Monday, 27 November 2017

Post 479 - A Magnificent Museum and an Entertaining Entomologist!

Hope - the Blue Whale in the magnificent main hall
- a symbol of humanity's power to create a
sustainable future! 
Hey everyone, today’s post 479 and over the 3 years that I’ve been doing my blog, I’ve had lots of people talk to me over social media, and of course in real life (I do get out a bit). Quite often, though, these two things cross each other, like recently when I went to London. I’m in contact with people at the wonderful Natural History Museum in London occasionally over Twitter, and through that, one of the curators that works there reached out to me, and said pop in and say Hi if we were around. Our family was planning a weekend visit to London any way as we hadn't been for a while so I jumped at the opportunity to try and meet up at the NHM. I've been going since I was quite little and it is probably my favourite museum!
The scale of the NHM collection is almost unbeleivable!

So plans were made and Mum, Dad and I got ourselves to London and then set off early on Saturday to see Erica McAlister (aka @flygirlNHM). As we'd got there a bit earlier than expected Erica met us at the entrance around 15 minutes before public opening time and we were really amazed to be able to get in and have a look around some of the public halls without anyone else there. The most spectacular part of the museum for me is the Main Hall, I always loved being there, seeing this huge space and the enormous dinosaur.

There are some incredible creatures!

Obviously we knew about the new Blue Whale (Hope) they had put in Dippy's place and she is an incredible sight. It is quite a breathtaking sight to come so close even to the remains of the world's largest mammal. She's posed in a dive and it's an amazing sight in an amazing building that must have taken years to build. Erica was telling us all about how it was built specifically for a Victorian collector, well at least to house his collection as a condition of him donating it. They made such a good job of the building, the decorations and carvings around it are as incredible as the contents of the building - even the floor - mosaics throughout - it`s absolutely mind-blowing the work that has gone into this building!

It holds specimens from the time of Darwin 
So after we were done looking around the museum, we went ‘back stage’ where they hold the NHM collection, where all the specimens are kept. It`s a bit of an understatement to say there's a lot of them! Species are laid out in wooden display trays. These then go into metal lockers, and each locker is in a block - it`s hard to describe the scale of it because it goes on forever! There are lots of blocks of lockers in a row on one floor, huge rooms of them - and that's just one floor - there were 7 floors just for the insects! Erica was telling us that all together the NHM collection contains over 80 million species. It's the biggest in the world (Erica cheered at that once or twice :-)

There were some specimens from centuries back when people were first going to foreign countries to collect. One of the amazing things we saw there was a shelf with some specimens that Darwin himself and his crew collected on the Beagle!

Erica's favourite - Robberflies
These two were caught carrying
this huge grasshopper!
Erica showed us an amazing array of things from the cabinets, some of the insects there seemed as if they didn’t come from Earth, and ones I probably won’t ever see again. It was amazing to see how people have been storing these exhibits for the years since records started, I felt very special to get to see them.

Then, there were the pickles! A huge room essentially filled with preserved animals of all shapes and sizes, ranging from ticks to a giant squid that was so long I had to get a video instead of a picture! It was so big it has to be kept in a specially made tank - made by Damian Hurst as it was so big! See the video to see what I mean! One of my favourites was the pickled Angler Fish! It was interesting to see one of the creatures of the deep and how it had evolved to live there, and how it uses bioluminescence to attract its prey. Have you ever seen a pickled badger, fox, rat, or boa constrictor - no, well neither had I - but thanks to Erica now I have!

In complete contrast to the display we saw in the main hall, ‘Hope’ the Blue Whale diving, Erica also showed us a jar with a tiny Blue Whale foetus! It’s amazing how something so vast comes from something so tiny and fragile.
Scorpion dimorphism.

One of the fascinating things I got to see was the dimorphism between species of scorpion. There’s a quite small species that wasn’t even the length of one of my fingers, to a much larger Emperor Scorpion that spanned my whole hand! The little one is interestingly the most dangerous, much more venomous - and uses stealth. The big Emperor is all about show (and bravado so mum says) and scaring off predators. I also found out that all scorpions glow in ultraviolet light!

