[Skip to content] [Skip to main navigation] [Skip to user navigation] [Skip to global search] [Accessibility information] [Contact us]

Previous Next
of 541 items

Specimen of the Month: The Chameleon

This month, Deputy Keeper of Natural History, Emma-Louise Nicholls, gives us the lowdown on Boy George's favourite reptile - the chameleon.

  • IMG_2144[1], This huge reptile is taller than the average human. Meet it for yourself in Robot Zoo.
    This huge reptile is taller than the average human. Meet it for yourself in Robot Zoo.

If you have visited the Robot Zoo already, you will have seen we are currently home to, among other things, a huge, robotic chameleon. It’s about 20 times life size - if you take average chameleon species’ sizes into consideration - and it demonstrates perfectly what fascinates us most about chameleons: their ability to change colour, their bulging eyes, and their massive tongues. If you haven’t visited yet, I can easily entice you by letting you know that you can interact with this giant reptile, and control all of the above features yourself.

The Real McCoy

  • NH.A595, Such a cute couple. This chameleon pair are on display in the Natural History Gallery.
    Such a cute couple. This chameleon pair are on display in the Natural History Gallery.

The lovely pair of specimens shown here are on display in the Natural History Gallery and are Mediterranean Chameleons (Chamaeleo chamaeleon). They are thought to date back to the 1930s and have maintained their beautiful speckled skin due to a healthy (actually incredibly unhealthy for humans) coating of arsenic.

In life, male Mediterranean Chameleons colour can vary from green, through brown, to grey. The females have an even larger repertoire which includes yellow, orange, and even green spots during the mating season. The ability to change colour is very important to a chameleon as changing colour can help regulate its body temperature, which of course reptiles can’t do automatically like mammals can. You’ll never find a sweaty chameleon. It can also change colour to make itself stand out if it wants to attract a mate, or ward off a rival. Or if threatened it can, to a certain extent, blend into its surroundings.

Speaking of threats, the Mediterranean Chameleon’s primary predators, besides humans capturing them for the pet trade, are domestic cats, snakes, and…each other. They may look like a cute cartoon character but an adult chameleon will eat a juvenile if it catches one.

Huge Assets

The giant tongue, to which I referred earlier, can be twice the length of the body and they project it at such a speed that it can nab a fly right out of the air, just like Mr. Myagi with chopsticks.

For this, they rely on the fact that they have incredible eyesight, but they can also move each eye independently of the other. Personally, I don’t get how this doesn’t blow their brain. I can play Lego Batman on the XBox whilst watching re-runs of Star Trek, but that’s as chameleon as I’ll ever get.

  • Panther chameleon, All eyes and tongue. A Panther Chameleon from Madagascar (Furcifer pardalis)
    All eyes and tongue. A Panther Chameleon from Madagascar (Furcifer pardalis)


Farmers' Market Focus: Pick's Organic Farm

This month we speak to Horniman Farmers' Market regulars, Pick's Organic Farm, about how they run a business that's been in the family for centuries. 

Hi, can you introduce yourselves to our readers?

We're Pick's Organic Farm, we're a family business from Leicestershire, in fact, the farm has been with the family for centuries. We have six full-time employees and ten working part-time. Our whole farm is organic and we farm cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry. Our cows and lambs are all grass fed, and our beef is hung for at least 21 days. 

What do you sell at the Horniman Farmers' Market? 

We cook our homemade 'old spot ' sausage hot dogs, breakfast rolls, homemade beef burgers, farmer's frenzy meat feast (which has a taste of everything), and our challenge burger. They all come served in an organic roll baked by Aston's Bakery. We have the usual condiments along with our homemade 'Mrs Pick's Old Homestead Chutney' made to an old recipe of Mrs. Pick's from our own Bradley apples.

Why is being an organic farm so important to you?

