Top 10 Museum news stories in 2013

09 January 2014

Bumper attendance made for a successful year at the Museum, proving natural history is ever-popular.

The number of visitors to the Museum reached a record high in 2013 at more than 5.3 million. This is an increase of more than threefold since 2001, the last year of chargeable entry. 

The Sensational Butterflies exhibition also had its best ever year, welcoming 165,000 visitors

Here are our top 10 news stories of the year.

1. Is it or isn't it? False widow spider update, October

Reports in the press about an influx of biting spiders caused autumn alarm across the country. Luckily, Museum arachnid experts were on hand to confirm it was not an invasion and to remind us that no one has ever died from a spider bite in the UK. 

2. Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 call-out, January

The search for submissions to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition began in January. Always one of our most popular exhibitions, the competition attracted a staggering 43,000 entries from around the world and produced some of the most inspiring pictures ever.

3. Sensational Butterflies opens at the Museum, March

Just in time for the Easter holidays, hundreds of butterflies and moths returned to a special exhibition on the Museum's east lawn. Unseen by the public, the Museum also embarked on the tough task of digitising its British and Irish lepidoptera collection, half a million butterfly and moth specimens and their labels, collected by enthusiasts over 200 years, will be uploaded over the course of a year and made available to everyone online.

4. Sharksucker fish and its strange disc, January

The public's love of natural world oddities drove this story about the sucking disc on top of a fish's head in at number four. The only fish with such a disc, the sharksucker uses it to attach itself to large marine animals, allowing it to live off food and parasites from the larger animal. A team of scientists from the Museum and the Smithsonian proved the disc is a modified dorsal fin. 

5. Organisation of Neanderthal brains gives clue to extinction, March 

New research showed that Neanderthals had a larger area dedicated to vision and control of the body than modern humans, which could have meant there was less brain space for  managing complex social groups. Having bigger eyes, therefore, could have affected Neanderthals' ability to cope with environmental change and competition from early modern humans, thus aiding their extinction. 

In other ancient human news, two life-sized models of a Neanderthal and a Homo sapiens arrived at the Museum in December, in preparation for our upcoming exhibition, Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story.

6. The Duchess of Cambridge becomes Patron of the Museum, April

A favourite royal, The Duchess of Cambridge delighted everyone by becoming Patron of the Museum. Speaking at the launch of the Treasures exhibition, she said the Museum holds a special place in the hearts of the nation. In December, she delighted us again by wearing 3D glasses and attending the premiere of David Attenborough's Natural History Museum Alive 3D. 

7. 3D scans show the huge last meal of a deep-sea anglerfish, October

Two more oddities take up seventh and eighth position, with the ridiculously large contents of the stomach of a hairy anglerfish revealed in its full glory using a CT scanner. In the collection for 13 years, the anglerfish's expanded stomach always looked big, but up-to-the-minute technology showed the strange creature had eaten a fish twice its length, and then died.

8. Dracula bug: Halloween surprise discovered in Museum grounds, October 

Spooky but true, a strangely seasonal leafhopper was discovered by volunteers in the Museum's Wildlife Garden. It really does appear to have a picture of Dracula's face on its back. Anyone fascinated by this   can visit the Creepy Crawlies gallery for more of the same.

9. Evolution pushes on as European men grow taller, September

Good food, better hygiene and health, as well as smaller families with fewer mouths to feed, have meant that the average height of men across 15 European countries has increased by nearly 11cm. 

10. David Attenborough's Natural History Museum Alive 3D

And last, but by no means least, science superhero Sir David Attenborough, who charmed us for the entire year with comments on subjects ranging from population growth to bird song. 

Here at the Museum, Sir David unveiled a statue of inspirational naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace to mark the end of a year of celebration, and then went on to perform the unthinkable by reversing extinction, just for a day, for the film, David Attenborough's Natural History Museum Alive 3D. This latest adventure held viewers spellbound on Sky on New Year's Day. 

  • by Nicola Pearson