: Natural History

Paddy the Pangolin: Conservation of a Taxidermy Museum Specimen

Madalyne Epperson, 3 August 2023

Written by Madalyne Epperson, MA Conservation Practice student, Durham University – on placement at National Museum Cardiff.

Natural history collections are often central to our understanding of evolution, population genetics, biodiversity, and the environmental impacts of pesticide use and climate change, among other things. For this reason, caring for these collections is of great importance. A taxidermy tree pangolin – named Paddy by the conservation team - was brought to Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales in 2017 in need of attention. Paddy was collected on August 4th, 1957, by researchers during Cambridge University’s French West Africa Expedition. According to the expedition diary, Amgueddfa Cymru had asked the researchers to retrieve a pangolin to make a museum specimen, as was common practice at that time. The mounted pangolin was feared lost after the expedition’s drying tent went up in flames on August 25th, 1957. Paddy was terribly singed by the fire, which greatly disheartened the expedition team. It is perhaps for this reason that Paddy never made it to the museum when the expedition concluded. It was not until 2016/2017 that Paddy was found in Staffordshire in the home of one of the expeditions members and sent over to the museum.

Condition Prior to Conservation

Analysis was conducted to learn more about Paddy’s preparation, and his condition was assessed before interventive conservation treatments were undertaken. X-radiography revealed an iron wire extending the length of the specimen, while scanning electron microscopy with elemental analysis (SEM-EDX) confirmed no arsenic, mercury, or other pesticides are present. After being left on top of a wardrobe for 60 years, Paddy was covered in dust, cobwebs, and other contaminants. He was also coated in smoke residues from the fire that melted the keratin scales on his face, torso, and tail. Larvae casings found on and within the specimen suggest there was a carpet beetle (AKA wooly bear) infestation as one point, although no signs of an active pest problem were found. Arguably the most imperative concern was the split in Paddy’s chest, which was liable to grow if not addressed properly. 

Conservation Treatment

A conservation vacuum and soft bristle brush were used to remove loose debris, including fuzz, insect casings, and dust, from Paddy’s surface. Cosmetic sponges were proposed and tested as a means of removing engrained dirt from the specimen’s scales, but they were not as effective as expected due to the coarse nature of the scales. A dilute solution of Synperonic N non-ionic detergent in 50:50 water and ethanol on dampened cotton swabs proved very successful at removing the stubborn contaminants. Once Paddy was cleaned, ethanol on cotton swabs was utilized to clear any remaining surfactant residues.

After Paddy was clean, attention turned to the split in Paddy’s chest. Bridges were made from Japanese Tissue paper and secured using Evacon R, a neutral pH, non-plasticized ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) copolymer emulsion. Tweezers and dental tools were used to manipulate the adhesive-soaked strips of Japanese Tissue paper into the split until the entire gap was sufficiently filled. Once the adhesive was dried, Winsor and Newton acrylic paints were used to tint the Japanese Tissue. The so-called “six-foot, six-inch” rule was followed during the color-matching process. This will allow the gap to be identified upon close inspection but ensures it does not detract from the specimen while on display.

The decision was made to remove the section of iron wire protruding from Paddy’s nose. Although the wire is part of the preparation history of the specimen, there was concern that the wire may snag and cause damage in the future. A small hack saw and wire cutters were utilized to quickly remove the wire. Care was taken to cut off as much of the wire as possible without affecting the organic material surrounding it. The cut wire was very bright and shiny, so the end was obscured using Winsor and Newton acrylic paints.

Paddy is now ready to meet his adoring public! Pangolins, generally, are considered the most trafficked animal in the world. Their defence mechanism (i.e., curling into a ball) makes them easy for poachers to collect and transport. They are primarily harvested for their scales, which are highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine. Now that Paddy is presentable once again, he can be used to help educate and raise awareness for these wonderfully odd and endangered creatures. 


Pan Golin. 2018. GabonExpeditionPart1. [online video] Available on Youtube  

(Accessed 30 May 2023)

You can find out more about the vertebrates collections at the museum here. If you'd like to find out more about the stories behind some of the Natural Sciences collections and the work we do, why not check out our articles pages.

Beginning my journey into science, starting 450 million years ago!