The farm has been in the family for hundreds of years but was converted to organic in 1999. Our reasons for converting to organic were mainly moral ones. Tim's father died aged 48 from an enlarged liver which we believe was brought on by the chemicals which were used in farming at the time and I wanted my children to grow up being able to eat an apple from the tree and a carrot from the ground and see the butterflies in the fields.

Organic farming works with nature rather than eradicating it. We have seen fields with cracks inches wide because there is no goodness left in the soil and crops are grown reliant on chemicals. It isn't a sustainable way to farm and now we aren't reliant on a chemical company telling us what to do in order to make our grass grow we just spread a bit of old fashioned muck around. Organic farming works on good practices, rotation, and a lot of work. Our animals don't need antibiotics to keep them alive, they have fresh air green grass and the freedom to roam.

What work is currently happening down at the farm right now?

At the moment we are busy hay making. We have recently had the sheep shorn and have just had delivery of our goslings and turkeys for Christmas.

What's the best thing about running the farm?

We work every day of the week. Monday is my favourite day of the week as it is sheep day and after the driving and bustle of the London weekend markets it's the day that we bring the sheep in to sort out any problems and it is such a contrast and so quiet.

It sounds very intense, when do you get a break?

We do occasionally take a holiday but never longer than a week. We always stagger holidays with family members and have to work around lambing, haymaking, harvest, and Christmas which are all very busy times when it's all hands on deck.

Catch up with the Horniman Youth Panel

As they take a break for the Summer holidays we catch up with the Horniman Youth Panel to see what they've been up to this year.

We are the Horniman Youth Panel and we create fantastic events for people of all ages in the local community. Here is a review of our experience of organising and running some events at the museum in the last year.

Last November, we hosted our ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ youth event which proved hugely successful with 470 attendees. The event featured live music from local young talent, fortune telling, and much more.

To bring this project to life we had to work as a team. We designed posters and distributed them to local schools to raise awareness of the night, and on the night created a rota to ensure that everyone had a role to play on the night.

To celebrate the opening of the Robot Zoo in March we ran an event for families: ‘Cogs + Claws’.

We used African drums, masks, and puppets from the museum’s Hands on Base to tell fables full of animals, acting out stories with the children. The event also featured a near-impossible buzzer challenge, which one amazing child managed to complete winning a chocolate prize. Children also created the ultimate beast in a messy, but creative, arts and crafts challenge – we rushed around frantically with glitter and pom-poms to help them finish their creatures in time.

Keep an eye on the Horniman’s twitter account on 11 August as we are put in control for Kids in Museums ‘Teen Twitter Takeover’.

Everything you need to know about butterflies

As we get ready to open our Butterfly House, our Horniman volunteer Karen shares some of her best pictures and favourite facts about butterflies with us.

Like many, I adore butterflies, but I seem to see them all too rarely these days. As a child, growing up in Liverpool, I was totally smitten by butterflies. Summer after summer butterflies would appear in abundance in our garden and back then we didn't have mobile phones or tablets, so I would excitedly look them up in reference books I'd borrowed from my local library; from the humble cabbage white to the more exotic looking red admiral, and beautiful tortoise shell.  But these days, maybe because I spend most of my week either in an office or on the underground heading to the office, I’m in relatively few situations where I get the chance to see them. 

I am very fortunate to have a balcony attached to my flat; a small outdoor space of my own where I've tried to create my very own miniature wildlife oasis for insects and birds. I eagerly and regularly buy plants from my local flower shop in the hope that I might attract bees and butterflies, but sadly my gardening skills leave a lot to be desired and invariably my plants die, leaving me seeing very few, if any, of these visitors to my balcony. 

So in order to get my butterfly fix, I've recently been making an annual trip to the Natural History Museum's butterfly house. This was, in fact, the only place locally I knew where I could be close to and enjoy the company of these astonishing little creatures.  But that was until now, as this is about to change.

I have to say that I could barely contain my excitement when I heard that the Horniman Museum was building its very own butterfly house! So in anticipation of this summer’s opening, I would like to share with you some facts I have learned and pictures that I have taken of our colourful garden friends. It’s difficult to do them justice, but I hope you like them.

