Amgueddfa Blog: Hanes Naturiol

The next steps in a Professional Training Year

It’s been a little while since my last blog post and since then there has been a lot of exciting things happening! The scientific paper I have been working on that describes a new species of marine shovelhead worm (Magelonidae) with my training year supervisor Katie Mortimer-Jones and American colleague James Blake is finished and has been submitted for publication in a scientific journal. The opportunity to become a published author is not something I expected coming into this placement and I cannot believe how lucky I am to soon have a published paper while I am still an undergraduate.

There are thousands of scientific journals out there, all specialising in different areas. Ours will be going in the capstone edition of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a journal which covers systematics in biological sciences, so perfect for our paper. Every journal has its own specifications to abide by in order to be published in them. These rules cover everything from the way you cite and reference other papers, how headings and subheadings are set out, the font style and size, and how large images should be. A significant part of writing a paper that many people might not consider is ensuring you follow the specifications of the journal. It’s very easy to forget or just write in the style you always have!

Once you have checked and doubled checked your paper and have submitted  to the journal you wish to be published in, the process of peer reviewing begins. This is where your paper is given to other scientists, typically 2 or 3, that are specialists in the field. These peer-reviewers read through your paper and determine if what you have written has good, meaningful science in it and is notable enough to be published. They also act as extra proof-readers, finding mistakes you may have missed and suggesting altered phrasing to make things easier to understand.

I must admit it is a little nerve wracking to know that peer reviewers have the option to reject all your hard work if they don’t think it is good enough. However, the two reviewers have been nothing but kind and exceptionally helpful. They have both accepted our paper for publication. Having fresh sets of eyes look at your work is always better at finding mistakes than just reading it over and over again, especially if those eyes are specialists in the field that you are writing in.

As you would expect, the process of peer-reviewing takes some time. So, while we have been waiting for the reviews to come back, I have already made great progress on starting a second scientific paper based around marine shovelhead worms with my supervisor. While the story of the paper isn’t far along enough yet to talk about here, I can talk about the fantastic opportunity I had to visit the Natural History Museum, London!

We are currently investigating a potentially new European species of shovelhead worm which is similar to a UK species described by an Amgueddfa Cymru scientist and German colleagues. Most of the type specimens of the latter species are held at the Natural History Museum in London. Type material is scientifically priceless, they are the individual specimens from which a new species is first described and given a scientific name. Therefore, they are the first port of call, if we want to determine if our specimens are a new species or not.

The volume of material that the London Natural History Museum possesses of the species we are interested in is very large and we had no idea what we wanted to loan from them. So, in order to make sure we requested the most useful specimens for our paper, we travelled to London to look through all of the specimens there. We were kindly showed around the facilities by one of the museum’s curators and allowed to make use of one of the labs in order to view all of the specimens. The trip was certainly worth it. We took a lot of notes and found out some very interesting things, but most importantly we had a clear idea of the specific specimens that we wanted to borrow to take photos of and analyse closer back in Cardiff. 

Overall, I can say with confidence that the long drive was certainly more than worth it! I’m very excited to continue with this new paper and even more excited to soon be able to share the results of our first completed and published paper, watch this space…

Thank you once again to both National Museum Cardiff and Natural History Museum, London for making this trip possible.

Over the past year, we have all had to stay closer to home more often. We may have discovered new local places, and started to look in more detail at familiar places. The museum has launched a new set of web-based resources to help people continue this exploration. The new On Your Doorstep webpages help and encourage others to discover local archaeology and nature in Wales. We’ve included activities for investigating and learning more, in the countryside and urban areas. If you want to delve even deeper, you can explore our natural history and archaeology collections of over 4 million specimens, and find links to our specialist sites.

Visit: On Your Doorstep: Nature, geology and archaeology in Wales

Nature Bingo

Have a go at spotting everything on our nature bingo cards. Cards for spring and summer are available now, as well as cards with more abstract terms such as ‘hooked’, ‘shiny’ and ‘slow’ to challenge you to look more closely at nature when you are out and about. Get out there and start ticking them off! Who can get a full house first? You can improve your Welsh at the same time by using both English and Welsh versions together as well as the handy hints for learners.  

Spotter’s Sheets

The spotter’s sheets in Welsh and English are there to help you to recognise more of the natural world and the archaeology on your doorstep. Use our downloadable spotter’s sheets to identify animals, plants, fossils, rocks and artefacts. They can be used as an introduction to a particular theme, to remind you of helpful identification characteristics, or to learn interesting facts about ordinary things around us in Wales.

Guides…to animals and plants

Visit the nature spotters guides webpage

  • Garden Pond Snails. Are there snails in your pond, if so what are they?
  • Hitchhikers on Ocean Plastics. Some sea creatures use floating plastic, or other waste, to travel around the world. Get in touch with us if you find any in Wales.
  • Brown Seaweeds. Brown seaweeds are often the most obvious living things on a rocky shore. Learn about a few selected seaweeds to get you started on the 120 you can find in Wales!
  • Red & Green Seaweeds. When you’re next on a rocky shore, try looking for these red and green seaweeds which are common features of rock pools.

