Balanerpeton woodi

Balanerpeton woodi specimen T1261A

©University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge

©University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge

Dr Tim Smithson, Postdoctoral Research Associate with Prof Jenny Clack, writes of a fossil from the museum’s collections:

The specimen was found by my dear friend the late Stanley Wood in a dry stone wall surrounding a field in the Bathgate Hills, Central Scotland, in 1985.  It was one of a number of important fossil amphibians Stan collected from this unusual location before he eventually tracked down the original source of the walling stones, East Kirkton Quarry. Unlike its companion, West Kirkton Quarry, East Kirkton Quarry had fortunately not been filled in and for the next five years Stan collected at the quarry. During this time he discovered a diverse fauna of Early Carboniferous terrestrial tetrapods, with Balanerpeton the most common. I spent two months with him collecting at the quarry in the summer of 1985.  I remember it well – it rained every day!  Stan wrote a short note announcing his discoveries and submitted it to Nature.  It was rejected – of insufficient general interest!  He protested, Nature relented, and it was published with a picture of Balanerpeton on the front cover. In the display case alongside the specimen is a photo collage of it prepared by Stan in the style of David Hockney.  Stan was a keen artist and photographer and this specimen inspired him to produce a work of art that to me greatly adds to the interest of the fossil.  Together, they provide an insight into a great fossil collector and examples of his many discoveries can be seen in display cases throughout the Museum.


Giant Ground Sloth

Giant Ground Sloth, Megatherium americanum, a visitor’s perspective

©University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge

©University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge

Rhys Price, visitor to the Museum of zoology, writes:

I am  HUGE “fan” of zoology and palaeontology, and have been since I was very young. At the moment I am particularly interested in the extinct megafauna of South America, 1 million years ago, especially the Giant Ground Sloth, Megatherium.

To put it briefly, to have seen a specimen of this fascinating animal was unforgettable, as well as a Smilodon (sabre-toothed cat) skull, some Glyptodon (giant armadillo) bones and a Toxodon skull.

These are just a few of many collections in the museum that have inspired me to study zoology, and palaeontology, as a hobby, and possibly a career later on.

Barnacles aren’t acorns

Barnacles and Kakapo

Goose Barnacles 2

Dr Beverley Glover, Director of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, writes:

You might not expect a botanist to have strong feelings about the collections in the Zoology Museum, but I’ve always believed that a good biologist doesn’t let a little matter of kingdom stand in the way of studying interesting organisms. I have 2 particular favourites that I like to visit from time to time. On the stairs, the kakapo (Strigops habroptila, or owl parrot) is something of an old friend. This New Zealand flightless parrot is critically endangered in the wild, prey to invasive predatory mammals such as cats and rats. As an undergraduate student at the University of St. Andrews I used to eat my sandwiches at lunchtime in the Bell Pettigrew Museum (their equivalent of our Zoology Museum), and I had a favourite spot next to the kakapo. When I moved to Cambridge I was really glad to find another specimen of my old friend here!

My other favourite is the display of barnacles. People don’t often think about barnacles – certainly I never had until I saw my first real live ones under a microscope on a field trip, for our first year Evolution and Behaviour class, that I was leading along with John Flowerdew from the Zoology Department. Barnacles look at first glance like just another gastropod mollusc, sitting on a rock under a shell. But in reality they are arthropods, members of the same class (the crustaceans) as crabs and lobsters. They have adopted a very specialist lifestyle, glueing their bodies to the rock at the head end, secreting calcareous plates around their body for defence, and waving their legs through the hole in the top of the shell to catch small particles of food in the water. The barnacle display in the museum showcases all this perfectly, with some closed up specimens of the very common acorn barnacle on a rock, a drawing showing how the animal looks magnified, and an especially clever display of the goose barnacle with the shell removed to display the animal inside. Barnacles always remind me that by thinking about the plants and animals around us from a fresh perspective we can develop some fantastic insights into the natural world.