Search Results for: "animals" - Page 1 of 3

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Potty Gardening Club: Plants that Fight Back

Plants are not always the defenceless things you may think they are. Some fight back! Roses, brambles and hawthorn have thorns and holly has prickles. Thorns, spines, and prickles are hard modifications of leaves, stems or buds with sharp ends whose sole purpose is to deter animals from eating them. Nettles are different and perhaps the masters of self-defence with a special adaptation like something out of a science fiction story.

Nettle stinging hairs are made from glass! Its true – the tips of the nettles stinging hairs are made of glass! But not transparent glass, like your windows, but a special silica glass. Its not really known how plants make this glass, but plants like nettles suck in silica, which is in the soil, through their roots and then somehow convert it into little fibres of glass that make the hairs. The glass made by plants is called “phytoliths”.

Stinging nettles are covered with hundreds of tiny hollow hairs called trichomes. Can you see the glass needle hairs in my picture?

When something brushes the hairs, the fragile silica tips break off and the hair becomes needle-like, piercing the skin and injecting the sting-causing chemicals. You can see this in my close-up photo of a triggered hair. If you have ever put your hand on a nettle in your garden or brushed against any you will know how painful this can be. Ouch!

Nettles are perennial plants, growing in the summer and dying down to the ground in winter, waiting to reappear the following spring.
Nettles have a spreading rootstock (rhizome) and root runners (stolons) just below the soil surface. They also produce abundant seed to increase the chance of spreading.

Nettles do well in areas of human habitation and abandoned buildings where human and animal waste may increase the soil fertility. They are also found in meadows as an undergrowth plant alongside hedges and in wetter environments.

Nettles are an important food plant for several species of butterfly larvae, such as the peacock butterfly, the comma and the small tortoiseshell. It is also eaten by the larvae of some moths, but though nutritious it is generally avoided by most other things because of its sting. But cooking the plant destroys the stinging hairs, making the nettle safe to eat. In the past, nettle shoots and leaves were used as a Spring vegetable and is still used as a popular herbal tea today, it is high in vitamin A and C as well as iron.
Would you believe that nettles have been used to make clothing? Nettle textiles have been found in Denmark Iron Age burial sites 3000 years old. During World War I, due to a shortage of cotton, German army uniforms were made from nettle fibres. More recently some clothing companies have started to produce nettle textiles for clothing again. I wonder if it’s itchy!

Happy gardening.

Written by Rob Gagliano, Casual Learning Development Leader and Natural Science Collections Volunteer

Potty Gardening Club: Moths and Butterflies

Hello Potty Gardeners, welcome to another session of your Gardening Club.

This week we will be looking at butterflies and moths. We have all seen butterflies, and sometimes moths, fluttering about our gardens and I am sure we have all seen the caterpillars as they munch their way through different plants. Did you know there are about 2500 species of moth in the UK? Most of them are small or tiny little creatures that you may not see unless you hunt for them. But there are only about 60 species of butterflies. One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a butterfly and a moth is by looking at the antennae. A butterfly’s antennae are club shaped, long and with a bulb head at the end. Moths have feathery or saw-edged antennae. Butterflies also fold their wings vertically up over their backs. Moths wings are horizontal over their back.

Orange-tip butterfly

Butterflies tend to be larger and more colourful than most moths which are generally smaller with drab dull coloured wings but there are some exceptions. Butterflies are diurnal, which means flying in daytime but some are crepuscular that fly in the twilight of dawn and dusk. Moths are generally nocturnal, flying at night. But again there are exceptions and some moths are active during the day, some of these have some brighter colour such as the Cinnabar moth and the Yellow Shell moth (pictured below).

Yellow Shell moth

Another difference between butterflies and moths shows in the cocoons and chrysalides which are protective coverings for the pupa. The pupa is the intermediate stage between the larva and adult. A moth makes a silky covered cocoon and a butterfly makes a chrysalis, which is a hard, smooth case or covering with no silk.

