen all over its head and body? When it flies off to a different crocus it will pass the pollen on – this is how flowers are fertilised!

Your questions, my answers:

Raglan VC Primary: Still no sign of the flowers this week! We are having some good weather. Prof P: Don’t worry Raglan School, mine haven’t flowered yet either. Hopefully the good weather will help our plants to flower.

Cutteslowe Primary School: Monday 17th - school closed, no heating or hot water. Prof P: Brrrr that sounds very chilly.

Manor Road Primary School (Lancashire): One of are crocus bulbs are starting to flower. Prof P: Fantastic news Manor Road, Congratulations!

Chatelherault Primary School: Wk 10: Most of our plants have started to too grow. It has raining a lot and some snow. Prof P: We didn’t have any snow at all in Cardiff this year, but we did have lots of rain.

The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School: It has been so exciting this week as the buds all suddenly started to appear and on Friday some crocus flowers opened! The daffodils have suddenly grown and we know it won't be long before they too flower. They just love the sunshine! Prof P: Hooray! It’s such a lovely feeling to see your flowers open isn’t it?

Greyfriars RC Primary School: S - ten of our crocuses have budded. Prof P: Great news S. at Greyfriars, I’m sure the other crocuses won’t be far behind.

Dallas Road Community Primary School: Super Fun!!! Prof P: I’m so glad you think so Dallas Road! Science IS Super Fun!

Many Thanks

Professor Plant

The 1st flower records for Scotland!

Posted by Catalena Angele on 7 March 2014

Congratulations to Ladywell Primary School for sending in the first flower records for Scotland! Lakeside Primary School in Wales have also sent in their first flower records – their first crocus and first daffodil opened in the same week! Great work bulb buddies.

Three weeks to go… The deadline for sending in your weather and flower records is Friday 28 March, so there are just three weeks to go!

If you have been keeping records but haven’t sent them to me yet then please send them soon – all your weather and flower records are really important to me! Every record you send in will make the Spring Bulbs Investigation better and more accurate.

Don’t worry if your flowers haven’t opened yet, a lot can happen in three weeks, especially if the sun shines!

Would you like to do a Super Scientific Investigation with your plants? I have put together some great ideas for experiments you can do in your school! Can you trick your crocus? Can your daffodil move? Click here to have a look: Professor Plant’s investigation ideas. As well as exciting experiments you will also find my favorite Spring Poem here! It is about daffodils and this is the first verse:

 

Daffodils

I wander’d lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

By William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

 

Beautiful! Have you ever tried to write a poem about Spring? Or about your favourite flower? Why not give it a go?

Your questions, my answers:

Ladywell Primary School: We have had our computer system upgraded in school and it has been difficult for us to send weekly weather reports because we lost a lot of data which was stored on our apple mac and which we cant convert to PC. However we have been taking temperatures and it has not really been cold and we have had a lot of rain. Some of our plants didn't grow very well but our first daffodil opened today 25th February and it is 28 cm tall. We have another one about to open and some others not far away. We hope this is ok with you and we will send more information soon. Prof P: Sorry to hear you have had computer trouble Ladywell School, don’t worry, I completely understand. Thanks very much for sending your first flower record! Keep up the good work and send in your other flower records when they open.

Lakeside Primary: Daffodil comment: Only one is open and the one that has opened has only got half a pot of compost, we think it was knocked over and some soil lost so perhaps less soil has led to quicker flowering, but why? Prof P: Great question Lakeside! Do you have any ideas? This is my theory: A bulb closer to the surface may flower sooner because it warms up quicker and has less soil to push through when it starts to grow. So why don’t we plant them all close to the surface? Well, if there is a very cold winter the frost can damage bulbs that are too close to the surface, and then they may not grow at all.

The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School: We all brought our wellies into school this week so that we can go out and look at our bulbs whatever the weather. We went to check on them all on Friday and measured how tall the leaves were, and started recording them in a table like we had been doing in maths. We hope to do this every week now then we can make a graph of the results. Still no sign of flowers yet! Prof P: What a fantastic idea! I love making graphs, they are a great way to see what the numbers are telling me. You must be very dedicated scientists to bring your wellies in to school so you can measure your leaves. Well done, I am very impressed!

Many Thanks

Professor Plant

February 2014

Signs of Spring

Posted by Catalena Angele on 28 February 2014
My tallest daffodil is 80mm tall.
My crocus is only 30mm tall.
Daffodils and crocuses blooming in Bute Park, Cardiff.

