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A non-biologist’s perspective

Teresa Darbyshire, 30 January 2015

Here is the last in this series of blogs from the Falkland Islands, for now. An account of the trip by husband Brendan:

A non-biologist’s perspective on fieldwork and worm hunting

I remember having a conversation with my careers advisor when I was 16 about my A-Level choices, at the time I was really interested in Sharks and wanted to be a Marine Biologist. My ‘careers advisor’ then cheerfully informed me that to achieve this goal I would need to continue my Chemistry studies, at which point my heart sank and my visions of playing with Great Whites became distant fantasies.  

My interest in the underwater world never really left me but I also never really got to understand what being a Marine Biologist would actually entail.  This trip in many ways has been an eye opener as it has provided me with an insight into what it is actually like to pursue Marine Biology and the level of dedication required.

My first lesson in advanced rock pooling began at a place called Rincon Grande in the north of the Falkland Islands.  The excitement I felt as I started picking my way through the pools and looking under rocks and actually being more successful than Teresa in finding a range of worms, including my first scale worm quickly led to stoic perseverance as I then went on to find a succession of ragworms for what felt like hours.  There was at least one stage when I wished we were looking for starfish as these seemed to be everywhere but were apparently not of interest.

One of the key things that Teresa was trying to do was identify the diversity of worms in any location and that meant trying to find as much as possible and ideally a sample of more than one of each.  In many of the locations we went to, this meant spending 2 or 3 hours persistently combing the rocks and digging through what sediment there was to try and find as much as possible in the short window the tides provided us with (photo 1).  This tried both of our patience on several occasions as travel in the Falklands over what is considered roads, which we would consider simply a pot holed gravel drive, means that you arrive feeling battered and bruised before you then spend a couple of hours crouched on a beach in weather that seemed to vary from one extreme to another hunting an, at times, elusive prey.

Whilst collecting on a beach where you can stand on something solid whilst holding a piece of rock in one hand and using the forceps in your other hand to pick off a worm that might be only a few millimeters long is challenging. Trying to do this underwater, whilst you have one hand on the rock to try and steady yourself against the rolling ground swell that is trying to alternately tangle you in the kelp or pound you against the rock that you are trying to prize a sample off with the dive knife that you are holding in your other hand is a different matter altogether (photos 2 & 3)! The really challenging thing was that after you had managed to prize the sample off the rock you need to get it into a plastic sample bag (ziplock freezer bag) without losing everything – apparently I failed in this respect. Whilst I can’t hide the fact that the trowel and the all important brass snap lock (yes she has mentioned it more than once) did get left behind my argument is still that the sample was more important and that was recovered! I also never realised just how difficult it could be to open, put something into and then reseal a zip lock bag whilst wearing neoprene gloves that are 5mm thick!

Whilst the beach sampling and the diving both presented challenges the rewards do come when you get to view your catch down the microscope. What on the beach looks like a small orange blob is transformed into an elegant looking worm with a flowing mane of orange hair (a cirratulid – photo 4).  If you’re really lucky you get rewarded with a scale worm, resplendent in its glistening armour (photo 5), if you’re unlucky, well it’s just another ragworm…..

All in all whilst ‘rock pooling for adults’ may not be entirely accurate, I have to admire the persistence and knowledge required to do what I dreamed of doing as a young man in Leeds.

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Photo 1: Happy to be sampling for marine bristleworms in the Falkland Islands

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Photo 2: Underwater photo of kelp seaweed

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Photo 3: Diving in the Falkland Islands

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Photo 4: a cirratulid marine bristleworm

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Photo 5: Scaleworms

The changing seasons

Penny Tomkins, 30 January 2015

Hello Bulb Buddies,

I’d like to thank those of you who sent in your weather data last week. And especially those of you who sent in jokes, keep them coming!

Some of the comments this week noted that the weather is getting warmer and that the days are getting longer. For this reason I thought it would be interesting to talk a bit about the seasons!

There are four seasons in the year. Winter, spring, summer and autumn. We are still in winter, which is the coldest season.

Spring starts around 20th March (the Spring Equinox) and is when we see most flowers bloom, the weather gets warmer, and many animals have their young. Lambs in the fields are a good sign that spring has arrived!

The summer comes in full force from June to September, and is when we have the warmest weather and the longest daylight hours. Luckily for you it’s also when you get your longest school holidays!