Manus Leidi (PTY Student), 27 July 2023

Everyone has that favorite Christmas from their childhood, I bet you can picture yours now. Mine was when I was about eight years old. I woke up to find a small rectangular present underneath my pillow, not then realizing the butterfly effect this present would have on my life. Most kids that age would be wishing for Lego or superhero figures, and I did love Lego at that age, yet this present was none other than BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs series. I was hooked like a bee is to pollen, getting more and more lost in the land before time, the animals of today paling in comparison to the monsters that used to stalk our planet, wondering if one day I’d be able to discover and name my own.

Unfortunately, this dream was put on hold as I dealt with my terrible teenage years.  Impressing my peers became the centre of my life and being the dinosaur/science kid was not going to cut it. Once I had left school for college and grown up, considerably, I went back to my original passion, studying Biology at A level and then moving to a biology undergraduate degree at Cardiff University. 

Though I have studied biology for many years, I still had no actual experience in doing real scientific work. So, when the opportunity to partake in a professional training year (PTY) arose, I reached out with both arms. I applied for a placement at Amgueddfa Cymru-Museum Wales in Cardiff, and after a few weeks I embarked on a project with the Natural Sciences staff in the museum. This is where my journey into the scientific world begins, working on animals that perished over 450 million years ago.

The day I started my project in the museum felt a bit like a first swimming lesson, nervous but excited at the same time. Luckily for me I was put under the tutelage of the wonderful Lucy McCobb, a paleontology curator who had a vast knowledge and understanding of the time and fossils I would be working on. My first few weeks of the project were spent organizing nearly a thousand fossils by species, so that they could be transferred into drawers for easier access. The collection of fossils I had been assigned to work on was called the Sholeshook Limestone collection. These fossils were collected in South-west Wales by an amateur collector called Patrick McDermott, who graciously donated them to the museum so they could be further studied. 

My project over the year would be to curate the collection, organizing and documenting it, as well as to help identify a possible new species. The animals I would be focusing on from this collection are a group of archaic, marine arthropods known as trilobites. These creatures are some of the earliest known fossils, first appearing around 520 million years ago in the Cambrian period and lasting almost 300 million years, before going extinct with 90% of all other life in the end Permian mass extinction. 

But why trilobites? Most people overlook the arthropods of today in favour of more impressive animals. Trilobites, however, have proved vitally important to scientists in the study of evolution. Firstly, trilobite fossils are one of, if not the most, abundant fossils of their age. This is due to trilobites being amazingly successful as a class, having a hardened exoskeleton which they moulted off regularly and many species living in shallow coastal environments, both features that increase chances of fossilization massively. In fact, they have been so useful that entire evolutionary studies have been conducted on them, such as Peter Sheldon's important study of over 15000 trilobites from mid Wales in the 1980s, which resulted in an eye-opening paper shedding light on evolutionary trends based on trilobites. Excited by my prior reading, and especially the prospect of helping discover a novel species, I was eager to begin my project. 

Once all the fossils were sorted, my first task was to select the best specimens from each species to photograph. Photographing the specimens is very important as this will eventually allow them to be uploaded online and in turn, become accessible to many more people, including scientists and the public alike. 

Once this was all completed, it was time for my favourite part of my project so far, helping discover a new species! This has always been a lifelong dream of mine, although when younger I did hope I’d discover the biggest dinosaur ever, and I couldn’t wait to get started. I gathered all the fossils of the suspected new species; each specimen, over 250 in total, needed to be worked on in a number of ways. First, they had to be sorted according to which part of the body it represented.  Luckily trilobite exoskeletons tend to break into consistent parts (head, thoracic segments, tail) so this part was not too difficult. Second came the most time-consuming part, examining their features in detail under the microscope, making observations and taking multiple measurements of each specimen - like the initial sorting, this process took a few weeks but was vital, as these measurements are used to distinguish our species from others in the genus.

Once all the raw data were collected, along with Lucy, we compared our species with every other known species in the genus. This was not as easy as it first seemed.  The well-known species were rather quick to distinguish based on their different features, however, some species are not even given full species names, as only one poorly preserved fossil has been found. Comparing these fragmentary fossils to our species was taxing, especially when the papers some of these species were figured in are from the 1800’s or written in Russian! 

I am hopeful that this paper will be finished and submitted to a scientific journal before I begin my third year of my university degree. I believe this will be a huge help to make me more desirable to future employers. As well as curating and writing this paper, the museum has also given me other opportunities to help develop my scientific skills. This September, in fact, I will be presenting a poster on the project at the Paleontological Association annual conference, which I am beyond excited to do. 

