Tag Archives: biology

STEM Students answer Children’s Questions #8

When visiting schools and museums our Street Scientists often get asked a variety of questions from curious children. Here are the answers to some of our favourite questions!

This week, we’re answering questions on Marine Biology and Oceanography, ahead of World Ocean Day next Monday.

How do they (fish) breath under water?

-asked by Maisie, 9, from Kells Lane Primary School

Fish can breathe under water because they have lungs that are adapted to work under water. These are called gills. Gills are feathery organs full of blood vessels, fish use them to take up oxygen that is dissolved in the water. Oxygen is taken up through the thin walls of the gills and the travels into the cells in the body. However, there are some mammals that are mistaken as fish, such as whales and dolphins. They are just like us and they need to breathe air to survive. Therefore, we often see them swimming into the surface and take up some oxygen from the air.
– Aurelia, Dentistry Student


What is the fastest fish in the world?

-asked by Isobel, 11, from Marden Bridge Middle School

The fastest current known fish is the sailfish, it can swim at speeds of up to 68 miles per hour which is around the same speed as cars travel up the motorway! 
– Demi, Marine Biology Student


How are waves formed?

-asked by James, 10, from Ravenswood Primary School

Most waves are formed by wind blowing over the top of the sea. The stronger the wind the bigger the waves! However there are a couple of different types of wave that aren’t formed by the wind for example the tides are actually a form of wave, which are formed by the gravitational attraction of the sun and the moon on the water. Also tsunamis are a type of wave that is formed by under water earthquakes or eruptions!  
– Demi, Marine Biology Student


How big is the sea?

-asked by Iyla, 7, from Grace Darling Primary School

The sea covers about 71% of the world’s surface and although it is all connected it is usually split into 5 oceans called: The Pacific, the Atlantic (this is the ocean the UK is in), the Indian, the Antarctic and the Arctic ocean. All combined that is 1.3 billion cubic km of water, that’s about 3.47 Quadrillion swimming pools which is 462,667 swimming pools for every person living on the planet! The Atlantic ocean where we are is the second biggest ocean in the world and if you tried to swim from here to America it would take you 50 days if you swam non stop. The deepest bit of the ocean is called the Mariana trench and it is 11,034 metres deep that’s more than mount Everest which is the highest mountain in the world, it’s so deep that only 3 people have ever been there (that’s fewer than have been to the moon). 
-Lizzie, Biology Student


STEM Students answer Children’s Questions #6

When visiting schools and museums our Street Scientists often get asked a variety of questions from curious children. Here are the answers to some of our favourite questions!

This week, we’re answering questions on Zoology, the study of animals to celebrate the International Day of Biological Diversity on Friday.

Why is there different animals in different areas?

-asked by Halliemae, 9, Simonside Primary School

Animals are different because they need to survive in the environment they live in. They adapt to their surroundings to achieve this. For example, there are polar bears in the Arctic. Their bodies are covered in white fur so they can camouflage with the ice around them, making them harder to spot when they look for preys. However, their skin is black and their body is huge, this is so they can still absorb heat and stay warm in the cold. Their feet are also big and have a rough surface, helping them to swim and not slip on the ice. Can you imagine if they didn’t have these adaptations, would they be able to survive in that habitat? Other animals that do not have features that help them survive in their habitat will eventually struggle to survive and die. That is why there are different animals in different places as they have different adaptations required to be able to survive.
Aurelia, Dental Student


Why does a whale have a blow hole?

-asked by Isobel, 11, from Marden Bridge Middle School

Whales have blowholes because although they live in the ocean, they are actually mammals, which means they breathe air just like us! Their blowhole is an adaptation to allow them to easily breath in lots oxygen when they come to the surface so that they can dive for long periods of time. 
– Demi, Marine Biology Student


Why are a giraffes’ tongues blue?

