Re-collections: William John Burchell

Over the last few months, I have been working on cataloguing and rehousing the archival collection of William John Burchell (1781-1863). Burchell was an important early naturalist, explorer, ethnographer, and linguist who worked in South Africa and Brazil, contributing greatly to our understanding of the flora and fauna of these areas. He was also a highly talented artist!… Continue reading →

The Beginning of the End: Do locusts still spell danger for humanity?

A few days ago, I was working from home when a delivery driver arrived with a strange parcel – a cardboard box stamped with the letters FRAGILE that seemed to be producing a peculiar, scratching sound. Tentatively, I opened the cardboard box and pulled out a plastic punnet filled with newspaper, old egg cartons, and… wait! Was that an antenna? … Continue reading →

One door closes, another opens…

Finally, the meticulous moving of specimens is miraculously complete; an achievement described by our Director as “beyond the Museum’s wildest dreams”. Now the last of the cabinet doors is snugly closed, we rest assured that our collections are secure and will be preserved for the public for years to come. At the same time, we prepare ourselves to take the trailblazing step of opening the doors to the Westwood room to the public for the first time.… Continue reading →

The Prince and the Plinths

With the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in the air, Hayleigh and Danielle reveal the royal connections that are integrated into the very fabric of the Museum, and reveal the surprising story behind our empty plinths.… Continue reading →

A Fashion Flea-esta

The delicate art of dressing fleas in tiny costumes, known as ‘Pulgas Vestidas’ in Spanish, flourished in Mexico for over two centuries. It is believed that the craft began in Mexican convents where nuns would fashion tiny pieces of clothing onto dead fleas. An important point to note is that the fleas themselves are not actually dressed — instead, they formed the heads of the figures. … Continue reading →

Community science: what’s the value?

ONE SCIENTIST OFFERS HER PERSPECTIVE

For most of our history, humans have been observational creatures. Studying the natural world has been an essential tool for survival, a form of entertainment, and has provided the backbone for various legends and myths. Yet modern humans are rapidly losing practice when it comes to environmental observation. As more and more of us relocate to busy urban environments, we find ourselves with little to no time to spend outdoors…
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Disappearing Butterflies

HOW TO SOLVE A BIOLOGICAL MYSTERY USING MUSEUM COLLECTIONS AND DNA TECHNOLOGY

The Black-veined white butterfly (Aporia crataegi) was a large, charismatic butterfly with distinctive black venation on its wings. Once commonly found in the UK, the species unfortunately went extinct here in around 1925, with the last British specimens collected from Herne Bay in Kent. It isn’t fully understood why the species disappeared from the UK…
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Re-Collections: Jane Willis Kirkaldy

The Museum is lucky enough to house several specimens presented by Jane Willis Kirkaldy (1867/9 – 1932). They serve as a reminder of a passionate and dedicated tutor, and of a key figure behind the development of women’s education at Oxford University. … Continue reading →

Reindeer are not just for Christmas

Studying these Ice Age reindeer can teach us as much about the future as they can about the past. Pleistocene reindeer were likely similar to their modern counterparts, which undertake large, bi-annual migrations between summer and winter grazing pastures. Looking at the movements of Ice Age populations of reindeer can therefore help us to understand how modern reindeer may respond to climactic and environmental changes in the future.… Continue reading →

Conservation in the Genomic Era

HAVE DNA TECHNOLOGIES REPLACED THE NEED FOR MUSEUMS?
The year 1995 marked the first whole-genome sequencing for a free-living organism, the infectious bacterium Haemophilus influenza. Almost three decades later, biotechnological advances have made whole-genome sequencing possible for thousands of species across the tree of life, from ferns and roses, to insects, and – of course – humans. […] But do these advancements help us with conservation efforts? Or are the benefits of biotechnology limited to industrial and biomedical settings?… Continue reading →

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