So long and thanks for all the molluscs!

And so my last day as a TCV Natural Talent trainee has arrived!

What and amazing and quick year it’s been. On my final blog post I’d like to share some great moments over the past year. Here are just a few of the basic stats…

And a some photos of just a few of many great moments…

Fun surveying for freshwater molluscs in all weathers at Great Traston Meadows and Magor Marsh – Caught in April sleet this time!

..and some summer sunshine! Using the suction sampler in Pentwyn Farm’s gorgeous meadows to survey for grassland slugs and snails

Scrabbling through leaf litter searching for slugs and snails by hand at the beautiful Silent Valley

A thing I never expected to do this year: surveying for molluscs on Magor Marsh pond in a boat!

Visiting TCV in Northern Ireland to deliver some training and doing some sight seeing along the way (with Ellie & Lorna, fellow Natural Talent trainees)

On the road again! This time visiting TCV Stave Hill in London to do some family friendly bug hunting and handling with Natural Networks trainee Claire (hiding behind the camera).

Meeting all the Natural Networks & Natural Talent trainees for our first week of training in Scotland back in January 2016

Meeting up with many of them again six months later in Leeds to share skills and experiences.

Bringing mollusc activities and TCV’s feel good attitude to Bristol with TCV Natural Networks buddy Delyth. Just one of many lovely events I’ve been to this year.

With my mentor Ben Rowson (Mollusca Curator NMW)

A massive thank you to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Musuem Wales for hosting my placement, especially to all the staff in Natural Sciences who have been super supportive and made me feel so welcome. Make sure you pop into National Museum Cardiff if you are ever in the city and check out their incredible exhibitions. You can keep up with what the Natural Sciences staff are up to on Twitter: @Cardiff_Curator

Huge appreciation to Esmee Fairbairn for funding these fantastic traineeships, and for continuing to fund them for the next two years!

Applications for the next round of six traineeships are now open! There is even one at National Museum Cardiff, this time on the subject of grassland Hemiptera. It’s going to be a quick turn around, with the aim of the traineeships starting in April so make sure you apply soon! Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

As for me, I’ll be sticking around at National Museum Cardiff for a while, with something exciting in the pipeline. I might pop up again for a quick guest blog when I have the results of my projects all sorted and written up. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @I_Cavadino for #MolluscMonday and more..

So long and thanks for all the molluscs!

Hwyl fawr a diolch am y molysgiaid!

Imogen Cavadino

Natural Talent Trainee: Non-Marine Molluscs

Joyful January: DNA extractions and finishing up identifications

Hello again!

At the time of writing I have only one week left of my Natural Talent placement here at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales! The past year has gone so quickly and been amazing! I still have plenty of things to finish off which is what I’ve been concentrating on this month.

Fabulous freshwater snails

One of my most challenging mollusc projects in Gwent Wildlife Trust’s “Living Landscape” areas has been on the Gwent Levels, looking at the freshwater fauna of Magor Marsh and Great Traston Meadows. With 67 samples collected across the two wetland sites, containing many different freshwater snail species, several bivalve species, as well as land snail bycatch there has been a massive amount of material to sort through and identify to species. This has been slowed by some interesting identification challenges along the way.

From fieldwork to museum specimen: Samples are collected in the field, transferred to and stored in alcohol, the molluscs are then  picked out, identified and the data entered onto a spreadsheet. Specimens are finally stored in individual tubes for each species and location awaiting printed labels before entering the museums permanent collections and database.

Some freshwater snail species can be very variable in shell characters. One group particularly known for this in Britain are the Physidae (Bladder Snails). These are quite simple to get to genus as unusually for most freshwater snails they are left-hand whorled (sinistral). A couple of species of Physidae have been introduced to Britain from North America: Physella Acuta & Physella gyrina. luckily our native Physa fontinalis can be told apart with a bit of practice as its shells are often smaller and have a blunter spire. P.acuta & P.gyrina can have much more variable shells, so I’ve spent a lot of time checking the genitalia of specimens to make sure I’m not overlooking species.

L to R: Physella gyrina, Physella acuta, Physa fontinalis. Just one example from the AC-NMW collections

Split species

Some freshwater snail species have also recently been split into two distinct species. Lymnaea palustris is one example of this. The species was commonly recorded as a single one throughout the British isles for many years, but in 2003 the species was split with Lymnaea fusca recognised in Britain. Surveys and studies have now shown that in fact the Lymnaea fusca species is far more common in Britain and Ireland than Lymnaea palustris, which is now believed to be rare occurring only in Eastern Britain! Again the shell characters are very similar and can overlap dramatically, meaning more genital dissections to check species identifications.

