First-year Marine Zoology student, Demi, tells us about her experience of a spending a week at our Dove Marine Lab in Cullercoats and in the surrounding coastal area.
To start off the week we boarded the coach to the Dove marine lab; the university’s specialised research facility right on the beach. In our morning activity we learnt about the different types of keys that can be used to identify marine organisms, which is very important so that when you find animals out on the shore you can tell what they are. We then split into groups and tried making our own keys to identify people in our groups; this was a great activity as it allowed us the get to know our course mates better.
The afternoon was spend looking through seaweed samples and
identifying all the little organisms living within the seaweed. I really
enjoyed this as it highlighted that all the little and “less exciting” animals
can be just as fun to look into as learning about the larger animals!
Back at the Dove Marine lab, Tuesday morning was spent out on the rocky shore of North Cullercoats Bay (battling the northern wind and rain), collecting all the organisms we could find (essentially rock-pooling). We found everything from crabs and fish to starfish, snails and limpets. In the afternoon we did scientific drawings of the organisms we found. For this we used the keys we learnt about the day before to identify the scientific names for all of the animals. My favourite was the bloody henry starfish (Henricia sanguinolenta)
On Wednesday morning we went to Black Middens, at the mouth of the River Tyne. Here, we had the chance to look at different sediment types in an estuarine environment and how this influences the organisms found there. It was such a beautiful place! We did field sketches, which is an important skill for ecologists and looked at the human impacts on the site. In the afternoon we visited the commercial fish quay at North Shields to look at the fishing boats and the types of fish caught in the North Sea. We also met the Quay Master who spoke to us about management mechanisms and fishing quotas, which was very interesting!
Thursday was spent at St. Mary’s Island; a small island near Whitley Bay where we experienced a different type of rocky shore to the one at Cullercoats. We were introduced to the key identifying features of common rocky shore plants and animals and how they’re adapted to their place on the shore. We also had time to get all our notes and field sketches up to date before heading back to campus.
To end the week, we were back on the rocky shore at Cullercoats assessing the abundance of 3 common rocky shore animal species: the limpet, Patella vulgata; the dogwhelk Nucella lapillus; and the barnacle Semibalanus balanoides. In the morning we were out with quadrats collecting data, in the afternoon we were back in the classroom at the Dove Marine Lab where we learnt how to do basic statistics on our data in order to analyse their distribution patterns.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
World Wildlife day aims to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild plants and animals. The theme for this year is Big Cats: predators under threat and aims to highlight the ecological importance of charismatic creatures such as cheetahs, jaguars, leopards and lions and promote their conservation and survival in the wild.
Humans have always been fascinated by these animals as is made clear by their influence on high fashion, fast cars and sports teams the world over. However they are becoming increasingly rare due to human-led activity such as poaching and deforestation. Conflict often occurs between humans and big cats due to lack of prey such as deer for the animals. This can cause the big cats, such as tigers, to predate on livestock, causing humans to poach in retaliation to protect their livelihoods.
Collectively, big cats are under threat and many species are classified on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as being endangered or critically endangered, meaning the range they inhabit in the wild is getting smaller and their population sizes are rapidly declining.
Many efforts exist for conserving these animals, including breeding programmes in captivity, maintaining protected areas to prevent poaching, and projects such as World Wildlife Day increasing awareness of the threats to populations.
October is drawing to a close, which means it’s time for our final installment of profiles for Black History Month. We take a look at astronaut and scientist, Mae Jemison, and renowned zoologist, Ernest Everett Just. We’ve barely scratched the surface of the achievements of black people in the STEM industries, but we hope we have inspired you with some amazing stories. If there’s anyone else you’d like to share with us don’t forget to comment below!
Today is World Animal Day, a day to celebrate and raise the status of animals. Humans are often thought to be the animals with the highest status and intelligence due to our effortless ability to use tools, develop language and dominate the globe. However there are millions of species that have evolved traits and talents that humans could only ever dream of. Here is our list of some of the most amazing animal adaptations.
Bioluminescence is the ability to emit light. Fire flies and glow worms are well known for their ability to light up but they are not alone, lots of insects and even a species of snail (Quantula striata) hold the protein Luciferin, allowing them to emit light. The protein reacts with oxygen using a specific type of enzyme – luciferase. The chemical reaction gives off the bright glowing colours.
