The HMS Challenger Project Team visiting museums

Hello! Heather here. Recently Holly and I spent the week at the Natural History Museum in London. This is packed with specimens dredged and trawled by HMS Challenger – most departments will have some sitting in their store cupboards somewhere! NHM (previously the British Museum) took in all the types collected from the expedition before passing off some duplicates to many museums around the world (Sydney, Lisbon, Toronto, Berlin just to name a few of the international ones). They were left with well over 10,000 Challenger specimens. A couple of weeks ago we visited both the life sciences and the palaeontology departments looking at bottom sediments, ostracods, forams, dry corals, echinoderms and sea pens. We found a big starfish…

Holly and Heather with a big starfish collected on the Challenger Expedition

Holly and Heather with a big starfish collected on the Challenger Expedition stored at NHM

A big box of blue mud dredged up from station 45 (3rd May 1873). Dredged from 1240 fathoms…

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Blue mud dredged off the East coast of the United States stored at NHM.

And then we found the sea pen. There was a particular sea pen we were wanting to find for a while. It didn’t come up on the NHM database search but we were determined that it was there somewhere! It is Umbellula thomsoni. It is in the class Anthozoa and the order Pennatulacea. The Umbellula genus was a rare zoological curiosity that was probably one of the first signs of deep-sea life and so it was a very exciting find for the Challenger crew! On top of it being rare, this particular specimen was an amazing example of bright phosphorescence exhibited in some marine life.  We are waiting for the specimen to be professionally photographed so I can’t show it to you yet but hopefully will be able to soon! Once back from NHM I had one week back in the office at RAMM and then disappeared off to the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff for 4 days to photograph some molluscs, including lots and lots of tiny shells! The majority of these were 6mm or smaller and so it was quite a fiddly job. We also got to photograph some bigger molluscs though – like octopus and squid.

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Shells found off of the Azores, Portugal stored at NMW

Some squid caught at station 313, by Argentina

Some squid caught at station 313 by Argentina stored at NMW.

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Some true whelks found off of Brazil stored at NMW.

Next stop is Dublin in 11 days time to visit the National Museum of Ireland. We are keeping busy here on the Challenger project!

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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!