Odds and quads

Both the beautiful leafy sea dragon and the repellent botfly larvae erupting from a horse's stomach come from the University of Reading's Cole Museum of Zoology, one of the finest in the country devoted to comparative anatomy.

January 19, 2012

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.

Send suggestions for this series on the treasures, oddities and curiosities owned by universities across the world to: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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