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#askthecurators Wolf Special

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.

wolf packErin and Molly both asked “Why do you have a wolf?”

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.

wolf howlGemma asked “Why is the poor wolf dead? Why can’t you have an alive one that eats boys?”

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!

wolf dog

  • 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.wolf snow
  • 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.

#askthecurators Dodo Roadshow Special


On Saturday we had a very special visitor to our What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice exhibition. As part of their roadshow from Land’s End to John O’Groats, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History brought their world famous dodo to Tullie House.

IMG_6130TF and Oxford team IMG_6132We took the opportunity to get a a few of our questions answered by the dodo’s minders, Paul, the Museum’s Director, Phil, Collections Assistant and Michelle, from the Front of House team.


Where and when did dodos live?
Dodos lived in Mauritius which is a small island east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, famous for it’s white, sandy beaches. Dodos were discovered in 1598 by Dutch sailors.

Why did dodos become extinct?
It is a common misconception that dodos were hunted to extinction. They were hunted but when the Dutch discovered Mauritius they settled and introduced pigs to the island. The pigs competed with the dodo for their food (fruit) and also dodos nested on the ground and the pigs ate their eggs. The dodo was extinct by 1662 – less than 70 years after it was discovered!

Andrew Pickett with real dodo foot 1What did dodos eat?
Dodos are thought to have predominantly eaten fruit.

Do you think we’ll ever find dodos living somewhere else we haven’t looked yet?
No – they are gone for ever.

Cast of dodo head and skin 3

Are there lots of dodos in museums?
There are quite a few casts and models but only a handful of specimens were brought to Europe. Museums in Cambridge and London have fossils, but Oxford University NHM has one of the few specimens that arrived in Europe. Another real skull is in a museum in Copenhagen.

How do we know about dodos?
Dodos were easy to catch being flightless. If one was caught it would scream and others would come running making them an easy catch. We now know, from DNA analysis, that dodos were members of the pigeon family.

A huge thank you to our guests and their star exhibit. They also asked some questions about our 1840 Portinscale red kites – you can see the answers on their blog

#askthecurators Dodo Roadshow Special

This Saturday (13 June) come and see a famous Dodo as part of our What’s In Store: The Curator’s Choice exhibition this between 10am and 11am at Tullie House. To celebrate we will be posting a Dodo Roadshow #askthecurators Special!

dodoroadshowThe flying visit to Carlisle is part of Oxford University Museum of Natural History’s Dodo Roadshow from Lands End to John O’Groats. The Oxford staff will be displaying the Dodo model from the Museum’s displays; a cast of the precious head, which is the only remaining soft tissue material of a Dodo in the world; and real foot bones from the same animal, representing some of the few organic pieces of Dodo remains.

Red Kite Portinscale 1840
This is your chance to #askthecurators about the dodo and the Tullie House star object it is coming to meet, the 1840 Portinscale Red Kite from Tullie’s Collections, one of the last of Cumbria’s indigenous red kites and oldest mounted bird specimen in our collection.

Either come along on Saturday morning from 10-11am (suitable for all, usual admission charges apply) or #askthecurators your questions about the Dodo or Red Kite to @tulliehouse on Twitter and Facebook.

As the dodo started out on its road trip, we asked it a few questions of our own…


So, tell me about yourself – who are you and where do you come from?
I’m the famous Oxford Dodo. I spent most of my life on the tropical island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Sailors arrived on the island in the late 16th century and everything changed. My life from then on is a bit of a blur, but somehow I appeared in Oxford around the 17th century and have been a museum treasure ever since.

What is it that makes you so special?
I’m a one off. Nowhere else in the world is there a Dodo with any flesh, but I’ve still got skin on my head and even a few little feathers, so scientists are fascinated by me. Dodo skeletons pop up in a few other museums, but it’s my skin that makes me really special. I was also used by scientists to explore Dodo DNA. Turns out I’m closely related to a pigeon! I’m literary too – I inspired Lewis Carroll’s Dodo character in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Who looks after you in Oxford?
My guardian is none other than the Head of Life (Collections). Darren Mann looks after all of the Life collections in the Museum and makes sure I’m stored safely so I last another 350 years.

Do you remember life before the museum?
I know I haven’t always been in this building. In fact, 200 years before this Museum was built, I was on display at the Ashmolean Museum – the first public museum in Great Britain. I was lucky to survive with any skin left intact; back then visitors were allowed to touch me and some of them gave me some pretty rough treatment.

