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  • Specimen of the Week 331: The Glanville Fritillary

    By Hannah Cornish, on 23 February 2018

    It is 100 years since the first women got the right to vote in the UK, and with international women’s day coming up UCL is celebrating with UCL vote 100. At the Grant Museum we are taking this opportunity to explore stories of women in natural history, amazing female specimens and the language of gender in zoology.

    This week’s specimen is rare in the UK, but common in the Grant Museum collection. Its connection to our theme is not to do with the species itself, but to do with the incredible woman who discovered it. Specimen of the week is….

    L1313 (second from top) and other specimens of Melitaea cinxia in the Grant Museum collection

    LDUCZ-L1313 (second from top) and other specimens of Melitaea cinxia the Glanville Fritillary in the Grant Museum collection

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 330: The taxidermy koala – The language of natural history

    By Jack Ashby, on 16 February 2018

    With generic terms like mankind and Homo sapiens (“wise man”), people of all genders are well aware that it is the masculine that has dominated the vocabulary of humanity. Not so in the animal kingdom.

    Across UCL Culture we are celebrating the centenary of some women first getting the vote in the UK in a number of different ways. In the run up to International Women’s Day, here on the blog our Specimens of the Week will be exploring themes like women in natural history, female specimens, and – in this case – the language of natural history. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…

    Koalas are one of many Australian mammals that are named after a female attribute. Phascolarctos means "pouched bear". LDUCZ-Z65

    Koalas are one of many Australian mammals that are named after a characteristic that only females have. Their scientific name Phascolarctos means “pouched bear”. LDUCZ-Z65

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    Specimen of the Week 329: Flamingo skull

    By Nadine Gabriel, on 9 February 2018

    Hello, it’s Nadine Gabriel with another Specimen of the Week. This is a skull of an American flamingo, one of the six species of flamingo and the only species that naturally inhabits North America. The fiery-coloured plumage of this long-legged bird is sure to brighten up the dark winter days, so read on to find out more…

    Skull of an American flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber LDUCZ-Y147

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 328: Sawfish Rostrum

    By Nadine Gabriel, on 2 February 2018

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is a guest edition by Front of House Volunteer and UCL Student of History and Philosophy of Science, Leah Christian. Read on as she reveals that her Specimen of the Week is…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month January 2018

    By Mark Carnall, on 31 January 2018

    Welcome to January’s underwhelming fossil fish of the month. Normally in this introductory bit, before the jump, I try to do a bit about some topical event and then tentatively link it to this month’s fossil fish. Increasingly, this gets harder to do as topical events aren’t so much celebrity talent judging shows or how a politician struggles with eating a sandwich but is altogether more bleak and “Isn’t the world awful?” Ha, ha, ha, ha, here’s a fossil fish is a tough gig.

    Last week, the Doomsday Clock was moved two minutes to midnight, the closest the clock has been to Doomsday ever and as close as it was in 1953. In the summary of the setting of the clock for 2018 it’s not just the threat of nuclear war but cyber warfare and climate change which are reasons for the clock edging closer to midnight.

    But what are you gonna do about it? Kids have got to go to school tomorrow, bills have got to be paid and those selfies, by definition, won’t take themselves. There’s a paper thin wall between civilisation and anarchy when the distraction of the rat race changes to a basic fight for survival and we’re closer than ever to bursting through that wall. In post-apocalyptic movies and TV shows there’s often a protagonist who wakes from a coma to find the world changed. Society shattered. The slept through the apocalypse trope is so heavily used because when society collapses, when the rules go out of the window, it will be swift and brutally violent and deeply disturbing. Which might be too real for audiences. Especially these days. There won’t be a warning and before you know it, you’ll be throttling a friend or colleague to death for the last bag of skittles. It’ll likely be on a day that starts just like today.

    But until that happens, here’s another underwhelming fossil fish to idly pass the time. Tick. Tock. Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 327: The Fancy Casts

    By Tannis Davidson, on 26 January 2018

    It’s that time of year when a very lucky specimen gets the research equivalent of the red-carpet treatment. Each January, students in UCL’s Collection Curatorship class (as part of their MA in Museum Studies) choose objects from across UCL’s collections to research in a practical project to introduce them to the core skills of a curator: to understand objects and how to research them.

    Last year’s natural history group successfully cracked the mystery of the wax models and were able to not only identify them in their own right (as a developmental series of the freshwater leech Hemiclepsis marginata) but also revealed their place in the history of embryology as a rare surviving series made to illustrate Charles Otis Whitman’s 19th century pioneering work on cell lineage.

    This year, the specimens chosen from the Grant Museum are a set of four beautifully-made painted plaster and ceramic casts which are unique in the Museum… Read the rest of this entry »

    Egyptian Languages: Explained

    By Louise Bascombe, on 23 January 2018

    In our collection, we have representations of texts in all the major Egyptian languages.

