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Bioblitz Rocks! Geoblitz: Round One - Minerals

  • A stunning piece of bismuth., Photo by Russell Dornan
    , Photo by Russell Dornan

Having reviewed most of the biological collections already during the Bioblitz, we have now started on the Geoblitz section of the project. Before we get to the very large palaeontology material, first the rocks and minerals have to be reviewed. Monica Price is our expert reviewer.

  • A beautiful jade specimen., Photo by Russell Dornan
    , Photo by Russell Dornan

Monica has built up over 30 years of experience at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, managing the University’s internationally important collections of minerals, gemstones and meteorites.

  • Galena with its cubic crystals., Photo by Russell Dornan
    , Photo by Russell Dornan

Monica is interested in all aspects of mineralogy and mineral curation, publishing on a number of topics. Her particular area of expertise is in the identification of historic decorative stone. Her website for the historic Corsi collection, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, was launched in 2012 as a tool to aid identification of heritage polished stone.

  • Linarite specimen., Photo by Russell Dornan
    , Photo by Russell Dornan

Bioblitz: Invertebrates Reviewed

  • Moulted lobster shell, Photo by Russell Dornan
    , Photo by Russell Dornan

Kathie and Jon visited us to review our mollusc collection a couple of weeks ago. They spent three days looking through our collection of shells and fluid specimens searching for Star material. The collection was found to have good data but further research is required before identifying specimens as such.

  • Kathie looking through a mollusc cabinet at the museum with Jo and Paolo., Photo by Russell Dornan
    , Photo by Russell Dornan

From finding a golden cowrie in our collection to sharing some fascinating history, Kathie and Jon did a great job. One such anecdote was about the Precious Wentletrap (Epitonium scalare): it used to be so sought after and rare in the 1600s that Chinese artisans would craft delicate fakes using rice paste. By the time the value of the shells plummeted in the 1900s, the fakes had become much more valuable since hardly any survived due to their fragility.

  • Jon and Jo at the Study Collections Centre looking at some bivalve molluscs., Photo by Russell Dornan
    , Photo by Russell Dornan

The rest of the invertebrates were also reviewed, this time by Roger. He looked through our collection of sponges, corals, starfish and crustaceans and although dried museum specimens don’t necessarily capture the dynamic nature of these creatures, some of them are still beautiful.

  • Roger studying a fluid preserved sea mouse., Photo by Russell Dornan
    , Photo by Russell Dornan

From finding a sponge illustrated for a scientific publication (known as a “figured specimen”) to gaining an overview of the collection as a whole, Roger’s three-day review went really well.

  • Roger having a good look at the corals on display in the gallery at the museum., Photo by Russell Dornan
    , Photo by Russell Dornan

All the rest of the images from these Bioblitz reviews can be seen on Flickr.

Horniman Kakapo goes on loan

The Kakapo, a nocturnal and flightless parrot from New Zealand, has recently been voted the world’s favourite species on ARKive! This means a few people will be happy that we’ve just added one specimen to our Object in Focus loans scheme, making this species more accessible to other museums.

  • Object in Focus Kakapo, We've recently added a taxidermy specimen to our loans scheme
    We've recently added a taxidermy specimen to our loans scheme

The Kakapo is the world’s heaviest parrot, a good climber, long lived and very rare. They’re also important from an anthropological point of view, as its skins and feathers have been used by Maori to make dress-capes and cloaks.

Kakapos are very popular with us at the Horniman, and we have a number in our collections. During the current Bioblitz review, one of our Kakapo skins was identified as a star specimen, showing its importance within our collection.

  • Bioblitz reviewer Errol Fuller examines a Kakapo skin, This specimen of a now critically endangered bird is one of the 'star' specimens uncovered by the project, Photo by Russell Dornan
    This specimen of a now critically endangered bird is one of the 'star' specimens uncovered by the project, Photo by Russell Dornan

We now have a Kakapo available for loan as part of our Arts Council funded Objects in Focus project, which aims to increase access to our stored collections and strengthen partnerships with other museums.

  • Object in Focus Kakapo, We've recently added a taxidermy specimen to our loans scheme
    We've recently added a taxidermy specimen to our loans scheme

This Kakapo is currently on loan to the Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery, which is also hosting an accompanying talk about this loan on 6 June.

If you are interested in borrowing the Kakapo or any of the other objects from Objects in Focus, please contact Sarah Mahood.

Bioblitz Round Four (Part Two)

This week we are joined by Roger Bamber who is reviewing our remaining invertebrate collections. We’ve already covered the insects and molluscs, but there are still many other groups of animals without backbones, including sponges, crustaceans and echinoderms.

  • Brittlestar, Photo by Russell Dornan
    , Photo by Russell Dornan

Roger is an eminent marine biologist who spends a lot of his time aboard research vessels collecting samples from the seas and oceans around the world. He is used to working through invertebrate material from global marine explorations, identifying and researching a range of organisms, from starfish and sea spiders to jellyfish and corals.

