March’s Molluscs

March’s Molluscs!

 

Today I will tell you about some of the molluscs found on the Challenger expedition along the way – more specifically, the octopus (read about January’s jellyfish here). Above are pictures of cuttlefish and octopus found on the expedition.

Firstly – what are molluscs? These are a very large phylum of invertebrates with about 100,000 species! They are soft-bodied animals, some with shells (such as snails and scallops) and some without (such as slugs, octopus and squid). There are quite a few classes of molluscs but I won’t go through them all – the octopus belongs to the Cephalopods.

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So let’s get started with the octopus. These are fascinating creatures. There is one species of octopus known as the ‘mimic octopus’. This is because it can make itself appear to be many other sea creatures! There is another octopus which is known as the ‘hardest working mum of the planet’. The mothers guard their eggs, protecting them from predators and keeping them oxygenated. Unfortunately, this means that the mother never leaves their side to even eat. Many die very soon after their young hatch. This particular octopus though, Graneledone boreopacifica, has been found to guard its young for 53 months! The most well-known octopus is Octopus vulgaris – also known as the common octopus. This may seem a little boring but these well-studied creatures are still pretty amazing. It has recently been found that these clever octopus’ can recognise ones that they have previously seen in the past day.

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The big blue octopus (now Octopus cyanea)

Many octopus’ were found on the HMS Challenger expedition – Octopus cyanea (the big blue octopus) and  Enteroctopus dofleini (the giant Pacific octopus) to name two. The giant Pacific octopus is one of the largest octopuses and  they can also live the longest. The largest recorded has grown up to 30 feet and weighed over 270kg! They are very intelligent – like the mimic octopuses and the big blue octopus, they can change colour to match their surroundings due to their skin pigments.  They have also be known to solve maze puzzles in the laboratory and recognise individual human beings! The giant Pacific Challenger specimen was found at station 232, off of Japan on May 12th 1875 and the big blue octopus was found by the Hawaiin Islands in August 1875.

The crew on the HMS Challenger pulled up many species that have not been often seen since. The species of octopus in the image below was found on route from New Zealand to Indonesia (stations 171 and 214) and so few have been found, it is down as data deficient on the IUCN red list (showing the abundance of species and change in numbers over time). This shows how extensive the work was that the crew on HMS Challenger did!

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Grimpoteuthis meangensis (Hoyle, 1885)

Keep your eyes peeled for April’s Anemones!

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The Scientists on board HMS Challenger

Scientists aboard HMS Challenger

Amongst the crew that were on the boat were six scientists. Wyville Thomson was the chief scientist, being one of the people (along with Carpenter) that proposed the idea of the expedition. Born in 1830, the natural historian first lectured at Aberdeen before becoming chair of natural history at Cork and Belfast, followed by becoming Professor of natural history at the University of Edinburgh in 1870.

Charles Wyville Thomson

Charles Wyville Thomson – picture used with permission from Gazetteer for Scotland

In 1872 of course, he climbed aboard HMS Challenger. Upon his return he was knighted but sadly died in 1882, before the final 50 reports of the expedition were all published. If you read the reports you will see that at the beginning of many of them, there are touching notes about Thomson and his contributions to the expedition.

John Murray was one of Thomson’s staff. He became one of the most famous scientists by being the lead author of the Challenger reports. He was an extremely enthusiastic natural historian who, like Thomson, studied at the University of Edinburgh. He didn’t care much or work towards any subject that didn’t interest him – he didn’t even attend the exams of those.

John Murray

John Murray

Henry Nottidge Moseley was another scientist on board, only in his 20s when the boat departed from Portsmouth. Moseley had a love for natural history but didn’t stand out at school. He went to a college in Oxford to do either a maths or classics degree but was desperately unhappy doing this – the only reason he went to do it was because of his father’s love of the subjects. Eventually his unhappiness was noticed and he went to do natural sciences instead – he came out with a 1st class degree and had a 4 year career in medicine before going on the Challenger expedition. Follow your heart, as they say!

Rudolf von Willemoes Suhm was the youngest of the scientists, at only 25 when joining the Challenger expedition. After initially wanting to be a lawyer he found his love for natural history at university and after meeting Wyville Thomson in 1872, was asked to be a naturalist on board the ship. Tragically, he only lasted until August 19th 1875. At only 28 years old, Willemoes Suhm died of a skin infection, leaving the crew, especially Moseley and Buchanan (another of the scientists) devastated.