The importance of butterflies and moths is not always obvious but as well as being pollinators, they and their caterpillars are an important part of the food chain, providing tasty snacks for birds other animals, caterpillars may be munching their way through your flowers and vegetables but they are important food source and attract other wildlife into your garden.
They are fragile, wonderful creatures that environmental changes impact on quickly, this makes them important indicators to the health of our natural environment. Climate change and the destruction of habitat can result in a reduction and possibly the ultimate loss of these wonderful and beautiful beasties.

Peacock butterfly

Amazingly butterflies and moths have been around for at least 50 million years and possibly evolved 150 million years ago, it’s hard to image a world without them. You have seen some pictures of butterflies and moths I have found. Why not look around your own garden and see what you can find?

You can also colour in this butterfly picture:

Until next week Potty Gardeners, happy hunting.

Written by Rob Gagliano, Casual Learning Development Leader and Natural Science Collections Volunteer

Potty Gardening Club: Growing from Seed

Hello again Potty gardeners,

Did you do any of the previous experiments? Keep watching them, they will grow! This week we are continuing with growing things. Plant seeds come in many different shapes and sizes. Look at the picture below of just some of the seeds I have in my greenhouse.

From these tiny seeds some large plants will grow. Some of the fastest seeds to germinate and grow are from a leaf vegetable called Rocket. As its name suggests it grows very fast, and it is a good plant for you to try to grow at home. You can plant rocket in an old washing up bowl or saucepan. If you plant rocket seeds, you will have a crop of tasty green leaves to have with your salad or on a sandwich in no time at all! Rocket can grow so quickly in the summer that they soon start to flower and if you do not cut the flower heads off they begin to produce seed. This is the natural cycle for most plants: grow, produce flowers that insects like bees help to pollinate, then produce seed which would fall to the ground or be transported elsewhere by birds or animals. Then wait until it’s time to grow again! Some seeds may wait a long time to germinate or require certain conditions, but mostly the seeds we grow from packets are quite easy.

Did you know that tomato and cucumber are actually fruit? That means they carry seeds inside them. In natural surroundings, the fruit would fall from the plant and the fleshy part would rot away, leaving the seeds on the ground to grow. You can experiment with this yourself by following these instructions for growing a tomato from fruit seed. Why not give it a try?

Some plants have other ways to spread. Strawberries put out runners that produce mini plants, and then when they are big enough they separate from the mother plant. This method provides two ways for the plant to produce offspring – by flowering, fruiting and providing seed, and by runners. Flowers when they lose the petals grow into seed heads, the seed heads swell, ripen and finally open or burst, releasing the seeds.

Look at the pictures below of a seed head.

Closed seed head
Open seed head
The seeds contained within

Have a look around your own garden and see if you can find seed heads ready to burst or open. You could then collect some seed, plant them and see if they will grow.

Until next week , Happy gardening.

Written by Rob Gagliano, Casual Learning Development Leader and Natural Science Collections Volunteer

Lockdown DIY: Creating a Small Garden Pond from Recycled Materials

One of the best ways to help wildlife in your garden is to create a pond. This provides a habitat for freshwater plants and insects, or even fish and frogs. As a keen aquarist, I’ve longed for a pond since buying our first home a couple of years ago, but with only a small lawn mostly dominated by my toddlers, creating my own wetland masterpiece wasn’t really practical. But when Newcastle-under-Lyme Council announced a change to their kerbside recycling, introducing a wheelie bin and leaving my three large recycling boxes without a job, an idea struck.

After years of helping to recycle my household waste, can it now bring some much-needed biodiversity to my garden?

Why not repurpose these generously-sized containers into the garden pond I’ve always wanted? First, I used some old paving slabs to create a flat, level base, then set about arranging my boxes into position. I’ve chosen to sit my boxes on the patio, creating a raised pond, but you could also dig a hole in a lawn and sink them into the ground.

I could have used just one box for a small water feature, but I felt ambitious and decided to link all three into one pond. So I measured and cut some notches (using a handsaw) to allow water to flow between them. I’m going to line these boxes with waterproof material, but decided to seal the little drainage holes in the bottom just as an extra precaution against any leaks.

Next, I held the boxes together using some strong tape. I’ve also positioned a couple of bricks, topped off with the box offcuts to create a bit of extra support between them, as the box bases taper away from each other.

