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  • What’s the difference between snakes and legless lizards? Specimen of the Week 248

    By Jack Ashby, on 15 July 2016

    Sloworms are legless lizards. LDUCZ-X206

    Slow worms are legless lizards. LDUCZ-X206

    Slow worms – They don’t have a leg to stand on

    Not all legless reptiles are snakes, like this slow worm which is just one of the many kinds of legless lizards. The complete or near loss of limbs has evolved in lizards a great number of times. Some entire lizard families are legless. Some families contain a few species with tiny vestigial limbs, while the rest are limbless. Some families are mostly “normal” four-limbed species, with limblessness, near limblessness, or two-leggedness having evolved in certain lineages independently. The biggest lizard family – the skinks (of which there are 1500 of mostly leggy species) – has groups that have lost their limbs on numerous occassions in Africa, Europe and Australia. In most cases of legless lizards, some remnant of the hindlimbs is visible, often by the precence of scaly flaps.

    Getting legless

    Leglessness evolves when the legs become a hindrance rather than a help in an animals’ locomotion, and in lizards this is normally to do with burrowing. Essentially lizards have found that it is more effective to “swim” through the soil, pushing their way through little gaps with their heads. If you think about it, this makes sense because lizards’ arms aren’t that close to their snouts, so using them to dig can be a it awkward. This is one also one of the main hypotheses for how and why snakes evolved. Swimming is also a driving factor for losing limbs.

    How do you tell a snake from a legless lizard?*


    Specimen of the Week 228: Rough-nosed horned lizard

    By Dean W Veall, on 26 February 2016

    Rough-nosed lizard (Ceratophora aspera) LDUCZ-X431

    Rough-nosed lizard (Ceratophora aspera) LDUCZ-X431

    Hello Specimen of the Week fans, Dean Veall here. We’re mixing it up with our weekly specimen blogs, publishing on Fridays and making them shorter and snappier. So here goes. My main motivation for choosing this specimen is the pure patriotism of a Welsh man exiled here in London. How, you may ask, does this small lizard indigineous to Sri Lanka invoke the land of my fathers, green valleys, cawl and industrial heritage? It be a dragon……








    Specimen of the week 227: the Indian cobra skull

    By Will J Richard, on 19 February 2016

    Hello blog-heads! Will Richard here tapping out another specimen of the week on my trusty keyboard. And this time I’ve picked out a pretty dangerous customer from Case 16. I’m not an ophidiophobe, though according to Wikipedia about one in three of us are, but this is certainly not a snake I’d like to tangle with.

    LDUCZ-X167 Indian cobra skull

    LDUCZ-X167 Indian cobra skull


    Specimen of the Week 225: The preserved Chameleon

    By Sophie M Kostelecky, on 1 February 2016

    “Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameleon”

    The English band, Culture Club said almost everything one needs to know about this week’s Specimen of the Week with their 1983 hit single “Karma Chameleon”.

    Using the wise words of the Culture Club to guide us, we will embark on a journey of discovery and come to find that this reptile group, containing approximately 180 different types is anything but common. That said, this week’ Specimen of the Week is……….

    LDUCZ-X79 preserved common chameleon

    LDUCZ-X79 preserved common chameleon


    Soon turned out we had a heart of papier-mâché

    By Mark Carnall, on 16 June 2015

    Every year UCL Museum Studies students get to choose an object from each of UCL’s museums and collections to research for a term. This is a guest blog by Jennifer Esposti one of this year’s students looking at a mysterious model. 

    LDUCZ-X118 Image of  crocodile heart model at Grant Museum of Zoology UCL

    LDUCZ-X118 Auzoux model of crocodile heart

    Greetings! My name is Jennifer and I am a postgraduate student in UCL’s Museum Studies program. As part of my MA, I took a course called Collections Curatorship. This course entailed working within a group of students to research a museum object. I was assigned to the natural history group, to investigate an object from the Grant Museum. My group and I were presented with three possible objects and we selected a crocodile heart model known as Object LDUCZ-X118.  Here’s what we found out.

    Specimen of the Week: Week 142

    By Jack Ashby, on 30 June 2014

    Scary Monkey For someone who spends as much time as possible with wildlife I could be accused of being a bit wimpy about it on occasion. Things that are poisonous, slimy, smelly, flappy or pointy don’t worry me much, but when I might encounter things that are really big or really bitey I have been known to back off a bit. Many would argue that this is mostly sensible, but I have been with friends who lean out of the jeep to the tiger or follow the grizzly bear footprints, when I would lean into the jeep or walk away from where the bear tracks lead. Things don’t have to be big AND bitey to incite the conflictual desire to be around wildlife and the fear of it killing me; just being big will do.
    This week’s specimen is big AND bitey. It’s the animal I have to think about the most regularly as I spend a couple of months a year on fieldwork in tropical Australia; it makes collecting water or crossing rivers a bit of an adventure.
    This week’s specimen of the week is…


    Specimen of the Week: Week 127

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 17 March 2014

    We have some great skeletons at the Grant Museum, all of which are dinosaurs, if you listen to five year old children. Actually we don’t have any large dinosaur skeletons, but that doesn’t stop children gleefully shouting “Mummy, mummy, a dinosaur”.  One such big skeleton, not a dinosaur, but related, is this week’s Specimen of the Week… (more…)

    Oh bizarre gharial

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 5 December 2013





    Oh you bizarre gharial you, how I love your features

    With the thinnest (relative) snout, of the Animal Kingdom’s creatures

    One of the largest species, of all the world’s croc-kind

    You’re really quite unique, when all your features are combined

    Your legs so weak and measly, can’t get your body off the ground

    And your only real defence, is a puny hissss-ing sound (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 110

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 18 November 2013

    When people come into the Grant Museum for the first time I frequently hear the question “Is it just this one room?” When I say “Yes”, I always hastily follow it up with the factoid that we have more zoological specimens on display in ‘just this one room’ than in the whole of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. It’s not that I’m trying to start some rivalry (although the idea of science nerds and museum geeks having a show down does amuse me) but the point I am making is that we display our specimens in such a way that you have to look with your eyes rather than your feet. Due to the density of our specimens, it inevitably means that some will get frequently overlooked, and I want to bring one such, huge, specimen to your attention from the back corner of the Museum. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    What’s the difference between a crocodile and an alligator?

    By Jack Ashby, on 24 October 2013

    Crocodiles and alligators are big nasty predators. All of them. (Except the ones that are small lovely predators). If you see one swimming towards you then be concerned. Whilst considering your impending doom, you may wish to ascertain the correct taxonomic position of the beast. Here’s a quick guide to help you tell the difference between crocs and gators…

    An Australian freshwater crocodile. One of the smaller lovelier ones (a baby) (C) Jack Ashby

    An Australian freshwater crocodile. One of the smaller lovelier ones (a baby) (C) Jack Ashby

    Before that, I should explain that there are 23 members of the order Crocodylia, which contains both the crocodile family (Crocodylidae) and the alligator family (Alligatoridae), as well as the gharial (the sole member of the family Gavialidae). When I say “crocodile” I am referring to members of Crocodylidae, not all members of Crocodylia, otherwise there wouldn’t be much point to this post.

    Things to ask to work out whether you are being eaten by a crocodile or an alligator… (more…)