There are 4 stages in the life of a butterfly and in each stage, the butterfly is completely different:  

They start their life as egg 

  • Butterfly Eggs, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

They then become a caterpillar 

  • Caterpillar, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

Then a chrysalis in which the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly and emerges

  • Butterfly Emerging, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

The butterfly then looks for a mate to reproduce and the cycle begins all over again

  • Courtship, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

Butterflies are diurnal

They are active during the day whilst sleeping at night, hiding away under leaves, or between rocks. 

  • Butterfly 1, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

Butterflies hibernate

It may come as a surprise but some butterflies actually hibernate over the Winter months and some survive this period either as a caterpillar or pupa. 

  • Butterfly 2, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

Butterflies don't have noses or lungs

Adult butterflies, as well as caterpillars, breathe through a series of tiny openings along the sides of their bodies, called "spiracles." From each spiracle, there is a tube called a "trachea" which carries oxygen into the body. Butterflies smell using their antennae.

  • Butterfly 5, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

Thank you for reading. And just for fun, can you find out which species of butterflies are in the pictures above?

The Coral Sea tank redisplay

Our Aquarium team are currently hard at work transforming our British Coastal tanks into a new display focused on the biodiversity of the Coral Sea. The Coral Sea is located in the South Pacific, off the northeast coast of Australia. It takes its name from its numerous coral reefs and islands. Rich in bird and aquatic life it is home to many different species of anemones, sponges, worms, lobsters, crayfish, fish and crabs. The world’s most famous coral reefs, The Great Barrier Reef, is found in this sea. It is the largest living thing on Earth and visible from outer space. Find out what amazing creatures you will be introduced to the tanks this week.

Orange clownfish

The Orange clownfish makes its home in different kinds of anemones, it is immune to their sting tentacles. In return for protection, the clownfish keeps its anemone clean and chases off intruders. This relationship is an example of symbiosis where both partners benefit.

Copperband butterfly 

  • Copperband butterflyfish Chelmon rostratus, Yi-Kai Tea
    Yi-Kai Tea

This butterflyfish has a long, narrow nose and mouth used for hunting in crevices for food, such as worms, clams, and molluscs. It has a false eyespot on the rear of the dorsal fin to scare away predators. 

Bridled monocle bream


  • Scolopsis_bilineata, Jens Petersen
    Jens Petersen

This fish exhibits bio fluorescence this is where an organism absorbs blue light and emits it as a different colour, usually red, orange or green. This may assist in camouflage and communication. 

Pearl scale angelfish 


  • Pearl scale angelfish, Centropyge vroliki Copyright Yi-Kai Tea, Yi-Kai Te
    Yi-Kai Te

These fish start their adult lives as females and are able to change to males for breeding.

Branching coral

These branching hard corals are found in the shallow waters of the reef. Their hard skeletons can survive waves crashing over them.

Finger coral

Finger corals are soft corals, which do not build stony reefs. Substances made by finger corals deter the growth of bacteria and may lead to new antibiotics.

Hump coral 

These hard corals build huge boulder shaped reefs in shallow waters. They can grow to a few square meters in width.

Ritteri anemone

  • Ritteri anenome Heteractis magnifica , N Hobgood
    N Hobgood

This anemone feeds through the photosynthesis of the symbiotic algae living in its tissues. It also captures small invertebrates, fry or juvenile fish with its tentacles. 


We'll be doing everything we can to ensure every new inhabitant of the Coral Sea tank feels right at home.

SCC and the great anthropology redisplay

At the Horniman Museum and Gardens, we are in the throes of our most ambitious project for years – a redisplay of our designated anthropology collections, involving the closure and redevelopment of two galleries to create a new World Gallery and The Studio.

That’s 1,300 museum objects going into storage and 3,000 coming out – sounds like no problem, right? But what about the 18 months in between while the new gallery is being constructed, when all 4,300 objects need housing in an already full-to-capacity storage facility? You might think that calls for a TARDIS…

In lieu of The Doctor's command of space and time, museums call on their collection management specialists to work their own brand of magic. Adrian Holloway is the Horniman’s Collections Manager, based at the Study Collections Centre, home to the Horniman’s stored collections.