  • Coral, Photo by Russell Dornan
    , Photo by Russell Dornan

In addition, Roger is a Scientific Associate at the Natural History Museum in London as well as a Marine Biology Consultant. His work involves conducting field surveys, environmental impact assessments and conservation surveys.

  • Mushroom Coral, Photo by Russell Dornan
    , Photo by Russell Dornan

Follow us on Twitter to see how it goes.

Bioblitz Round Four

The next Bioblitz is almost upon us. Next week, Kathie Way and Jon Ablett are reviewing our mollusc collections.

Kathie is the Senior Curator (Mollusca) at the Natural History Museum and is responsible for the curation, conservation and interpretation of the Mollusca, Bryozoa and Comparative Anatomy collections (around 9.5 million specimens!). Kathie has particular expertise in the identification and interpretation of historical mollusc material and good knowledge of handwriting/curation methods of early collectors.

Jon is the Curator of non-marine Mollusca & Cephalopoda at the Natural History Museum and is responsible for their curation and upkeep, as well as answering questions, providing loans and identifying and accessioning new material. As curator in charge of cephalopods it was his responsibility to design and manage the preservation, storage and display of museum's the giant squid (Architeuthis dux), acquired in 2004.

Remember to follow us on Twitter @HornimanReviews to see how it goes.

Bioblitz: Insects Reviewed

We're over halfway through the Bioblitz review events and have uncovered many Star Specimens along the way. Remember, we're using Twitter to spread the word and have posted the Bioblitz images on Flickr too.

Last week, we did the entomology (insects) Bioblitz review. Howard Mendel was our expert reviewer. It was a slightly different prospect from the previous ones. Instead of mounted taxidermy or articulated skeletons, the entomology collections comprise almost exclusively of drawer after drawer of pinned insects.

The cabinets which house these hundreds of drawers are stored in a small and awkwardly shaped room; patience and planning were required to get them out (although not as much as was required to put them back in!).

Howard began by looking through the cabinets, armed with the collection histories and the natural history team on hand to provide any additional information. Stars were in abundance, including the Horniman Butterfly (which is a type specimen). From butterflies and moths to locusts, dragonflies and bugs, the insect collection is filled with beautiful specimens.

The Bioblitz review was once again a fantastic opportunity to look at every single specimen within a subject area. We were able to get a better picture of the collection as a whole, spot any conservation issues and think about storage solutions as we went.

Having seen our entire entomology collections, Howard is now in a position to compile his report, in which he will outline its highs and lows, advise us on where the collection fits into the natural history sector as a whole, as well as recommend areas of further research.

Bioblitz Round Three

This week marks the start of our Entomology Bioblitz where we will be reviewing our insects collections, following on from our previous Bioblitz reviews of birds, reptiles and mammals.

  • Uraniid Moth - part of our Entomology Bioblitz, Our insect collections contain around 4,700 butterflies, over 2,000 beetles and almost 500 specimens of other insects collected around the world.
    Our insect collections contain around 4,700 butterflies, over 2,000 beetles and almost 500 specimens of other insects collected around the world.

Our insect collections contain around 100,000 specimens collected from around the world. Our expert carrying out the review is Howard Mendel. Howard has spent his career working with natural history collections across several museums, including several years as Head of Entomology Collections at the Natural History Museum.

He has a wide interest in insects and a particular interest in beetles. Howard is involved with many organisations and has been heavily involved in biological recording. In addition to Howard’s many scientific publications, he founded and wrote for the Suffolk Natural History Series.

After leaving the NHM, Howard has continued to work freelance on projects which interest him and we are very happy that the Natural History Bioblitz Collections Review at the Horniman is one of those projects.

  • Giant Locust at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, This specimen is just one of many which will be reviewed during our Entomology Bioblitz
    This specimen is just one of many which will be reviewed during our Entomology Bioblitz

 

Bioblitz: Mammals Reviewed

After the reptiles had been reviewed on the Monday and Tuesday, it was the mammals’ turn for the rest of the week.

During our latest Bioblitz, our expert, Pat Morris, spent three days looking at all of our mammal specimens. He checked their significance and identified any Star Specimens we have.

  • Pied Hare, Pat Morris, our mammal expert, posing with our pied hare− © Photo by Russell Dornan
    Pat Morris, our mammal expert, posing with our pied hare

Pat started in the busy gallery, which was full of excited children also looking at the animals on display. He looked at every mammal specimen on his way round, discussing his thoughts with us: inaccurate identifications, rare species and unusual preparations.