-asked by Ellis, 11, from Burnside Primary School

Their tongues are dark blue because they have a large amount of a colour pigment called melanin. Giraffes feed by using their tongues to rip leaves off trees high up in the African savanna. This means that their tongues are in the sun for a long time, nobody knows for certain but some people think that the high amounts of melanin are to stop them getting sunburn on their tongues – a sunburn tongue has got to hurt a lot! We also have melanin in our skin that stops us getting sunburn but not as much as the giraffe which is why it doesn’t need to put suncream on its tongue!
– Lizzie, Biology Student


Why do bees get nectar?

-asked by Finlay, 11, from Burnside Primary School

Bees use the nectar and pollen they collect from flowers as food, nectar is a sweet sugary liquid made by flowers to attract bees and other insects and animals. Flowers use the bees to spread pollen between themselves and other flowers (pollen is what makes people with hayfever sneeze). The bees store pollen in a structure called a pollen basket on their back legs they store nectar in an organ called a honey stomach. Back at the hive the bees that have been out collecting nectar pass it to other bees who make the nectar into honey. 
-Lizzie, Biology Student


If you have any questions that you would like our team to answer, please leave a comment below!

STEM Students answer Children’s Questions #4

When visiting schools and museums our Street Scientists often get asked a variety of questions from curious children. Here are the answers to some of our favourite questions!

This week, we’re answering questions around Medicine and Health.

What is blood made of?

-asked by Lacey, 8, from Simonside Primary School

There are many things which make up blood! The easiest way to think about it is that it contains liquids and solids. The liquid part of blood is called plasma which is mainly water with some salts dissolved in it and also some proteins. The plasma allows blood to flow, carrying the solids around the body to where they are needed. The salts are important in controlling how much water is in the body, this is why it is dangerous to eat lots of salt!

The plasma makes up around half of blood, the rest is made up of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Red blood cells have a dip in the middle which gives them lots of space to carry oxygen from the lungs to the body. Oxygen bound to red blood cells is what makes blood red.

The white blood cells come in lots of different types and are part of the immune system which protects the body from germs like bacteria and viruses. They recognise germs which don’t belong in the body and kill them in lots of different ways before they can make us sick.

Platelets are important in allowing us to form scabs when we cut ourselves. The platelets all stick together over a cut and stop us losing too much blood. 
-Ailie, Medical Student & Evolution and Human Behaviour Masters Student


Why do people get allergic reactions to things?

-asked by Abbie, 11, Burnside Primary School

Allergic reactions happen in some people when the immune system overreacts to something harmless, called an allergen, because it thinks it is dangerous to the body. Our immune system is very important to keep our bodies safe from germs such as bacteria and viruses that can cause disease. While the red cells in our blood carry oxygen all around the body, the white blood cells make up the immune system.

The white blood cells are very clever at recognising germs in the body and realising that they don’t belong and can be harmful. When they find a germ, they activate other white blood cells to attack the germ in lots of different ways. Some white blood cells can swallow a germ whole and then dissolve it – this is called phagocytosis. Other white blood cells release antibodies which stop the germs being harmful and cause them to all stick together, others release chemicals such as histamine which causes swelling and brings in more white blood cells to help.

However, in some people the white blood cells get confused and think something safe, like peanuts or shellfish, are harmful to the body. Scientists haven’t figured out why this happens to some people but not others although sometimes it runs in families and is linked to other conditions like asthma and hay-fever. When people with allergies eat or touch something they are allergic to the immune system becomes activated causing redness, swelling and itching. In a serious case the throat may swell up making it hard to breathe, this is why some people with allergies carry an EpiPen which contains adrenaline to stop the swelling.
-Ailie, Medical Student & Evolution and Human Behaviour Masters Student


How many medicines are in the world?

-Asked by Ruby, 10, from Simonside Primary School

It is impossible to know exactly how many different medicines there are, it will be thousands and thousands! The types of medicines used in different parts of the world are very varied and medicines are always changing.

