Amphioxus against a black background

Reconstructing ancestors: insights from the ocean

Giacomo Gattoni, PhD Student, writes: When we look at the natural world we are often in awe at the richness and diversity of life forms that we can observe. As an undergraduate student, I became fascinated by evolution, the process through which this diversity originated during the history of life. I am particularly interested in reconstructing ancestors of modern animals, organisms that lived in the … Continue reading Reconstructing ancestors: insights from the ocean

A cleared and stained backbone from a hatchling skate. Red staining indicates mineralised cartilage and blue staining indicates unmineralised cartilage.

Segmentation of the backbone

Kate Criswell, Postdoctoral Research Associate, writes: One of the key features that distinguishes vertebrate animals from our invertebrate cousins (such as insects and molluscs) is a backbone, or a series of vertebrae that run the length of the body. These vertebrae can range in number from only nine in frogs to over 300 in elongate animals like snakes and eels! They are important for providing … Continue reading Segmentation of the backbone

Amjad with purple hairstreak butterfly on his finger

‘Chasing butterflies’ at the Museum of Zoology

Amjad Khalaf, undergraduate student, writes: One of my fondest childhood memories is chasing butterflies and ladybirds in the garden and being fascinated by their vibrant colours as they flew around. Thinking back, that was one of the main reasons I became interested in biology; I often found myself wondering  why they looked the way they did and how they lived their lives that were so … Continue reading ‘Chasing butterflies’ at the Museum of Zoology

Nephila sp. Golden orb weaver and oil palm

New study assesses the impacts of oil palm replanting on arthropod biodiversity

Michael Pashkevich writes: Palm oil seems to be everywhere:  it’s probably in your shampoo, the instant noodles you ate for lunch and – if you’re wearing it – your lipstick. In fact, palm oil is the most traded vegetable oil worldwide, in part because it can be used in so many products. But the production of palm oil is highly controversial. This is because oil … Continue reading New study assesses the impacts of oil palm replanting on arthropod biodiversity

Photograph taken with lense half-way into river water

Can how we manage agriculture’s impact on insects and biodiversity?

Martina Harianja, PhD student, writes: Imagine that you were eight times as big as a grain of sugar, and you live in a fast-flowing stream. To get food, you need to swim against the current. What properties would need to accomplish this?  Semi-aquatic bugs in the genus of Rhagovelia offer a brilliant approach. Their body length ranges from two to four millimetres as an adult, and … Continue reading Can how we manage agriculture’s impact on insects and biodiversity?

Two images showing the same butterfly species in wet season and dry season

Why do butterflies change their wing pattern with the seasons?

Sridhar Halali, graduate student researcher, writes: “While wandering amid the forests of India, I had always been struck by a few butterfly species, which seemed to exhibit different wing patterns in the wet and dry seasons. This is called ‘seasonal polyphenism’, and I found out subsequently that this phenomenon is one of the adaptations to the seasons experienced in the tropics. The wet season form … Continue reading Why do butterflies change their wing pattern with the seasons?

Looking over Stave Hill (c) Ella Henry

The lesser known ecological parks of London

Ella Henry, undergraduate student, writes: A concrete jungle. The constant chorus of cars and buses. Streams of artificial light from headlights, street lamps and buildings. Flocks of people everywhere. London, along with many other cities, is probably not the first place you would associate with the word ‘biodiversity’. Nevertheless, returning to London during the lockdown period has led me to appreciate its nature-engagement spaces, which … Continue reading The lesser known ecological parks of London

Tanmay with cuckoo finch

Perfect signatures and perfect forgeries

Tanmay Dixit writes: I am studying the African cuckoo finch, which as its name suggests behaves like a cuckoo: it lays its eggs in the nests of ‘host’ birds, namely warblers. The warblers have evolved to reject eggs of the cuckoo finch, which has resulted in the cuckoo finch accurately forging the complex patterns (‘signatures’) of their hosts. How should hosts respond? I am trying … Continue reading Perfect signatures and perfect forgeries

Parasitic finches mimic their hosts to deceive foster parents

Gabriel Jamie writes: Research recently published in the journal Evolution shows that the nestlings of brood-parasitic finches mimic the appearance, sound and movements of their host’s chicks. Working in the savannas of Zambia, Dr Gabriel Jamie and a team of international collaborators collected images, sounds and videos over four years to demonstrate this striking and highly specialised form of mimicry. The study, funded by The … Continue reading Parasitic finches mimic their hosts to deceive foster parents

30 days wild, fenland. Credit Kate Howlett

Reflections: Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild

Kate Howlett, NERC-funded PhD student says: Back at the end of May, I set myself the challenge of taking part in the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild initiative, so for every day in June I chose a ‘random act of wildness’ to complete. In a nutshell, I’m happy to report that all the hype and positive effects are true. I’ve spent a beautiful month, over … Continue reading Reflections: Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild

Curlew Copyright billywhiz07 on flickr

Changing environments and wading birds

To celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month the Museum is sharing the stories of 27 inspirational women, alongside the animals they work with the most. Dr Sam Franks British Trust for Ornithology I didn’t discover a passion for studying birds until I was in my twenties. After a couple of ornithological fieldwork jobs, I undertook my PhD studying the migration patterns of western … Continue reading Changing environments and wading birds

Kate climbing over a fallen tree

Why I’ll be taking part in the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild this June

Kate Howlett, NERC-funded PhD student says: Have the lockdown restrictions been changing the way we interact with and value nature? It certainly feels that way at the moment: social media is filled with photos people have snapped on their daily walk, along with captions expressing gratitude for their local green patch; a new-found joy in bird watching or a rekindled appreciation for the beauty of … Continue reading Why I’ll be taking part in the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild this June

Museum of Zoology Rhino Specimen. Please note that the horn on the specimen is a replica. Credit S Steele.

Rhinos in art: not just a pretty picture

Oscar Wilson, graduate student says, Not being conventionally beautiful, cute or colourful, rhinos might not seem like the obvious choice for most artists. However they have a much more important role in art history than most animals and the importance of art to the five modern rhino species continues to this day. “How did it die?” One of the scariest questions you can be asked … Continue reading Rhinos in art: not just a pretty picture

Common lizard. Image credit John Howlett

Sunshine and Scales: British Reptiles

Alex Howard, PhD Student, writes: While our trademark rainy and cold weather are not always the most conducive to ‘herping’ (going outside to look for reptiles), the UK is in fact home to six different species of reptile. If you’re going on walks early in the morning, you may spot some of our native scaly friends. You’ll be lucky to see them, as all of … Continue reading Sunshine and Scales: British Reptiles

Rhino

Exploring gender in conservation

To celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month the Museum is sharing the stories of 27 inspirational women, alongside the animals they work with the most. Fleur Nash Department of Geography “For me, when I think of animals, I can’t separate them from humans. That is why I am researching conservation and how humans, in the form of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), work within … Continue reading Exploring gender in conservation