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Walking the Horniman

Walking is one of the simplest exercises we can do; even 10-minute brisk walks can have great benefits to our overall health. We’ve put together a walking guide to the Horniman, its architecture and some of the surprises in the Museum.

The architectural walk

  • Clock Tower, Sophia Spring
    , Sophia Spring

The impressive Clocktower, made from Doutling Stone has become an iconic feature of the Horniman Museum and Gardens. Originally built in 1901, it’s a glowing beacon on top of Forest Hill. The clock tower was further extended in 1911 by Emslie Horniman, son of our founder Frederick Horniman.

Both the original building and the Emslie Horniman extension were designed by Charles Harrison Townsend.

Once you have admired the front of the building, take a walk around it to the left and you’ll find the green-roofed CUE building, which houses our Library and some offices.

The CUE building opened in 1996 and was designed by local architects Architype using methods developed by Walter Segal. The grass roof has been constructed with sustainable materials and CUE stands for Centre for Understanding the Environment.

An ecological survey of the Library building’s green roof recorded 52 insect species living there, including a rare type of ant and other unusual species. We also have a living roof on our Pavilion. They are self-sustaining and, no, we don’t mow them!

Past the Museum entrance and the Café is the Conservatory on the right.

Originally built in 1894, the grade ll Victorian Conservatory was an extension of the Horniman family house at Coombe Cliffe, Croydon. Having been abandoned for many years and in a derelict state, the Conservatory was moved to the Horniman in the 1980s and opened in 1987. The Conservatory today holds some beautiful events and even weddings, and is occasionally used by the Café as a pop-up tea room. It’s even been featured in magazines such as Vogue.

Read in more detail about the conservatory’s reconstruction and history.

Continue up the avenue and you will reach the Bandstand terrace with the beautiful views over London behind it.

The Bandstand dates from 1912 and was also designed by Charles Harrison Townsend. It was renovated in 2012 with new floorboards, its original weather vane was restored, and screens which blocked the windows for decades were replaced with glass. The Bandstand and the modern Pavilion (built in 2012) both offer beautiful views of the Meadow Field below, Dawson’s Heights and London’s skyline.

Behind you is the Dutch Barn. Frederick Horniman brought this small building back from Holland and it dates from around 1895. It now provides a useful indoor shelter for picnics in inclement weather.

Read more about Horniman’s architecture.

The interactive walk

Play a tune and tap a beat on the musical sculptures in the Sound Garden, the sounds echo throughout the acres connecting the Gardens to the music collections in the Museum.

Visit the Animal Walk to meet the rabbits, alpacas and sheep, as well as goats and guinea pigs. These living specimens connect us to Fredrick Horniman’s vision of linking the outside to the inside of the Horniman. Linking to the Museum’s Natural History collections, it looks at the connection between domesticated animals and their wild relations, and why people live alongside domesticated animals.

Stop by the Butterfly House, which is a warming comfort in the colder months and full of delightful creatures and plants all year round. Learn about the different species and life-cycles of these beautiful creatures from around the world, in a tropical habitat with over 500 plants.

Step into the Museum and head to the Nature Base, where you can learn about the behaviours of the wildlife living in the city. View insects close up, touch a taxidermy fox or badger, and see the harvest mice scurry. The honey bees are busy in their transparent home, making honey in their special hive.

Down the stairs and in the World Gallery you can leave your thoughts and wishes on the Cloutie tree. In the British Isles people have tied scraps of fabric to trees that grow near sacred wells or springs for thousands of years, to wish for wellbeing or thanks. Look at the wishes of others, and leave your thoughts on the tree or in our feedback area for others to ponder over.

Through to The Studio and The Lore of the Land exhibition by artist Serena Korda and the Horniman Collective. After viewing the exhibition, taking in the sounds and smells coming from the artworks, add your thoughts about how plants feel about humans to the feedback wall.

