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  • Specimen of the Week 329: Flamingo skull

    By Nadine Gabriel, on 9 February 2018

    Hello, it’s Nadine Gabriel with another Specimen of the Week. This is a skull of an American flamingo, one of the six species of flamingo and the only species that naturally inhabits North America. The fiery-coloured plumage of this long-legged bird is sure to brighten up the dark winter days, so read on to find out more…

    Skull of an American flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber LDUCZ-Y147

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 328: Sawfish Rostrum

    By Nadine Gabriel, on 2 February 2018

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is a guest edition by Front of House Volunteer and UCL Student of History and Philosophy of Science, Leah Christian. Read on as she reveals that her Specimen of the Week is…

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    Specimen of the Week 327: The Fancy Casts

    By Tannis Davidson, on 26 January 2018

    It’s that time of year when a very lucky specimen gets the research equivalent of the red-carpet treatment. Each January, students in UCL’s Collection Curatorship class (as part of their MA in Museum Studies) choose objects from across UCL’s collections to research in a practical project to introduce them to the core skills of a curator: to understand objects and how to research them.

    Last year’s natural history group successfully cracked the mystery of the wax models and were able to not only identify them in their own right (as a developmental series of the freshwater leech Hemiclepsis marginata) but also revealed their place in the history of embryology as a rare surviving series made to illustrate Charles Otis Whitman’s 19th century pioneering work on cell lineage.

    This year, the specimens chosen from the Grant Museum are a set of four beautifully-made painted plaster and ceramic casts which are unique in the Museum… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 326: elephant bird egg

    By Will J Richard, on 19 January 2018

    Hello e-readers! Will Richard here, once again choosing a specimen for you. And to say good bye (I am soon off to pastures new) I’ve gone for a giant. The biggest in its Class….

    LDUCZ-Y1 elephant bird egg cast

    LDUCZ-Y1 elephant bird egg cast

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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 324: Serval

    By Dean W Veall, on 5 January 2018

    Happy New Year to all our Specimen of the Week readers, Dean Veall here. After spending much of the last part of 2017 falling down a cat gif/video/meme hole for our event Cats Broke the Internet for The Museum of Ordinary Animals exhibition event programme I have decided to go wild with my specimen choice. Specimen of the Week is…..

    Serval (Leptailurus serval) pelt LDUCZ-Z2776

    Serval (Leptailurus serval) pelt LDUCZ-Z2776

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    The Top Ten Grant Museum Blogs of 2017

    By Jack Ashby, on 4 January 2018

    Like everybody else, we had an eventful 2017. Surely the pinnacle was our blockbuster exhibition, The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The boring beasts that changed the world. In it we gave the mundane creatures from our everyday lives – like cats, dogs, chickens, mice, cows and rats – a chance to tell their stories. Despite the profound impacts they have had on humanity, they are typically excluded from natural history museum displays in favour of more exotic beasts.

    We’ve also been putting the conservation work that is critical to maintaining collections like ours (and which normally happens behind the scenes) front and centre, and getting our visitors involved with it. Following on from Project Pickle, which focussed on our fluid preserved specimens, we launched Fluff It Up: Make Taxidermy Great Again – a project to care for our important historic taxidermy specimens (and replace them with plushy toys in the display cases while they were off for conservation). This involved some ethical quandries, including whether or not we should “correct” the googly-eyed owl (we did).

    In July was our Whale Weekender, when we invited you, the glorious public, to come and help us clean and rebuild the largest skeleton in our collection – a northern bottlenose whale. This specimen came to us in 1948 and had never been put together here, so we had no idea how complete it was. And thanks to the 800 people that showed up to do the work, we now know that it’s pretty much all there – except the digits, the hyoid, a rib or two and the last vertebrae in the tail: the bits you might you might expect to lose if you bury a whale for two years, which is exactly what happened after it was shot in the Bristol Channel in 1860.

    On top of all of that, we’ve continued to help develop the next generation of zoologists by teaching with our specimens every day, as well as boring the world to tears with Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month (but then invigorating again with Specimen of the Week).

    As a way of looking back, on Twitter over the past week we’ve been counting down the best of 2017’s blogs – the Top Ten most viewed Grant Museum posts of last year*.

    I’ve announced those ranking at 10 to 2 in the charts, and exclusively revealing here that the most popular post of 2017 is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 323: The harp seal

    By Nadine Gabriel, on 29 December 2017

    It’s Nadine Gabriel with a Christmas dose of Specimen of the Week! As it’s only a few days after Christmas, I decided to choose a somewhat festive specimen for this week’s blog, so here’s an animal from (near) the North Pole – the harp seal!

    Skull and mandible of a juvenile Pagophilus groenlandicus, LDUCZ-Z304

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    Specimen of the Week 322: The Primordial Skull

    By Tannis Davidson, on 22 December 2017

    Season’s greetings! As presents appear under Christmas trees, the anticipation and excitement grows as recipients wonder what treasures lie wrapped among the dropping needles. In the spirit of mystery giving, this week’s Specimen of the Week is one to puzzle over in curiosity: what could it be? It is already unwrapped, stripped down, revealing all. However, even when seen, it is not obvious what it is… (more…)

    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…)