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  • Ordinary Animals and sex: choosing the right partner

    By Jack Ashby, on 29 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 Professor Judith Mank (UCL Genetics, Evolution and Environment)

    In many animals, females are pickier about choosing their mates than males are, since they invest more in their offspring than males do. By choosing high quality mates, females give their offspring a good chance of inheriting their fathers’ beneficial traits. This will help the young in their own search for mates, thereby increasing the chances that the original female’s genes will be passed down through the generations.

    Common guppies, Poecilia reticulata, by Clara Lacy, 2016.

    Common guppies, Poecilia reticulata, by Clara Lacy, 2016.

    (more…)

    Ordinary Animals and the genetics of being sexy

    By Jack Ashby, on 9 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 Professor Judith Mank (UCL Genetics, Evolution and Environment)

    Dominant males have all the things that turkey hens want, including long snoods and vibrant wattles. Subordinate males are by comparison rather plain. (Photo by Lupin on Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Dominant males have all the things that turkey hens want, including long snoods and vibrant wattles.
    (Photo by Lupin on Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 3.0)

    In all species, some individuals are simply better looking than others, and they have the right shape, colour or attitude that makes them irresistible to the opposite sex of their species. Scientists have generally assumed that good looks come primarily from good genes, but this presents an enigma: if only individuals with the best genes pass them on in every generation, those sexy genes should spread and soon the entire population should be equally attractive.

    So… how is that unattractive genes persist in populations? Why doesn’t evolution wipe them out? (more…)

    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.

    (more…)

    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: Week 124

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 24 February 2014

    Nestled between, and rather physically dwarfed by, a cuckoo and a sparrowhawk, this specimen sits is our ‘Taking Flight’ case. That doesn’t mean it’s a bird though, as there are many other types of animals that fly to varying degrees of definitions of the word. Bats, colugos, frogs, squirrels, etc, etc. It’s a beautiful animal and I feel the need to bring it out of the shadows. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)