World Turtle Day – May 23rd

World Turtle Day takes place today, May 23rd and they are a fascinating creature to consider. The day was created as a yearly observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world as well as to encourage human action to help them survive and thrive. It’s time to shellebrate!

People often use the terms tortoise and turtle interchangeably but they are different. Turtles sometimes live in the water, while tortoises only live on the land. Turtles can live up to the age of 40 and have flat and very streamlined shells. Tortoises can live up to 300 years old!! They have larger and more dome-like shells. Currently the world’s oldest tortoise is a sprightly 190 year old male called Johnathan. He is a Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa), and lives on the  South Atlantic Island of St. Helena, a volcanic British Overseas Territory.  Jonathan arrived in St. Helena as a gift to Sir William Grey-Wilson in 1882, who later became governor of the island. Since that time, he has seen 31 governors come and go and he lives with three other giant tortoises – David, Fred and Emma.

It can be confusing as all tortoises are in fact turtles – meaning they belong to the order Testudines or Chelonia, meaning they are reptiles with bodies encased in a bony shell, but not all turtles are tortoises. The most important thing to remember is that tortoises are land creatures. Tortoises can be easily recognised by their hind-limbs and feet which are elephantine. Tortoises are generally vegetarians whereas other turtles are omnivorous.

To find out more about these fascinating creatures and their ecology, check out www.worldwildlifefund.org and we’d recommend ‘Follow The Moon Home’ by Phillipe Costeau and Deborah Hopkinson, a great book for young readers to explore the world of this fascinating creatures.

 

We Are Buzzing For World Bee Day!

World Bee Day takes place on Friday May 20th , the day on which Anton Jansa, the pioneer of beekeeping was born in 1724. The purpose of this day is to acknowledge the role of bees and other pollinators in the ecosystem. There are 100 bee species in Ireland: the honeybee, 21 species of bumblebee, and 78 species of solitary bee. Bees are the most important pollinator of crops and native plant species in Ireland. They are a key component of our wildlife and one of the busiest, least appreciated work forces we have. A study from the Department of the Environment found that bees are worth €53m a year to the economy. In Ireland crops such as apples, strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, blackcurrants, peppers, courgettes and pumpkins are reliant on bees for pollination. It is estimated that almost three quarters of our wild plants rely on insect pollinators, of which bees are most important.

Melittology is the branch of entomology concerning the scientific study of bees. Melittology covers more than 20,000 species including bumblebees and honey bees. It is a vast field of study that has produced many interesting findings. For example, a study at Cornell University led by Thomas Seeley showed that bees, numbered for a study, dance, beep and butt heads to swap information. Seeley is a towering figure in the scientific study of bees.  He has done a lot of work on what is called swarm intelligence, trying to understand how bees work together to make decisions. This swarm intelligence in seen in schools of fish and flocks of birds as well. Seeley’s work over 40 years has explored this fascinating topic. Like a lot of scientists, he became interested in his topic early in life. As a boy he noticed hives near where he lived  and he has described his fascination. “If you lie in the grass in front of a hive, you see this immense traffic of bees zooming out of the hive and circling up and then shooting off in whatever direction they want to go, it’s like looking at a meteor shower.”

He also spoken extensively about how swarms are like our mind. “I think of a swarm as an exposed brain that hangs quietly from a tree branch,” Seeley said. A swarm and a brain make decisions. Decisions made by the brain are informed by neural signals from our eyes, such as when we see something and try to decide what to do next.  Swarms and brains decide things in a democratic way. Despite being the Queen Bee, the Queen does not decide for the hive. The hive makes decisions for her. In the same way, no single neuron takes in all the information and makes a decision alone. It is millions making a decision. Seeley thinks that this convergence between bees and brains can teach people a lot about how to make decisions in groups. “Living in groups, there’s a wisdom to finding a way for members to make better decisions collectively than as individuals,” he said. So maybe it’s about making people feel they are part of the group making decisions, so it’s about finding a solution for everyone and so it seems, we can learn a lot from bees

If you want to find out more bees please check out www.biodiversityireland.ie and for a great book on bees, we’d recommend Bees of the World by Christopher O’Toole and Anthony Raw and Honey and Dust by Piers Moore Ede, a fascinating travel book describing one man’s journey to various parts of the world through honey!

 

 

Biodiversity Week

The term biodiversity (from “biological diversity”) refers to the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life. The air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat all rely on biodiversity, but right now it is in crisis – because of human activity. The term biodiversity was coined by biologist E.O Wilson, who died in December 2021. He said “Look closely at nature. Every species is a masterpiece, exquisitely adapted to the particular environment in which it has survived. Who are we to destroy or even diminish biodiversity?”