Learning lab work

At the beginning of the month I got to put on a white coat and gloves to spend some time in a proper laboratory! Here Ben taught me how to extract DNA from tissue so that we could send these off to be sequenced. It was a painstakingly accurate and time consuming process, but very exciting to learn! Seeing the bands on the gel light up under UV light was incredibly exciting as it showed that most of our extractions had worked!

Agrose gel under UV light showing expressed DNA – the glowing bands show the ones that are successful. The biggest glowing band at the bottom middle is a positive control, to the left of it is a negative control. (40 samples incl. controls)

Rocking a lab coat. A long way from the usual waterproofs and wellies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deceptive DNA?

There was very few surprises in the results: what we thought species were matched the genetic sequences on the database for the same species. However, there were a couple of cases where the DNA sequences matched equally close to the two species we were trying to differentiate between, not making things instantaneously clearer. For me this reminds me to approach identifying species by DNA alone with caution, as it depends on being able to match sequences to existing sequence data. If species are incorrectly identified on the database in the first place and/or there isn’t a range of genetic data for a species it can cause more confusion. While it is a useful tool, using it alongside other traditional methods, like examining morphology to me appears a more accurate approach.

I’m hoping to make the genetic codes we sequenced available to the public, as the museum will keep the voucher specimens in their mollusc collection meaning that if species identifications or splits are questioned in the future the physical material is still there to be examined.

What a record!

On the 21st January I had one of my last events as a Natural Talent trainee, delivering a presentation about my mollusc projects at the Gwent-Glamorgan Recorders Forum organised by local records centre SEWBReC. The forum was very busy, with a record 80 attendees! It was great to hear from and meet so many enthusiastic and like-minded biological recorders, covering a vast range of different plant and animal groups.

For my last week I have data to compile, reports to write and an identification sheet to produce for the Freshwater Molluscs at Magor Marsh for Gwent Wildlife Trust.. phew! Time has slipped past far too quickly, but I’ve loved every minute.

Until next time!

Hwyl fawr am nawr!

Imogen Cavadino

Natural Talent Trainee: Non-Marine Molluscs

Don’t forget you can keep up to date with my daily antics on Twitter here or here.

A massive thank you to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for funding this amazing programme. Find out more about them here.

Also to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales for hosting my placement. Be sure to drop in for a visit to the public collections when you’re in Cardiff!

Delightful December: Woodland snails, travels and looking ahead

Happy New Year! Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Tricksy woodland snails

This month I’ve been trying to finish off another one of my projects with Gwent Wildlife Trust. Back in September 10 litres of leaf litter were collected from different areas of woodland at Silent Valley nature reserve. Each of these bags had to be dried out and then passed through different graded sieves. The material from every sieve layer then is picked through and all the snails removed. These often tiny snails are then identified to species level – a challenge when some are only a few millimetres at adult size! These small species would have been easy to miss in the field without collecting leaf litter.

Snails are picked out of the sieved leaf litter, sorted in to species groups and identified, then counted into tubes and labelled

Snails are picked out of the sieved leaf litter, sorted in to species groups and identified, then counted into tubes and labelled. Tiny shells are stored inside gelatin capsules inside the glass storage tubes.

Adding to the challenge, the samples contain lots of Glass Snail species (Oxychilidae) which can be quite tough to get to grips with! This is one of many times where having easy access to the National Museum Wales mollusc collection of over 180,000 lots is so useful, as I can use it to check my identifications. While reference books and ID guides can be extremely useful, they still can’t compete with seeing the actual thing!

On the road with the museum

In early December I joined several of the Natural Sciences curators from National Museum Wales on a visit to Swansea University as part of the “Research Roadshow”. This event was for museum and university staff to explore potential research collaborations and more ways they could work together in the future.It was a really interesting day, giving me insight to how both organisations work and an amazing opportunity to meet lots of fascinating people from different departments.

Keeper of Natural Sciences Richard Bevins introducing the museum's Natural Sciences research and collections.

Keeper of Natural Sciences Richard Bevins introducing the museum’s Natural Sciences research and collections.

Young naturalists unite

I was also delighted to write a blog post for “A Focus on Nature” as part of their Advent Series around the theme of the gift of inspiration. For me this focused on the inspiring taxonomists and identification experts I’ve met along the way to where I am now. You can read my post here. Make sure you take a look at the other members inspiring writing while you’re there. “A Focus on Nature” is a network for wildlife conservationists between the ages of 16-30, encompassing artists, scientists, photographers, ecotourism and many more aspects of the natural world.

