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News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Specimen of the Week 301: The formerly googly-eyed owl

By Jack Ashby, on 21 July 2017

The long-eared owl: BEFORE. LDUCZ-Y1604

The long-eared owl: BEFORE. LDUCZ-Y1604

In a move unprecedented in Specimen of the Week history, I have chosen to blogify the same specimen as I selected in my last Specimen of the Week. The reason is that in many ways it is not the same specimen as it was six weeks ago: it has undergone a profound transformation. We used to call this specimen “the googly-eyed owl”, due to its comedy wonky eyes, but it is googly-eyed no longer. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…

**The taxidermy long-eared owl (again)**

Make Taxidermy Great Again

The owl has been made significantly more owl-like as part of our big conservation project: Fluff It Up: Make Taxidermy Great Again. This project aims to treat our historic taxidermly collection by cleaning and repairing some truly uncollectable specimens that have been slowly deteriorating over the many decades since the animals died. The owl was one of the first to be treated – by expert conservator Lucie Mascord – and the work was actually undertaken in the museum gallery so our visitors could experience what such intricate work involves.

Owl ethics

We had long discussions about the ethics of “correcting” the owl’s eyes, because specimens in museums not only tell a scientific story of the species they represent, but also the history of how they came to be, and the the people and cultures they come from. That conversation is the focus of my last post, but the final decision was that this owl was merely poorly made, and did not represent a significant step in our understanding or communication of owls. We felt that he would be more useful to the world if he looked more like an owl.

The de-eyed owl. LDUCZ-Y1604

The de-eyed owl. LDUCZ-Y1604. Image courtesy of Lucie Mascord.

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder

Eyes are often the bit that betrays a taxidermied animal – the thin skin around the sockets can pull back, or the taxidermist fails to sink the replica eyes deep enough into the head. Sometimes – as in our googly-eyed owl – they stick them on the outside of the skin, rather than the inside. Lucie’s first step in conserving this specimen was to remove the dodgy teddy-bear eyes.

Fluff it up…

Aside from the eyes, there were other parts of the specimen that needed treatement. A number of the feathers were out of alignment, particularly the ones that give it its name: the long ears. These aren’t actually ears, but feathery-tufts that the owl can erect in display. It was also a bit wobbly on his perch, putting unneccesary stress on the specimen’s legs.

The specimen formerly known as the Googly-Eyed Owl

So here it is, the newly transformed long-eared owl…

AFTER. Long-eared owl: googly-eyed no more. LDUCZ-Y1604

AFTER. Long-eared owl: googly-eyed no more. LDUCZ-Y1604

Fluff It Up: Make Taxidermy Great Again is running until September, when toy animals will be on display in place of specimens that have been removed for conservation. The Grant Museum of Zoology is open from 1–5pm Monday to Saturday. Admission is free and there is no need to book.

Jack Ashby is Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology


One Response to “Specimen of the Week 301: The formerly googly-eyed owl”

  • 1
    Helen Chavez wrote on 10 January 2018:

    We have cross-eyed Arctic Fox which has long been the subject of intense (and occasionally heated) discussions on whether we should operate on his eyes and straighten him up a bit. I will send on the link about the googly-eyed owl to the powers-that-be. Who knows, we might even manage to get Gonzo, our dehydrated vulture head, sorted out …

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