In Ireland, National Biodiversity Week is all about connecting people with nature. It’s about communicating the importance of biodiversity and motivating people to play their part in protecting it. Midlands Science will be running a series of school workshops with Dale Treadwell of Naturally Wild and RTE Jr, exploring STEM through building natural geodomes and learning about nature and maths. A geodome is a spherical space-frame structure which is made up of a complex network of triangles. The linked triangles create a self-bracing framework that is very strong structurally and yet are elegant and beautiful.

A great resource for learning about biodiversity in Ireland is the National Biodiversity Data Centre, which works to make biodiversity information and data more freely available. It currently holds information on over 16,000 species in Ireland. You can add to their work through their app which is available for free online. Out for a walk and see a fox or an orchid or a hare, record it in the app and play your part in monitoring and protecting Ireland’s biodiversity.

Science That Slithers

This month, Midlands Science is running a series of workshops with our partners, the Reptile Zoo, in schools in Laois, as part of our free school outreach programme, which is supported by Rethink Ireland and partners such as SAP and Arup. These workshops allow students to experience the wonders of the natural world from their classroom and hopefully begin a lifetime of curiosity about the world around us and what we can do to preserve biodiversity.

The Reptile Zoo provides the opportunity to see snakes and other reptiles up close and personal! All while learning about their ecology, conservation and biodiversity. There are more than 3,000 species of snake in the world and almost all snakes are covered in scales. As reptiles, they are cold blooded and they need to regulate their temperature externally. Every month or so snakes shed their skin. This process is called ecdysis and it gets rid of parasites, as well as making room for growth.

Approximately 100 snake species are listed by the IUCN Red List as endangered and this is typically due to habitat loss. If you are slightly nervous reading this blog, you’re probably an ophidiophobe – someone who is afraid of snakes. You’re in good company, remember the infamous Indiana Jone scene where he shown his torch on a floor of snakes and yelled “why is it always snakes?” If you are afraid of snakes, it’s probably for a mixture of reasons – a negative experience, portrayal of snakes in the media, hearing about negative experiences of someone else.

It’s a very common phobia and if you want to overcome it, it is possible. Jackie who works with us, worked for a number of years in West Africa in development and on a camping trip one night, she woke up with a snake crawling up her body. She lay very still and it crawled away after about 10 long minutes. Two weeks later, she was driving along a dusty road and a cobra jumped up in front of her jeep from about 10 feet away. She stopped and it realised the jeep was too big to eat and continued on its journey. You’d think after all this, she’d be a confirmed ophidiophobe but not at all, she’s first up for a photo with the albino python from the Reptile Zoo whenever the opportunity arises !

You can learn all about the Reptile Zoo on https://www.nationalreptilezoo.ie/ and lots more about reptiles on https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles

Shamrock Science for St Patrick’s Day

A little shamrock science for St Patrick’s Day. Shamrock usually refers to either the species Trifolium dubium (lesser clover, Irish: seamair bhuí) or Trifolium repens (white clover, Irish: seamair bhán). However, other three-leaved plants—such as Medicago lupulina, Trifolium pratense, and Oxalis acetosella—are sometimes called shamrocks. The shamrock was traditionally used for its medicinal properties and was a popular motif in Victorian times.

The botanist Carl von Linné in his 1737 work Flora Lapponica identifies the shamrock as Trifolium pratense, mentioning it by name as Chambroch. However, results from various surveys show that there is no one “true” species of shamrock, but that Trifolium dubium (Lesser clover) is considered to be the shamrock by roughly half of Irish people, and Trifolium repens (White clover) by another third, with the remaining fifth split between Trifolium pratense, Medicago lupulina, Oxalis acetosella and various other species of Trifolium and Oxalis. None of the species in the survey are unique to Ireland, and all are common European species, so there is no botanical basis for the widespread belief that the shamrock is a unique species of plant that only grows in Ireland.

Taking Science Outside with Bord na Móna

Midlands Science was delighted to partner with Bord na Móna for this year’s annual Midlands Science Festival in providing a guided walk and talk at Lough Boora Discovery Park in Co. Offaly.

At this event, Bord na Móna safely hosted a number of young pupils from Kilcormac and provided an overview of the ecological, environmental and cultural value of raised bogs while also focusing on the biodiversity features of interest available at the Lough Bora Discovery Park. This event was part of national Science Week, supported by Science Foundation Ireland and was a great opportunity to host an in-person event due to the fact that it could be held outside in nature.