Annotated main deck plan - the chemical laboratory was for Buchanan to work in.

Annotated main deck plan – the chemical lab was equipped by and for Buchanan to work in. Moseley equipped a zoological lab.

The scientists worked incredibly hard on the ship and achieved so much over the years, using cutting-edge technology of the day – some built especially for the expedition.

That’s all for this month, speak soon!

January’s Jellyfish

Hello and Happy New Year to you all!

January’s jellyfish! For this month’s post I am going to tell you about two species of the jellyfish found around the seas from the HMS Challenger expedition. They are named differently now but after a bit of research we found out what their current names/species are.

Carybdea murrayana

Carybdea murrayana

Let’s start with the genus Carybdea – the jellyfish belonging to this genus are known as box jellyfish – you don’t want to mess with these! They are highly venomous and their sting attacks the heart and nervous system, which can instantly kill prey. These jellyfish have tentacles from each corner of their bell, each one with about 5000 stinging cells.

 

Carybdea murrayana

Carybdea murrayana

The two females found by the Challenger (Charybdea murrayana, now Carybdea murrayana) were found on April 9th 1876 at station 348, off the West Coast of Africa, not far from Sierra Leone. An interesting fact about box jellyfish is that they have ‘true’ eyes (as well as simple eyes). The simple eyes just detect light but the ‘true’ eyes have a retina, lense and cornea. It has been shown that these are used to help navigate by looking upwards to the mangrove canopies. This is where they usually feed and by detecting the canopies they stay underneath them to ensure they don’t stray too far from home. If cover is removed, they have no sense of orientation.

Carybdea murrayana

Ptchogastria polaris

Next up we have the genus Ptychogastria. These don’t have a common name and only one of these jellyfish was found on the expedition. These attractive jellyfish are from the order Trachymedusae. A lot of jellyfish have two body forms – polyp (stationary) and medusa (free-swimming). However, this order of jellyfish just grows in to the medusa stage. Although they grow only into the free-swimming form, they have suckers to attach themselves to rocks, waiting for prey to pass so they can reach out their tentacles to capture them. So they don’t swim that much after all! The one Ptychogastria jellyfish found was from station 50 – on the 21st May 1873 near Halifax, off the east of Canada. It was then identified as Pectyllis arctica but has since been updated to Ptychogastria polaris.

Carybdea murrayana

Ptychogastria polaris

Thanks for reading and see you next month!

Christmas Day on the HMS Challenger

Christmas  on HMS Challenger

Hello again! Since it is that time of year when the Christmas tree is decorated and soon you will be tucking in to a massive Christmas dinner, I thought you would be interested to know what Christmas was like on board the Challenger. Four Christmas’s were spent out at sea or anchored up and according to the HMS Challenger narrative and diaries this is what went on:

Christmas 1872 on board the HMS Challenger

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Challenger set sail on 21st December 1872, just in time for Christmas.  142 years ago from the day this post was published! Unfortunately, Christmas this year was a bit of a miserable one weather-wise. It was very windy, with the crew having to hold tight to their food dishes – many were lost and some food jars, in particular jam and pickles, got smashed on the floor. However, with ham for breakfast and meat pie and plum pudding for dinner the food went down quite well. Every member on the ship was given a third of a pint of sherry too. The officers weren’t so lucky with their food though. The turkey was stolen and they never found out who it was.

Christmas  1873 on board the HMS Challenger

The HMS Challenger spent the second Christmas off Prince Edward Island – belonging to South Africa. Again, the sea was very rough. At about 10am,  the crew caught sight of land but they weren’t due to anchor until Boxing Day. Dinner this year was salt pork and pea soup, plum pudding and a third pint of madeira for each man so quite enjoyable, with music and dancing for entertainment. The men were thinking about where they were going to be the following years at Christmas – around Hong Kong in 74 and near Valparaiso in 75.

When the men anchored on Boxing Day and explored the island they saw many birds – cormorants, albatross,  skua, gulls,  a giant petrel, prion and a sheathbill. This was on top  on three different penguins. One of these was the Gentoo penguin. This penguin is nearly as big as the King Penguin, which was also found on the island. The third of the penguins was the rockhopper penguin, who had very dirty looking nests. Have a look at their photograph of the albatross nests below.

