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  • Specimen of the Week 353: The exploded crocodile skull

    By Hannah Cornish, on 27 July 2018

    Specimen of the week this week is the skull of a giant predator which has been subject to a very special preparation method. The result is not only educational, but is surely the specimen of the week with the coolest name ever, allow me to introduce…

     

    LDUCZ-X121 exploded skull of Crocodylus porosus (saltwater crocodile)

    LDUCZ-X121 exploded skull of Crocodylus porosus (saltwater crocodile)

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    Specimen of the Week 348: The salp

    By Hannah Cornish, on 22 June 2018

    Specimen of the Week this week was collected from the seas off Naples where it jetted around the Mediterranean breaking records and enjoying a remarkably complicated love life. Specimen of the Week is….

     

    LDUCZ-T23 the salp Salpa maxima

    LDUCZ-T23 the salp Salpa maxima

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    Specimen of the Week 344: The mata mata skeleton

    By Hannah Cornish, on 25 May 2018

    This week we are meeting one of the weirder-looking species at the Grant Museum, and that’s really saying something. In life it had a nose like a snorkel, a shell like tree bark and a neck longer than its body. Specimen of the week is…

    Mata mata skeleton Chelus fimbriata LDUCZ X186

    Mata mata skeleton Chelus fimbriata LDUCZ-X187

     

    **The mata mata skeleton**

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    Specimen of the week 339: The St Kilda mice

    By Hannah Cornish, on 20 April 2018

    Our specimens this week might be small, but they are giants of their species because of the peculiar effects of living on an island. They are…

    St Kilda mice LDUCZ-Z1528

    St Kilda mice LDUCZ-Z1528

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    Doris Mackinnon: Investigating the microscopic

    By Hannah Cornish, on 8 March 2018

    Today is International Women’s Day, this year it is 100 years since the first group of women got the right to vote in the UK, and UCL is celebrating with a programme of events and exhibitions called Vote 100. What better time to share a story from the Grant Museum about one of the pioneering female academics who worked at UCL. I took this opportunity to investigate the woman behind one part of our collection. High on the balcony in the Grant Museum are a pair of ever so slightly dusty microscope slide cabinets containing around 400 slides. Each cabinet bears a little brass plaque that reads –

    The Doris Livingston Mackinnon Collection of Protozoa

    University College London

    Who was Doris Mackinnon, and why is her collection here? Protozoa are not animals, so they are an unusual inclusion in a zoology museum. It was all a bit of a mystery until I started digging into it, here’s what I found out.

    Photograph of Doris Mackinnon in her lab © University of Dundee Archive Services

    Photograph of Doris Mackinnon in her lab © University of Dundee Archive Services

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    Specimen of the Week 331: The Glanville Fritillary

    By Hannah Cornish, on 23 February 2018

    It is 100 years since the first women got the right to vote in the UK, and with international women’s day coming up UCL is celebrating with UCL vote 100. At the Grant Museum we are taking this opportunity to explore stories of women in natural history, amazing female specimens and the language of gender in zoology.

    This week’s specimen is rare in the UK, but common in the Grant Museum collection. Its connection to our theme is not to do with the species itself, but to do with the incredible woman who discovered it. Specimen of the week is….

    L1313 (second from top) and other specimens of Melitaea cinxia in the Grant Museum collection

    LDUCZ-L1313 (second from top) and other specimens of Melitaea cinxia the Glanville Fritillary in the Grant Museum collection

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    Specimen of the week 325: The three-striped night monkey skull.

    By Hannah Cornish, on 12 January 2018

    In life this week’s specimen was small, loud and fluffy. It is also an unsung hero of science described by another unsung hero of science. This specimen of the week is…

    Three-striped night monkey skull

    LDUCZ-Z414 Aotus trivirgatus Three-striped night monkey skull

    **The three-striped night monkey skull**

    Eyebrows on fleek

    Three-striped night monkeys have huge eyes, giving them excellent night vision, and are known for their loud calls. They have a distinctive facial pattern with prominent eyebrows which makes them look rather like startled Ewoks. They eat fruit, nuts, flowers, leaves, eggs and insects, and are found in Venezuela and Brazil. This species is also known as the douroucouli, owl monkey, northern night monkey or Humboldt’s night monkey, but more on that later.

    Night monkey, Aotus trivirgatus by Dick Culbert

    Three-striped night monkeys, Aotus trivirgatus by Dick Culbert, CC Attribution 2.0 license.

    Night monkeys in science

    The three-striped night monkey is not considered to be under threat by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). However, related species of night monkey such as Aotus nancymaae are threatened by habitat loss and illegal trade for lab animals and pets, making them vulnerable to extinction. Night monkeys are particularly useful in malaria research as they are one of the few other primates that can be affected by the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, and as such are highly sought-after. In the past this has led to them being taken from the wild in large numbers. In recent years various species of captive-bred night monkeys have been used in research into malaria-induced anaemia and potential malaria vaccines. Thank you night monkeys!

    Night monkey Aotus trivirgatus taxidermy from Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, by David Stang

    Three-sriped night monkey (Aotus trivirgatus) taxidermy from Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, by David Stang, CC SA 4.0 licence

    It was originally believed that there were only one or two species of night monkey, but a series of studies since the 1980s has uncovered a complex picture with up to 18 different potential species based on the number of chromosomes they have. Currently 11 different species are recognised by scientists, but this could well increase in the future.

    Humboldt

    In 1811 Aotus trivirgatus was the first night monkey described by a European scientist. It was named by Alexander von Humboldt, a pioneering German biologist and explorer. Humboldt was one of the first scientists to travel through South America, and is considered to be the father of the science of ecology, although he is nowhere near as famous today as he was in the 19th century. As well as being one of Darwin’s favourite authors and falling out with Napoleon over who had sold more books, Humboldt was also the first person to describe man-made climate change as early as 1800. He is said to be the person with the most species and places named after them, including at least four universities, several mountains, a penguin, and a really big squid.

    Hannah Cornish is the Curatorial Assistant at the Grant Museum of Zoology

    References

    http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/summary/41543/0

    http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/41540/0

    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41541-017-0015-7

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11986251

    The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science Andrea Wulf, 2016

     

    Specimen of the Week 319: The Camberwell Beauty

    By Hannah Cornish, on 1 December 2017

    Specimen of the week this week is a rare visitor to our shores, with a slightly misleading name. Today we venture south of the river in search of…

    Nymphalis antiopa (Camberwell Beauty, or the Grand Surprize) LDUCZ-L3333

    Nymphalis antiopa (The Camberwell Beauty, the Mourning Cloak or the Grand Surprize) LDUCZ-L3333

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    Specimen of the Week 313: The Newt Microscope Slides

    By Hannah Cornish, on 20 October 2017

    This week, lucky blog readers, not only do we have our usual Grant Museum Specimen of the Week, we have a super-special guest star. From the Grant Museum Micrarium and the collection of the Royal College of Surgeons come…

    Newt slide from the Grant Museum Micrarium

    Newt slide from the Grant Museum Micrarium

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    Specimen of the Week 307: The Euston Mammoth

    By Hannah Cornish, on 8 September 2017

    This week’s specimen has only recently entered the Grant Museum, and as soon as I saw it I wanted to know more. I did a little digging and this is what I found: Specimen of the Week is…

    Z3360 Euston Mammoth Ivory

    LDUCZ-Z3360 Euston mammoth ivory

    **The Euston Mammoth**

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