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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Specimen of the Week 267: The sea squirt

By Jack Ashby, on 25 November 2016

You can’t choose your family. This adage is undeniable when it comes to talking about our evolutionary history – we cannot choose to become unrelated to certain groups of animals. One of our closer relatives doesn’t look a lot like us. It is effectively a tough fluid-filled translucent bag sitting on the bottom of the sea, spending its time sucking in water and feeding on microscopic particles it finds there. This week’s specimen of the week is your cousin…

Sea squirt (with three parastic bivalvles molluscs in it). LDUCZ-Q329

Sea squirt (with three parastic bivalvles molluscs in it). LDUCZ-Q329


Specimen of the Week: Week 137

By Jack Ashby, on 26 May 2014

Scary MonkeyThe cost that museums have to dedicate to caring for individual objects is determined by a number of factors. If it’s particularly fragile or susceptible to the elements it might need to be housed in a controlled climate or stored in specialist materials. If it’s particularly desirable it may need souped up security measures. If it’s particularly large then museums have a whole feast of troubles – one giant object will take up the same space as dozens of smaller ones; they are very difficult to move; and they require huge amounts of equipment to prepare and store. This is why you don’t get 30m blue whales stored in jars – just think how much alcohol that would take, and how thick the glass would have to be.

Fortunately for natural history museums, most big animals start off pretty small, so there’s a way we can cheat the system. If we use baby animals in our collections we can avoid the problems caused by largeness, and still have the species represented. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week 128

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 24 March 2014

Here at the Grant Museum we love all species of animal. We are not racist, sexist, size-ist, species-ist, or any such ist at all. It was not us that named this animal, but if it had been us who gave it this particular common name, it would have been through love and appreciation, and not meant in a derogatory way. For there is nothing wrong with being how this animal is described in its common name. Nothing at all. In fact, I can relate. Ok, caveat over, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week 109

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 11 November 2013

Having waved goodbye with a heavy heart to the baby eagles that hatched on my balcony and fledged during the summer, Saruman (hamster) and I were alone. Don’t get me wrong, he keeps me busy. He is as naughty as a mammal gets. The other day after an episode of particularly noteworthy naughtiness, I put Return of the King on the television and showed him exactly what happens to Sarumans that misbehave but instead of admitting the error of his ways and repenting, he went to bed and ignored me for the rest of the evening. Sigh. Anyway, despite having the right hand of Sauron keeping me on my toes, I felt the need to expand my family. Let me therefore introduce you to General Grievous, Darth Maul, Mumm-Ra and Grun the Destroyer – my new variable platyfish (picture to follow). We don’t have this species at the Museum but in their honour I will tell you about something else a little fishy. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week 108

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 4 November 2013

There is a lot to celebrate around this time of year. Halloween was just a few days ago, bonfire night is tomorrow, and there were plenty of sparklers and fireworks over the weekend (my hamster wasn’t impressed). Plus there is the changing of the seasons, the onset of brown and orange leaves, and it’s reaching the time to dig out the very thick jumpers rather than the medium thick jumpers I’ve been wearing for the last month. It is tempting to write a blog about a species connected to any one of these festive events, so many creatures could be both realistically and tenuously linked to such times as this. But I’m not going to do any of that. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week 103

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 30 September 2013

These past few weeks some of our exhibits have been rearranged and reinvented. This has included the merciless culling of some specimens, doomed to a life with the other relegated objects in the well-populated store rooms (the existence of which is primarily due to not having enough space to display everything). As I packed them up for transportation, one of them leapt out at me (not literally) and I thought it deserved one last hoorah before it is consigned to the group of specimens to be loved only from afar. And only by those who know it is there. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Eighty-Five

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 27 May 2013

Whenever we have a school visit I tend to start with the question “What is Zoology?” Obviously, I put it in a way more thought-provoking and dynamic format than that. But it essentially comes down to comparing the Grant Museum with other types of museum in London to ascertain what you would find here. For example, as we are a zoology museum you wouldn’t (sadly) find a Spitfire Mk IX or an HMS this that or the other. Those are obvious examples, sometimes what causes a little debate is plants. They are living things, but do they belong in a museum of zoology? This week’s Specimen of the Week is…


Specimen of the Week: Week Sixty-Nine

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 4 February 2013

Scary MonkeyEvery Specimen of the Week I have done thus far, I have realised, has nearly always been a whole animal. Not to say that’s a bad thing but I do feel a vast number of extremely super duper specimens, that are essentially ‘body parts’, have been overlooked. Subsequently this week’s specimen is a body part, but don’t worry it’s not as gruesome as it sounds in the slightest, no need to put off reading the post until after dinner. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Sixty-One

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 10 December 2012

Scary MonkeyYou think you know a guy and then he suprises you. Friend, relative, partner… no matter how long you’ve known someone for, they can always despise a shirt you thought they’d go nuts over or express how much they hate Christmas cake in a hereto unbeknown festive culinary revelation. I thought I knew the group of animals to which this week’s specimen belongs, very well. In fact, I’d say most, if not all people have some sort of knowledge base on this group. And yet, here, hidden behind other specimens on a crowded shelf of treats in a Museum display case, I discovered a gem of a species of this well-known group. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Fifty-Four

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 22 October 2012

Scary MonkeyLast week, after 19 hours on a broken down train (give or take), I attended the Wildscreen Festival in Bristol. The sessions were fantastic and ranged from super technical to ‘sit and watch my pretty film footage and then I’ll tell you my secrets’ (my favourite). It got me thinking about what we, as viewers, focus on when we watch these wildlife documentaries. In the case of footage of marine environments, it is often the background players with non-speaking parts that provide much of the atmosphere and, in the case of this week’s specimen, the colour. After spending a little while contemplating this point, I decided I feel they deserve a shout-out. So, staying in the world of marine invertebrates but switching primary colour, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)