Leafy Seadragon, Phycodurus eques

Leafy Seadragon

Roz Wade, Interpretation and Learning Officer, writes:

This beautiful fish is a Leafy Seadragon, Phycodurus eques, was collected off the coast of Southern Australia in the 19th century. It beautifully resembles to the seaweeds amongst which it lives, with delicate leaf-like projections from its skin. The beauty of this specimen, suspended in alcohol and with an almost translucent appearance, is enough to draw me in. But when I started reading about the name on the label, this specimen held a fascinating history.

I work as the Interpretation and Learning Officer in the Museum, and part of my role is to develop the new displays as part of the Museum’s redevelopment. This is exciting and interesting work, exploring the collections for stories both biological and historical. With collections made by Darwin and Wallace, and specimens of animals that are now extinct, the  Museum is a treasure trove of amazing stories. Sir Edward Charles Stirling, the E.C.Stirling M.D. of the label on this specimen, was a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal College of Surgeons. He was born in Australia, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge ad subsequently worked at St George’s Hospital in London before returning home. Back in Australia he entered into politics, and here was advocate for women’s rights, introducing a bill for women’s suffrage in 1886. He also believed in education for women, campaigning for them to be admitted to Adelaide University’s School of Medicine, and was involved with the State Children’s Council. He had a strong interest in Zoology, and became the Director of the South Australian Museum in 1884. He discovered the Marsupial Mole, and out cast of the giant marsupial Diprotodon is thanks to him. So here we have one specimen that has highlighted the history of someone with diverse interests and strong beliefs in equality ahead of his time.

This is just one story from the sea creatures in the Museum. To hear more, come to our Animal Bytes evening as part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas and Curating Cambridge on October 21st, from 7pm-8.30pm in the Department of Zoology, Downing Street.

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