Sharing and showcasing our talents

Making a bird box with the help of TCV Natural Networks buddy Delyth

Making a bird box with the help of TCV Natural Networks buddy Delyth

The week before Christmas it was time to head up to Glasgow and meet up with some of the other Natural Talent trainees as well as many Natural Networks trainees. For me this was doubly exciting as I had never been to Glasgow before. It was fantastic to visit this vibrant city!

On 15th of December we opened the doors at Maryhill Burgh Halls and welcomed placement providers, partner organisations, funders, volunteers, friends and the general public in to see for themselves what we have all been doing over the past year. This meant some exciting hands on activities and displays. I even had a go at making a bird box. Safe to say I won’t be winning any carpentry awards anytime soon, but it was lots of fun.

 

Everyone having a great time and joining in at the Natural Talent & Natural Networks showcase in Glasgow (Photos: Emma Straughan & Katey Whyte)

Volunteers, staff, trainees and visitors having a great time and joining in at the Natural Talent & Natural Networks showcase in Glasgow (Photos: Emma Straughan & Katey Whyte)

Bringing lots of mollusc information and fun to Glasgow

Bringing lots of mollusc information and fun to Glasgow

What’s next for the trainees?

This was a perfect time for a catch up with the other Natural Talent trainees, finding out how everyone’s placements have been and what they have in mind for the future. It was great to hear that Natural Talent trainee Lorna has just headed off to start a PhD, Eleanor has settled into her new job with the Woodland Trust, and Katey will be starting her PhD very soon. Rebecca, Ryan and myself will be continuing our placements until the end of February before heading on to other exciting ventures!

Rebecca and Katey at the showcase in Glasgow

Rebecca and Katey chatting about their traineeships at the showcase in Glasgow

Jolly January

During my fieldwork we’ve come across a few interesting species, some of which are proving tricky to identify using morphological characters. In January I’m excited to be starting work on DNA extractions so that we can try and match these to records in the gene bank to help confirm some of the less certain identifications we have. This includes that strange looking Leopard Slug found living in my valley.

I also still have several freshwater mollusc samples to pick through and identify to species, including many notoriously tricky tiny freshwater bivalves.

One of my freshwater samples sorted to species level with temporary labels

One of my freshwater samples sorted to species level with temporary labels

On the 21st January I will be speaking about my mollusc projects at the Gwent-Glamorgan Recorders Forum organised by local records centre SEWBReC. I’ll be joining an interesting range of talks.  Natural Talent alumni Liam Olds will also be talking about the Bee fauna of south wales coal tips. Free places to attend are available via SEWBReC!

Until next time!

Hwyl fawr am nawr!

Imogen Cavadino

Natural Talent Trainee: Non-Marine Molluscs

Don’t forget you can keep up to date with my daily antics on Twitter here or here.

A massive thank you to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for funding this amazing programme. Find out more about them here.

Also to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales for hosting my placement. Be sure to drop in for a visit to the public collections when you’re in Cardiff!

New experience November: sharing and learning

Hello again!

Wow, November went fast! For me this month has all been about continuing to learn and starting to share information about my project.

Now that the frosts have arrived, it’s been a much quieter time mollusc wise. The larger more noticeable species such as the Garden Snail (Cornu aspersum) have started aestivating – going dormant for the cold winter months. This is done by retracting into their shells and forming a temporary cover over the shell opening. The cover is made of mucus which dries, forming a hard epiphragm and leaving a small hole for air. Winter is also a great time for me to hide away in the lab/office. But instead of going dormant, I’ve been working hard on my identification skills, compiling my results and sharing them.

Conchological Society

National Museum Cardiff hosted the regional meeting of the Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland on the 19th November. This Conchological Society promotes the understanding, identification, recording and conservation of molluscs. Meeting members of the society and presenting my work to them was a fantastic opportunity.  Presenting to such an experienced audience was nerve wracking. Nerves proved unfounded though, as they were such a lovely crowd. I have since been asked to write an article for their magazine “Mollusc World“, so clearly they must have enjoyed it!

Presenting at the Conchological Society's regional meeting at the museum

Presenting at the Conchological Society’s regional meeting at the museum

Molluscan Researchers

Presenting my poster at the Molluscan Forum

Presenting my poster at the Molluscan Forum

Last week I joined Anna and Harriet, some of the molluscan curators here at National Museum Cardiff, in a day trip up to the National History Museum, London.  The Malacological Society of London had organised the “molluscan forum”, which we attended. This international society is based in London promoting the advancement of research and education on molluscs. We took some posters with us about the various bits of research at the museum, including one on my project.

