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The bees are back

Engage Volunteer Shelagh is celebrating the return of the bees to the Nature Base.

If you go down to the bees today, you're sure of a big surprise.

We are so pleased to see the new colony of bees in the Nature Base, and the great thing about a young colony is that, because there are fewer bees, you can really see what's going on. We have been able to watch lots of key moments in the bees' world.

We've seen young workers actually hatching out. First, you notice a tiny hole in the top of some of the wax caps in the brood frame. Then, as the wax is chewed away from the inside, a young bee starts to emerge head first.

  • Young workers actually hatching out, A young worker bee hatching out, Barbara Hornik
    A young worker bee hatching out, Barbara Hornik

Sometimes, an older worker comes to communicate with the emerging young bee - seeming to 'wipe' its face with antennae. One hatchling seemed to be 'stuck' for ages, with a 'collar' of wax round its neck. We were waiting for an older bee to come and help!

We also noticed two or three 'premature' white hatchlings that seemed to have been pulled out of their cells, and were being carried around by older bees. Had they decided that perhaps these young were not viable? How could they tell? Presumably, these would be consumed by other hive-members, so as not to waste any of that precious protein. Yet more bee questions for us to ponder.

  • Bees in the Nature Base, Bees in the Nature Base, Connie Churcher
    Bees in the Nature Base, Connie Churcher

As it was windy and raining outside, it was not surprising that there weren't any bees coming back into the hive with full pollen baskets on their legs. But there was plenty of activity inside the hive - evidenced by what seemed to be a warmer than usual feel to the surface of the glass when you put the back of your hand against it. Bees in the upper frame were working hard on building new wax cells.

All this was very exciting for visitors and volunteers to witness. A Polish visitor with her daughter said her dad was a beekeeper, so she grew up with bees. She told us about a project in Poland called Pszczelarium which helps people living in cities to set up and look after their own beehives.

Before they go, a great question we ask visitors is:

If bees were paid the minimum wage, how much do you think a jar of honey would cost?

The answer is...




£143,000, which works out as roughly $182,000 or €166,330!

This great bee-fact comes from a brilliant little book called Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker. It makes you think about all the bee-hours takes for one jar of honey, and how we take for granted their "free" labour. Respect!

A Calm Visit to the Horniman

Want to find a quite and peaceful spot in our Museum? Engage Volunteer, Anahita Harding, has just the ticket. Here, she tells us her favourite calm spots and the best times to visit them. 

'Sometimes the Museum can feel quite busy and hectic but for those in the know, there are some places that are a bit quieter where you can get find some peace.

The Gardens are a lovely place to go when a quiet spot is needed but on a rainy day this isn’t always ideal. If you ever need a quiet spot to think and be calm, here are some indoor spaces I like to go to during my breaks.

Nature Base

If you want to see the harvest mice, come to the Nature Base in the morning, as this is the best time to see them running and climbing! The harvest mice are crepuscular, which means that they are most active in the mornings and in the evenings.

The quietest time tends to be in the morning when the Museum has just opened but the Nature Base can get busy during other times of the day.

  • A calm visit to the Horniman, The harvest mice in the Nature Base are best seen in the morning.
    The harvest mice in the Nature Base are best seen in the morning.

The Natural History Gallery balcony

The Natural History Gallery balcony has a variety of cases with interesting specimens in them. There is also a nice space here to read stories and books. A grand clock is near the staircase, and it gently chimes every fifteen minutes. It is called the Apostle Clock and was made during the 19th century in Germany.

Usually, the balcony is very quiet and is a nice space to learn while watching everyone in the gallery below. There is also a good view of the walrus!

  • A calm visit to the Horniman, The apostle clock is on the Natural History Gallery balcony
    The apostle clock is on the Natural History Gallery balcony

The Aquarium

Have you seen the jellyfish in the Aquarium? As you enter the Aquarium you will see a space lit up with a calming blue light, and jellyfish gently moving through their tank. It is lovely to watch them move. Above, you will see a large turtle hanging from the ceiling, can you find it? This is one of my favourite spots, and I hope you enjoy it too.'

  • A calm visit to the Horniman, Watching the jellyfish can be very calming
    Watching the jellyfish can be very calming

The Museum is at it's quietest after 2.30pm on weekdays during term time. 