I then spread some thick plastic inside the boxes. You can buy proper pond liner, which I should probably recommend. Being impatient and thrifty and in the spirit of recycling, I used a large plastic bag which a recent delivery had arrived in. Make sure there aren’t any holes in your liner, and that the sawn edges of the boxes aren’t too sharp.

I pushed the liner into the corners of the boxes, weighted and held in place by bricks – these will also create tiers in the pond on which plants can be positioned. I then trimmed the excess, folded over the rim and fixed in place with strong tape.

And ‘ta da’ – a raised garden pond, created in about an hour with materials entirely from my garden and shed, no expense or leaving the house necessary. All that’s needed is some aquatic plants and a solar-powered water feature to really bring it to life!

You can try this with any large container – an old plant pot, a sink; be creative! If you choose to sink your pond into the ground, make sure you use pebbles to create a sloped edge for small animals to get out, and make sure it’s in a safe place if you have pets or small children.

Potty Gardening Club: Flowers

Hello again Potty Gardeners,

Spring is well and truly with us! The plants are growing and flowers are beginning to bloom. People love growing flowers. We plant flowers in our gardens for colour and scent. But there is more to a flower than that. Flowers are a special part of the plant. They contain the reproductive parts that produce pollen and seeds. Insects are attracted to flowers to drink nectar, a sugary fluid secreted within flowers to encourage pollination by insects and other animals. There are two types of garden plants, annuals and perennials.

Annual plants grow, bloom, and die all in one year. Perennial plants survive for many years flowering many times. They bloom at about the same time each year, which helps when planning your garden.

We do not only grow flowers for colour and scent, we also eat some. Broccoli, cauliflower and artichoke are all flower vegetables. Flowers from chrysanthemums, nasturtiums and carnations can also be added to food. Crocus flowers that grow in the garden produce the most expensive spice called saffron. Other spices such as cloves and capers come from flowers. Beer has hops flowers added into the brewing to add flavor and dandelions can be made into wine or pop. Bees collect nectar from flowers and turn it into honey. Flowers can also be made into different teas using dried flowers of chrysanthemum, roses, jasmine and chamomile. All of these flowers and many more can be grown in your garden. If you have not got a garden some can be grown in pots on a window sill or in hanging baskets.

Here are some pictures of flowers growing in my garden. Why not grow some yourself?

Some of the easiest flowers to grow in pots are the nasturtium and the sunflower. Just follow the instructions on the packet, plant just one seed into a small pot. Water and put them on a saucer in the window and keep them warm. Check them every few days.

Flowers encourage insects and animals into your garden. Can you find them in this picture? [PDF Link]. You can also colour in the flowers making your garden as bright as you like.

If you are feeling adventurous you can have a go at making an origami flower, following these instructions [PDF Link].

Happy gardening Potty Gardeners!

Written by Rob Gagliano, Casual Learning Development Leader and Natural Science Collections Volunteer

Potty Gardening Club: Make a Snail Tank

Slugs and snails are a common sight in gardens. They are molluscs, related to clams, squid and octopus. They are important animals as they eat rotting leaves, breaking them down and returning nutrients to the soil.

You can make a tank for a snail to live in so you can watch and learn about it. Remember to look after your snail as carefully as you would any other pet and to release it after you have finished enjoying watching it.

How to make your snail tank.

You will need:

  • An adult
  • An empty fizzy drink bottle
  • Scissors or knife
  • Drill bit or awl/skewer
  • A small piece of plastic wrap
  • Rubber band
  1. Use your adult and a pair of scissors to carefully cut the top off the bottle

2. Rinse inside the tank with cold water, shake out the surplus water but do not dry.
3. Lay your bottle on its side and put some leafy vegetation inside for your snail. Include a small piece of lettuce.
4. Remove the screw top from the bottle and ask your adult to drill an air hole into it or replace the lid with a small piece of plastic wrap held on with a rubber band. Remember to pierce an air hole in the plastic wrap.
5. Put your snail inside their new home.
6. Push the two pieces of the bottle back together.
7. Put your snail tank outside in the shade to keep your snail cool.
8. Remember to check on your snail every day.

