If you think of the Amazon as solely being somewhere to buy the latest One Direction CD then we have an event just for you! Tomorrow (26 January) is a ‘Big Saturday’ here at Manchester Museum on the theme of the Amazonian Rainforest. These means there will be lots of events and activities for visitors to enjoy including my predecessor Gina giving a talk about Tropical seeds and head of collections Henry McGhie leading a session on local bird populations (and no awful music- honest).
The theme of the ‘Big Saturday’ is inspired by the ‘All other things being equal’ temporary exhibition which comprises museum specimens and photographs by Johan Oldekop detailing the changes , including deforestation, which are happening to the Ecuadorian Amazon region.
As part of the event, myself and Dmitri Logunov (Curator of Arthropods) will be hosting a handling table of Amazonian species. Dmitri will have a variety of Amazonian insects and arachnids on his table whereas I have decided to be a bit more niche and go for some praying mantises and an Umbrellabird.
I spent quite a while using KE-Emu in order to select the South American species of Praying mantis for my display, as we have mantises from all over the world in the collection. I then stuck them in an empty drawer with plastazote at the bottom and created labels for the display. The species of praying mantis I have selected are very diverse. Some look like dead leaves and some are very thin so they might be mistaken for a twig. The Mantodea order of insects are famous for their prayer like folded forelimbs and for their voracious ambush predation. They will catch and eat anything they can; big ones even going for frogs, rats and small birds! Sexual cannibalism does occur, but happens more frequently in captivity. They are hemimetabolic which means when they hatch they look like small versions of their future selves (unlike human babies); some even mimic ants to avoid detection! I find them a fascinating order of insects.
The Umbrellabird is used to describe three separate species (all under the genus Cephalopterus), but the one we are interested in is the Amazonian Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus ornatus). I guess they are called Umbrellabirds because of the Elvis tribute quiff they sport. They also have a long wattle and females and males look very similar. The male Amazonian Umbrellabird is the largest passerine (or perching bird) in South America, and they exist on fruits and berries usually, but will also eat insects if hungry.
I hope that through my engagement with the visitors tomorrow, I am able to transfer my enthusiasm for the Amazon’s nature through the small part I will be displaying. After all, 10% of the worlds species are found in the Amazonian rainforest so if I can’t get enthused about it then there’s no hope! I’ll let you know how it goes!