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Anahita in Sharjah

Horniman volunteer, Anahita, tells us how her experiences in Forest Hill have helped her in her new role in the United Arab Emirates.

My name is Anahita and I volunteer at the Horniman Museum. I recently left London for Sharjah, an Emirate in the United Arab Emirates, for a three-month professional internship at Sharjah Art Foundation.

I thought this would be a great chance to try out living in another country and to learn more about Middle Eastern art. So far I have been to a few exhibitions in both Sharjah and Dubai, and have met lovely artists, curators, and arts administrators.

At the Horniman, I was involved in many different areas across the Museum such as Engage, World of Stories, and Community Engagement. I have been able to use my experiences with Community Engagement in particular for my work here in the Education Department.

I am currently putting together the Autumn Disabilities Education Programme and planning art workshops for disabled young people in the community. Although my work is mainly office based, I am looking forward to working with local people at nearby art centres and the Urban Garden in Sharjah.

I am starting to get used to the heat - it is pretty similar to the temperature and humidity in the butterfly house. I will be back at the Horniman in mid-December, and look forward to seeing everyone then.  

  • Sharjah, The Sharjah Art Museum.
    The Sharjah Art Museum.

The Horniman wins big at volunteer awards

Gemma Murray, Engage Volunteer and Family Learning Volunteer supporting Busy Bees sessions, tells us about the recent London Volunteers in Museums Awards Ceremony 2017 which she and her fellow volunteers attended to recognise their huge contribution to the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

On Friday evening a couple of weeks ago, Horniman staff and volunteers made their way into Central London. What was the big draw? The London Volunteer in Museums Awards at City Hall. 

The London Volunteers in Museums Awards have been running annually for the past nine years with the aim of celebrating the contribution made by volunteers to museums throughout the capital. In previous years, Horniman volunteers including Peter O’Donovan and Ricky Linsdell have been winners, but could we repeat our successes? 

Upon arriving at the awards that were being held at City Hall, the first thing most of us did was to head out onto the balcony. There we found stunning views of Tower Bridge and the river bathed in the evening sun after what had been a long day of drizzle. There is nothing like seeing the Thames to make you really appreciate the fact that you are in London.

Once the awards got going, two things struck me. Firstly, quite how many diverse and fascinating museums there are in London. I like to think I've seen a lot of what London has to offer, but I still have so many places to check off my site seeing list. The second thing was the number and diversity of roles which are filled by volunteers. Listening to the winners was fascinating, but I also felt like I'd never really appreciated how many and various the roles played by volunteers at the Horniman really are.

Seher Ghufoor was a deserving winner of the Youth Award for her huge contribution to the Horniman Youth Panel and work involving young refugees, asylum seekers, and new arrivals. 

  • LVMA 2017 award winners including Seher in the centre of the shot - smaller (002), LVMA 2017 winners, including Seher Ghufoor (Centre)., Marie Stewart
    LVMA 2017 winners, including Seher Ghufoor (Centre)., Marie Stewart

The Engage ‘Discovery Box Project Volunteers’ were runners-up in the Best Team award for all their hard work making their mini-museum. Jane Beales was runner-up in the Developing in a Role award for her huge enthusiasm and hard work over at the SCC. I was runner-up in the Going the Extra Mile award for her proactive and sensitive support to our under-5’s Busy Bee programme, and Michelle Davis has finally been recognised for her sensitive and positive support of volunteers in the Aquarium after years of working tirelessly behind the scenes.

  • Members of the Engage Discovery Box Team at the awards ceremony (002), Members of the Engage Discovery Box Team at the awards ceremony.
    Members of the Engage Discovery Box Team at the awards ceremony.

So many roles – and this is before mentioning all those in the Butterfly House, Animal Walk, on the touch table and in the gardens, supporting weekend stories and events…

As the evening drew to a close, those left from the Horniman team swept Volunteering Manager Rhiannon onto the stage to thank her for her efforts in organising the proceedings -and to strike a pose on the winners' podium. With the massive pool of talent here at the Horniman, I'm sure next year we will sweep the board!

 

 

Specimen of the Month: The Giant Squid

The good news is that you still have until the 29th October to enjoy our incredibly popular temporary exhibition the Robot Zoo and interact with the larger than life animatronic animals that inhabit the gallery. In even better news, there is still one final species in the exhibition to have not yet been investigated by the Specimen of the Month blog series, hoorah, and that is the Giant Squid (Architeuthis). NB: There is no bad news in the Specimen of the Month blog series.

Squid or Cuttlefish?

