Chance discovery contributes to origins and evolution focus | Curator of Micropalaeontology

When I first came to the Museum I dreamt that one day someone would bring something in for identification that I would recognise to be a really important find. The contents of a consultancy sample back in 2005 helped to make my wish come true. This post tells of the discovery and subsequent publication of a significant species of early fossil fish from Oman that provides information on the origins and evolution of life on our planet, one of the main focus areas of Museum science.

Montage of photos showing close ups of fossil plates and scales
Examples of plates and scales of the early fish Sacabambaspis

Very occasionally I get consultancy rock samples sent to me for dissolving to find microfossils. This is so that we can provide the age for a rock formation or details about fossil environments or climate. And so it was that Alan Heward, then of Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), sent me a sample in 2005 for analysis to try to find age diagnostic conodonts. Conodonts are extinct phosphatic microfossils that look like teeth and are used extensively for dating rocks that are roughly 500-205 million years old.

Continue reading “Chance discovery contributes to origins and evolution focus | Curator of Micropalaeontology”

Batty discovery and more batty facts and fun this weekend | UK Wildlife

Our annual Bat Festival this year follows International Bat Night on 29-30 August. We’ll be teaming up with our partners Bat Conservation Trust and the London Bat Group to celebrate the wonderful world of bats. You can discover many fascinating batty facts including how to help bats in your garden, the diet of bats and how to make a flappy bat.

Photo of two children creating paper bats
Batty crafts at the Bat Festival in 2014
Photo of Louise showing specimens to and speaking with two visitors
Louise Tomsett, Curator of Mammals, showing specimens from the Museum collections

There will also be an opportunity to see some of the specimens from the Museum’s collection. As we wrote in our Going Batty post last year, curator Louise Tomsett will reveal more about the Museum’s collection of over 30,000 specimens of bats including the importance of their use in research and in the discovery of new species.

Which is very timely because a new species of horseshoe bat has just been described from one of our specimens held in the Museum collections.

Continue reading “Batty discovery and more batty facts and fun this weekend | UK Wildlife”

New webpages launched | Library and Archives

The Library and Archives have launched its brand new webpages. It has never been so easy to learn about our collections and how we can help your research.

Screen shot of the new Library home page
The Library’s new home page on the Museum’s website

The Library and Archives team have recently been working hard to create clearer, more in-depth webpages to provide information about our collections, services and work. We are very proud of the end result and hope you like them too.

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See London’s museums from a different perspective with #MuseumInstaSwap | Take Part

This week, the Museum joins nine other London-based museums for #MuseumInstaSwap, a project to celebrate our spaces and collections through the medium of Instagram.

phone displaying natural history museum instagram account outside victoria and albert museum
We’re taking our Instagram account across the road to our neighbour the Victoria and Albert Museum for the week

The idea for #MuseumInstaSwap began after Londonist listed their 10 best London museums on Instagram. On seeing such a variety of museums, each with fascinating Instagram feeds, we all knew there had to be an exciting way to collaborate and share our content.

The 10 museums taking part – representing a diverse range of subjects and sizes – have paired up to take part in a week-long cultural exchange to reveal our collections in a new light. Continue reading “See London’s museums from a different perspective with #MuseumInstaSwap | Take Part”

At the Centre of Museum citizen science | Take Part

The home of the Museum’s citizen science programme is its Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, where we develop a series of surveys and activities that enable anyone in the UK to contribute to the Museum’s scientific research.

But the Centre has a wider purpose to support both new and experienced naturalists to develop their skills, meet like minded people and, together, develop new knowledge about the UK’s biodiversity (the diversity of it’s wildlife) and geodiversity (the diversity of it’s rocks, minerals and fossils).

Photo showing a lateral view of the bee
A brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humbles). The image has been taken using the photo-stacking equipment of the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiverisity

The Centre provides workspaces, meeting rooms, microscopes, high specification photo stacking equipment (for photographing small specimens), books and identification guides to support people of all abilities to explore and study natural sciences in the UK. It’s free to book a visit and the Centre hosts over 1,000 visitors every year, ranging from individuals and groups to natural history societies.

