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  • Archive for July, 2013

    Book Worm… Rat Island by William Stolzenburg: A Review

    By Jack Ashby, on 31 July 2013

    Book Worm

    Book Worm – that’s Grant and a lugworm

    Book Worm is our occasional series for reviewing books. Today I bring you my thoughts on William Stolzenburg’s Rat Island published by Bloomsbury in 2011.

    When I was about 13 I read David Quammen’s Song of the Dodo. His telling of the history of island biogeography through the prism of extinction was a great influence on my becoming a biologist. When I came across Rat Island: Predators in Paradise and the World’s Greatest Wildlife Rescue I was thrilled to return to where Quammen left off.

    According to Stolzenburg, islands harbour 20% of terrestrial biodiversity on just 5% of the land (read Song of the Dodo to learn why). They also account for nearly half of the world’s critically endangered species. One of the main reasons is the damaged caused by introduced species, most notably rats. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: July

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 July 2013

    It’s very trendy  to point out that with the combination of Google, Wikipedia and smart phones, we now have more information at our fingertips than any of the great thinkers, including Charles Darwin, ever had access to. Although this may be technically true, a lot of that information we can access is videos of cats, this tome on Luke Skywalker’s wife and several terabytes of saucy Harry Potter fan fiction (we don’t dare link to). In fact it’s probably a good job that Darwin didn’t have such distractions in the palm of his hand as we may have never ended up with On the Origin of Species because he filled his days watching videos of Japanese men synchronised walking.

    However, for the fossil fish that feature in this series, Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month, it’s safe to say that Darwin had access to almost as much information about these uninspiring, unimportant and all around underwhelming fossils as we have today and July’s fossil fish is no exception.

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Ninety-Four

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 29 July 2013

    Six blogs away from the big 1-0-0! In the run up to the 100th blog I am going to bring to you the top ten specimens at the Grant Museum, as voted for by…. me. I have employed strict criteria with which to segregate the top ten from the other 67,990 specimens that we have in our care…

    1) It must not be on permanent display, giving you a little behind-the-scenes magic, if you will, as the specimen will then go on display for the week of which it has been named ‘Specimen’. Oh yes. That’s almost as good as our exhibition It Came From The Stores. Almost.

    2) It must have at some point in the past made me say ‘woooo’ out loud (given my childlike disposition for expressing wonderment at the world at large, this is not necessarily a hard qualification for the specimen to achieve)

    3) I must know (at least in a vague sort of a way) what species the specimen is, as SotW is researched and written within a strict one hour time frame.

    With that in mind, at Number Seven, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Petrie’s Menagerie: The Hippopotamus

    By Edmund Connolly, on 26 July 2013

     

    The link between the Petrie collection and Egypt is pretty obvious, founded in 1892 the collection incorporates roughly 80,000 Egyptian and Sudanese objects ranging from human remains to socks. The collection is still viewed and used by thousands of visitors a year, but I am intrigued by the Victorian audience, what would they have made of this collection? More precisely I am researching[1] the animals on display in the Petrie collection and how they may have been received and the vibrant history they were thrust into when brought to London. This series of 7 blogs will include material from the Petrie collection and archive, as well as some cross-collection references.

    Specimen #1: The Hippopotamus

    The name comes from the Greek (ἱπποπόταμος) meaning river horse, personally I see it more as an oversized pig, but hey who am I to argue with the Greeks, these aquatic equestrians are a common feature of children’s media[2] and the Africa vista. Egypt is the northern-most point that the Hippo is found naturally, gallivanting around in the Nile’s cooling waters.Hippo-3

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Ninety-Three

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 22 July 2013

    Scary MonkeySeven blogs away from the big 1-0-0! In the run up to the 100th blog I am going to bring to you the top ten specimens at the Grant Museum, as voted for by…. me. I have employed strict criteria with which to segregate the top ten from the other 67,990 specimens that we have in our care…

    1) It must not be on permanent display, giving you a little behind-the-scenes magic, if you will, as the specimen will then go on display for the week of which it has been named ‘Specimen’. Oh yes. That’s almost as good as our exhibition It Came From The Stores. Almost.

    2) It must have at some point in the past made me say ‘woooo’ out loud (given my childlike disposition for expressing wonderment at the world at large, this is not necessarily a hard qualification for the specimen to achieve)

    3) I must know (at least in a vague sort of a way) what species the specimen is, as SotW is researched and written within a strict one hour time frame.