Another area the museum has helped me develop is science communication. I was given the opportunity to produce trilobite spotter sheets to help the Welsh public in their fossil hunting. This involved me finding local and well-preserved fossils in the museum’s collections to photograph, laying these images out on the sheets, and working with Lucy to draft text about them. I was then able to present these sheets at a public outreach event, After Dark: Science on Show, where Lucy and I ran a stand, promoting the museum’s spotter sheets and inviting people to play a board game, which showed them how difficult it is for fossils to form. 

Having the opportunity to work in the museum has further solidified my passion for natural science, as well as giving me the tools to progress in the field post degree. I feel I have finally taken my first steps into the scientific world, rather than simply learning about other peoples’ discoveries. Being able to say that I have published scientific work before even graduating from university and knowing I can work with fellow peers in my workplace who have said they have appreciated me being here (they could be lying), has given me great self-confidence. I cannot stress how important doing a year in industry has been for me and would recommend it to any other student. The insight and experience it will give you will in my opinion completely influence your future decision making. I implore any student with the opportunity to take a training year to ask yourself, do you actually know what it will be like or have any experience working in your field? If the answer is no, then a training year should be a MUST!

Finally, I would like to thank Lucy, Caroline and Jana, as well as all the staff in Natural Sciences that have helped me this year. I feel prepared to take my next steps into science and that’s all because of the help everyone has given me. 

A new home for some Skomer seaweeds

Katherine Slade, 9 May 2023

Off the  coast of Pembrokeshire in west Wales is Ynys Sgomer, Skomer Island, a very special place for wildlife. It is a National Nature Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and the surrounding waters were the first designated Marine Conservation Zone in Wales in 2014. This prestigious list gives a high level of conservation protection to the rich marine habitats and species found here.

A collection of over 100 pressed seaweeds from Skomer Marine Conservation Zone have been donated to the Museum by Kate Lock, Marine Conservation Officer at Natural Resources Wales. Scientists have studied the marine life of the island for many years, and these specimens were collected as part of surveys to record the life within this highly protected region covering 27 kilometers of mostly rocky shores including cliffs, rock pools, caves and tunnels.

The collection preserves evidence of over 70 different seaweed species collected from places with wonderfully descriptive names such as Garland Stone, Martin’s Haven, The Wick, Wendy’s Gully, North Wall and Mew Stone. Of the 119 specimens, 107 are red seaweeds, 12 are brown seaweeds, and 2 are green seaweeds. Almost all were collected from below the tidal zone.

A couple of non-native seaweeds make an appearance, Antithamnionella ternifolia, which was first recorded from Wales in 1956 north of Skokholm and south of Skomer. Also Siphoned Japan Weed (Dasysiphonia japonica) which is native to the Pacific Ocean and invasive in the UK. It was first recorded from Wales in 1999 at Milford Haven. Our specimen is from the Wick on Skomer Island and was collected in 2005. This same survey recorded the rare red seaweed, Crested Spermwell (Euthora cristata) which grows on Forest Kelp (Laminaria hyperborea) has a mainly northern distribution in the UK and most records are from Scotland, with a few in Pembrokeshire.

The exclusively subtidal rare red seaweed Lobed Jelly Weed (Schmitzia hiscockiana) was described as new to science in 1985 from Ynys Enlli in north Wales (Maggs & Guiry 1985). It is found on the western shores of Britain and Ireland and our specimen was collected in 1999 from Skomer.

Collections of plants and algae from highly protected areas like Skomer are rare and highly regulated. These collections were made during surveys conducted by the Countryside Council for Wales, which is now part of Natural Resources Wales, the organisation that manages the island for wildlife. The specimens provide invaluable evidence for the species found there and how they change over time and cannot be duplicated. They will now join the other 8000 algae specimens in the herbarium at Amgueddfa Cymru. They have improved the Museum’s coverage of this area, which previously consisted of only small numbers of seaweeds from Skomer.

Please contact Katherine Slade for enquiries relating to the algae collection at Amgueddfa Cymru.

If you’re visiting Pembrokeshire, its nearly your last chance to the visit the On Your Doorstep exhibition at Oriel y Parc in St. David’s, which runs until the end of May 2023. It brings together stories of nature and archaeological discovery in Pembrokeshire and features the Museum’s collections.


