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  • Archive for December, 2014

    Specimen of the Week: Week 168

    By Will J Richard, on 29 December 2014

    Christmas Scary MonkeyHello one and all! Will Richard, here again, wishing you a merry just-after Christmas and before New Year. I expect most of us are still recovering from the festive period. That magical time when friends and family come together in perfect harmony…

    Hmmm…

    So, to keep it seasonal, last month I told you all about one of our closest friends (the dog). So this month I’ve got to take a look at some of our closest family.

    And to start, let’s be honest. A family row is really part of the whole Holidays thing. We’ve all snapped while caught up in the stress-tivities, but then most of us agree to move forward for the sake of “the others”. But if it is the season to be grumpy, I think I’ve found the biggest family ding-dong ever.

    Believe me….

    This week’s specimen of the week is…

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    Specimen of the Week: Week 167

    By Tannis Davidson, on 22 December 2014

    Many different animals are associated with Christmastime. There are those with a biblical connection to the birth of Jesus –the animals of the nativity (donkey, ox and sheep) and the camels ridden by the three kings/wise men. There is the Yule goat of Scandinavia (whose ancient origin is connected to the Norse god Thor who rode a chariot drawn by two goats). There are the partridges, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, geese-a-laying and swans-a-swimming that are mentioned in seasonal song. Of course there are also the reindeer, doves, robins, and wrens associated with yuletide joy, happiness, good fortune, peace and love.

    So without much further ado, let me just add my own animal choice into the mix….this week’s specimen of the week is…

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    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: December 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 19 December 2014

    Underwhelming Christmas of the yearGod rest ye merry fossil fish

    You’ll never be displayed

    For the selection criteria of specimens

    Isn’t biased in your way

    To save us all from excitement

    You’re here to save the day

    O drawers of underwhelming fossil fish

    Underwhelming fossil fish

    O drawers o-hof underwhelming fossil fish.

    It’s that time of the year when people of all walks of life come together to celebrate the passing of 12 months of underwhelming fossil fish and look forward to the next 12, hoping the fossils stay quietly unassuming, not too bombastic or boisterous and altogether middling-at-best. This year was particularly unexciting one for fossil fish with many stoically maintaining a state of fossiliferous.

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    The Glass Delusion

    By Eleanor Morgan, on 17 December 2014

    Frontispiece of Johann Becher's Physica Subterranea, 1669.

    Frontispiece of Johann Becher’s Physica Subterranea.

    ‘Man, like all animals, is glass and can return to glass’ writes the German alchemist Johann Becher in his work Physica Subterranea published in 1669. Becher claimed that he had found the secret of turning dead bodies into transparent glass, so that we could surround ourselves with beautiful vases formed of our ancestors (preferable, he writes, to ‘hideous and disgusting cadavers’).

    The glass of each animal and plant has its own particular colour – that of plants is green, while glass made from humans, he writes, is a milky white colour with ‘a slight tinge of narcissus’.

    Becher, unfortunately, was wrong. Trace amounts of silicon, the element that is used in forming glass,* do exist in the human body through our diet (beer is one particularly good source) and may improve the health of bones – but it’s unclear exactly how it does this, or whether it’s biologically essential.** However, this hasn’t stopped a proliferation of claims for the benefits of silica supplements to make our teeth, hair, nails and skin stronger and more glassily beautiful.

    Silicon is essential to some plants and animals, though, in particular those erose earlier in the evolution of life such as glass sponges, which use silica to grow their interlocking needle-like spicules.

    As artist in residence here at the Grant Museum I’ve been focusing on the sponge collection and the ways in which a material can be both organic and inorganic – combining to form both a living animal and a glass jar. One aspect that particularly interests me is the history of humans believing that they are made of glass, a belief which spread amongst European scholars during the 15th to 17th century.

    For Johann Becher, this fueled his desire to create glass vases from dead bodies. For others, however, it was a debilitating disorder known as ‘The Glass Delusion’. Sufferers believed that they were made from glass and would shatter at just one touch. It mainly afflicted wealthy men, and the most famous sufferer was perhaps King Charles VI of France who believed himself made entirely from glass and wore protective clothing to prevent being smashed to pieces.

    For other sufferers it was mainly their head or buttocks that concerned them, so they avoided sitting down, or always carried a soft cushion. Why this belief spread during this period is unclear, but it had disappeared by the end of the 17th century, coinciding with the gradual replacement of alchemy with the emergence of modern chemistry.

    However, as the current interest in silica supplements suggests, it seems there’s still a belief that glass may combine with and enhance the human body – not to shatter us, but to make us glow with a glassy transparency.