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Christmas 1874 on board the HMS Challenger

Indeed, the ship was in China over Christmas in 1874. They arrived in Hong Kong on 16th November 1874 and stayed there until the beginning of January. Christmas here was lovely and warm – nothing like the cold and wet weather of the previous years. A fine dinner with turkeys, geese, ham and of course the plum pudding was devoured by all. Members of the crew save money each month for when they are at land to treat themselves. In Hong Kong they often ate curried cats and dogs..a delicacy there at the time apparently!

Christmas 1875 on board the HMS Challenger

The final Christmas on board! The men were once again correct in 1873 – they had just left Valparaiso on the 10th December. Unfortunately six men were lost there from leaving without consent. Christmas Eve brought music and dancing with a band and many stage acts which was great fun for the men. It was a cold Christmas day at sea this year. Dinner this year was a fat bullock to keep them going. Of course we can’t forget about the plum puddings! Christmas was very enjoyable until the evening. Many of the seamen managed to smuggle in multiple bottles of alcohol, leaving many drunk and fighting terribly. One man even came away with a broken jaw in three places! So it didn’t turn out terribly well in the end but it was all self inflicted!

So those are the main details we have about Christmas on HMS Challenger – food, drink, music, dancing, a mix of weather and the occasional fights (what’s changed?!). Seriously though, life wasn’t easy – I’m sure those men were relieved to have their next Christmas on land with family where they belong.

Have a happy Christmas and New Year everyone!

The Sladen collection from HMS Challenger

The Percy Sladen Collection

Here at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum we are lucky enough to have the Percy Sladen collection, part of which was collected on the HMS Challenger throughout the exhibition. Percy Sladen was a scientist born on 30th June 1849 who grew a good reputation as a biologist.

Percy Sladen portrait

He was presented the starfish material to identify after the exhibition was over. He was the only person Thomson and Carpenter (who led the expedition) could find that would be capable of managing to analyse the starfish. The ship had covered about 70,000 nautical miles and over the 354 stations sampled the crew had collected a lot of starfish! Sladen travelled all around Europe to speak to and gain connections with specialists that could help him a long the way. It is said that his hard work and dedication to the project could have been linked to his early death. He died in 1903 and his wife gave the whole collection to RAMM to make sure it was kept together.

Parts of the Percy Sladen Collection from the HMS Challenger

Take a look at a few of the pieces he studied…

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The picture on the left shows a small starfish whose latin name is ‘Lophaster stellans’. This little star doesn’t seem to have a common name. As you can see, the starfish was found south of Wellington island (off of Chile). We also know that is was found on ‘blue mud’. As far as we know, blue mud is so called because of the blue colour caused by organic material and iron sulphide. It is made up of silt and clay. Another thing to notice on the label is that it is from station 308 so we know that it was found in January 1876.

The picture on the right shows a couple of starfish – a different species ‘Chaetaster longpipes’. These were found off Bermuda at station 36 on some coral- so a few years earlier in April 1873.

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Another starfish from Sladen’s collection

All the collection is catalogued – he had a lot of specimens that aren’t Challenger specimens too. We are in the process of putting the Challenger data in to a suitable format for our new database. I just realised I haven’t updated you on that yet! We are speaking to museums around the country and also abroad at the moment to talk to them about the project. We are slowly getting our data and data from the Natural History Museum together. We are using this to create fields for the database and to start designing the website. Once we have a secure design and the initial data is uploaded and tested, we will be moving on to further museums to add their collections.

For anyone that has clicked on this post and is not aware of what the project is about, click here!

Speak to you all soon!

Letters written and data recorded from the HMS Challenger

Station recordings from HMS Challenger

Here we are again! I told you all last time I would let you see some of the original data from the reports from the HMS Challenger. Let’s look at some recordings from station 256. This was on the journey from Yokohama to the Sandwich Islands on July 21st 1875.

 

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As you can see they measured:

  • Date and times
  • Longitude
  • Latitude
  • Air temperature
  • Water temperature at different depths
  • Density
  • What they found deposited at the bottom
  • Amount of carbonic acid in the water
  • The water current
  • Species found

 

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They even went in to detail about an albatross having a cotton handkerchief around its neck. They certainly gave very detailed accounts of what they found. The material and species found were sent to scientists around the world once the expedition had finished, allowing them to be identified and written in the reports.

