Thematic Collecting

@ Manchester Museum

Specimens of two subterranean fishes were donated to the Manchester Museum

Recently, the Manchester Museum has acquired specimens of two interesting species of subterranean fishes from our Honorary Academic Curator, Dr Graham Proudlove. Specimens of both species originated from captive-bred populations that are kept in research labs in Germany in order to study their biology and genetics. Graham kindly shared some information about both fish species with the readers of our blog, see below.

Garra andruzzii (Vinciguerra, 1924)

Fig_01_Phreatichthys Kopie
Fig. 1. Garra andruzzi (Vinciguerra 1924). Photo by Jorg Freyhof, Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin.

They are entirely subterranean and live, not in caves as such, but in a groundwater aquifer which is accessed only via wells. This species is one of the most cave adapted in the world (the technical term is troglomorphic) and has is entirely without eyes or body pigment (Fig. 1). It has been studies extensively and there is at least one breeding captive population, possibly two. The fishes donated to the Manchester Museum were originally destined for a research group in the Department of Zoology at Oxford University. This group work on the behaviour of fishes and so obtained permission to start a breeding population in Oxford. Clearly living fishes were required for this and so someone was dispatched by plane to Germany to obtain the necessary animals. Unfortunately this particular migration was not terribly successful (like many other of course) and all fourteen fishes were dead on arrival in Oxford. Graham Proudlove happened to visit at around this time and once he had heard this asked if they wanted the specimens. As dead specimens were of no use for behavioural biologists, Graham was presented with the lot of them.

Fourteen of these specimens are now in the Manchester Museum (accession numbers: D1293.1-2), and are available for examination and research upon request from the Curator of Zoology.

A full account on this interesting fish species can be found in the illustrated World Catalogue of Subterranean Fishes compiled by G. Proudlove.

Shortfin Molly, Poecilia mexicana Steindachner, 1863

Fig_02_Shortfin Molly
Fig. 2. Poecilia mexicana. Drawn by Rhian Kendall from Peters, Peters, Parzefall and Wilkens (1973).

This species is a very common surface (epigean) fish throughout Central America (Fig. 2). At two sites in the State of Tabasco, Mexico, the Cueva del Azufre and Luna Azufre (17o27’N, 92o46’W) there are permanent cave populations which exhibit signs of cave adaptations. The caves are very unusual in having high concentrations of toxic hydrogen sulphide gas and the habitat is considered to be extreme. The fishes are thus known as extremophiles and have been extensively and intensively studied over many years by a research group which originated at the University of Hamburg. The numerous members of this group have migrated to many parts of the world over the years but continued to spend much time researching with this species. The cave is home to other remarkable animals including a very large homopteran bug which make many a meal of these small fishes.

A full account on this interesting fish species can be found in the illustrated World Catalogue of Subterranean Fishes compiled by G. Proudlove. More information about Shortfin Molly can be found here and here.

The Manchester Museum has 15 males and 18 females of Shortfin Molly (Poecilia mexicana) in its collection (accession numbers: D1293.3-8), which are available for examination and research upon request from the Curator of Zoology.

The Manchester Museum cordially thanks Dr Graham Prodlove for his valuable donation our zoology collections and for providing accounts on both fish species.


A story of the introduced African dung beetle that colonises Americas

Entomology Manchester

Image_01 Fig. 1. The specimen of Euoniticellus intermedius (Reiche, 1849) from Honduras in the collection of the Manchester Museum. © Roisin Stanbrook.

In November 2017, the Manchester Museum acquired a specimen of a very interesting dung beetle – Euoniticellus intermedius (Reiche, 1849) (see Fig. 1) – collected from Honduras by Roisin Stanbrook, a young researcher from the Metropolitan University of Manchester who studies the ecology of dung beetles in Central Africa (see here for her interview). In Honduras, Roisin was running a field course for a group of British students, when she came across this beetle which she was familiar with from her fieldwork in Kenya. What a surprise! Below is a brief account of how this dung beetle species appeared in Central America.

