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  • Specimen of the Week: Week 155

    By Tannis M N Davidson, on 29 September 2014

    Specimen of the Week: Week Two Hello all. In anticipation of writing my first Specimen of the Week post, I wondered which specimen would ultimately receive the honour.  I wanted to highlight a specimen representative of my Canadian homeland such as a fossil from the Burgess Shale, but the curator (see SOTW 140) beat me to it.  Sadly, the Grant Museum has but one documented specimen from this phenomenally important fossil location. The Burgess Shale has famously yielded dozens of previously unknown 505 million year old fossil organisms such as the evocatively named Hallucingenia, five eyed Opaginia, and the fearsome-looking predator Anomalocaris

    As it turns out, I was able to find an interesting animal from the collection…one which might possibly be a living relative of Anomalocaris!

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is

      (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 143

    By Rowan J J Tinker, on 7 July 2014

    Scary Monkey

    For this week, it’s my turn to step up to the ravenous hoard of knowledge-hungry blog followers (that’s you fantastic lot). But first, before I am ripped apart in a gladiator-esque fashion, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself; Hi all, I am Rowan. I am currently acting as Visitor Services Assistant on a temporary basis, so my time with you shall be unfortunately short yet sweet. So do drop in and you can see me at the front desk fumbling around in childlike wonder at all the amazingly weird thingies the Grant Museum has to offer.

    I’ve decided to choose a specimen who will always hold a special place in my heart, having been paired with this sullen looking creature during one of my zoological assignments this year (I’ve just finished the second year of my UCL Natural Sciences degree). One of us was tasked to identify the other, yet I’m still unsure as to who (between me and this fine critter) actually did any effective identification as I spent most of my time confusedly prodding and pestering this specimen; a scientific method which I can only professionally describe as “faffing around”.

    Sadly, this specimen is a little lonely having been blessed with an underwhelming greyish-brown and mistakenly ugly appearance. Unfortunately, being tucked away in a quiet corner along with the rather garish cephalopods, annelids and tapeworms (I’m sure they make wonderful neighbours) doesn’t quite help their romantic situation either.

    Without further ado, this specimen of the week is…. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 138

    By Stacy Hackner, on 2 June 2014

    Scary MonkeyThis week’s specimen is another invertebrate. As a bone researcher filling at the front desk, invertebrates don’t usually hold my attention (they lack bones, you see), but I make an exception for this unassuming annelid-like sea creature. This Specimen of the Week is a wet specimen, greyish in color, with what looks like an eye near its mouth, which means it’s a… (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…)

    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 Forty-One

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 23 July 2012

    Scary Monkey: Week Forty-OneHave you ever looked at something you’ve not seen before and thought “What on earth is THAT?” I pride myself on my zoological knowledge, but no matter how much you know, every day is a school day. When I first started at the Grant Museum I was busy putting a thousand specimens on the floor in the middle of the museum, when I came across something quite unfamiliar. I could tell from its structure roughly what group of animal it was, but had never seen this particular thing before. It was beautiful, fragile and… dirty. (Some building work going on next door had been shaking dust down on to some of our specimens, tsk.) I am happy to say it is now beautiful, fragile and clean. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)