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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Fascinatin' Crustaceans

The Zymoglyphic Museum's Arthropod Division has recently expanded its Crabs of the World collection with a shipment from Conchology, Inc. of the Philippine Islands. The museum's original collection has been a miscellany of eBay, shell shop, and other purchases, not always with proper identification. A recent concerted effort for taxonomic accuracy in identifying its various specimens has been aided by a number of helpful folks at The Crustacean Society.

Crabs have an important place in Zymoglyphic culture. When dead, they often look as though they are just posing for a really long time, and so make excellent diorama characters. They are the stars in the traveling crustacean mini-diorama, as well as supporting actors in many of the museum's aquatic dioramas. They are nautical mechanical marvels, from the tight, interlocking parts of a box crab to the implausibly leggy spider crabs. Some, such as the fiddler crab, verge on becoming "eccentric contraptions", surreal beings whose very existence seems impossible. Some have great character, such as the leopard crab shown above.

In previous entries, we have featured as "natural assemblage artists" the bowerbirds, who collect and arrange various objects to attract mates, and the Xenophora, shellfish which collect and arrange other shells on themselves. Decorator crabs take the latter idea further and make themselves into living, walking gardens. They cover themselves with a selection of living seaweed and plant-like animals, such as sponges, corals, and bryozoans. This is not a weed garden in the sense of just allowing things to grow on the carapace; the selections are carefully nipped and placed on specialized projections on the shell. The purpose is both camouflage and protection due to the poisonous nature of many of the selections. The festively decked-out crab shown here is a Cyclocoeloma tuberculata (photo from

If you are in the Seattle area and interested in crustaceans, there is an excellent collection at the shell museum in Port Gamble, a ferry ride across Puget Sound from Seattle.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Further Adventures of the Zymoglyphic Mermaids

Jenny Haniver and her cousin, the Zymoglyphic Mermaid, featured here recently, have been conscripted by the Museum of Dust to help out in Terra Incognita's impending war with the Republic of Tinselman. This so-called "republic" is actually run by a khan, or perhaps some other of the ever-changing panoply of tyrants and despots that seem to take turns ruling the place, with media magnate Rupert Murdoch apparently in on it too. Mermaids have historically played roles of destructive seduction, and our "paragons of pulchritude" (in our director's well-turned phrase), have been assigned to lead Mr. Murdoch astray. We have received news that Murdoch is now "fully occupied on the tiny islands off RoTs borders explaining cross-media ownership laws to the Zymoglyphic Mermaid and Jenny Hanniver". Tinselman appears at the moment to be coming unglued due to the extreme convolutions of its own plotlines, and may simply collapse of its own weight.

The Leatherwing, show above, is from the Zymoglyphic Museum's natural history collection. A more primitive relation of the Zymoglyphic Mermaid, it is a night-flying creature that may be useful for espionage and reconnaissance purposes. We will await word from Director de Plume on its mission.

On a taxonomic note, we must distinguish between the mermaids native to the Zymoglyphic region (order Rajiformes) and their distant cousins, the "Feejee mermaids". The latter are distinguished by a simian appearance in the upper body and a generally agonized facial expression (as opposed to the winning smiles on our own beauties). The "Feejee mermaids" originated in the waters of the western Pacific; that portion of their history is ably chronicled by Pink Tentacle. P.T. Barnum acquired one of these and made it famous. Due to the lack of genitalia (because of the lack of a crotch in which to contain them), there is some gender ambiguity, and they are also known as mermen. Modern specimens can be found here and here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

From the Ancient Land of Happy Objects

A return trip to the de Young Museum in San Francisco turned up this fellow, a local emissary from Remojadas, the ancient Land of Happy Objects. Cheeky Pete was delighted to learn of this long-sought ur-object, the King of Happy Objects, but despite intense imaginary negotiations with the de Young curatorial staff, it was not possible for him to obtain the King for the museum's Happy Objects Collection. The King thus remains trapped in his plexiglass case. He is originally from the Veracruz area of Mexico, and is some 1300 years old. The Metropolitan Museum in New York has a cousin of his, and nervily suggests that his happiness is primarily due to intoxication.

The Remojadas culture had its "Classic" period between 500 and 800 AD, and produced a large number of "smiling figures". Further research by the curatorial staff has revealed the existence of a classic 1960 tome about the figurines produced in Remojadas: William Spratling's More human than divine: An intimate and lively self-portrait in clay of a smiling people from ancient Vera Cruz. Spratling was a collector, and waxes naively rhapsodic about the people who produced these figurines:
The little people of Remojadas flourished, loving their own creations, presumably in utter peace and contentment, for more than eight hundred years.

The main attraction of the book is the set of plates by Manuel Alvarez Bravo, a leading Mexican photographer often linked with the Surrealists. The photographs reveal that the figurines had a whole range of expression, not just smiling. The plates are classics of artifact photography.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Notes from the Museum's Mermaid Tank

Mermaid collecting has had a rather difficult and controversial history. Mermaid collectors are often beguiled by artists' depictions of full-size, curvaceous, fish-women, but the actual specimens that show up in collections tend to be much shorter and not really all that human-looking. Some species seem to be a primate-fish mixture, with the type specimen generally regarded to be P.T. Barnum's Feejee Mermaid, exhibited at his American Museum. Modern versions can be seen here.

The Zymoglyphic Museum's new curiosity cabinet acquisition, shown above, belongs to a family of mermaids that has been referred to throughout history by the common name "Jenny Haniver".

This related species appears in Ulisse Aldrovandi's posthumously published 1642 work, Monstrorum historia

This sighting of a somewhat more primitive species is from Ambroise Pare's 1573 work, On Monsters and Marvels

This one appears in Mary Thompson's 1960 natural art classic, The Driftwood Book (photo by Leonid Skvirsky)

This specimen is from the 1975 catalog of the Wonders of the World Museum.

The Zymoglyphic museum's new acquisition joins two existing specimens in its natural history department. This one, referred to as the Zymoglyphic Mermaid, is endemic to the Zymoglyphic region. Also native to the region is a primitive flying species known as the Leatherwing.