Deep down in the ocean, there is little light from the sun so many marine animals have evolved bioluminence. Others, such as the Sea Goosberry above don’t emit their own light but can refract light to give this dazzling rainbow effect. Even if it’s not technically bioluminescent – we’re still very jealous!
In contrast to flashy bioluminescent animals that stand out, some creatures prefer to blend in…
When you think of a camouflaged animal, most people would think of the classic colour–changing chameleon but octopus and squids are the real masters of disguise. They have thousands of cells known as chromotaphores across their skin, these contain pigments and can expand and shrink to change the colour of the skin. These animals can also change the appearance of their skin’s texture and use their soft body and tentacles to morph into a different shape.
The Mimic Octopus takes this a step further and manipulates its body into the shape of other animals to fool its predators into thinking it’s a different marine species – now that would be a fun superpower to have!
All the most famous superheroes have a disguise! Like the mimic octopus, some relatively harmless animals have found a clever way to avoid predators by copying the colours, body shape and even behaviour of harmful species. This is known as Batesian Mimicry, and can be seen in animals such as the caterpillar Hemeroplanes triptolemus above,which cleverly disguises itself as a poisonous snake by blowing air into its head!
Mimicry can also happen when two harmful species that have a common predator evolve separately to have similar warning signals such as bright colours or patterns, that show the predators that they are poisonous or taste unpleasant. This is known as Mullerian Mimicry and can often be seen in butterflies and snakes. So two entirely different (and possibly poisonous!) species of butterflies may look identical.
If camoflauge doesn’t work, how about being invisible? Maybe not completely invisible, but many species have come close by evolving to become transparent. The glasswing butterfly has evolved to have transparent panes in its wings, making it more difficult for predators to spot.
The glass squid and some species of jellyfish have evolved transparent bodies making them extremely difficult for predators to spot them in the depths of the ocean.
5. Regrowing limbs
If all these adaptations for hiding fail and you’re caught by a predator – what next? Well some species such as the Mexican salamander, the axolotl, have evolved the ability to regrow parts of the body so it’s not a big deal if something does take a bite out of them.
When an axolotl loses a limb, the cells at the cut off point lose their identity; they are no long skins cells or muscle cells and they become generic cells that are able to develop into whatever the axolotl needs them to be to regrow whatever was lost. Whilst humans have come a long way in developing amazing prosthetic and even bionic limbs, we’re unlikely to evolve the ability to completely regrow body parts anytime soon.
Speaking of regrowing limbs – starfish can also happily regrow spines but that’s not their only talent – they can also digest their food in a very interesting way. Instead of taking food in through the mouth, instead they take their stomach out of their body and put it on the food. Their stomach then digests the food into a mushy soup which the starfish can then draw into it’s body along with it’s stomach.
Perhaps this wouldn’t be top priority for a superpower but it is impressive! You can see the starfish in action in our aquarium at the Dove Marine Lab in Cullercoats.
Moving from the seas to the skies, I’m sure many of us would love to have the ability to fly. Of course many creatures have mastered this, mainly birds and insects but some reptiles, fish and mammals, such as the flying squirrel, have evolved flaps of skin that allow them to glide through the air.
One of the most impressive flyers of the animal world is the bar-tailed godwit. This little bird weighs around 500g but is capable of flying immense distances. The longest recorded migration of this species was from Alaska to New Zealand – a distance of 11,680km! The journey took nine days and the bar-tailed godwit didn’t stop once. Very impressive considering most of us couldn’t even stay awake for nine days!
Onto another famous flyer – the bat. Flight isn’t this mammal’s only superpower as it can also navigate in the dark without sight. It does this by using echolocation. Bats send out a high frequency sound and listen for the echos coming back. By comparing the outgoing sound with the returning sound, bats tell how far away obstacles are, how big they are and even if they are moving. They are able to build up a picture of the world around them using sound, just as we are able to using sight.
This impressive power may not be so out of reach for humans. Several blind people have taught themselves how to navigate using echolocation. They produce sounds either by tapping a cane against the floor, creating clicks with their tongue or snapping their fingers and then listen for the echos, just as echolocating animals do.
9. UV Vision
Whilst some animals, like bats, have relatively poor vision, other see much more than we could imagine. The light that we can see, known as the visible spectrum, covers the wavelengths 380nm – 760nm. Ultraviolet light sits just outside this so our eyes are unable to detect it. Some animals including butterflies, some birds and even reindeer have evolved the ability to see UV.
