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Behind the scenes

2 Posts tagged with the richard_fortey tag
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A little while ago my department (having recently moved into a new office) had a "get to know you" afternoon tea with the members of the other offices on our floor of the building.

 

Over warm drinks and homemade cakes a few of us did some team building through paper craft, courtesy of educational resources brought over by visiting Japanese colleagues. I made a water flea, Daphnia sp. In Japan, the activity is used to show children that the tiny planktonic crustacean they can view flat on a microscope slide is actually a 3-dimensional creature.

 

About a week after that afternoon tea I was out visiting the micrarium at Grant Museum of Zoology, and from the hundreds of back-lit slides of microscopic organisms on show, I spotted a water flea!

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My paper craft water flea (L), and the water flea slide in the Grant Museum micrarium (R).

 

Then (in a nod to the rule of three principle) while reading Richard Fortey's book Dry Store Room No. 1, I came across this little snippet about the naming of species. The passage resonated with me, as well as being interesting in its own right, so I thought I would share it with you:

A whole dictionary of gods, goddesses, nymphs and satyrs has been recruited to label the natural world.


Daphne is a flowering shrub, Daphnia is a water flea; Daphne herself was a water nymph pursued by Apollo, who changed into a bay laurel tree.

 

The bay itself is Laurus nobilis, "noble" because the aromatic leaves were used to crown the brows of heroes.

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Daphne mezereum, from Carl Lindman's Bilder ur Nordens Flora (Pictures of Northern Flora), 1905 (L), and Apollo and Daphne by Antonio Pollaiuolo, painted in the late 1400s (R).

 

So that is how a flower is like a water flea - they are both named after the Greek nymph, or naiad, Daphne, thanks to the nomenclature convention of taking species names from Latin and Greek classics.

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The sale of a Diplodocus skeleton for £400,000 at auction in West Sussex last week brought to my mind a little titbit about our own specimen. The Diplodocus in the Central Hall, affectionately known as Dippy, is a cast taken from the type specimen of Diplodocus carnegii that was unearthed in Wyoming, USA in 1898.

 

When it was originally put on display in the Museum in 1905, the long tail drooped downwards and trailed along the floor.

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Dippy’s lavish unveiling ceremony, attended by 300 people, on Friday 12 May 1905.

 

I learned from Professor Richard Fortey that this placement was not popular with staff:

Unscrupulous visitors would occasionally steal that last vertebra from the end of the tail. There was even a box of 'spares' to make good the work of thieves so that the full backbone was restored by the time the doors opened the following day.

It wasn't until 1993, as scientific understanding of dinosaur biology improved, that Dippy's tail was repositioned to curve above visitors heads, which is how it is seen today.

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Dippy’s tail was remounted after research showed that the tails of these dinosaurs did not drag along the ground, as had been assumed for many years. It was found that they stuck out straight behind the animal and were held clear of the ground.