Downstairs we have our Aquarium, where you can watch all manner of aquatic life, from hopping frogs to floating jellyfish.

  • Child at aquarium tank with Jellyfish, Laura Mtungwazi Beaullah
    , Laura Mtungwazi Beaullah

Gardens Walk

Wander through the Grasslands Garden, with wild landscapes featuring spectacular plants from North American prairie and South African grasslands. Its naturalistic planting scheme was devised by Olympic Park designer James Hitchmough and made to complement the World Gallery.

Our Sunken Gardens are a hive for botanical plants.

Admire the old olive trees before taking in the Medicine Garden. Planted in ten ‘body part’ sections, the Medicine Garden features a range of plants used to treat illness in different areas of our body. Some are local remedies that have persisted through time while others have formed the basis of modern medicines.

Next to this is the Dye Garden. Read about natural dyes and the processes used draw the dye from the plants, with different colours grouped between coloured yarn.

Admire the planting in the display around the pond. Built in 1936, the Arts and Crafts style Sunken Garden has spectacular floral displays which area planted for spring and late summer.

Behind this is the Materials Garden, featuring plants used by people around the world to make products as diverse as building materials to textiles and musical instruments.

Take a stroll up towards the Bandstand and you will pass the Pollinator bed. This border opposite the Bandstand contains about 50 different species of plants and has been designed to be attractive to pollinating insects. Pollinating insects like bees, hoverflies, moths and butterflies transfer pollen from one flower to another, helping the plants to fruit and set seed.

Follow the path higher and you will reach the Prehistoric Garden, complete with velociraptor. Prehistoric plants and living fossils are planted with information to tell you about which dinosaurs they appealed to.

Walk past the Prehistoric Garden to the South Downs meadow. This is a secluded and peaceful spot that is often quieter, featuring Canadian maple trees and spring flowers, like snowdrops and crocuses. Offering views of Kent on the eastern edge of the site, it’s a perfect spot for a little picnic.

The Sundial Trail

Have you spotted any sundials whilst walking the Gardens? There actually 12 of them and some may be read differently from what you may think. 

Solar time is a bit different from clock time. We use clock time, day to day, based on 24 hours of equal length. However, solar time changes slightly day to day due to the tilt of the earth and its elliptical orbit around the sun. Have a go at finding them all, or cheat a little and use this handy little guide.

This is just a small slice of the walks around the Horniman. Have an adventure and see what wonders you can find. 

New year, new resolutions

It’s a brand new year and usually, that means we say goodbye to our old ways and give ourselves new goals to aspire to. Setting New Year’s resolutions is a tradition around the world, so what resolutions have you made? To give you some ideas, we have rounded up some resolutions to help you get your year off to a great start. 

Be more active

 

You may not want to sweat out in the gym and purchase that expensive gym membership. So how about a run, walk or even a stroll in our Gardens?

Apart from the health benefits from exercise, a walk in our Gardens is free and, no matter the season, there are always new blooms of life flourishing across our 16 acres of land. Have a play in the interactive sound garden, walk your dogs or discover quiet corners for contemplation.

There are also proven mental health benefits to spending time in nature, helping to alleviate stress and anxiety. So discover what our gardeners and curators have developed outdoors, to coincide with the Museum’s collections

Read a few more books

Did you know that every 1st Sunday of the month our library opens its doors to the public without any need for an appointment? The collection contains books covering anthropology to illustrated monographs and now has over 30,000 volumes.

The library is also staffed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and open to researchers on these days by appointment (please email enquiry@horniman.ac.uk).

Or, if you want to read more with your children, you can find books on our Natural History Gallery Balcony and a reading corner on our World Gallery Balcony.

Spend more time with family and friends

The Horniman offers many free activities, whether you are visiting alone, with a friend or with family.

From photographic displays on our World Gallery Balcony to our permanent collections, from exhibitions like The Lore of the Land to displays like EVOLUTION of The Artist and The Exhibited Works, there is always something to see and to think about.