What does the future hold for you?
Who knows what scientists have lined up for me next? A few weeks ago I was taken up to the University of Warwick for a fancy new CT scan. Apparently they found out something pretty exciting, which they’ll be able to reveal soon. But right now, my head is out on display in the Museum’s Presenting… case near the entrance; so if you’re in Oxford before 19 July stop by and say hello!

It will be the dodo’s chance to ask our Red Kite these questions on Saturday – but what questions do you want to ask?

#askthecurators Natural Science Special

A busy bank holiday and half term has filled up our #askthecurators board with some really great questions. Our curators have been hard at work trying to answer some of your questions.

We’ve had so many questions we’ll have to do two blogs! First up our visitors during the school holidays have been particularly interested in some of the animals on display in What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice, so we’ll start with a Natural Science special!

spidersWe have a case on display in What’s in Store, with a collection of spiders. Jack asks Where did the spiders come from?

That’s a really good question Jack these spiders were all found in Cumbria, in shipments of fruit. If you look really closely you will see that most of them came in crates of bananas. Most of the bananas in Britain come from South American countries like Columbia, Equador and the Dominican Republic – so it is very likely that is where the spiders came from too!

Molly and Megan would both like to know a bit more about spiders, Molly asked How many different species of spiders are there? And Megan told us I have learned and read about spiders and I want to know more about spiders.

Its great to see people so curious about spiders as often people are scared of them, so here’s our top five spider facts for you Molly and Megan.

  1. There are about 37,500 species of spider that have been identified and named, but new species are discovered all the time.

    Goliath Birdeater Spider

    Goliath Birdeater Spider

  2. Spiders live on every continent in the world, except Antarctica
  3. The biggest species of spider is called a Goliath birdeater and can grow to 28cm wide.
  4. The smallest species of spider is called the Patu marplesi and is only half a millimetre wide!
  5. Spiders repel water, making a layer of air between themselves and the water – meaning they don’t get wet and can float or even survive under water!

Daisy Ditchburn has asked Do you have more about frogs? Unfortunately Daisy we don’t have a great deal about frogs, there is some information in the Wildlife Dome, but to tide you over, here’s our favourite frog fact:

For centuries the frog has been considered lucky in Scotland. So you may see stone frogs in gardens and they often given as housewarming gifts.

sharkOur porbeagle shark is also making visitors curious about sharks.

The porbeagle shark is one of around 50 species of shark that live in UK waters, another British shark is the basking shark, Archie asks What do basking sharks eat? The basking shark eats plankton it is one of only 3 planktivore sharks. Plankton are small animals and plants that float in the water.

An anonymous young visitor asked What do sharks do? That’s an interesting question, and all species of shark are a bit different. Porbeagles like the one in our exhibition spend their days swimming, if it were to stop it wouldn’t be able to breathe. The porbeagle shark is also interesting because it may be one of the few fish species that plays, they have been spotted chasing one another and passing floating objects to each other.  

Jessica Gourdino asked How many sharks are there in the world? No-one is quite sure how many sharks there are in the world, there are about 450 known species, some are critically endangered but others are quite numerous. It is also thought that there are many other species of shark living in very deep water which has not yet been discovered. It was recently estimated that 100 million sharks are killed every year by people, for food and sport.

The fastest shark, the mako

The fastest shark, the mako

The slowest shark, the greenland

The slowest shark, the greenland

And one visitor asked the tricky question Will there ever be a boy born that can swim faster than a shark? What a brilliant question! And here is something resembling an answer! The fastest swimmer in the world in Frederick Bousquet, who swam at an average speed of 5.34 miles per hour, over 50m. The fastest shark in the world is the shortfin mako shark which can reach speeds of about 60 miles per hour, so it is very unlikely a human will ever catch up with the mako. However the Greenland shark travels at about 0.3 miles per hour, and is thought to have a top speed of 1.7 miles per hour. So even a slow human swimmer could outrun a Greenland shark!

dolphinStaying in the water, our dolphin skull has attracted a couple of good questions Katie asked Is the dolphin’s head real? and Grace asked Do you have the rest of the dolphin and how big is it?

The dolphin’s skull has come from a real dolphin, more specifically a Common dolphin. It was collected in 1975 We do not have the rest of the skeleton, but an adult Common dolphin would have reached between 1.9 and 2.5m and weighed about 80-150kg.

There will be more of your questions answered in our next blog, if you have a question for our curators then leave a note in What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice, or tweet us @TullieHouse using #askthecurators

Tullie Time Travellers – Springwatch

We were promised sunshine for today’s Tullie Time Travellers session so we planned to head out into the gardens and look out for signs of spring. Not to be put off by cloudy skies we headed out anyway to see what we could find.