Doctors used to think that all sickness was due to ‘bad blood’ so they put leaches on sick people to suck it out! Luckily, they don’t do that anymore. For most diseases there are many treatments available. For example, there are lots of different inhalers for asthma which are different colours depending on which medicine is inside, and there are tablets you can take too. Which medicine works best depends on the person, sometimes doctors have to try a few before they find the right one. Medicines come in lots of different forms, sometimes you may take an antibiotic as a pill, drink it as a liquid, or have it as an injection.

In summary, there are too many medicines to count! Some things we use every day such as garlic and ginger can be used as medicine if you know what you are doing! Luckily for everyone Scientists and researchers are creating more medicine and treatments every day!
-Ailie, Medical Student & Evolution and Human Behaviour Masters Student


I would like to work in Tropical Medicine. How long would I need to study for?

-asked by Liam, 11, Burnside Primary School

Lots of people work in tropical medicine including biomedical researchers, epidemiologists, doctors and microbiologists to name a few. So the length of time you have to study for will really depend on what aspect of tropical medicine you want to end up in, most researchers for example will have done 4 or 5 years of university and doctors need to have done 5 years of university and 9 years of specialist training. People who work in tropical medicine are always learning new things even after they’ve officially stopped studying.
-JC, Medical Student

Why I chose to study Marine Biology at Newcastle Unviersity

Marine Biology student, Demi, tells us all about why she decided to study Marine Biology, here at Newcastle University

Research

When researching where I thought I would want to go for university I simply googled ‘best places to study marine biology in the UK’ and Newcastle was one of the first to come up. The main thing I looked on the website for were the course content and the University’s reputation, neither of which disappointed! I found the course content and module choices at Newcastle were much more suited to my interests than any other universities I researched. Newcastle ranks 4th in the UK in the Earth and Marine Sciences category, has the TEF Gold award and is the only course that I researched which is accredited by the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST). All of these things were really important in making my decision.

Facilities

The specific marine science facilities at Newcastle are another reason I chose to study here. They have their very own research vessel, the RV Princess Royal which gives us the opportunity to carry out our own research in the North Sea. On top of this is the Dove Marine lab, a university building right on the beach which is purpose built for marine research which I found very exciting!

View from the Dove Marine Lab

Field trips/ Placement year

One of the main things I looked for in university courses was the opportunities for experiences in the field. Newcastle university offers two field weeks in different coastal habitats around the north east plus a residential field trip to Millport in year one alone!

As well as the opportunity for a work placement at any organisation in the world between years 2 & 3 and the overseas field trip to either Portugal, Mexico or Bermuda in year 3.

Open day

My Open day experience at Newcastle was what confirmed the Newcastle was the city and the university for me. Attending open days for universities is so important and I would definitely recommend it if you can! The minute I stepped on campus I felt excited, it was this gut feeling (that I couldn’t get from the website alone) along with the amazing campus, extremely friendly student and lecturers that were happy to answer all of my many many questions that ultimately made my decision for me.

PARTNERS Scheme

The PARTNERS scheme was something unique to Newcastle that I didn’t find in any other university I applied for. It gives students from disadvantaged backgrounds a better chance at getting into university by reducing the grade boundaries subject to certain criteria and you attending a summer school. I attended the PARTNERS summer school in the July before I started and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, it gave me a head start to the lab equipment and online material as well as allowing me to make friends before I started in September!

City

Newcastle is a relatively small and lively city; similar to my own home city so I instantly felt at home here! It’s perfect for student life with the campus and student accommodation so close to the centre of town meaning everything is within walking distance which I really enjoy. The campus is extremely pretty and the people, both students and locals are all positive and friendly making Newcastle a home from home and the perfect place to spend my university years.

STEM Students answer Children’s Questions #2

When visiting schools and museums our Street Scientists often get asked a variety of questions from curious children. Here are the answers to some of our favourite questions!

This week, we’re focusing on Biology questions around DNA and genetics.

First of all we should really explain what DNA is. It stands for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid. It is essentially the building blocks of life. All living things, plants, animals and you are made of DNA. It is a big, long code that tells your body how to make you. You inherit your DNA partly from your mother and partly from your father – that’s why we often look similar to our families.


