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Collectors & Collections

November 2012

We have completed our work on the Wallace Palms!

Posted by Julian Carter on 29 November 2012
This image is of a small section of the palm stem of Euterpe oleracea in its original condition prior to conservation work.
Euterpe oleracea collected in 1881 by Wallace and Bates. Shown here after cleaning and prior to reattachment.
The fruiting branches (racemes) of Euterpe oleracea had to be correctly re-positioned after cleaning. Annette is shown here carefully holding the branches in place prior to stabilisation.
The finished product! The specimen has been stabilised and bound with original twine. Fragments and data labels are kept together with the palm.
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Over recent months, botanical conservators Vicky Purewal and Annette Townsend have been carrying out painstaking work on a series of eleven historical palm specimens. They were collected around 1850 by the renowned British naturalist and explorer Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913) during his travels in the Amazon. Wallace is best known for his studies on evolution, which helped trigger the publication of Charles Darwin’s ground breaking research ‘Origin of Species’.

The Wallace palms reside at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the curators there requested that Vicky and Annette, who are specialist conservators in botanical collections at AC-NMW, carry out the necessary conservation work. The specimens are over 150 years old and had to endure adverse conditions in the hold of a ship, and then later to contend with soot and pollution from Battersea Power station. The palms were understandably very fragile and in need of plenty of careful cleaning, re-structuring and repackaging so that their true splendour could be appreciated by all. The palms have been re-housed in custom made boxes so that they can travel back to Kew safely and are also now fit for display.

You will be able to see the palms for yourself on display at AC-NMW in Oct 2013, as RBG Kew will be loaning some of the collection for our Wallace’s bicentenary exhibition and celebrations.

Describing new worms

Posted by Julian Carter on 21 November 2012
A new species of marine bristleworm, Dysponetus joeli.
Marine scientist Teresa Darbyshire has just re-discribed a new species of Polychaete (commonly called marine bristleworms).  Unfortunately, a recent description of the new species, Dysponetus joeli (Olivier et al. 2012) used damaged specimens and errors were made.
 
This is because Polychaetes react notoriously badly to being handled roughly which is usually unavoidable with large marine surveys. Collected specimens are often in very bad condition by the time they are identified.
 
However, hand collected specimens by Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales from survey work done in 2009 in the Isles of Scilly were found to be the same species but in very good condition.
 
Using these specimens and comparing them with the original specimens from the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle Paris, enabled the errors to be corrected. 
 
A re-description and revised species key have now been published - http://goo.gl/uAUqM.

Natural History Open Day.

Posted by Julian Carter on 7 November 2012
Friendly witches in the main hall!
Big spiders from the collections!
Looking into the main hall towards the end of a busy open day.

During half term we held a Natural History open day in the main hall at National Museum Wales, Cardiff. It was a great opportunity for us to chat to visitors about our work and show them parts of the collections not normally seen by the public.

The day had a Halloween theme, and visitors had the chance to engage with a wide range of material from the collections. This included solving a ‘murder mystery’ in the herbarium, comparing our UK bats to the size of the largest fruit bat or studying closely a bedbug!

It was a busy, but fun day for all the staff involved. Look out on the website for the next open day.