Archive for the ‘science’ Category

(Micro) Bears in Space

21 May, 2011

Animal -what is an animal to you? Tardigrades will probably change your concept. BBC Nature has a bloody brilliant article on water bears (Tardigrades) in space. Be amazed!


The nature of food poisoning

8 May, 2011

Food poisoning is an excellent topic because it leads you to discover the nature of the microbes behind it. Food poisoning is not a single type of occurence. The multi-faceted phenomenon entails a wide variety of microbes, each with their own ecological qurks.

Bacillus cereus is a species of bacteria that defies some of the commonest advice that you hear about how to avoid food poisoning. If enough of these Bacillus cereus bacteria grow on your food successfully, then even proper cooking won’t save you from harm. You can kill the bacteria with heat, but it might be too late – if they have already laced your food with potent toxins.

Re-heated food is often where B cereus will cause harm, but it’s the storage conditions which are crucial.

“The spores of some species (especially Bacillus cereus and the ‘Bacillus subtilis ‘ group) survive cooking and can subsequently germinate and grow under favourable conditions, particularly those in warm kitchens.” (from HPA website)

Nursing Schools blog article:

UK NHS… intro: Intro: and causes:

Exmoor among best of British skies

1 February, 2011
Best British stargazing spots…

Patrick Kingsley named Winsford Hill in his ‘top ten‘ darkest places to go stargazing in mainland Britain. The lack of light pollution means less haze and more… gaze.  Sorry.

Check out the place in daylight before you wander off to this nice piece of moorland. There are various places you could get wet and a magnificent drop called devil’s punchbowl.

Kids publish bee science

23 December, 2010

Children from Blackawton school in Devon have had their project published in a science journal, Biology Letters. They devised an experiment to test whether or not bumblebees could recognise pattterns of colour.

Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist, coordinated the childrens’ work with their teacher, but he credits them with the experimental design and results. Lotto said the published paper
“…is a novel study (scientifically and conceptually) in ‘kids speak’ without references to past literature…”

Kitchen Chemistry

28 October, 2010

Hi Jason,

I just wanted to let you know that I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog… and we just recently published an article that immediately reminded me of the material featured…

Kitchen Chemistry:
100 Cool Food Science Experiments for Kids

Emma Taylor

Badger cull debate reopens!

16 September, 2010

Agriculture Minister Jim Paice today announced he’s going to carry out a consultation on a proposal to offer licences to farmers and landowners who wish to implement their own programme of tackling the spread of Bovine Tuberculosis by culling or vaccinating badgers.

They might be able to combine both measures (which first?) – but apparently it will be at their own expense!

Looks like the government is ready to ignore the balance of evidence from badger control research, having thought of a way for somebody else to pay for the scheme, and you can bet they will say it’s all about empowering the farmers.

Is this a case of Big Society, Little Science, Jim?

Natureheads blog

Environmental distance-learning courses

21 August, 2010

As hyped this week in the news, the competition for university places is intense. Part-time training courses don’t all suffer the same pressure of annual quotas and the summer rush. This might present a ripe opportunity if you’re interested in an alternative pathway through higher education and into your (chosen?) career.

Enquiry received recently by Natureheads: where can my friend find Environmental distance-learning courses?

For hands-on stuff try the FSC (Field Studies Council) or IEEM for ecological survey and assessment methods. Several higher education institutions have distance learning routes such as the SAC (Scottish Agricultural College) and the University of Oxford which do a few diploma and MSc courses.

For more options, they could look through the training section at the Countryside Jobs Service website. –

Compared to a degree, these alternative part-time courses might be a more cost-effective way of nudging your way into a career in the Environment sector – especially when taken in tandem with paid or voluntary work in a relevant post.

Jason Ball @ Natureheads

Tickets – Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010

5 August, 2010

The Natural History Museum is offering loyal supporters privilege of early bookings for this year’s spectacular Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition.

Tickets aren’t on sale to the public for another 2 weeks.

White-footed spider

21 July, 2010

I recently saw this tiny spider and have no idea what it is… so I posted an observation on iSpot – have you tried it? It’s is a website where you can share your sightings of wildlife, and get help with identification. You can have a go at identifying things that other people have posted too.