Do twins have the same DNA?

-asked by Lucy, 11, from Burnside Primary School

Well it really depends on what kind of twins you have. Monozygotic twins (the scientific name for identical twins) do have the exact same DNA as each other because both individuals developed from the same fertilized egg. Dizygotic twins, (non-identical twins), don’t have the same DNA since the individuals are formed from two different eggs that are fertilised at the same time, this is also how twins can be born one boy and one girl.
– JC, Medical Student


How is DNA created?

-asked by Nicole, 11, from Burnside Primary School

DNA is created as a double helix (imagine a twisted ladder shape) of two complementary strands, which mean the strands are matched up to each other. These DNA strands are made of chemical building blocks called nucleotides. We can think of this building blocks as ladders. Each building blocks are made of three parts: a phosphate group, a sugar group and one of four types of nitrogen bases. To form a strand of DNA, nucleotides are linked into chains (one side of the ladder formed), with the phosphate and sugar groups alternating. They are formed like a spiral ladder, where the phosphate and the sugar molecules are the sides and the nitrogen bases act as the rungs. The base from one strand is then connected to complementary base of another DNA strand. So, even though the molecules are very long, a DNA is compact and coiled, which enables it to fit inside packaging we call chromosomes. In humans, we have 23 pairs of chromosomes inside the nucleus of our cells. These contains information and instructions needed for us to develop, grow and reproduce.
– Aurelia, Dental student


How many genes are in a body?

-asked by Kian, 9, from Hylton Castle Primary School

Every cell in your body has a nucleus with the DNA containing all of your genes. Each gene has the special code to make one of the proteins used to build the body. If you stretched out all the genes in the DNA of one cell it would be 2 metres long, and each person has 37 trillion cells! The DNA is very tightly coiled into 23 pairs of chromosomes, one of each pair comes from your mum and the other from your dad. This is why you and your siblings have some features from each of your parents. Scientists say we all have 25,000 genes that decide everything from your skin colour to your height. Everyone has different genes, apart from identical twins, meaning we are all unique and there is no one exactly like you in the entire world!
– Ailie, Evolution and Human Behaviour Masters Student


Is it possible to make a dinosaur come back to life using similar DNA?

-asked by Noah, 11, from Burnside Primary School

A great question, I definitely hope so, but we would have to be careful we don’t want a Jurassic park situation! Some people might say the most similar thing to a dinosaur nowadays would be a reptile, but dinosaurs were more likely warm blooded, unlike reptiles. The most related live group of animals to dinosaurs are birds, did you know chickens are thought to be distantly descended from a T-rex? However, birds aren’t very dinosaur like. Say we wanted to bring a diplodocus back to life, our best bet would be to try and find some source of DNA for example blood in the body of mosquito trapped in amber (like in jurassic park!) and splice (which is like fusing or attaching) it to a similar animal’s DNA.

Scientists have been working on a way to bring Mammoths back, using DNA from dead mammoths which were frozen in ice! They are splicing this DNA to elephant DNA to try and create a hybrid mammoth/elephant hybrid. It might be easier to bring a smaller dinosaur back, like a Compsognathus (a turkey sized dinosaur which was thought to eat small lizards and insects) by forming a hybrid with the most closely related animal today. Whilst scientist haven’t made mammoths de-extinct yet, they have managed to do it briefly with Pyrenean Ibex (a sort of mountain goat with big horns although sadly this didn’t live very long) so perhaps in the future there is hope yet for dinosaurs and mammoths to return, I certainly hope so!
– James, Biology and Psychology Student

Jurassic Park via Giphy.com

World Animal Day: Zoology vs Animal Science – What is the difference?

To celebrate World Animal Day, we’re finding about the people that study animals – Zoologists and Animal Scientists and finding out what the difference between these subjects actually is.

First of all, both are branches of Biology, the study of all living things. Zoology is the study of the animal kingdom, including the distribution, evolution and behaviour of animals. Animal Science is the study of animals under human control, such as pets and farm animals, but what does this mean to our students?

