Monthly Archives: July 2015
We’ve had a busy week here at Tullie with the start of the Cumbrian summer holidays! Lots of visitors to our What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice exhibition and lots more questions for our curators via #askthecurator.
Whilst the curators are busy answering some of the other questions we’ve had this week we’ll start off with some questions about one of the most popular items in the exhibition, our very proud grey wolf.
7 visitors have asked questions about our wolf, so thank you to Ella, Aimee, Gemma, Molly, Erin, Nathan and Amy.
Ella and Aimee have both asked “Where did the wolf come from?”
This wolf lived at an animal park here in Cumbria and came to the museum in 2002. There are no wild wolves left in the UK – although there used to be lots of wolves in the UK and particularly in Cumbria. The wolf is not an endangered species though, they are still found in a lot of countries across the world such as Canada, the USA and Russia.
Amy asked “How did the wolf die?”
The wolf died of natural causes in about 2002 – as it lived in captivity this means it was probably quite old.
The museum does not accept any animal specimens which were hunted or killed on purpose.
The museum collects all different types of animals, plants and insects for all kinds of reasons.
Museums first started collecting animal species like this wolf for research purposes – often travellers or hunters would find a species that we didn’t know much about and would bring it back for people to study. Some of the older specimens in the collection were collected in this way – but we don’t kill animals just to add to the collection anymore.
Other people might come and ask to see our animals to draw them – lots of animators will base their drawings and computer animations on animals kept in museums because they make very patient models.
The main reason we keep animal specimens though is so that we can show them to the public in exhibitions like this one. It is hard to make people interested or care about animals who need our help if they don’t know about them. By displaying our specimens we can encourage people to learn more about the environment and nature, and who knows they might become vets or zoo keepers or scientists who can help care for the world around us.
Thanks for you question Gemma, unfortunately Health and Safety rules mean that we can’t have a live wolf in the museum, particularly one that has developed a taste for eating boys!
It wouldn’t really be fair to keep a live wolf in the museum, but if you would like to see a live wolf there are a few zoos and animal parks in the UK that keep wolves. Or if you’re heading to Canada or Russia (and lots of other places) you might get to see one in the wild!
Also this one is much better at staying still so that people can have a look 🙂
And Nathan has asked “Can I take the wolf home for Courteney?”
I hope you were thinking of giving the wolf as a gift to Courteney and not to scare her Nathan! Unfortunately, for you, the museum has a strict policy of not letting visitors take objects from the collection home with them. We look after the objects in our collection ‘in trust’, this means we look after the objects on behalf of the government and private collectors so that they might be seen by visitors for many many years.
Thank you all for your wolf questions, here are a few of our favourite wolf facts thrown in for free!
- The wolf is related to all breeds of domestic dog. It is part of a group of animals called wild dogs which also includes the dingo and the coyote.
- Wolves can adapt to a number of different environments and have been found to be living in more places in the world than any other mammal, except humans.
- Wolves have two layers of fur, an undercoat and a top coat, which keeps them warm in temperatures as low at minus 40 degrees Celsius! In the summer they shed their fur, like domestic dogs.
- A wolf’s howl can be heard around 10 miles away, they howl to call other members of their pack to them and mark their territory to keep rival packs out of their area.
- Most wolves live in packs, but a wolf that lives on its own is known as a lone wolf. They don’t scent mark or howl and live off of very small animals such as rodents due to the fact that they have to hunt on their own.
This week our #askthecurators questions have come from the Tullie Time Travellers, our group for 8-13 year olds, who meet at the museum once a month. Sammy, Holly, Leon and Stella met up and had a look round the exhibition and posed our curators a couple of questions.
Stella asked “Why are there dead red squirrels here if red squirrels are endangered?”
Good question Stella, we don’t kill any animals anymore just to add to our collection. Most of the specimens on display are very old, more recent specimens were found dead, often killed by cars.
Collections of endangered animals like this can actually help scientists to save an entire species. Scientists can study how squirrels have changed over time, what they are eating and where they are living,. This helps them to understand more, so that they can help to keep more of them alive, it is important we keep them in good condition.
By displaying animals we can help create the future generation of scientists as well, a child visiting the museum might see animals like this and become interested in looking after them when they grow up.
Sammy asked “What’s the point in studying nettles?”
Another good question, whilst we see nettles all the time and they might not seem very interesting—a historical collection of plants like this can tell us a lot about how the environment has changed, what is in the water or the air, whether a place is hotter or colder and how plants are affected by these changes.
That’s a tricky one Leon, unfortunately we do not have any information on what the different species of spider in this case are. Tullie House currently doesn’t have any spider experts (or arachnologists) here at Tullie House to give us a definitive answer.
However some of the specimens look very like the well named banana spider (aka Heteropoda venatoria) a species thought to be native to Asia, which has become prominent in other tropical countries because it frequently hides in banana shipments. It is rare to find banana spiders in fruit shipments today because of changes in how bananas are transported.
If you did find one of these then there is no need to panic – although they can deliver a painful bite if handled badly they are harmless.
Another species found in fruit shipments is not so safe though, the Brazilian wandering spider (aka Phoneutria ) is in the Guinness World Records book as the most venomous spider in the world. It is still incredibly rare to find this spider in bananas that reach the UK!
Holly asked “How did you collect the dead animals?” and “How do you store things?”
Both good questions Holly, firstly the animals are collected in a number of different ways. Some of the older specimens in the collection were hunted especially for the collection, but we haven’t done that for nearly 100 years. Nowadays a member of the public might find the animal and bring it to us, we don’t accept animals who have been hunted or trapped. For larger and important animals we might be contacted to collect it.
In answer to your second question different things are stored in different ways, here’s a sneaky look at some of the ways we have stored items.
A lot of our collection is stored in what is known as ’roller racking’ . These are shelves that are on tracks, so we can open them up to get at items—but then they close up, meaning they take up less space in the store—which is great because our stores are not quite big enough for everything we have collected.
Another way to save space, is shown here in our Large Picture Store— large paintings are attached to the mesh which is pushed back into the rack—meaning we can store lots of big paintings in a very small room!
Other objects are kept on shelves in various stores throughout the museum, we have 12 dedicated storage areas which are all secure. It is also important for some of the collections that the temperature and humidity is controlled, so that it doesn’t get too warm or too damp, which would damage a lot of the collections. Our Fine Art and Costume collections are particularly vulnerable to this, so their storage areas have special systems in to remove warm damp air and keep the temperature constant.
Thank you all for your questions – What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice is on display until August 16th so if you’re heading in over the Summer holidays then please leave us a question and we’ll post the answer here on the blog!