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  • Specimen of the Week 254 : Tailless Whip Scorpion

    By George W G Phillips, on 26 August 2016

    Hello again all! This Friday I present to you the spectacular and highly misunderstood tailless whip scorpion as my Specimen of the Week. I hope not only to describe some of its most interesting features, but also to slightly alleviate the concerns of any aspiring rain forest explorers out there who may be of an arachnophobic disposition: this one’s harmless. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 253 : Moroccan phosphate fossils

    By Tannis Davidson, on 19 August 2016

    LDUCZ-V1467 Moroccan phosphate fossil label

    LDUCZ-V1467 Moroccan phosphate fossil label

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is not one, but 48 individual specimens which make up a display box highlighting various fossil teeth from Morocco.  Display boxes of this sort are not uncommon as they are a visually appealing way to showcase numerous small specimens not to mention an entrepreneurial solution to add value to otherwise inexpensive individual fossils. The Grant Museum’s display box is a rather nice example of this type containing fossil teeth of 19 different species of fish and marine reptiles:

    LDUCZ-V1467 Display box of Moroccan phosphate fossils

    LDUCZ-V1467 Display box of Moroccan phosphate fossils

    As indicated by the label, these fossils were found in the phosphates of Bengrir (Benguerir), a small city located about 70km north of Marrakesh.  This area is one of the major phosphate basins in Morocco – a country which is the world’s 3rd largest producer of phosphate and contains about 75% of the world’s estimated reserves 1. Phosphate rocks contain high concentrations of phosphate minerals which are mined to produce phosphate fertilisers for the agricultural sector.  It is the resource which drives modern agriculture.

    Morocco’s vast phosphate resources (found mainly in the western part of the country) are found in Upper Cretaceous, Paleocene and Eocene sediments which also yield abundant fossil deposits from this time (around 70-45 million years ago). These fossils are the byproduct of phosphate extraction and include marine vertebrates (sharks, bony fish, reptiles), sea birds and a small number of terrestrial mammals.

    Included in the Grant Museum’s phosphate fossil display box are teeth from three species in the group of large marine reptiles known as mosasaurs: Mosasaurus, Globidens, and Platecarpus. Shark teeth include those from the goblin shark-like Scapanorhynchus, eagle-ray Myliobatis, and the sand shark Odontaspis.  There are also fish teeth from the fanged Enchodus lybicus and Enchodus elegans and individual ‘saw’ teeth from the primitive saw fish Ctenopristis nougareti.

    Unusually for fossil teeth display boxes of this type, the Grant Museum’s specimen has wood labels including those which name the individual species (rather than the far more common printed paper labels found on the presently-available retail variety).  The simple, but elegantly detailed frame also differs from its modern counterparts and may suggest an older heritage.

    LDUCZ-V1467 detail

    LDUCZ-V1467 detail

    The Museum’s associated documentation with this specimen doesn’t include a date of entry into the collection however,  the Benguerir Mine was only opened in 1979 so it is possible that this display box, if the fossils came from the mine, is at most 37 years old – making it one of the Grant Museum’s ‘newest’ specimens.  Then again, ‘Rencontrée dans les Phosphates de Benguerir’ does not mention a mine and it is just as likely that these were manually dug up or found on the surface in the area.

    A quick search of the validity of the taxonomies reveals that Lamna biauriculata is not a recognised name.  Cretolamna biauriculata is the valid name for this species wherby ‘Cretolamna‘ was designated in 1958 (Glikman) and attached to the species biauriculata (Wanner 1902).  So it is possible that this display box (or rather, its labels) dates to before 1958 (if the latest developments in taxonomies were followed by the maker). Perhaps a forensic wood specialist or frame maker should be consulted…

    In any case, it is a nice little comparative selection of Moroccan phosphate fossils which not only illustrates the diversity of teeth in marine species from these deposits, but by extension, the diversity of life which swam in the ancient seas so long ago.

    Tannis Davidson is the Curatorial Assistant at the Grant Museum of Zoology


    1. “Morocco Energy and Mining”. Morocco Business News. Retreived online 2016-08-18.

    Specimen of the Week 252 – The babirusa skull

    By Paolo W Viscardi, on 12 August 2016

    Happy Friday everyone! This week I’ve chosen a specimen of the week that has been used as an icon for the Grant Museum of Zoology and which represents one of the weirder looking critters with which we share the world – a species so strange that it grows its teeth through its face and on the rare occasion, back into its own head. That’s right, it’s the…

    LDUCZ-Z111 Babyrousa babyrussa skull

    LDUCZ-Z111 Babyrousa babyrussa skull


    Specimen of the Week 251: the electric eel

    By Will J Richard, on 5 August 2016

    Hello blog-folks. Will Richard here picking another favourite from the 68,000 options that make up the Grant Museum. And this time it’s a shocker. Literally.

    LDUCZ-V252 preserved electric eel

    LDUCZ-V252 preserved electric eel


    Specimen of the Week 250: Model of a crayfish embryo

    By Tannis Davidson, on 29 July 2016

    In honour of the 250th Specimen of the Week, as well as the new wax model display in the Museum, it seemed fitting to choose a show-stopper of a specimen which is so fabulously bizarre that you might describe it as being out of this world.

    This odd ball regularly puzzles the onlooker as to its identity and often reminds folk of a certain ‘perfect organism’ whose ‘structural perfection is matched only by its hostility’ *.


    The wait is over, science fiction fans. This week, we pay tribute to the most magnificent, perfectly evolved predator to scare us from the silver screen… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 249: the Galago

    By George W G Phillips, on 22 July 2016

    Hello all! George Phillips here, presenting my first specimen of the week: the galago. The specimen you see before you is Demidoff’s dwarf galago (Galago demidoff), an omnivorous, nocturnal bushbaby native to the rainforests and wooded savanna of Central and West Africa. With a hearty abdominal incision for better internal distribution of preservative fluid, this handsome fellow has likely been a valuable addition to the teaching collection at the Grant Museum over the years. On many occasions I’ve witnessed visitors’ delight at this specimen’s majestic stance and slightly alien features.

    Demidoff’s dwarf galago (Galago demidoff) LDUCZ-Z2899

    The smallest primate in Africa

    Weighing as little as 46 grams with a body length of just ten centimeters, Demidoff’s dwarf galago is the smallest primate found in Africa. (more…)

    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 247: the pickled dissected monkey head

    By Paolo W Viscardi, on 8 July 2016

    Happy Friday, Grant aficionados! Welcome back to the high-point of the week, where Saturday is almost within reach and we get to share a gem from the collection for your delectation.

    This week that particular gem is the…

    LDUCZ-Z445 pickled dissected monkey head

    LDUCZ-Z445 Sapajus sp.


    Specimen of the Week 246: King Scallop model

    By Dean W Veall, on 1 July 2016

    Hello Hello, Dean Veall here. This week I bring you a snappy little character, well not exactly little, this is the KING of all snappy characters of a mollusc based persuasion. The king scallop (Pecten maximus) is this week’s Specimen of the Week.

    LDUCZ-Q330 - King scallop model (Pecten maximus)

    LDUCZ-Q330 – King scallop model (Pecten maximus)



    Specimen of the Week 245: The peregrine falcon skull

    By Will J Richard, on 24 June 2016

    Hello folks! Will Richard here bringing you a record breaking specimen of the week. It is part of our Best of the Beasts trail and by the end of this blog I hope you’ll all see why. It’s the…

    LDUCZ-Y1721 peregrine falcon skull

    LDUCZ-Y1721 peregrine falcon skull