In the Hands on Base, you can get closer to artefacts and objects. Whether you are interested in Mexican masks or want to learn more about endangered animals, who knows what you will discover in our free object-handling sessions.

Culture has a positive impact on wellness, so making some time for yourself in places like the Horniman, really can help you feel better.

View our Whats On calendar to see current and upcoming events and exhibitions.

Give something back to your community

  • Youth Panel , Balistic
    , Balistic

Volunteering gives an opportunity to give back to your local community, which has social benefits for groups like the over 40s.

Keep an eye on our website for ways to get involved or follow us on LinkedIn to hear about new opportunities.

If you’re aged between 14 and 19 and are interested in making a difference at the Horniman, why don’t you join the Horniman Youth Panel?


Whether it’s new year, new you or new year, same you, we hope you have a happy 2019 at the Horniman.

How a dog sees colour

Visitors to our exhibition Colour: The Rainbow Revealed will have no doubt marvelled at the contraptions allowing them to see the world as animals do.

Our exhibition gives you the chance to view the world around you not as a human but as a dog, fish, and bee may do. But why exactly do these animals see the world differently to us?

A dog’s life

It’s often suggested that dogs are colour-blind which isn’t strictly true. Dogs can see colour just not as many as humans. This is because dogs have one less type of colour-detecting cell in their eye. These cells are known as cones and whereas humans have three, dogs only have two.

Each cone is sensitive to a certain wavelength of light which sends a signal to the brain allowing us to process colour. Human eyes can detect red, green, and blue which allows us to see any colour that is a combination of these wavelengths of light. Due to only having two cones, dogs can only detect yellow and blue thus meaning they cannot tell the difference between objects that are red and green.

So if you’re pondering whether to get Rover a green jacket or a red jacket this Christmas don’t worry about it, it will all be grey to him.

  • Dog in nature, All that splendour and it can hardly tell the difference, Pixabay CC0
    All that splendour and it can hardly tell the difference, Pixabay CC0

Eye of the bee-holder

Like humans, bees are able to detect three colours and can see any colours that are a combination of them. Unlike humans, however, bees cannot detect the colour red. Instead, their photoreceptors pick up green, blue, and ultraviolet light – the latter of which is not detectable by humans.

To attract bees to nectar, flowers often have petals a different colour to their leaves so bees can tell what to target. Some flowers including sunflowers even make use of ultraviolet to attract pollinators.

Bees are particularly attracted to purple, violet, and blue, but also to a colour known as “bee’s purple” that humans cannot see as it is a mixture of yellow and ultraviolet. If you were wondering what colour flowers to place in your pollinator garden there’s your answer.

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, We told you they like purples, Andrea Benson
    We told you they like purples, Andrea Benson

Fish-eye view

There are plenty of fish in the sea but sadly that means we can’t make definitive statements about all fish seeing all the same colours. However, we can talk about how the way life underwater affects colour vision.

Vision underwater is obviously very different to vision above. Water absorbs light, which is why as the depth of water increases vision is swiftly impaired. Light with longer wavelengths which allow the detection of colours like orange and red, are absorbed by water much faster than light with short wavelengths, such as green, blue, and ultraviolet. This can vary of course, as different bodies of water may have different properties such as increased salinity or unique chemicals in water.

A fish that lives in shallow water will find far more use out of photoreceptors that allow it to see oranges and reds than a fish that lives in the deep ocean where these wavelengths don’t reach.

Like bees, many fish have evolved to be able to detect ultraviolet light for a number of reasons. Two-stripe damselfish, for example, have a colouration that can reflect ultraviolet light. When a predator is close they will use their colouration to warn other fish capable of seeing ultraviolet light of danger.