Autumn takes hold from late September, and this is when the days become shorter and the weather begins to get colder! This is when the leaves turn colour to oranges, reds and browns and fall from the trees. And when animals like squirrels hoard food for the long winter ahead. Winter arrives again in December, and stays until mid-March.

Do you know why we get seasons? What causes the weather to change so dramatically throughout the year? Well, it’s because the Earth is turning around the Sun at an angle. The picture below shows the earth in relation to the sun. The earth turns (rotates) on its axis (imagine a line joining the North and South poles) as it moves around (orbits) the Sun.

It takes the Earth 365 days to travel once around the sun. The length of a planets year is the time it takes for it to complete one orbit of its star. So a year on Earth is measured as the passing of 365 days. 

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The Seasons (from the BBC Bitesize website)

The picture above shows the Earth’s rotation around the Sun. The axis is shown by the red line at the North and South poles. You can see that the axis (red line) is at a different angle to the Earth’s orbit (the dotted line). This means that each day we are at a slightly different angle to the Sun than we were the day before. This is what causes a difference in the number of daylight hours we get. Fewer daylight hours (winter) means less light and heat, making this time of the year colder. More daylight hours (summer) means more light and heat, which makes it warmer!

The UK is in what is known as the ‘North hemisphere’, this means we are closer to the North Pole than the South Pole. Notice that in the picture the North pole (the red line pointing up) is leaning towards the Sun in the June and away from the sun in the December. This angle is what causes the change in daylight hours as the Earth orbits the sun over the course of the year.

Other countries experience the changes in daylight hours at different times of the year. In Australia it is summer in December! And in Iceland they have sunlight for days in a row in the summer and darkness for as long in the winter! Imagine the sun being out at midnight!

Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies,

Professor Plant

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Earth on it's axis (from BBC Bitesize website)

The New Year has seen a number of interesting objects enter the industry collections.

This teddy bear was manufactured by Wendy Boston (Crickhowell) Ltd. The company was founded in 1941 in Crickhowell (near Abergavenny) by husband and wife Wendy and Ken Williams. They had moved from Birmingham during the Blitz, and Wendy started making toys for friends and family whilst her husband was away. This bear was purchased circa 1963/64 for the donor when he was a baby, and living in Llanelli. It wears a home knitted cardigan, and the donor as a young child had a matching larger version. We also have in the collections a poodle pyjama/nightdress case manufactured by the same company. However, teddy bears were the dominant and by far the best know product and so we are fortunate to have been donated an example with a good Welsh provenance.

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My last month’s Blog featured a Lesbians & Gaymen Support the Miners fund badge from 1985. This ‘Pits and Perverts’ t-shirt compliments this, and was manufactured to promote the film ‘Pride’ (it has ‘In Cinemas 12th September’ printed on the back). The film tells the amazing true story of how a group of gay men and women raised funds to help families affected by the miners’ strike.

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Towards the end of last year we were donated this First World War memorial plaque. It commemorates men who had worked at Guest Keen & Nettlefold's Rogerstone Steel Works and the adjacent HP Wire Nail Works. The plaque is currently on display, until 15th March 2015, in the exhibition ‘Working for Victory’ at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea (see photograph below).

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Finally these two metal plates were recovered from Cardiff Docks in the 1990s. They both come from an early 20th century crane manufactured by John Williams & Sons (Cardiff) Ltd. at Globe Foundry, Cardiff for use in the docks. These are an important pair of makers’ plates, as we only have a small number of plates from Welsh-manufactured machinery. They also complement a set of foundry tools from this company and an electric battery delivery truck used by the company for local deliveries.


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Mark Etheridge
Curator: Industry & Transport
Follow us on Twitter - @IndustryACNMW

Sea Lion Island

Teresa Darbyshire, 29 January 2015

26-28.01.15

For the last 2 days, we have been out on Sea Lion Island, the southern-most outpost of all of the islands. Once again, we ended up on a flight that landed over an hour after low tide, even though the tide was at 4pm! This was very frustrating but we were straight out as soon as we could, and down on the nearest patch of shoreline to see what we could do. My trusty trowel had been replaced with a coal shovel, the best I could manage at short notice but it would have to do. Although the shore was the kind I knew would be poor for worms (favoured by penguins) we had a go. No luck. At the end of the bay were some rock ledges with a few rock pools with some sand and algae not yet being affected by the rising tide. We suddenly started finding a (very) few worms under the sand in the pools and then I also noticed some small casts as well (see photo 1). This spurred us on to keep looking and at least come away with something (photo 2). We eventually ended up with a small pot that turned out to be slightly more diverse than expected with at least four different species represented (not bad for a fairly bare rock pool and only just over a dozen animals). The most common animal in the pot was an animal known as Boccardia, which is very hardy and often found in the higher shore environments here (photo 3).

