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  • The dogs that work to detect cancer

    By Jack Ashby, on 22 November 2017

    The Grant Museum’s current exhibition – The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The Boring Beasts that Changed the World ­­- explores the mundane creatures in our everyday lives. Here on the blog, we will be delving into some of the stories featured in the exhibition with the UCL researchers who helped put it together.

    Guest post by Katrina Holland (UCL Anthropology)

    It’s 8.45am at a business park in rural Buckinghamshire, UK: my primary field site. A car pulls up and Kiwi jumps out, rushing into the workplace where she spends 3 days each week. Striding into the office, Kiwi wags her tail and greets her colleagues by pressing her wet nose into each of their trousers. Shortly after arriving, Kiwi is escorted by her trainer Sam to a grassy paddock where the pair stretch their legs. For Kiwi, this means darting across the field with her nose to the ground and choosing places to do her “business”. Meanwhile, armed with poop bags, Sam walks several laps of the paddock keeping a watchful eye on Kiwi. On their return to the office, Kiwi curls up on a cushion underneath Sam’s desk and dozes for an hour, before Sam calls her into the training room next door. Here Kiwi works, sniffing urine samples for up to 45 minutes per day as she learns to detect the odour of prostate cancer in urine.

    One of the bio-detection dogs searches the the samples.

    One of the bio-detection dogs searches the the samples.

    (more…)

    The Museum of Ordinary Animals opens at the Grant Museum

    By Jack Ashby, on 21 September 2017

    Throughout my career in museum zoology I have detected (and contributed to) a certain snobbery when it comes to some species of animal. It seems that as far as museum displays are concerned, not all animal specimens were created equally. Our new exhibition – opening today – seeks to address this.

    The Museum of Ordinary Animals tells the story of the boring beasts that have changed the world: the mundane creatures in our daily lives, including dogs, pigeons, cats, cows, chickens and mice. These animals are rarely represented in natural history museum displays. They are not special enough. Do we even need to go to a museum to see animals that we can find on our plates, on our laps and on our streets? People would rather see dinosaurs, dodos and giant whales.

    Domestic dog skulls. Humans’ first domestication was that of dogs from wolves. Today humans have forced the descendants of wolves to become the most anatomically variable of all species.

    Domestic dog skulls. LDUCZ-Z1046 and LDUCZ-Z1338b
    Humans’ first domestication was that of dogs from wolves. Today humans have forced the descendants of wolves to become the most anatomically variable of all species.

    Nevertheless, this exhibition puts these everyday species front and centre. It investigates some of the profound impacts they have had on humanity and the natural world, how they were created, and the extraordinary things we have learned from them. (more…)

    Bits of animals that are surprisingly the same size – Vol. 1

    By Jack Ashby, on 2 March 2016

    The other day, two skulls were next to each other on the trolley – a capybara and a hyena. One is the world’s largest rodent, from the wetlands of South America, the other is a large carnivore from Sub-Saharan Africa, and as such are not often found together in museums.

    Capybara and spotted hyena skulls, which are surprisingly the same size. (LDUCZ-Z180 and LDUCZ-Z2589)

    Capybara and spotted hyena skulls, which are surprisingly the same size. (LDUCZ-Z180 and LDUCZ-Z2589)

    I was amazed that they were the same size. This inspired me to find other bits of animals that are surprisingly the same size… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 172

    By Tannis Davidson, on 26 January 2015

    Scary-Monkey-Week-NineIt’s that time of year when the Christmas tree has been taken down, gifts have been put away, and all holiday food finally consumed. Folk head back to work, kids return to school and everyone gets on with the business of the new year.

    However, for the young (and young-at-heart) January is prime time for the continued enjoyment of new toys and games. Instructions are now understood, multi-piece sets have finally been assembled and a new level of obsessive play-enthusiasm occurs. The post-Christmas clean-up is duly hampered by the constant setting-up and putting-away of various toy sets, 1000 piece puzzles and assorted crafty-painty-arty bits and bobs.

    As a tribute to the toy-players and gamers out there, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 163

    By Will J Richard, on 24 November 2014

    Scary MonkeyHello again! It’s me, Will Richard.

    Here for the second time doing my best to keep up the Grant’s grand traditions, but I’m afraid I must begin with an admission. I think I’ve made a mistake. Last month I made my blogging debut with a potto and it seemed like such a good idea at the time. Now, however, I’m faced with quite a problem. What can follow the potto?

    Pacing the museum and racking my brains, peering into cases with increasing desperation, I am spoilt for choice so there’s no need to panic… let’s be logical. The potto is a teddy bear and where do you go when a teddy fails? A friend! Maybe even a best friend…

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