    What, more than one? Yes! From ancient Egypt to historical Egypt to modern Egypt, there were many different scripts and languages used…

    Hieroglyphs:

    Limestone stela hieroglyph fragments with words from hymns (UC14583)

    Limestone stela fragments with words from hymns (UC14583)

     

    The script that is most recognisably Ancient Egyptian®. One of the oldest scripts used by the ancient Egyptians – and the script with the most longevity – its origins can be seen very early on in Egypt’s history, starting out life as single or small groups of signs that represented entire concepts or specific sounds. Already in the Early Dynastic Period (3100-2686BC), these signs were beginning to become standardised and by the 3rd Dynasty (2686-2613BC) were used in a wide range of contexts. They were, however, especially associated with religious texts, as it was believed that the beauty and monumental nature of hieroglyphs indicated that they were the ‘words of the gods’ (medu-netjer) and intended to be read by them.

     

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 326: elephant bird egg

    By Will J Richard, on 19 January 2018

    Hello e-readers! Will Richard here, once again choosing a specimen for you. And to say good bye (I am soon off to pastures new) I’ve gone for a giant. The biggest in its Class….

    LDUCZ-Y1 elephant bird egg cast

    LDUCZ-Y1 elephant bird egg cast

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Internal Beauty opens today

    By Jack Ashby, on 17 January 2018

    It is very easy to say that biology is beautiful, and obviously a lot of it is. But when it comes to cow rectums, pig fat, maggot-infested mushrooms and sheep testicles, people may need a bit more convincing of the aesthetic qualities of nature. These are the primary materials that make up the artworks in our new exhibition – Internal Beauty – which opens today.

    Artist Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva has created sculptures and installations from caul fat (the tissue that encases pig stomachs and intestines) and other animal organs, drawing attention to parts of the body we would sometimes rather forget. There is no denying the results are exquisite.

    Elpida at work in a previous exhibition (Haruspex, Making Beauty at Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham) cow’s stomach, lamb intestines, caul fat, 2016, photo Nick Dunmur

    Elpida at work in a previous exhibition (Haruspex, Making Beauty at Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham) cow’s stomach, lamb intestines, caul fat, 2016, photo Nick Dunmur

    The Grant Museum shares its building with the UCL Medical School (we moved in to what was once the Medical School’s library in 2011), and Elpida’s work has brought some of the cutting-edge research that our neighbours are undertaking into the museum. Internal Beauty is an exhibition resulting from Hadzi-Vasileva’s residency in biomedical research labs, (funded by Wellcome Trust), considering nutrition, our gut and how man-made, microscopic materials can fix problems. Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the week 325: The three-striped night monkey skull.

    By Hannah Cornish, on 12 January 2018

    In life this week’s specimen was small, loud and fluffy. It is also an unsung hero of science described by another unsung hero of science. This specimen of the week is…

    Three-striped night monkey skull

    LDUCZ-Z414 Aotus trivirgatus Three-striped night monkey skull

    **The three-striped night monkey skull**

    Eyebrows on fleek

    Three-striped night monkeys have huge eyes, giving them excellent night vision, and are known for their loud calls. They have a distinctive facial pattern with prominent eyebrows which makes them look rather like startled Ewoks. They eat fruit, nuts, flowers, leaves, eggs and insects, and are found in Venezuela and Brazil. This species is also known as the douroucouli, owl monkey, northern night monkey or Humboldt’s night monkey, but more on that later.

    Night monkey, Aotus trivirgatus by Dick Culbert

    Three-striped night monkeys, Aotus trivirgatus by Dick Culbert, CC Attribution 2.0 license.

    Night monkeys in science

    The three-striped night monkey is not considered to be under threat by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). However, related species of night monkey such as Aotus nancymaae are threatened by habitat loss and illegal trade for lab animals and pets, making them vulnerable to extinction. Night monkeys are particularly useful in malaria research as they are one of the few other primates that can be affected by the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, and as such are highly sought-after. In the past this has led to them being taken from the wild in large numbers. In recent years various species of captive-bred night monkeys have been used in research into malaria-induced anaemia and potential malaria vaccines. Thank you night monkeys!

    Night monkey Aotus trivirgatus taxidermy from Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, by David Stang

    Three-sriped night monkey (Aotus trivirgatus) taxidermy from Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, by David Stang, CC SA 4.0 licence

    It was originally believed that there were only one or two species of night monkey, but a series of studies since the 1980s has uncovered a complex picture with up to 18 different potential species based on the number of chromosomes they have. Currently 11 different species are recognised by scientists, but this could well increase in the future.

    Humboldt

    In 1811 Aotus trivirgatus was the first night monkey described by a European scientist. It was named by Alexander von Humboldt, a pioneering German biologist and explorer. Humboldt was one of the first scientists to travel through South America, and is considered to be the father of the science of ecology, although he is nowhere near as famous today as he was in the 19th century. As well as being one of Darwin’s favourite authors and falling out with Napoleon over who had sold more books, Humboldt was also the first person to describe man-made climate change as early as 1800. He is said to be the person with the most species and places named after them, including at least four universities, several mountains, a penguin, and a really big squid.

    Hannah Cornish is the Curatorial Assistant at the Grant Museum of Zoology

    References

    http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/summary/41543/0

    http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/41540/0

    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41541-017-0015-7

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11986251

    The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science Andrea Wulf, 2016