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The Fijian Display and Jellyfish

Aquarium curators Jamie and James are keeping a blog as they work on the redevelopment of the Aquarium's Fijian Reef display.

As we continue to prepare the reef display for the New Year we have also been able to focus again on other aspects of the Aquarium.

As part of our collaboration with the University of Manchester we’ll begin research work with the Red Eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas) behind-the-scenes in January. This work will contribute to field research being carried out to preserve amphibians in the wild, a large number of which are critically endangered. 

It was time for some horticulture in our live mangrove display. We’ve been growing various species of mangrove in our Caribbean mangrove display and some have been growing too well. The red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) had grown all the way to the top of the display and had begun to block out the light to the mangroves and corals below, so we have cut them back in preparation for the New Year.

We’ve also been preparing some of our jellyfish for a TV appearance on BBC 4 over the Christmas period. The Blubber Jellyfish (Catostylus mosaicus) will be featured in the Royal Institution’s Christmas lectures “Meet Your Brain!” which will be all about our brains and presented by Professor Bruce Hood. The Aquarium’s jellyfish will be featured on the first show at 8pm on 27 December 2011.  

Ewen's Favourite Object

We asked Ewen Moore, who works in our Learning Department, about his favourite objects in the Horniman - the hobby horse.

“Why is this your favourite object?”

I like the hobby horse, as I have a very strong interest in folk lore and folk lore traditions, particularly British ones. I am also particularly interested in Christmas traditions too.   There are a lot of things at Christmas time that we do without thinking about which go back hundreds of years.  They are variations on themes that keep recurring and the Hobby Horse is a Christmas and New Year object.

I think it is incredibly beautiful.

I like the way the fabric is quite faded, I don’t know if that’s how it’s always looked or if it’s like that because it’s old, but it has a beautiful faded look. It looks like the kind of thing that you’d hope to find if you were looking through somebody’s attic - you’d open a chest and pull this out.

“What traditions are associated with it?”

The tradition is that the Mari group, with the horse, would travel around the town going from house to house at Christmas or New Year. The group bestowed good luck on the inhabitants of house.  All the people in the group, like musicians and people doing Punch and Judy, would be in costumes. They be raucous, banging on the doors, rattling the windows and trying to get the attention of the people inside. Then they’d have something like a rhyming contest where the people outside would rhyme or sing something, and the people in the house would answer with something else.  It was improvised and if the people outside won, they would get to come into the house and bless it by running around the house. The horse will be capering all over, Punch will be like trying to kiss the girls and the women, and Judy will be trying to stop him and there’ll be lots of singing and merry making. It would have been quite a raucous, but good natured event.

It’s part of similar traditions all over the UK particularly in Cornwall, Somerset, Kent, and Northamptonshire. Probably along the border of Wales and England there would have been a standoff by the Welsh and Mari Lwyd and the English mummers with their hobby horses including mock battle or contest between them.

“These traditions sound like a lot of fun.”

I like that whole idea of marking the seasons and these traditions bring everybody together in a sense of revelry and joy. I think a lot of those kinds of activities, which have been forgotten for a large part of the 20th century, are on the increase again and a lot of theses traditions are being

Young people want to do these things again and maybe when people look back in a few hundred years time it will be a blip in the 20th century when folk traditions didn’t happen much. We will see them as living, breathing traditions revived.

Pest Day

Nobody wants pests in their homes, but museums more than anywhere have reason to keep insects and rodents at bay.

Last week, a dozen Horniman staff took part in a Pest Awareness Day, led by our Conservation Department and pest control expert David Pinniger.
We spent the day learning about insects, learning how to identify which insect is which. There are more than 20,000 species of insect in Britain - although only about a dozen species can pose a threat to museum collections.
  • Pest Identification Day, Examining insect specimen under microscope
    Examining insect specimen under microscope
  • Pest Identification Day, Insect specimen
    Insect specimen
We also saw the damage that pests can cause, and learnt how to identify and deal with them when they do occur. Most of all, pests love food! So this is why we can't allow eating and drinking in our galleries.
  • Pest Identification Day, Damage caused by pests
    Damage caused by pests
  • Pest Identification Day, Frass - the scientific name for insect waste - in a case
    Frass - the scientific name for insect waste - in a case
The day culminated in a quiz and scavenger hunt, so we could put what we learnt into practice.
  • Pest Identification Day, Quiz to test what we've learned
    Quiz to test what we've learned
  • Pest Identification Day, Scavenger hunt to put into practice what we learned
    Scavenger hunt to put into practice what we learned
  • Pest Identification Day, Scavenger hunt to put into practice what we learned
    Scavenger hunt to put into practice what we learned

Refilling the Fijian Reef

Aquarium curators Jamie and James are keeping a blog as they work on the redevelopment of the Aquarium's Fijian Reef display.

The rockwork in the reef was finished this week, which means the maturation period for the filter was able to begin.

All aquarium filters (including the ones you keep at home) rely on living bacteria to help break down the waste produced by the fish and keep the water clean. When you start up a new aquarium you have to make sure enough time is given to allow the numbers of bacteria to grow. It is also important to add new fish to the aquarium slowly as, with each new fish added, you need to grow more bacteria - this is why it will take us until January to completely fill this display with fish!

Whilst we wait for the filtration to start working, we can continue to look after the fish behind the scenes and prepare the live corals to go back on display.
When you look at a coral you are not looking at just one animal,  you are looking at a lot of small animals called a polyp all living together to form one big coral, this means that if you cut even a small piece of coral off you will have lots of polyps to grow a whole new coral.
We can use this fact to allow us to take cuttings of the corals we have and grow lots of new ones behind the scenes to go on display later, just the same way you can do with plants in the garden. 

