JARS & SKELETONS

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Paradoxically for such a sprawling megacity, London is a dream for zoological adventures. This is particularly true if you want to delve into the olden days and get a taste of the subject when it was a race to collect one of every creature and display it in a jar. The  Natural History Museum in South Kensington is of course the behemoth of London’s collections (80 million specimens and counting), but if you look a little further there are other small gems housing the weird and wonderful and paying homage to the variety of life on earth.

This brings me to the Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL, which me and the boy managed to visit last weekend (nothing says Valentine’s Day like pieces of thylacine fur in a well-labelled glass jar). The museum houses over 68,000 specimens, which is not hard to believe as every display case is completely packed to the rafters with jars and slides and bones. It’s the only university zoological museum left in London and was constructed at a time when zoology was comparative anatomy and not much else. There’s some seriously brilliant stuff (the skeleton of a 5m long rock python was a particular favourite, with row after row of ribs) but also many things that are rather strange (I’m looking at you, jar of moles). The space is no bigger than a single room, but we still went round the entire thing three times and didn’t feel like we’d seen everything.

More than other museums, it pays to know what you’re looking at (it’s easier to get excited over a quagga skeleton if you’ve heard of them before), but for me there were plenty of new discoveries. It was also the first time I’ve seen a sea mouse since I was an undergraduate in second year zoology, so the nostalgia levels were running high. I would most highly recommend a visit.

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