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  • Specimen of the Week: Week 161

    By Tannis M N Davidson, on 10 November 2014

    Scary Monkey proudly displaying his poppyLast week, my colleague Jack Ashby wrote in effort to promote the under-promoted in the animal kingdom –the non-superstars that do not, at first glance, appear to be particularly special or worthy of fame and fortune. This week I would like to advance this theme by highlighting an animal that is often overlooked as not only a superstar but a veritable animal superhero.

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Name our Rhino on the Run

    By Jack Ashby, on 6 November 2014

    The rhino in the Grant Museum - what's his name?

    The rhino in the Grant Museum – what’s his name?

    The largest single specimen in the Museum – our (hornless) Indian one-horned rhino – is about to go on holiday. He is going away for some serious conservation work. You might call it health tourism.

    The rhino entered the Museum as an un-mounted skeleton in 1910-11 when the University of London Loan Collection was disbanded. The Museum then paid £14 to have him, the seal, the bear and “a zebra” (possibly the quagga) mounted onto iron frames. Since then, the rhino has been on open display in the Museum, and the iron is slowly corroding.

    This year, as part of a major project called Bone Idols: Preserving our Iconic Skeletons, 39 of our largest specimens are undergoing conservation treatment. Some need intensive cleaning to remove the damaging pollutants and particulates that have built up over up to 180 years on open display; some also need repairs to certain body parts. Some, like the rhino and quagga, need to be totally disassembled, cleaned, and then repositioned on new skeleton-friendly metal frames, with all his joints correctly matching up.

    All of this work will allow us to safe-guard our irreplaceable collection for the long-term future and continue to use it every day for teaching, research and public engagement.

    There are two exciting opportunities coming up as a result… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 160

    By Jack Ashby, on 3 November 2014

    Scary MonkeyWe all know that in this world of competing stimuli, an animal really needs to work hard to get people interested, achieve celebrity status in the media, and ultimately realise the dream that all animals hold – to star their own bank, crisps or cereal advert.

    We trade in animal USPs every day… We talk about the biggest/smallest/rarest/fastest/ugliest/deadliest, and this is what gets aspiring animal stars into the And Finally… sections of the news.

    The A-Team of animal superlatives is well established, and so today I am acting (for a commission) to promote the under-promoted of the animal world. This Australian marvel has a long list of -est”s to its name.

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 158

    By Will J Richard, on 20 October 2014

    Scary MonkeyHello! Will Richard here. I’ve just started working in the Grant Museum and for my first ever Specimen of the Week I thought I’d kick things off with a real “teddy bear” of the treetops. Of course, it’s not actually a bear. And nor, in real life, would it enjoy a cuddle. Shame really.

    So… why did I pick this imposter? Well firstly, I like underdogs. And you don’t get more underdog than this. Secondly, I’ve spent some time with them myself and I’ve always been told to “write about what you know”. And thirdly, of all the things I’ve come across so far in the Grant Museum, this skeleton just happens to be my favourite.

    This week’s Specimen of the week is… (more…)

    Happy 78th Thylacine Day: Remember the little guys

    By Jack Ashby, on 7 September 2014

    Today, in Australia, is National Threatened Species Day, but far more importantly. to Grant Museumers, it’s Thylacine Day. Both of these events commemorate the ludicrously avoidable death of the last known thylacine - modern times’ largest marsupial carnivore – on 7th September 1936. Today, for the first time, I am actually in Australia for 7th September, so in this year’s annual Thylacine Day post I’d like to explore what it is about Australian mammals that makes me go all nerdy – the shear diversity of tiny things, that on the whole people have no idea about. (For more on the thylacine, including why we celebate it so hard at the Grant, look through previous Thylacine Day posts on this blog).