The main thing that I couldn’t get over, though, was the sheer number of specimens they had, it was crazy how many there was just on the floor we went around, and to know they had 6 more floors for insects and another building entirely for plants! I learnt a lot about what curators do and how collections are kept. One of the things I found amazing though is they now have the task of digitising the whole collection! A great opportunity for some overtime or maybe holiday jobs for students I would think!

Thank you for an amazing visit Erica!
So lastly, I’d love to give a huge thank you to Erica for reaching out to me and letting me do this! She was one of the most kind and enthusiastic people I’ve ever met, and she let me have so many experiences I doubt I’ll ever get again. It was amazing to be able to go there and see all of the incredible things Erica showed us. I know we only scratched the surface so I’d love to do it again sometime.

Thank you Erica, I'm so glad they keep you in this institution :-)

Hope you enjoyed,


Friday, 24 November 2017

Post 478 - Celebs champion & celebrate nature rather than distress, disrespect and devalue it.

You're a celebrity so step up and get some respect for nature!

I'm fed up of the 'celebrity' programme. I've never liked it. Why is it that a 'celebrity' gets attention for eating insects, for having to crawl through a box of frogs and spiders and making people think nature is something to be scared of and feared?

I say celebrity. I really don't know who most of the people that go on this programme are! And just to say I never watch it, I get fed up enough of the headlines everywhere, watching the show would only make me more annoyed.

To me a celebrity should be a role model, someone to respect, someone who inspires people and uses their position to make a difference. I wrote about this a while back in Post 378 - and I mentioned the sorts of celebrities that I admire like Chris Packham, Bill Bailey, Bill Oddie. Of course Sir David Attenbrough should have been in that post too. These are people who are trying to get people to care about the environment. There are any more of course but sadly the people that end up on the celeb programme take the money and just perpetuate an image of nature that is wrong. It should not be exploited for entertainment or popularity.

It was actually tweets from Bill Oddie and Chris Packham that reminded me about my earlier blog and inspired me to write this post.

I've felt this way for a while and I've tried to spread the message a little. I rediscovered my Rant for Change video which must be two or three years old now. I've included it at the end if you want to see it.

Why can't more celebrities promote and help nature?

Wouldn't you rather see celebs doing good? Promoting and helping nature? I want to see these people doing beach cleans, to save our marine wildlife from getting caught in and eating harmful plastics - plastics that we end up eating. How about helping hedgehogs and other declining species? Maybe Ant and Dec could volunteer at a nature reserve?

What about helping insects rather than eating them - studies show we've lost three quarters of our insects in the last 25 years!  If we lose the insects then our entire ecological system is at risk of collapse! Don`t they know that our insects are our main pollinators of plants, and food source for birds, reptiles and small mammals?

Try doing some fundraising for wildlife. I think that would impress people much more than poncing around the jungle abusing nature. I'm sure the people eating the meal worms, cockroaches and spiders aren't enjoying it, but I bet the insects like it a lot less even if they are being eaten by a 'celebrity'.

So I decided to start a Thunderclap to try and show that other people feel the same. You can sign up here:

I hope I've timed it right for the final of the show so that lots of people will see that it's not right to exploit nature like this, that it's not right to send a message that nature is scary.

While I was promoting the Thunderclap the RSPCA were kind enough to respond to one of my tweets. They gave some really good advice about some other things that you can do about the way this programme treats wildlife - I've included the tweet below but basically complain to ITV viewer services and Ofcom (link to how to contact them). I noticed when looking at this that I'm a Celebrity had had a few complaints over the last week but we probably need to send them a lot more to get this to change.

Only problem about this though that I can see is that I'd have to watch the programme to be able to make a complaint rather than just be campaigning about the principle of using and eating wildlife for entertainment :-(

Nature is to be treasured. Nature supports us all. Nature is suffering and needs our support more than ever!

Hope you agree,