Amgueddfa Blog: Natural History

What is Ming?

Ocean Quahog shells - scientific name Arctica islandica

Ming is an Ocean Quahog clam with the scientific name of Arctica islandica. It was nicknamed Ming when scientists discovered that it would have been born in 1499 during the Ming Dynasty of China. Ocean Quahogs grow up to 13 cm long and the oldest one fished off the coast of Iceland was 507 years old, making it the oldest non-colonial animal known to science.

Where do Ocean Quahogs live?

These are the siphons of the Ocean Quahog - the shell is buried in the sand. It uses the siphons to suck in water and feed off tiny particles in the water

Ocean Quahogs belong to a big group of shells called ‘bivalves’. Most bivalves are filter feeders and suck in water through their tube-like siphons (you can see in the photo, the two holes surrounded by darker pink). While lying on the seabed or buried in the sand or mud bivalves can safely take food particles and oxygen from the water.

Ming was collected from the deep waters around Iceland but we get this species in British and Irish waters too, although it does not live to such a great age here. The waters surrounding our islands are warmer than those surrounding Iceland, which is just south of the Arctic Circle. Warm waters hold less dissolved oxygen than cold water and so around the UK the Ocean Quahog needs to work harder to get oxygen and so has a faster metabolism. A faster metabolism means that it grows quicker but when animals have a fast metabolism they do not live as long. In the colder waters surrounding Iceland the Ocean Quahog has a slower metabolism and so grows slowly and may even live for longer than 507 – scientists just haven’t found an older one yet!

 

How long do animals live?

Geoduck lives in the coastal waters of western Canada and USA and can live to 168 years

Some other bivalve molluscs can live for a long time as well. Giant clams can grow to 4 feet long (1.2 m) and live for around 100 years. They have tiny plant cells in their tissue that photosynthesize producing energy from the sun to give to the clam. This is why they reach such a large size – talk about plant power!

The Geoduck, which lives in the coastal waters of western Canada and USA, can live for 164 years. It is known as Gooey duck and has large meaty siphons that are a popular food for humans!

Come to our Insight gallery at Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd - National Museum Cardiff to to find out more about how long animals can live for and much more...

Giant clams live in the tropics and can reach over 4 feet long (1.2 m) and live for 100 years

 

An introduction to Ming the clam can be found here:

https://museum.wales/blog/2020-02-11/Meet-Ming-the-clam---the-oldest-animal-in-the-world/

 

At 507 years of age Ming the clam broke the Guinness World Record as the oldest animal in the world. Collected off the coast of Iceland in 2006, initial counts of the annual rings of the shell put the age at around 405 years old, which was still a record breaker. However, in 2013 scientists re-examined the shell using more precise techniques and the count rose to 507 years old.

 

This is the actual shell that was used in the aging study

This is what remains of the actual shell that was used in the aging study. At 507 years the Ocean Quahog is the oldest non-colonial animal in the world. We say ‘non-colonial’ because some animals such as corals can live to over 4,000 years but they are made of lots of animals (called polyps) stuck together as a collective form. Of the animals that exist alone the Ocean Quahog is the oldest and the Greenland Shark comes in second at around 400 years old.

Some examples of how long animals live

Our Insight gallery showcases research on the Natural World and displays a tiny percentage of our vast collections 

If you’d like to see Ming face-to-face (well, shell-to-face!) and find out how scientists discovered Ming’s age then come to Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd – National Museum Cardiff and visit our Insight gallery. As well as learning about Ming you can find out about Freshwater snails, prehistoric mammals and lots more....

Come and see Ming in our Insight gallery

The dinosaur skeleton we know and love as Dippy, has an interesting history. But we know these fossils were first called Diplodocus, right? Well, no probably not….

We’ve heard about how ‘Dippy’ came to London in 1905 – a plaster cast of the original fossil bones kept in the Carnegie Museum Pittsburgh. And thanks to palaeontologists, we can picture it as a living animal browsing in Jurassic forests 145-150 million years ago – seeing off predators with its whip-like tail.

But what about the middle of the story? Where did these fossils come from?

AC-NMW

In 1898 thanks to the steel industry, Andrew Carnegie was one of the richest people in the world. He was busy giving away money for libraries and museums. Hearing about the discovery of huge dinosaurs in the American West he said something like ‘Get us one of those!’, sending a Carnegie Museum team to find a “most colossal animal”.

So, in 1899 in the last days of the American Old West, a Diplodocus skeleton was discovered at Sheep Creek, Albany County on the plains of Wyoming, USA. It happened to be the 4th of July, Independence Day, which prompted the Carnegie team to give the fossil its first nickname - ‘The Star Spangled Dinosaur’. Predictably though, this new species was later published as Diplodocus carnegii.