     

    Image source: ‘The Magic and Myth of Alchemy’, Lloyd Library and Museum, 2011. www.lloydlibrary.org/exhibits/alchemy/alchemists.html. Accessed 12.12.2014.

    * Silicon is an element that likes to share – in particular with oxygen. Rather than existing in its pure state, it tends to gives away or share its electrons with other elements, and this creates compounds. One of these compounds is silica, also known as silicon dioxide, which exists in sand – this is the stuff that is used to create glass.

    ** See R. Jugdaohsingh, ‘Silicon and bone health’, Journal of Nutritional Health and Aging. 11(2), Mar-Apr, 2007. 99-110.

    Eleanor Morgan is Artist in Residence at the Grant Museum of Zoology

    Specimen of the Week: Week 166

    By Mark Carnall, on 15 December 2014

    Christmas Scary MonkeyFollowing on from last week’s focus on one of our specimens that will be receiving a spot of conservation TLC as part of our Bone Idols: Protecting Our Iconic skeletons conservation project, this week’s specimen is another specimen we’re looking to raise funds to conserve.

    This specimen is one of the largest* single specimens in the museum and sits in the heart of the displays. Although the specimen isn’t instantly recognisable, visitors I talk to about it are in reverance to it’s overall ‘bigness’ and after a few clues can identify what it is.

    So pack your trunk and prepare never to forget this week’s specimen of the week which is…

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    On the search for the Scaly-tailed possum: Wet and Wildlife

    By Jack Ashby, on 11 December 2014

    A scaly-tailed possum caught on a camera trap in AWC's Artesian Range. (C) Australian Wildlife Conservancy,

    A scaly-tailed possum caught on a camera trap
    in AWC’s Artesian Range.
    (C) Australian Wildlife Conservancy,

    Over the past few years I have been spending my spare time in a remote area of the Kimberley, on the northwest corner of Australia, helping a conservation NGO – the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) – to do ecological fieldwork. AWC are Australia’s largest private owner of land for conservation, and their mission is to manage it based on scientific research. In the northwest their big long-term projects involve determining the effects of cattle and different fire management practices on tropical savannah ecosystems. And in my most recent two trips I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the detection of super-scarce species in extremely remote pockets of rainforest and monsoonal woodland.

    A few years ago AWC acquired an amazing patch of the Kimberley called Artesian Range – monsoonal savannah criss-crossed with sandstone ranges, gorges of vine-thickets and rainforest pockets. I remember going through the first set of remote camera trap images that came back from Artestian in 2011 and being amazed at the species that were being detected.

    An endemic Kimberley rock rat being re-released

    An endemic Kimberley rock rat being re-released

    The haven from extinction

    It seems that Artesian Range is the only place in mainland Australia not to have suffered any mammal extinctions since European colonisation. A community of amazing endemics has clung on – scaly-tailed possums, golden-backed tree rats, monjons, golden bandicoots and Kimberley rock rats. When I was analyzing those camera trap images in 2011 I was a couple of hundred kilometres south of Artesian, on AWC Northwest’s main home sanctuary, Mornington. Artesian Range is in one of the least accessible parts of Australia, requiring a combination of propeller-plane, serious 4WD and helicopter to get to. As amazing as it was to see these species on the screen, I instantly knew I had to go and see them in the flesh. For me, the scaly-tailed possum had become the holy grail.
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    Specimen of the Week: Week 165

    By Jack Ashby, on 8 December 2014

    Scary MonkeyWhen Specimen of the Week first arose from its fossil ancestors in the Early Blogocene, the niche it originally occupied was to shed light on the darkest corners of our stored collections.

    Over time, there has been some descent with modification. Specimen of the Week maintains its ancestral characters and still has the ability to show the world what museums have in their drawers; but it has also acquired some new adaptations where something amazing is revealed about well-known specimens. Some suspect sexual selection is at work.

    This week, a new mutation has arisen. Instead of lifting the lid on stories from the stores, this Specimen of the Week will shed light on glimpses of horror in a specimen’s database records. Time will tell whether this adaptation will become fixed in the Specimen of the Week population.

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 164

    By Dean W Veall, on 1 December 2014

    Scary MonkeyDean Veall here. This may be a very broad generalisation but Welsh, curly haired, zoology trained museum educators have limited knowledge about and skills in playing football, based on a recent survey conducted by me (n=1). This fact enrages and frustrates my four year old nephew as on weekends back in the Valleys when all he wants to do is run around Bargoed Park with a football. It hasn’t always been this way, there was a brief moment back in 2010 when the group that this week’s Specimen of the Week belonged to help me engage with the sport, that is, until it died.

     

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is:

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