If you’ve visited Wollaton Hall recently, you may have seen our new UntitledCuriosity Corner! This is a place where you can asked questions about all things natural history and our curators answer them!

You can also follow the hashtag #WollatonQA for short snippets and like our Facebook page for highlights!

If you have any questions, drop them in Curiosity Corner at Wollaton Hall!


Are the fossils real?

Yes! We have 40,000 genuine fossils in our collection at Wollaton Hall. The fossils come from all over the UK. Palaeontologists (fossil experts) come from around the world to study the real fossils in the Nottingham Natural History Museum.

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How did you get the giraffe in here?

The Giraffe arrived here by road from Leicester Museum in the 1960s, and was then wheeled on a trolley up to the double doors at the back of the Hall, and through them into the Great Hall on the ground floor. In the 1990s, it was moved upstairs to its current location in the Africa Gallery. Because it was filled with plaster and very heavy, the plaster was removed and it was given a light fibreglass lining by our late taxidermist Don Sharp, to make it easier to move.

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How do birds fly?

The front limbs of birds have evolved into aerofoil-shaped wings, covered with feathers. These give the birds lift – as when air flows over them this creates lower pressure above the wing than below, and so the bird moves upwards. Birds have very lightweight bones, as they are full of air pockets instead of being solid like those of mammals – and this also helps them to get airborne. Unlike some animals such as flying squirrels, which only glide, both birds and bats are capable of true flapping flight – ie. they move their wings up and down when in the air by using the flight muscles attached to their keeled breast bones. This helps to create lift, and also make them more manoeuvrable than species which can only glide – capable of rapid changes of direction in mid-air with just a flick of the wings.

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Did pigeons live in dinosaur times?

Pigeons are modern birds so they didn’t live alongside large scaly dinosaurs in the Mesozoic Era, 245 to 65 million years ago. However, the first birds evolved during the Jurassic Period, so prehistoric birds did live in ‘dinosaur times’. All birds, including pigeons, evolved from a group of dinosaurs called theropods. So, technically birds are dinosaurs and we are still living in ‘dinosaur times’!

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Why do elephants have a big brain?

Elephants are well-known for their intelligence, and have a big brain even when their large body size is taken into account. In common with ourselves and other primates, whales and dolphins, and even some birds such as members of the crow and parrot families, they are highly social creatures – and having a large brain in proportion to overall body size seems to be related to this. Social animals need to be able to remember the faces of, and communicate with, others in their group – and considerable brain-power is needed for this. Also, elephants have to travel long distances to find food and water during the periods of drought that are common in the parts of the world that they inhabit, and need to remember where these resources are, and how to navigate to them. This also requires much brain-power.

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How can you know about all the animals?

No-one can possibly know about all of the animals on the planet, or even those which we and other natural history museums contain. Curators are usually specialists in just one particular field, and if they need some detailed information about an animal in a field other than their own specialism, then they consult with an appropriate expert.

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Are there more animals in the world that we don’t know about?

Yes, biologists think that there are many species still remaining to be discovered – particularly in little-investigated habitats such as the floor of the deep oceans, and in many areas of rainforest.

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Do animals come alive at night?

I’m afraid our taxidermed specimens in the galleries don’t come alive at night – unlike in the movies! However, we do have a roost of Brown Long-eared Bats in the roof of the Industrial Museum in the Courtyard – and they certainly do! They emerge from the roof at dusk to hunt moths and other insects in the park. We have an infra-red camera in the roost which transmits live images to a monitor in our Wildlife of Wollaton Park Gallery (access is through the Courtyard Shop). On warm days, the bats cannot sleep too well – and can be seen flying around on camera, within the roost.

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What is the difference between a reindeer and a deer?

A reindeer is just one species of deer – others include the Red and Fallow Deer that we have here in Wollaton Park, and the wild Roe Deer that are found in many Nottinghamshire woodlands. Reindeer are found in the wild in Alaska and parts of northern Canada (where they are known as Caribou), and in parts of northern Europe and Asia– including northern Sweden, Finland, Svalbard and Siberia. Most of the reindeer in Europe and Asia are semi-domesticated, with truly wild populations only found in a few remote areas such as Svalbard.

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What is the oldest thing in this museum?

Some of the rocks in our museum are from the Precambrian period, so they are over 600 million years old.

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Where can you find diamonds?

Diamonds occur naturally in kimberlite rock deposits all over the world, in Africa, Asia, North America, South America, and Australia. Because diamonds are valuable they are usually mined systematically in a more mechanised way than other gems. However, they can also erode out of the rock naturally and accumulate in river and beach gravel.

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Why do you stuff animals?

We use our older Victorian specimens to hopefully engage our visitors with the living animals that they represent, and with the need for their conservation (and that of their habitat) in the wild. Today, we occasionally taxiderm new specimens for the same reason – but only those that have died naturally, or are road casualties.

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What do wild cats eat?

The Wildcat feeds mainly upon small mammals (such as rodents) and birds, although insects and spiders are also eaten. Domestic cats are derived from this species – and will hunt a similar range of food items to their wild ancestors, although also get commercial cat food from their owners!

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How old are the mice?

The mice we have on display are a mixture of old Victorian specimens and of road (or cat!) casualties from more recent times, that people have donated to us over the years, Today, we only accept specimens that have died of natural causes or in accidents – not that have been deliberately killed by humans.

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Why do penguins waddle?

Penguins have adapted to fast swimming underwater , using their wings as flippers. They need to be streamlined, ie. fish-shaped in order to move through the water easily, so over time their legs moved to the rear of the body. Whilst this means they glide through the water quickly, it makes them very awkward and top-heavy when walking on land.

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How did horses evolve?

