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Top 10 Weirdest Specimens in Natural History Museums

Natural history museums showcase an extraordinary range of artefacts from the living world. Axiell has recently explored these vast collections to uncover some of the most weird and wonderful specimens. View the top 10 below:

Scarborough Tuna Fish10. THE LARGEST ‘TUNNY’ FISH EVER CAUGHT NEAR SCARBOROUGH

The largest tunny fish ever caught off the coast of Scarborough was netted by Lincolnshire sportsman John Hedley-Lewis in 1949. The tunny fish is a particular favourite with the people of Scarborough.

Scientifically, it is one of the only specimens we are aware of that has survived from the brief period of high tuna activity off the North East coast between the 1930s and 1950s. There are many theories some of which are connected to the decline in herring. We don’t believe that anyone has studied our tunny specimen to learn more about why the tuna disappeared in the 1950s but it would be fascinating for a scientist to use our specimen to investigate further.

Since the loss of the Woodend Museum of Natural History, the tunny has been in storage. However, it will be going on temporary display at Scarborough Art Gallery from July – September 2016.

Xenophora9. GASTROPOD XENOPHORA (SHELLS COLLECTING SHELL)

The gastropod Xenophora creates its shell and gradually incorporates foreign objects, often other pointed shells, to provide a spiny, protective casing. The idea of them actually selecting foreign shells and other pointy objects to incorporate in their own shell so that they do not have to produce their own spines for protection, is definitely interesting.

It is not a common strategy to borrow spines from other objects to build your own shell and the final look is both bizarre and attractive.

The specimen is on display in the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Hoff Crab8. KIWA CRAB

The Kiwa or ‘Hoff’ crab was discovered by scientists in 2010 living on deep sea hydrothermal vents near Antarctica. The impressively dense hairs on its chest have evolved to brush up bacteria from the vent surface which the crab then harvests for food using its comb-like pincers.

It lives at depths of 2,000 metres in a precarious thermal envelope between the freezing polar waters and vent fluid temperatures in excess of 400 degrees Celsius. Since there is no sunlight at this depth, vent animals are dependent on chemosynthetic bacteria which can transform the sulphurous vent fluids into energy for food.

The specimen has been on display at the National Museum of Scotland since March 2016 in the redeveloped Restless Earth Gallery. Specimen on loan from the University of Southampton and the NERC ChEsSo Consortium.

Orthecerus7. FOUR FOSSILS IN ONE

This segment of an Orthocerus (elongated cephalopod) fossil has the head of a Phacopid trilobite, tail of a Scapellid trilobite and section of an Orthocered Hyolithid worm inside.

It was found on a fossil collecting expedition in Morocco. Dr. Riccardo Levi-Setti (aka the trilobite guy) was on the trip and he thought it was amazing!

The specimen is available online and also on display at The Paleo + Pelagica Museum of Natural Science.

Stalk Eyed Flies6. STALK EYED FLIES

Across the family of flies, there have been multiple cases where eyes have evolved on the end of stalks to be used in mating and territory defence.

The best specimen is Achias rothschildi from New Guinea, described in 1910 by Ernest Edward Austen from the Lord Rothschild collection. The Achias rothschildi specimen has some of the longest eye stalks of any animal in relation to its body size.

The specimen is available online at the Natural History Museum, United Kingdom.

Benjamin Bunny5. THE SKIN OF MUCH LOVED CHARACTER BENJAMIN BUNNY FROM THE TALES OF BEATRIX POTTER

Beatrix Potter skinned her pet rabbit when it died and kept it in order to get the markings on future illustrations of the rabbit as accurate as possible.

Although it was the done thing at the time, and it does indicate Beatrix Potter’s desire for accuracy in her illustrations, the fact that she skinned and treated the skin of her pet rabbit, one that is so well connected to the popular children’s stories, is weird. It highlights a more unknown scientific side to Beatrix Potter. The specimen was left to the National Trust and is a mass bequest from Beatrix Potter.

It is currently on display at the Beatrix Potter Gallery and details can also be found on the National Trust Collections Management System.

Opossum4. THE “BATTERY-POWERED” OPOSSUM

The specimen came from Imperial College London when its zoological collection was closed and absorbed by UCL in the 1980s. To quote directly from the conservation report, “Specimen appears to have a rusty, yellow coloured tint and seems to be dyed in some way. Yellow sediment is present in the fur of the specimen and has also settled at the bottom of the container.

“Yellow coloured growth from stomach area transpired to be wads of cotton wool (orange tinted) which had been stuffed inside the specimen. On removal, a D-type Duracell battery was removed from the body cavity (organs seem to be removed).” So, the question is, why would someone put a battery inside a dead opossum?

The specimen is on display at Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL.

Merman3. MERMAN

The Fiji Merman … but it’s not from Fiji. This name comes from one of the most famous of these specimens. It is actually Japanese; a representation of the Japanese mermaid legend: the ningyo.

This legend differs from the common image of the beautiful, human-like upper body and long fish tail. The ningyo is between the size of a baby and that of a large seal.

It’s publicly accessible online and also by appointment with a member of the Great North Museum: Hancock staff.

Sea Lion2. THE BACULUM (PENIS BONE) OF A STELLER’S SEA LION

It is a fact that several groups of mammals, including the carnivores, have an actual bone in their penis. Scientifically, baculi can be of taxonomic importance in characterising the groups in which they occur.

Unfortunately, its history is unknown but the specimen was probably collected in the 19th Century.

This specimen is accessible online at the The Hunterian, University of Glasgow.

And the winner is…

Coprolite1. FOSSILISED POOP WITH EXTINCT TIGER SHARK BITE MARKS

A curved pattern of six impressions from a single functional tooth row occurs on the lower surface of the specimen. The impressions were made by one medial tooth and five anteroposterior teeth. From the curvature of the tooth marks and their positions on the specimens, we reason that the majority of the fecal masses were in the sharks’ mouths.

The specimen is on display at the Calvert Marine Museum

Congratulations to the Calvert Marine Museum!

StanHONORARY MENTION: TYRANNOSAURUS REX, STAN

While not in the official top ten, we did want to give a mention to Stan.

Stan is the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex of the male (or gracile) morphotype ever found. Discovered in wht had once been the sandy bank of an ancient stream, the bones of the skeleton and skull were separated and spread over a wide area. Spring floods eventually covered the bones with mud where they remained buried for more than 65 million years. This disarticulation resulted in near perfect preservation of the skull.

Stan Sacrison discovered this magnificent specimen in the spring of 1987. In the spring of 1992 the Black Hills Institute staff undertook the excavation. It took more than 30,000 hours to prepare Stan for display.

The original skeleton of Stan and other tyrannosaurs are on public display at the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research.

HOW DOES YOUR COLLECTION COMPARE?

Think you’ve got something even weirder in your natural history collection? Comment below and let us know what it is!

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