Dugong, dugong, it’s the cow of the sea-e-e…

…but not, as the song goes, also known as the manatee. If you have no clue to which song I am referring, it is this little slice of awesome:


Dugongs and manatees are actually entirely different creatures, in different Families (Dugongidae and Trichechidae, respectively). And the dolphin is quite a distant cousin actually, not very close – the Sirenia (the Order to which both dugongs and manatees belong) is most closely related to the Proboscidea (elephants) and Hyracoidea (hyraxes). But only very distantly related to the Cetacea (whales and dolphins).

However, it still remains a great song. And it IS known as the cow of the sea (e-e)! So they got something right!

So, why all this talk of dugongs anyway? Well, friends, because I was cleaning one this afternoon! Another week in Zoology, lots more work done! All of the mammal material on display is now catalogued to computer (with beautiful colour photos and everything!), and much cleaner! I have dusted a dugong and hoovered an elephant skull today! Along with many other bits and pieces (including a dolphin skeleton, model porpoise, walrus skull, and a variety of antelope mounts). I feel like I am now made of dust! I suspect I’ll be sneezing it up for days! I still feel like I’m covered in it, even though I had a thorough shower as soon as I got home!

What a busy little beaver I’ve been! Unfortunately, next week I have to go back to my day job. Not that I don’t adore my day job, and after all this it’ll be positively relaxing, but I have had a lot of fun in the Zoology department. And gained a lot of good experience to put on my CV, too! Bonus.

Watching The Detectives

I love a good mystery, and working in a museum gives you plenty of them. While trying to electronically catalogue the taxidermied items on display in the Zoology Museum, this week I have come across a couple already, including a black-gloved wallaby that doesn’t look like a black-gloved wallaby (it lacks all the characteristic features of the species, but I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt on the grounds that it’s a very old specimen and quite faded. I’m trusting that the person who collected it knew a black-gloved wallaby when they saw one – they are quite distinctive!), and a tree shrew that still has me a little baffled!

It is named on its old catalogue card as Tupaia chrysoptera from Malaya (although its display label rather more cautiously has it as ‘Tupaia ?chrysoptera‘), a species which, as far as I can discover, does not and never has existed. It is not a synonym for any species of tree shrew. And the even older accessions register doesn’t help, because while the card catalogue does give an accession number, there is no tree shrew listed in said accession record. Arrgh. So I have been trying to visually identify it, which is not easy on a slightly balding early 1900s taxidermy specimen housed in a large locked glass-fronted display case that won’t unlock!

The closest existing name to it is T. chrysogaster, but Google Images couldn’t find one of these, and neither could I find a written description, so I cannot compare!
The specimen’s only distinctive feature is that it has a dark stripe running down its back, which, as far as my internet searching could tell me, narrows it down to one of two species: T. tana or T. picta. But there is very little information on either of these two on the ‘net, or even tree shrews in general. So I might be wrong. I’m not helped by the fact that all tree shrews basically look the damned same!

I’ll have to take a trip to the uni library tomorrow. This is one instance where the internet just can’t cut it! Books are still useful sometimes. I refuse to be defeated by a dead tree shrew!

Things I’ve learned working in a museum (part VII)

How to clean an halibut skeleton…

This is a delicate procedure, requiring several paintbrushes of varying size and softness, and a conservation hoover with a long, narrow, flexible attachment (for getting into those hard-to-reach places under the fish’s head, fins, and ribs). And also glue, for reattaching those bits that inevitably fall off as soon as you touch them (not my fault – it’s a very old, greasy, and fragile specimen!). Et voila! Your halibut is good as new, and ready for re-hanging on the wall.

Yes, folks, it’s been a weird week. Spent mostly photographing and editing photos of the museum’s displays (lots of them. I took over 600 photos in the end! Some of them re-takes of shots that came out blurry, but that’s still a lot of editing!). I have also labelled, bagged and sealed dozens of bird nests and insect store boxes, cleaned an halibut skeleton, written a new label for the halibut skeleton, cleaned the finger smears off the glass tops of the insect display cases, fed the frogs, bearded dragon, millipede and harvest mice…and slept. A lot. It’s been tiring! But fun. I may have been so exhausted that I crashed out on the sofa as soon as I got home a couple of nights this week, but at least it was a satisfied ‘job well done’ sort of exhausted! It’s a good feeling to get done in two-and-a-half days things that the curators have wanted done for the last two years! Even if editing photos is a bloody pain in the arse. Not to mention the back, shoulders, and eyes! Staring at a computer screen all day is really not good for you at all! Which is why of course I’m now sitting at home staring at a computer screen, telling you how much I hate staring at computer screens. *Sigh*.