A Foot In The Door – Finding Collections Work As A Trailing Spouse In A Foreign Country

Written by Caroline Grounds, Freelance Zoological Collections Assistant, Musée national d’histoire naturelle, Luxembourg.

I arrived in Luxembourg 8 years ago when my husband accepted a job offer here, not knowing much about the tiny country (“where exactly is Luxembourg?”), and with a new baby in tow.

I had become accustomed to the trailing expat spouse role, so I was happy for a new adventure, though the hardest part about moving, especially to a country where you don’t speak the language, is finding your niche in which you can carve out something of your own.

As a former Biology teacher, most of my previous museum experience was in science education, as a volunteer at the NHM in London, and the George C. Page museum (La Brea Tar Pits) in Los Angeles, and I was keen to get involved in the Luxembourg Natural History Museum in any way, shape or form. Something about being around the wonders of nature, whether outside or housed in a building, is inspiring to me and, surrounded by like-minded people, where I truly feel like I’m supposed to be.

Not speaking any of the official local languages however (Luxembourgish, German and French), I quickly found that it would be difficult to find work, even on a voluntary basis as I had before. I submitted my CV to the museum anyway, and endured a rather painful phone call in very bad schoolgirl French (mine, not theirs!), which, much to my amazement, led to one of the researchers contacting me for help proofreading his research papers, which were being published in English. That schoolgirl French came in useful after all!

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A Remarkable Collection Of Fossil Birds From The Eocene

Written by Andrew Kitchener, Principal Curator of Vertebrates, National Museums Scotland.

In November 2021 National Museums Scotland acquired a remarkable collection of fossil bird skeletons dating from the Eocene, approximately 54.6-55 million years ago. The story of how this collection ended up in Edinburgh is a very long one and began more than 25 years ago. 

Please can you show me your collection of Eocene birds?” This was the question that greeted me when I first met a Mr Michael Daniels more than 25 years ago. Visiting the museum with his wife Pam and his daughter Caroline, who lived in Edinburgh, this meeting would be the beginning of a long friendship and long-term correspondence, which ended sadly in 2021. My answer was “Well I would love to show you our collection of Eocene birds, but we don’t have any.” Michael proceeded to tell me about his remarkable collection of several hundred skeletons and part skeletons that he had discovered in nodules of the London Clay, which had eroded out of the cliffs at Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex. In later years I visited Michael and Pam at their home and got to see the collection in its countless drawers and boxes in his study. I was astonished at the amazing variety of specimens of all shapes and sizes.  Many of the bones were minuscule, requiring great patience and skill to extract from the substrate.

Some of the many hundreds of fossil bird bones from Walton-on-the-Naze © National Museums Scotland

Michael Daniels was a passionate self-taught palaeontologist, who visited various fossil sites outside London and further afield in southern England from his home at Loughton near Epping Forest. He developed a more specialised interest in the Tertiary Eocene London Clay in the early 1970s, having been a founder member of the Tertiary Research Group in 1969. On retirement in 1985 he moved with his wife to Holland-on-Sea, so that he could pursue this interest at Walton-on-the-Naze.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – July 2022

Compiled by Olivia Beavers, Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at World Museum, National Museums Liverpool.

Welcome to the July edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

A monthly blog series featuring the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences and training opportunities. If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Sector News

SPNHC / BHL / NatSCA Conference 2022

Just over a month ago the SPNHC/ BHL / NatSCA conference was underway. As my first SPNHC and first NatSCA conferences, it was a great introduction into the sector and I enjoyed meeting all of the NatSCA members that were able to attend the event! One of the highlights were the National Museums Scotland store tours! If you missed out, you can get a glimpse of the natural history collections here.

Yorkshire Natural History Museum

The Yorkshire Natural History Museum is a new, small public museum opening in Sheffield – Saturday August 13th 2022! The museum includes geology, palaeontology and botany collections with a significant research collection of fossils from the Yorkshire Lias. Their website is currently under construction but you can check out their twitter account @YorkshireNHM.

Harnessing the Power of Natural Science Collections – Community Event

This event is currently underway, but if you’re quick you might catch the last half! The event is open to all UK natural science collection holders, interested in attending and learning more about the scoping work and the next steps in the plans for a national digitisation programme. Held via Microsoft Teams, July 14th, between 10:00-12:00. Please follow this link to access the meeting. 

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Freezing Specimens And How To Mitigate Freezer Burn.

Written by Jazmine Miles Long, Taxidermist. https://www.jazminemileslong.com, Twitter: @TaxidermyLondon; Instagram: @Jazmine_miles_long

In my opinion there isn’t one system to do things correctly in taxidermy, every museum or taxidermist may have their own preferences and strategies already in place. This is simply a guideline that works for me, and I hope it can help others to mitigate some of the problems I encounter when working with skins that have been frozen in a way that has accelerated freezer burn. Following this advice might get more time out of frozen specimens and give you a greater chance that they can be mounted once the budget or staff time is there to pay for taxidermy or processing cabinet skins.

What is freezer burn?

Freezer burn happens when the moisture is evaporated out of the animal’s skin and muscles over time in the freezer. Most specimens even if they are well packed in the freezer will still get some freezer burn over a long period of time but it will be much worse if the specimen is poorly packaged or has something absorbent (like a paper label) inside the bag with it.

You can tell if a specimen has freezer burn because it will look white and dry in areas such as the feet, hands, around the eyes, ears, and mouth. And when you start skinning the skin will be yellowed and hard to remove rather than red, fleshy, and easy to peel away.

Firstly, I advise to always freeze your specimens before handling or skinning them. At a minimum you could record the specimen’s weight before freezing as this measurement is affected slightly after freezing. I personally would not take any other measurements until after they have been thoroughly frozen (unless you want to collect live parasites). As the animal dies, any parasites on the skin of the animal will leave the body as it cools and hop onto the next willing subject which will be you or any living creature in your lab! A note that fleas are not killed over night, if you freeze a fox for example leave it in there for at least two weeks before defrosting. It completely depends on the temperature of your freezer however so if you start to defrost an animal the fleas will defrost first, so if there is movement you know to refreeze! Obviously very large animals may need to be skinned straight away, so in this case my advice is wear appropriate PPE.

Great Spotted woodpecker. Image by Jazmine Miles Long.
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Vertebrate Collections of the Institute of Biology, UNAM, Move to the New Building of the National Biodiversity Pavilion in Mexico City.

Written by Fernando A. Cervantes, Professor and Curator of Mammals, Department of Zoology, Instituto de Biología, UNAM.

Mexico is a megadiverse country and has 10% of the world’s species. The Institute of Biology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (IBUNAM) houses the National Biological Collections (NBC), which contain the largest and most important representation of museum specimens of Mexican biodiversity in Mexico. These include 10 zoological collections, a herbarium, and a botanical garden (Zambrano and Reynoso, 2003). Among the highlights are the National Insect Collection (CNIN), with more than 3,000,000 specimens, the National Herbarium (MEXU), with more than 1,500,000 specimens, and the living collections of the Botanical Garden. They all collaborate in the elaboration of the national biological inventory and their specimens provide knowledge on the presence, distribution, and evolution of biological diversity (Cervantes et al. 2016).

   The NBC are located at the IBUNAM facilities in the Ciudad Universitaria campus, south of Mexico City, Mexico, where they have been for approximately 22 years now. However, the rapid growth in the number of specimens in each of the collections over the last few decades has meant that the space in which they are currently housed is no longer sufficient. At the same time, the number of academic personnel associated with the NBC, students, equipment, and materials have grown in parallel and demand the need for more space to allow for the proper functioning of the NBC.

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