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  • Specimen of the Week 367: African bush elephant heart

    By Christopher J Wearden, on 16 November 2018

    In my first month at the Grant Museum I learned that I, like many before me, had made a mistake. A rather… colossal mistake. Under a large glass bell near the flying lemur (which is neither a lemur nor can fly, but that’s a story for another time) lies a specimen that, for sheer size and improbability, I’d always assumed to be a fake. A plastic replica made for teaching, perhaps. Little did I know that I was actually looking at a real… (more…)

    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

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 338: a tour of the Platypus Skeleton

    By Jack Ashby, on 13 April 2018

    Anyone who tells you that the platypus isn’t the best animal in the world is a liar. This is my conclusion after nearly fourteen years working in the museum that [probably] has more platypuses on display than any museum in the world*. My first ever Grant Museum Specimen of the Week was a taxidermy platypus, and here I return to this exceptional beast to explore the platypus stripped bare.

    A platypus skeleton. LDUCZ-Z26

    A platypus skeleton. LDUCZ-Z26

    The beauty of skeletons is that every lump and bump tells a story. Bone is shaped by the muscles, tendons and ligaments that pull on it, so we can trace the lives of animals as well as their evolutionary histories by asking why skeletons are shaped the way they are.

    Allow me to take you on a tour of… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 337: The Mussett Collection

    By Nadine Gabriel, on 6 April 2018

    To celebrate 100 years since some women were first given the right to vote in the UK, UCL are running a number of events and exhibitions. Here at the Grant Museum, our Specimen of the Week blogs have focused on women in natural history.

    The Grant Museum is home to many sub-collections which were either donated by other museums and collections or by previous curators such as Ray Lankester, D. M. S. Watson and James Peter Hill [1]. This Specimen of the Week is about the Mussett Collection, which was collected and donated by Dr. Frances Mussett, a palaeontologist and researcher at UCL. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 336: The Common Spotted Cuscus Skeleton

    By Christopher J Wearden, on 30 March 2018

    Good afternoon to all Specimen of the Week lovers. Before I get started with my inaugural blog I’ll take this opportunity to introduce myself. I’m Chris – museum enthusiast/cyclist/zoologist-in-training. I’m also the new Visitor Services Assistant at the Grant Museum. I’ve taken time over my first couple of weeks familiarising myself with the wonderful collections we have on display, and after careful consideration I’ve decided on a specimen that is very close to the heart of our museum manager. It’s the…

    Our common spotted cuscus skeleton. LDUCZ-Z75

    Our common spotted cuscus skeleton. LDUCZ-Z75

    (more…)

    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 321: the Wall of Mice

    By Jack Ashby, on 15 December 2017

    One of the most extraordinary collections in the Grant Museum relates to one of the most Ordinary of Animals. Since its creation, it has been kept behind the scenes. The man who created it, over decades of barely believable dedication and hard work, would probably never have imagined that anyone would firstly want to display it, and secondly find a way to do so.

    Mice Space at the Grant Museum - a wall of 4000 mice skeletons.

    Mice Space at the Grant Museum – a wall of 4000 mice skeletons.

    Personally, I have a real interest in pondering the differences between what gets selected for display in museums and what doesn’t (I published an article in The Conversation about it this week), and in the Grant Museum we have a lot of experience of finding ways to display collections that were not intended for the public eye (our Micrarium is a great example of this). This week’s Specimen of the Week definitely fits these themes… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 318: The newly recapitated bandicoot

    By Jack Ashby, on 24 November 2017

    This is embarassing. The sheer scale of natural history collections means that some objects are going to be wrongly identified, and the fact that generations of professionals have worked here over nearly two centuries means that there has been plenty of opportunity to get things wrong. I am embarrased because I utterly failed to spot that someone had attached the head of one animal onto the body of another. I am particularly embarassed because both animals involved fall within my particular area of zoological interest – Australian mammals.

    A chimeric skeleton of a woylie's skull on a bandicoot's body. LDUCZ-Z85 + LDUCZ-Z58

    A chimeric skeleton of a woylie’s skull on a bandicoot’s body. LDUCZ-Z85 + LDUCZ-Z58

    Allow me to introduce you to…. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 306: The Bilby Skull

    By Jack Ashby, on 1 September 2017

    Bilby skull LDUCZ-Z82

    Bilby skull LDUCZ-Z82

    Australia is widely considered to be the extinction capital of the world. In the 230 years since European invasion, 29 of its 315 native land mammals have been driven to extinction, and by far the majority of those that do currently survive have suffered significant (and in many cases almost total) declines – they are now only found in a fraction of their former habitats.

    This is all very depressing, but as I write this I am undertaking fieldwork in a remote area of central South Australia, volunteering for an organisation who are trying to make things better. This week’s Specimen of the Week is one of the species they protect. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 298: The Preserved Chimpanzee Hand

    By Rowan J J Tinker, on 30 June 2017

    Preserved chimpanzee manus (hand). LDUCZ-Z1146.

    Preserved chimpanzee manus (hand). LDUCZ-Z1146.

    At the Grant Museum of Zoology we house enough material to comprise at least half a chimpanzee, probably even several halves…

    “Half a chimpanzee, philosophically

    Must, ipso facto, half not be

    But half the chimpanzee has got to be

    Vis-a-vis its entity, d’you see?”

    I understand that by re-working Eric Idle’s Eric the Half a Bee song to read ‘chimpanzee’ instead of ‘bee’ most of the rhyming joke is lost, but I digress.

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is…

     

     

    (more…)