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  • Specimen of the Week 263: The fossil brachiopods

    By Jack Ashby, on 28 October 2016

    Some animals are most commonly defined by what they are not. The first thing that most people say about horseshoe crabs, for example is that they are not crabs. Likewise flying lemurs are not lemurs, camel spiders are not spiders and golden moles are not moles*. I kind of feel sorry for these animals that are denied a unique description of their own in this way; their status as being “not something else” is given as the most interesting thing about them. This week’s Specimen of the Week is one such animal.

    Fossil Spirifer brachiopods LDUCZ-O26

    Fossil Spirifer brachiopods LDUCZ-O26

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    Specimen of the Week 262: Little spotted kiwi

    By Paolo W Viscardi, on 21 October 2016

    Welcome zoology fans, it’s another installation of the Specimen of the Week and this time we have something I like to call the Badger bird. I call it that not because it has black and white stripes on its face (it doesn’t), but because it’s the closest the bird world has managed to get to a myopic, snuffling, nocturnal, earthworm-devouring, somewhat stinky, mammal. That’s right, it’s the

    LDUCZ-Y1575 Apteryx owenii

    LDUCZ-Y1575 Apteryx owenii skeleton

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    Natural Creativity: Sex and Trickery opens at the Grant Museum

    By Jack Ashby, on 18 October 2016

    ‘Natural Creativity: Sex and Trickery’ is our new exhibition – opening tomorrow 19th October –  at the Grant Museum. It explores the myriad of elaborate shapes, sizes and crafty behavioural tactics some animals have evolved in order to survive, reproduce and pass on their genes.

    Through intricate drawings by the artist Clara Lacy, ‘Natural Creativity’ asks the question, why is the natural world so colourful and varied? Lacy has drawn species with highly unusual sexual behaviours or mechanisms for determining sex. It is commonly assumed that animals are born either male or female then reproduce as adults, but things can get much more interesting. Some species change sex over their lifetime, become a grandmother before giving birth, or trick others into thinking they belong to the opposite sex.

    Ocellated wrasse (C) Clara Lacy.

    Ocellated wrasse (C) Clara Lacy.
    The ocellated wrasse has an unusual mating system – different males use different strategies in the attempt to pass on their genes. The genetics of these strategies is being researched at UCL. “Nesting males” are brightly coloured and work to court females, defend nests and care for their young. These males attract the most females, but other males have evolved different routes to mating success.
    Small males become “Sneakers”. They surreptitiously approach Nesting males and females while they are mating, and then release their own sperm into the water.
    Medium-sized “Satellite males” cooperate with a Nesting male, helping them chase Sneakers from the nest. This means that they are tolerated by Nesting males, and spawn while the Nesting male is mating.

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    Specimen of the Week 261: Bombus

    By Dean W Veall, on 14 October 2016

    LDUCZ-L3309 Bumblebee (Bombus sp.)

    LDUCZ-L3309 Bumblebee (Bombus sp.)

    Dean Veall here. My specimen of the week is one that was a feature of the summer but will now become a less common sight as the winter approaches. It’s a specimen that represents some 275 species found across the genus Bombus and of which 24 call the UK home. This week’s specimen of the week is….

     

     

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    Specimen of the Week 260: the handy man

    By Will J Richard, on 7 October 2016

    Hello internet! Will Richard here, picking another favourite from the Grant Museum’s shelves. And this time I’ve chosen a close relative and probably the first ape to move beyond punching with rocks. It’s the…

    LDUCZ-Z2017 Homo habilis skull model

    LDUCZ-Z2017 Homo habilis skull model

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    Specimen of the Week 259 : Bird of Paradise

    By Jack Ashby, on 30 September 2016

    Less bird-of paradise skeleton. LDUCZ-Y1696

    Less bird-of paradise skeleton. LDUCZ-Y1696

    If natural selection can be summarised as “survival of the fittest”, how is it that some animals have evolved features that seem to be rather unhelpful to their survival? Deer antlers, peacock tails and babirusa tusks do not help an animal to stay alive. Darwin asked a similar question in The Origin of Species, and also came up with an answer – sexual selection.

    Sexual selection is a sub-set of natural selection, where the driving force is not on the animal to survive, but instead to have the most descendants. It is the mechanism by which species evolve weapons that help them fight off rivals; ornaments that make them more attractive to the opposite sex; or behaviours that ensure sexual encounters result in more or fitter babies. One of the best examples of absurdly ornamented animals are male birds-of-paradise. Read the rest of this entry »

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month September 2016

    By Mark Carnall, on 29 September 2016

    The ides of October are almost upon us which means many things. One of the least noteworthy things it means, however, is that it’s time for another underwhelming fossil fish of the month. In this confusingly titled series, we look at an underwhelming fossil fish from the Grant Museum of Zoology collection every month. Unlike the plastic dinosaur casts and errr more plastic dinosaurs casts, these poor fossil fish, which fill the drawers of museum collections, rarely make it into displays and exhibitions. If they do, like this recently spotted specimen on display at Scarborough’s Rotunda Museum, there’s not much to say about them beyond ‘Fish’. Or is there? Read the rest of this entry »

    Unlocking the Museum’s Vaults

    By Martine Rouleau, on 27 September 2016

    Unlocking the Museum’s Vaults

    IMG_0267

    Image: Kara Chin

    After 6 years of curating a collaborative group exhibition with the Slade School of Art, UCL Art Museum has launched its first artists’ residency. This summer, we invited 4 Slade artists to delve into the collections, to mine the staff for information and to produce new work in response to their experience. The resulting exhibition and series of public programmes, entitled Vault, is now on show at the museum until December 2016.

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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.

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