  • Common clownfish Amphiprion percular, Many of the fish found in shallower waters are more vibrant than their oceanic counterparts
    Many of the fish found in shallower waters are more vibrant than their oceanic counterparts

Enter the dragonfly

If you thought all of that was impressive prepare to be blown away. Humans and bees may be able to detect three different types of light, but studies of dragonflies have shown that these insects can detect no fewer than 11 wavelengths and as many as 30.

As far as we’re aware this is the most of any creature alive on earth and means that dragonflies can pick out colours we couldn’t even dream of.

  • Dragonfly, With as many as 30 photoreceptors there's no way of knowing what colours dragonflies can discern, Pixabay CC0
    With as many as 30 photoreceptors there's no way of knowing what colours dragonflies can discern, Pixabay CC0

Fossil Folklore

Visitor Host Vicky tells us what inspired her to plan her latest gallery tour at the Horniman - fossil folklore. Join Vicky for her Fossil Folklore Tour taking place at 11.30am on Saturday 28 July.

For the past few months at the Horniman, we have been developing something new for the public to enjoy. A new part of my role as a Visitor Host is to lead curiosity tours of our galleries. Working in the galleries as a Visitor Host I find there is always something to learn, even from an object I’ve seen a million times, so I’ve found this new duty very exciting. We have been allowed to choose whatever we want to talk about in the Horniman, giving us the freedom to show our own personal take on the collections.

I have a great interest in stories. What stories do the objects in the Horniman have that aren’t explained in their descriptions? What are their untold stories? How have they changed and how have they changed us?

One of the displays that initially sparked my interest was the ‘Tongue Stones’. These were thought to have fallen from the moon and offered protection from poison, this struck me as the beginning of a great story, a hint of mystery that needed to be delved into.

  • Magalodon tooth, Tongue Stones are actually fossilised shark's teeth that have come from a Megalodon.
    Tongue Stones are actually fossilised shark's teeth that have come from a Megalodon.

Tongue Stones are actually fossilised shark’s teeth that have come from a Megalodon, an extinct giant shark that would have grown as large as 18 metres and roamed the seas from around 28 million years ago until 1.6 million years ago, when they were wiped out during the Pleistocene extinction.

So who thought they fell from the moon, and why? I had decided on the theme of my tour - fossil folklore. So the hunt began for more weird and wonderful stories.

Being in the Horniman made it really easy to research the subject, as there’s so much knowledge all around. I was able to talk to curators such as Dr. Emma Nicholls, the Deputy Keeper of Natural History, who was a big help in developing my tour; I searched our library for the perfect book, and even used our online database to find out fascinating information about the Horniman’s collections.

Our fossils are an often overlooked part of the Horniman, with most of them being located in cabinets that form a timeline around the balcony of the Natural History Gallery. These are the oldest objects in the Museum, with some of them dating back 500 million years. I find it hard to think about time in terms of millions of years.

  • fossilised sea urchin, I find it fascinating that even before people knew about fossilisation and evolution, they were trying to explain the curious shapes they found in these objects, Victoria King
    I find it fascinating that even before people knew about fossilisation and evolution, they were trying to explain the curious shapes they found in these objects, Victoria King

People have been collecting and using these fossils for thousands of years. I find it fascinating that even before people knew about fossilisation and evolution, they were trying to explain the curious shapes they found in these objects, creating fabulous folklore.

With a mixture of fact and folklore the tour gives descriptions of five fossils in the Natural History Gallery and how they link with medieval lords, mythical beasts, magic, gods, even how they were used to help bread rise.

Also, what’s great is that after having sparked an interest in how fossils have been used as charms and amulets, there is now a new display of British charms in the World Gallery that’s just opened. So there’s lots more for me to discover and expand on the theme of fossil folklore, which I look forward to doing in future tours.

Vicky's next Fossil Folklore Tour will take place at 11.30am on Saturday 28 July.

Horniman History: Lectures given by Women

For International Women's Day, we have a look at some of women who gave lectures here in the early days of the Horniman.

Our Librarian Henry Rowsell recently uncovered an interesting fact about the Horniman as part of #NHEphemera.