Share your favourite peaceful spots from the Museum and Gardens with us using #horniman.

Find out more about volunteering at the Horniman

Moving the Merman

You may have noticed that our famous Merman now has a new home. You can find him in his own case at the back of our Natural History Gallery.

The Merman used to be displayed in our Centenary Gallery. The Centenary Gallery closed last month as we began our exciting anthropology redisplay project. We have been decanting all the objects on display in the Centenary Gallery and taking them to our stores, where they will be processed by our Collections Team.

You can see a video of some of the team decanting some of the objects from our Centenary Gallery here.

Our Senior Workshop Technician, Alistair MacKillop, tells us how they created a new case for the Merman.

‘The Workshop were asked by the Learning Team to place objects from the Centenary and African Worlds Galleries in cases around the Museum so that schools could still follow trails and find these objects.

We thought the old vivarium case, at the back of the Natural History Gallery, would be a good place to house the Egyptian artefacts, as it had lighting already installed.

  • Moving the Merman, Artefacts from Ancient Egypt, including this mummified crocodile, can be found in their temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery near the Merman.
    Artefacts from Ancient Egypt, including this mummified crocodile, can be found in their temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery near the Merman.

  • Moving the Merman, This mummy mask is also on display in the Ancient Egyptian case.
    This mummy mask is also on display in the Ancient Egyptian case.

The problem was, it was still full of tanks and pipes where our lizards and snakes use to live. So we set to work clearing the case and building an insert case in the same style as the cases we had already designed for the Natural History entrance redisplay.

  • Moving the Merman, The redisplay at the entrance to the Natural History Gallery was the inspiration for the new case display for the Merman.
    The redisplay at the entrance to the Natural History Gallery was the inspiration for the new case display for the Merman.

It was such a success that when we were asked to think about the relocation of the Merman, it seemed a great opportunity to use the other end of that case. We wanted to make sure the Merman looked special, and by creating an aperture into a small case in a matching style to the Egyptian end, I think we achieved our goal.

The Merman had been out with our ‘Object in Focus’ outreach scheme not so long ago, so it seemed like a good idea to use the mount created by my former colleague Rebecca Ash. The mount consists of brass bar that has been brazed together with silver solder, the mountmaker works directly with a conservator to determine the best shape to give support to the object. The Merman has a very unusual balance point and is also very fragile. Of course, the mountmaker’s art is to then design a way for the mount not to be seen or be too obvious to the viewer.

This mount was filed and sand-blasted to remove any sharp edges. Then sprayed grey, we apply a sticky backed conservation felt that we call ‘Fluffy’, to any surface of the mount that touches the object, this prevents any rubbing and gives a comfy fit to the object.

I attached the mount to a painted plinth which can be moved on top of the case plinth, so we could find the best spot for the lighting and the balance of the finished look of the case.’

Our Exhibitions Officer, Lindsey, gathered together information and research about the Merman and edited the text for our graphic panel, which was then designed and produced by our Graphic Designer, Stew.

We think the Merman looks great in his new temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery. Pop by for a visit and say hello.

A volunteer's favourite object

Katie’s favourite handling object is the hedgehog.

“The hedgehog is my favourite item because I have never seen one in the wild!" Katie says.

"With numbers declining in recent years due to the use of pesticides which reduce the amount of insects for hedgehogs to eat, and housing development in urban areas, it is unlikely that I will get to see one - though I'll keep my eyes peeled, of course!”

Peter doesn’t seem so sure though! 

What's your favourite object? Tell us or show us on social: @HornimanMuseum / IG: HornimanMuseumGardens.

Shuk Kwan's favourite object

We asked Shuk Kwan, who works in our Marketing Department, about her favourite object in the museum - the seahorses.

Your question about what my favourite object is prompted me to think about the seahorses and why I liked them. I like the seahorses I think, because they are very beautiful, they obviously come in different shapes, sizes and colours when I look at them they seem so fragile and beautiful. I love the way their tale curls around and anchors them as well.