The event was well attended by a range of international students and researchers. Not only did I get to share my project with the people attending, but I also got to learn a massive amount from other peoples research. Facts like some snails can pass through a birds gut and live to tell the tale!

A bustling poster session at the molluscan forum

A bustling poster session at the molluscan forum

Emergencies and First Aid

In my spare time I volunteer for the British Red Cross. Recently I decided to become a Emergency Response volunteer, undertaking a three day training course to learn essential skills for this. A fascinating and fun experience! I learnt loads of transferable skills, such as the CALMER approach. This type of Psychosocial support assists people in crisis, which could be anything from losing a beloved pet to being flooded out of a home. It also has many applications in everyday life and work.

Practicing giving CPR to a baby (no dolls were harmed in the making of this photo)

Practicing giving CPR to a baby (no dolls were harmed in the making of this photo)

We also learnt how to push someone in a wheelchair, including getting them up and down kerbs safely. Taking it in turns to sit in the wheelchair and be pushed around was very enlightening! It made me realise just how vulnerable you can feel in one. Other skills covered were Everyday First Aid – dealing with burns, seizures, ingestion of poisons, choking, performing CPR, learning how to use an AED and much more. I really enjoyed learning these essential skills and hope to expand on them. Fingers crossed I won’t need to use any lifesaving ones at work anytime soon!

Finishing on some great news…

Esmee Fairburn, National Museum Wales & TCV have all agreed to extend my Natural Talent traineeship by an extra month! I’m absolutely delighted. I now have more time to tie up loose ends, work on sharing my findings far and wide, and produce some useful resources.

I’ve also been working on a blog post for youth conservation movement A Focus on Nature as part of their advent series. Keep an eye on their blog throughout December for some great posts on “the gift of inspiration” and find out who inspires 16-30 year old nature conservationists in the UK.

Until next time!

Hwyl fawr am nawr!

Imogen Cavadino

Natural Talent Trainee: Non-Marine Molluscs

Don’t forget you can keep up to date with my daily antics on Twitter here or here.

A massive thank you to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for funding this amazing programme. Find out more about them here.

Also to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales for hosting my placement. Be sure to drop in for a visit to the public collections when you’re in Cardiff!

A Spooky Slug Filled October

Hello again!

Incredibly rare slug behaviour

Looking under slab for interesting invertebrates

Looking under slabs for interesting invertebrates

At the end of last month the knowledgeable Mark Telfer popped into Wales for a visit. He was keen to see a site for the species Testacella maugei (Atlantic Shelled Slug or Dead Man’s Finger) – which happens to be St Fagans National History Museum, part of the National Museum Wales group. Ben casually offered me the option to come along, and I jumped at the chance. A day in the field with three fellow slug enthusiasts? No chance I was turning that down! And it was definitely worth it.

Upon arriving on site, we met one of the head gardeners who was happy for us to wander in the behind the scenes garden area. Here we had a fabulous time looking under plant pots, lifting paving slabs and picking through parts of the impressive compost heap.

Ben gave me a tip off to where they had found T.maugei before, and we immediately struck gold finding two resting underneath a plant pot. We immediately headed back to the others, slugs in hand to show the others. Which is when two incredibly odd things happened…

Slug sick

Firstly the slug in my hand started regurgitating its dinner – something non of us had witnessed or heard of it doing before. The Testacellidae (shelled slugs) feed on earthworms, and it was fascinating that the remains regurgitated onto my hand were recognisable as an Eisenia species of earthworm.

Testacella maugei regurgitating a worm on to my hand!

Testacella maugei regurgitating a worm on to my hand!

Slug one-upmanship

The excitement didn’t end there… not to be outdone, the slug on Mark’s hand promptly laid an egg. Again, a behaviour not witnessed before! As with most slugs, the egg was laid from the genital opening, which is on the right side of the head – a weird looking process. The resulting egg was a matt white colour and rugby ball shaped. The egg was collected to become part of the museum collection, as it’s very rare to be able to authenticate species parentage for eggs without hatching them out. Some slug eggs can be identified to family, group of species, and on occasion species level. Others are indistinguishable from snail eggs!

T.maugei with a freshly laid egg

Testacella maugei with a freshly laid egg!

Big Green Weekend: Nature Festival Fun

The 7th – 10th of October was TCV’s Big Green Weekend, a chance to celebrate the charities volunteers and to get the public to join in and feel good. For me this involved a trip back to the lovely TCV Tree Life Centre in Bristol to take part in their Nature Festival.

