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  • Specimen of the week 292: the horned lizard

    By Will J Richard, on 19 May 2017

    LDUCZ-X86 horned lizard

    LDUCZ-X86 horned lizard

    The Mexican plateau horned lizard (Phrynosoma orbiculare) is a small reptile native to the high plateau of Central Mexico. They are almost spherical, about the size of a 50p coin, and have two characteristic horn-like projections on their snout. They seem pretty harmless… THIS IS NOT THE CASE. As a last resort the tiny lizards can shoot streams of pressurised blood from the corners of their eyes, spraying predators over a metre and half away. At first this seemed the single grimmest thing I’ve ever read about any animal but it got me looking at other disgusting ways species choose to defend themselves. These are a few of my “favourites”…

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    Specimen of the Week 290: The awful Bosc monitor lizard

    By Jack Ashby, on 5 May 2017

    Taxidermy Bosc monitor lizard. LDUCZ-X1314

    Taxidermy Bosc monitor lizard. LDUCZ-X1314

    Taxidermy appears to being going through a period of popularity at the moment. Hipsters and fans of geek-chic have realised what many of us already knew – natural history is cool. Gastro-pubs and boutique coffee shops are widely using it as decoration (I wonder whether they know that it’s probably been covered in arsenic to stop it being eaten by moths and beetles – not the best things to have around food and drink), there are excellent museum installations exploring it, and there are taxidermy classes being offered all over the place. However, some of it is truly awful (perhaps that’s part of the charm?), including this week’s Specimen of the Week… (more…)

    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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    What’s the difference between snakes and legless lizards? Specimen of the Week 248

    By Jack Ashby, on 15 July 2016

    Sloworms are legless lizards. LDUCZ-X206

    Slow worms are legless lizards. LDUCZ-X206

    Slow worms – They don’t have a leg to stand on

    Not all legless reptiles are snakes, like this slow worm which is just one of the many kinds of legless lizards. The complete or near loss of limbs has evolved in lizards a great number of times. Some entire lizard families are legless. Some families contain a few species with tiny vestigial limbs, while the rest are limbless. Some families are mostly “normal” four-limbed species, with limblessness, near limblessness, or two-leggedness having evolved in certain lineages independently. The biggest lizard family – the skinks (of which there are 1500 of mostly leggy species) – has groups that have lost their limbs on numerous occassions in Africa, Europe and Australia. In most cases of legless lizards, some remnant of the hindlimbs is visible, often by the precence of scaly flaps.

    Getting legless

    Leglessness evolves when the legs become a hindrance rather than a help in an animals’ locomotion, and in lizards this is normally to do with burrowing. Essentially lizards have found that it is more effective to “swim” through the soil, pushing their way through little gaps with their heads. If you think about it, this makes sense because lizards’ arms aren’t that close to their snouts, so using them to dig can be a it awkward. This is one also one of the main hypotheses for how and why snakes evolved. Swimming is also a driving factor for losing limbs.

    How do you tell a snake from a legless lizard?*

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    Specimen of the Week 228: Rough-nosed horned lizard

    By Dean W Veall, on 26 February 2016

    Rough-nosed lizard (Ceratophora aspera) LDUCZ-X431

    Rough-nosed lizard (Ceratophora aspera) LDUCZ-X431

    Hello Specimen of the Week fans, Dean Veall here. We’re mixing it up with our weekly specimen blogs, publishing on Fridays and making them shorter and snappier. So here goes. My main motivation for choosing this specimen is the pure patriotism of a Welsh man exiled here in London. How, you may ask, does this small lizard indigineous to Sri Lanka invoke the land of my fathers, green valleys, cawl and industrial heritage? It be a dragon……

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    Specimen of the Week 225: The preserved Chameleon

    By Sophie M Kostelecky, on 1 February 2016

    “Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameleon”

    The English band, Culture Club said almost everything one needs to know about this week’s Specimen of the Week with their 1983 hit single “Karma Chameleon”.

    Using the wise words of the Culture Club to guide us, we will embark on a journey of discovery and come to find that this reptile group, containing approximately 180 different types is anything but common. That said, this week’ Specimen of the Week is……….

    LDUCZ-X79 preserved common chameleon

    LDUCZ-X79 preserved common chameleon

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