    The area of zoology I am most passionate about is Australian mammals, and as a result I spend 8-10 weeks each year over here trapping animals for conservation NGOs and university research programmes. As far as I’m concerned, although there are just 378 mammal species in Australia, it’s the best fauna there is. You only have to go 50km and you might find a whole new set of mammals. Australia has a lot of things going for it, but I will shout you down if you argue that any of them outshine the wildlife and ecosystems. The thing is so few people here, or elsewhere, have ever heard of most of them. Sure, people know that kangaroos and wallabies exist – they are the national icon, but go into any business and ask what kind of wallaby is chewing on its lawn and you’ll probably get a blank response. There are 45 species of Australian kangaroo and wallaby (excluding bettongs and pottoroos). People’s lofts and gardens are pested by possums (nearly always one species – the brushtail), but there are 25 different kinds. Once you get beyond these, koalas, wombats, dingoes, platypuses, echidnas and “bandicoots” (11 species), the rest of the Australian mammalian fauna, I fear, goes largely unloved.

    I’m not whinging about the fact that people don’t see tiny mammals and instantly know what it is. I just want to take the time to give them a shout-out.
    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 147

    By Jack Ashby, on 4 August 2014

    Scary monkeyMuseums are full of mysteries (particularly when you are as cursed with historically challenging documentation, as many university museums are). For example, why do we have a plum in a jar? Why does our dugong only have seven neck vertebrae (it is one of the few mammal species that should have eight)? Why don’t we have a wolf, one of the world’s most widespread mammals? Who ate our Galapagos tortoise? Why do we only have the heart and rectum of a dwarf cassowary? Why is scary monkey (pictured) so scary?

    Not to mention, why did we put all those moles in that jar?

    After ten years of working here, I am confident that there is no greater mystery in the Grant Museum than this one: why would you stick a battery in a dead animal?

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 141

    By Jack Ashby, on 23 June 2014

    Specimen of the Week: Week Three Zoology is tribal. To the outside world natural historians present a united front: the geologist is my brother and the botanist my friend. But hidden within are genial rivalries. You might find that those noble folk studying the less sexy animal groups carry a certain disdain for the Hollywood animal fanciers. In palaeontology, fossil coral experts cry themselves to sleep at night when yet another dinosaur story makes the newspapers. In zoology, there is nothing more mainstream than primatology. As a mammal nerd I would certainly be considered on the mass-appeal end of the spectrum, but here I present an unfamous species lost in the shadow cast by a much-celebrated primate in a similar ecological niche. This weeks specimen of the week is…

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 137

    By Jack Ashby, on 26 May 2014

    Scary MonkeyThe cost that museums have to dedicate to caring for individual objects is determined by a number of factors. If it’s particularly fragile or susceptible to the elements it might need to be housed in a controlled climate or stored in specialist materials. If it’s particularly desirable it may need souped up security measures. If it’s particularly large then museums have a whole feast of troubles – one giant object will take up the same space as dozens of smaller ones; they are very difficult to move; and they require huge amounts of equipment to prepare and store. This is why you don’t get 30m blue whales stored in jars – just think how much alcohol that would take, and how thick the glass would have to be.

    Fortunately for natural history museums, most big animals start off pretty small, so there’s a way we can cheat the system. If we use baby animals in our collections we can avoid the problems caused by largeness, and still have the species represented. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 134

    By Jack Ashby, on 5 May 2014

    For the past 133 weeks your weekly Specimen of the Week was lovingly delivered to you by our Curatorial Assistant Emma, who left the Grant Museum on Friday for an exciting new job. The show must go on, however, and from now on the rest of Team Grant will take it in turns to select and serve the treasures we find in our collections.

    As you may predict, it could be very tempting for someone with the power to select which Specimens of the Week are featured to highlight with bias the species they are most interested in (shark expert Emma gave you a ridiculous THIRTY-THREE blog posts featuring sharks in her reign). I frown upon such prejudice, and will stay well away from Australian mammals, my own field of zoological nerdery. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 132

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 21 April 2014

    Scary MonkeyFor those of you who didn’t have a chance to read last week’s Specimen of the Week, or for those of you who did but still can’t quite believe it- this is my penultimate blog in this series. DON’T PANIC- Specimen of the Week shall be continuing, but as of the 5th May it will be written by the other lovely members of Team Grant. As you can all appreciate, Specimen of the Week is probably the most important part of my, or any of our, jobs here at the Grant Museum, and so I do not move on from it lightly. I am in fact moving up the ladder and on to another museum. So enjoy and savour the penultimate Emma-authored Specimen of the Week.

    Uh hum (wipes tear) this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)