Tuesday, 31 December 2013

WHAT IS A FOSSIL?




Fossils give us a hint of strange creatures that walked the earth before man existed. There is an universal appeal about holding something that is millions of years old in your hand. 

Fossilisation is a term for a number of processes that preserve organic remains. Fossils can include plant and animal remains, impressions and moulds.  Ancient fossil groups include dinosaurs, ammonites and trilobites.  

They can be formed in several ways. Dead animals and plants can be preserved in amber, peat bogs, tar pits, or in ice. Casts or impressions, such as foot prints, can be covered by layers of sediments which eventually become rock and so preserve the casts. Hard body parts such as bones, shells and leaves, can be covered by layers of sediments and over time the parts are gradually replaced by minerals.

Most organisms decay without leaving a fossil record but sometimes conditions are favourable for preservation of plant and animal material, and this is when fossils are created. 

There is no defined scientific date for a fossil, although it is broadly accepted to include items over ten thousand years old.  The oldest fossil recordings date back 3.5 billion years. 

Fossilisation can occur in several ways but the key to successful fossilisation is quick burial, low oxygen levels and minimal disturbance.  A rapid burial of sediment can entomb a specimen and protect remains from damage by heat or compaction. It also prevents disturbance of the body by predators. Low oxygen levels slow the decay of the specimen enabling better preservation.  



Over time more sediment is deposited on the specimen. The weight of this sediment compacts the sediment grains together, pushing out any water.  The soft sediment slowly turns to rock in a process called lithification. Minerals contained within the sediment slowly replace the minerals present within the skeleton, filling any voids left as the skeleton dissolves.  This leaves a re-mineralised copy of the original skeleton which is the fossil we see today.


Fossils are particularly preserved when sediments are deposited beneath water. It is often possible to trace their movement in the fossilised sediment. Even fossils preserved on land are more commonly preserved in wetlands, lakes, rivers and estuaries.  


Arguably, one of the most famous dinosaur fossils discovered is the feathered Archaceopteryx, which was found in 1861.  This feathered dinosaur lived in the late Jurassic period 150 million years ago and showed the link between dinosaurs and birds. Since than more than 20 species of dinosaurs with feathers have been discovered. 


Sunday, 29 December 2013

FOSSIL HUNTING AT BRACKLESHAM BAY



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Today we went fossil hunting at Bracklesham Bay SSSI, West Sussex.  I was so excited as I have loved fossils and dinosaurs since an very young age, and we were taking our young family with us.  We even made a cake to take with us.


Venericor bivalve shells
It is an amazing place to visit, and very family friendly with car park, toilets and cafe nearby. Make sure you visit at low tide as when the tide retreats it reveals a variety of fossils lying on the sand.  No need for picks or hammers; they are just present on the surface of the sand which have been washed away from the clay deposits. 

These fossils were formed 46 million years ago in the Eocene epoch when the area was a sub-tropical environment rich in biodivesrity.  Fossil finds have included seeds and fruits,  crocodile teeth and bones and turtle carapace.

Turritella shells
Bracklesham bay is home to many marine fossils including bivalve and gastropod shells, shark and ray teeth and corals. The fossils we found in abundance were giant cockleshells Venericardia sp. and gastropod Turritella.

The fossils are easily distinguished from modern shells as they become heavy in the process and take on a pale brown hue. We collected lots but most importantly we had a great family day out, and we all felt like explorers for a little while.  We can't wait to plan our next trip.

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Friday, 27 December 2013

WORLDS LARGEST INSECT



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Insects don't seem that big, right?  Wrong.  there is a huge diversity of insects, which is hardly surprising as they are the most numerous group of organisms on earth. Some are unusually large.


Phobaeticius chani
The largest insect to ever live on earth is the now extinct dragon-fly like insects that belonged to the order Meganisoptera.  They were the size of a crow, with a wing span of 85 cm and weighing over 1 lb. They flew at the time of the dinosaurs but died out a the end of the Paleozoic Era.

The record for the longest insect in the world belongs to the stick insects Phobaeticus chani.  A specimen in the Natural History Museum has reached over 56 cm in length. They habit rain forests of Borneo.

The bulkiest insect is the Acteaeom Beetle Megasoma actaeon from South America. Also known as the rhinoceros beetle, they belong to the Scarabaeidae family. Male beetles can reach up to 9 cm long by 5 cm wide by 4 cm tall.
Titus giganteus

The insects with the largest overall size are the Hercules beetle Dynastes hercules can grow to over 17.5 cm, which includes the huge horn that makes up around half of its total length. The neotropical South American Longhorn Beetle, Titanus giganteus, actually has a longer body length. They can reach over 16 cm long.

The heaviest insect in the world is the Goliath beetle Goliathus goliatus. The species is widespread from western to eastern equatorial Africa. It weighs over 4 oz with a body length of 11.5 cm.