The following day dawned windy and wet and the tide was not until nearly 5pm. This gave us plenty of time to peruse the island, see the sights and check out the coastline as the island is only around 5 miles long. I had been here before a few years ago and had already sampled some of the rocky shores on the south side so was more interested in trying to get something from the northern coasts. Shortly after we set off the rain started, although not too heavily. On one of the first shores we visited we found a male sea lion (photo 4), fast asleep. A fantastic sight and one I had not seen before so that improved our mildly damp spirits. By lunchtime, the rain had become persistent and not so light anymore. Our waterproofs were holding out but both pairs of feet were increasingly squelchy. As we turned to follow the north coast back up the island, we found ourselves heading into the wind. Suddenly life felt a little unfair. Most of the shores we had seen were either inaccessible below vertical cliffs, clean boulders in equally clean mobile sand with no life beneath or solid rock ledges, scoured clean by sea and weather. We eventually fought our way back to the bay we had started at the night before, but this time a couple of hours before low tide to find it being pounded by waves. We dug a few holes but there was nothing apparent. After a brief sit down to stare vacantly at the shore while being eyed up by an obviously nesting pair of caracaras who just as obviously didn’t want us there, we decided to head directly across the island to the opposite, sheltered shore and try there instead. We then walked the length of the shore, digging small holes every so often like itinerant squirrels, as the tide slowly ebbed out. Still nothing. We crossed back to the other shore and walked the length of that too, just to say we tried. Salvation came in the form of washed up kelp bladders that were encrusted with the small coiled tubes of spirorbid worms that were still alive (photo 5). We finally allowed ourselves to retire to the lodge, peel off our boots and wring out our socks.

Today was even windier and I have to admit the will and strength to fight my way through it had gone. Our flight back after lunch was short with an even shorter take-off and landing thanks to the wind. Tomorrow I have to pack all of my samples up and make sure they are ready for sending home before doing the same for myself.

Brendan is tasked with the job of finishing off the blog for you, giving a non-biologist’s view of fieldwork and worms and the delights of getting involved with both for the first time. Then it’s an early start on Friday before the long haul home.

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Photo 1: Worm casts - a sign that worms are present

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Photo 2: Rock pooling sampling

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Photo 3: Boccardia marine bristleworm

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Photo 4: A sleeping sea lion

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Photo 5: Spirorbid marine bristle worms

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Sea Lion Beach

@Dyddiadur Kate – “Tywydd mawr iawn”

Richard Edwards, 28 January 2015

Rhoddir llawer o sylw i’r tywydd yn wythnosau cyntaf @DyddiadurKate. Cymysgedd o law ac eira trwm sy’n disgyn yn ardal y Sarnau yn Ionawr 1915 – tywydd nodweddiadol ar gyfer yr amser yma o’r flwyddyn.

7 Ionawr: Tywydd mawr iawn. Disgwyl Mr + Mrs Hughes Parc yma ond yn ormod tywydd. Ein tri yn mynd ir Cyf. Gweddi. Pwyllgor "Cymdeithas y Tarw" ar ol y Cyf. Gweddi. Mam a finnau yn galw yn Penffordd wrth ddod adref.

Difyr yw gweld nad oedd y tywydd garw yn atal pobl rhag mynychu’r capel!

Mewn erthygl ym mhapur newydd Baner Ac Amserau Cymru ar 16 Ionawr 1915 fe ddywedir mai “Rhagolygon pur annaddawol sydd i’r tywydd yn ystod y pedwar mis cyntaf…”

Felly, fel Kate, edrychwn ymlaen at y gwanwyn!

Os hoffech ddarganfod mwy am hanes y tywydd yn eich ardal, cymerwch bip ar y ‘Tywyddiadur’ sydd i’w gweld ar wefan Prosiect Llen Natur.

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