Here’s what my post looked like.

white-footed jumping spider

Observed by natureheads on 29th June 2010
(Added to iSpot on 21st July 2010)
Larger view of 800_white-toed-jumping-spider_2010june29.JPG

A very small spider which looks to me like a ‘jumping spider’ but it is different. Have not observed it actually jump! Has white palps and white on the end of its front legs.

Seen on bare chalk, at locations in both Berkshire and Oxfordshire in the Sheepdrove area near Lambourn.

Behaviour: walks about, and when it stops, it sticks out both its front legs. Possibly a display, but this movement is continuously repeated.

Location: Sheepdrove

No identification made yet.

= = = = = = =

About iSpot

The way they processed and cropped my photo was clever, but definitely not helpful! Apart from that it’s fantastic. They let you put a spot on a google map to show exactly where you found your plant or creature (don’t zoom in much, if it’s a bit of a secret) and you can add notes on what you observed.

iSpot is run by the Open University and is part of the OPAL project (Open Air Laboratories, set up by the Natural History Museum). iSpot is funded by the National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund. The place is genuinely useful and user-friendly. You can even sign in using your WordPress username!

For some years now the NHM has hosted an excellent set of ID help fora – like the bug forum – now collected under the name NaturePlus.

Bats and Moths at the farm

7 May, 2010

‘Bats and Moths’

An event for National Moth Night.
Saturday 15 May, 8pm start
Sheepdrove Organic Farm, Sheepdrove Road, Lambourn, Berkshire.
Directions at

Come and discover moths and bats at the herb gardens and reedbeds of Sheepdrove Organic Farm, on National Moth Night, 15 May 2010.

Jason BallJason Ball, the farm’s ecologist, will lead the event. “You are bound to discover something you never knew,” he explains, “Gradually we are learning which species live at the farm, and we could find more on the night.”

“These marvellously mysterious plant munchers and the fantastic flying bug crunchers are some of the wildlife least understood by people, and yet bats and moths are very important animals indeed. Moths pollinate fruits and wildflowers, and a single pipistrelle bat will eat thousands of midges each night – excellent pest controllers.”

Sheepdrove is known for its nature-friendly farming methods and runs a Farm Wildlife Volunteers group. Seven species of bat have been recorded so far, including the largest type – Noctule  – which loves to eat moths!

The event begins at 8pm with an introduction to bats and moths, and as the sun sets the bat detectors should start picking up the clicks, buzzes and pops of the farm’s bats!

Jason says, “We will survey for bats around the courtyard and garden followed by a short Bat Walk around the woodland and water habitats…as we wait for the moths to arrive at the lamp.”

Please bring a torch, warm clothes, sensible footwear and be ready for changes in the weather. Sunglasses are very useful near the ultra-bright moth lamp!


Admission is free but you must book a place. Please contact Jason Ball on 01488 674727. All welcome, children must be supervised at all times. Sorry, no dogs permitted.

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From the NMN website…

Bats and moths share a close, though perhaps rather one-sided relationship. As predator and prey they have evolved closely. Bats are able to navigate using a sophisticated sonar system called echolocation. Sound waves are emitted by bats and detected as they bounce back from objects or potential prey, creating a detailed ‘picture’ of the bat’s environment, which is essential in navigation and hunting for prey.

Though bats are top predators some moths have developed simple hearing organs that can pick up on echolocation, allowing evasive action to be taken, whilst the tiger moths are able to emit loud clicks similar to echolocation calls, which are thought to confuse bats.

All of the 17 species of bat resident in Britain are known to feed on moths, but the two British species of long-eared bat Plecotus spp., the two horseshoe bats Rhinolophus spp., Barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus and Bechstein’s Bat Myotis bechsteinii are particularly partial to moths, which form a significant part of their diet.

Bats and moths are under pressure from similar changes in our countryside, and the declining numbers of insects is inevitably going to impact upon the bats which feed upon them, so it is in the interests of bat workers and moth recorders to work together in highlighting the problems faced by both.

Some facts about bats:

  • Bats are the only mammals in the world capable of powered flight.
  • There are 17 species of bat resident in the UK.
  • Britain’s commonest bat (the pipistrelle) weighs less than a £1 coin.
  • In winter, when there are few insects around, bats hibernate in the cool parts of buildings, caves or hollow trees.
  • Bats are not blind and can see perfectly well by daylight, as we do.
  • The Brown long-eared bat has exceptionally sensitive ears and can hear a beetle walking on a leaf.

Events near you…