ACE day at ASE

Straight back into teaching after a great Christmas break, Amy McDowall and I conducted a session for international delegates at the The Annual Conference of the Association for Science Education (ASE) yesterday. This fabulous conference is currently taking place at Liverpool University and offers a unique opportunity for all teachers of science to develop practical ideas as well as providing a useful insight into some cutting-edge research.

Amy co-ordinates all our Primary learning at the Museum. She is super enthusiastic, and also being extremely organised kindly made all the arrangements for us to attend and contribute to this years conference programme, which runs over 4 days.  Yesterday was a great day for us both, not only being able to jointly contribute and meet like-minded delegates from far away as Australia, but also providing us with new ways of developing our animal-based science sessions back at the museum.

Two such programmes, our Rainforest Investigators and Habitat Explorers sessions for primary schools, we combined and showcased for the delegates yesterday – and had them fully participating in our sustainability and amphibian conservation-focused workshop. It went down very well and was enjoyed by all involved – and we are already looking forward to supporting this great event again in the future!

Further details of the conference session available soon: Learning Manchester Blog

ASE Conference


Merry Christmas!

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from us all in the Vivarium at Manchester Museum! x

Last orders

Frogflyer_front copyStill thinking of what to give that hard to buy for person at Christmas?..

Perhaps Sponsoring a critically endangered frog on their behalf might be just the ticket!?

Lemur Frog Sponsorship also includes a quality book on Frogs and Toads of the World by Chris Mattison, and the opportunity for a behind the scenes vivarium visit, plus a special letter of thanks together with a limited edition print and conservation pack will be sent out directly to your person of choice!

Don’t miss the date –  last day for Frog Sponsorship this side of Christmas is 17th December!





From frogs and lizards to snowy blizzards :)

For the past 20 years I’ve had a print of a favourite painting, carried with me from place to place. It depicts the most incredible garden imaginable, a contrast of rainforest, horticultural splendour, and Costa Rican animals that are ingrained in my soul – tropical birds, insects, and of course some of the most unusual amphibians on the planet! I now see it on my wall as I go down stairs each morning, the picture is a part of me.

Well, last week I was shocked to see the original.. hanging on a wall at the very place it depicts.. Wilson Botanical Garden. The incredible garden is owned by the Organisation for Tropical Studies and is part of Las Cruces tropical field station in Costa Rica. Its somewhere I’ve really wanted to visit for a long time and it certainly lived up to my expectations.

Set 1200m high on a pacific coastal mountain range in Costa Rica, Las Cruces is just 5km from Panama. The array of tropical plants in the collection here was just incredible, surrounded by a rainforest dripping with ferns, mosses, palms, and bromeliads.

The temperature was a little cooler than I am used to in Costa Rica, but the topography allows for high diversity of flora and fauna – including an estimated 2,000 species of plants, more than 400 birds and 113 mammal species. Getting there took a little longer than expected but negotiating the Cerro de la Muerte (‘Mountain of Death’) road was well worth it – not least providing the most amazing close up view of a beautiful rare Quetzal and some absolutely stunning hummingbirds.

The special visit also provided a great opportunity to find an interesting rare and endangered tree frog that only occurs in very few places – Ptychohyla legleri.

Ptychohyla legleri (c) Andrew Gray

I was lucky enough to see an adult pair, and also their tadpoles, which live in only the cleanest natural spring water. Here they stick to the rocks with their sucker-like mouthparts and never stop feeding, hungry day and night. I kind of know that feeling.. maybe I was a Leglers tree frog in another life! 🙂  One things for sure, on reflection after just returning to a snowy UK, that mid-elevation rainforest in Costa Rica really didn’t seem that cold after all..

If you go to Costa Rica I highly recommend visiting Las Cruces and the Wilson Botanical Garden, you certainly won’t be disappointed. If you are a student interested in ecology, this is the place for you. OTS offers some wonderful opportunities to study at its research stations supported by leading biologists and top zoologists.


From Snowy Blizzards to Frogs and Lizards: A Canadian at the Vivarium

My name is Katherine and I have the great pleasure of introducing myself as the new Curatorial Assistant at the Manchester Museum Vivarium. I recently completed my Masters of Research in Biosciences at Cardiff University where I studied the prey diversity associated with the diet of the Asian water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Malaysian Borneo.

My dissertation gave me the unique opportunity to study wildlife in the tropics, however my previous herpetological experience, and indeed my roots, come from a very different landscape.

