From Guy the gorilla and a giant lemur skull, to paintings of dodos from the 17th century, the Natural History Museum is bringing more of its collections from behind the scenes into the public galleries this year.
Unsurprisingly, the 70 million specimens looked after at the Museum can’t be on display all at once. The Museum’s collections are unusual as they are also used by scientists in their research into biodiversity issues such as climate change or malaria eradication.
As well as being used by the 350 scientists based at the Museum, they are also being used by scientific researchers worldwide and more than 50,000 specimens are loaned out each year. But which of these will have the limelight in the Museum’s public galleries this year?
This Friday the new permanent gallery Images of Nature opens. It shows stunning paintings, drawings, and other images from a 17th-century oil painting of the dodo, to modern high-tech 3D scans of creatures close-up. The beautiful and historic works are from the Museum’s world-famous natural history artwork collection and many will be displayed for the very first time.
The skeleton of the Thames whale, which stranded in the River Thames in January 2006, will be on display in the Thames Whale Story at the Natural History Museum at Tring from this Saturday. It became part of the Museum research collection that year and has been helping scientists understand more about the northern bottlenose whale and other related species.
Another famous specimen coming out after a 29-year absence from public display is Guy the gorilla. He takes pride of place in the temporary Sexual Nature exhibition opening on 11 February. There are more than 100 Museum specimens in this exhibition, which explores the science of sex in the natural world.
This week also sees the launch of the First Time Out project with a Museum giant lemur cranium and mandible going on display for the first time. The specimen will then go on display at the Horniman Museum; the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Science Museum and Wellcome Collection, each time with its story written by experts at that institution, who will also be displaying their own treasures.
The Museum is home to the largest and most important natural history collection in the world. There are over 70 million specimens, collected over 400 years, and they cover virtually all groups of animals, plants, minerals and fossils from all across the world, and even the universe.
They are looked after by Museum curators, as well as used as a scientific research collection. Each year there are 5,000 visiting scientists who spend over 18,000 hours using the collections and facilities. And there are 1,500 loans of over 50,000 specimens every year to scientific institutions.
The Museum’s state-of-the-art Darwin Centre was opened in 2009. It provides world-class storage facilities with its 65-metre-long, 8-storey-high cocoon that safeguards 20 million plant and insect specimens.
In the Darwin Centre, the public can view and interact with the collections, scientists and research in a way that has never been done before.
They can use viewing decks, video, intercoms and over 40 high-tech installations and hands-on activities, including the interactive film Who do you think you really are?
Lively Nature Live discussions bring scientists, specimens and the public together for talks on a huge range of natural history topics.
And if you’d like to get behind the scenes to see more of the Museum's specimen collections, there are free daily guided tours that give you a glimpse of the 27km of shelves and tanks holding creatures such as the giant squid and colossal squid.