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  • Specimen of the Week 271: Helmeted guineafowl

    By Dean W Veall, on 23 December 2016

    Dean Veall here. ‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas and all the Museum, not a creature was stirring (on account of them being dead and all), not even a mouse, (because that particular specimen was preserved using an experimental freeze drying technique). Festive greetings blog readers. I’ve chosen the guineafowl for my specimen this week, which has (sort of, ish) festive connections. The wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), was often confused with the more familiar guineafowl in the 1600’s when European settlers reached America, due to the the featherless heads and similar colouration of the plumage.  And with that tenuous festive link, this week’s Specimen of the Week is:

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    Natural Creativity: Sex and Trickery opens at the Grant Museum

    By Jack Ashby, on 18 October 2016

    ‘Natural Creativity: Sex and Trickery’ is our new exhibition – opening tomorrow 19th October –  at the Grant Museum. It explores the myriad of elaborate shapes, sizes and crafty behavioural tactics some animals have evolved in order to survive, reproduce and pass on their genes.

    Through intricate drawings by the artist Clara Lacy, ‘Natural Creativity’ asks the question, why is the natural world so colourful and varied? Lacy has drawn species with highly unusual sexual behaviours or mechanisms for determining sex. It is commonly assumed that animals are born either male or female then reproduce as adults, but things can get much more interesting. Some species change sex over their lifetime, become a grandmother before giving birth, or trick others into thinking they belong to the opposite sex.

    Ocellated wrasse (C) Clara Lacy.

    Ocellated wrasse (C) Clara Lacy.
    The ocellated wrasse has an unusual mating system – different males use different strategies in the attempt to pass on their genes. The genetics of these strategies is being researched at UCL. “Nesting males” are brightly coloured and work to court females, defend nests and care for their young. These males attract the most females, but other males have evolved different routes to mating success.
    Small males become “Sneakers”. They surreptitiously approach Nesting males and females while they are mating, and then release their own sperm into the water.
    Medium-sized “Satellite males” cooperate with a Nesting male, helping them chase Sneakers from the nest. This means that they are tolerated by Nesting males, and spawn while the Nesting male is mating.

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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. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 200: The dodo

    By Jack Ashby, on 10 August 2015

    Grant Museum dodo bones

    Grant Museum dodo bones LDUCZ-Y105

    200 weeks ago the Specimen of the Week was born, and here we are 198 specimens* later. For this auspicious occasion, I thought I should highlight one of the most important specimens in the Museum, both for historic reasons, and because it one of the things that visitors regularly ask about.

    Indeed, we know it is one of the most popular objects as it scores the highest in our “filth left on the glass by visitors scale”. We agree with our visitors’ assessment, and have included it in our Top Ten Objects trail.

    Possibly ranking as our most blogged about species, it’s about time that this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: 184

    By Dean W Veall, on 20 April 2015

    Scary-Monkey-Week-Nine Hello dear Grant Museum blog followers, Dean Veall here again bringing you Specimen of the Week 184. This week’s specimen of the week is the result of a recent rummage through the drawers of the collection. Through my contributions for the series I have often gone in search of a specimen that doesn’t get to be seen by the public very often and today’s specimen is indeed one of those and it also revisits an emerging avian tendancy I had not realised I had until I started writing these blogs. This week’s Specimen of the Week is….. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 182

    By Will J Richard, on 6 April 2015

    Scary MonkeyHello! Will Richard here. This month I have decided to dictate my blog to a footman, as I’m feeling very royal. Last month one (which is royal for “I”) wrote about a queen. And so, continuing in that grandiose tradition, this month one would like to write about a king. Not a pretend king like one (I think when speaking royal you can also use “one” to mean “me”) but a proper king. His Royal Highness himself…

    This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 174

    By Dean W Veall, on 9 February 2015

    Scary MonkeyHello dear readers, Dean Veall here. I came across this week’s Specimen of the Week whilst writing another Specimen of the Week many months back and thought I would save it for a cold February Monday as just like that specimen it has a irrescedent sparkle on its wings that will hopefully banish those Monday blues. It is also a species that many of us will have likely come across as we have peered whistfully out of our windows whilst writing romantic prose (no? Just me) in Winter when this species stands out the most. If you did spot this species as you were looking out the window on the last weekend of January you were probably one of 315,000 who were taking part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. *Spoilers* With that tidbit I should probably tell you that this week’s Specimen of the Week is…….

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    The Not So Beautiful Birds

    By Mark Carnall, on 13 August 2014

    Image of Grant Museum sparrow skeleton

    Grant Museum sparrow skeleton. Specimen LDUCZ-Y1595

    Recently this specimen and a number of other bird skeletons came back from our conservation lab. When I first started at UCL these nine skeletons were in the dreaded “curator’s cabinet” a cabinet of broken and miscellaneous specimens that  were presumably the bane of previous curator’s lives. These skeletons were fragmented, partially disarticulated and all the fragments mixed together. I gave these specimens to Gemma Aboe who was undertaking some conservation work for us and she managed to piece together a number of half skeletons from this mixed box. These specimens aren’t the kind of thing you normally encounter in a public natural history museum display as they aren’t ‘perfect’ but I couldn’t resist taking a few extra shots of these whilst documenting them as although they are incomplete and not ‘worthy’ of a spot on display they are still quite hauntingly beautiful.

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    Specimen of the Week: Week 135

    By Naomi Asantewa-Sechereh, on 12 May 2014

    Scary MonkeyAs you will know by now, Team Grant are taking it in turn to contribute their choices to Specimen of the Week. The previous 134 Specimen of the Weeks have only included 10 birds – there’s your first clue, it definitely is a bird! So in order to increase the number of our bird specimens with that coveted crowning glory, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Why Twitter is good for museums – making discoveries

    By Jack Ashby, on 9 April 2014

    Using Twitter as a way of building a community of support, engaging people in content and shedding light on life behind the scenes in museums (that we don’t just dust stuff) is too obviously demonstrated by the real world to be spending too much time discussing. Not to mention the power to market events and exhibitions quickly and cheaply – assuming don’t over-use social media as a marketing tool.

    On Monday I conducted two pieces of “research” on our collection which sprung up out of the blue and would have been very difficult to solve without turning to our Twitter followers to tap their collective brain to find a quick answer. Both of them were on specimens that begin with “H” and end with “Bill”. Weird.

    Tweeting Turtles

    Hawksbill turtle showing his interesting eyes LDUCZ-X1177

    Hawksbill turtle showing his interesting eyes LDUCZ-X1177

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