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What do our museum scientists do out ‘in the field’? One of our museum scientists, Ray Tangney, has just returned from the Falkland Islands. See what he got up to.

"There are 3 of us, myself, Matt von Konrat from the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, USA, and Juan Larrain from the Universidad Catolica de Guayaquil, Santiago, Chile; and we were in the Falklands as part of a Darwin Initiative funded project, recording and conserving the lower plants. This means we were searching for plants such as mosses and liverworts (small, low growing plants that do not produce flowers).

We spent most of the time in ‘Camp’ (the name for the hinterland beyond the capital, Stanley), visiting locations in a 4 wheel drive on East and West Falkland, and on Pebble Island to the north. We estimate we found 14 plants that had never been found growing on the Falkland Islands before; 8 mosses and 6 liverworts.

I gave a talk about the project to the Falklands Conservation AGM. We also ran a school activity session at Fox Bay School. The children collected and created their own herbarium specimens, making them accessible for scientists in the future. They looked at mosses under a microscope and observed details they would never usually have been able to see in the wild. Image 1 shows the children being asked by Juan whether the plant is a moss or a liverwort! It’s a silver coloured moss we also have in Wales called, rather unsurprisingly, Silver-moss (scientific name, Bryum argenteum). In January, the Lower Plants Project Officer, Dafydd Crabtree, ran a similar activity session about lichens with the children. Have a look at some more photos from the Falklands Conservation Facebook page here.

We found a number of new records of mosses for the Islands during this trip. Image 2 shows a misty Mount Donald on West Falkland at about 600 metres above sea level. The moss Bucklandiella pachydictyon growing on rocks here was a brand new record for the Falklands. It wasn’t all sunshine. The next day on Mount Adam we had rain, sleet, hail and snow, along with strong winds!

A characteristic feature of the Falklands are sea inlets. Streams that feed into these inlets are an important habitat for mosses and liverworts. One moss (Blindia torrentium) that only grows in the Falklands is commonly found on rocks in these streams.

Tiny plants such as mosses are such a big feature of the Falkland Isles landscape. School activity sessions, as well as talks, are crucial to increase local knowledge of, and interest in, the unique natural environment of these fragile, beautiful islands in the Southern Hemisphere."

We have had more of our I Spy Nature Competition winners in for special behind the scenes tours of National Museum Cardiff.

We ran a drawing competition as part of our I Spy Nature Pop-up Museum at the Capitol Shopping Centre over the summer. We had some fantastic entries and it was extremely difficult to choose the winners. However, we managed to select several winners and they were given natural history related goodies from the Museum’s shop and offered special tours to see what happens once you leave the public galleries and go into the museum’s collections.

These three lucky winners had tours in the fossil and mineral collections with palaeontologist Dr Lucy McCobb and mineral curator Andrew Haycock. 

Some of our other winners have also been in to see what happens in the marine, shell and vertebrate collections.

We are delighted to welcome our new intern, Theo Tamblyn, to the Invertebrate Diversity Section of the Department of Natural Sciences. Theo is currently in his gap year between A Level’s and university and is looking into studying an Earth Sciences degree at either Bristol University or UCL next year.  Theo’s passion for the natural world started at a young age, firstly with a focus on insects, which then evolved into collecting and learning about shells (molluscs), aided by his 8 year membership to the Conchological Society of Great Britain & Ireland. He is no stranger to the Department, having already undertaken work experience with the Mollusca Curators whilst still at school, and Theo is keen to work with us once again. So, what will he be doing...

 

The Ted Phorson collection

Theo will be spending a total of 3 months with us curating and databasing the Ted Phorson collection, which was bequeathed to us in 2006. This collection, although primarily British marine molluscs, also contains lamp shells (Brachiopods), seed shrimp (Ostracods) and a group of miniscule marine seafloor dwelling animals known as forams (Foraminifera). It is a complex collection consisting of a mixture of microscope slides, growth series, loose micro-specimens and larger shell material. You can see from Figs. 3 and 4 that the slides and growth series in particular are often extremely beautiful.

 

Small but perfectly formed

The uniqueness of Ted Phorson’s collection comes from the fact that he meticulously picked out the tiny shells found in fine un-sieved shell-sand, therefore capturing the juveniles (young) of many species. Juveniles are an ongoing problem for scientists, with very few illustrations published of even the most common species, and so a reference collection like Ted Phorson’s is invaluable. The work that Theo carries out will make this collection accessible for the first time - it can then be utilised for Museum research projects such as the Marine Bivalve Shells of the British Isles, as well as being a useful resource for external users.

We are grateful to the Conchological Society of Great Britain & Ireland who have kindly part-funded Theo Tamblyn’s internship.

On Saturday 10th October, scientists from the Museum’s Natural Sciences Department and Cardiff University came together to mark both National Biology Week and Earth Science Week, and to prove that biology (and geology) does indeed rock!  Engaging displays and fun activities filled the Main Hall and were also scattered through the lower natural history galleries and Clore Learning Space.  Visitors collected a stamping sheet at the door and could claim a stamp for every activity they completed.  Everyone who collected ten stamps had the chance to colour in and make their own natural history badge to take home.  Museum scientists wowed visitors with specimens from our collections behind the scenes, including the largest seeds in the world, glow-in-the-dark minerals and huge scarab beetles.  Visitors could also explore sea creatures and seaweeds in a rock pool, and have a go at matching fossils to their correct place on a timeline of the Earth’s history.  Fans of the game ‘Operation’ had the opportunity to try their hand with an actual size, adult dummy version, courtesy of biologists from Cardiff University, who also presented a range of other fascinating topics, including what we can learn from road kill, how healthy babies are made, how toadstools get their white spots and how to extract DNA from strawberries.  Appropriately enough, the University’s team of geologists set up shop at the entrance to the Evolution of Wales gallery, and invited visitors to experiment with what makes an explosive volcano, try to bend rocks and have a go at stepping in the footsteps of dinosaurs.  The day also featured several family-friendly events linked to the ‘Reading the Rocks: the remarkable maps of William Smith’ exhibitionTheatr na nÓg gave three performances of a one-man play exploring Smith’s work from the point of view of his young Welsh apprentice, and scientific historian Dr Leucha Veneer gave a family talk looking at early ideas about rocks and fossils.

We were joined this Saturday by three of our I Spy…Nature drawing competition winners and their families. The winners were shown around the shell, marine invertebrate and vertebrate collections as part of their special behind the scenes tour by museum curator Katie Mortimer-Jones. The tour started in the fluid store, where we keep our fluid preserved specimens such as marine bristleworms, starfish, crabs, lobsters and fish specimens. The competition winners saw some of our oldest fluid preserved specimens in the collections – Octopus, squid and cuttlefish specimens worked on by the very first director of the museum, William Evans Hoyle. Next on to the shell collections, one of the largest collections at the museum. Our visitors looked through draws of molluscs, spying Giant Clams, abalone shells and Giant African Land snails. Lastly the tour finished up in the Vertebrate store where we keep some of the Museum’s taxidermy and skeleton specimens. On display were several fox specimens, a crocodile, sheep and fish specimens that will be on display in a house next weekend as part of the ‘Made in Roath Festival’. After the tour, the winners were given their prizes of natural history goodies from the Museum Shop.