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  • Specimen of the Week 258 : Pteraspis models

    By Tannis Davidson, on 23 September 2016

    LDUCZ-V733d Pteraspis sp.

    LDUCZ-V733d Pteraspis sp.

    In a few days time the autumn term at UCL begins along with the many classes and practicals which take place in the Grant Museum.  In the first term of last year, the Grant Museum held 28 specimen-based practicals using 770 specimens.  Over 1300 UCL students from various departments attended these practicals as part of their course work.

    To celebrate the return of the autumn term, here’s a specimen which will be used several times in the next few months in the ever-popular Vertebrate Palaeontology and Evolution.  This week’s Specimen of the Week is… Read the rest of this entry »

    Silking a spider

    By Dean W Veall, on 22 September 2016

    spider3Glass sponges were the focus for Eleanor Morgan during her residency with us last year, but this guest blog Eleanor shares her latest project Gossamer Days: Spiders, Humans and their Threads. Eleanor traces the story of what happens when one making animal meets another, from the spiritual sticky spider fabrics of the South Pacific to the European desire to create spider silk underwear fit for a King.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 257: Baboon skeleton

    By Dean W Veall, on 16 September 2016

    Yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus) skeleton LUCDZ- Z474

    Yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus) skeleton LUCDZ- Z474

    Dear Specimen of the Week readers, Dean Veall here. This week’s specimen is literally skin and bones (obvs) . I’ve chosen an articulated skeleton and during my research I’ve also uncovered a pelt of the same species in our collection, but do they belong to the same individual. This week’s specimen of the week is the…..

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Fun with Minerals 2: Back in the Habit

    By Subhadra Das, on 15 September 2016

    UCL Earth Sciences student and veteran of UCL Geology Collections curation Nadine Gabriel returns with another guest blog relating her work with the mineral collection over the summer. It’s great to have her back and to demonstrate that collections management is clearly habit forming.

    Hello, it’s Nadine Gabriel again and I’ve been spending another summer working with UCL Geology Collections. Since the Rock Room will soon have another home, I’ve been removing minerals from display cabinets, auditing the collection and accessioning some new specimens. Once again I have seen thousands of minerals and one thing that always catches my eye is the wide variety of habits, so I thought this topic would make a great sequel to my first blog.

    A mineral habit is the shape of a single crystal or group of crystals. This is dependent on a mineral’s crystallographic system (the atomic arrangement of a crystal) and its growing conditions. The basic habit classification is defined by how well-formed a crystal is. A mineral is euhedral if all faces are well-developed, which means it grew in uncrowded, optimal conditions. However, if a mineral grew in unsuitable conditions, it becomes subhedral (some faces present) or anhedral (no faces). Below are the more specific habit classifications.

    First up is the massive habit which contains no visible crystal structures, but don’t assume that this doesn’t make them less eye catching! Many beautiful minerals such as deep blue lapis lazuli and vivid red (but poisonous) cinnabar have this habit.

    Minerals with cubic habit

    Cubic: pyrite, fluorite and galena (top). Hexagonal: quartz (middle left) and aragonite (middle right). Platy: biotite (bottom left) and talc (bottom right)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 256: the pickled pigeon

    By Paolo W Viscardi, on 9 September 2016

    Happy Friday everybody! Today I have a slightly gross specimen of the week for you, in the form of this lovely

    LDUCZ-Y1713 Columba livia

    **pickled pigeon**

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Eighty years extinct: today is Thylacine Day

    By Jack Ashby, on 7 September 2016

    80 years ago today, on the 7th September 1936, the last known thylacine died. With it, an entire branch of the tree of life was cut off.

    The last living Thylacine in Beaumaris Zoo, 1933. (Image in the public domain, photographer unknown)

    Thylacines, or Tasmanian tigers, were the last surviving member of a family of wolf-like marsupials that once hunted across all of Australia – the mainland as well as Tasmania. Regular readers of this blog (particularly these annual Thylacine Day posts, which we celebrate in the Grant Museum every year) will be familiar with the thylacine’s story, so I won’t go into detail here.

    A very deliberate extinction

    In short, thylacines were accused by Tasmania’s powerful farming lobby of predating sheep, and thereby damaging one of the island state’s principal economies. As a result, in 1830, they established a bounty scheme to encourage people to exterminate them. This policy was later adopted by the government, who (under pressure from the farmers) opted to pay for the bounty scheme themselves from 1888 to 1909. Inevitably over those decades the world’s (then) largest surviving marsupial carnivore’s numbers plummeted.

    As terrible as that would be on its own, the sad truth is that thylacines were unlikely to have been responsible for many sheep losses*.

    Wilf Batty, with the last Tasmanian tiger shot in the wild, 1930. (Image in the public domain, photographer unknown)

    The last record of a wild thylacine was from 1933, captured for a zoo. However, it was on the cold late winter’s night of 7th September 1936 that the last known thylacine died. It succumbed to exposure to the elements, locked out of the indoor part of its enclosure at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania.