Nature is all around us and it is packed with possibilities for children to investigate and explore. Children need time to discover the outdoors and our outdoor spaces have become more important than ever over the past eighteen months as our hunger for solace and a connection with nature has dramatically increased.

Pat Sammon, External Affairs Manager, Bord na Móna said, ‘It was wonderful to play a part in this year’s Science Week in the Midlands and to see young people out enjoying the fantastic amenities and breathtaking landscapes of Lough Boora. Bord na Móna is committed to promoting awareness and education on biodiversity in schools and in communities and to protecting and preserving our heritage and environment for future generations to enjoy. We are really happy to support events which help to promote the importance of science education to our local young people and we hope that it has inspired some of them to think about science in a different way when it comes to making future subject choices at secondary level.’

Jackie Gorman, Director of the Midlands Science Festival said, ‘The Midlands Science Festival is all about taking science out of the lab and in to places like libraries, theatres and outdoors in order to provide diverse ways for people of all ages to explore the world around them and to learn something new. Most of our festival has been run online this year due to the ongoing pandemic, so we were delighted to team up with Bord na Móna in order to provide this fun, learning event in the great outdoors for the students of Kilcormac National School.’

There is a wide a variety of things to see and do at Lough Boora Discovery Park and it is such a family friendly environment with a host of free activities for all ages. If you haven’t already visited, it is definitely a place to add to your list for any time of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Biodiversity – the science of life on earth

The United Nations has proclaimed May 22nd The International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. When first created by the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly in late 1993, 29 December (the date of entry in to force of the Convention of Biological Diversity), was designated The International Day for Biological Diversity. In December 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted 22 May as IDB, to commemorate the adoption of the text of the Convention on 22 May 1992 by the Nairobi Final Act of the Conference for the Adoption of the Agreed Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity. This was partly done because it was difficult for many countries to plan and carry out suitable celebrations for the date of 29 December, given the number of holidays that coincide around that time of year.

Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth, in all its forms and interactions. It is everything and everything from the air we breathe to the water we drink to the food we eat depends upon it. 1.7 million species of animal, plant and fungi have been recorded to date but there are likely to millions more. The extinction rate of species is frightening, thought to be 1,000 times higher than before humans dominated the planet. That rate is faster that the losses the earth experienced after a giant meteorite wiped out the dinosaurs.

Today is World Biodiversity Day and there a lot of  books about biodiversity, which can help us all understand how interlinked and inter-connected our world is and most of them are available from the local library system. The classic is “The Diversity of Life” by EO Wilson, the scientist who is considered to be the father of biodiversity and “The Botany of Desire” by Michael Pollan explores how biodiversity loss affects the foods we eat. EO Wilson in a seminal paper in 1985 “The Biological Diversity Crisis” described the natural world as a work of art that cannot be recreated once it is lost. “Each higher organism is richer in information than a Caravaggio painting, a Bach fugue, or any other great work.”

Scientists are interested in how much biodiversity there is  in the world as there is still to much to discover and understand. They are also like to study and understand how many species might exist in a particular ecosystem such as a forest, lake, grassland or tundra. A single forest can contain a huge range of species from beetles to deer and everything in between. Ecosystems with a lot of biodiversity tend to have good conditions for plant growth, such as the warm and wet climates we associate with tropical places in the world. Ecosystems can also contain species too small to see with the naked eye and looking at samples through a microscope can reveal a whole world of organisms and bacteria. The work of midlands pho tographer Tina Claffey has brought the beauty and diversity of the peatlands and its inhabitants of all shapes and sizes in to sharp focus [pardon the pun !] for lots of people, creating an awareness of the biodiversity in the midlands region.

There is no better place to explore and value biodiversity than in your own back yard and considering pollina tors is a great place to start.  Bees pollinate nearly 90% of plant species and they contribute to more than 35% of the world’s food supply. Give pollina tors an extra boost in your garden by planting a variety of wildflowers and native plants to provide nectar that will bloom throughout the season  You can encourage other pollina tors such as bats to s top by your garden by planting borage, corn marigold, cornflower, primrose and night-scented s tock.  A new Gardening for Biodiversity book by Juanita Browne is available by contacting the Heritage Office of your local council. It was produced by Local Authority Heritage Officers, with help from the National Parks and Wildlife Service and The Heritage Council.  Explore and grow wildlife friendly gardens/patios or balconies and choose wildlife-friendly fencing to allow some access to passing wildlife. Biodiversity begins at home !