    With that in mind, at Number Eight, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Ninety-Two

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 15 July 2013

    Scary MonkeyEight blogs away from the big 1-0-0! In the run up to the 100th blog I am going to bring to you the top ten specimens at the Grant Museum, as voted for by…. me. I have employed strict criteria with which to segregate the top ten from the other 67,990 specimens that we have in our care…

    1) It must not be on permanent display, giving you a little behind-the-scenes magic, if you will, as the specimen will then go on display for the week of which it has been named ‘Specimen’. Oh yes. That’s almost as good as our exhibition It Came From The Stores. Almost.

    2) It must have at some point in the past made me say ‘woooo’ out loud (given my childlike disposition for expressing wonderment at the world at large, this is not necessarily a hard qualification for the specimen to achieve)

    3) I must know (at least in a vague sort of a way) what species the specimen is, as SotW is researched and written within a strict one hour time frame.

    With that in mind, at Number Nine, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Bentham ‘present but not voting’

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 12 July 2013

    Jeremy Bentham prepares for the meeting.

    Jeremy Bentham prepares for the meeting.

    Tuesday 9th July marked the day that the retiring Provost, Sir Malcolm Grant, attended his final UCL Council meeting. UCL Museums marked this by doing something a little bit special…

    Most people know that Jeremy Bentham, the spiritual founder of UCL, attends every UCL Council meeting. He is always recorded as ‘present but not voting’, except when the Council is split on a motion. On those rare occasions he gets a vote, and always votes in favour of the motion, due to his mischievous personality.

    It’s a brilliant story, it has everything: a dead body, academic eccentricity, reanimation of a corpse, ancient tradition…what’s not to love? Except, unfortunately, it’s a myth. One of the many legends that have built up around the ‘old radical’ that I have no doubt that he would have enjoyed. (more…)

    Time, Flies and the Origins of Crowdsourcing

    By Mark Carnall, on 12 July 2013

    Aside from jelly beans, the current Octagon Exhibition, Digital Frontiers, is dominated by objects from the Grant Museum of Zoology. Well, at least in terms of numbers because we’ve loaned this entomology drawer containing over 250 fly specimens. My colleague Nick Booth wrote about his experience of installing the objects from the collections he curates (and his experience was far more leg work than moving this single drawer was) and researching this drawer of flies in order to loan it revealed a lot of interesting information about this otherwise niche collection of insects: in natural history museums entomology collections are normally measured in the millions.

    Fly specimens in drawer labelled 'From Small cabinet 3'  from the Grant Museum entomology collections

    Fly specimens in drawer labelled ‘From Small cabinet 3′ from the Grant Museum entomology collections

    (more…)

    Horn vs Antler

    By Jack Ashby, on 11 July 2013

    Bone of contention - is this horn or is this antler? It's horn.

    Bone of contention – is this horn or is this antler?
    Erm… It’s horn.

    There are a few things that get certain zoologists wound up. I’m not talking about extinction and Jeremy Clarkson, I’m talking about relatively meaningless* distinctions that we like to pick up on when people land on the wrong side of  an invisible dichotomy. You can get blood boiling by referring to sabre-toothed “tigers” rather than “cats”; failing to say “non-avian” when referring to extinction of dinosaurs; or describing apes as monkeys (actually that’s technically true as apes evolved from monkeys and the rules of taxonomy therefore require apes to be monkeys). Among such picked-nits is the difference between horns and antlers. If only more people would remember this then fewer zoologists would die prematurely of high blood pressure… (more…)

    How To: Find Your Head

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 10 July 2013

    Do you having any burning desires to have something explained by someone on the inside? This blog series is a How To Guide for the museological musings of a Museum Assistant. The second along this (hopefully) long and happy blogging path is…

     

    How To: Find Your Head

    There are a number of reasons, you may have been concerned about this, as to why at the Grant Museum you could have come to lose your head. When the collection was in its embryological state, over 180 years ago, it first came in to being as a cohesive group of objects under the guise of being a teaching collection. This is still a focus of the collection today (hence our ‘weird’ opening hours) and subsequently no specimen is safe (except a very select few) from the threat of being handled by keen, and reluctant, students alike. Several of these teaching practicals require specimens to be de-taxonomised (stripped of identification) which has led to all sorts of potential for human re-taxonomising errors over the years. This open access extends to researchers and academics who also wish from time to time to don the nitrile gloves of handling. Plenty of scope for your head being put back in the wrong box or your label being reattached to the wrong specimen. (NEVER by the current Museum Assistant). (more…)