The sun is shining through my window here in Cardiff and it feels like Spring has arrived! My own plants are not ready to flower yet, my tallest daffodil is 80mm tall and my crocus is still only 30mm tall, but I am sure they will like the sunshine! I took a photo this morning of daffodils and crocuses blooming in Bute Park, Cardiff, aren’t they beautiful?

Which schools have had their first flowers?

Ysgol Glan Cleddau in Wales has reported their first crocus has opened, and Archbishop Hutton's Primary School in England have reported that their first daffodil has opened! Congratulations and well done for sending in your records.

Rougemont Junior School in Wales sent me this message: Well Professor Plant great excitement here at Rougemont School ... our MYSTERY BULBS have started to flower! They look very healthy, shorter in stem than the other Daffodil bulbs that we planted too. We think they could be Narcissus maybe Tete a tete? Will send a photo soon.

Prof. P: That is very exciting Rougemont School, and well done for investigating what kind of Narcissus they might be – Great work! I look forward to seeing your photos.

And Kilmaron Special School in Scotland said: THIS IS AN OBSERVATION OF LAST YEARS BULBS. We have been monitoring last years crocus and daffodil bulbs to see if older bulbs flower before newly planted bulbs. After our 1/2 term holiday we came back to find the crocus bulbs planted in the pots from last year had opened while this years crocus bulbs look to be about 7-10 days behind in their flowering. We are expecting to post this years results towards the end of next week.

Prof. P: This is really excellent monitoring and investigating Kilmaron! I am very impressed. You are right that older bulbs usually flower sooner than new baby bulbs, one reason for this is that they have had an extra year to grow and store up food.

I wonder where flowers will open next? You can see where flowers have opened so far by looking at this map. If your flowers haven’t opened yet then watch them closely as they may open very soon!

Remember to send me you flower records as soon as your flowers open. To remind yourself what to do, please use my PowerPoint presentation how to keep flower records, and read the What and when to record page on my website.

TOP TIPS:

  1. Every pupil in the class can send in their flower record! All the data that is sent in is used to create an average flowering date for each school. Watch the crocus chart and daffodil chart to see the tables change as the data comes in. It is really important that each pupil sends in their record - so the website can calculate the average flowering date for your school.
  2. Daffodils tilt their heads downwards just before opening. This prevents them from filling with rain after they open.
  3. You need to all send in your flower records to win the Super Scientist Competition!

Your questions, my answers:

Ysgol Terrig: It snowed heavily on Monday morning and stopped about lunch time. Our bulbs are starting to grow :) Prof P: I’m glad your bulbs are growing, did you go out to play in the snow?

Raglan VC Primary: We missed Tuesday because it was raining cat's and dog's, and we had bike training. Prof P: I love that saying! Can you imagine what it would be like if it really did rain cats and dogs? How would we measure that in our rain gauge?

Chatelherault Primary School: Sorry we did not record information on Thursday because we were away all day at a school trip. We were excited to see little green shoots in some of the plants. Prof P: Thanks for letting me know Chatelherault, I hope you had fun on your school trip.

Greyfriars RC Primary School: The plants are growing well and it's wonderful seeing them grow up. The mystery bulbs are really a mystery. from A and A :) Prof P: I hope your mystery will soon be solved Greyfriars!

Arkholme CE Primary School: Unfortunately the plant pots are standing in water this week. Let's hope next week is drier. The mystery bulbs are growing better than the others. Flower buds just appearing. From H. Prof P: I am sure your plants will survive the rain Arkholme, keep watching those flower buds!

Many Thanks

Professor Plant

 

Museum records largest earthquake in UK since 2008!

Posted by Andrew Haycock on 25 February 2014
The Bristol Channel earthquake recorded on the Museum seismograph
Evolution of Wales seismograph display showing the Bristol Channel earthquake
The largest earthquake in the UK since February 2008!
Detail of the 4.1 magnitude Bristol Channel earthquake

The British Geological Survey (BGS) reported a 4.1 magnitude earthquake in the Bristol Channel at 13:21 GMT on 20th February 2014. The event was also recorded on the Museum seismograph in the Evolution of Wales Gallery at National Museum Cardiff.

This is the largest earthquake in the UK since the 5.2 magnitude Market Rasen quake in February 2008.