We quizzed Chess, who recently finished her Zoology degree, and Iona, currently studying Animal Science, to find out what the courses were really like for them.

Why did you decide to study your course?

Chess: I always knew if I was going to university it would be to study Zoology. Sciences were always my strongest subjects and I’ve had a love of animals for as long as I can remember. I explored veterinary at first, but the day to day working life of a vet wasn’t for me. After spending six months training to be a field guide in South Africa I became certain that I wanted to work in either conservation planning or research. Therefore, studying zoology was an essential next step.

Iona: I came across the course on an open day, having come to Newcastle to look at Biology and Zoology. I liked all of the courses but Animal Science stood out for me because it focuses on the physiology, biochemistry and behaviour of domestic animals alongside the issues surrounding the industry.

Iona with her pet dog

Do you get to go on any cool field trips?

Chess: When I was studying the options were Kielder forest, Millport in Scotland, or Crete. I chose to study birds in Kielder forest where we surveyed them by their calls. Other groups studied deer, small mammals, and beetles. There is also the option of a residential field course abroad in an additional module. In my year the group went to Thailand, others have been to South Africa. Everyone who went had nothing but good things to say about it.

Iona: We’ve been to the Northumbria Mounted Police stables, local animal shelters and a couple of zoos. They were all very different and provided unique learning experiences. We have also visited both of the two uni farms to look around the pig and dairy units which really helped to reinforce what we learnt in lectures.

A macaque monkey, photo taken by Biology Grad, Matt Pindar, on his Thailand field trip.

Have you ever done any work experience or a placement related to your degree (either before or during uni)?

Chess:  I did a summer vacation scholarship between stage two and three, and I received maintenance funding to undertake an eight-week research project over the summer. This was an invaluable experience for me. It was the first opportunity to experience what a career in research would involve by working with academics to design and deliver a piece of my own research.

Iona: This summer, I spent some time with a multinational feed company, working with ration advisers, sales reps and regional managers. I’ve also worked with farm managers and herdsmen on large dairy units and sheep farms.

Chess with her research poster the the British Conference of Undergraduate Research

What do you hope to do after your degree?

Chess: I still want to continue into a career in research. After graduating, I completed an MSc Global Wildlife Science and Policy also at Newcastle and I am now just starting my PhD.

Iona: I am currently undecided about what I’d like to do after I graduate but I am looking into livestock nutrition or consultancy roles.  Quality control and marketing also interests me so I’m currently exploring these options.

How much time do you spend in labs vs in the field vs in lectures/seminars?

Chess: The most time is spent in lectures. At stage one there are weekly lab sessions and regular field visits though the amount of these at later stages depends on the optional modules and projects you choose to undertake.

Iona:  I spend the majority of my uni time in lectures and seminars but we’ll have a couple of field trips per term. We had about one lab session per week in Stage one and it varies in Stages two and three depending on the modules you choose.

The great thing about Animal Science is that we are a small cohort so our class sizes range from 20 when it’s just our course to 150 when we take modules with larger courses. You become very close with your course mates but also have the opportunity to make friends on different courses.

A student at Newcastle University’s Nafferton Farm

What do you think the biggest difference between Animal Science and Zoology is?

Chess: The biggest difference is definitely that Animal Science shares a lot of modules with Agriculture, so it focuses on domestic animals. This includes their care and management in an agricultural setting. Zoology on the other hand shares its first year with Biology. Therefore, the focus is on understanding the natural biological systems involving animals.

Iona:  Animal Science mainly focuses on domestic species and the issues surrounding both companion and farm animals. Sustainability is a major theme that runs through the modules and topics are usually linked to current and future management techniques. I think that Animal Science contains the best aspects of Agriculture, Biology and Zoology.

Zoology focuses on mainly un-domesticated animals and their conservation along with physiology, behaviour and evolution.

Most importantly, what is your favourite animal?

Chess: In terms of unexplainable connection, a wolf. In terms of research interest, all species of rhino.