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Monday, 23 December 2013

WORM FACTS



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1. There are loads of them!
Dig and hole in the garden and you are sure to uncover a worm or two.  In fact there can be up to 1.75 million worms per acre of land in good quality soils such as farmland. Poor quality soils will have on average 1/4 million worms hectare.  
There are 6,000 species of worms, of which 120 are widely distributed around the world.

2. They recycle our waste
Worms process and enrich the soil.  They eat dead organic matter in the soil, eating up to their own body weight in organic matter every day.  They can process 10 pounds of organic matter every year. Worms will often pull items down from the surface to process them underground.

3. They aerate our soil
When worms push themselves through in the soil they force air through the tunnels.  This helps to aerate the soil and keep it healthy. 

4. Earthworms are hermaphrodites.
They have both male and female sexual organs.  Worms mate sexually, exchanging sperm with each other. Both worms will go on to produce offspring.

5. They have no eyes
Instead they have light receptor cells which can sense light.  This enables them to stay underground where it is safe.  Worms bodies secrete a mucus that will dry out in direct sunlight.  

6. They can regenerate
Some worms can regenerate if they lose segments of their bodies and two worms can be produced if a worm is dissected.  However, only certain species do this and most will go on to form only a single worm from the head segment.

7. Worms are essential to the food chain
Worms are essential food for many animals such as birds, snakes, hedgehogs, voles, beetles, snails and slugs and foxes.

8. Some are big
Giant earthworms can grow as large as 3 meters long.

9. They breathe through their skin
Worms don't have lungs so they breath through tiny holes (spiracles) along their body. They often rise to the surface after heavy rain to avoid suffocation as the waterlogged soil does not allow gases to diffuse across their body.

10. Worms have been around a long time.

Friday, 20 December 2013

ANT FACTS



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Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Athropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicide
Sub Family: Myrmicinae
Genus: Solenopsis

1. Ants live in a tight social class
A single colony can consist of millions of ants. each ant has a defined role. The nest is made up of a queen, males and female ants. The queen is the only ant that can lay eggs.  The role of the male ants is to breed with the queen, and they often die after this event.  Female ants never breed and are the worker ants  The colony is protected by solider ants that gather food, defend the colony and protect the queen from enemies. 
The queen and male ants have wings, although the queens lose these wings when they start a new nest.

2. Ants are strong
An ant can lift up to 20 times its own body weight, equivalent to a human lifting a car.

3. Ants practice slavery
When ants invade an enemies nest they often take away the eggs and larvae.  The individuals are then wither eaten of forces to become slaves in the colony.  These slaves are responsible for carrying out many tasks in the colony.

4. There are alot of them!
Ants are closely related to bees. There are over 10,000 species of ant.  In some tropical regions ants account for over 25% of the total animal biomass.  This means that there are in excess of 10,000,000,000,000,000 ants on our planet right now.  They have colonised almost the entire globe, with the exception of Antarctica, the Arctic, and a handful of islands

5. Some ants are big
The African driver ant, Dorylus wilverthi, exceeds 5 cm in length.  However, most ants are generally less than one mm in length.

6.  They hear with their feet
Ants don't have ears.  They detect vibration on the ground with their feet.

7. They don't get lost
When foraging ants navigate by leaving a pheromone trail which they follow back to the nest again.

8.  Ants love housekeeping
Ant nests may be located underground, in ground-level mounds, or in trees. The worker ants move the eggs and larvae at night deeper into the nest to protect them from the cold. They are moved back to the top of the nest during the day so that they can be warmer

8. The Queen is King
Ant colony's are headed by a queen or queens.  When the queen dies the colony is condemned to death as worker ants cannot reproduce and the queen ant is rarely replaced.  A colony may last only a few months after the death of the queen.

9.  Ants are ancient
Ants have existed since the dinosaurs 110 million years ago.  They survived the KT extinction 65 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs.

10. Ants farm crops
Leaf Cutter Ants cut out pieces of leaves to take back to their nests. Ants do not eat the leaves as they cannot digest cellulose.  Instead they chew and store the leaves in order to cultivate a special fungus that grows on them. They eat this fungus instead.

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Monday, 16 December 2013

BEE FACTS



KingdomAnimalia 
ClassInsecta 
Phylum: Arthropoda
OrderHymenoptera
Suborder:  Apocrita


1. Bees and wasps are closely related
Both belong to the order Hymenoptera. However bee and wasps behave differently and differ in their body shape and leg structure.  Bees are also closely related to wasps and ants. 

2. There are 20,000 species of bee
There are around 250 species of bee in the UK, including 24 species of bumblebees, 225 species of solitary bee and just a single honeybee species.Bees kept by bee keepers are the honey bee species, Apis mellifera. These honeybees turn plant nectar into honey.  They also collect pollen, which they use to feed their larvae, and natural resins (propolis) to waterproof and strengthen the hive. 

