Matt Jones

Gorillas in the Formaldehyde

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If looking at weird biological specimens suspended in jars is your idea of a good afternoon out, then I can recommend a visit to the Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum in London. When I was in the capital a few weeks ago, I met up with Stu and we decided to pay a visit.

Containing a staggering 22 million specimens, the Centre is a valuable resource for scientists as well as a place for laypeople to learn about bioscience. As well as a program of talks and events, there is also a free tour of the laboratories and storage rooms; so, donning the supplied lab coats, Stu and I went in to see what biological oddities we could find. In chilled rooms, pervaded by the smell of Formaldehyde, row after row of metal lockers contain specimens collected, categorised and indexed, some of them by Darwin himself. The final room on the tour was a larger laboratory around which were specimens too big for the storage lockers; Sharks, Octopi, even a Hairy Angler Fish upside-down in its jar, looking even more annoyed.

While some may argue that the best place for these animals is in their natural habitat and not in a jar, it's important to remember that the purpose of this place is not just for people like to me come and look at these creatures; the Darwin Centre plays an important role as a place of research and study of life on our planet. By studying these animals in their preserved form, we develop a greater understanding of them and how they evolved and with this understanding comes a greater respect for the natural world.