Pho to – Jackie who works for Midlands Science has created quite possibly the teeniest tiniest meadow in the world in her back yard and it’s buzzing !!

 

 

 

 

 

Midlands Science brings Science Home with Gas Networks Ireland

The not for profit organisation, Midlands Science, is delighted to now be in a position to continue to offer a range of remote, fun science workshops via their social media channels with thanks to the support and sponsorship of partner, Gas Networks Ireland. The team at Midlands Science has been working with science communication experts to create new science shows and other online learning resources and running them online over the past few weeks to help ensure that young people can continue to sustain their engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) from their own home during these very different times.

‘Science at Home’ is an entertaining show that explores the science of everyday things at home. The show will be broadcast online on the Midlands Science Facebook page every Tuesday at 12:00 pm and has been running since March 17th following the school closures. The shows will hopefully continue until June of this year and will be run with support from Gas Networks Ireland for the next two weeks. These two episodes will focus on the primary school science topics of living things and biodiversity. All episodes are available on the YouTube channel of Midlands Science and will be available there as full archive.

This is one of a number of impactful initiatives across Ireland promoting science, technology, engineering, maths, literacy, employability and the development of life skills that Gas Networks Ireland supports. Gas Networks Ireland’s sustainability strategy has three pillars of sustainability – environmental impact, social impact and economic impact. As part of its social impact programme, in 2018,Gas Networks Ireland launched the STEM education programme, Energize, in partnership with Junior Achievement Ireland (JAI) in primary schools across the country. The programme is available to 5,000 sixth class students nationwide, with the objective to foster students’ interest in STEM subjects.

Christina van der Kamp, Corporate Responsibility Manager at Gas Networks Ireland, said, ‘Covid-19 is affecting every part of our lives at the moment. We are  getting used to a new way of living so that we can all play our part to s top the spread of the virus.

‘Gas Networks Ireland is delighted to be partnering with Midlands Science to deliver a range of online ‘science at home’ activities. We believe it is particularly important to keep in mind the effect this crisis may be having on young people  who are unable to attend school and see their peers. Providing these children with some engaging online activities is a proactive and useful way to nurture a positive attitude to science while staying at home.

‘We are passionate about introducing young people to the exciting world of science and engineering from an early age, and actively encourage young people to really think about the world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) and how it impacts our lives on an everyday basis.’

Science at Home presenter, Dr. Dan Nickstrom of Maynooth University said, ‘I’m having a lot of fun trying to communicate science in this way. It’s new and challenging terri tory for me but I’m enjoying the opportunity and am delighted it’s getting such a good reception among people in the Midlands, young and old especially those trying to keep up with school work.’

Midlands Science CEO, Jackie Gorman said, ‘We know that many parents are now dealing with the dual challenges of working from home while also keeping children safe and hopefully continuing to learn in some way. We are most grateful to Gas Networks Ireland for their support and commitment to helping students during these unsettling days of social distancing and quarantine.

‘Trying to navigate all of this is testing for everyone and we wanted to help in some small way by creating our own virtual science classroom. We hope these science learning workshops will benefit people in the coming weeks and we have had plenty of engagement and positive feedback so far.’

ENDS

Midlands Science

Midlands Science is a not for profit company which promotes STEM education [Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths] in the midlands of Ireland. It is funded by a mixture of public and private funding and it has a voluntary board of direc tors. We deliver STEM outreach projects on time, on budget and with significant impact in terms of target audience engagement, media engagement and long-term development outcomes. ‘Science at Home’ is an entertaining show that explores the science of everyday things at home. The show will be broadcast online on the Midlands Science Facebook page every Tuesday at 12:00 pm.

About Gas Networks Ireland

Gas Networks Ireland is the business division of Ervia that owns, builds and maintains the natural gas network in Ireland and connects all cus tomers to the gas network. Gas Networks Ireland operates one of the most modern and safe gas networks in the world and ensures that over 700,000 homes and businesses receive a safe, efficient and secure supply of natural gas, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Ervia is a commercial semi-state multi-utility company with responsibility for the delivery of gas and water infrastructure and services in Ireland.

Gas Networks Ireland published its first sustainability report last year. “Sustainability in Action” highlights Gas Networks Ireland’s progress in implementing the principles of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals across the business.

The full report, “Sustainability in Action”, can be found at: https://www.gasnetworks.ie/corporate/company/our-commitment/sustainability-report/

Photo: Dr. Dan Nickstrom of Maynooth University