E. intermedius is also known as the Intermediate Sandy Dung Beetle. It is a medium sized (6.5-9.5 cm long) species of the burrowing dung beetles that…

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A century of invasion – an unwelcome newcomer in northern waters

Entomology Manchester

Chinese_Mitten_Crab The Manchester Museum’s specimen of the male Chinese Mitten Crab (Eriocheir sinensis), collected from Ribble Estuary, Lancashire, in 2007.

The Chinese Mitten Crab (Eriocheir sinensis) is an accidentally imported species in the North Sea, which is considered one of the World’s 100 worst invasive species. The crab first appeared in northern Germany in 1912. It was unintentionally brought from China, apparently as a stowaway in the ballast tanks of cargo ships. Since 1912, the crab has dramatically spread over northern Europe. It was first recorded from Thames River in 1935. Now it is also established in the Rivers Humber, Medway, Tyne, Wharfe and Ouse, increasing its range throughout England and Wales by several tens of kilometres a year. See here about Mitten Crab recording project in the UK.

This crab lives both in fresh and salt waters. In autumn, adult crabs undertake a mass migration from freshwaters…

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Imported with bananas – what are you, a Banana Spider?

Entomology Manchester

In late January 2017, Ms Eleanor Smith of Wilmslow (Cheshire, UK) visited the Manchester Museum and brought a medium-sized spider (see Fig. 1) that was found alive in a bunch of bananas, in a supermarket (Lidl) near Wilmslow. As she was told, the bananas on which the spider was found were delivered from Colombia. Unfortunately, the spider was already dead because Eleanor had kept the jar with the spider in a fridge; far too cold for such a tropical creature. The specimen was found to belong to what is commonly known as ‘Banana Spiders’. It was a mature female that was identified as Sadala sp. in the family Sparassidae, huntsman spiders. The specimen is now deposited in the Manchester Museum’s spider collection (accession number G7585.1).

Fig.1Female of Sadala sp. (Sparassidae) imported to the UK from Colombia; the Manchester Museum (G7585.1).

Spiders that are incidentally imported with bananas are commonly…

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A decade of invasion – a story of Harlequin Ladybird in the UK

Entomology Manchester

Harelquin_Ladybird_Collection The Manchester Museum’s collection of Harlequin Ladybirds recently acquired under the ongoing museum project ‘Thematic collecting’.

Recently, the Manchester Museum’s Entomology Department acquired some specimens of the Harlequin Ladybird, an invasive beetle species that appeared in Britain (Essex) in 2004 only, but is now a widespread and even dominant species of ladybirds in the UK.

Harlequin Ladybird – Harmonia axyridis (Pallas, 1773) (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) – is a beetle species in the same family with the Seven-spot and Two-spot Ladybirds, both being considered gardener’s best friends as natural enemies of aphids and other garden pests. Harlequin Ladybird was deliberately introduced from east parts of Eurasia, where it is a native species, to many places of continental Europe as a biological agent to control aphids (=greenflies) and scale insects. As Harlequin Ladybird has excellent dispersal abilities (by means of flight), it was just the matter of time until it…

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Interview with Martina about a Refugee’s Life Jacket

Bags made from recycled life jackets at Mosaik

Interview with Martina who works at the Mosaik Workshop in Mytilene on the island of Lesvos in early December 2016 as part of Manchester Museum’s Collecting Life project. You can also see bags made out of recycled materials from abandoned life jackets on display in the Museum entrance.

Refugee’s Life Jacket on Display at Manchester Museum

Life jacket from Lesvos on display at Manchester Museum
Life jacket from Lesvos on display at Manchester Museum

Three months to the day that I visited the Greek island of Lesvos, the refugee’s life jacket that I collected there has gone on display in the entrance to Manchester Museum. The life jacket is just one of hundreds of thousands of life jackets abandoned on the island  by refugees, many of them fleeing the civil war in Syria. Some 500,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict and eleven million people have been forced to leave their homes. Some refugees enter the European Union by crossing the narrow but dangerous straits between Turkey and Lesvos, and tragically some have lost their lives. Nearly 100 people drowned off the coast of Lesvos in just one week in 2016.