Today is International Squid and Cuttlefish Day, so let’s start with the difference between a squid and a cuttlefish as let’s be honest, probably not everyone has nailed it. Cuttlefish are a type of squid so, that’s confusing for a start. What we’re really asking is - what’s the difference between a cuttlefish-squid and all of the other types of squid that we call squid, ‘traditional squid’ if you prefer. The answer - Cuttlefish have a lovely fringe that skirts their entire body like a tutu, and a face that looks like it got stuck in a spiralizer. A squid-squid, on the other hand, could be compared to an ice cream cone with an octopus stuck on the top. The tutu is restricted to two triangular ‘wings’, one on either side of the mantle, that in some species form an arrow-shaped ‘tail’.

Unlike their close relative, the octopus, whose anatomy is restricted to just the eight appendages, both squid and cuttlefish have eight arms and two tentacles as well for good measure. The arms are covered in suckers, which in the Giant Squid can measure 5 cm across. Tentacles tend to be much longer than the arms and have sucker-covered ‘tentacular clubs’ on the tips. The tentacles are used in the same way as rocket-propelled net launchers; they are flung out at prey with great speed in ambush attacks. Once they’ve got a hold, the tentacles bring the prey in closer to where the arms can get involved and help guide the prey back to the mouth at their base.

  • Cuttlefish+Squid, Left: A Cuttlefish showing the tutu that surrounds the body (mantle). Right: A common squid showing the triangular wing on either side.
    Left: A Cuttlefish showing the tutu that surrounds the body (mantle). Right: A common squid showing the triangular wing on either side.

They don't make it easy

Incredibly, despite extensive efforts by scientists to study them, no Giant Squid had ever been seen alive until 2004 when Japanese scientists managed to get the first photographs of a living animal. It took another two years for scientists to hook one and pull it to the surface, thus making history with the first human (on record) to ever clap eyes on a live Giant Squid. In 2012, scientists used a submersible and both saw and recorded a Giant Squid feeding in its natural habitat. The story of how they acquired the footage that had scientists around the world drooling over their laptops is quite wonderful. Given how vast the world’s oceans are, rather than going in search of a Giant Squid they decided it would be much more efficient to attract a squid to them. The Giant Squid doesn’t prey on jellyfish (that we know of) but jellyfish luminesce when predators are nearby, and jellyfish predators are what the Giant Squid eats. So the research team attached a series of bioluminescent lures to the outside of their submersible in an ingenious effort to mimic panicked jellyfish, and, as you can see from this clip beneath, the ingenuity paid off.

20,000 leagues under the sea

There is a lot of misinformation about the Giant Squid, specifically in relation to its size. It doesn’t help that what we do know about their dimensions is largely based on carcasses that have washed up on beaches half decayed, with tentacles and arms missing, and often bloated with water. Without a doubt, the Giant and Colossal Squid are the two largest invertebrates on the planet (currently known to science), yet because they are so elusive, and we can’t just go out and catch a good sample of specimens, we don’t know realistic maximum body lengths. Putting aside anecdotes from fishermen who report 900 foot monsters far out at sea - the Giant Squid is thought to be responsible for the myth of the Kraken for example - the largest scientifically recorded Giant Squid specimen was 13 metres. That is a massive animal with enough wow-factor to not warrant exaggeration in my book, but exaggeration is human nature I suppose. Measurements for the largest Colossal Squid on record vary greatly but most references seem to acknowledge the Giant Squid as being the larger of the two.

The final thing I want to tell you about the Giant Squid is how they got so big. The best guess scientists have come up with is this species has evolved larger and larger in an eight-arms race with predators. The only (known) predator of an adult Giant Squid is the Sperm Whale, which in itself is a huge beast and imagining epic battles between these two colossal creatures makes one's inner geek salivate. Although this has never been witnessed (presumably their encounters occur many fathoms below the surface) beak parts of Giant Squid are regularly recovered from the stomachs of Sperm Whales, and in a tit-for-tat scenario that suggests a battle rather than clear-cut predation, many Sperm Whales are found to be covered in scars from giant suckers, duh duh duuuuuh...

  • Smithsonian Report 1916 (003), A piece of Sperm Whale skin showing signs of a battle with Giant Squid, note the scarring from suckers - In Smithsonian Report 1916 - Bartsch
    A piece of Sperm Whale skin showing signs of a battle with Giant Squid, note the scarring from suckers - In Smithsonian Report 1916 - Bartsch

Our Favourite Butterflies

Our Butterfly House is full of dozens of different species of butterfly, but we point out five of the core species. To get up close and personal with these amazing creatures be sure to book tickets to visit our new Butterfly House - open all year round.

