#askthecurators Tullie Time Travellers Special
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!