You are here:  > 

Natural History

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 horribleā€¦

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!

 

A Journey from the Amazon to Natural Selection

Posted by Ciara Hand on 10 October 2013

Continuing our celebration of the life of Alfred Russel Wallace...

We welcomed over 300 A-level students to National Museum Cardiff for this special event in partnership with Cardiff University School of Earth and Ocean Sciences.

At the invitation of Prof Dianne Edwards F.R.S, Prof Steve Jones F.R.S gave a talk entitled ‘Is man just another animal?’

Prof Jones discussed our shared ancestry with other primates, the genetic evidence for human evolution, and cast light on Wallace and Darwin’s different views on the subject. Professor Steve Jones is Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London and an author of several popular science books.

And Theatr na nÓg gave an excellent performance of their play ‘You Should Ask Wallace’.

The play took us through Wallace’s life as a young boy growing up in Wales to embarking on epic adventures to the Amazon and Malay Archipelago where he discovers the theory of evolution. His great findings would compel Darwin to publish his seminal work on the origin of species.

 

An exhibition on Wallace’s life will open on 19 October at National Museum Cardiff.

Walking in the footsteps of Wallace

Posted by Ciara Hand on 3 October 2013

Last week Museum staff and students from Cantonian High School journeyed to the Neath Valley to explore the life of Alfred Russel Wallace.

We spent a day re-tracing his footsteps from Pontneddfechan up to Sgwd Gwladys waterfall, exploring the geology and biology of the walk, with help from experts from the Natural Sciences department.

On his death 100 years ago, Alfred Russel Wallace was widely praised as the 'last of the great Victorians'. Famous for independently discovering the process of evolution by natural selection alongside Charles Darwin, today few remember this great Welsh scientist.

Wallace was inspired by the landscape of south Wales, and spent many years walking the valleys and mapping the natural history. The student’s photographs, video footage, sketches and interviews will become part of a display at National Museum Cardiff in January 2014. This display aims to tell the story of Wallace in Wales and hopefully inspire others to go and explore for themselves.

This project has been made possible thanks to the generous support of a Life Patron of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.

An exhibition on Wallace’s life will open on 19 October at National Museum Cardiff.

The Fern Paradise

Posted by Jennifer Evans on 1 October 2013

A lovely pressed fern found between the pages of The Fern Paradise [1876] by Francis George Heath. I'm always a little disappointed that we don't find more pressed flowers in our old botany books so this really made my day.

How long has it been lying quietly cocooned between these dry secure pages? Who picked a live and vibrant frond one summers day and slipped it away never thinking it would stay hidden for decades? Did the sun shine that afternooon? What news was ringing around the world? So many questions...

All photographs in this post taken by the author

 

  • National Museum Cardiff

    National Museum Cardiff

    Discover art, natural history and geology. With a busy programme of exhibitions and events, we have something to amaze everyone, whatever your interest – and admission is free!

  • St Fagans National History Museum

    St Fagans

    St Fagans is one of Europe's foremost open-air museums and Wales's most popular heritage attraction.

  • Big Pit National Coal Museum

    Big Pit

    Big Pit is a real coal mine and one of Britain's leading mining museums. With facilities to educate and entertain all ages, Big Pit is an exciting and informative day out.

  • National Wool Museum

    National Wool Museum

    Located in the historic former Cambrian Mills, the Museum is a special place with a spellbinding story to tell.

  • National Roman Legion Museum

    National Roman Legion Museum

    In AD 75, the Romans built a fortress at Caerleon that would guard the region for over 200 years. Today at the National Roman Legion Museum you can learn what made the Romans a formidable force and how life wouldn't be the same without them.

  • National Slate Museum

    National Slate Museum

    The National Slate Museum offers a day full of enjoyment and education in a dramatically beautiful landscape on the shores of Llyn Padarn.

  • National Waterfront Museum

    National Waterfront Museum

    The National Waterfront Museum at Swansea tells the story of industry and innovation in Wales, now and over the last 300 years.

  • Rhagor: Explore our collections

    Rhagor (Welsh for ‘more’) offers unprecedented access to the amazing stories that lie behind our collections.