To keep your snail happy and safe, make sure you replace the food and vegetation daily so it doesn’t go mouldy. Make sure your snail tank stays in a cool, shady area.

Written by Rob Gagliano, Casual Learning Development Leader and Natural Science Collections Volunteer

10 Questions – The Stone Age

An introduction to the Stone Age in 10 questions. Watch or read this quick guide below.

Hello, this is Joe from The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and for any of you who might be home schooling at the moment, or home learning, or just might be a little bit curious, here are 10 questions, answered, about the Stone Age.

What was the Stone Age?

The Stone Age is the period of time in human history when humans, and our ancestors, couldn’t make metal. So they made lots of their tools from, you guessed it, stone.

How long did the Stone Age last?

So the Stone Age goes from the very very earliest stone tools ever found right the way through to when people started to use metal. So this most of human history, and it happens at different times in different places. In Britain, the earliest stone tools we’ve ever found date to about 900,000 years ago, and they were found in Norfolk. And the Stone Age ends, around about 4,500 years ago, when the Bronze Age began.

What are the three periods of the Stone Age?

So the Stone Age is divided into three periods, and each of these can seem to have quite complicated sounding names. But if we think about what the words mean they’re actually a bit a more easy to remember and understand. So all of these words end with the term ‘lithic’ which is Greek for stone.

And the first period is the Palaeolithic, and ‘palaeo’ means old, that’s why you get people like ‘palaeontologists’ who study very very old things. So the Palaeolithic literally means the ‘Old Stone Age’ – the first part of the Stone Age.

After that you get the Mesolithic, and ‘Meso’ simply means ‘middle’, so the ‘Middle Stone Age’.

And finally you have the Neolithic, and ‘Neo’ means new, so the ‘New Stone Age’, the last little bit of the Stone Age.

Why is it called the Stone Age?

The period is called the Stone Age because most of the evidence we find is in the form of stone tools. However, we have to remember that that’s only because stone tools survive the best in the ground so archaeologists are more likely to find them. People would have also been making tools from bone, antler, animal furs and skins, wood, and other natural resources. But of course, a lot of these other materials don’t survive as well in the ground, particularly when we’re talking about periods of time spanning thousands, if not tens and hundreds of thousands of years.

When was Stoke-on-Trent in the Stone Age?

Like many cities the landscape in Stoke-on-Trent has been heavily disturbed and built on. So apart from some chance finds, we don’t have a lot of evidence directly inside the city to tell us a lot about what was happening here during the Stone Age.

However, we can look at what’s been found at other places in the country, and nearby to Stoke-on-Trent, to get a good idea about, erm, who was here and when.

So some of the earliest local finds are hand axes which have been found elsewhere in Staffordshire and also some of the neighbouring counties like Derbyshire. And these hand axes can date to up to 250-300,000 years ago. So we know at some point there may have been human ancestors wandering the ancient landscape where Stoke-on-Trent now is.

However, this occupation wasn’t continuous. Ice ages would have pushed our human ancestors out at various points, and it’s only from around 12,000 years ago that we would have seen continuous populations of humans living in this area. And we know they were here because we have caves in places like the Staffordshire Moorlands and the Peak District nearby, where we’ve found their flint tools and evidence of them hunting animals like reindeer.

What were early humans like?

So our species, Homo sapiens, is quite new on the block, and there have been many, many ancient species of humans who have lived in different parts of the world in different times, including Britain.

And in fact, during the Palaeolithic, remember that’s the ‘Old Stone Age’, during the Palaeolithic, it would have been these ancient human ancestors, for the most part, who were making their home here in Britain. However, the earliest evidence for modern humans is about 40,000 years ago, and that was found down in the south of England, and it’s likely that these very, very early modern humans in Britain weren’t here for very long, or for long periods of time, because the cold weather and the ice age would have made a lot of Britain fairly uninhabitable.

However, from around 12,000 years ago the climate started to warm up and people began to repopulate and live in Britain, erm, continuously.

How did they get their good and what did they eat?