3. Bees live in large social groups
Each colony will house up to 40,000 bees consisting of worker bees, drones and a single queen bee. Most bees in the colony are female worker bees, but there are several hundred male drone bees whose role it is to mate with young queens. There is only one queen bee, who will lay up to 2000 eggs a day.  The worker bees tend and feed the larvae, construct and clean the wax comb cells, serve as guards at hive entrance and collect pollen and nectar from plants.

4. Bees have a critical role in pollination of our flowers.  

Bees gather pollen and sip on nectar from flowers and This is why you will often find bees near flowers.  A honey bee will visit up to 100 flowers during a collection trip.  Unlike wasps, bees produce honey and bees wax. 

5. Bees live in nests
They they live in geometric wasp nests made of hexagonal beeswax structures.  They store food such as honey and pollen in the cells, as well as using them to brood eggs, larvae and pupae.

6. You can keep bees in your garden
It is entirely possible to keep bees in your garden without disturbing your enjoyment or that of your neighbours. There are no laws against keeping bees in your garden and you do not need a large garden to keep them in. 

7. Bees are passive
They are less aggressive then wasps.  In fact the honeybee will die after giving a single sting, although most bees can sting multiple times. 

8. The bee is the only insect to produce food eaten by man
On average 20-40 lb of honey can be obtained from the hive in a season. Beeswax can be used for producing candles, soap, furniture polish and cosmetics.  And of course honey can be fermented into mead.

9. Colony's swarm
When a population of a bee colony becomes very large part of the colony will swarm.  The queen bee will leave the nest with about 60% of the worker bees. 

10. Colony's can collapse
Over the past few years bee keepers have experienced whole hives of bees suddenly dying off for no apparent reason. The cause of this is undefined, but it is believed that it could be a combination of factors including disease, use of pesticides and environmental conditions.

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Saturday, 7 December 2013

HOW TO KEEP YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE


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It's that time of year and you hopefully have have researched which tree you want.  Now you have brought it home and you are ready to put it up.  But what can you do to help the tree last throughout the festive season?


You may have solved part of the issue by selecting a non-drop needle variety of tree, which will retain its needles far better than traditional Christmas trees.   However, what you do next will affect the life span of the tree.

First of all you buy a tree stand that is the right size for your tree. Some stands have water reservoirs inside them which will need topping up with water on a regular basis.  These help to preserve your tree longer as the cause of needle loss is caused by the tree drying out after it has been cut.

Ensure you fit your tree correctly into your Christmas tree base.  Removing 2-3 cm from the bottom of the trunk will help the tree to take up  water. Be careful not to remove any bark from the side of the trunk as it is required to take up water and if removed it will prevent water uptake.


Room temperature will affect the tree significantly.  Do not place the tree next to a radiator or fire as this will cause the tree to lose water and drop its needles.  Equally do not place in a draft or by a cold door.  Ideally locate your tree in a position where temperatures do not fluctuate.

Sit back and enjoy your tree.   Happy Christmas x

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Sunday, 1 December 2013

PORK AND CHESTNUT STUFFING


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These stuffing balls are a festive favorite and easy to make.
Serves 8

Ingredients


6 pork sausages
4 spring onions
100 g roasted chestnuts
2 slices of thick white bread
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
100 g dried cranberries
Fresh chives and coriander
1 orange

Method

Preheat the oven to 200 C/ gas mark 6.

Trim and finely chop the spring onions and garlic. Gently cook in oil for a few minutes until soft.

Toast the bread and crumble to form fine breadcrumbs. Chop the herbs up finely. Peel and chop the chestnuts.

Remove the sausage meat from the skins and place into a bowl.  Chop the chestnuts and add to the sausage meat along with all the breadcrumbs, onions, garlic, cranberries, herbs and zest of the orange.

Shape into 16 small balls and place in a lightly oiled dish.  Roast for 20-25 minutes until cooked through.

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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH LEEK AND STILTON



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This dish is a great festive dish that vegetarians will love and provides a great alternative to the turkey course..  You can prepare it the day before ready for roasting too.

Serves 2


Ingredients

1 butternut squash
1 leek
80 g Stilton cheese
50 g walnuts
3 tea spoon olive oil
2 tea spoon maple syrup

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.

Cut the butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Place in a roasting tin and drizzle with oil.

Cook for 45 minutes until tender.

Chop the leek into thin slices and cook in a pan gently for a few minutes until it softens. Transfer to a bowl and add the walnuts.

Gently scoop out the flesh from the cooked squash and add to the bowl.  Mix together and place back into the skins.

Sprinkle Stilton cheese on top and drizzle with maple syrup.

Roast for a further 15 minutes until golden brown.

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