New Museum id forums, expect the unexpected

11 February 2010

Is that a fang or a goat horn you found on the beach? What type of frog is it you've seen hopping around in your garden? Find out with the help of the Natural History Museum’s new online identification forums, launched today.

Museum experts are watching out for any photos posted by the public and will try and identify whatever they are, from bones, fossils and teeth, to spiders, fish, frogs and even mammals.

‘Our new forums provide a wonderful opportunity to share the extraordinary variety of the identifications and enquiries that the Museum has been providing to the UK public for more than 100 years,’ says Stuart Hine, who runs the enquiry team at the Museum.

Popular enquiries

The Museums Identification and Advisory Service team get more than 10,000 enquires a year from the UK public. The most popular range from hornet sightings and biting spiders, to more obscure or rare finds such as horse toe bones and even fossil evidence of extinct animals.

‘If our identification team had a motto it would surely be that we expect the unexpected,’ says Stuart.

‘Over the years we have identified all manner of tropical creatures that occasionally turn up in the UK with imported produce and products.'

Up until now, people had to bring specimens in to the Museum or send them through the post, and Stuart gives an example. ‘I guess the most bizarre has been a 23cm long tropical centipede found in a London flat and brought in to us for identification. Like I say, we expect the unexpected. What next? I ask myself. Whatever it is we are expecting it!’

Four Identification forums

From now on, questions can be answered in a more convenient way through the new online service. There are 4 forums to choose from, depending on what you find or questions you would like to ask.

1. Bones, teeth and skulls forum

The bony remains of mammals, birds and fish are often found in hedgerows, dug up in gardens or found on the beach, and occasionally you may also find the bones of reptiles and amphibians.

‘Identifying what animal these remains are part of makes fascinating detective work,’ says Stuart. ‘Have a look through this forum for clues to help you identify your finds and share your images and questions if you are looking for more help from the bony detectives.'

2. Your habitat – home and garden forum

Many creatures visit and make use of our homes and gardens. ‘Is it really our habitat or theirs?’ says Stuart. ‘Share your sightings in this forum and find out what others have discovered in their habitats. Discover who has the most unusual visitors or house guests!’

3. Fossils and rocks forum

Many ‘fossil’ finds are not fossils at all but are identified as unusual shaped stones or naturally weathered rocks.

‘It is great fun searching for fossils,’ Stuart adds, ‘and these are often found when exploring the coast, but also in the most surprising places including the stones in your own garden or driveway.’

Use this forum to find out what interesting discoveries others have unearthed and to find help identifying your own treasures.

4. All animal life forum

Not quite sure what it is you have found, but recognise it as animal life? Visit this forum for help to identify creatures, from insects and fish to birds and mammals. Find out ‘what on earth’ others have seen and share your interesting or perhaps unusual observations.

Museum experts

At the Museum, there are more than 300 scientists researching all types of life from minute microbes to mighty whales, and the Identification and Advisory Service team has been answering queries from the public for almost 20 years, although the Museum has always provided identifications and advice for naturalists ever since it first opened its doors in 1881.

‘Rather than reply to 1000s of individuals,’ says Stuart, ‘these forums allow us to share the enjoyment and excitement of everyday and more unusual discoveries with all who share our interest and passion for the natural world.’

The new forums will join the popular Bug forum launched in June 2008, which answers the public's questions about insects and non-insects including spiders, centipedes and woodlice.

So, if you’ve an unusual bone or fossil you found in the flowerbed and always wondered what it was, take a photo of it. Then, register (it is free) and post your photo and question on the relevant forum. A Museum expert or other knowledgeable enthusiast will be pleased to reveal all.

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