Saturday, 26 April 2014

Collections through Cake: Butterfly Taxonomy

Rebecca, one of our awesome Curators of Natural Science, is on maternity leave. Just because you have small people, d​oesn’t mean you are excused from #MusCake duty! She made this fantastic offering of taxonomic butterfly cakes:

Taxonomy is the practice and science of the classification of things or concepts. Biological classification is based on characteristics derived from shared descent from common ancestors.

As the definitions imply, taxonomy can be something quite hard to explain, yet is fundamental to how we understand our world. Rebecca handily used cake as a medium to clear it all up! 

Some explanation: Latin is the language of Science, all new animals are given a Latin name which describes their characteristics. This is called binominal nomenclature. The name shows the genus and the species i.e. we are Homo sapiens (of the genus homo and the species sapiens). All these cakes are Laganum* (genus=cake) papilio (species=butterfly).
The eagle-eyed will have noticed that these Laganum papilio are all different. On the left we have the subspecies vanilla and cocoa (we enter trinominal nomenclature now!) – they are the same, but different. For example, the Amur tiger is Panther tigris altaica, whereas the Sumatran Tiger is Panther tigris sumatrae – both tigers, but of different subspecies, in this case due to their geography.

But what would happen if Laganum papilio vanilla had little caterpillars with Laganum papilio cocoa? Because they are subspecies, they are able to breed, and so we move to the cakes on the right. Here the X shows that they are hybrids! So Laganum papilio vanilla X L. p. cocoa is a mix of characteristics between a vanilla butterfly cake and a chocolate one.
*As it is a name, the first letter is capitalised. It is also traditional for taxonomic names to be written in italics.

By Curator Lucy Moore

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