So whilst everyone else is on holiday (sun, sea, sand, ...) we are busy squirreling away answering your enquiries (in our basement with not much chance of seeing daylight - it is true the enquiries team are reverting to albinism).
Okay, so we have just the best (?) enquiry.
A student has brought in a sample of otter poo - or 'spraint' to be more precise.
We all know (don't we?) that investigating animal poo is a very useful way to research an animals' behaviour, and more pertinently, diet (after all Gillian McKeith made a fortune out of it!), so it is more common than you might think, but a smelly business.
It is not the poo per se that we are interested in, rather what is in the poo, and in this particular sample is evidence of reptile skin. How exciting. The student's request was could we identify the skin. Generally the otter has a varied piscatarian diet, taking the most readily available fish such as trout and eels. However they will eat anything, which means it is a highly adaptive species, and quite partial to the odd amphibian or reptile.
The trouble is, the skin arrived 'in situ' and so for H&S reasons we can't look at it, but once it is cleaned up and preserved in alcohol, we should be able to get a closer look. It's been floated that the skin is Terrapin (it would be a very good thing if the invasive Terrapin had a formidable predator to keep the population under control) - some wit in the office suggested we offer free can openers to local otters as part of this new initiative!
Otters, (with the lovely scientific name Lutra lutra) are regarded as 'near threatened' by the IUCN and are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
On to a less appealing subject: Spiders (depending on your point of view - mine is generally a scared one). We get soo many spider enquiries each week (in fact we should dedicate a whole blog entry to the variety of species and horror stories) We open all our postal mail in a quarantine area which helps to ensure the safety of the Museum's collections as well as the Museum's staff! But, still I haven't learnt. Today I opened a package addressed to me (no bells ringing about the conversation I had earlier in the week about a foreign looking spider found in a warehouse), put my hand in the jiffy bag....
Actually it was fine, spider safely contained in an empty orange juice carton - but alive and very big and it did give me a fright (there was no one around to hear my screams! Other nasties this week: German cockroach found in a bathtub (brought in alive!), huge black scorpion from Dubai, fortunately dead and some flies that pupated inside the very lovely but very pesky Garden chafer (whilst alive!). Isn't nature great!? This Garden chafer (below) was the one that got away...