Animals of the Natural History Museum – part 2.

The animal collection (except arthropods) is kept in a new wing of the Natural History Museum, called the Darwin Centre. At the bottom of one wing is the Tank Room, part of the spirit collection. This is a very large, very cold room where everything too big to fit on a regular shelf is kept. It houses fish mainly, and there were many enormous stainless steel tanks filled with things like sharks preserved in ethanol. I couldn’t look in these, as they require pulleys and things to actually lift the enormous lids.

I did, however, have a look around and saw the following moderately exciting things. Perhaps unsurprisingly, pickled animals aren’t very attractive, so I won’t put on here some of the exciting, but really grotesque things I saw (like the baby hippo).

The flagship item is Archie, the giant squid Architeuthis sp. He was donated to the Museum frozen, and it was rather an ordeal to get him ready for display. He’s enormous, about 5m long and he lives in a special custom-made tank. Interestingly, cephalopods must be stored in formalin, not ethanol, presumably because of their soft bodies.

Sharing Archie’s tank is part of a colossal squid Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni. Here (below) is a shot of the suckers of the colossal squid (top) and those of the giant squid (bottom). Love those hooked suckers!

Also in the room was a small portion of some of Darwin’s collection from the Beagle expedition.

As I mentioned, there were plenty of fish, including a rather ratty-looking coelacanth. The Museum has several coelacanths, and hopefully they look better than the one I saw! Preservation had not been kind to that one. This fish, below, was sort of cool. It’s some kind of deep-sea anglerfish and while it’s upside down in its jar, you can see its lure on the top of its head.

Finally, I found something not in spirit. It’s a kind of little shark Dalatias sp. (I think) and it had very cute teeth. Apologies, I’m holding it upside down in the photo.

When I turned it around, I saw that it had many more very cute little teeth ready to go (again, upside down). Now that’s a trait I’d love to have. Dental care be damned, I’ve got teeth in reserve!

Finally, some worms. I found a truly magnificent jar of Anisakis simplex, from a northern minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata. 

Special thanks to the Curator of Parasitic Worms, Eileen Harris, for hosting me at the Museum and indulging my interest in seeing the collections that aren’t parasites. It was a short visit, but a lot of fun.

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