Continue reading “At the Centre of Museum citizen science | Take Part”

Inspiring young Victorian minds through sport | Library and Archives

In amongst the collections of one of the largest natural history libraries in the world, are some unexpected items and here’s one of my favourites:

A photo of the front cover of Entomology in Sport
The front cover of Entomology in Sport by Two Lovers of the Science

Traditionally the Museum Library has not actively purchased natural history material aimed at younger readers, but there are some to be found within the shelves.

Entomology in Sport is an example of a publication aimed at aspiring young Victorian minds. A miniature visual world of insects has been intertwined within the words and paragraphs of this little book. Regardless of your age, you can’t help but be charmed.

Continue reading “Inspiring young Victorian minds through sport | Library and Archives”

Taking inspiration from the field and from women artists | Identification Trainers for the Future

In the latest update from our Identification Trainers for the Future project, Sally Hyslop continues the story of the work our five trainees have performed thus far.

Trainee life in the Museum is often focused through a microscope and so, after many months of study, it was brilliant to refresh our zeal for the natural world this month with a field trip to the Dorset coast. We spent three days exploring dramatic cliffs and coastal heathlands: by day, putting our developing botany skills into practise, and by night, spotting bats and catching moths.

The trainees in the field in Dorset
The trainees in the field in Dorset

The Museum’s Fred Rumsey and Mark Spencer led us through heath and bog on a hunt for the elusive bog orchid, Hammarbya paludosa. By the end of the day we found 109 spikes of these miniscule and delicate, rare, green flowers. On top of this, we encountered blankets of dainty white beaked sedge, flowering bog asphodel and all three UK species of sticky, carnivorous sundews along with their two hybrids.

Continue reading “Taking inspiration from the field and from women artists | Identification Trainers for the Future”

Wild orchids in August – what to look out for | Orchid Observers

Kath Castillo, our Orchid Observers Project Officer, tells us about the orchids you can search for out in the field this month.

August is nearly here and with it the start of the holiday season, so if you are planning a walking holiday or a bit of wildlife photography in the UK, there are some stunning species on our list to look out for and photograph for Orchid Observers.

A flower of the marsh helleborine. © Fred Rumsey
A flower of the marsh helleborine. © Fred Rumsey

Flowering now and into late August, the marsh helleborine (Epipactis palustris) is a fairly large orchid with loose clusters of pink and white flowers with a white frilly lower petal. Continue reading “Wild orchids in August – what to look out for | Orchid Observers”

What’s on that wall? | The Microverse

Today, one of our Microverse citizen science project participants, Robert Milne, presents his own interpretation of the results of the microbial samples collected from Mid Kent College in Gillingham where he is a student:

The results:

Despite our best efforts, the samples we obtained for the Microverse project were taken in different weather conditions, at slightly different times, in slightly different areas of the building, and all three samples were taken from walls facing different directions. The materials of the surfaces we sampled were brick, glass and metal.

Mid Kent College building, swabbed by The Microverse participants
Mid Kent College building, swabbed by The Microverse participants

Continue reading “What’s on that wall? | The Microverse”

Lichen Adventures with Pimlico Academy | Decoding Nature

This week Dr. Della Hopkins tells us about how the Decoding Nature project takes school students out on field trips and involves them in the Museum’s science research.

In June, a group of ‘scientists in the making’ from Pimlico Academy joined up with a small band of research scientists from the Museum as part of a long running project called Decoding Nature. Decoding Nature is a Museum-run venture which delivers residential science courses to school children aged 8-18.

The courses take place at The Old Malthouse School near Wareham in Dorset, and combine learning with original, ongoing scientific research. Over the years the project has evolved and included a wide range of scientists with varied areas of expertise. Each course is different, ensuring that the children are taking part in cutting edge research that will be used for publication.

Amazing lichen communities on Dorset trees - a winning photo from the photography competition. Image credit: Coco from Pimlico.
Amazing lichen communities on Dorset trees – a winning photo from the photography competition. Image credit: Coco from Pimlico.

For this particular course our budding scientists from Pimlico Academy were set several tasks, to aid renowned Lichenologist Holger Thues with several important research questions.

Continue reading “Lichen Adventures with Pimlico Academy | Decoding Nature”