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  • Specimen of the Week 352: The dolphin fin

    By Christopher J Wearden, on 20 July 2018

    Specimen of the Week: Dolphin fin (Z640)

    Good morning to all Specimen of the Week readers. Working front of house at the Grant Museum I am fortunate enough to witness the faces of countless visitors light up as they enter the museum and take a first look at the fascinating objects we have on display. Today’s specimen often provokes a strong reaction from visitors and sometimes even draws attention away from our more famous residents. This isn’t because it is a large or visually impressive specimen, but because it clearly demonstrates the anatomical similarities we share with our tetrapod relatives (tetrapods are four-limbed vertebrates including living and extinct amphibians, reptiles and mammals). Without further ado I would like to introduce you to our very own…

    Dolphin fin, Delphinus delphis LDUCZ – Z640

    (more…)

    Specimen of the week 349: The nine-banded armadillo

    By Christopher J Wearden, on 29 June 2018

    Happy Friday to all Specimen of the Week readers. After a recent road trip across the southern United States, I’m bringing you a curious creature that can be found all the way from Texas to Tennessee. They are known for their distinctive shape and defensive abilities, but as we’ll see, there is more than just the shell to admire about these animals. It’s our very own…

    Nine-banded armadillo, Dasypus novemcinctus LDUCZ-Z2791

    (more…)

    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.

    Humboldt

    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

    References

    http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/summary/41543/0

    http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/41540/0

    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41541-017-0015-7

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11986251

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

     

    Specimen of the Week 321: the Wall of Mice

    By Jack Ashby, on 15 December 2017

    One of the most extraordinary collections in the Grant Museum relates to one of the most Ordinary of Animals. Since its creation, it has been kept behind the scenes. The man who created it, over decades of barely believable dedication and hard work, would probably never have imagined that anyone would firstly want to display it, and secondly find a way to do so.

    Mice Space at the Grant Museum - a wall of 4000 mice skeletons.

    Mice Space at the Grant Museum – a wall of 4000 mice skeletons.

    Personally, I have a real interest in pondering the differences between what gets selected for display in museums and what doesn’t (I published an article in The Conversation about it this week), and in the Grant Museum we have a lot of experience of finding ways to display collections that were not intended for the public eye (our Micrarium is a great example of this). This week’s Specimen of the Week definitely fits these themes… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 306: The Bilby Skull

    By Jack Ashby, on 1 September 2017

    Bilby skull LDUCZ-Z82

    Bilby skull LDUCZ-Z82

    Australia is widely considered to be the extinction capital of the world. In the 230 years since European invasion, 29 of its 315 native land mammals have been driven to extinction, and by far the majority of those that do currently survive have suffered significant (and in many cases almost total) declines – they are now only found in a fraction of their former habitats.

    This is all very depressing, but as I write this I am undertaking fieldwork in a remote area of central South Australia, volunteering for an organisation who are trying to make things better. This week’s Specimen of the Week is one of the species they protect. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 298: The Preserved Chimpanzee Hand

    By Rowan J J Tinker, on 30 June 2017

    Preserved chimpanzee manus (hand). LDUCZ-Z1146.

    Preserved chimpanzee manus (hand). LDUCZ-Z1146.

    At the Grant Museum of Zoology we house enough material to comprise at least half a chimpanzee, probably even several halves…

    “Half a chimpanzee, philosophically

    Must, ipso facto, half not be

    But half the chimpanzee has got to be

    Vis-a-vis its entity, d’you see?”

    I understand that by re-working Eric Idle’s Eric the Half a Bee song to read ‘chimpanzee’ instead of ‘bee’ most of the rhyming joke is lost, but I digress.

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is…

     

     

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    Specimen of the Week 282: Badger Skeleton

    By Dean W Veall, on 10 March 2017

    Eurasian badger (Meles meles) skeleton LDUCZ Z372

    Eurasian badger (Meles meles) skeleton LDUCZ Z372

    Hello Specimen of the Week fans, Dean Veall here. Belonging to the mammal family called mustelids, which includes polecats, otters and wolverines, this week’s Specimen of the Week this week is the…

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    Specimen of the Week 190: The Platypus Tooth

    By Jack Ashby, on 1 June 2015

    A slide showing a fragment of platypus tooth from the Grant Museum Micrarium

    A slide showing a fragment of
    platypus tooth from the
    Grant Museum Micrarium

    I have to admit that when I first encountered this object I didn’t recognise what it was until I read the label, which is scratched into the glass slide that houses it. I don’t feel too bad about that as it is essentially microscopic, and very few people have ever seen one of these specimens. It is among the very smallest objects in the Museum.

    Unsurprisingly then, it is on display in the Micrarium – our place for tiny things. This beautiful back-lit cave showcases over 2000 of the 20,000 microscope slides in our care – it broke the mould for how museums display their slide collections.

    I first wrote about the species featured on this slide in my first ever Specimen of the Week, but that was taxidermy – a real A-Lister compared to the miniscule, obscure fragment I have selected here. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…

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    Specimen of the Week: Week 185

    By Jack Ashby, on 27 April 2015

    Scary-Monkey-Week-NineThis week I’m honouring a mammal that we can link to two significant factors in my life recently. First, it’s an Australian hopping marsupial, as are kangaroos. Our current Strange Creatures exhibition centres around Europe’s first painting of a roo – by George Stubbs. Secondly, I’ve been in Australia for the last few weeks doing fieldwork with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, and my first task was to help test a mechanism for surveying this Critically Endangered mammal.

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

    Specimen of the Week: Week 169

    By Dean W Veall, on 5 January 2015

    Scary MonkeyDean Veall here.  A very Happy New Year to all our readers. I thought I would start 2015 BIG, 26ft and 6in BIG to be quite exact. This specimen belongs to the group containing the biggest animals to have ever lived. It is also part of the BIGGEST ever fundraising campaign the Museum has ever run, Bone Idols: Protecting our Iconic Skeletons

    The Bone Idols project involves a series of interventions on 39 of our largely uncollectable specimens which includes re-casing some, completely remonting others and  cleaning of these specimens that have been on open display since the 1820’s. This week’s Specimen of the Week is……

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