Friday mystery object #345 answer

Last week I gave you this squee squamate to have a go at identifying:

As usual the comments were insightful and bang on target, with a correct identification by Chris, jennifermacaire, sallie reynolds and Allen Hazen. In the comments there was even a link to a very useful paper provided by jennifermacaire and a mention of the value of the tail-tip shape as a way of distinguishing between species of flying gecko.

Unfortunately the end of this specimen’s tail was hidden behind a label, so it wasn’t visible in any photos, but if it was it would show that this is a Common Flying Gecko Ptychozoon kuhli Stejneger, 1902. Distinctive tail-tips aside, the comments also picked up on some very interesting points about gliding replies. As Allen Hazen mentions:

… So gliding with a patagium along the side of the body (not supported by the arms and legs as it is in typical mammalian gliders) has evolved at least FOUR times in reptiles (reptilia sensu very lato): these guys, Draco, Kueneosaurus, and another fossil form I can’t remember the name of. …

Which is both interesting and pertinent to the main reason I picked this object, as it’s one of the specimens I selected for the temporary exhibition Jurassic Skies we just opened at the National Museum of Ireland at our Collins Barracks site, which is about the origins of flight in dinosaurs (i.e. birds).

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Gliding lizards don’t have much to do with the origin of birds directly, but the high frequency with which they seem to pop up is a good indicator that there’s a clear benefit to being at least partially air-worthy.

Escaping predators, reaching inaccessible food and exploiting otherwise hard-to-reach habitats can all play a role in tempting animals into the air. The interesting thing that I’ve realised from doing this exhibition is that we’re currently in a bit of a dull patch when it comes to flying critters.

In the Jurassic the pterosaurs dominated the skies, with birds arising and finding a niche despite being newcomers to the aerial scene. By the Cretaceous both birds and pterosaurs were very diverse, with giant Quetzalocoatlus pterosaurs the size of a small plane and toothed and toothless birds living in a variety of habitats.

The K-T boundary mass extinction seems to have wiped out a huge amount of vertebrate diversity in the skies and despite the huge number of bird species alive today, the diversity of forms seems lower than it has in the past.

If you happen to be in Dublin before 24th March 2019 I suggest popping over to the Collins Barracks museum site to take a look at the exhibition. It’s free and it offers a chance to see some of our specimens that have never been on display before, plus a rather lovely new model of Archaeopteryx that we commissioned for the show.20181211_162925

Dinosaur Eggshibition!

It’s been a while since I last wrote much on my blog, apart from the regular Friday mystery object. Mainly that’s because I’ve been busy getting to grips with a new collection at the Grant Museum of Zoology, where I am now the Curator. Just before I left my previous job at the Horniman Museum & Gardens I curated an exhibition that has a nice Eastery link (which will become apparent), that I thought might be worth writing about.

The exhibition is a touring show developed under the title Hatching The Past, which was brought to my attention by palaeontologist, science blogger and old friend Dr Dave Hone who’s a lecturer at Queen Mary University of London. I went to the Città della Scienza in Naples with some colleagues from the Horniman to take a look (which is an interesting story in its own right, since the main part of the museum had been burned down by the Mafia in 2013).

Despite the suboptimal exhibition space in Naples (thanks to the fact that the building it was meant to be displayed in was a pile of charcoal), the quality of the science, the objects in the exhibition and the vibrant and exciting artwork by the awesome palaeoartist Luis Rey made it well worth considering for the Horniman, which tries to get in a blockbuster temporary exhibition every year.

This exhibition focuses on the eggs, offspring and parental care of dinosaurs. A family focus is right up the Horniman’s street, and that’s what led to the change in the exhibition title, to bring more focus on that family element, without losing sight of the DINOSAURS!


Star of the exhibition

Of course, making an exhibition intellectually fit into a museum takes more than just changing the name, so the temporary exhibitions at the Horniman include objects from the permanent collection, with links to activities and other content. So while working out my notice from the Horniman I was feverishly selecting objects and writing text to help build that link before I left.


It has to be said that seeing members of the public engaging with your work is incredibly satisfying, so when the exhibition opened in February I was delighted to see people reading my text and really getting interested in the objects I’d picked to tell the story of parental care in living animal groups.


I was also keen to take the opportunity to help the Horniman build closer links with one of their patrons (and a living legend for pretty much every naturalist out there), Sir David Attenborough, who kindly agreed to loan the Elephant Bird egg he found when filming Zoo Quest in Madagascar. This for me is the ultimate version of an egg hunt.

Have a great Easter weekend – I hope you get all the eggs you could ask for!