Abandoned life jackets on the beach on Lesvos. Photo: Giannis Iliadis
Abandoned life jackets on the beach on Lesvos. Photo: Giannis Iliadis

As part of the ‘Collecting Life’ project at Manchester Museum I interviewed a Syrian man now living in Manchester, the municipal authorities in Mytilene on Lesvos, two aid workers from the camp for vulnerable refugees at Kara Tepe, the manager of a workshop where life jackets are recycled to make bags and a lecturer at the University of the Aegean. Short films of the interviews can be seen on an AV screen next to the life jacket. The interpretation includes photographs taken by photographers who kindly allowed us to use their work for free or at a discounted rate: Nikolas Giorgiou, Giannis Iliadis and Rasmus Degnbol.

Recycling life jackets to make bags in the Mosaik workshop in Mytilene
Recycling life jackets to make bags in the Mosaik workshop in Mytilene

We are displaying this life jacket as an example of our new approach to collecting, to address current issues. It is particularly important that Manchester Museum collect objects and interviews about current issues such as migration because our mission is to promote understanding between different cultures and to work towards a more sustainable world. Migration, we know, was an important factor affecting the outcome of the Referendum about Britain’s membership of the European Union and in the election of Donald Trump as president of the U.S.A. We hope that this work will help us to reach out to Syrian members of the community as well as other diaspora communities.

Visitor photographing the life jacket display at Manchester Museum
The life jacket display at Manchester Museum. The screen on the right shows short filmed interviews with people on Lesvos and a Syrian man now living in Manchester

This socially-engaged work is all the more important in the aftermath of the Referendum. By doing this work of this kind the Museum aligns itself with values of compassion, tolerance and mutual respect. The Common Cause Foundation is currently working with the Museum to develop this aspect of what we do. When I attended the ‘Working Internationally in a Post Brexit World’ conference held at the Natural History Museum on 2nd March 2017 there was tremendous interest in the Museum’s life jacket project. We’d like to see how the display can showcase the compassionate values we advocate and represent.

We’d welcome any comments or thoughts you may have on the project. You can comment using social media. Share your thoughts with us using #MMLifeJacket

Captivated by natural beauty: Robin Gregson-Brown and Lepidoptera

About 30-40% of the visitors to the Manchester Museum’s Entomology Department are art or design students and professionals, who come over to get inspired by the variety of insect shapes, colours and patterns, and to talk to the museum curatorial staff about what interests them. Museum’s curators are especially pleased when such visits result in something tangible, such as an installations, original ideas for contemporary product and/or jewellery design, and, of course, pure examples of fine art.

Here we are pleased to present an interview with Robin Gregson-Brown, a Lepidoptera artist as he calls himself, from Derbyshire (recorded 20th October 2016). At the age of 80 and in retirement, Robin has embarked a new career of poetic artist of nature. And what could be more beautiful nature’s beautiful creatures than moths and butterflies? Hardly anything! Robin is fascinated by Lepidoptera all his life and now started to satisfy his passion by painting them in mixed media.

In collaboration with the Derby Museum and the Manchester University Museum, he has produced a series of spellbinding images of endangered and extinct butterflies, which were displayed once in his personal exhibition at the Derby Museum (22nd May – 5th June 2016).

