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  • 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…)

    Petrie Menagerie: The Aquarium and Reptile House

    By Edmund Connolly, on 30 August 2013

    Our animal companionship has grown, with horses meandering along Egyptian groves, alongside languid hippos and regal lions. Returning to our first specimen, the hippo, we will dive once more into the waters to cavort in an aquarium of fish and chill in the boreal shades of a reptile house.

    Petrie Menagerie #5: The Aquarium and the Reptile House

    Egypt has two major water sources: the Nile which acts as a spine for the country, running down into Africa, and the Mediterranean sea. Both were essential for the trade routes, travel and artefacts that Ancient Egyptians are so famous for. In addition, these important bodies of water held swarms of fish, which were a key element of the Ancient Egyptian diet. Reptiles appear in Egyptian iconography principally as snakes, scorpions and crocodiles[1] in a host of iconographic, religious and spiritual incarnations.

    An Egyptian flat fish

    An Egyptian flat fish


    How To: Be a Cannibal

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 29 August 2013

    Do you having any burning desires to have something explained by someone on the inside? This blog series is a How To Guide for the museological musings of a Museum Assistant. The fourth along this (hopefully) long and happy blogging path is…


    How To: Be a Cannibal


    At first response you may think it’s easy to be a cannibal, you just have to eat someone of the same species as yourself. Technically you would be right, however there are ways and means to accomplish such a task. The natural world is a wealth of cannibalistic techniques and methods that will give the inquisitive mind a plethora of inspiration. Let’s look at a few in the hope of encouraging your inner cannibal to spread its wings.


    A number of amphibians are known to practice cannibalism. Cane toads for example are known to eat eggs of their own species when they are just tadpoles. Most importantly it provides them with a nutritional boost, but it is also thought to be done in order to reduce the competition. They seem to be choosy eaters however as they don’t appear to eat their siblings. Researchers believe that as cane toads have a short incubation length as well as a long period between clutches, eating your own siblings would decrease the number of offspring any single female would produce. Awfully well thought out for a tadpole with a brain the size of a pinhead. They both locate and differentiate between eggs using an impressive sense of smell.


    Specimen of the Week: Week Ninety-Six

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 12 August 2013

    Scary MonkeyFour blogs away from the big 1-0-0! In the run up to the 100th blog I am going to bring to you the top ten specimens at the Grant Museum, as voted for by…. me. I have employed strict criteria with which to segregate the top ten from the other 67,990 specimens that we have in our care…

    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.

    With that in mind, at Number Five, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Seventy-Six

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 25 March 2013

    Scary MonkeyOkay okay so this coming Sunday it will have officially been two months since the Chinese New Year. However, as part of my ongoing quest to become a god, I have chosen to give myself the ability to bend man’s two most treacherous enemies to my will; time, and money. Ergo, I can write a blog about the animal that is the focus of this year’s Chinese New Year, despite it officially having been on the 31st January, and when today is the 25th March. So there. The animal group chosen by the Chinese calendar is a broad one so I have narrowed it down to one species. My favourite species. Well what better way is there to choose? It is my favourite for good reason after all. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Sixty-Four

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 31 December 2012

    Scary MonkeyBack in the days when ancient Rome was modern, to them, the Romans had a whole host of gods and goddesses. My personal favourite is Mercury, god of travel. If he exists, he has indeed been kind to me during my life time. I also like him because he is allegedly mischievous, a character trait I can empathise with. New Year’s day however, belongs to a different god. Janus, is reportedly the god of transitions and new beginnings. He also looks after gates, doors, and doorways, though in a more metaphorical than architectural sense I suspect. Janus has two heads, a useful trait that allows him to look both to the future and the past, at the same time. The month of January was so named by the Romans. It marked the beginning of the year and it made sense therefore to use it to honour the god of new beginnings; Janus. Sadly, we do not have a two headed god of new beginnings in the Grant Museum. But we do have another two-headed beasty (and naturally so, not X-Men style crazy genes so) which is a super species worth peering through hangover addled eyes to read about. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Sixty-One

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 10 December 2012

    Scary MonkeyYou think you know a guy and then he suprises you. Friend, relative, partner… no matter how long you’ve known someone for, they can always despise a shirt you thought they’d go nuts over or express how much they hate Christmas cake in a hereto unbeknown festive culinary revelation. I thought I knew the group of animals to which this week’s specimen belongs, very well. In fact, I’d say most, if not all people have some sort of knowledge base on this group. And yet, here, hidden behind other specimens on a crowded shelf of treats in a Museum display case, I discovered a gem of a species of this well-known group. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)