Animals in the Museum 1

This gallery shows a small selection of the animals you can find if you go “on safari” in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Sometimes the animals are out in the open and easy to spot; others are small and well hidden away from the view of most visitors. They can be made out of almost any material, and the examples shown here are made from silver, stone, micro-mosaic, ceramic, and glass. They form part of testimonial silver sculptures, clock furniture, carved memorial edifices, sweet boxes, stained glass windows, plaques, and tile-work.

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Washed Ashore – A Decomposing Grey Seal

Skull of Grey Seal exposed by rotting flesh

The next stage of Nature’s recycling process – not a pretty sight! These two images show a decomposing carcass of an adult Grey Seal washed ashore at Rhossili on the Gower Peninsula. The soft tissues are disintegrating but still holding the bones together except for the loss of some small end bones from the flippers. The skull is partially exposed, showing the characteristic shape of cranium, mandible and teeth that are diagnostic and distinguishing features for this species.

Decomposing body of a Grey Seal on a sandy beach

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Washed Ashore – Dead Grey Seals at Rhossili

Young dead Grey Seal washed up on sandy beach with people walking by

Amongst the inanimate items like plastic crates, shoes, fishing nets and floats, washed ashore  by storms during Christmas week at Rhossili, there were some more distressing casualties. Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) love to swim and fish in the waters around the Gower Peninsula. I often catch tantalising glimpses of them in the water, diving around the kelp beds near Worms Head or upright in the water with just the head poking above the surface, eying me curiously as I watch them. However, in violent gale-driven seas, accidents can happen. Sometimes the seals are unable to get to the surface to breathe, sometimes they are dashed with force against the rocks. They drown.

In Christmas week I saw four dead Grey Seals washed up onto the strandline of Rhossili Beach. One was this freshly killed young individual (possibly still classifiable as a pup) – eyeless and bloody from scavenging birds. Another was a very large adult male more than two metres long. This had been dead a bit longer and starting to show signs of decomposition. Two others were also mature adults but in stages of advanced decomposition and obviously had been rolling too and fro for some time with the tides.

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Castor canadensis at Montreal Biodome

Cute crittur!

Sheep Fleeces

Curly wool sheep fleece

Who knew there were so many kinds of natural sheep hairstyles? The woolly fleeces on the different breeds of sheep competing for prizes at the Dorset County Show were amazingly varied in texture and the degree of natural curliness – looking like anything from bubble-cut curly perms to ringlets and dreadlocks, and not counting the numerous breeds whose wool seemed to have been shampooed and blow dried to fantastical soft fluffy bouffant styles.

Curly wool sheep fleece

Curly wool sheep fleece

Curly wool sheep fleece

Curly wool sheep fleece

Curly wool sheep fleece

Curly wool sheep fleece

Curly wool sheep fleece

Curly wool sheep fleece

Curly wool sheep fleece

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2013

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Mosaiculture – Orangutans of grass

Orangutan mosaiculture sculpture, entitled "Hands Up", made with living plants.

Orangutan sculptures made with living plants as part of a tableau entitled “Hands Up”, to draw attention to the plight of these endangered “men of the forest”, at the Mosaicultures Internationales de Montréal 2013.

Orangutan mosaiculture sculpture, entitled "Hands Up", made with living plants.

Orangutan mosaiculture sculpture, entitled "Hands Up", made with living plants.

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2013

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Porcupine in the Park

I had never seen a porcupine before – not even in a zoo – but ask any resident of the Atlantic Maritime Provinces in Canada and they would say that these creatures are common there. However, further questioning might reveal that almost all their sightings were of dead specimens on the side of the highway. Porcupines are the size of the badgers which, in the UK, are the creatures that most often share a similar roadside fate.

I saw the sweet creature, shown in the short video above, in Irving Nature Park near Saint John in New Brunswick. I was very surprised to spot it in full daylight, feeding quietly in the undergrowth. It seemed completely oblivious to my presence as I stood and filmed it from the path. It suddenly loomed large in the camera lens as it walked straight towards me. I didn’t want to frighten it or get hurt by the defensive spines so I stepped back quickly – making a noise – and the porcupine became aware of me for the first time. The quills were briefly raised, but in my confused retreat, I failed to capture the moment on film. Then we both regained our equilibrium and the porcupine crossed the path right in front of me, having decided that the juicer young leaves on the other side of the path were more interesting than me.