Further Reading

Bunker et al (2017) Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland. Seasearch

M.D. Guiry in Guiry, M.D. & Guiry, G.M. 07 February 2017. AlgaeBase. World-wide electronic publication, National University of Ireland, Galway. https://www.algaebase.org; searched on 30 January 2023

Maggs, C.A. & Guiry, M.D. (1985). Life history and reproduction of Schmitzia hiscockiana sp. nov. (Rhodophyta, Gigartinales) from the British Isles. Phycologia 24: 297-310.

Sjøtun et al. (2008) Present distribution and possible vectors of introductions of the alga Heterosiphonia japonica (Ceramiales, Rhodophyta) in Europe. Aquatic Invasions. 3(4): 377-394

A new Welsh treasure trove of very special fossils

Lucy McCobb, 1 May 2023

Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales palaeontologists have discovered a large number of extraordinary new fossils, including many soft-bodied creatures, at a new site in mid Wales.  Honorary Research Fellows, Dr Joe Botting and Dr Lucy Muir, are working with Senior Palaeontology Curator Dr Lucy McCobb and colleagues from Cambridge (Dr Stephen Pates), Sweden (Elise Wallet and Sebastian Willman) and China (Junye Ma and Yuandong Zhang) to study the fossils, which feature in a paper just published in Nature Ecology and Evolution Independent researchers Joe and Lucy discovered the new fossil site, known as Castle Bank, near their home in Llandrindod Wells during Covid-19 lockdown.  Unable to travel to use museum equipment, they crowd-funded to buy special microscopes to allow them to study their finds in more detail.  Ongoing work on the fossils is revealing a much more detailed picture of life in ancient Wales’ seas.

Where are the fossils from?

The fossils were discovered in a quarry on private land not far from Llandrindod Wells (the exact location is being kept secret to protect the site).  The rocks in which the fossils were found were laid down under the sea during the Ordovician period, over 460 million years ago, a time when what is now mid Wales was covered by an ocean, with a few volcanic islands here and there.

What kinds of animals were found at Castle Bank?

Fossils of lots of different kinds of animals were found at Castle Bank, totalling over 170 species so far.  Most of the animals were small (1-5 mm) and many were either completely soft-bodied when alive or had a tough skin or exoskeleton.  Places where soft-bodied fossils are found are very rare.  They give us an important glimpse of the full variety of life in the past, not just the animals with hard shells and bones that are usually found as fossils. 

The soft-bodied fossils include lots of different worms, some living in tubes.  There are also two kinds of barnacle, two different starfish and a primitive ‘horseshoe crab’.  Our own branch of the family tree is also present, in the form of primitive jawless ‘fish’ called conodonts.

Castle Bank fossils include the youngest known examples of some unusual groups of animals, including ‘opabiniids’ with their vacuum cleaner-like proboscis [Unusual new fossils from ancient rocks in Wales | Museum Wales].  There is also a ‘wiwaxiid’, a strange oval-shaped mollusc with a soft underbelly and a back covered with rows of leaf-shaped scales and long spines.  Another animal resembles Yohoia, an arthropod with a pair of large arms out the front, tipped with long spines for grasping food.  Before the Castle Bank discovery, these kinds of animals were only known from much older rocks, dating from the Cambrian period over 40 million years earlier.

On the other hand, some Castle Bank fossils appear to be the earliest examples of their kinds yet known.  If what looks like a horseshoe shrimp really is one, then it is the first fossil ever found of a group of crustaceans only previously known from living examples.  And another fossil looks remarkably like an insect and may be distantly related to these familiar creatures, which didn’t appear (on dry land) until 50 million years later.

Most Castle Bank fossils are found as dark shapes on the surface of the rock, a type of preservation known as ‘Burgess Shale-type’ where soft tissues are fossilised as films of carbon.  Almost all the previous examples are from the Cambrian Period (when animals with skeletons appeared in the fossil record), but Castle Bank dates from the Middle Ordovician, some 50 million years later. This is important, because it gives us a new window into how life was evolving at this time. 

Very fine details of the fossils can often be seen under the microscope.  A pair of eyes and the outline of what may be a primitive brain are visible in the head of an unknown arthropod.  Several trilobites have traces of their guts inside, and some of the worms have tentacles and jaws.  Only one other Ordovician site in the world (the Fezouata Biota of Morocco) preserves close to this level of detail. 

Researchers in Sweden also dissolved some of the rock in hydrofluoric acid, which left behind minute fragments of organic remains.  Under the microscope, these show cellular-level detail and provide clues to an even greater diversity of life than can be seen with the naked eye.

Future research on these intriguing fossils aims to unravel more of their secrets and to figure out their exact relationships to the rest of the tree of life.