The Horniman used to host lectures from visiting experts, as well as our own curators, up until the 1980s. The records show that we had a few well known women lecture, which was (according to author Kate Hill) unusual for the time.

Although women could undertake the public role of lecturing to a mixed-gender audience, they rarely did so, and those who did so had, or were in the process of developing, the professional authority to be able to speak publicly. Moreover, it may be significant that of the museums studied here, only the Horniman recorded women delivering lectures, and these were all in its Saturday afternoon popular lecture series.

In fact, the women we talk about below featured in both Saturday and Sunday lectures, in the morning and evening, repeated three times on Sunday evenings alone. Rather wonderfully, the Sunday afternoon lectures were repeated "to reduce the amount of aimless loafing in the Museum" by visitors during that time.

So who were these lecturers and why were they invited to speak?

Marie Stopes

Many will know her name from the Marie Stopes family planning clinics, but Stopes' original work focused on botany and geology.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, Marie Stopes in her laboratory
    Marie Stopes in her laboratory

Stopes graduated from University College, London with a first class B.Sc. after only two years by attending both day and night schools.

She continued racking up firsts, becoming one of the first women to be elected a fellow of the Linnean Society and the first female academic at the University of Manchester, as a lecturer of Palaeobotany (although they later tried to rescind the offer when they realised she was a woman). She took up postgraduate work in Munich in 1903 and became the only woman amongst 500 men, and in 1904 Stopes achieved her doctorate on cycads seed structure and function. She was the youngest person in Britain to earn a DSc in 1905.

In 1907, Stopes was sent on an 18-month expedition to Japan by the Royal Society. Charles Darwin wrote about flowers being an “an abominable mystery” as the earliest samples in the fossil record all dated back to around 100 million years ago in various forms, suggesting an explosion of diversity. This was the mystery that Stopes intended to shed light on.

In her journal she wrote:

August 24th: Really it is hard work to carry tents and everything along these rivers. Often I alone find it difficult to go, and I have nothing to carry – except my fan and hammer, both of which are in constant use.

Her work on angiosperms from Hokkaido, Japan provided vital evidence which proved to be, at the time, the oldest flowers discovered.

Stopes’ Lecture at the Horniman on 2 March in 1912 “Evolution in Plants, illustrated by Fossils” would have doubtless drawn from her experience in Hokkaido.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, Marie Stopes' lecture in our records
    Marie Stopes' lecture in our records

Kate Hall

Kate Hall was the Curator if the Whitechapel (or Borough of Stepney) Museum from 1895 until 1909 – the first paid female curator in the country, according to Kate Hill.

Hall was a protégé of Henrietta Barnett. Barnett who, along with her husband, established The Whitechapel Library and Toynbee Hall, as a way of educating working class people in London’ East End. A room was given on the second floor to serve as the Whitechapel Museum, which housed natural history specimens collected by Rev. Dan Greatorex.

During this time, Hall founded during this time the Nature Study Museum which opened in 1904, containing living specimens, taxidermy and insects, as well as a bee hive with glass walls, all of which sounds very similar to the Horniman today. The intention of the Nature Study Museum was to give city people the opportunity to encounter live animals, and who may have otherwise not had this opportunity. Over 100,000 people visited in two years.

The lectures Hall gave at the Horniman in January, February and March 1905 drew on her knowledge as part of the Nature Study Museum. The first two talks were, “The life of the honey bee” on 22 January and “The work of the honey bee” on 12 February, with an enigmatically titled lecture: “Trees” following on 5 March. According to St George-in-the-East Church, the bees in the Nature Study Museum had a local fame so it is little wonder that they were the subject of Hall’s lectures.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, Kate Hall's lecture in our records
    Kate Hall's lecture in our records

According to the Survey of London, Hall was innovative when it came to education, providing a carefully planned syllabus prior to the school visit. She also created a handling collection of natural specimens which were changed weekly and around 400 children visited for nature-study lessons at the museum each week in 1907.

