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  • Archive for November, 2017

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month November 2017

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 November 2017

    First halves are overrated. Be it team sports, plays, movies or books, the first half sets the scene, introduces the characters, gets the ball rolling but it’s really the second half which delivers the climax, the conclusion, the crescendo, a twist, the point or the moral. A good second half will stick with you, make you think. You’ll never get last minute drama, an eleventh hour save or a Cinderella story in a first half. It’s all about the second half. The same is absolutely not true of fossil fish at all. There’s tail fins, sure, but it’s all about what’s up front for fish. I don’t even know why I raised it in the first place really. But now you’re thinking about how cool the second half of things are and well, it’s not gonna be the case in this month’s underwhelming fossil fish, our periodic foray into the fossil fish collections of the Grant Museum of Zoology. Break your hopes down, here’s this month’s fossil. (more…)

    Ordinary Animals and sex: choosing the right partner

    By Jack Ashby, on 29 November 2017

    The Grant Museum’s current exhibition – The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The Boring Beasts that Changed the World ­­- explores the mundane creatures in our everyday lives. Here on the blog, we will be delving into some of the stories featured in the exhibition with the UCL researchers who helped put it together.

    Guest post by Professor Judith Mank (UCL Genetics, Evolution and Environment)

    In many animals, females are pickier about choosing their mates than males are, since they invest more in their offspring than males do. By choosing high quality mates, females give their offspring a good chance of inheriting their fathers’ beneficial traits. This will help the young in their own search for mates, thereby increasing the chances that the original female’s genes will be passed down through the generations.

    Common guppies, Poecilia reticulata, by Clara Lacy, 2016.

    Common guppies, Poecilia reticulata, by Clara Lacy, 2016.

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 318: The newly recapitated bandicoot

    By Jack Ashby, on 24 November 2017

    This is embarassing. The sheer scale of natural history collections means that some objects are going to be wrongly identified, and the fact that generations of professionals have worked here over nearly two centuries means that there has been plenty of opportunity to get things wrong. I am embarrased because I utterly failed to spot that someone had attached the head of one animal onto the body of another. I am particularly embarassed because both animals involved fall within my particular area of zoological interest – Australian mammals.

    A chimeric skeleton of a woylie's skull on a bandicoot's body. LDUCZ-Z85 + LDUCZ-Z58

    A chimeric skeleton of a woylie’s skull on a bandicoot’s body. LDUCZ-Z85 + LDUCZ-Z58

    Allow me to introduce you to…. (more…)

    The dogs that work to detect cancer

    By Jack Ashby, on 22 November 2017

    The Grant Museum’s current exhibition – The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The Boring Beasts that Changed the World ­­- explores the mundane creatures in our everyday lives. Here on the blog, we will be delving into some of the stories featured in the exhibition with the UCL researchers who helped put it together.

    Guest post by Katrina Holland (UCL Anthropology)

    It’s 8.45am at a business park in rural Buckinghamshire, UK: my primary field site. A car pulls up and Kiwi jumps out, rushing into the workplace where she spends 3 days each week. Striding into the office, Kiwi wags her tail and greets her colleagues by pressing her wet nose into each of their trousers. Shortly after arriving, Kiwi is escorted by her trainer Sam to a grassy paddock where the pair stretch their legs. For Kiwi, this means darting across the field with her nose to the ground and choosing places to do her “business”. Meanwhile, armed with poop bags, Sam walks several laps of the paddock keeping a watchful eye on Kiwi. On their return to the office, Kiwi curls up on a cushion underneath Sam’s desk and dozes for an hour, before Sam calls her into the training room next door. Here Kiwi works, sniffing urine samples for up to 45 minutes per day as she learns to detect the odour of prostate cancer in urine.

    One of the bio-detection dogs searches the the samples.

    One of the bio-detection dogs searches the the samples.