When the Horniman started working on plans to redevelop the anthropology galleries, its Study Collections Centre (SCC) was already full, wasn't it?

It certainly looked that way. Perhaps there’s a perception that items currently on display have a designated space waiting for them to go back to. If yours is a museum that continues to collect, you’re unlikely to have this luxury – we certainly don’t at the Horniman. Space is money, we don’t waste either.

Is the SCC, in fact, a TARDIS?

We keep increasing the storage capacity, so in a way yes. I’ve overseen five storage projects at SCC since 2002, all to increase capacity within the limited space available. We’ve been able to do this by redesigning layouts of the rooms and updating old storage systems with modern mobile racking. We do have some external storage for larger items too – if we kept everything at SCC that’s not on display then there’d be no room to work, and we’d struggle to provide access to our collections for researchers and others, which is part of our ethos.

But this latest, major redisplay still posed a problem. What did you do to prepare?

The point at which the two ‘populations’ of objects meet – those coming off display, and those destined for the new World Gallery – is the challenge. We had a designated ‘project room’ at the SCC, which was conceived to allow us space to process objects in and out of the stored collection, whether for acquisitions, loans or new displays. But at the beginning of discussions about the new gallery, the room was overrun with Hart birds[1] with nowhere else to go. We needed to make more space – essentially to return this room to its original purpose – to manage the demands of the redisplay affordably. The other option, to put everything coming off display into external storage, was far too expensive. Thankfully senior management and curators recognised our proposal was not only necessary to the anthropology redisplay project, but would also benefit the care of and access to the stored taxidermy collections.

How successful was the project in ‘creating’ space?

We were lucky to have exactly the right person focused on the project – Justine Aw, who was with us for a full year of decanting the collections (temporarily, into a previously upgraded store), room refurbishment, upgrading racking and then repacking and re-shelving nearly 2,000 specimens. This allowed us to free up 60-70m3 of space. The plan was to fit the entire taxidermy collection – including all those Hart bird cases – into one storage room. We weren’t 100% sure it was all going to fit until it did!

How many more objects will SCC contain after decanting the current anthropology displays? Are you sure that it will all fit?

We’re dealing with the movement of around 4,300 objects – 1,300 coming off display, more being acquired, and the rest leaving their stored location to be prepared for display in the World Gallery. We’re using external storage for a small number of larger items and new acquisitions – even so, at the moment I’m about 75% sure that everything else will fit in, with enough space left for us to work! As the objects are moving to the SCC in batches we have some opportunity to assess as we go and have a couple of other options to avoid grinding to a complete halt. The objects should also take up less space in storage than when in the packaging required for transport, which will be another factor in our favour.

So soon SCC really will be full. Is there a moratorium on new acquisitions?

It depends on how you define ‘full’. There’s still potential to improve capacity in future – I’ve got my eye on at least two more rooms – but that’s funding-dependent of course. Also, there are objects identified for disposal from our collection, following a series of collections reviews – but there’s work involved there in finding new homes for them that ideally keep them in the public domain.

So for now, yes, we’ll call it full. There’s no moratorium on acquisitions for the new World Gallery – the planned displays need some additions to tell their full stories. But for the other parts of our collection? Let’s just say we’re using greater caution…




Find out more about the anthropology redisplay.

Watch a timelapse film of objects being removed from display in what was the Centenary Gallery.

[1] Hampshire taxidermist and naturalist, Edward Hart (1847-1928). Hart's collection of mounted birds is one of the very best in Britain and most of the surviving taxidermy cases and notebooks are housed at the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

Competition Time: Win two tickets to see The Jungle Book

We've teamed up with our partners Luna Cinema to give you the chance to win two free tickets to our screening of The Jungle Book in our Gardens on 6 August.

