Saturday, 19 May 2012

Lab Animals

I've had plants in my biology lab for a couple of years now - the bog-standard variegated Pelargonium, a couple of parrot plants, some cycads too fragile for my garden and a Sarracenia that uses more distilled water than all the week's practicals put together.

But it's clear that all labs need some animal life (in addition to the students), whether it's hamsters, fish or something a bit more exotic. Dave had suggested Mexican blind cave fish, which were a really interesting species. I'd been interested in cichlids, so I could point at them and shout "SYMPATRIC SPECIATION! LOOK!!!" at incredulous A2 students. But tropical fish would have been very high-maintenance - too much for a lab that would be shut down entirely for ten days at Christmas, even if I could have come in to feed and clean the fish during the holidays.

Then, one dismal Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, I went to the Isleworth Spring Fair, to support Paul, who was working on a stall. We had a bit of a wander round on one of his breaks, and saw a tent with a bit of activity going on. As soon as I walked in I saw there were lots of animals there to be handled! I chatted to the owner of the animals - he works for the education department at the Natural History Museum normally, but evidently has a bit of a side project bringing his pets to events for people to learn about. He had a python, corn snake, milk snake, veiled chameleon, bearded dragon and loads of invertebrates.

Including a giant millipede.

Turns out these guys are really low-maintenance and fascinating creatures. It's a bit like being walked on by a toothbrush. They are herbivorous, and detritivores at that, so the freshness of the food is not really an issue. They have a commensal relationship with cleaner mites, and their anatomy is really interesting.

They arrived by courier on Wednesday evening and I brought them straight into the lab. The first one I put in the tank was absolutely enormous, bold as brass and very curious. It investigated the tank thoroughly, then positively inhaled a slice of leek. The second one was grumpy, curled itself up in a ball and sulked for hours. I'm astounded that it didn't cover me in cyanide, it was so pissed off with me. They are both pooing like it's going out of fashion too.

For reasons that will only be clear to my A2 students, the first one has been named Bodman (left in both pictures), and the second one Moisted.

Two of my students have held them so far. One of the BTEC girls asked to hold it and then got scared when its legs started to move. And I made my prospective vet student hold one and told him he'd better get used to them as he might have some as patients.

With my AS students in the middle of exams, and my A2s about to start, and my BTECs starting to wind down and finish their assignments, it's nice to have something still alive in the lab to nurture, sustain and care for. It might make the end of term seem a little less wretched than it usually does.

1 comment:

  1. The only animal that i could remember taking care of in class was our pet hamster. We did a lot of experiments with him by charting his food intake against his daily work routine. It got great results and we decided to change with another classes fish. I remember our adviser got us fish food pellets that we fed according to our projections.


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