The dig site would have looked very similar to this one at the nearby Bone Cabin Quarry one year earlier.

To set the scene, these late 1800's photographs are from other parts of Albany County, Wyoming (via Wikimedia Commons).

Dippy’s first name, “Unkche ghila”.

But what about the original people of the plains, the Native Americans? Wouldn’t they have found dinosaur fossils before the European settlers? In her book “Fossil Legends of the First Americans” Adrienne Mayor shows that indeed they did. They visualised the fossils’ original forms as Giant Lizards, Thunder Birds, and Water Monsters, and several of the famous dinosaur collectors had Native American guides. This book shows that Native American ideas about fossils were perceptive of the geological processes involved such as extinction, volcanoes, and sea level change.

( “Clear”, Lakota people, 1900. Heyn & Matzen

The original people of the plains where Diplodocus fossils are found are the Lakota Sioux. James LaPointe of the Lakota people was born in 1893, and recalls a legend he heard as a boy:

“The Sioux called these creatures “Unkche ghila”, roughly comparable to dinosaurs; these oddly shaped animals moved across the land in great numbers and then disappeared. The massive bones of these now extinct creatures can be found in the badlands south and east of the Black Hills. It is not clear when the unkche ghila went extinct, but Sioux geology maintains they were still around when the Black Hills rose from the earth.” From James R. Walker , 1983. ‘Lakota Myth’.

So, via Adrienne Mayor, I’ll give the last word here to the US National Park Service:

“The stories and legends told by American Indians offer a unique perspective into the traditional spiritual significance of fossils and offer an exceptional opportunity to illustrate the interconnectedness of humans and nature.” Jason Kenworthy and Vincent Santucci, “A Preliminary Inventory of National Park Service Paleontological Resources in Cultural Resource Contexts.”

Our new role as marine curatorial assistants within the invertebrate biodiversity section of Amgueddfa Cymru has so far not disappointed in offering insights into the tremendous diversity of life in our seas. After the first ten weeks of working to curate and conserve a large set of marine monitoring collections donated to the museum by Natural Resources Wales, we’ve already managed to log over 5,000 records of predominately marine invertebrates from around the welsh coast. These records have included starfish, polychaete worms, bryozoans, molluscs and anemones, to name only a few. Monitoring collections are essential for research in understanding the complexity of the natural world and diversity at many levels. To understand evolution, genetics and the morphological variation of species for example, specimens from many years are often needed, something which is not usually possible with live animals. These voucher specimens also hold valuable information about when and where species live and can be used for verification when the identification of a species is in doubt. An important contemporary issue is that specimens held in collections offer a wealth of baseline information which can be used as a comparison against current observations. This is essential when looking at how climatic changes are impacting marine life. 

 

For research to happen, specimens must be properly cared for, with their information being easily accessible. Our role can be predominately split into two parts: office and laboratory work. Work in the office encompasses everything from sorting species vials into classification groups, the logging of each vial from analogue to digital formats into a database, where locality information (e.g. sediment type and depth) and method of collection is inputted, to printing new labels for the vials, each with a unique reference number. In the laboratory, the number of specimens in each vial must be counted to accurately record species abundance, vials are then topped up with ethanol, labelled and rehoused into larger jars according to their classification groups. This method of double tubing vials into larger containers acts as not only an accessible way for a particular species to be found, but also as a preventative to stop specimens drying out. These new specimens will be added to an already impressive collection of marine invertebrates at the museum, with over 750,000 specimens. Hopefully, they will be used for generations to come to compare what we know today about the unknowns of the future.

At first glance, The Tomlin Archive helps us to explore the life of John Read le Brockton Tomlin (1864-1954), one of the most highly-respected shell collectors of his time. Alongside Tomlin's extensive shell collection, his correspondence archive holds documents he sent, received and collected, dating from the early 1800’s through to the mid 1900’s. They provide an in-depth look into Tomlin’s life, along with the lives of those he knew.

John Read le Brockton Tomlin (1864-1954)

One letter remains to me, a volunteer helping to record the archive, particularly poignant. The letter in question was written by Professor Dr. Phil Franz Alfred Schilder, a malacologist from Naumburg in Germany.

Schilder wrote the letter to Tomlin on July 11th, 1946. Within this letter, Schilder describes his anxieties surrounding his German heritage in a post-WW2 world, fearing ‘whether any Englishman ever will take notice of any German’ again, because of his nation’s ‘unbelievable barbarism’. Schilder further shares his assumption that Tomlin had been killed in the German bombings of the English South East Coast and Hastings, before it was revealed that the destruction of the English Coast had been falsely exaggerated by Nazi Germany’s official records. This helps us to understand a little more about what life was like for German citizens living in Nazi Germany during the War; Schilder felt very much a victim of Hitlerism, not just through being lied to by figures of authority, but a victim too in the tense and intolerant political and social climate Hitler created in Nazi Germany. Schilder, having a half-Jewish wife, describes their suffering under the Gestapo, living a constant struggle to prevent his wife from being taken to a concentration camp, and being treated himself as a ‘“suspicious subject”’ in Germany.