Guides…to geology

Visit the nature spotter's guide webpage.

  • Have I Found a Fossil? Use this guide if you are unsure whether the object you have found is a fossil or not.
  • The Main Fossil Groups. Working out which group your fossil belongs to will give you an idea of how old it is and tell you something about the habitat where it lived, millions of years ago.
  • Penarth Fossils. Search the beach for loose fossils at Penarth and use this guide to work out what you have found.
  • Building Stones of National Museum Cardiff. Look at geology in an urban environment, and learn more about the stones used to build National Museum Cardiff.

Guides…to archaeology

Visit the discovering archaeology webpage.

  • Recognising Prehistoric stone tools. This guide helps to work out if a stone you’ve found is natural or if it has been shaped by a person in the past. 
  • Housing in Wales before 1000 BCE. Today’s houses are a recent innovation. Find out what type of houses were common just a few thousand years ago.
  • Making axes at the end of the Stone Age. People started making polished stone axes around 4000 BCE and used them to chop down trees, impress neighbours, or beat up enemies. But where do you go to find the right rocks to make an axe in Wales?

Get involved!

You can share archaeological finds with us on Twitter via @SF_Archaeology, and natural history finds via @CardiffCurator.

We currently have a project looking at new animals rafting across seas and oceans to Wales on plastics, so we really want to hear from you. Tell us if there are any other spotter’s sheets you’d like us to make. And if you complete any of our nature bingo cards, feel free to boast on social media by sharing your nature photos with us! To let us know about more sensitive things such as dinosaur footprints or rare plants, or for more help, please get in touch with our Museum Scientists.

Look out for more activities and features appearing on the ‘On Your Doorstep’ webpages through the year and keep an eye out for more archaeology which will launch fully for the 2021 Festival of Archaeology during July.

How to Name Nature

My Professional Training Year placement in the Natural Sciences Department at National Museum Cardiff has been going for a few months now and we are making great progress! We have gotten to the stage where it is time to name the new species of shovel head worm (Magelonidae) that we have spent many months describing and drawing. Shovel head worms are a type of marine bristle worm.

So, the big question is, how exactly do scientists name the new species they discover? 

All species are named using a system called binomial nomenclature, also known as the two-term naming system. This system is primarily credited to Carl Linnaeus in 1753 but there is evidence suggesting the system was used as early as 1622 by Gaspard Bauhin. You will know them as the Latin names for organisms or scientific names. These names are firstly formed of a generic name, identifying the genus the species belongs to and a specific name, identifying the species. For example, the binomial name for humans is Homo sapiensHomo is the genus, which also includes our ancestors like the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) but if you want to specifically refer to modern humans you add the species name, sapiens. So, Homo sapiens is what you get.

Today, binomial nomenclature is primarily governed by two internationally agreed code of rules, the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) and the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICNafp). Across the two codes the rules are generally the same but with slight differences. As my work focuses on naming animals, I will focus on the rules set out by the ICZN.

The first step in naming a new species is figuring out exactly what to name it after. There are generally 3 main ways to pick a name.

Firstly, you can pick a physical trait of the animal. This trait usually makes it stand out from the other species in its genus. This is my preferred method of naming because it gives people an impression of what it is like just by its name. For example, European robins are given the binomial name Erithacus rubecula and rubecula is derived from the Latin ruber, meaning red which emphasises the robin’s iconic red breast.

An example of a shovel head worm with a name like this is Magelona cepiceps, translating from the Latin cepa for onion and ceps referring to the head. This relates to the shape of the ‘head’ (prostomium) of the worm resembling an onion!

Secondly, you could name the new species after the place it was discovered. It’s not as descriptive as naming the animal after a physical feature but tells you where you may find it. The binomial name for the Canada Goose is Branta canadensis, displaying that although the bird is a common sight in many places thanks to its introduction, it is originally from Canada.

A shovel head worm with a regional scientific name is Magelona mahensis, indicating that it is from the island of Mahé in the Seychelles.

 

 

 

 

Lastly, you can name it after someone. Of course, a person’s first instinct might be to try and name a species after themselves. The ICZN doesn’t have a rule explicitly against this but it is seen as a sign of vanity. But perhaps if you name enough species in your field, eventually someone may name a species after you. This is my least favourite way to name species because it may not tell you anything about the species at all, but it is nice to give honour to those that are important to us or those who have put in a lot of work in the field. For example, in honour of Sir David Attenborough’s 90th birthday a dragonfly was named after him, taking the name Acisoma attenboroughi. Attenborough has inspired so many scientists that he has around 34 species named after him currently. There is a shovel head worm named Magelona johnstoni which is named after Dr George Johnston, one of the first scientists to describe shovel head worms.

While the names can be taken from words in any language they must be spelt out in the Roman alphabet, ensuring they can be universally read. Many binomial names are formed of words from ancient Greek but have been Latinised. Typically, if you have selected a physical feature it is translated into Greek or Latin. There are several books specifically written for helping scientists translate and create new species names.