 

The letters and diary of Joseph Matkin

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(Photograph and quotes from: Philip F Rehbock, 1992.  
At Sea with the Scientifics: The Challenger Letters of Joseph Matkin. 
University of Hawaii Press).

There were letters and diaries written by members of the crew and some of these have been documented. Joseph Matkin, only 19 when the voyage began, was a member of the crew aboard Challenger and was a ship’s steward’s assistant for the whole voyage. He wrote a journal throughout which gives a different and more personal perspective of the voyage to the scientists. He speaks of food the crew ate, the people they met on land, the weather and also deaths that occurred along the way. Here are some quotes from a book published containing his diary and letters.

February 9th, 1873 “Last night one of the men caught a shark, about 6 feet in length…he was lively as ever..The old gentleman is now being eaten for dinner in the mess of the men who caught him”
June 28th, 1874 “The deceased Edw Winton was one of the finest and steadiest seamen in the ship, was about 25 years old, & married just before we left England…no one knows whether he was stunned against the ship’s side by the sea, or he might have been struck by the fans of the screw as he drifted under the stern.”
February 24th, 1875 “The natives are undoubtedly lazy, but the Spaniards do very little but smoke, drink coffee and fan themselves, the only hard workers in the Philippine islands are the Chinese.”
July 27th, 1875 “The island of Oahu has a very pleasant rural appearance…the weather is much hotter here; Thermometer 85° in the shade, and over 120° in the sun. The ship is already full of flies,& the ravenous but playful Mosquitos are only waiting for us to turn in before commencing their onslaught.”

The writing is fascinating and his language shows that he was obviously quite a well-educated man. I recommend having a read of these letters if you are interested in a more personal view of the voyage.

Will write again soon!

Measurements and equipment on HMS Challenger

As I explained in our first post, the HMS Challenger expedition aimed to find out the chemistry and physics of the deep-sea. However, what and how did they measure?

Measurements and equipment used on HMS Challenger

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To measure temperature: Miller-Cassela thermometers

One of the main components they wanted to measure was surface, bottom and intermediate temperatures of the sea. For almost all the observations, the Miller-Cassela thermometer was used. This was a  minimum and maximum thermometer (in other words, it  showed the minimum and maximum temperature of the water). As a series of temperatures were measured at different depths, this type of thermometer could be relied upon..to a certain extent. More accurate thermometers were needed at deep depths but the plan to get any was unsuccessful before the end of the expedition.

To measure specific gravity: Piezometers and hydrometers

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First off – what is specific gravity? In simple terms and in this case, it is the comparison of the density of sea water with the density of pure water. This all gets a little confusing but I will try to explain it simply.

Specific gravity was measured using devices called hydrometers and piezometers, measuring mass and water pressure. This can then be used to calculate density and so specific gravity.

So why was this useful for the expedition?  Firstly, water pressure was used to measure depth and you could see how the density of the seawater changes at different depths. It was also used to make sure that the temperature was recorded accurately – the thermometers gave you the minimum and maximum temperature and this would be accurate if at all areas the deeper the water the colder it gets. However, this is not always the case. For example, ice is less dense than seawater and so floats on top, despite being colder than the water below it. The crew worked out that a fall of one degree of temperature had the same effect as an increase of pressure equal to 430 fathoms. From this, temperature could be recorded correctly. How to measure and what to measure with was certainly well thought out! Now on to how they collected water – a little easier on the brain!

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To collect water during the HMS Challenger expedition: Buckets and Bottles

When collecting water, water from the surface was collected simply with a bucket. Water from the bottom, however, was collected by specifically designed instruments, for example the Slip Water-Bottle. This was basically a brass cylinder that takes in water once it reaches the bottom. A similar water bottle, called the Stop-Cock Water Bottle, was used to collect water at intermediate depths.

 
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So that is just some of the main equipment used aboard HMS Challenger to gather important data. The temperatures recorded are still being used now to compare how the ocean’s temperature has changed over time so it was well worth the effort.

That is me for now…in the next blog post I will show you examples of some of the data collected from a station, including some specimens that were found. Speak soon!