  • Mammals Bioblitzed, Pat putting the mammals in the gallery through their paces, Photo by Russell Dornan
    Pat putting the mammals in the gallery through their paces, Photo by Russell Dornan

Back at the stores, Pat looked through our taxidermy mounts and cases. He enjoyed seeing some of our interesting specimens, such as our pied hare or our leopard with an atypical coat pattern.

  • Leopard, Pat and Jo recording information about our potentially unusual leopard, Photo by Russell Dornan
    Pat and Jo recording information about our potentially unusual leopard, Photo by Russell Dornan

We have a large collection of mammal skeletal material. This includes a series of “double preparations”: half taxidermy mount and half skeleton. They are a fascinating educational tool and reveal how the skeleton sits inside the skin. Some of them even have organs in them!

  • Domestic Cat, One of our âdouble preparationsâ. This domestic cat shows off some of its vital organs., Photo by Russell Dornan
    One of our âdouble preparationsâ. This domestic cat shows off some of its vital organs., Photo by Russell Dornan

Finally, Pat visited the spirit store to look at all of our mammal material preserved in fluid. Although there weren’t any Star Specimens among them, Pat was able to point out the strengths and weaknesses of the collection.

  • Mammals Bioblitz, Pat reviewing the fluid collection, Photo by Russell Dornan
    Pat reviewing the fluid collection, Photo by Russell Dornan

Now we have a few weeks to prepare for the next Bioblitz Review: entomology!

  • Bioblitzing mammals, The fluid store, Photo by Russell Dornan
    The fluid store, Photo by Russell Dornan

For more photos of the mammals Bioblitz, please check out our Flickr.

Bioblitz: Reptiles Reviewed

Last week we conducted our second Bioblitz Review. With the first one (birds) behind us, it was time to focus on the next group: reptiles.

Colin McCarthy came in for two days to take a look at our reptile and amphibian collections. We knew that, unlike the birds, many of our reptiles weren’t identified correctly and were keen to remedy that. Colin looked at each specimen, identified them as far as he could and assessed their significance. There weren’t any highly significant specimens amongst the reptiles or amphibians but the opportunity to improve the collection information as well as hone our own ID skills was invaluable.

  • Reptile Bioblitz, Colin investigating a monitor lizard, Photo by Russell Dornan
    Colin investigating a monitor lizard, Photo by Russell Dornan

Colin talked us through the differences between crocodiles, alligators and caimans using our specimens. As a result, we now know that we have a few of each.

  • Reptile Bioblitz, Colin discussing the differences between crocodiles, alligators and caimans with Jo (Keeper of Natural History), Photo by Russell Dornan
    Colin discussing the differences between crocodiles, alligators and caimans with Jo (Keeper of Natural History), Photo by Russell Dornan

We unfurled many a snake skin to identify the species based on its pattern and size, as well as counting the scales across it. This allowed us to correct previously misidentified specimens.

  • Reptile Bioblitz, Colin and Jo unfurling a python skin, Photo by Russell Dornan
    Colin and Jo unfurling a python skin, Photo by Russell Dornan

Colin looked through our tortoises and together we managed to identify most them by looking at the shapes and patterns of the scales on their shells.

  • Reptile Bioblitz, Colin identifying which tortoise this shell belonged to., Photo by Russell Dornan
    Colin identifying which tortoise this shell belonged to., Photo by Russell Dornan

For more photos of the reptile Bioblitz, check out our Flickr.

  • Reptile Bioblitz, Lizard, Photo by Russell Dornan
    Lizard, Photo by Russell Dornan

Bioblitz Round Two

It doesn't seem long since we were Bioblitzing birds, but this week the collections review team have been busy preparing for our next Natural History experts.

On Monday, Colin McCarthy joins us to review our collections of Reptile and Amphibian specimens.

Colin studied Biology at Birkbeck College and went on to do his PhD on sea snakes. He has written over two dozen scientific publications and many popular books on reptiles (snakes in particular).

  • Bioblitzing Reptiles, Our expert reviewer's speciality is snakes, and there's plenty to see in the gallery
    Our expert reviewer's speciality is snakes, and there's plenty to see in the gallery

He spent his career working at The Natural History Museum in London, starting when he was 19. He was appointed as the Collections Manager for Reptiles, Amphibians and Fish in 1990.

Now retired, you can follow Colin on Twitter @mccarthy_colin.

Then, there's no time to spare before the third Bioblitz, as Dr. Pat Morris, who taught biology at Royal Holloway, University of London, arrives to look at our Mammals.

  • Bioblitzing Mammals, Hedgehog specimen from the Natural History Gallery
    Hedgehog specimen from the Natural History Gallery

The history of taxidermy has been a lifelong hobby interest for him, and he has published papers and several books on the subject. He has travelled widely in search of interesting taxidermy specimens and stories, and his house is home to one of the largest collections of historical taxidermy in Britain.

We're looking forward to working with these experts and hopefully finding a star specimen or two amongst our collections!

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