We started by splitting into 4 teams and doing a Spring Flower Scavenger Hunt. Our teams had to find and photograph 8 flowers – first team to get all 8 wins the scavenger hunt and gets themselves on the Tullie Shield.

Ladybirds 005

Rose, Izzie and Sammy (aka Team Ladybird) tracked down a patch of Daffodils in the Tullie House Garden

Team Lily (Charlotte, Maria and Lily) got a beautiful close up of the Helibore.

Team Lily (Charlotte, Maria and Lily) got a beautiful close up of the Helibore.

Mungo and Leon (aka Team Snail) knew their Miniature Narcissi from their Daffodils!

Mungo and Leon (aka Team Snail) knew their Miniature Narcissi from their Daffodils!

Team Paper Towel (we felt it best not to ask) snapped this pic in the Crocus patch

Team Paper Towel (we felt it best not to ask) snapped this pic in the Crocus patch

All the teams put in a lot of effort, but in the end it was down to the two teams of girls Team Labybird were off looking for green buds, when Team Lily headed back having found all 8!

After doing such a good job tracking down some spring flowers we set our nature hunters off to see if they could get photos of any of the birds or insects that call in to the gardens here at Tullie House. However, we soon realised that birds and sometimes even insects move a little too fast for our photographers in training!

"There was a bird there, honest!" Team Paper Towel (we're still not gonna ask!)

“There was a bird there, honest!” Team Paper Towel (we’re still not gonna ask!)

Team Snail didn't manage to find any of their namesake but they did find this lovely Woodlouse!

Team Snail didn’t manage to find any of their namesake but they did find this lovely Woodlouse!

Team Lily found the Lesser Spotted Lily crouching amongst the Daffodils

Team Lily found the Lesser Spotted Lily crouching amongst the Daffodils

Team Ladybird found these two cheeky monkeys hanging around by the Japanese Dogwood!

Team Ladybird found these two cheeky monkeys hanging around by the Japanese Dogwood!

When it got a bit cold we headed back inside to test our Time Traveller’s nature knowledge in our animal quiz – how would you do?

1. Can you name two of the three species of snake native to the UK?

2.The slow worm is a type of lizard with no legs, true or false?

3. The average mole weighs 80 grams, how many earthworms do they have to eat everyday? 5g, 20g, 50g or 100g?

4. What is the name for a group of cows?

5. All blackbirds are black. True of false?

6. Which of these animals is the fastest? A cheetah, peregrine falcon, snail or rabbit?

7. What type of animal is a barracuda?

8. What is the name for a group of toads?

9. What is the longest species of snake?

10. What is a vixen?

11. What do you call where an otter lives? A sett, a holt, a drey, or a nest?

12. Where are a grasshoppers ears located?

13. Which animal can sleep standing up? A cow, a horse or a sheep?

14. What is a baby kangaroo called?

15. Can ostriches fly?

Three of our teams tied for second place with 10 correct answers out of 15 – but the winners with an amazing 13 right answers was Team Paper Towel (better known as Bert and Matthew!) getting their names onto our Tullie Shield!

To finish off the session we stayed in the warmth and headed up to the Border Galleries to see if we could spot any animals amongst the objects on display, not including the natural history collection of course!

Team Lily got this great shot of our Flying Reiver on his horse.

Team Lily got this great shot of our Flying Reiver on his horse.

Team Paper Towel found this bird adorning one of the objects in our Medieval Carlisle display!

Team Paper Towel found this bird adorning one of the objects in our Medieval Carlisle display!

Team Ladybird spotted this great dish in Carlisle Life!

Team Ladybird spotted this great dish in Carlisle Life!

Team Snail spotted this miniature Border Reiver herding livestock in the Pele Tower diorama in the Reivers gallery!

Team Snail spotted this miniature Border Reiver herding livestock in the Pele Tower diorama in the Reivers gallery!

Don’t forget, the next Tullie Time Travellers is on Saturday 18 April and we’ll be looking at our ARTIST ROOMS Anselm Kiefer exhibition and making some of our own Kiefer inspired masterpieces. If you are or know a child aged 8-13 who would like to join the Time Travellers contact

Answers to the quiz: 1. Grass snake, Adder or Smooth snake. 2. True. 3. 50g. 4. Herd. 5. False. 6. Peregrine Falcon. 7. Fish. 8. Knot. 9. Python. 10. Female fox. 11. a holt. 12. On its knees. 13. Horse. 14. Joey. 15. No.

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