Friday, September 17, 2010

Wet specimens

About 20 years ago, I had several animal skins on the walls of my "museum," but the deer skin (which, in my defense, may have been poorly preserved) rotted and fell off the wall, and my cat bit the tail off the coyote pelt. Although the kangaroo skin survived, I considered myself a poor curator of things tanned and taxidermied, and restricted my collection to bones and fossils. So when I mentioned that I ordered a marmoset fetus, my sister commented, "Thus ends the moratorium on fleshy purchases (in time for Christmas!)." Long ago, she had given me a bat preserved in a jar, but it got a little rough around the edges and that, too, had to go. I haven't had the luck of the Museum für Naturkunde (3rd and 4th images) in Berlin, which has brought together 1,000s of their jars of animals - fish, mammals, spiders, reptiles - while only breaking 6 in the process of assembling a new permanent exhibit. The wet specimens (octopus, 2nd image) went on display in a newly reconstructed wing on Tuesday. The museum was established in 1889 and some of the preparations are more than 200 years old. The exhibit (1st image) contains some 1 million objects stored in 276,000 jars containing a total of 21,600 gallons of alcohol and lined up on 7.8 miles of shelves. "These are valuable, irreplaceable cultural assets that have been collected over two centuries and remain indispensable for biological research to this day, and are extensively used internationally. It is a milestone for the preservation of our collections and provides optimal conditions for research into biodiversity and evolution," says the museum.

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