Blue Morpho (Morpho menelaus)

  • Blue Morpho, Caspar S
    , Caspar S

Morpho menelaus is one of the thirty species of butterfly in the Morphindae family and is known for its unique iridescent blue colour. Found across Central and South America, the Morpho's range stretches from Brazil to Mexico. They are also known for their slow and sloppy flight patterns.

Tailed Jay (Graphium agamemnon)

  • Tailed Jay Butterfly, Babujayan
    , Babujayan

The Tailed Jay is a predominantly green and black tropical butterfly that ranges from India, across Southeast Asia, to as far afield as Queensland, Australia. They are strong flyers and very rarely cease flapping their wings.

Glasswing Butterfly (Greta oto)

  • Glasswing Butterfly, Corsairoz
    , Corsairoz

The Glasswing is unique for its transparent wings and its unusual behaviour for butterflies such as long migrations and lekking.

Large Tree Nymph (Idea leuconoe)

  • Paper Kite Butterfly, Greg Hume
    , Greg Hume

Dispersed across Southeast Asia, the Large Tree Nymph has translucent silvery wings. Due to its diet, both the butterfly and its larvae are poisonous to eat. 

Red Postman (Heliconius erato)

  • Red Postman butterfly, Greg Hume
    , Greg Hume

The Red Postman can be found from Texas to Argentina and mimics the patterns of other butterflies to warn off predators.

 

Meet Mike

Meet Mike.

  • Mike - The Studio, Alison McKay
    , Alison McKay

Mike is a binaural recording device, modelled from the head of artist Serena Korda’s friend, also called Mike.

Mike – the model, still with me? – has microphones in his ears, and works by recording and playing back the sounds around him, to create immersive sonic experiences – so the listener hears everything just as if they’d been standing where Mike was.

We met Mike at the first meeting of The Collective attended by Serena, its newest member. Serena was chosen from a shortlist of artists to join The Collective, working together to create the first show in the Horniman’s new Studio space.

She brought Mike along to the meeting as an introduction to some of the ways she works. Much of Serena’s current artistic practice uses soundscapes because, she told us, she’s interested in the healing potential of sound. She wanted to show the group how binaural recording can creative emotive experiences, a sense of space and of the uncanny – what she calls ‘ghost sounds’.

  • Mike - The Studio, Alison McKay
    , Alison McKay

So we had the chance to create our own immersive soundscape while chatting in our circle around Mike – randomly making noises such as chairs scraping and pens tapping, then moving around the space, singing, chanting and even making chewing sounds into Mike’s ear.

Listening back to the recording was fascinating – some of us listened with eyes shut; some laughed out loud or jumped in surprise.

We don’t know yet know what role sound might play in The Studio’s first show but, now we’ve met Mike, we’re looking forward to working with Serena to find out!

Specimen of the Month: The White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum)

This month, Deputy Keeper of Natural History, Emma-Louise Nicholls, has the pleasure of telling us all about her favourite odd-toed ungulate, the rhinoceros. 

Oh my goodness gracious, I get to write a blog about rhinos, my absolute favourite animal. Hold on to your hats and don't go anywhere folks, this is going to be exciting. Not only is this the penultimate Specimen of the Month blog to focus on each of the eight species of animal in our incredible Robot Zoo, it also happens to be World Rhino Day!

A feat of engineering 

  • Robot Rhino, The rhino robot in our very popular Robot Zoo.
    The rhino robot in our very popular Robot Zoo.

The robotic rhino grazing on the snazzy grey carpet in the Robot Zoo is made largely out of every day and household objects, this ingenious work of engineering manages to pick out all of the White Rhino’s most important features. It has a fly swatter hanging off of its rear end for example, as real rhinos flick away irritating insects with a swish of their hair-tipped tails - although only two of the five species of rhino have a particularly tufty tail per se; the White Rhino and the smaller, delightfully furry Sumatran Rhino. Microphones for ears, and large cones they called 'smell-inlets' for nostrils demonstrate the rhinos excellent senses of smell and hearing. Armour plating represents their thick skin and bright purple rubber takes the place of thick grass-gripping lips. It even uses a crane to lift the head, demonstrating how strong their neck muscles are.

A tale of two rhinos

  • Southern White Rhinoceros, Southern White Rhino at Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park in South Africa. Very few people can tell the difference between a Northern and a Southern White Rhino by eye, in case you were wondering.
    Southern White Rhino at Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park in South Africa. Very few people can tell the difference between a Northern and a Southern White Rhino by eye, in case you were wondering.