Iona:  The dog! The wide range of dog breeds is incredible and the variety of roles they can play in our lives is endless.

Advice from the Experts

We also asked for an input from the lead academics from the courses what their advice would be for anyone deciding between the two.

Dr. Richard Bevan, a Senior Lecturer for Zoology said:

In its simplest form, I’d say that Animal Science can be thought of as ‘Applied Zoology’ and concentrates on farm and domestic animals while ‘Zoology’ deals with animals (all of them) in the wider context: from amoeba to whale. It is then an easy choice – if you are more interested in fish, sloths, crabs etc. then choose Zoology. If you are interested in how domestication has affected animals then Animal Science would be a better choice

From Animal Science, Dr. Catherine Douglas advised:

Animal Science – it’s not Veterinary or Biology or Zoology – it’s a bit of all of the these and more. I would suggest students look carefully at the topics (modules) covered and the species that each particular university specialises in.  If you love domestic mammals, you don’t want a zoology course that focuses on wild animals, insects and birds.

Richard Bevan with students on the Farne Islands

Career Prospects

Graduates from both our Zoology and Animal Science degrees have gone on to a range of exciting career paths. Animal Science graduates have gone on to work as Animal Nutritionists and Geneticists and many have gone into further study with Masters in Animal Behaviour as well as Journalism and Museum Studies. Some graduates have also gone on to study Veterinary Medicine.

Zoology grads have gone on to work in research as well in education and charities. Their job titles range from Research Assistant to Football Analyst to Events Officer at the Royal Society of Biology.

Find out More…

Explore our course pages to find out more about Animal Science and Zoology. Or if ocean wildlife is more your thing, we also offer a course in Marine Zoology.

World Turtle Day | 10 things you didn’t know about Sea Turtles

A tortoise is a turtle but a turtle is not necessarily a tortoise.

Confused? The term “turtle” can refer to any type of reptile with a shell, but when this is broken down into species we have tortoises, terrapins and… turtles. This means that a turtle is technically a type of turtle, and tortoises and terrapins are two other kinds of turtle! Anyway, now that riddle is out of the way, it’s time to celebrate World Turtle Day! We’re treating you today with ten facts about the majestic sea turtle…

1. Sea turtles belong to a group of reptiles called Testudines, which includes turtles, tortoises, and terrapins. This is one of the oldest reptile groups in the world, dating back to the time of the dinosaurs, over 200 million years ago -beating snakes, crocodiles and alligators!

2. Turtles have an incredibly long lifespan – the oldest recorded was a turtle named Tu”i Malila, of Tonga Island, who passed away at an incredible 188 years old!

3. Sea turtles travel thousands of miles over the course of their lifetimes, migrating between foraging grounds and nesting beaches. One female sea turtle was recorded taking a 12,000 mile round-trip across the Pacific Ocean, from Papua in Indonesia to the northwest coast of the United States – that’s a lot of swimming!

4. A leatherback sea turtle, the largest species of turtle, can weigh up to a whopping 900 kilograms!

5. When it’s time for a loggerhead turtle to lay her eggs, she will return to the same beach on which she hatched – an impressive navigational feat! Scientists say their ability to find their way home is a result of the turtles use of the Earth’s magnetic field.  Each part of the coastline has its own magnetic signature, which the animals remember and later use as an internal compass. Forget sat-nav – we’re all about mag-nav.

6. A turtle’s sex is determined by a rather unusual factor – the temperature of the nests. Warmer nests produce female hatchlings, whilst cooler ones result in male hatchlings. This unfortunately leaves turtle eggs vulnerable to climate change; global warming means we are seeing fewer male hatchlings.

7. Baby sea turtles do not have an easy time… Once they’ve emerged from their shell, they have to make it across the beach to the sea, avoiding birds, snakes, crabs and other creatures who’d love to gobble them up. Those that do make it to the water face further threats from other predators, such as sharks and big fish. It’s estimated that survival rates can be as low as 1 in 1000.