Home for me is a small city in central Canada (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), where I completed my undergraduate studies in Environmental Biology. I went on to research reptiles and amphibians on the prairies with the Canadian Wildlife Services before moving to Vancouver, where I held the position of Aquarium Biologist Generalist at the Vancouver Aquarium. In addition to field work and husbandry experience, I’ve also had the good fortune of building upon my passion for education and public engagement, both through the Saskatoon Wildlife Federation ecology camps, and Vancouver’s Science World.

I very much look forward to both working with the host of incredible animals within the Vivarium collection, and the chance to engage with students who visit the museum, and share my enthusiasm for the conservation of the wealth of diversity on our planet. Thank you Manchester for the warm welcome!

Invertebrate involvement

Swallowtail Butterfly (c) Andrew Gray

Recently I was invited to attend the British invertebrate species survival meeting, organised by Jeff Lambert and kindly hosted by Coleg Cambria in Wales. It was a super venue and great to meet up with colleagues from various UK zoological collections as well as be introduced to new people, including some key individuals from the Zoological Society of London, Natural England, and Buglife UK.

During the meeting a list of invertebrates considered to be on the very brink of completely disappearing from the UK was presented. Until then I had no idea just how many of our rare invertebrate species were truly at imminent risk of vanishing.  

Dr Sarah Henshall from the superb organisation ‘Buglife’ also highlighted a new conservation programme, ‘Back from the Brink’, being run by Natural England and the Partnership for Species Conservation – a coalition of seven of the UK’s leading wildlife charities. By working together at sites across the country, ‘Back from the Brink’ will aim to save 20 species from extinction and help another 118 species that are under threat move to a more certain future. 

Ladybird Spider (c) Andrew Gray

It was also fabulous to hear more of how the rare Ladybird Spider conservation programme was developing – with great success it seems – successfully extending new populations from only 3 sites in the UK to now more than 15 within the last few years. This is one of my favourite spiders and I am very much hoping that in the future Manchester University can also support conservation research with the species. We also discussed several very rare beetles found in the UK, including the beautiful Tansy Beetle, Chrysolina graminis, and also Pot Beetles (Genus Cryptocephalus).

These really interesting beetles urgently require public involvement in their monitoring in order to help evaluate their current UK status and thus conservation requirements. Programmes that involve such valuable public involvement across Europe are already proving hugely successful, such as for the European Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus)

Ladybird Spider

Back from the Brink

Buglife UK

Facing out at Maggie’s

Today I visited Maggie’s, Manchester, a wonderful centre that provides free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their family and friends. It was an incredible place to witness and follows the ideas about cancer care originally laid out by Maggie Keswick Jencks. It was built in the grounds of NHS cancer hospital, Christies, and is a place with professional qualified staff on hand to offer the support people need. The atmosphere was extremely peaceful and friendly, and provided places for patients to meet other people or simply sit quietly with a great cup of tea.

My visit was organised by Wendy Gallagher, our Arts and Health Partnership Manager within the Learning and Engagement departments at the Whitworth Art Gallery and here at Manchester Museum. It was in support of the centre, and particularly a new project, ‘Facing Out’, involving local artist and portrait painter, Lucy Burscough.

‘Facing Out’ is a two-year project that explores how engaging with artworks and art practice can improve resilience and well-being in people whose faces have been affected by facial cancers and surgical reconstruction. Lucy will be creating a series of portraits of people who have altered appearances due to facial reconstruction following cancer. The project is designed to create beautiful paintings of these beautiful people and raise awareness of the challenges that confront those living with facial disfigurement.

Well, I met Lucy, and also the lady who features in her latest portrait, Annie, a wonderful lady with a big smile and kind face. She had just has facial surgery. She was so positive and loved the presentation I gave about our amphibian work. Straight away she told me how much she enjoyed visiting the Museum’s Vivarium with her grandchildren to see all our creatures, and particularly how much she loved our daily handling table that allows our visitors to experience the animals up close. That was music to my ears.

‘Facing Out’ also includes a series of workshops delivered by Lucy and by artists working in music, poetry and horticulture, all also inspired by The Whitworth artworks and by objects from Manchester Museum’s collections, the reason I was afforded the privilege of supporting the project today. It was quite an experience, with special people to share time with, in the specially designed Centre that was a work of art in itself.

‘Facing Out’ will be exhibited at the Whitworth Art Gallery in early 2019.

Lucy Burscough

Manchester Science Festival, October 2017