For most of the Stone Age, people were hunting and gathering, so they were living in small groups and working together to hunt animals, perhaps scavenge some meat as well, and also to gather natural resources like fruits, vegetables, roots, herbs etc. from the natural environment around them.

Some of the animals they were hunting may sound quite exotic to us now. Things like wild horses, bison, mammoth, erm, there have been rhinoceros in Britain at various points in time as well. So some quite, some of these animals of course would have been quite dangerous to hunt as well – you’d have to work together very closely and carefully to hunt a mammoth.

However, at the very, very end of the Stone Age, around 6,000 years ago, there was a big change. So people stopped being hunter-gatherers and they started to farm, and they were growing crops like wheat and barley and they started to keep domesticated animals like cattle, sheep and pigs, and creatures like that, which was a huge change in lifestyle.

What was life like during the Stone Age?

Again, it really depends what part of the Stone Age you were in. In the Palaeolithic, the Old Stone Age, people were living and hunting in groups and in contrsct to the end of Stone Age people were starting to build houses, stay in one place for longer,  and erm like I said before, farming, growing crops and tending animals.

What came after the Stone Age?

The Stone Age is followed by the Bronze Age. People began to make some of their tools from metal – bronze, rather than stone. And then they also worked other metals too like gold, we have some Bronze Age gold objects in our collections as well.

However, people didn’t just stop making stone tools overnight and it took a long time for metal tools to completely take over the tool sets of our ancestors. So, things like arrowheads, er, scrapers, continued to be made from flint for quite a long time.

What’s your favourite Stone Age item?

Some of my favourite objects are Neolithic polished axes – they seem to be quite special objects that people took great care of and also traded them all the way around the country and in Europe, and the axes are often found hundreds of miles away from the sources of stone that were used to create them. Now as well as being valued and special they were probably also used to cut down trees, as you do with an axe, and they can get through a small to medium tree in about 30-40 minutes.

And these aren’t hand axes, these aren’t like those ancient Palaeolithic tools you may have heard about, these would have been set into a wooden handle and wielded much like an axe today.

If you’re studying the Stone Age at home I hope that’s been a useful introduced. I’ve been quite general about lots of dates and terms. There’s so much more to discover about the Stone Age. If you have any extra questions you can pop them in the comments below, or get in touch with the museum through email or social media and I’d be delighted to answer your questions.

Potty Gardening Club: Leaves

Hello again Potty Gardeners and welcome to our second week of the Potty Gardening Club. This week we are looking at leaves.

Leaves provide food for many animals, including lots of different kinds of insects, as we discovered last week. But plants are not as defenseless as you may think. In fact, leaves are amazing things in several different ways. 

Leaves are an important part of a plant. It’s where part of making food for the plant happens, by using sunlight to turn carbon dioxide into sugars the plant needs for energy. This is called photosynthesis.

All plant leaves do the same job, but plant leaves can look completely different from one another.  Leaves on the shaded side of a plant could be a different colour, or be smaller, than those on the sunny side of the plant .

Some leaves look and feel waxy. These are tough leaves able to stand both the heat of summer and the cold of winter. The waxiness also makes them tough and nasty to eat to anything that may try.  Some leaves defend themselves by being hairy or prickly. Others sting or are poisonous.

Some leaves such as lettuce and cabbage are good to eat and attractive to animals, such as insects looking for a meal 

With trees, there are two different groups: broad leaves and narrow leaves. Broad leaves are the kinds you’d find on deciduous trees. That means they lose the leaves in Autumn.  They are wide leaves showing veins or lines on the back. Coniferous trees have narrow leaves, sometimes like needles, such as those on pine trees. These are much thinner and have fewer veins. 

Here are some pictures of different leaves I can find in my garden.

I found waxy leaves, hairy leaves and leaves on a Coniferous tree. Can you tell which is which?                               

Why don’t you have a go and see what types of leaves you can find? They can be leaves growing on a plant in your house or a leaf in your garden,  but they must be growing on the plant or tree. Identify it if you can – you can try using a mobile app such as ‘Seek’ if you’re struggling.