8. Green sea turtles are quite the free-divers – they can stay under water for as long as five hours at a time! Their heart rate slows to conserve oxygen: nine minutes can elapse between each heartbeat.

9. Turtles have excellent senses. You might not expect them to be able to feel much through their tough shell – but it’s actually covered in nerve endings, meaning a turtle can easily detect the touch of a predator and retract into it’s shell.

10. Nearly all species of sea turtle are classified as endangered. This is predominantly due to human activity; one of the biggest threats to sea turtles is the fishing industry – turtles get caught up in nets as “by-catch” and ultimately die as result.

Fascinated by sea life? Why not take a look at the Marine Sciences courses Newcastle University offer? Check them out here.

International Day for Biological Diversity

With threats to wildlife constantly increasing, conservation policies are being put in place in order to protect biodiversity. However, with limited resources available, these policies have to attempt to prioritise certain species according to their “value”. New research, led by Newcastle University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the British Trust for Ornithology, has shown that prioritising based only on one key species “value” could put some of our best loved wildlife at risk.

The research, which focuses on UK farmland birds, categorises according to three core values – conservation priority value, economic value (consumers of weed-seeds) and cultural value, measured through poetry.

Mark Whittingham, Professor of Applied Ecology at Newcastle University, explains:

“Considering one value in isolation gives you a very skewed picture of what’s important and what isn’t.

“Birds such as the chaffinch might consume large numbers of weed seeds which helps farmers, but they aren’t rare and compared to other species they barely feature in poetry.

“Conversely, the crow isn’t rare and isn’t particularly useful for eating weed seeds but we found it features frequently in poems down the ages which suggests it is intrinsically linked with society and culture. The question is how you put a ‘value’ on this.”

Professor Whittingham says that although this study only looks at a small selection of the potential ways individual species can be valued for different purposes, based on the evidence the more values that are considered the more species are likely to be important.

“Prioritisation makes sense when you have scarce resources but there is an inherent danger that by going down that route we take our eye off those species that are just as valuable to us but in less tangible ways.

“What we have demonstrated is that the more ‘values’ you take into account the more you realise that every species is important and has a part to play and so we need to be considering this in our policies and strategies for natural resource management and future planning.”

Protecting biodiversity is a pressing issue with habitats and species being lost at a devastating rate. Ensuring that the most valuable species are prioritised is vital to the success of certain conservation policies,  however, as Newcastle University research proves, placing “value” on a species can be a tricky process and a whole range of things need to be considered in order to best grasp the impact an animal has both culturally and environmentally.

Find out more about Newcastle University’s ecology and conservation research here.

World Bee Day | Bee Facts

It’s World Bee day and we’ve compiled some interesting facts about our flying friends. We’ll try to keep the bee puns to a minimum because bee puns always sting. We really don’t get what all the buzz is about!

Fun facts about Bees:

Honey bees beat their wings around 190 times a second; that’s 11,400 times a minute! The speed of their flapping wings is why we hear the “buzzing” noise when they fly past.

The average worker bee will only make around 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

It would take 1,100 bees to make 1kg of Honey, and they would have to visit 4 million flowers!

Newcastle University research has shown that the initial sweetness a bee tastes when they feed on nectar can last up to 10 seconds – this is much longer than in other insects! Find out why bees have such a sweet tooth here.

In every hive there is a queen bee, the queen bee can live up to five years. The summer is the busiest month for her as she can lay up to 2,500 eggs a day.

Did you know bees are also excellent dancers? When a worker returns to the hive, it will give it’s hair a quick brush with a ‘honeycomb’… and will perform a “waggle dance”. The bee will move itself in a figure of eight motion and will waggle its body to indicate where the best food source is.

Fossil evidence is sparse for these tiny creatures, but scientists believe bees have been around for more than 100 million years!

Not so fun facts:

Unfortunately the number of bees is declining very fast, in the past 15 years, whole colonies have been disappearing. Billions of bees across the world are dying, this is called ‘colony collapse disorder’ – in some regions 90% of bees have disappeared.

