The museum was established in 1906 by the zoologist Francis Joseph Cole, then a lecturer at the university. It now houses more than 4,000 specimens, including a false killer whale, a 5m python and a pair of giant spider crabs.
Former students working abroad were encouraged to send back samples of unusual animals. The rare leafy sea dragon, a relative of the sea horse found only on the southern coast of Australia, was donated by Rex Cooper.
After graduating in 1951, he took up a post in Tasmania and promised the Cole's curator that he would keep a lookout for a specimen. Although the quest took him 14 years, Mr Cooper was eventually given a "strange fish" by some tourists. He recognised it as a sea dragon, and arranged for it to be transported to Reading, preserved in a formalin-soaked cloth.
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