Schilder describes how he lost his job, Assistant Director of a Biological Institute, for ‘political reasons’ in 1942, and that he only regained his position once the War had ended. Once appointed Professor of Zoology at the University of Halle in November 1945, he delivered a course of lectures, but Schilder reveals how, in the bombings of Germany during the conflict, he lost all of his property. He also describes how his statistical paper on the development of Prosobranch Gastropods during geological times, was ‘destroyed by bomb shells at Frankfurt’. Losing all of his research and property seems, to Schilder, the end of Tomlin’s and his relationship: ‘I can hardly think to see you once more’, and he regretfully states he is sorry to be cut off from a country he spent many ‘fine holidays’ with ‘noble-minded scientific friends’ in.

Schilder can be seen sat on the left in this photograph, also part of the Tomlin Archive collection. ‘June 1932, on downs near Falmer’

This letter’s tone is overwhelmingly one of pain and loss. The Second World War was a truly catastrophic event that claimed millions of lives, and in this letter we are able to understand how the conflict ripped apart the lives of survivors too. It destroyed Schilder’s livelihood, years of pain-staking work, his career, and even many friendships he once had. This letter may first and foremost provide an insight into Schilder’s life, but it also tells us so much more about the unforgiving and intolerant social climate created by Hitler which still exists, in part, to this day, the vast number of victims that were affected, and the sheer scale of destruction and loss it had on so many lives.

 

Transcription of the letter dicussed from F. A. Schilder to J. R. le B. Tomlin:

Naumburg, Germany

July 11 th, 1946.

Dear Tomlin,

Several weeks ago, I wrote to Mr. Winckworth and to Mr. Blok, wondering whether any Englishman ever will take notice of any German, even if he knows that he was far more a victim of Hitlerism than responsible for the unbelievable barbarism of his nation. I did not write to yourself, because I could hardly think you still alive after the stories concerning the total destruction of the English South East coast by the German artillery across the Channel.

Now I learned from an extremely kind answer of Mr. Blok, that the destruction of Hastings was a lie as well as all the other official German records during the war, and that you are well at St. Leonards as before. I was very glad to learn that you are evidently staying in your fine home, in which I enjoyed your and Mrs Tomlin’s kind hospitality several times; and that you recovered from your long life’s first illness just now and visit the British Museum as before. I congratulate you to your recovering, and hope that your illness was not caused, though indirectly, by the events of the war.

I suppose that you know, from my letter to Mr. Winckworth, our personal fate during these last years - - the bloodstained harvest of “Kultur” (as Mr. Blok characterizes them in a very fine way), for a similar letter of mine to Mrs. van Benthem Jutting seems to circulate among my scientific friends in the Netherlands. As Mrs. Schilder is “halfcast jewish”, we had rather to suffer under the Gestapo, and I could hardly prevent her to be taken off into a concentration camp. But on the other side, by the same reason to be a “suspicious subject” I was not obliged to join the army, and possibly to be killed for a government which brought only mischief upon ourselves and upon many friends of ours both in Germany and abroad.

Now, since the American troops occupied Naumburg on my very birthday, last year, all danger both from the Allied Air Force-shells and from the Nazis is over, and we feel much more secure under the Soviet Government than we ever did under the German one during the last twelve years. I have become Assistant Director of our Biological Institute once more - - I had lost this position since 1942 by political reasons - -, and besides I was appointed honorary professor of zoology at the university of Halle, where I now deliver a course of lectures, since November 1945. But we have lost all our property, so that I can hardly think to see you once more, even if travelling to England would be permitted in future - - and I am really sorry to be cut off from a country, in which I spent so fine holidays among noble-minded scientific friends.

During the war, I published a lot of papers on Cypraeacea, even in Tripolis and in Stockholm, but the printing of a big statistical paper on the development of Prosobranch Gastropods during geological times was destroyed by bomb shells at Frankfurt. I wonder, when special scientific MSS. Will be printed again in Germany. I shall send you separate copies of all my papers as soon as such mails will be allowed.

I should be very glad to learn from yourself that you escaped the greatest catastrophe of the white race, and that you recovered fully from your recent illness.

Please tell my kind regards to Mrs. Tomlin.

Yours sincerely

F. A. Schilder