    Live from Tasmania (unlike the thylacine)

    That was 80 years ago today. It happened about two miles from where I am now as I write – the first time I’ve been in Tasmania on the extinctiversary (I’m here for a repeat of the fieldwork into Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease I’ve been involved with before). Both my physical location here in Tasmania and the landmark of the 80 years has meant that the tragedy of the thylacine’s extinction has hit hard this year.

    LDUCZ-Z90 Thylacine skull [Grant Museum, UCL / Fred Langford-Edwards]

    LDUCZ-Z90 Thylacine skull [Grant Museum, UCL / Fred Langford-Edwards]

    What extinct species would you go back to see?

    I was asked this week which extinct creature I would most like to go back in time to see. I was expected to say a dinosaur or something of the mammoth type, but it would absolutely be the thylacine.

    Dinosaurs and mammoths are unquestionably awesome, but their extinction is, to me, far less meaningful than the thylacine’s. Humans did most likely play a role in the mammoths’ demise (though obviously not the dinosaurs’), but for me the concept of both is relatively abstract. I know they were real (we have their remains in the Grant Museum), but in a sense, at least to me, they may as well have never have existed. The idea of them is incredible, but mammoths and dinosaurs only really exist in our museums, in our imaginations and on our cinema screens.

    Part of our history

    Museums are now also the only habitat for the thylacine. There are, according to the International Thylacine Specimen Database (a brilliant resource) 754 specimens recorded in the world’s museums. And when I sit and look across many of Tasmania’s habitats I constantly imagine them there, in a way I don’t imagine dinosaurs and mammoths when I visit the moors of Dorset.

    The stomping ground of the Tasmania tiger until not so long ago. Photograph by Jack Ashby, 2016.

    Thylacines are far more palpable. It was just 80 years ago that they were driven over the edge. They were touched, photographed, put in zoos (including London) and written about by eye witnesses. They are part of our history.
    More to the pity.

    So today, remember the recently extinct. Raise a glass. Happy 80th Thylacine Day.

    To commemorate the occasion, we have put all of our thylacine specimens out to see in a special display about the extinction**. Do take this special opportunity to see our collection.

    *For the full story of the politics of the thylacine’s extinction I can’t recommend The Last Tasmanian Tiger (2000) by Robert Paddle highly enough.

    **Except for one specimen that is currently on display in the UCL Octagon as part of the Cabinets of Consequence exhibition, which is well worth a visit.

    Thylacine skull on display in the UCL Cabinets of Consequence exhibition. Photograph by Paolo Viscardi. 2016


    Jack Ashby is the Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology

    Specimen of the Week 255: the cottonmouth head

    By Will J Richard, on 2 September 2016

    Hello! Will Richard here blogging away to bring you another specimen of the week. And this one is an excellent example of the classic head in a jar. Timeless.

    LDUCZ-X1336 preserved cottonmouth head

    LDUCZ-X1336 preserved cottonmouth head

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: August 2016

    By Mark Carnall, on 31 August 2016

    August is typically the month that people occupy themselves with science until the sports season begins again in the autumn. In fact the word summer comes from the Proto-Germanic sumur which roughly translates as ‘the season in which we do not occupy ourselves with sports but instead spend a lot of time doing science’* So with so many people doing science this summer, and who aren’t engaged in sport or watching or thinking about sport, I’m hoping that we can fulfil the mission of this blog post series. The humble mission of this monthly blog series featuring underwhelming fossil fish from the Grant Museum collection is:

    all I’m asking you to do is look at it, observe it, take some time to ponder upon it and perhaps tell a friend about it. Together we’ll increase the global fossil fishteracy one fossil fish at a time.

    Regular readers of this series will know that this isn’t sell-out science. There’s no record breakers here. All we have is a rather dull fossil fish to contemplate. Will we learn something? Probably not. Will it pass the time? Depends how fast you read I guess. So without further ado, loosen your belt of expectation and let’s see this month’s fragmented fossil fish. Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 254 : Tailless Whip Scorpion

    By George W G Phillips, on 26 August 2016

    Hello again all! This Friday I present to you the spectacular and highly misunderstood tailless whip scorpion as my Specimen of the Week. I hope not only to describe some of its most interesting features, but also to slightly alleviate the concerns of any aspiring rain forest explorers out there who may be of an arachnophobic disposition: this one’s harmless. Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 253 : Moroccan phosphate fossils

    By Tannis Davidson, on 19 August 2016

    LDUCZ-V1467 Moroccan phosphate fossil label

    LDUCZ-V1467 Moroccan phosphate fossil label

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is not one, but 48 individual specimens which make up a display box highlighting various fossil teeth from Morocco.  Display boxes of this sort are not uncommon as they are a visually appealing way to showcase numerous small specimens not to mention an entrepreneurial solution to add value to otherwise inexpensive individual fossils. The Grant Museum’s display box is a rather nice example of this type containing fossil teeth of 19 different species of fish and marine reptiles: Read the rest of this entry »