Well, here we are, the letter everyone loves to hate has arrived again. This week’s ABC Wednesday is brought to you by the letter ‘X‘. And for a change, I actually have something exciting for you! See that fish up there? It’s a swordfish. And you know what? It’s a member of the family Xiphiidae, and goes by the name of Xiphias gladius.
But wait … that fish is not swimming! He’s stuffed, is what he is, and I saw him in a natural history museum in Tring, Hertfordshire, when I visited friends back in May this year.
This gorgeous fellow looks like a close relative, doesn’t he? I mean, you’d think he was a member of the Xiphiidae too, wouldn’t you?
But no. This is a sailfish, from another family altogether. This natural history is fascinating stuff, no? And of course, my Other Half, Mr Yellow Swordfish, isn’t a fish at all – although if he were, I’m willing to speculate that perhaps his name would be Xiphias xanthus.
The Tring Natural History Museum is absolutely stuffed (if you’ll pardon the pun) with thousands of creatures of all kinds, all preserved by the art of taxidermy, except for the invertebrates which are merely pickled. It looks like a very creepy and unpleasant place to some, I know, because one of the ladies I visited with that day had to go out and sit in the foyer for a while, but in fact it houses a collection of enormous importance to scientists and researchers aiming to preserve and protect those animals we have left in the world. Talking of which …
You know what these birds are, don’t you?
These are Dodos*! Members of an extinct species, meaning there are no Dodos left anywhere in the world. The poor things are an eX-species. Not known for extreme intelligence, they were hunted by man and beast until they were gone.
Another type of bird in the collection is the kiwi, from New Zealand. These ultra-cute little guys are members of the genus Apterix, which conveniently for me contains a most useful ‘X‘!
There were so many things there that I didn’t take photos of, sadly. Like the Deathwatch Beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum), and the African Oryx. I thought I had an Oryx, but no, lots of antelope as you see, but no Oryx. Unless that’s the backside of one, here on the left?
Well. It might be! They have very distinctively marked faces, you see, but their bums could be anybody. Well, almost anybody. They do have that tufted tail …
Oh, one more thing. In the entranceway of the museum stands a dog which in my day as a veterinary nurse we would have written up as a ‘X-breed‘, which was shorthand for cross-breed, or mongrel. His name, as you see, was London Jack.
And he, along with other dogs scattered all over England, patrolled the station platforms during the late 1800s collecting for the Railwaymen’s charity which helped to support the families of those killed in the course of their work. I’m sure he must have had a nicer expression on his face when he was alive, or he wouldn’t have collected much, would he?
*Don’t get too xcited. Those aren’t real, stuffed dodos, they are re-creations, based on many resources and as close to the real thing as the xperts could get.