The earthquake was felt widely across South Wales, Devon, Somerset and western Gloucestershire. Reports to the BGS described “felt like the vibration of a large vehicle passing the building”, “the whole house seemed to move/wobble back and forth a few times”.

The earthquake epicentre is estimated to be 18 km NNW of Ilfracombe at a depth of 3km.

Although the UK is not located on a plate margin, on average 200 – 300 earthquakes a year are recorded in Britain. Most earthquakes are so small they are not felt by people, and can only be picked up by the sensitivity of a seismometer.

The UK is located on the European plate. Tension is built up in the plate as new crust is created at the Mid Atlantic Ridge, and the plate is slowly pushed towards the north-east.

There are several long-active faults in the Bristol Channel which include the Bristol Channel – Bray fault. Once faults form, they create weak zones in the crust that can be reactivated time and time again. Movement occurred along one of these faults as tension in the crust was released.

On average an earthquakes of this size affects mainland Britain once every 2 years.

The largest recorded mainland event is the magnitude 5.4 earthquake on the Lleyn Peninsula in July 1984, where movement occurred along a long-active pre-existing fault.

 

 

Rain, rain and more rain

Posted by Catalena Angele on 21 February 2014
Met Office Map showing rainfall in the U.K. in January 2014

What a very wet and rainy January we had bulb buddies! It felt like it rained nearly every day! But how much rain did we really have compared to average?

Weather Scientists at the Met Office have created this map of the U.K. to show how much rain we had in January. You can have a closer look by following this link.

How did they calculate average rainfall? The Met Office Scientists have been keeping weather records for a very long time! They added up how much rain fell in January for 30 years (from 1981 to 2010) then divided by 30 to calculate how much rain fell on average each year.

Can you see the two different shades of dark blue? Rainfall in these areas was between two and three times the average for January. Can you see the black areas in the south of England and in eastern Scotland? Rainfall in these areas was more than three times the average for January!

Top tip for using this map:

  • 100% of average means that the rain was the same as average.
  • 200% of average means that there was twice as much rain as average.

Can you find where you live on the map? What colour is the map where you live? How much rain fell in your area? Is it more than average? Or less than average? You may want to ask your teacher to help you answer these questions!

Your questions, my answers:

Gladestry C.I.W. School: Our school was closed on Thursday because of a power cut so our head teacher recorded the results that day. Prof P: We done to your head teacher! I am very glad your head teacher is helping you with your investigation.

St Mellons Church in Wales Primary School: Hello Professor Plant. It has been so windy this week that our thermometer has blown off the wall and broken. We have been using the car thermometer. L, J and L-b. Prof P: Hello L, J and L-b at St Mellons School! I am very sorry to hear that your thermometer is broken, I will email your teacher and arrange to send you a new one. Well done for your quick thinking in using the car thermometer.

Bleasdale CE Primary School: It is very cold and wet. Prof P: I agree BleasdaleSchool!

Ysgol Gynradd Dolgellau: Yn anffodus mae ein thermometr wedi torri ar ol cael ei chwythu gan y gwynt mawr yn ystod yr wythnos. Athro’r Ardd: Trueni mawr i glywed hyn Ysgol Gynradd Dolgellau. Bydda i’n e-bostio eich athro i drefnu anfon thermomedr newydd atoch chi.

Manor Road Primary School (Lancashire): on Wednesday there was a red weather warning but luckily the plants stayed in place. Prof P: I’m very happy to hear that your plants are okay!

Stanford in the Vale Primary School: It is very rainy here but we are not flooded. Prof P: I am very glad to hear that Stanford! What colour is the rainfall map is your area?

Burscough Bridge Methodist School: The heavy gales have caused the rainfall measurements to be unreadable as the measuring vessel was continually disrupted and blown over. Prof P: Gosh it must have been very stormy. Thanks for letting me know, keep up the good work!