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2013

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Rainforest Fruit Bats

Fruit Bats or Flying Foxes roosting in trees

Images 1-3 show Fruit Bats (Flying Foxes, Pteropus spp.) right in the town centre at Cairns, Queensland, Australia, roosting in trees with traffic and people all around. Images 3-6 show Spectacled Flying Foxes (Pteropus conspicillatus) in the actual rainforest, the Daintree, at Cape Tribulation in Far North Queensland. Both colonies might be conspicillatus but shadows obscure the features of the Cairns bats so it is not possible to say with certainty they are Spectacled.

The short videos below show the colonies of bats. The first clip shows bats in Cairns making a hullabaloo as they squabble and jostle for space with the sound of traffic all around. The movie was taken around the middle of the day. I was not only very surprised to find a colony above the busy streets but amazed at the noise they made.

The second and third clips show bats roosting in the Daintree at Cape Tribulation. They are waking up, preening, yawning, and stretching, getting ready for flying out en masse at dusk. Here the setting was more peaceful. However, both colonies of bats made a spectacular cacophonous show as they flew out to forage for food when the sun set. A fantastic show for diners sitting out every evening. [Apologies for the wrong orientation of the clips but you can see the action regardless].

Goose Barnacles at Yachats

Pollicipes polymerus goose barnacles on the Oregon Coast

The Goose Barnacles on the North West Pacific Coast of America are different from the ones we see usually see in the UK. They are a  sessile species, Pollicipes polymerus, and they are attached to rocks low on the shore. They are related to a similar species that grows in warmer European waters. This compares with pelagic species like, for example, Lepas anatifera, which settles on floating objects that are washed around in the sea at the mercy of tides and currents. There were huge numbers of Pollicipes on the beach at Yachats in Oregon when I visited a few years ago.

There is something rather prehistoric about the way these barnacles look. They have a tough black leathery stalk or peduncle about 2 cm long that contains the gonads and an adhesive gland for sticking them securely to the rock. They do need to hold very fast because the waves are enormous and relentless in the pounding they give the shore. The ‘head’ end, also with black flesh, contains all the other organs and the appendages that it uses to filter food particles from the water. This capitulum is protected by a series of separated white calcareous plates which are exceedingly robust and thick – often showing microscopic damage cause by an endo-lithic lichen.

The barnacles mostly live close together in large mounds or dense carpets on the rocks. They are often associated with colonies of the big California Mussel (Mytilus californianus) with the beds of which they either alternate or intermix. They occur most frequently on the lower shore, especially where the impact of the waves is greatest. They are found on vertical surfaces as well as horizontal; framing tide pools; under overhangs; and in steep-sided narrow surge gullies.

Pollicipes feeds by spreading its cirri (appendages) rather like a net so that the water passes through them. They catch small crustaceans and plankton. When sufficient particles have become trapped on the cirri, they withdraw them into the capitulum and the food is transferred to the mouth parts. The cirri do not face the oncoming waves but are arranged so that they can take advantage of the water running off the rock rather than the water hitting the rock. All of the animals in a particular group or colony will characteristically face in the same direction to maximise use of the run-off water – and this may differ from the next cluster a short distance away.

You can compare and contrast this American species of goose barnacles with ones that I have seen in the UK by clicking here for:

Goose Barnacles on Rhossili Beach

Stranded Goose Barnacles

Pollicipes polymerus goose barnacle on the Oregon Coast

Pollicipes polymerus goose barnacles on the Oregon Coast

Pollicipes polymerus goose barnacles on the Oregon Coast

Pollicipes polymerus goose barnacles on the Oregon Coast

Pollicipes polymerus goose barnacles on the Oregon Coast

Pollicipes polymerus goose barnacles on the Oregon Coast

Pollicipes polymerus goose barnacles on the Oregon Coast

The rocky shore at Yachats, Oregon, USA, where the goose barnacles live.

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2013

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