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  • Doris Mackinnon: Investigating the microscopic

    By Hannah Cornish, on 8 March 2018

    Today is International Women’s Day, this year it is 100 years since the first group of women got the right to vote in the UK, and UCL is celebrating with a programme of events and exhibitions called Vote 100. What better time to share a story from the Grant Museum about one of the pioneering female academics who worked at UCL. I took this opportunity to investigate the woman behind one part of our collection. High on the balcony in the Grant Museum are a pair of ever so slightly dusty microscope slide cabinets containing around 400 slides. Each cabinet bears a little brass plaque that reads –

    The Doris Livingston Mackinnon Collection of Protozoa

    University College London

    Who was Doris Mackinnon, and why is her collection here? Protozoa are not animals, so they are an unusual inclusion in a zoology museum. It was all a bit of a mystery until I started digging into it, here’s what I found out.

    Photograph of Doris Mackinnon in her lab © University of Dundee Archive Services

    Photograph of Doris Mackinnon in her lab © University of Dundee Archive Services


    Specimen of the Week 331: The Glanville Fritillary

    By Hannah Cornish, on 23 February 2018

    It is 100 years since the first women got the right to vote in the UK, and with international women’s day coming up UCL is celebrating with UCL vote 100. At the Grant Museum we are taking this opportunity to explore stories of women in natural history, amazing female specimens and the language of gender in zoology.

    This week’s specimen is rare in the UK, but common in the Grant Museum collection. Its connection to our theme is not to do with the species itself, but to do with the incredible woman who discovered it. Specimen of the week is….

    L1313 (second from top) and other specimens of Melitaea cinxia in the Grant Museum collection

    LDUCZ-L1313 (second from top) and other specimens of Melitaea cinxia the Glanville Fritillary in the Grant Museum collection


    Specimen of the week 325: The three-striped night monkey skull.

    By Hannah Cornish, on 12 January 2018

    In life this week’s specimen was small, loud and fluffy. It is also an unsung hero of science described by another unsung hero of science. This specimen of the week is…

    Three-striped night monkey skull

    LDUCZ-Z414 Aotus trivirgatus Three-striped night monkey skull

    **The three-striped night monkey skull**

    Eyebrows on fleek

    Three-striped night monkeys have huge eyes, giving them excellent night vision, and are known for their loud calls. They have a distinctive facial pattern with prominent eyebrows which makes them look rather like startled Ewoks. They eat fruit, nuts, flowers, leaves, eggs and insects, and are found in Venezuela and Brazil. This species is also known as the douroucouli, owl monkey, northern night monkey or Humboldt’s night monkey, but more on that later.

    Night monkey, Aotus trivirgatus by Dick Culbert

    Three-striped night monkeys, Aotus trivirgatus by Dick Culbert, CC Attribution 2.0 license.

    Night monkeys in science

    The three-striped night monkey is not considered to be under threat by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). However, related species of night monkey such as Aotus nancymaae are threatened by habitat loss and illegal trade for lab animals and pets, making them vulnerable to extinction. Night monkeys are particularly useful in malaria research as they are one of the few other primates that can be affected by the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, and as such are highly sought-after. In the past this has led to them being taken from the wild in large numbers. In recent years various species of captive-bred night monkeys have been used in research into malaria-induced anaemia and potential malaria vaccines. Thank you night monkeys!

    Night monkey Aotus trivirgatus taxidermy from Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, by David Stang

    Three-sriped night monkey (Aotus trivirgatus) taxidermy from Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, by David Stang, CC SA 4.0 licence

    It was originally believed that there were only one or two species of night monkey, but a series of studies since the 1980s has uncovered a complex picture with up to 18 different potential species based on the number of chromosomes they have. Currently 11 different species are recognised by scientists, but this could well increase in the future.


    In 1811 Aotus trivirgatus was the first night monkey described by a European scientist. It was named by Alexander von Humboldt, a pioneering German biologist and explorer. Humboldt was one of the first scientists to travel through South America, and is considered to be the father of the science of ecology, although he is nowhere near as famous today as he was in the 19th century. As well as being one of Darwin’s favourite authors and falling out with Napoleon over who had sold more books, Humboldt was also the first person to describe man-made climate change as early as 1800. He is said to be the person with the most species and places named after them, including at least four universities, several mountains, a penguin, and a really big squid.

    Hannah Cornish is the Curatorial Assistant at the Grant Museum of Zoology


    The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science Andrea Wulf, 2016


    Specimen of the Week 319: The Camberwell Beauty

    By Hannah Cornish, on 1 December 2017

    Specimen of the week this week is a rare visitor to our shores, with a slightly misleading name. Today we venture south of the river in search of…

    Nymphalis antiopa (Camberwell Beauty, or the Grand Surprize) LDUCZ-L3333

    Nymphalis antiopa (The Camberwell Beauty, the Mourning Cloak or the Grand Surprize) LDUCZ-L3333


    Specimen of the Week 313: The Newt Microscope Slides

    By Hannah Cornish, on 20 October 2017

    This week, lucky blog readers, not only do we have our usual Grant Museum Specimen of the Week, we have a super-special guest star. From the Grant Museum Micrarium and the collection of the Royal College of Surgeons come…

    Newt slide from the Grant Museum Micrarium

    Newt slide from the Grant Museum Micrarium


    Specimen of the Week 307: The Euston Mammoth

    By Hannah Cornish, on 8 September 2017

    This week’s specimen has only recently entered the Grant Museum, and as soon as I saw it I wanted to know more. I did a little digging and this is what I found: Specimen of the Week is…

    Z3360 Euston Mammoth Ivory

    LDUCZ-Z3360 Euston mammoth ivory

    **The Euston Mammoth**


    Specimen of the Week 304: Fossil Box 12

    By Tannis Davidson, on 11 August 2017

    Fossil Box 12

    Fossil Box 12

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is, depending on how you count it, one single entity known as Fossil Box 12. It is also 89 individual specimens that have recently been transferred from UCL’s Geology collection. In total, 12 boxes containing 408 vertebrate fossils were transferred to the Grant Museum.

    The new material is a welcome addition to the Museum’s fossil vertebrate reference collection and will be available for use in teaching and for research. Some of these specimens have already made their social media debuts such as Gideon Mantell’s Iguanodon bones and several fossil fish featuring on the Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month blog.

    Fossil Box 12 was chosen as this week’s Specimen of the Week to celebrate the new fossils as well as all the work that has gone into documenting the new acquisitions.  (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 302: Gideon Mantell’s Iguanodon bones

    By Hannah Cornish, on 28 July 2017

    The specimen this week might be small, but it’s pretty important in the history of natural history. These two little pieces of fossil bone are from the collection of the early 19th century surgeon and palaeontologist Gideon Mantell. Specimen of the week is…

    Iguanodon Bones from Gideon Mantell's collection LDUCG-X1606

    Iguanodon Bones from Gideon Mantell’s collection LDUCG-X1606


    Specimen of the Week 296: Hawksbill turtle taxidermy

    By Hannah Cornish, on 16 June 2017

    Specimen of the week this week is big, very shiny and in need of some TLC. Today we bring you the…

    LDUCZ-X1580 hawksbill turtle Eretmochelys imbricata

    LDUCZ-X1580 hawksbill turtle Eretmochelys imbricata


    Specimen of the Week 289: Proavis Wax Model

    By Hannah Cornish, on 28 April 2017

    This week we bring you a charming and slightly mad model of an animal that never was. Look, up on the shelf! It’s a bird! It’s a dinosaur! No, specimen of the week is…

    Proavis wax model LDUCZ-X1180

    Proavis wax model LDUCZ-X1180