Simply respond to one of our competition posts on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, by 3 pm on Friday 28 July, telling us why you love the Horniman and we'll pick our favourite.

Mowgli's journey to the man-village to escape the Bengal tiger Shere Khan becomes an unforgettable adventure in the company of Bagheera the panther and Baloo the bear. 2017 is the 50th anniversary of this classic, song-filled Disney animation, so come and celebrate with us.

Terms and conditions apply:

This competition is only open to UK residents, excluding employees of THE HORNIMAN PUBLIC MUSEUM AND PUBLIC PARK TRUST or their families, agents or anyone else connected with this promotion. No third party entries, bulk entries or entries submitted by agents will be accepted. THE HORNIMAN PUBLIC MUSEUM AND PUBLIC PARK TRUST reserves the right to verify the eligibility of entrants. The Horniman may require such information as it considers reasonably necessary for the purpose of verifying the eligibility of an entry and the prize may be withheld until and unless the Horniman is satisfied with the verification.
Entrants must be over 18 and warrant such by entering this competition/prize draw.
Entries not complying with these terms and conditions will be invalid.
Entries received after the expiry date are invalid.
Winner(s) will be by notified via social media dependent upon the manner in which the competition/prize draw was entered. If the winner fails to respond by 12pm Monday 31 July, they shall forfeit the prize and a runner-up will be contacted.
The Horniman will not be responsible for any inability of a prize winner to take up the specified prize.
Cash or credit alternatives will not be offered. The prize is non-transferable.
In the event of fraud, abuse, and/or an error affecting the proper operation of this competition/prize draw, including the allocation of more prizes than are available, The Horniman reserves the right to end or suspend the competition/prize draw; amend these terms and conditions; declare void the notification of winner(s); and/or to allocate available prizes by conducting a simple draw from all wrongly allocated winners.
If any provision of these terms and conditions is held invalid by any law, rule, order or regulation of any government, or by the final determination of any court of a competent jurisdiction, such invalidity shall not affect the enforceability of any other provisions not held to be invalid.
THE HORNIMAN PUBLIC MUSEUM AND PUBLIC PARK TRUST reserves the right to suspend, cancel or amend the competition/prize draw and/or review and revise these terms and conditions at any time without giving prior notice and by continuing to take part in the promotion subsequent to any revision of these terms and conditions, entrants shall be deemed to have agreed to any such new or amended terms.
This competition/prize draw is governed by English Law and is subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts.

The World Gallery Goes Contactless

In our efforts to raise funds towards the creation of our new World Gallery we've embraced new technology to make it even easier for our visitors to donate.

The Horniman has become one of the first museums in the UK to offer contactless donation at our new donation point which can be found near the entrance to our Natural History Gallery. 

Along with a reinvigorated text donation scheme, the innovations form the first phase of the Horniman’s public fundraising campaign in support of the new World Gallery, opening in 2018. The World Gallery will be home to a major redisplay of the Horniman’s Designated anthropology collection and, alongside a studio space housing an exciting programme of events and displays will help us fulfil the original vision of museum founder Frederick Horniman - to 'bring the world to Forest Hill’. The redisplay has secured £3.3m funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Horniman is raising an additional £1.3m through grant-making bodies and donations, to complete the project.

Victoria Pinnington, Director of Communications and Income Generations, says: ‘We’re not ditching the donation boxes – they’re still a valuable source of income. But we’re keen to make it as easy as possible to support the World Gallery, and to offer as much flexibility as we can for our visitors, both on- and offline. And of course, we need to maximise our income. We decided to offer an online mechanism that sits wholly within our website, as research has shown that keeping donors on your site makes them six times more likely to support your cause. We’re hoping that this, and our new contactless donation option, will really pay off.’

Visitors can donate £1 via the contactless reader in the Museum, text ‘HORN17 £5’ to 70070 to donate £5 or give online.

The Horniman will reveal the next phase of its public fundraising campaign in autumn this year.

Previous Next
of 541 items