The Mermaid

As you may already know, I’ve been doing a lot of work on a mermaid specimen in the collections of the Horniman Museum & Gardens over the last few years.

The upshot of all that activity is that I have a paper written in a journal that will be hitting the bookshelves any day now. As you may have heard me say before, the specimen is not made of a monkey attached to a fish – I know that after undertaking painstaking examination of the specimen using CT scanning equipment and DNA sampling and good old fashioned anatomical investigation.




Instead it appears to be a real creature of uncertain taxonomic affiliation. The teeth suggest a link to the Wrasse family, the tail to the Carp and the torso to no known living group, so I have designated this specimen as the type for its species and have named it Pseudosiren paradoxoides. Full details can be found in the paper which is due out next week in the Journal of Museum Ethnography – I’m so excited!

Oddjects No.6

Next week we’ll be reviewing our mineral collections at the Horniman, which means that I’ve been trying to track down the various minerals in the collection. Amongst them I found this rather lovely sample of bismuth – a non-toxic, silvery, heavy metal that can naturally grow into an intricate step-structure crystal.

Bismuth crystal

As the outer surface of the bismuth crystal oxidises it becomes iridescent, creating a beautiful and multifaceted structure that is really quite gorgeous. Hope you like it!

Oddjects No.5

When someone is inexplicably silent you might ask them “Has the cat got your tongue?”. I have no idea where this saying came from, since cats aren’t renowned for taking tongues. I think it would be far more appropriate to change the phrase to “Has the Cymothoa got your tongue?” since the Tongue-eating Louse Cymothoa exigua has track record of tongue stealing, at least in fish.

Here are some of the odd little critters in a jar of alcohol in my office:


These bizarre animals not only eat the tongue of their fish host, but they then replace the tongue and take over its normal duties.

Here’s a video that shows a live Cymothoa found by a fisherman, if you want to see them in their leg-wriggling entirety.

Oddjects No.2

Some interesting things have been coming to light in the reviews going on at the Horniman. Here’s an object that our Anthropology review team uncovered and asked me to identify.


It looks a bit like a bird of prey with a gimp mask, but it’s actually a charm from Nigeria.

Fortunately, I’d just gone through our bird skull collection and I immediately recognised this becowled bird skull as being from a Lappet-faced Vulture, so it was an easy identification – particularly since the skull is 18cm long and from Africa, which helped narrow down the possibilities considerably!

Here’s the Anthropology specimen compared directly to our Natural History specimen, so you can see what would be under the leather:


We’re also in the middle of our first collections Bioblitz at the moment, so expect to see a lot of activity on the @HornimanReviews Twitter feed!

Oddjects No.1

I’ve been running my mystery object for over three years now and I’ve decided to add another kind of post in order to share some of the odd and interesting objects that I come across as I work in the collections of the Horniman Museum.

To share these specimens I’ve chosen the name ‘Oddjects’ as a portmanteau of ‘Odd’ and ‘Objects’. Here’s the first:


This happens to be a Wolffish (Anarhichas sp.) specimen that was a mystery object back in 2010, but here I just want to use the specimen to capture the imagination and spark discussion rather than provide much in-depth interpretation.

What does this make you think of?

I hope you enjoy the Oddjects I plan to share – if you do I would heartily recommend also checking out the Twitter and Tumblr feeds for the Horniman’s collections review projects as they also share some great objects.