Also, I think it is because they resonates with a part of me that really likes fantasy, mythology and all that kind of stuff. When I was younger I used to read Roald Dahl; I was an avid book worm so I read Roald Dahl and David Eddings, even Enid Blyton. They were all fantastical authors; the sea horses are like mythical creatures to me. What I also like about them is that the males look after the eggs. I think that is really sweet actually, and they are also monogamous, so they have one mate for life and I just really like that about them.

Nowadays men would probably freak out about holding the eggs inside them and giving birth but, for the seahorses it’s so natural and actually it makes me respect them more.

Lydia's favourite gallery

We asked Lydia, who works in our central office what her favourite Horniman object was - she chose the whole Centenary Gallery.


  • Centenary Gallery, The Centenary Gallery houses more than 1,000 artefacts from cultures and civilisations across the world.
    The Centenary Gallery houses more than 1,000 artefacts from cultures and civilisations across the world.

'What is your favourite object?'

I think I have a favourite gallery, rather than a favourite object. The Centenary Gallery is my favourite.

'Why is it your favourite gallery?'

It’s just the whole atmosphere in here that I like. It feels very different to all the other galleries in the museum. It feels peaceful and calm in here. The lighting makes a big difference to the whole atmosphere.

'What are the objects are you most drawn to?'

I like the ‘Reliefs in Alhambra style’ as they remind me of the architecture in Beijing because of the tiles and patterns.  I went to Beijing recently and I really liked the amazing buildings which were so old but very well preserved.  I was amazed by the details and their sheer beauty. I found the reds, golds and greens very beautiful.  I also like the objects in the Tibetan shrine in this gallery.

 'Is there anything you would like to have in your home?

If I had something it would probably be a statue or a mask. Although, I do like the Gope Boards from Papua New Guinea. They are painted wooden ritual objects. I really like the colours which would fit perfectly in my home! I’d probably just have a couple; I wouldn’t want all of them that would be too much.

Omalo's favourite object

We asked Omalo, who works in our ICT Department, what her favourite object in the museum was - the Sudanese dung bowls.

'Why did you choose these objects?'

What drew my attention them was a little drawing that a school child had made in one of the comment cards. He had drawn the dung bowl with horse dung in it and it was steaming!

 That made me think, oh that’s fascinating - the fact that something as humble as animal dung can be converted into bowls that are so beautiful. They are used as part of a girls or young woman’s  dowry at a wedding for storing things that she would find useful in her married life. Things like perfumes and flour.

I found it really, really, interesting that you see something that looks really nice but it’s made from something as humble as animal waste.

'How do you think it has been painted?'

You can see it seems like gum mixed with red earth, then painted with a thin layer of gum.  It is probably be gum Arabic from the plant which will act as varnish and seals it.
White is from whitewash, black from soot, and reds from local soils the blue could be from commercial dying.


Emily's favourite object

We asked Emily, who works in our Learning Department, about her favourite object in the Horniman - a Brazil nut seed pod.

“What is your favourite object?”

This Brazil nut pod in the Hands on Base is my favourite object because it just baffles people. I wouldn't normally start a conversation by saying what this object is, I would ask people to tell me what they think and try to encourage them to work it out.

What's really interesting about it is that it has been carved back and someone has drilled holes in it so that you can see the Brazil nuts inside. It doesn't look exactly as it would look on the tree and people have all sorts of ideas as to what they think it might be.

‘What have people thought it was?’

It's really tactile, lots of people think it's a toy, they don't know what is necessarily inside.  Some people have tried to get the seeds out. My question would be, how did someone get them in? Lots of people think it's a musical instrument like a shaker.

I'm not 100% sure whether it was made to demonstrate that this is a seed pod or whether it was made for decoration.

It usually it takes people quite a while to guess.

‘Why have you chosen it? ’

The thing I personally like about it is that it has some really interesting stories and links that I can make in teaching sessions. This Brazil nut pod grows on a tree in Brazil; it only exists because the tree is pollinated by a very particular insect which also depends on orchids.

Now, the orchids that live in the area are being destroyed and although the Brazil nut trees have been protected by law, all of the eco-system around the Brazil nut tree isn't protected.  A lot of the areas around the Brazil nut trees are being cut down, the orchids are being cut down.

This means the insect pollinator doesn't have the orchids and can't pollinate the trees. So the trees, despite being protected, are dying.

It's a really interesting story and a message to us to think holistically about our environments and the interactions between them.

