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  • Specimen of the Week 268: The carp – How things got fishy

    By Jack Ashby, on 2 December 2016

    This week in The Conversation I wrote that there is no biological definition of fish that doesn’t involve humans. However the group that most people recognise as the fishiest are the ray-finned fishes. They¬†have fins supported by a series of fine flexible rods. It is the ray-fins that have gone on to be the dominant vertebrates in the seas, lakes and rivers: there are around 30,000 species. This makes them by far the most diverse vertebrate group, and I’d like to explore how that happened. Among them is this week’s Specimen of the Week:

    Common carp skeleton LDUCZ-V543

    Common carp skeleton LDUCZ-V543

    (more…)

    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

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 190: The Platypus Tooth

    By Jack Ashby, on 1 June 2015

    A slide showing a fragment of platypus tooth from the Grant Museum Micrarium

    A slide showing a fragment of
    platypus tooth from the
    Grant Museum Micrarium

    I have to admit that when I first encountered this object I didn’t recognise what it was until I read the label, which is scratched into the glass slide that houses it. I don’t feel too bad about that as it is essentially microscopic, and very few people have ever seen one of these specimens. It is among the very smallest objects in the Museum.

    Unsurprisingly then, it is on display in the Micrarium – our place for tiny things. This beautiful back-lit cave showcases over 2000 of the 20,000 microscope slides in our care – it broke the mould for how museums display their slide collections.

    I first wrote about the species featured on this slide in my first ever Specimen of the Week, but that was taxidermy – a real A-Lister compared to the miniscule, obscure fragment I have selected here. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 156 (The Evolution of Life on Land)

    By Jack Ashby, on 6 October 2014

    Scary MonkeyIt’s the third birthday of the Specimen of the Week blogs, so this one is a special one, tackling one of the biggest events in global history (no exaggeration). It’s also the start of winter term at UCL, and that means that Grant Museum returns to doing the very thing our collections were first put together for – spending the day teaching students about life.

    This term every week we have a palaeobiology class where the students learn about vertebrate life from the beginning – looking at each group in turn as they evolve in the fossil record. That has inspired my choice of specimen this week.

    As an Australian mammal nerd, it’s often tempting to think that nothing interesting happened between the appearance of multi-cellular life a little over 500 million years ago, and 200 million years ago when the first platypus-ish things appeared*. However, sometimes it’s important to think about where it all began: the fishy animals without which there would be no you, no me, no internet cats, and no platypuses.

    This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Eighty

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 22 April 2013

    Scary MonkeyYesterday I ran the London Marathon. Today, I cannot walk properly. I’m hobbling around like an old lady who put her zimmer frame in a ‘safe place’ and promptly forgot where that might be. I should explain that I was absolutely unable to do any training due to circumstances completely beyond my control, and it was not in the slightest bit down to the fact that I just never got around to it. That would be ludicrously silly, and being a biologist, I’d never be that naive about my body’s capabilities. Errrr…, yeah. Still, despite the aching thighs, a couple of blisters and a knee that I suspect will never get me down another flight of stairs again, I raised money for charity and got a shiny medal- yay. Wandering (slowly) (and painfully) around the Museum this morning to choose my Specimen of the Week, it got me thinking about how incredible the vertebrate body is, and how we have evolved to be able to undertake outrageous activities such as the London Marathon. I therefore decided to take you back to our roots, and talk about a very primitive species indeed, a sort of ‘where it all began’… if you like. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)