To Latinise the name, you have selected you have to make sure it follows the rules of Latin grammar. This is where it gets a little complicated as you have to start considering the genus name of the species. Latin has masculine, feminine and neutral words, you can tell this by how the word ends. The gender of the genus name will affect the ending and gender of your species name.

And with that information you are just about ready to name your species!

It might seem like a lot of things to consider when you are naming a new species, believe me I never expected to know this much about Latin grammar! But these rules are incredibly important to ensure we can orderly name and keep track of each of the fascinating organisms that are discovered and allows everyone to universally understand which animals scientists are talking about. Especially when you consider that there are over 12,000 known marine bristleworms globally and that number is increasing.

Once all of the drawings and descriptions are complete, the scientific paper goes through a peer-reviewed process where other experts in the field consider your decision to describe and name the new species. If the reviewers agree the species is formally described and those that were involved are now the species authorities. In scientific journals the species name will be written down followed by the names of those who described it and the year it was described. So, while you might not name a species after yourself, whenever the species is mentioned you will get recognition for the work you have done.

So, what will our new species be called?........Well, you’ll have to stay tuned to find out........

Have you ever asked yourself the question “What’s behind the gallery doors of National Museum Cardiff”? Well, if you have then this blog might be for you. The specimens and objects you see in the galleries are just a fraction of those we have in the museum’s collections. So why do we have so many? Specimens in the galleries do suffer when exposed to light while on display, and occasionally from being touched by little sticky fingers! To help protect them, we regularly swap fragile objects on display with those in our stores. We also change objects round for the different exhibitions we produce. Objects behind the scenes are also used for a whole variety of different activities such as education and research. 

While we may not be able to put all of our specimens on display, we do like to share as many of them as we can via our social media channels. In the Natural Sciences Department, we do that via the @CardiffCurator Twitter account. Each week, we might share our worm highlights on #WormWednesday, some of our fantastic fossils on #FossilFriday and various other amazing specimens on other days of the week via various alliterations! 

Of course, the festive season is no different and each year we promote Christmassy objects via a #MuseumAdvent calendar. For 2020, our calendar has been inspired by the ‘Nature on your doorstep’ program which the museum has run throughout lockdown aimed at reconnecting people with nature. One of the main activities has been photo bingo, where we challenged people to find and photograph a number of objects. For winter bingo, we released a card at the end of November with 24 wintery things, such a robin, holly, frost and a sunset. Behind every door of our museum advent calendar, we included helpful tips and photographs from our collections, alongside live photos to help people find everything on the bingo sheet.

We are nearly half way through the calendar, but if you would like to join in why not follow the #MuseumAdvent hashtag over on @CardiffCurator and see if you can call “House” before the 24th December.

How a Distanced Professional Training Year Can Still Be Enjoyable and Successful

As an undergraduate, studying biosciences at Cardiff University, I am able to undertake a placement training year. Taxonomy, the study of naming, defining, and classifying living things, has always interested me and the opportunity to see behind the scenes of the museum was a chance I did not want to lose. So, when the time came to start applying for placements, the Natural Sciences Department at National Museum Cardiff was my first choice. When I had my first tour around the museum, I knew I had made the right choice to apply to carry out my placement there. It really was the ‘kid in the candy shop’ type of feeling, except the sweets were preserved scientific specimens. If given the time I could spend days looking over every item in the collection and marvelling at them all. 

Of course, the plans that were set out for my year studying with the museum were made last year and, with the Covid-19 pandemic this has meant that plans had to change! However, everyone has adapted really well and thankfully, a large amount of the work I am doing can be done from home or in zoom meetings when things need to be discussed.

Currently, my work focuses on writing a scientific paper that will be centered on describing and naming a new species of shovel head worm (Magelonidae) from North America. Shovel head worms are a type of marine bristle worm and as the name describes, are found in the sea. They are related to earth worms and leeches. So far, my work has involved researching background information and writing the introduction for the paper. This  is very helpful for my own knowledge because when I applied for the placement I didn’t have the slightest clue about what a shovel head worm was but now I can confidently understand what people mean when they talk about chaetigers or lateral pouches!

Part of the research needed for the paper also includes looking closely at species found in the same area as the new species, or at species that are closely related in order to determine that our species is actually new.

Photos for the paper were taken by attaching a camera to a microscope and using special imaging stacking software which takes several shots at different focus distances and combines them into a fully focused image. While ideally, I would have taken these images myself, I am unable to due to covid restrictions, so my training year supervisor, Katie Mortimer-Jones took them.

Then I cleaned up the backgrounds and made them into the plates ready for publication. I am very fortunate that I already have experience in using applications similar to photoshop for art and a graphics tablet so it wasn’t too difficult for me to adjust what I already had in order to make these plates. Hopefully soon, I will be able to take these images for myself.

My very first publication in a scientific journal doesn’t seem that far away and I still have much more time in my placement which makes me very excited to see what the future holds. Of course, none of this would be possible without the wonderful, friendly and helpful museum staff who I have to express my sincere thanks to for allowing me to have this fantastic opportunity to work here, especially my supervisor, Katie Mortimer-Jones.