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 317: The Belemnite Fossil

    By Nadine Gabriel, on 17 November 2017

    Hello everyone, it’s Nadine Gabriel with another mollusc for you in this week’s Specimen of the Week. This specimen is a member of an extinct order of cephalopods that lived from the Triassic period (250-201 million years ago) through to the end of the Cretaceous period, becoming extinct around the same time as non-avian dinosaurs (~66 million years ago). These cephalopods were very common in the ancient oceans so they’re quite abundant in Jurassic and Cretaceous deposits all over the world. However, since the preservation of soft tissues is rare, it’s usually just the bullet-shaped rostrum that’s preserved. Not so in this week’s Specimen of the Week… (more…)

    Flies, Cats and Rat Traps: the Ordinary Animals of Ancient Egypt

    By Anna E Garnett, on 15 November 2017

    The Grant Museum’s current exhibition – The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The Boring Beasts that Changed the World ­­- explores the mundane creatures in our everyday lives. Here on the blog, we will be delving into some of the stories featured in the exhibition. This week we investigate some of the Ordinary Animals on loan from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

    Ask anyone about ancient Egypt and standard responses generally include pyramids, mummies, Tutankhamun, and sometimes (if you’re lucky) animals. Ancient Egyptians were keen observers of their natural environment and are well-known for representing all manner of flora and fauna in their artistic works. Gods and goddesses were also associated with particular animals and their behaviour: for example, the jackal god Anubis guarded the cemeteries of the dead, just as real jackals roamed the desert edge. What is perhaps less well-known is how ancient Egyptians considered the ‘ordinary animals’ who lived side-by-side with them in the Nile Valley. Egyptians utilised a wide variety of wild animals and some of these were domesticated, some kept as pets, and others were considered as vermin – just as they are today.

    UC45976

    Mummified cat, currently on show in The Museum of Ordinary Animals exhibition (UC45976)

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 316: Horse skull

    By Dean W Veall, on 10 November 2017

    Hello Specimen of the Week fans, Dean Veall here. This week I am sharing a specimen I have a great affinity for as I was once a proud owner of a breed of this Ordinary Animal as a child and have loved them ever since. Specimen of the Week is…….

    (more…)

    Ordinary Animals and the genetics of being sexy

    By Jack Ashby, on 9 November 2017

    The Grant Museum’s current exhibition – The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The Boring Beasts that Changed the World ­­- explores the mundane creatures in our everyday lives. Here on the blog, we will be delving into some of the stories featured in the exhibition with the UCL researchers who helped put it together.

    Guest post by Professor Judith Mank (UCL Genetics, Evolution and Environment)

    Dominant males have all the things that turkey hens want, including long snoods and vibrant wattles. Subordinate males are by comparison rather plain. (Photo by Lupin on Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Dominant males have all the things that turkey hens want, including long snoods and vibrant wattles.
    (Photo by Lupin on Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 3.0)

    In all species, some individuals are simply better looking than others, and they have the right shape, colour or attitude that makes them irresistible to the opposite sex of their species. Scientists have generally assumed that good looks come primarily from good genes, but this presents an enigma: if only individuals with the best genes pass them on in every generation, those sexy genes should spread and soon the entire population should be equally attractive.

    So… how is that unattractive genes persist in populations? Why doesn’t evolution wipe them out? (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 315 : The Red Ancients

    By Tannis Davidson, on 3 November 2017

    Back in September, a Specimen of the Week blog post The Gross, The Bad and The Ugly featured a number jarred specimens which were, in part due to their dreadful condition, disposed of. They were all fluid preserved specimens which had over time deteriorated and disintegrated and could not be salvaged by conservation.

    But not all specimens in jars have this potential to turn nasty. There are thousands of fluid specimens in the collection which are in excellent condition. The Grant Museum also has specimens in jars which are not fluid preserved at all and, by the virtue of their jarred-ness, have been shielded from the effects of deterioration and look as lively and colourful as they did on their last living day.

    So, as a counterpart to the uglies, this week’s blog is showcasing some lovelies… (more…)