Collecting Life: a Refugee’s Life Jacket from Lesvos IV – a Visit to Pikpa Camp

Continuing the series of blog posts telling the story of my visit to the Greek island of Lesvos in December 2016 to collect a refugee’s life jacket for Manchester Museum…

Entrance to Pikpa with sign made of life jackets
Entrance to Pikpa refugee camp with sign saying ‘Safe Passage’ made of life jackets

After my visit to Kara Tepe, I visited a camp for vulnerable refugees at Pikpa with Dr Yulie Tzirou of the University of the Aegean. The first thing you see on arrival is a line of life jackets tied to the gate bearing  letters that say ‘Safe Passage’ and  this is also stamped on the bags made from recycled materials at Mosaik. Fortunately, on this occasion I was allowed to take photos and I interviewed some of the staff working there and saw the chalets where the refugees live. I asked Yulie for permission to take the photos you see in this blog and no photos or films were taken showing refugees out of respect for their dignity. Pikpa is much smaller than Kara Tepe, and Yulie  referred to it several times  as a community.

Accommodation made from recycled boats at Pikpa
Accommodation made from recycled boats at Pikpa

Refugees could come and go as they wished, there was a kitchen, communal cooking and eating facilities and heated accommodation, some of it made from recycled boats abandoned on the Lesvos coast. The refugees had a garden and they composted waste material from the kitchens. I interviewed Yulie and a volunteer called Imelda who organises classes for the children. Imelda told me how important it was that the children should have order and stability in their lives after everything that they had gone through. There was a happy and welcoming atmosphere in the camp.

Inside a refugee family's chalet
Inside a refugee family’s chalet at Pikpa

I came away from Pikpa full of the greatest admiration for the humanitarian work undertaken by the volunteers. Whilst there is an agreement with Turkey to patrol the borders more closely and a reciprocal scheme to take refugees from camps in Turkey in return for taking refugees from Lesvos, refugees are still arriving on the island, albeit in much smaller numbers than last year. The new arrivals need help and support. Time will tell whether the agreement continues to hold but if it breaks down the island may face the large numbers of refugees making the crossing from Turkey as happened in 2015.


Refugee exhibition in Mytilene (courtesy of Dr Kostas Arvenitis, University of Manchester)
Refugee exhibition in Mytilene (courtesy of Dr Kostas Arvenitis, University of Manchester)

Now that the life jacket is in the Museum  we are making plans to put it on display together with bags made from recycled life jackets. The Museum hopes to be able to host a temporary exhibition about the refugee crisis in Lesvos during Refugee Week 2017 (19th to 25th June). Students from the  University of Manchester’s Art Gallery and Museum Studies (AGMS) course will work on the exhibition, which is inspired by an exhibition about the refugee crisis shown in Mytilene and Athens. At the time of writing it is also hoped to work on this project with students from the University of the Aegean.

Looking across to Turkey from Lesvos
Looking across to Turkey from Lesvos

In this modest way we hope to engage our visitors about the collecting life project theme of migration. Through it we will tell visitors about the humanitarian response to the refugee crisis and hopefully generate interest and support for the work of the volunteers and organisations trying to help refugees. Director of the Manchester Museum, Nick Merriman, wrote in January’s  Museum’s Journal that the Brexit vote had revealed ‘a vein of intolerance and xenophobia that we hoped had been consigned to the past’. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote it is now important more than ever that we do not lose sight of the  values of compassion, tolerance and mutual respect that are enshrined within our museums and art galleries. If the collecting life project  also gives a boost to acquiring contemporary and topical objects for museum collections, then so much the better.

This collecting life visit would not have been possible without the help and support of a number of individuals and institutions: the Mayor of Municipality of Mytilene, Mr Gallinos, and his Senior Advisor, Mr Andriotis; Dr Evi Sampanikou, Dr Yulie Tzirou, Dr Katarina Nikolarea and Prof Dmitri Papageorgiou at the University of the Aegean; Martina at Mosaik; and last but not least Dr Areti Damala at the University of Strathclyde who very kindly facilitated the initial contact with staff at the University of the Aegean. To all of the above and all the other Greek people and refugees I met on my visit to Lesvos, I’d like to express my sincerest thanks and those of the Manchester Museum.

Read about the installation of the refugee’s life jacket in the following blog post:



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