The Natural History Museum Exhibits

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I went through the Natural History Museum exhibits before and after photographing the gharials. They had an arthropod exhibit which was quite good. It included a fake kitchen that you walk into. In the kitchen, they had labels and fake bugs in various places. For example, you look up at a cabinet and there are giant models of those little beetles that like to get into your flour.

There’s also the hall filled with plesiosaurs and icthyosaurs, some of which were discovered by Mary Anning herself. Fun fact, the tongue twister “She sells seashells” is about her.

An icthyosaur. The black areas are a carbonized outline of where its flesh would have been.

An icthyosaur. The black areas are a carbonized outline of where its flesh would have been.

Unfortunately, this hall was not designed for exhibits (at least, not using modern ideas). There are giant skylights with light streaming down onto cases with highly reflective glass. Several exhibit halls were like this, and you could see the damage the UV has done over the years to objects more susceptible to it (like taxidermied specimens, which were badly faded).

Bad taxidermy actually managed to make this Virginia Opossum cuter

Bad taxidermy actually managed to make this Virginia Opossum cuter

In their bird hall, they have a case of comparative anatomy, which was a great source for pictures for teaching.

This is the hip and tail of a newly-hatched bird. Note that the tail vertebrae are all separate like in a non-avian dinosaur.

This is the hip and tail of a newly-hatched bird. Note that the tail vertebrae are all separate like in a non-avian or early avian dinosaur.

The tail of a young bird. The last five vertebrae have formed to one another and are beginning to fuse into a pygostyle. A pygostyle is a big bone beneath the tail feathers. It stabilizes their attachment points to make it easier for the bird to control its tail in flight.

The tail of a young bird. The last five vertebrae have formed to one another and are beginning to fuse into a pygostyle. A pygostyle is a big bone beneath the tail feathers. It stabilizes their attachment points to make it easier for the bird to control its tail in flight.

A fully-formed pygostyle in an adult bird.

A fully-formed pygostyle in an adult bird.

Baby hoatzins are famous for having claws like their non-bird ancestors.

Baby hoatzins are famous for having claws like their non-bird ancestors.

There are actually a good number of modern birds with claws. Some have true claws and others have modified carpal or metacarpal bones with horn casings (they’re called spurs). But aside from which bone make the core, they’re built exactly like a true claw. Possible example of a “frame shift”?

But there are actually a good number of modern birds with claws. Some have true claws and others have modified carpal or metacarpal bones with horn casings (they're called spurs). But aside from which bone make the core, they're built exactly like a true claw. Possible example of  a "frame shift"?

This Derbian Screamer has one claw and two metacarpal spurs.

In bird evolution, when you look at a phylogenetic tree, a bird’s hand has the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd digits. But when you look at a chick developing in the egg, it’s the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th digits. A “frame shift”, wherein the Hox genes that activiate during development scoot over one digit and make them develop into a shape like their neighboring digit is the mechanism for this.

Hornbill skulls are very lightweight because there's hardly any bone in them. It's pretty amazing.

Hornbill skulls are very lightweight because there’s hardly any bone in them. It’s pretty amazing.

And their prehistoric & modern mammal area was good as well. It included the usual suspects as well as some less famous ones.

A rare, two-tusked narwhal. Normally one of their teeth just remains a normal tooth inside their mouth.

A rare, two-tusked narwhal. Normally one of their teeth just remains a normal tooth inside their mouth.

Saiga are a kind of antelope that live on the Eurasian steppes. They have giant noses to help keep them warm in winter. Also, mutton chops. Because why not?

Saiga are a kind of antelope that live on the Eurasian steppes. They have giant noses to help keep them warm in winter. Also, mutton chops. Because why not?

Moeritherium--the earliest known and strangest elephant.

Moeritherium–the earliest known and strangest elephant.

They also have a “treasures” room, where they display some of their most highly prized objects. One of them is a first edition copy of On the Origin of Species. UI also has one of those, but the only time I’ve seen them display it is on Darwin Day. Something as precious as that you really don’t want to expose to UV all the time. The room where the NHM keeps it has no windows and not much light.

This is an octopus made of glass. Look up Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. They created remarkably real-looking scientific models.

This is an octopus made of glass. Look up Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. They created remarkably real-looking scientific models.

One of their exhibits was a series of panels on various bodies in the Solar System. At first I thought it was just planets, which made the fact that Pluto was “out of order” hilarious.

As it should be. If Ceres isn't a planet, Pluto isn't either.

As it should be. If Ceres isn’t a planet, Pluto isn’t either.

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