Building the Fijian Reef

Aquarium curators Jamie and James are keeping a blog as they work on the redevelopment of the Aquarium's Fijian Reef display.

We've been busy with the coral reef development. With the fish out and the display dry, we were able to start to build the artificial reef that will form the structure from which the live corals can grow.

  • Building the Fijian Reef, 

It is important when designing and installing a new reef structure to provide as many type of different habitats as possible. This provides a variety of homes for the fish that will be reintroduced into the exhibit as well as spaces for the corals to grow.

Just like the fish, the corals prefer different types of places to live, by having a complex and varied environment we can cater for everyone.

With the main display empty, it also gave us the chance to clean the filtration systems and add new equipment to make it even better than before.

This was a very dirty job as these pieces of equipment are specialists at removing waste from the water, but not so great at removing it from themselves.

With these pieces of equipment clean and the new items added we can ensure great water quality for the fish when they return.

Camille's Favourite Object

In this, the first in a series of posts, Camille Oosman, who is a Learning Trainee with our Learning Department, tells us about her favourite object in the Horniman - the dodo.

“What is your favourite object?”

“My favourite object is the Dodo in the Natural History Gallery. I like it for sentimental reasons really. It reminds me of my childhood. I remember when I came here for my interview a couple of months ago and my eye was immediately drawn to the Dodo because it reminds me of my dad. He was from Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean and he used to tell me about the Dodo.”

“What did he tell you?”

“Well, I remember him telling me the reason behind the expression ‘Dead as a Dodo’.  The Dodos were native to Mauritius and became extinct after the Dutch colonised the island. It’s a tragic story but the Dodo itself is quite a comedic figure, I really like him. Even the fact that he tasted horrible didn’t give him much protection!”

“It’s a memory which evokes mixed feelings then?”

“Yes, for me it’s a very fond memory, yet at the same time it’s sad. It was the first time I really understood extinction as something definite and final - something that could not be undone. I felt very sad and indignant about it. There was this innocent and friendly looking bird that would never be again because of something humans had done.”

“How is the Dodo viewed in Mauritius now?”

“Well, it has become a quite an important symbol. It’s on the coat of arms, as well as becoming an unofficial Mascot which you find on all sorts of tourist trinkets. For me, it’s also the archetype of the extinct animal and a symbol of how unthinking human intervention can have such devastating consequences.

On a personal level it symbolises a way of connecting with my own family history through stories of something unique to Mauritius”

Refurbishing the Fijian Reef

We started redeveloping the Fijian Reef display in our Aquarium this week. Aquarium curators Jamie and James are keeping a blog of their progress.

Day 1: Removing the rocks and connecting tanks

The first step was to remove all the old rock from the display - all 2 tonnes of it! This makes it much easier and less stressful to remove the animals from the display.


We then began to strip down the two focus tanks which are connected to the main display with the frogfish (Antennarius commerson) and clownfish (Amphiprion chrysopterus) in the display removed and placed into our quarantine facilities. 

Throughout the development, we will be monitoring the health of the animals held in quarantine and ensuring they are in the best condition and prepared to go back on display when we are finished.

  • Checking water parameters, Deputy Aquarium Curator James and Zoology Intern Katy checking the water parameters as we introduce the frog fish into quarantine.
    Deputy Aquarium Curator James and Zoology Intern Katy checking the water parameters as we introduce the frog fish into quarantine.

Day 2: Removing the fish, cleaning and emptying the aquarium

First of all, we had the tough job of removing all the sand and mess that was left from the previous day. 

With that job done we were able to remove the fish - these are being housed into our quarantine facility to be cared for while the rest of the work was completed.
We divided ourselves into fish collector and quarantine teams. Working as a team like this ensures the best care possible when moving the animals. It's important to divide all the fish into the quarantine tanks based on the foods they eat and the way the behave - if you don’t do this, you can end up with the fish fighting over their dinner!
We carefully introduced them into their temporary homes and emptied their old display so we can carry on working on the new display.

Day 3: Building the new reef

With the fish out of the now empty and cleaned display, work began on the new reef structure. This framework, created from plastic tanks, will then be layered with rockwork to give it the realistic effect we want.   

Kids' Takeover Day

If you follow us on twitter or facebook, you might notice a difference on Friday because our youth panel are taking over.

Friday 11 November is Takeover Day in museums across the country - the day on which young people are given a meaningful role in museums, galleries, heritage sites and historic homes. 
We're asking our youth panel to both take over our social media accounts and create a treasure hunt trail through the museum. They'll be tweeting and facebooking about what they find, and setting some clues for you to solve.
Once the trail is complete, we'll put it on our website for you to download and complete during a visit.
Also, if you’re visiting the Museum on Friday, you might like to get involved with Museum 140’s Museum Exposure Day by taking photographs during your visit and uploading to Flickr. We'll be taking some pictures, and we'll show some of the best shots of the Horniman here on our blog.

Steve Leonard visits the Horniman

In October, Natural History TV presenter and Horniman Patron Steve Leonard visited the Horniman for the first time.

He spent time looking over our planned animal enclosure in the Gardens and at our Aquarium with Aquarium Manager Jamie Craggs. He was particularly interested in the Aquarium team's work in coral research. Deputy Keeper of Natural History Paolo Viscardi also showed him around the Natural History Gallery.

Take a look at the video below to hear his thoughts - or read Steve's blog.

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