Dr E M Delf-Smith

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records
    A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records

Dr Ellen Marion Delf-Smith, as she was later known, went to school down the road from the Horniman at James Allen's Girls' School in Dulwich, studied natural sciences at Girton College, Cambridge and went on to a post at Westfield College, University of London teaching botany.

According to her obituary in the British Phycological Journal, Delf-Smith had very few facilities or help when she first took up her teaching post and “if she wanted a specimen she had to go out and collect it and prepare it herself.”

She is described as having a remarkable gift for stimulating and training students, “able to discern the faintest spark of interest in a student and to fan it into a flame.” Her determination and initiative led to the University approving the Westfield laboratory for preparing students for pass degree examinations in botany in 1910 and for honours degrees in 1915.

Delf-Smith’s passion within botany lay in marine algae and the process by which plants excrete water (transpiration). It was her results in this area that lead to her award of the London DSc as well as the Gamble prize from Girton.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records
    A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records

She returned to her old stomping ground in South London to give numerous lectures at the Horniman, and we can find listings in our records from 1912, with talks on “The Plant life of a Moor” on 9 March and “The Botany of Bread” on 2 November.

We’ll leave you with a poem she wrote for The Sportophyte, a journal edited by Marie Stopes:

A Botanical Dream

Last night as I lay dreaming

There came a dream so fair

I stood mid ancient Gymnosperms

Beside the Ginkgo rare.

 

I saw the Medullosae

With multipartite fronds,

And watched the sunset rosy

Through Calamites wands.

 

Oh Cryptogams, Pteridosperms

And Sphenophyllum cones,

Why did ye ever fossilise

To Palaeozoic stones?

E.M. Delf

 

International Year of the Reef

We are celebrating International Year of the Reef at the Horniman, with a programme of activities throughout 2018.

As the Horniman is home to an acclaimed Aquarium and our Project Coral research, we want to celebrate the beauty and diversity of coral reefs. The programme includes a blog series, displays, talks and special events. We want to highlight the value of these reefs to marine life and to humans, the threats to these fragile ecosystems and the vital work done to preserve them.

What is International Year of the Reef?

2018 is the third International Year of the Reef. Did you know that coral reefs are one the most biological diverse habitats on earth? They take up less than 0.1% of the oceans floor they are home to 25% of all marine life.

But 60% of the world’s coral reefs may die within the next 20 years.

The International Year of the Reef seeks to change that by:

  • Raising awareness about the value of, and threats to, coral reefs and their ecosystems;
  • Sharing information on how to sustain coral reefs;
  • Managing conservation, increase resiliency and the sustainability of these ecosystems; and
  • Promoting partnerships on the management of coral reefs.

What can you expect?

Visit the live corals in the Aquarium

Most of our visitors will know we have an Aquarium at the Horniman. You can visit several different reef tanks to explore the corals themselves and the creatures who live in and among them.

See Karen Dodd’s Fabric of the Reef display

Inspired by the Horniman's Aquarium and Natural History collection, artist Karen Dodd uses woollen fabric – dyed and sculpted, and intricately bound and stitched – to draw attention to coral and coral reefs. Her work celebrates their beauty and raises awareness of coral vulnerability in the face of increasing environmental change.

Have a Reef Encounter

Meet some of the people who live or work with coral reefs around the world. Learn who they are, and find out why these Reef Encounters are so vital to the future survival of coral reefs, in this blog series running throughout 2018.

Read the research

Our Aquarium Team has also published their research about inducing coral spawning. Read the research online.

Part of

Specimen of the Month: The Red Fox

Emma-Louise Nicholls, our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, tells us all about our foxy neighbours - Vulpes vulpes.

It's a girl! Or is it a boy?

Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) have very little sexual dimorphism, that is - they are hard to tell apart. If you spot two of them together, ask them to stand side by side and (assuming you’re definitely talking to a male and a female), one of them will have a wider and more domed shaped head and look a little heavier-set. That is the male. It is slightly easier in the mating season (though approaching foxes at this time may be impolite), as certain external organs become larger on the male as they fill up with the DNA of future cubs.

Female foxes also go through morphological changes if she breeds. When nursing, the mother’s teats will become enlarged and her belly fur, normally white or grey in colour, turns a deep red. If you would like to observe this phenomenon, cubs are born in the spring but won’t emerge from their dens until the summer. So your best bet for teat spotting is when the mother and cubs are running around between May and July. If it’s a very hot summer, the cubs may venture out sooner however, so keep an eye on the barometer.

  • Red Fox at HMG, Telling a male from a female is difficult if you don't have one of each to compare, like this visitor to our gardens in October., Emma-Louise Nicholls
    Telling a male from a female is difficult if you don't have one of each to compare, like this visitor to our gardens in October., Emma-Louise Nicholls

Baby Blues

As tiny balls of dark fluff, newly sprung fox cubs are blind and deaf for the first few days of life. When their eyes eventually open in their fuzzy-furred, stumpy-nosed faces, the irises are slate-blue in colour. As they begin to grow into their delightfully oversized ears the muzzle lengthens into a shape beginning to resemble that of their parents. When the cub reaches between four to eight weeks old, the blue eyes darken to an amber colour, to match those of the adults.

The case on display in the Natural History Gallery houses two adults and four cubs. Those with sharp skills of observation will notice that the adults have brown eyes whilst the cubs have blue eyes, suggesting therefore that the cubs are less than four weeks old - eight weeks at the most.  The case is by Rowland Ward historically one of the most prolific suppliers of taxidermy to museums across the world. The fox case came to the Museum all the way back in 1939. So in fact, despite still having blue eyes, the cubs are quite a bit older - more like 78 years and eight weeks, say.

  • NH.39.78, If you look closely, you can see the cubs have blue eyes whereas the adults have brown eyes., Emma-Louise Nicholls
    If you look closely, you can see the cubs have blue eyes whereas the adults have brown eyes., Emma-Louise Nicholls

British Wildlife Photography Awards

These beautiful animals are extremely adaptable and have set about world domination with enthusiasm, only avoiding Iceland, the Arctic islands, and a few areas within Siberia. Sadly, experts believe they have become locally extinct in Korea, though it is inconclusive as to why. They even appear absent within the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea which is otherwise considered a wildlife haven due to the (relative) lack of human presence.

The UK, however, has a healthy population of around 240,000 according to the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, 14% of which live in urban areas. One such individual was caught on camera in the gorgeous image below, on display in our new temporary exhibition of images from the British Wildlife Photography Awards. As you can see the cub’s irises are brown, not blue as in our Rowland Ward case. Together with the white and red patches of facial fur coming through, this means that this little cutie pie is at least eight weeks old. The things you learn on blogs.

  • 02.27_PORTRAITS_BWPA_Peeking_Red_Fox_Cub (c) Luke_Wilkinson, This beautiful image was selected for the British Wildlife Photographers Award exhibition, and is on display in the Portraits category., Luke Wilkinson
    This beautiful image was selected for the British Wildlife Photographers Award exhibition, and is on display in the Portraits category., Luke Wilkinson

Specimen of the Month: The Giant Squid

The good news is that you still have until the 29 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., (R): © Hans Hillewaert
    Left: A Cuttlefish showing the tutu that surrounds the body (mantle). Right: A common squid showing the triangular wing on either side., (R): © Hans Hillewaert

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

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., Pierre Blouch/WikimediaCommons
    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., Pierre Blouch/WikimediaCommons

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., Jeff Keeton/Creative Commons
    This is a female Northern White Rhino that used to live at San Diego Zoo., Jeff Keeton/Creative Commons

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!

 

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