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Natural History

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

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
 
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