Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads

What I've Been Up To

Visiting the refurbished Cambridge Zoology Museum

In September 2012 when I first moved to Cambridge, one place where I spent a lot of my time was looking around the Zoology Museum just off of Downing Street. As a zoology undergraduate, this museum was a gem and totally free to access (like the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences just across the road). Unfortunately the museum closed in 2013 for the refurbishment which has cost over a £4 million and left a number of Cambridge residents/academics left itching for it’s reopening. The project was delayed multiple times for a number of reasons and at one point I seriously didn’t think the job was going to be completed in my lifetime. The David Attenborough reopened some time ago and I’d been making regular visits for meetings as a member of the Cambridge Conservation Forum and other events, always walking past the museum and wondering when it would reopen. A glimmer of hope came in March of this year when the museum was partially reopened in March whilst the upper gallery was finished allowing those of us addicted to the specimens, displays and quirky nature of the museum to get a hit of knowledge. On 22nd June, the museum was officially reopened by Sir David Attenborough and so I thought I’d visit the next day and see what all of the fuss was about!

Part of the new amphibian display, there are more samples to the right and below the specimens photographed

The main changes externally are the fact that the fin whale skeleton has been moved inside in a brand new glass foyer where there are amenities such as a shop and a cafe. The exhibitions themselves are fresh and new despite being very familiar to those of us that spent many an hour in the old museum trying to get our zoological fix. The amphibian section (photographed above) flows nicely on from the fish with a smooth transition involving the evolution of  tetrapods including the old favourite Acanthostega. Dr Jenny Clack who is based at the University has been instrumental in unlocking the secrets of Acanthostega and helping to find new specimens from which the answers were teased. It’s also nice to see some specimens of the fossil frog Rana pueyoi and the common midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans) on display too. This herpetologist was certainly impressed!

The new reptile display including a number of specimens encapsulating the class

The museum is one of eight that the University of Cambridge operates and the zoology museum was designated in 1998 by Arts Council England as being of outstanding historical and international importance. It’s no wonder why the curators worked tirelessly to ensure everything was perfect before they opened the doors. Above is a (slightly blurry) photo of the new reptile display. It may not be as vast as the amphibian one but it does include representative from most families or orders of which the general public may be familiar with or not so much. The specimens are very well preserved despite being some of them being a couple of hundred years old. In summary, make sure you get to the museum if you’re ever in Cambridge as it’s free and although it’s not the Natural History Museum it is still very cool and has it’s own identity. If you remember the old museum, things have shuffled around slightly but the site still has the same feel and atmosphere.

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