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  • 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

     

    Bits of animals that are surprisingly the same size – Vol. 1

    By Jack Ashby, on 2 March 2016

    The other day, two skulls were next to each other on the trolley – a capybara and a hyena. One is the world’s largest rodent, from the wetlands of South America, the other is a large carnivore from Sub-Saharan Africa, and as such are not often found together in museums.

    Capybara and spotted hyena skulls, which are surprisingly the same size. (LDUCZ-Z180 and LDUCZ-Z2589)

    Capybara and spotted hyena skulls, which are surprisingly the same size. (LDUCZ-Z180 and LDUCZ-Z2589)

    I was amazed that they were the same size. This inspired me to find other bits of animals that are surprisingly the same size… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: WEEK ONE HUNDRED- WOOOO

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 9 September 2013

    It’s here! The one hundredth Specimen of the Week! It would be arrogant to assume that you are all loyal followers (though I would question your judgement if you are not) so here is how I chose the top ten specimens for the count-down to the one hundredth Specimen of the Week:

    1) It must not be on permanent display, giving you a little behind-the-scenes magic, if you will, as the specimen will then go on display for the week of which it has been named ‘Specimen’. Oh yes. That’s almost as good as our exhibition It Came From The Stores. Almost.

    2) It must have at some point in the past made me say ‘woooo’ out loud (given my childlike disposition for expressing wonderment at the world at large, this is not necessarily a hard qualification for the specimen to achieve)

    3) I must know (at least in a vague sort of a way) what species the specimen is, as SotW is researched and written within a strict one hour time frame.

    I know, I know, you just want to know what it is. Ok, here we go, hold on to your seats, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Eighty-Four

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 20 May 2013

    Scary MonkeyI am SO excited. I moved into a new flat last week and it has a balcony. That isn’t even the exciting part. Whilst I was flat hunting I narrowed the list down from 1230 to four by using a list of non-negotiable criteria (it’s good to know what you want in life), and then crossed off everything that didn’t stand up to the requirements. On viewing day, I was waiting for the estate agent outside property number one, staring up at the balcony when an eagle landed on the railing. In an ‘if it’s good enough for the eagle to sit on, it’s good enough for me to live in’ mindset, I took the flat. Almost there and then. After moving in, I took my first balcony outing and as I stepped out the self-same eagle erupted out of the corner and flew off. It was only then that I realised I in fact have a nest on my balcony, right there- on MY balcony, with three medium sized white eggs in it. WOW! I vowed never to step foot on the balcony again in order not to disturb the eagle and her future offspring and now check on her every evening using a mirror stuck to a spatula, very slowly and quietly inserted out of a window. She’s doing very well and I expect her baby eagles to hatch within the the next week or so. Now completely obsessed with baby animals in general, I thought I’d tell you about one we have at the Museum. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Seventy-Seven

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 2 April 2013

    I love it when Specimen of the Week lands on an interesting date. The 1st April is known for a few things, most obviously it is April Fool’s Day. Perhaps less obviously, it is the 31st anniversary of the birth of one of our staff members. An internet search of the date introduced me to the world of housing benefit changes, the new tax year, an Easter egg hunt (which I subsequently signed up for) and the fact that if you want cheaper tickets to some music festival or other, you should have booked before today’s date. What it doesn’t mention however, not even by page 4 or 5, is an article on howler monkeys that was written with the help of information gleaned from several reference resources including an online encyclopedia of animals that to write the aforementioned article was accessed at 15:23 GMT on the 1st April 2009. That reference to the 1st April is shockingly lacking from more high profile spots in the search engine results. In a small and questionable effort to correct this oversight, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Twenty-Eight

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 23 April 2012

    Scary Monkey: Week Twenty-EightEver heard of the chicken frog? What about the tiger shark? If I asked you what these species plus, say, the turtle dove and the spider monkey had in common, what would you say? Well, there are probably quite a few things when you dig deep (they all have eyes, for example), but superficially, it’s all in the name. Or nameS, as it were. This week’s specimen of the week has an equally split personality, as it is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Twenty-Three

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 19 March 2012

    Scary Monkey Week Twenty-ThreeIt was the edge of the Amazon rainforest, and I was working at a sanctuary for injured animals. In the dead of night, the entire room lit up as lightening streaked across the sky and thunder boomed down the corridor. In the morning we discovered that a rescued ocelot had escaped from its enclosure and gone on a rampage, killing several birds and seriously wounding a monkey nicknamed Lucia.

    The nearest vet was a six hour drive away. With serious gashes all over her tiny body, the manager and I rushed her to the nearest hospital and literally begged the staff for help. We went through three doctors before we found one who would perform surgery. As Lucia’s screaming quietened and her eyes began to close, the doctor started to carefully stitch up her wounds. Although she should now by rights be called Scarface, she healed and recovered. Although a free ranging monkey, Lucia is now a regular visitor to the sanctuary. In her honour, this week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Twenty-One

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 5 March 2012

    Scary Monkey; Specimen of the Week: Week Twenty-OneThere was evidently a lot of love in the Grant Museum over the half-term period as specimen adoptions went through the roof. The number of new adoptive parents numbered well into double figures. It was a particularly superb week for one particular primate, with three of our five specimens of the species now no longer orphans. To celebrate, they asked me to make them animal of the week. When I informed them that the blog was called Specimen of the week, they elected a representative. Such excellent teamwork skills for such a mini-mammal. So, by popular tiny primate demand, this week’s specimen of the week is: (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Fourteen

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 16 January 2012

    Scary MonkeyThere has been lots to discover at the museum this week due to a renovation project that saw us decanting nearly a thousand specimens from the wall cabinets and making a mosaic carpet of organisms on the floor in the middle of the museum. (Read more here).

     

    The new scenery was a welcome change for most specimens, however there was one left bitter by the whole affair. Normally he enjoys a view of the museum from a high shelf, shared with no-one. Until he was put on the floor. Now I assure you he was placed there with delicate loving care. However, what we neglected to do was face him in the right direction. So instead of a sea of both new and familiar animal faces to amuse him, he had a brown cupboard door, about an inch away from his nose. For two weeks. Whoops.

     

    Feeling bad about this oversight (or subsequent undersight… as it were) I placated him by making him specimen of the week. The specimen of the week therefore is…  (more…)