All ages had lots of fun using the microscope and learning about molluscs

All ages had lots of fun using the microscope and learning about molluscs

This was really well attended by other organisations and members of the public. We had a fabulous time chatting to families about all things slug and snail, showing them a range of live and model slugs, using the microscope to look at tiny shells, and cheering on racing garden snails. We even led an adventurous gang of children on a thrilling Snail Safari to see what slugs and snails we could find hidden around the site.

Going through what the children found with the help of Ben from National Museum Wales

Going through what the children found on their snail safari with the help of Ben from National Museum Wales

From research to teaching aid..

Map of the sites, curated specimens and the task

Map of the sites, curated specimens and the task

Earlier this month we had a visit from staff of the museum’s learning department. They were on the hunt for some hands on activities they could use for an A Level students revision session on measuring species diversity. We quickly realised the research we have been doing at Pentwyn Farm and Wyeswood Common was perfect for this! Having the actual specimens to hand could relate calculating diversity indices to the reality of seeing how many or few species were in the tubes from each field. It was wonderful seeing the fieldwork we’ve been doing translate so well to a teaching aid and learning tool.

You’re never too old to learn: fun with the U3A

Back in June I got chatting to a lovely lady at the Biodiversity Information Service’s 15 year celebrations. Turns out the lady was from Brecon’s U3A and asked if I would give a talk to their Science special interest group. U3As (University of the 3rd Age) are self managed, fun lifelong learning co-operatives for older people no longer in full time work with different groups around the country. I delivered an hour long presentation to the group in Brecon, talking about my traineeship, projects and why slugs & snails shouldn’t always be the bad guys. They were a great audience with lots of interesting questions and stories to share. I had a great time!

Sneak peek of my presentation to the U3A

Sneak peek of my presentation to the U3A

Fabulous fungi

In late October I headed off to FSC Preston Mountford for a three and a half days residential course on identifying macro-fungi. I have to admit I am a complete beginner when it comes to fungi, and of course I have an ulterior motive. In case you haven’t quite realised, I find slugs absolutely fascinating. One species I find particularly intriguing is the elusive Lemon Slug (Malacolimax tenellus) which I finally encountered for the first time last month. This slug specialises in eating ancient woodland fungi, and has been found tucking into Russula and Boletus species. The majority of Russula and Boletus are mycorrhizal with tree species – having a mutually beneficial relationship. For the Lemon Slug to be restricted to a food source reliant on trees would make sense with its limited distribution and dependence on ancient woodland sites.

Lemon Slug

Last months celebrity: the Lemon Slug

With this in my mind I delved into the fascinating world of fungi… and was slightly overwhelmed. There are so many of them and some can be so difficult to tell apart! The course was really well structured, with two field visits over the weekend and plenty of ID time in the lab. One visit was to a woodland site rich in fungi, and the other to a grassland site also full of fungi. Through these I met many new fungi, including strange looking Earthballs, Stinkhorn eggs, burnt rubber scented Tricholoma, aniseed scented Clitocybe, and some colour changing wax caps. I was also delighted to successfully identify my first Russla to species level! I definitely still have a long way to go in learning about fungi but am off to a fascinating start.

The challenges of fungi: Hygrocybe laeta was golden in the field (top left), but turned green after collection, making it match images of Hygrocybe psittacine (right). Giveaway for H.laeta is the translucent sticky gill edges (bottom left).

The challenges of fungi: the slimy Heath Waxcap Hygrocybe laeta was golden in the field (top left), but turned green after collection, making it match images of Hygrocybe psittacina (right). The clear giveaway for H.laeta is the translucent sticky gill edges (bottom left).

What’s next?

Scary to think there is only a few months of my traineeship left! I plenty going on for the next month, including presenting a poster at various forums and meetings, and giving a few more talks to various groups. I also still have plenty of material to work through from the Gwent Levels and Eastern Valleys. As well as lots of writing up to do before sharing my fascinating findings. Also I have plenty of curation of my collected material to crack on with when time allows. Never underestimate the importance of a well curated collection! Recent brushes with cryptically labelled material in the collections have reinforced this. I’m also planning to produce a small field guide to the freshwater snails found at Magor Marsh for Gwent Wildlife Trust to use for education activities. Lots to do!

Until next time!

Hwyl fawr am nawr!

Imogen Cavadino

Natural Talent Trainee: Non-Marine Molluscs

Don’t forget you can keep up to date with my daily antics on Twitter here or here.

A massive thank you to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for funding this amazing programme. Find out more about them here.

Also to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales for hosting my placement. Be sure to drop in for a visit to the public collections when you’re in Cardiff!