You can use this sheet to help identify some common leaves – you can also have a go at colouring it in! You could also draw your own if your leaf is not shown.

Please take care when handling any plants, especially if you have any allergies and look out for thorns and sharp twigs. Wear gardening gloves if you have them and always wash your hands after handling any leaves.

Happy Hunting!

You can see everything in our Potty Gardening Club series here.

Written by Rob Gagliano, Casual Learning Development Leader and Natural Science Collections Volunteer

Anglo-Saxon Animal Art: Colour and Discover

The Anglo-Saxons used complicated animal patterns to decorate the Staffordshire Hoard. They can sometimes be difficult to understand. This picture shows some of the decoration from the Hoard. Can you spot, in the picture below, some of the parts usually found in Anglo-Saxon animal art?

  • Long jaws biting itself or another animal
  • Pear shaped thighs
  • Clawed feet
  • Round oval shaped eyes

We think that some of the animals that the Anglo-Saxons used as decoration had special meanings.


Birds were probably meant to be ravens or eagles. Both of these birds were linked to Odin (King of the Norse gods and the god of wisdom and magic). Eagles might have been  used to represent victory like they had to the Romans. The Anglo-Saxons believed birds could communicate with the gods and that they could predict the future.


As well as birds, boars have also been linked with Odin. They might have been used on weapons like in the Hoard for protection. An Anglo-Saxon helmet from Benty Grange in Derbyshire has a boar crest on the top which probably was believed to protect the wearer in battle. The statue of an Anglo-Saxon warrior in the museum foyer has a boar on the crest of his helmet. Boars can also be fierce animals and could have been used on helmets to intimidate the enemy.

The Staffordshire Saxon


Fish were used by the Anglo-Saxons for protection on shields. When the Anglo-Saxons became Christian, they carried on using fish as a Christian symbol. We don’t know exactly which fish they were showing but they might have been pike. Pike are aggressive predators, exactly the kind of qualities you would need going into battle.


Snake like creatures are described in epic poems like Beowulf as fearsome monsters that have to be defeated by the hero. But snakes could also be for protection and healing. Snakes were also used in Christianity as symbols of evil and temptations. In Anglo-Saxon art snakes are used in complicated twisting patterns and knotwork. Some of these are so complicated that it is difficult to see the animal parts. You might be able to spot the same sort of jaws and eyes as on the first picture.

Images used under licence from ADS. Data copyright © Barbican Research Associates, Birmingham City Council, Trustees of the British Museum, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Birmingham Museums Trust unless otherwise stated.

The colouring sheets can be downloaded here:

Potty Gardening Club: Lily Beetle

Hello Potty Gardeners, we hope you are all staying safe.

We can’t get out into the Secret Garden at the museum at the moment, but there are plenty of gardening things you can do at home.

The first thing to do is stay safe; wear gardening gloves if you have them, check your hands for cuts and put on a plaster if you need. Be careful around anything sharp, like thorns. Check with a grown up!

This time of year there are lots of different insects coming into the garden. This is really important. Insects help to pollinate flowers. It’s not only bees that do this, beetles and moths and other mini beasts also help. But not all insects are helpful in the garden. 

So today we are going on our first Backyard Safari to try and find out what insects you have in your garden. Don’t worry if you don’t have much of a garden, you can find  insects and spiders in lots of places.

Here is a picture of a beetle found in my garden:

This is a lily beetle. It’s very bright, as you can see. Orange and red colours flash a warning to birds and other animals that may try to eat them – it says “I do not taste very nice, leave me alone!”

The lily beetle got its name because it is found on lilies and fratilleries (another flower). It eats these plants and lays its eggs on them.

So is the lily beetle good or bad for the garden? It’s certainly a pretty beetle, so I leave them alone if they are not doing to much damage to my plants.

Why don’t you see if you can find a beetle in your garden, and take a photograph of it? Write down where you found it, for example under a plant pot, on a twig, in the soil. Try to identify it, do you think it’s good or bad for your garden and plants?

Happy Hunting!

Written by Rob Gagliano, Casual Learning Development Leader and Natural Science Collections Volunteer