Reindeer are thought to have evolved this ability as it helps them identify lichens for food, and urine indicating predators in the snow. To us, these would blend in but in ultraviolet light there is much more of a contrast.
10. Mind Control
Our final adaptation may perhaps be the most sought after superpower – mind control. This isn’t just the stuff of science fiction movies and comic books, some animals have actually achieved it. The green-banded broodsac is a parasitic flatworm that infects snails in order to reach birds, their ideal host species. The parasite infects the snails and causes their tentacles to bulge, making them look like a caterpillar. It influences the snail and makes them move from the shade and up to the tops of leaves and branches where they are easily visible to birds. As the tentacles now look like a delicious meal for the birds, they’re prime targets. Once eaten, the parasite is able to continue it’s life inside the bird.
Which of these animal superpowers would you like to have?
Today is Sir David Attenborough’s 91st birthday. To celebrate, we’ve written a poem looking back at his extraordinary life and hoping that someday we can follow in his footsteps.
Born in London in 1926,
He’s since won the hearts of all the Brits.
David didn’t always know all about the wild,
But his interest was sparked as a young child.
In fact, he was very much in the dark,
Until that thrilling day at Bradgate Park
When he discovered his first fossil,
Which led to a future so colossal.
In the 1950s came David’s first TV show,
All over the world, the team would go.
The programme was called zoo quest,
And today may have caused a protest
As it saw David catching animals for London zoo
Anteaters, chimps and rare birds too.
David soon stopped taking these creatures
And helped conserve their wonderful features.
He showed us the magical Great Barrier Reef
And little ants that cut up and carry a leaf
To feed it to something big and fungal.
He also took us into the depths of the jungle
To see the great apes and what a thriller,
When he cuddled that huge gorilla!
David searched for a dragon on the isle of Komodo
And uncovered the secrets of the extinct dodo.
He took us to the arctic for polar bears in the snow
And in the dark showed us worms that glow.
And who can forget that time in the cave,
When a bat flew into the face or Sir Dave.
Look at all the species named after you,
A dragonfly, Peruvian frog and echidna too,
There’s also the goblin spider and Namibian lizard,
David Attenborough- a true ecological wizard.
Then there’s Boaty McBoat Face – what a boat,
Now named for you, lets hope it forever floats.
From showing us delightful animals on screen,
To being knighted by the Queen.
You’ve travelled the breadth of the Earth,
Now let’s celebrate the day of your birth.
So let’s have a slice of birthday battenberg,
Here’s to you Sir David Attenborough!
We recently interviewed Kirsty, a 2nd year PhD student at Newcastle University. Kirsty has been studying European lobsters and their movements between habitats. She uses statistical models to understand how environmental conditions influence the timing and pattern of lobster movements.
What impact does your research have?
It can help us understand the impact of movement patterns on the number of lobsters that we can catch so that we don’t catch too many and they are sustainably managed. Sustainable management ensures that there are enough lobsters for the future, benefiting not only the environment, but also the fishing industry.
What did you do before your PhD?
I studied Zoology at Glasgow University then did a Masters in Forest Ecology at Edinburgh University. Since then I have worked in various Ecology related roles including being a Park Ranger, working in Wildlife Management and assisting research on seabirds and marine renewables.
Why did you chose to do a PhD rather than get a job?
I had worked as a research assistant before and really enjoyed it, I knew I wanted to do more research. By doing a PhD I got to choose the area and lead the research. It’s a great opportunity to devote your time to just one small area of interest and learn some advanced skills. I hope it will help me improve my career and that I will be able to get better research jobs in the future.
How did you decide on your PhD?
I chose the topic because I’m interested in spatial studies. Understanding why animals choose a particular area is really important in making decisions about species conservation and I thought this project would give me the chance to develop lots of transferable skills.
What advice would you have for someone wanting to study Biology or Zoology at university?
Go to open days and talk to as many people as possible, make sure it’s the right course for you! Speak to people working in the field if you have the chance and get some experience, the RSPB are a good organisation to volunteer for.
What is the best part about being a PhD student and going to university in general?
Meeting different people who are interested in the same things as you and developing your own identity.
What do you plan to do after completing your PhD?
Id like to stay in academia and keep doing research on spatial ecology.
Has university help you get where you want to be?
Yes, I have learned lots of different skill sets and developed more resilience and motivation.