Horses evolved from small dog-sized ancestors with four toes over the course of 50 million years. They gradually got larger and lost their toes as an adaptation to moving quickly on grassland. Eventually, in modern horses, the number of toes was reduced to just one – the hoof.

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Why did you put George in the museum?

George the Gorilla was acquired by the museum back in Victorian times, and may have been one of the first Gorillas to be brought to western Europe from Africa. He was purchased in1878 from a French dealer by the name of Monsieur Vasseur,  at the time when the museum was building up its collections – and needed a Gorilla for teaching students and visitors about primate anatomy. Today, he is one of our best-loved exhibits – many of our older visitors remember seeing him here when they were children, and bring their grandchildren to view him.  Gorillas are endangered in the wild today – and we are trying to convey the message to our visitors that Gorillas are not the fierce creatures that the Victorians thought they were, but gentle vegetarians that need our respect and protection.

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How many types of crystals and fossils are there?

In the Wollaton Hall collection there are 45,000 specimens of crystals and fossils. In nature, there are 3,800 types of minerals, but they occur in just seven fundamental crystal shapes. There are hundreds of thousands of fossil species, but the number is always growing as new types are being discovered all the time.

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What does a bison eat?

Bison are herbivores – grazing on grasslands. The American Bison was once common all over the plains of North America, but hunting by humans reduced their numbers to such an extent that they almost became extinct. They have been re-introduced to Yellowstone Park, and are now doing well there. Similarly, the European Bison was almost hunted to extinction – but conservation measures have saved it, and it has been reintroduced to Poland and several other European countries.

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How big is the earth (in centimetres)?

The diameter of the Earth is approximately 12,756 kilometres. Some parts are deeper (mountains) or shallower (valleys and deep oceans), so the exact diameter can vary. One kilometre equals 1000 meters and one meter equals 100 centimetres. So the Earth’s diameter is 12,756,000 meters or 1,275,600,000 centimetres.

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What was the first ever plant?

The first true land plants appeared in the Ordovician Period, around 470 million years ago. We know this because we have found fossils of their spores. Spores are only found in true plants. Before the Ordovician there were algae and other microscopic organisms, but these are not true plants because they don’t produce spores.

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Why do giraffe’s have a long neck?

They feed on the leaves at the top of trees, to avoid competing with other plant-eating animals (herbivores) which feed lower down. They have, therefore, over many millions of years, evolved longer and longer necks in order to reach ever higher branches – and the tastiest, most tender leaves!

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 Do humans know the exact year the dinosaurs died out?

Dinosaurs didn’t all die out – some evolved into birds. However, the last large dinosaurs, such as T. rex and Triceratops, died out about 66 million years ago. The dating methods are not precise enough to know the exact year.

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Are you still allowed to stuff animals?

We do not use the word “stuffing”, as the animals are not stuffed in the sense that a stuffed teddy bear might be, with a soft cotton filling. Instead, we say that we “taxiderm” the animals. Whilst a lot of the animals here are old Victorian specimens, today we never accept into the museum for taxidermy an animal that has been killed deliberately by a human – even though it would still be legal to taxidermy many species (although some are protected).

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How is it possible to take out the bones?

Most of the bones are usually discarded along with the rest of the body contents once a model of the animal’s body has been made over which to fit the skin. However, the real skull is often cleaned and attached to the model – and the skin fitted over it as well as over the model. This helps to retain the correct head shape, and also enables the teeth to be visible – important if the animal is to be taxidermed with its mouth open. If a skeleton is being prepared rather than a whole mount, the individual bones are removed, boiled to remove the flesh, then wired back together to recreate the animal’s skeleton.

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How do you find all of the insects?

Most of our insects are old Victorian specimens from over 100 years ago, collected when doing so was a fashionable pursuit for country gentlemen! They were donated to us either by the collectors themselves or by their children or grandchildren. Today, for conservation reasons, most people who are interested in insects photograph them alive, rather than sticking pins through them. However, the old specimens are useful to help researchers identify modern day insects.

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How big is a crocodiles jaw?

This varies according to age and species of crocodile. Anything from a few centimetres when newly–hatched, to well over a metre in a full-grown large Saltwater Crocodile, which can be over 6 metres in total body length.

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How many fossils are there?

In the collection at Wollaton Hall there are 40,000 fossils. In the world, there are millions of fossils in museums, and millions waiting to be discovered in the rocks. However, most of these will never be discovered because they get destroyed by geological processes and erosion.

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How many times bigger than a human is an Iguanodon?

Humans vary in height a lot. Iguanodons did too! But, a large adult Iguanodon was about three times as tall as an average adult human and five times as long (if the human was lying stretched out).

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Where do panda bears live?

The Giant Panda is found in the wild in just a few mountain ranges in China – (mainly in the province of Sichuan) – where it feeds almost exclusively on bamboo shoots. It is endangered, with only a few thousand animals remaining in the wild. The Red Panda, which is only distantly related to the Giant Panda, is more widespread – occurring in the eastern Himalayas, including parts of Nepal and south-western China. It, too, feeds upon bamboo and it is also endangered – with fewer than 10,000 thought to survive in the wild.

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When were crystals discovered?

Nobody knows for sure when crystals were discovered. Prehistoric humans probably came across minerals and crystals, so the discovery probably stems back to the Ice Age. Prehistoric humans certainly used rocks, such as flint, to make tools. Some of the crystals in the collection at Wollaton Hall date back to the early 1800s.

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What does a giraffe eat?

They browse the tops of trees such as acacias in the African bush – they have evolved their long necks to be able to reach the upper parts of trees that other browsing animals cannot get to, thus avoiding competition. They also have tough lips, mouths and tongues in order to cope with the sharp acacia thorns.

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