Many Thanks

Professor Plant

Exploring Insect Diversity in Thailand

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 17 February 2014
A Malaise trap in action
Sorting samples at QSBGE (photo Wichai Srisuka)

Work continues in a joint project with colleagues at the Entomology Section of the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden (QSBGE) in Thailand exploring the diversity of tropical Diptera (flies). The objectives are to learn more about why two mountains in northern Thailand are such hotspots of diversity (the number and variety of species) and why so many endemic species are found there (an endemic species is one entirely confined to a particular locality). We should also learn much about the ecology of different communities of insects living in different forest types occurring at different altitudes. The project was started last January with Malaise traps (a tent-like structure into which insects fly and can be trapped) being set up along an altitude transect on Thailand’s highest mountain Doi Inthanon, and in the summit forests of slightly lower Doi Phahompok. Wichai Srisuka and his staff from QSBGE will empty the contents of the traps every two weeks for a full year and their team of expert technicians will conduct initial sorting and identifications at their laboratories and collection centre not far from the city of Chiang Mai. Some of the initial collections have already been made and many potentially very interesting specimens have been collected. The first consignment of material will be arriving in Cardiff shortly where I will begin the detailed taxonomic work; identifying species that have already been described, and, the more exciting part of recognizing and describing the many completely new species that will undoubtedly be found. I hope to feature some of the new species found in this blog later this year as the work progresses.

Introduction to the project

Dr Adrian Plant

 

1st flower records for England and Wales!

Posted by Catalena Angele on 14 February 2014
Crocuses growing in the ground near National Museum Cardiff are already flowering.
Daffodils growing in the ground near National Museum Cardiff. They are much taller than my daffodils in pots!

Fantastic news bulb buddies, we have our first flower records!

Carnforth North Road Primary School in Lancashire, England were the first school to send in flower records. Their first crocus opened on the 4 February.

Raglan VC Primary School in Monmouthshire, Wales were the first Welsh school to send in flower records. Their first crocus opened on 7 February.

Well done to both these schools for sending in your flower records!

Archbishop Hutton's Primary School in England have also reported that the crocuses that they have planted in the ground have started to flower. Plants in the ground often flower sooner than ones in pots, has anyone else noticed this?

These flower records are much earlier than last year, when the first crocuses were reported on the 1 March. Why do you think this might be?

If we look at the results from the Spring Bulbs Project in previous years, flowering has been earlier in years with higher rainfall, warmer temperatures and more hours of sunshine. Why not have a think about what the weather has been like where you live? Do you think this year’s weather will help your flowers to grow?

Your questions, my answers:

Ysgol Terrig: Our bulbs are now growing above the soil. Prof P: Fantastic new Ysgol Terrig, hopefully it won’t be long until you start to see flowers.

Glyncollen Primary School: we are very exited because are bulbs are going to open soon. next week we are going to measure them. Prof P: Great investigating Glyncollen, have fun with your measuring.

Manor Road Primary School (Lancashire): It rained a lot and it was very cold and windy. It has not been minus yet. Prof P: I haven’t recorded a minus temperature in Cardiff either.

Stanford in the Vale Primary School: We have had alot of rain recently but the bulbs continue to grow bigger and bigger. Prof P: It certainly has been very very rainy, I hope you haven’t had any flooding.

Greyfriars RC Primary School: Me and D. are watering the plants really well. We enjoyed it alot. D: I am really enjoying the bulbs. My one is called xdox and pop. It was supposed to be xbox and pop. Thank you enjoyed this week. Prof P: What funny names for your plants! Very imaginative.

Freuchie Primary School: The children were really excited on Monday 27th January when they realised that 40mm of water had been collected over the weekend! Prof P: Wow - that really is a lot of rain!

Woodplumpton St. Anne's Primary School: We are very excited because the first shoots are beginning to appear. It has been very wet but so far the temperature has not dropped below zero. We wonder if this is unusual. Prof P: Great question Woodplumpton! I have had a look back over our weather data for previous years and it looks like this is not that unusual. The average daytime temperature for the month has only dropped below zero once in the 8 years we have been running the Spring Bulbs investigation. This was in December 2011 when there was heavy snow. I do think it has been less cold this January than in previous years. I look forward to receiving the weather data from all the schools so I can compare all the data in my Spring Bulbs Report!

Newport Primary School: Horrible wet weather most of the week. Prof P: The trouble with the rain is that it gets in the way of playtime doesn’t it?

Manor Road Primary School (Lancashire): The weather has been cold, wet and windy this week. We have spotted our first shoots peeping through in our pots though. Prof P: It seems like your bulbs don’t mind the wet weather too much.

Chatelherault Primary School: Bad news some people have been pulling out our bulbs but some are growing. And we have had a lot of rain and sun. Prof P: Oh no! I’m sorry to hear that someone has disturbed your bulbs. I hope that the ones that are left will be okay. Sun and rain are the perfect combination to make them grow!

Many Thanks

Professor Plant

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