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Treasure of Teaching

DSC00237[10]The past week or so has probably been the busiest period of teaching for me ever. I have been running practical teaching sessions in the museum for our zoology, biology, plant science and environmental science students, as well as teaching children of all ages from a large number of local schools.

Last week was particularly full on, as it was National Science Week and I also took animals out to schools in Cheshire and Lancashire, including Elton High School in Bury and Manor Park School and Nursery in Knutsford (pictured above). It was such a pleasure for me to deliver the sessions and I would very much like to thank Dave Thompson and Andy Sinnott for organising these two sessions in particular. Following my visit to Manor Park nursery, the older pupils from the school came to the museum for a special visit and animal session, which the children really seemed to enjoy.


Photo kind courtesy of Alex Gabb

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to contribute to the many superb activities being organised by Emma Lewis and my university colleagues from our Widening Participation Department for National Science and Engineering week 2013, after I was invited to present a special guest lecture.  All in all we had a total of 857 young people visit as part of the initiative!

IMG_2625The last lesson I ran at the museum was on Friday, where I taught our undergraduate students whilst also using the live animal’s from our collection. Being able to incorporate the use of the live specimens really brings these sessions to life and this particular lesson focuses on adaptation in reptiles and amphibians, as well as how to develop and use dichotomous keys.

IMG_2609I would like to say a very big thanks to all the colleagues and demonstrators who helped me deliver the sessions, you were all stars! I very much hope that the session was useful and enjoyed by the many students who attended and would be very grateful for any feedback from the students I have taught over the past couple of weeks so as to further improve what is being offered. Below are some photos taken during the sessions which I thought you might like to see, and please follow this link if you would like to see more photos from the past 4 year’s Undergraduate Teaching.

Although the many activities and sessions over the past few weeks have kept me extremely busy, I feel so lucky to be able to share my subject and interest with others. Seeing the eyes of children light up when they hear about and see such wonderful creatures is a treasure to behold – and what a wonderful reward that is for me. Thank you to all who have made it possible for me to have such opportunities, I really appreciate it.


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Rediscovered – 160 years on!

Starry frog

Pseudophilautus stellatus. Photo by L. J. Mendis Wickramasinghe

In 1853, a single specimen of an unusual tree frog was first discovered by Dr Edward Kelaarton on the Island of Sri Lanka – the bright green specimen was about 5.5 cm long and its skin had a covering of  black outlined speckles on its back. The spotting provided Dr Edward with a name for his new frog  – a ‘Starry frog’, but the frog was a one off, and no-one has seen or heard of it since (even the specimen went missing!)

…That was until a recent expedition into the remote Peak Wilderness area of Sri Lanka came across a most stunning speckled frog – and the rediscovery of  Kelaart’s starry shrub frog, Pseudophilautus stellatus, was made. L. J. Mendis Wickramasinghe, the lead author of the paper announcing the discovery, mentions that between himself and the other scientists involved only 78 specimens were found during their surveys. The paper also highlights that one of the worst threats to the newly rediscovered frogs is the fact that the surrounding forest is now struggling to regenerate and grow properly,  a phenomenon possibly caused by pollution and/or climate change, and something never documented in this particular region before.

L. J. Mendis Wickramasinghe et al.: Lost and found: One of the world’s most elusive amphibians, Pseudophilautus stellatus (Kelaart 1853) rediscovered In: Zootaxa 3620 (1): 112–128 (March, 2013)

Fantastic Costa Rican wildlife

Crocodile on the bank

Crocodile on the bank

Hi, it’s Alexa here again and we are currently in Costa Rica. We have been staying at a biological research station called La Selva which Andrew recommended. In the past 36 hours, I think we have seen more fabulous Central American wildlife than we have have on the entire trip so far!

Snapping turtle

Snapping river turtle

Caymen in Sarapique river

Caymen in Sarapique river

Our experience of the wildlife  in the area began with a boat trip up the Sarapique river with a local guide. During the one hour trip we saw cayman, crocodiles, tons of green iguanas (some really big), snapping turtles, and lots of beautiful river birds such as the green kingfisher.

Green tree snake that welcomed us

Green tree snake that welcomed us

That afternoon we arrived at La Selva and even before we got to our cabin we saw a green tree snake on the path. It was a sign of things to come!

White faced capuchin

White faced capuchin

Chestnut-mandabilled toucan

Chestnut-mandabilled toucan

We took a long walk along the miles of marked trails in the rainforest and we could sense that there was life all around us, something we had not felt in the other national parks we had been to. There were noises (mainly from frogs, birds and howler monkeys) and movement everywhere and it wasn’t long before we started to spot lots of animals. We saw howler monkeys, white faced capuchins, chestnut-mandabilled toucan, blue jeans poison dart frog, peccaries, and lots of different birds including the huge crested guan. Another snake crossed our path, (black with yellow stripes down its side) but we weren’t able to get a picture so were unable to identify it properly

Our cabin was surrounded by the forest and it was brilliant to go to sleep to the sounds of the insects and frogs and to be woken by howler monkeys in the morning!

Green Iguana

Green Iguana

Blue Jeans Poison Dart Frog  - photo through the guides viewing scope

Blue Jeans Poison Dart Frog – photo through the guides viewing scope

The following morning we had a guided walk and although we didn’t go very deep into the rainforest we still saw lots of birds and animals, including green iguana, white tent bats, tropical chameleon, black headed river turtle, agouti, blue jeans poison dart frogs, and lots of beautiful colourful birds.

White tent bats in their banana leaf tent

White tent bats in their banana leaf tent

We have had a wonderful time here even though it was short. It was fantastic to spend some time in rainforest with such a rich diversity of life that you can explore yourself relatively easy. Thanks for the recommendation Andrew! We are now heading to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica before moving onto Panama.

Until next time…