Ewen's Favourite Object (part 2)

Ewen works in our Learning Department - he tells us about one of his favourite objects - the glass armonica.

Is this a favourite instrument of yours?

Yes, it’s called the armonica. Although sometimes it’s called the glass harmonica, it has various other names.

Is that a wheel on the end?

It is quite an unusual instrument because you might look at it and think what an interesting contraption. You might wonder what it does, and is it something to do with doing the washing or laundry. You wouldn’t know immediately what it was.

There is a wheel on the end and there is a pedal at the bottom, so you sit and peddle and the wheel turns which turns the glass bowls. It is similar to when people play glasses with a wet finger, which when you move your finger around the glass it makes it sing. That is basically what you are doing here, but it was evolved into a mechanism to be able to do it.

Each bowl is tuned to a different note and that is how you can play music and because of the way it is laid out you can use all 10 fingers in the way that you would on a piano. You can play harmonies and melodies on it.

This actual set up was invented by Benjamin Franklin. What particularly interests me is that it was particularly popular in the late 18th century and into the 19th century and was used in music by Beethoven and Mozart. Although often they would end up re-transcribing the music for another instrument because the armonica moved largely out of fashion partly because the sound they make is quite quiet and it wouldn’t really carry over a full orchestra.

However, they have come back into fashion over the past 20 or 30 years, so there are a lot of contemporary people like Daman Albarn and Tom Waits who have been using them in music.

Have you ever played one?

No, I’d love to. If I had to pick an object that I would like to have, this would be one. I don’t think they are particularly easy to get hold of and they are probably very expensive. What I like about it, as well as being a really unusual instrument, is the sound that it makes. It is incredibly spooky, it makes a kind of eerie, wailing sound.

There was a rumour (and this is one of the reasons they may have gone out of fashion) that the sound would drive people mad; both the listeners and the musicians’ nervous systems would be affected.  It is something to do with the specific frequency of the sound which is a frequency that is very hard for the human ear to process and pin point. It makes you feel disconcerted. I suppose is a bit like the sound of a musical saw or theramin.

It was used by Donizetti in an opera he wrote called Lucia di Lammermoor to accompany the heroin’s mad scene. I am fascinated by the concept that there an instrument that scared people and made them feel unnerved.

Our glass armonica is featured in a BBC radio programme featuring Evelyn Glennie. It is broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday, 28 April at 12.15pm. Full details here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01gvqsb


Sarah's Favourite Objects

Sarah worked in our press office - we asked her to tell us about her favourite objects in the Museum. She chose two - a tenrec, and an 'ugly mask'.

Why do you like this animal?

I know very little about this animal but I am sort of obsessed with its facial expression, it almost looks like its jaws been dislocated. I can’t quite believe this actually happens. I think it is the taxidermist using a bit of artistic license. He probably thought, "I’m going to make this look fiercesome". It’s probably a very sweet little vegetarian animal.

I love its stance, it sort of looks like its looks like it is trying to stand up to something. Its golden fur is quite attractive, and its little ears, little beady eyes, are quite cute, but its face has been contorted into a snarl.

How did you come to notice it? 

I am quite lucky because I have to supervise film crews and photo shoots so I spend quite a lot of time in the galleries waiting for things to happen and that gives me a chance to notice things.



What's the next object you've chosen?

There are 3 ‘ugly masks’ in the centenary gallery, but the one I really like is the one that’s made out of a piece of tree bark but it’s also got a kind of knot of a small branch coming out of it. (On the left of this picture above.)

What I really like about it, is the way the makers have used all the natural properties of the materials, so the crumply surface of the tree bark is used to make this really horrible pocked marked skin. The knot is used to make a wonky nose. It looks slightly charred, I don’t know if they’ve used something to burn the marks in. I really admire it as a piece of craftsmanship. I love the way the mouth looks toothless, it has almost a gurning expression.

Does it remind you of anything?

It looks like some of the illustrations you get in children’s books; it’s got a very fairy tale quality definitely, you can imagine trees that get up and walk and talk.

Do you know where it is from and what it was used for?

It’s from the Tyrol used as part of a folk ceremony, a masquerade with ugly masks and beautiful masks to chase the winter away.

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