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  • Specimen of the Week: Week 130

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 7 April 2014

    I didn’t chose this week’s specimen, a friend did. But it is still a good one. Because all of our specimens are good. Not necessarily in terms of aestheticism, or durability, or say, smell… but all 68,000 are good. In one way or another. Unfortunately for both of us, I can only write about one at a time, but here it is. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 129

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 31 March 2014

    This animal has an excellent skull. You can’t tell from this week’s Specimen of the Week specimen because the skull is hidden away inside its furry head (though if you come to the Museum, you can see a skull). But the specimen outlined here is not to be missed. It could be its nonchalant slouch and sleepy eyes, as if it just got back from a hard night’s partying, or the teeny size of its ears compared to its head. I’m not sure, but something about this specimen screams ‘love me’. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 123

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 17 February 2014

    As a palaeontologist, I spend a lot of time thinking about how species known only from the fossil record may have looked in life. Take Helicoprion for example. WHAT is THAT about? We currently have no way of knowing for sure where that tooth whorl goes on Helicoprion, so we make an educated guess. The result of which is the weirdest shark’s mouth the world has ever seen. Surrounded by skeletons at the Grant Museum, I sometimes wonder if we would ever have arrived at an accurate morphological reconstruction of some of the species, whose skeletons don’t really resemble the living thing. The species featured this week, is one such animal. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    We’re all heart at the Grant Museum

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 14 February 2014

    The dissected giraffe heart

    No matter who you are or where you come from, you have to admire the giraffe’s heart. It manages to pump blood up arteries in a neck that can reach over two metres in length. It is helped out by a series of valves that prevent the blood from flowing back down again (except through the veins, in which it is supposed to flow back down again). The giraffe’s heart is, surprisingly, smaller than that of mammals of a comparative body size. The heart copes with the morphology of the animal by having really thick muscle walls and a small radius. The result is a very powerful organ. I wonder if that means giraffes fall in love really easily, or find it harder to get over their exes? (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 120

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 27 January 2014

    At the Grant Museum we like any excuse to talk about animals and the Chinese New Year always provides an easy subject matter. The list of animals used in the Chinese calendar is on a 12 year rotation cycle. There are tigers, dragons and snakes… I however was born in the year of the, err, rooster. Yay. This year is an animal that has helped to win wars, boost the Olympics event programme and transport both goods and people. However, I think it’s close cousin, in the same genus, but classified as a different species, is a more interesting subject. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 118

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 13 January 2014

    This is the 500th post on the Museums and Collections blog! That is a lot of information we have researched, written and sent out into the ether for your pleasure. I hope you appreciate our efforts? Cropping up in many of the blogs by the Grant Museum is the jar of moles, who’s celebrity status is undeniable. It sits in full view of the adoring public as they rush through the door, having queued up outside the Museum waiting for us to open, in order to catch a glimpse of the sacred specimen. Hordes of people can be heard talking about it on a daily basis, and an internet search for ‘jar of moles’ brings up several pages referencing the Museum and our specimen. However last week, a lady came to speak to me at the Museum and said with an uneasy smile “That jar of moles is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen, it makes me feel sick”. At first I thought Clearly you haven’t seen the Surinam toad but then I thought Hah! How rare it is to have someone disapprove of this really quite bizarre spectacle of a specimen. How lovely! It got me thinking what else might be perceived as disgusting and as such, I arrived at this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 117

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 6 January 2014

    A brand new year and a brand new Specimen of the Week, hoorah for both. I learnt the other day that the average (western, I presume) human consumes SIX THOUSAND calories on Christmas Day. That’s ridiculous. Though thinking back to the family festivities in which I partook on Christmas Day just gone, I suspect I may be one of them. So perhaps my New Year’s resolution should be to stick to a diet more like this specimen would have had. It would be much better for me I am sure, though in life, it would also have got a lot more exercise than I do too, and I feel it way too optimistic to think that that is going to change. But then, my skeleton is not quite the same as his/hers, which I feel is an adequate excuse. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    What’s the difference between seals and sea lions?

    By Jack Ashby, on 26 December 2013

    This is one of the easier spots in our “What’s the difference” series, but also one of the most commonly erred of all the picked nits. Zoologists are a pedantic bunch, and whilst correcting people just to demonstrate that you know more than them is not an effective engagement model, the world would be a better place* if more people landed on the right side of the seal vs sea lion dichotomy. The difference is, after all, at the same taxonomic level as otters and red pandas, and few would confuse them.

      Seals vs Sea lions: The taxonomy of seal-ish things

    All of these things are pinnipeds – a sub-group of the order Carnivora. Pinnipeds are split into three families – True Seals (Phocidae); Eared Seals (Otariidae) and the Walrus (the sole member of Odobenidae).
    Let’s dispatch with walruses – they are easy to spot with their tusks.

    True seals cannot raise their bodies onto their hind or fore limbs

    True seals cannot raise their bodies onto their hind or fore limbs


    True seals are the animals that look most like overweight tubes of toothpaste – all of the species we get around the UK are true seals (except for the occasional walrus). Grey seals, leopard seals, elephant seals, harp seals and ringed seals are among the 19 species of true seals.
    Eared seals are the 16 species that are commonly named sea lions – because of the males’ manes- and fur seals – because of their dense underfur (for which they were heavily persecuted).
    Only true seals are “seals”. Eared seals are not seals; they just look a lot like them.

    The two easiest characteristics to look out for when trying to work out whether an animal is a true seal or an eared seal (I expect you can guess what one of them is) are…
    Q: Can it walk? (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 113

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 9 December 2013

    Having written this blog (clearly in reverse given that I am now writing the introduction), my conclusion is that fierce things come in small, furry packages. When I need cheering up, watching the antics of this animal on nature videos works much better than chocolate. It’s adorable, endearing and lethal. I recommend this animal to you, should you ever be in the same position. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 111

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 25 November 2013

    Last week I was rewarded for my services to mankind* with a free trip to Edinburgh. You may or may not remember a huge hoo-haa about the zoo acquiring (on loan) a pair of giant pandas from China, at GREAT expense. The hoo-haa was primarily amongst the zoological community but raised many an eyebrow, and “tut”s were prevalent amongst colleagues and friends whenever the subject arose. Well, I decided it was time to find out what was what, and visit these controversial immigrants, worth more than their weight in gold, for myself. Well, the first thing I need to say is “AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW”. I am now completely in love with giant pandas. The second thing is, despite their £600,000 a year loan fee, visitor numbers have apparently risen to such an extent as a result that the pandas not only pay for themselves but have funded two other new animal enclosures in the two years they have been there. Eyebrows raise for different reasons now eh. We don’t have a giant panda (though I informed my Manager of the lucrative result of securing one), but we do have something similar. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)