There are two subspecies of White Rhino; the Southern and the Northern. The wild population numbers of Southern White Rhino is a huge feather in the cap of conservation, and every one of these thick-skinned beasts hoofing about in sub-Saharan Africa is a testament to how humans aren’t entirely useless as a species. The White Rhino was down to just 100 individuals in the late 19th Century due to hunting in the colonial era. Due to intensive conservation efforts, the numbers have risen to over 20,000 and subsequently the (Southern) White Rhino is not currently listed as endangered. 

In contrast, their friends in the North are not doing so well. There are three Northern White Rhinos in the world. Three. They are called Sudan, who is the only male, and Najin and Fatu who are both females. Unfortunately, Sudan is Najin’s father and Fatu’s grandfather, making repopulating the earth with Northern White Rhinos an awkward conversation. Further complicating things is that Sudan has to be under armed guard 24 hours a day to protect him from poachers who would target him for his horn, which is as medicinal as the metal cone on our robot. 

A sixth rhino?

  • Nola the Northern White Rhino, This is a female Northern White Rhino that used to live at San Diego Zoo.
    This is a female Northern White Rhino that used to live at San Diego Zoo.

There has been an argument put forward that the Northern White Rhino is not, in fact, a subspecies of the slightly larger White rhino but a distinct species in its own right. Personally the idea of there being six rather five species of rhino in the world means Christmas has come early in my book, but the proposed name of Nile Rhino may never make it into the history books as the rhino scientists of the world met the proposal with scepticism. Darn it. Still - as exciting as it would be on the one hand if Sudan and his family of two did represent a distinct species, on the other, it would mean we are on the verge of losing a much more genetically distinct animal than previously thought. I could explain in detail why having distinct species is important to the ecosystem (not just rhino enthusiasts), but I’m out of space so you’ll have to campaign for the Horniman to allow me more rhino airtime.

Until then- Happy World Rhino Day!

 

How to be a curious entomologist

Our volunteer, Helen, tells us how an afternoon with the nationally renowned Richard Jones helped her catch the entomology bug. 

The Devonshire Road Nature Reserve tucked away in the middle of residential Honor Oak is a real gem of South East London and only a stone’s throw away from the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

On 22 July, Richard Jones, the nationally acclaimed entomologist, led a group of excited wannabee entomologists into the meadows of the reserve armed with nets, magnifying glasses, collecting pots and test tubes to boot.  

Richard explained the right technique for using the nets, sweeping across the flora and grasses casting our nets far and wide to ensure a good catch to put in our test tubes.  We were advised to let go of species that had already been identified, particularly Bumble Bees and Butterflies and take back to the lab those insects useful for education and research that could be identified and ultimately added to the national database.  We were already feeling like debutante entomologists.

We were shown how to humanely kill our specimens with a form of ether, ethyl acetate, and to prepare and focus our microscopes so we could do the curatorial bit of mounting and labeling our bugs.

Picking up the array of micro pins with tweezers, a vital bit of kit used for spiking the smallest of insects required a great deal of care, patience, and a steady hand when working with the microscope.  For the flatter specimens, mounting them on card with a gum glue was the preferred method before adding data labels to our specimens. We had now become real citizen scientists.

As I left the nature reserve, with a spring in my step and renewed interest in plant bugs, leaf bugs, tortoise bugs, green shield bugs, the soldier beetle, picture-wing flies, and hoverflies – their facts and figures buzzing inside my head, I couldn’t help but feel that life just got a whole lot more curious!

 

Object in Focus: Romanian Eggs at Bruton Museum

Jackie Brooks, Curator at the Bruton Museum, tells us how they hope an Object in Focus loan will welcome a new member of the community.

As part of the 'Object in Focus' loans scheme, Bruton Museum has borrowed a collection of Romanian decorated eggs. We are a small Somerset town museum dedicated to local history and although at first sight the eggs have no relationship to us they have begun to reach out and make connections.

Recently a big issue seller has appeared in town, and he happens to be a refugee from Romania. His parents left him on the streets of Bucharest when he was 14 leaving him to fend for himself. When Roxanna Gibescu came to give a talk about the egg decorating tradition we learnt that all the patterns on the eggs are symbolic. Abundance, family, and wealth are all represented in the symbols that adorn the eggs and we hope our Big Issue seller will find these things soon. 

Upstairs in our store was a wooden box with 5 trays of eggs collected in the Victorian era. The Horniman loan has prompted us to display them and they now sit alongside the loan in all their glorious variety.

  • Bruton Museum's collection of eggs, Jackie Brooks− © Bruton Museum
    , Jackie Brooks

The case with the eggs in is placed at the entrance to the museum and is always greeted with a 'wow'. We love having them here.

 

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