What was life like at Castle Bank 460 million years ago?

All animal life was under the sea at that time.  A lot of the Castle Bank animals fed by filter feeding (filtering small particles of food out of the water) including a huge variety of sponges, along with sea mats (bryozoans), shellfish known as brachiopods and colonies of graptolites.  Many of these may have lived attached to underwater rocks and provided shelter for other animals that moved around. 

Most of the animals living at Castle Bank were small (1-5 mm).  They include lots of juveniles of a common trilobite called Ogyginus (but no adults), which suggests that this was their nursery, with fully grown trilobites living elsewhere.  Many other animals appear to be adults of small species.  Perhaps Castle Bank was a relatively safe, sheltered place, where smaller creatures lived in nooks and crannies away from the more perilous open ocean.

Joe and Lucy are still collecting fossils at Castle Bank as often as they can.  Many more new species are likely to be discovered in the coming years, as the rocks gradually give up their secrets.  We’re looking forward to learning much more about life in ancient Wales.

What can I do if I find an unusual-looking fossil?

As these fossils show, there are still lots of exciting new things to discover in Wales. If you find something that looks interesting and you're not sure what it is, our Amgueddfa Cymru scientists would be happy to try to identify it for you, whether it's a fossil, rock, mineral, animal or plant.  Just send us a photo (with a coin or ruler included for scale) with details of where you found it.  You can contact us via our website (https://museum.wales/enquiries/) or on Twitter @CardiffCurator  We also have a number of spotters’ guides on our website, which will help you identify a lot of the more common things you’re likely to come across (https://museum.wales/collections/on-your-doorstep/identifying-nature/spotters-guide/)



Arthropod = an animal with no spine, a hard outer shell (‘exoskeleton’) and lots of jointed limbs. Includes insects, spiders, crabs and scorpions.

Mollusc = an animal with no spine and a soft body, often partly covered by a hard shell. Includes slugs, snails, clams and octopuses.

Crustacean = an arthropod with a hard outer shell, lots of legs and two antennae (‘feelers’). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps and woodlice.

Bryozoans = tiny animals with no spine that live together in branching, rounded or flat colonies in the sea and filter food particles out of the water. Also known as sea mats or moss animals.

Brachiopod = shellfish with two shells and a special feeding loop covered with tentacles and fine hairs for filtering food particles out of the water. Also known as lamp shells.

Graptolites = tiny extinct animals with no spine that lived together in branching tube-like colonies with cups to house individuals, which filtered food particles out the water. Lived on the sea bed or floating in the water.

Rights and Rites; a new project to digitise and investigate botanical specimens from South Asia

Nathan Kitto and Heather Pardoe, 21 February 2023

Work has started on the UK Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded Rights and Rites, project, which explores, with community groups, plants and plant products originating in South Asia, primarily India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. 

The Amgueddfa Cymru biocultural collections (comprising approximately 5500 specimens), include a wide range of medicinal plants, notably plants important in traditional Ayurveda and Siddha medicinal systems, food products and raw materials. Specimens in the collection were originally donated by individuals and institutions, such as the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, and the Imperial Institute. The biocultural specimens, together with linked herbarium specimens and botanical illustrations are being explored in workshops involving curators and local community groups, with links to the places of origin of these specimens.

The aim of this collaboration is to combine the scientific knowledge of the curatorial and research staff with the expertise of local members of the Asian diaspora, to provide cultural context for specimens in the Museum’s collections. We aim to work together to increase knowledge of plant species used in traditional medicine, cuisine, ceremonies and culture. Through this collaboration, we are co-curating new interpretations for South Asian specimens, drawing on people’s lived-experience and cultural understanding of the specimens’ country of origin. The updated records on our collection databases have the scientific botanic information augmented with contextual information on medicinal and culinary properties.

This extends what we know about the collections, combining scientific details with information on traditional uses of the plant products. Access to specimens in the collection is being enhanced by digitising the South Asian specimens in the collection and also by producing 3D scans of the selection of specimens. Furthermore, we are researching the provenance of the botanical specimens concerned and creating new permanent records to include the new, co-created content.  We intend to make the economic botany collection more accessible to local communities, other institutions and scientists across the globe.

The project employs new scanning equipment, purchased using an AHRC grant, to scan specimens.  The scans will act as a catalyst to spark dialogue and knowledge-exchange about the Indian flora both between curators and the community and within the local diaspora community.