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Urban Naturalist – newts

This weekend (Sat 31st May), Rick Parker, chairman of Bolton Conservation Volunteers will be back at the Museum between 2-4pm to enlighten us about native amphibians, their needs and requirements, and how you can develop an attractive pondlife environment for supporting them. Rick will also show our three native newts, including the Great Crested Newt. Find out how ‘Urban Naturalists’ can help to support this protected species and get some practical experience on identifying the different species of native amphibians.


Great Crested Newt, and freshly laid egg

Urban Naturalist is a series of friendly, practical workshops run by leading naturalists to help everyone explore biodiversity on their doorstep. This session is for adults and costs only £3 per person. If interested please contact the museum on 0161 275 2648 to book a place in advance.

Manchester Museum: Urban Naturalist          Froglife: Just Add Water

Reptile Big Saturday Success!

IMG_7983I’m pleased to report that last weekend’s ‘World of Reptiles’ Big Saturday at the museum really was a huge success, with well over one thousand people attending this superb family event. The place had a great vibe and was absolutely packed full of smiling faces. La Tinto Bros provided a great latin  soundtrack to the day and Jamie and Laura from Chameleoco also really did us proud, bringing some simply stunning captive-bred chameleons along to let everyone enjoy these wonderful creatures up close.

IMG_7909Visitors were also treated to getting up close and learning lots about fossilised reptiles, as a wide range of specimens and a tour of our dinosaurs by Dr Phil Manning were very well-recieved. Our developing Virtual Vivarium app also went down extremely well, as did the tortoises and information kindly provided by the Cheshire Chelonia Group. The many art activities available for the children really made the day, with sock snakes and a giant lizard with colourful scales contributed by all the kids brightening up our discovery centre no end!

I would like to say a huge thanks Vicky and Anna for organising the day, to all who came and supported our day, and also all those attended on Saturday. THANK YOU!


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Going Chameleoco!

Chameloco_Chameleon_03THis coming weekend (Sat 24 May) we are welcoming Chameleoco to the Manchester Museum to headline our World of Reptiles Big Saturday, which is free and open to all ages. The event starts at 11am and runs through until 4pm.

Apart from our handling table and all the reptiles on display in our Vivarium on the 2nd floor, which include species from Australia, South America and Madagascar, Chameloco and other reptile groups will also be bringing in some of their most spectacular reptiles for all to see close up and personal in our discovery centre.


Gail and Tom from Scarlet will also be providing a preview of the new Virtual Vivarium, using the Reptile Finder to get the children engaged with this super new vivarium app.  Apart from this there will also be plenty of other vivarium related activities for the children to indulge in, including reptile craft activities.

manning-iguanaFor our other visitors there will be a great opportunity for them to find out more about the prehistoric past of reptiles and see some fascinating objects from the museum’s collections, including seeing and learning about a variety of fossil reptiles, such as our many other dinosaurs. Speaking of dinosaurs, there will also be a rare opportunity to join Dr Phil Manning (pictured right with a Panther Chameleon from Chameleoco), the University of Manchester’s resident dinosaur expert, on a tour of the history of life on Earth…..all in under 1 hour!

The Fossil Gallery is the perfect place for such a ramble through the Earth’s past to the present, so maybe you would like to join Phil and even get to see a sneak preview of some very new dinosaur bones that have only just been discovered! This tour will be between 1.30 & 2.30pm in the Fossil Gallery. Its completely free, but limited to 20 places so if your local and interested please sign-up in advance & meet at the museum reception desk at 1.30 (Talk appropriate to ages 9 plus only).

la-tinto-bros-salsa-band-latin-other-bands-1488182-4551254_dia_1From 12.30 until 2pm La Tinto Bros will perform music from South America to accompany our super Big Saturday event. La Tinto Bros are Venezuelan percussionist James Vielma and Peruvian guitarist Daniel Alvarado. James plays Salsa, Merengue and other Latin rhythms on timbale, bongos, congas and does vocals whilst Daniel creates his own music – a blend of Latin pop with Salsa beats. Can’t wait to hear them, and if you catch me doing the salsa on Saturday blame it on me seeing too many fantastic chameleons from Chameleoco, and being as happy as water holding frog in the rain! 🙂


Research update

Hi, Chris here. I previously posted on frogblog about the non-invasive research I’m doing with Andrew and Mark looking at the unique optical properties of tree frogs held in the collection at Manchester Museum. Well, I’ve now done a very preliminary investigation, so thought it’s time to report back!