The reasons why bees are declining in numbers are very hard to determine although one known cause is the pesticides farmers are spraying on their crops. These chemicals are entering the hives from the worker bees who are out collecting pollen; if the chemicals are too toxic they will kill the bees.

Another factor leading to bees disappearing is the Vaorra mite. This mite attacks the worker bees and infects it with the varroosis disease. This disease will then kill the bee.

How you can help?

Make sure you are not using pesticides on your plants and you are carefully checking your plants to see if they have been pre-treated with any harsh chemicals.

If you are going to plant flowers in your garden or local area, always use bee friendly plants that bees can use to make more honey. Some examples are Crocuses, hyacinths and English marigolds. Surprisingly no bee-gonias!

You may not have known this but bees are thirsty; so along with all the beautiful flowers you are going to plant, place a small basin of water beside them and allow your busy visitors to have a drink.

Remember bee puns are good for your health, they give you lots of vitamin Bee!

 

 

Meet the Expert | Dr Richard Bevan, From Penguins to Puffins

Today, we talk to Newcastle University’s Dr Richard Bevan about where his research has taken him throughout his career. In order to better understand the overall ecology of animals, Richard Bevan’s research focuses on the way that animals interact with their environment both physiologically and behaviourally. Richard’s specific areas of study include: the physiology, ecology and behaviour of aquatic animals; foraging behaviour of seabirds; animal conservation.

   

Describing how his career began, Dr Bevan says: “Born and bred in the valleys of South Wales, I ventured to the north of the country to take Zoology at Bangor University. After completing my BSc, I spent a couple of years in Denmark working on an animation film, “Valhalla”, before returning to the UK to start my PhD on the physiology of swimming and diving in aquatic vertebrates (Tufted Ducks, Barnacle Geese and Green Turtles) at Birmingham University.”

Luckily, Richard finished his PhD at the right time to take up a post-doctoral position studying the energetics  of the higher Antarctic predators. This involved him spending three summer seasons on Bird Island, South Georgia on a joint project between Birmingham University and the British Antarctic Survey. This small island, just 4.9km long and 800m wide, is home to hundreds of thousands of birds – making it one of the world’s richest wildlife sites. Among it’s diverse population of wildlife, it is home to some 50,000 breeding pairs of penguins and 65,000 pairs of fur seals. Richard spent his time on the island studying Gentoo Penguins, Black-browed Albatrosses and Antarctic Fur Seals.

Richard continued to study penguins and other seabirds, but moved on from Bird Island: “This was followed by a project studying King Penguins on Possession Island, Crozet Archipelago; a joint project between Birmingham University and CNRS. I then spent a couple of years as a Principal Scientific Officer with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge where I was in charge of the their fish-eating birds research (mainly inland Cormorants and Goosanders).”

“In 1998, I moved to Newcastle to take up my position as lecturer in what was the School of Biology, Newcastle University. It was early in the new millennium that I first became involved with the Farne Islands and I have been conducting research on the birds (Puffins, Shags, Arctic Terns, Kittiwakes etc.) and grey seals since then.”

Much closer to home than the likes of Bird Island or Possession Island, the Farne Islands are just a few miles from the coast of Northumberland. Touted by David Attenborough as one of his favourite places in the UK to see “magificent nature”, the Farne Islands are rich in wildlife. The Farne Islands are one of the best places to see and study puffins, now a red listed bird, meaning that there has been a severe decline in the population of puffins over the last 25 years. Some of Richard’s research on the Farne Islands has involved attaching hi-tech tags, which include GPS, geo-locators and time/depth recorders, to puffins. These tags provided a detailed record of the bird’s locations and habits to help understand why the puffin population is in decline.

A lecturer for many modules within Newcastle’s School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Dr Richard Bevan includes a trip to the Farne Islands in his “Introduction to Marine Vertebrates” module, which provides students with a first hand encounter of a range of seabirds and seals, allowing them to make observations of marine vertebrates in their natural environment. If you’re interested in finding out more about the biology and zoology courses that Newcastle University offer, you can do so here.