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  • Specimen of the Week 259 : Bird of Paradise

    By Jack Ashby, on 30 September 2016

    Less bird-of paradise skeleton. LDUCZ-Y1696

    Less bird-of paradise skeleton. LDUCZ-Y1696

    If natural selection can be summarised as “survival of the fittest”, how is it that some animals have evolved features that seem to be rather unhelpful to their survival? Deer antlers, peacock tails and babirusa tusks do not help an animal to stay alive. Darwin asked a similar question in The Origin of Species, and also came up with an answer – sexual selection.

    Sexual selection is a sub-set of natural selection, where the driving force is not on the animal to survive, but instead to have the most descendants. It is the mechanism by which species evolve weapons that help them fight off rivals; ornaments that make them more attractive to the opposite sex; or behaviours that ensure sexual encounters result in more or fitter babies. One of the best examples of absurdly ornamented animals are male birds-of-paradise. Read the rest of this entry »

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month September 2016

    By Mark Carnall, on 29 September 2016

    The ides of October are almost upon us which means many things. One of the least noteworthy things it means, however, is that it’s time for another underwhelming fossil fish of the month. In this confusingly titled series, we look at an underwhelming fossil fish from the Grant Museum of Zoology collection every month. Unlike the plastic dinosaur casts and errr more plastic dinosaurs casts, these poor fossil fish, which fill the drawers of museum collections, rarely make it into displays and exhibitions. If they do, like this recently spotted specimen on display at Scarborough’s Rotunda Museum, there’s not much to say about them beyond ‘Fish’. Or is there? Read the rest of this entry »

    Unlocking the Museum’s Vaults

    By Martine Rouleau, on 27 September 2016

    Unlocking the Museum’s Vaults

    IMG_0267

    Image: Kara Chin

    After 6 years of curating a collaborative group exhibition with the Slade School of Art, UCL Art Museum has launched its first artists’ residency. This summer, we invited 4 Slade artists to delve into the collections, to mine the staff for information and to produce new work in response to their experience. The resulting exhibition and series of public programmes, entitled Vault, is now on show at the museum until December 2016.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 258 : Pteraspis models

    By Tannis Davidson, on 23 September 2016

    LDUCZ-V733d Pteraspis sp.

    LDUCZ-V733d Pteraspis sp.

    In a few days time the autumn term at UCL begins along with the many classes and practicals which take place in the Grant Museum.  In the first term of last year, the Grant Museum held 28 specimen-based practicals using 770 specimens.  Over 1300 UCL students from various departments attended these practicals as part of their course work.

    To celebrate the return of the autumn term, here’s a specimen which will be used several times in the next few months in the ever-popular Vertebrate Palaeontology and Evolution.  This week’s Specimen of the Week is… Read the rest of this entry »

    Silking a spider

    By Dean W Veall, on 22 September 2016

    spider3Glass sponges were the focus for Eleanor Morgan during her residency with us last year, but this guest blog Eleanor shares her latest project Gossamer Days: Spiders, Humans and their Threads. Eleanor traces the story of what happens when one making animal meets another, from the spiritual sticky spider fabrics of the South Pacific to the European desire to create spider silk underwear fit for a King.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 257: Baboon skeleton

    By Dean W Veall, on 16 September 2016

    Yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus) skeleton LUCDZ- Z474

    Yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus) skeleton LUCDZ- Z474

    Dear Specimen of the Week readers, Dean Veall here. This week’s specimen is literally skin and bones (obvs) . I’ve chosen an articulated skeleton and during my research I’ve also uncovered a pelt of the same species in our collection, but do they belong to the same individual. This week’s specimen of the week is the…..

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Fun with Minerals 2: Back in the Habit

    By Subhadra Das, on 15 September 2016

    UCL Earth Sciences student and veteran of UCL Geology Collections curation Nadine Gabriel returns with another guest blog relating her work with the mineral collection over the summer. It’s great to have her back and to demonstrate that collections management is clearly habit forming.

    Hello, it’s Nadine Gabriel again and I’ve been spending another summer working with UCL Geology Collections. Since the Rock Room will soon have another home, I’ve been removing minerals from display cabinets, auditing the collection and accessioning some new specimens. Once again I have seen thousands of minerals and one thing that always catches my eye is the wide variety of habits, so I thought this topic would make a great sequel to my first blog.

    A mineral habit is the shape of a single crystal or group of crystals. This is dependent on a mineral’s crystallographic system (the atomic arrangement of a crystal) and its growing conditions. The basic habit classification is defined by how well-formed a crystal is. A mineral is euhedral if all faces are well-developed, which means it grew in uncrowded, optimal conditions. However, if a mineral grew in unsuitable conditions, it becomes subhedral (some faces present) or anhedral (no faces). Below are the more specific habit classifications.

    First up is the massive habit which contains no visible crystal structures, but don’t assume that this doesn’t make them less eye catching! Many beautiful minerals such as deep blue lapis lazuli and vivid red (but poisonous) cinnabar have this habit.

    Minerals with cubic habit

    Cubic: pyrite, fluorite and galena (top). Hexagonal: quartz (middle left) and aragonite (middle right). Platy: biotite (bottom left) and talc (bottom right)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 256: the pickled pigeon

    By Paolo W Viscardi, on 9 September 2016

    Happy Friday everybody! Today I have a slightly gross specimen of the week for you, in the form of this lovely

    LDUCZ-Y1713 Columba livia

    **pickled pigeon**

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Eighty years extinct: today is Thylacine Day

    By Jack Ashby, on 7 September 2016

    80 years ago today, on the 7th September 1936, the last known thylacine died. With it, an entire branch of the tree of life was cut off.

    The last living Thylacine in Beaumaris Zoo, 1933. (Image in the public domain, photographer unknown)

    Thylacines, or Tasmanian tigers, were the last surviving member of a family of wolf-like marsupials that once hunted across all of Australia – the mainland as well as Tasmania. Regular readers of this blog (particularly these annual Thylacine Day posts, which we celebrate in the Grant Museum every year) will be familiar with the thylacine’s story, so I won’t go into detail here.

    A very deliberate extinction

    In short, thylacines were accused by Tasmania’s powerful farming lobby of predating sheep, and thereby damaging one of the island state’s principal economies. As a result, in 1830, they established a bounty scheme to encourage people to exterminate them. This policy was later adopted by the government, who (under pressure from the farmers) opted to pay for the bounty scheme themselves from 1888 to 1909. Inevitably over those decades the world’s (then) largest surviving marsupial carnivore’s numbers plummeted. Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 255: the cottonmouth head

    By Will J Richard, on 2 September 2016

    Hello! Will Richard here blogging away to bring you another specimen of the week. And this one is an excellent example of the classic head in a jar. Timeless.

    LDUCZ-X1336 preserved cottonmouth head

    LDUCZ-X1336 preserved cottonmouth head

    Read the rest of this entry »