Phyllomedusa trinitatis graph[1] copy

Reflectance spectra of Trinidadian Monkey Frog, Phyllomedusa trinitatis (c) University of Manchester

To start the investigation I’ve been using a technique known as reflection spectrometry. This allows me to see how much light of each wavelength is reflected back from the frog’s skin. What makes this particularly interesting is that a few frogs show an increase in the amount of light reflected in the near infrared (wavelengths just longer than we can see). The graph (just above) shows a typical reflection spectra from one of the phyllomedusine frogs.

Human vision can only see up to about 700 nm, so the very high reflection just beyond that level in the graph we humans just can’t see – if we could see that far into the spectrum then the frogs would appear bright red to us!

So far only 18 species of frog, mostly of the family Hylidae, have ever been identified as having an abnormally high reflection in the near infrared. Of these 18, 12 can be found right here at the museum! The purpose of this reflection is still unknown, although we suspect it is related to thermoregulation and crypticity (camouflage).


Me taking spectral readings from a Monkey frog in the lab

One thing we are hoping to do is try and refine our understanding of the interrelatedness and evolution of these species. The increased infrared reflectance has been found in frogs from at least two distinct regions, Central America and Northern Australia, and at the moment we don’t know whether this trait evolved once, a long time ago, and frogs that possessed it travelled to those regions when still joined, or whether the trait has evolved independently.


Wild Lemur Leaf Frog, Agalychnis lemur, in Costa Rica. (c) Andrew Gray

We have found that the spectra of the frogs certainly appears to be a defining feature of each species and have now developed a computer programme that can identify the species of a frog just from its spectra. The next challenge is to see under what conditions those spectra change, and see if that can help us learn more about how the frogs respond and interact with their environment. This may help us identify possible changes that can occur between wild and captive raised frogs, such as the Endangered Lemur Leaf Frog.


May 17th

For those who know me you will know that this Saturday is a big day for me.  For those who don’t know me, then of course its also Cheshire Tortoise Day! 🙂


Saturday 17th May 2014 10am – 4pm

Venue: The Village Hall, Wilmslow Old Road, Mottram St. Andrew

Cheshire SK10 4QP

Entrance charge £2, Children free. Wheelchair access. Ample free parking.

Εικόνα 038This popular event is now in it’s 13th year. Organised by the Cheshire Group of the British Chelonia Group (BCG), the event emphasizes the educational and veterinary aspects of chelonia keeping and is open to all tortoise keepers, vets, zoo keepers, conservation professionals and families.

Here you can learn about and share chelonian experiences with experts from the BCG on hand to offer advice and help. Veterinary support on the day will be from Aidan Raftery along with vets and staff from the Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic, Manchester. They will also provide an identification micro chipping service using mini chips.

Visitors to the event will see various exhibits. This year Cheshire Active Naturalists will display natural history specimens plus live invertebrates. Also attending are the Macclesfield Branch of the British Cactus and Succulent Society who will have cacti for sale and offer advice on growing these plants. Light refreshments will be available throughout the event.

Funds raised on the day support BCG tortoise, terrapin and turtle care and conservation worldwide. If you are unable to join us on May 17th, but would like further information on joining the British Chelonia Group, visit website http://www.britishcheloniagroup.org.uk

For further details on Cheshire Tortoise Day contact Anne on 07891283753 or Julia julia.davenport@virgin.net


Corfu 2014


At the moment I am in Corfu, where the weather is gorgeous and the sights and smells of this wonderful place have welcomed me back with delight – how I love spending time on this beautiful green Greek island. Today was spent visiting little rocky inlets along the coastline by boat, swimming in turquoise water, and dining at Toulas, my favourite restaurant.

I have visited Corfu each year for the past 5 years, and every time I have done so I have felt in my element. The flora and fauna that surrounds you in Corfu makes this place an absolute heaven for a zoologist – and the island has more reptile species on it than anywhere else in Greece!


Swallowtail Butterfly (c) Andrew Gray, 2014


At this time of year the rocky hillsides and scented olive groves are covered in a carpet of colourful wild flowers and an amazing array of beautiful butterflies. The birdlife is wonderful too – with swallows and swifts circling overhead and groups of bright goldfinches singing from the tall cypress trees – what a delight.

slow worm copy

Slow worm, Anguis fragilis, (c) Andrew Gray

Reptile wise, this a great time to visit as many species are very active. Several species of snake  are strictly diurnal and  one species of lizard that never fails to impress when seen basking is the Balkan Green Lizard, a large emerald-green species. Less prominent, but just as interesting, are the legless lizards that occur here, from the small slowworm to the giant Glass Lizard.


     Legless in Corfu pt 2         Other posts from Corfu        Going out on a limb