Rebecca Machin, Leeds Museums and Galleries' curator of natural sciences with a Eurasian beaver on display at Leeds City Museum
Rebecca Machin, Leeds Museums and Galleries' curator of natural sciences with a Eurasian beaver on display at Leeds City Museum.
5 mins read

Exhibition explores animal kingdom’s grand designs and miniature marvels

Beautiful creations made by some of the natural world’s most accomplished animal architects have been revealed in a new exhibition in Leeds.

Using objects carefully fashioned during the life cycles of species from around the world, Beavers to Weavers, which opens at Leeds City Museum today (July 6), brings nature’s incredible ingenuity to life in spectacular detail.

Through hands-on displays and activities, visitors can discover how animals living in a huge variety of habitats have evolved different ways of building their own homes, making tools and traps to catch food and even changing their appearance to hide from predators and prey.

Among the animals whose remarkable behaviour the exhibition explores is the beaver, one of nature’s most prolific and industrious builders.

Fiercely protective of their homes, which are known as lodges, beavers use mud, wood and vegetation to construct their famous dams and divert streams to raise water levels.

Weaver birds, which also feature in the exhibition, use different materials and strategies to weave beautiful nests into a myriad of shapes. Sociable Weavers also group together to build their nests, forming huge structures that can last for more than a century and be used by hundreds of birds.

And tiny sponge crabs carry living sponges on top of their backs to blend in with their surroundings and fool would-be predators.

Rebecca Machin, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ curator of natural sciences said: “The animal kingdom is the setting for some truly extraordinary feats of invention and creativity, far surpassing the efforts of even the most brilliant of human engineers and architects.

“Observing animal behaviour is one of the ways we’re best able to connect with them, so by looking at exactly how and why they go to these remarkable lengths to create objects of such beauty and intricacy, we can understand much more about the lives of the creatures we share the planet with.

“Hopefully, a greater awareness of their intelligence and resourcefulness will also allow us to bridge the gap between our species and see more clearly just how precious these wonderful animals are and how much they enrich our world.”

Exhibits on display in the museum’s special exhibitions gallery include tiny, exquisite pearl Buddha figures made inside oyster shells. The figures, inserted into the shells by oyster farmers, have been coated with pearl by the molluscs as a form of self-defence.

Also on display is a gigantic wasps’ nest, on loan from Manchester Museum, which measures around a metre across and is split into a number of huge pieces. Wasps build their complex nests out of chewed up wood and saliva.

The delicate egg sacs of spiders, mantises and octopus also illustrate how animals protect their vulnerable young and the exhibition will also feature music and videos of animals dancing, singing and creating their own mesmerising patterns of light.

An environmentally-friendly exhibition, Beavers to Weavers has been curated using hand-made paper, reused materials and recycled paint to encourage visitors to think about how we can all reduce our impact on the natural world.

Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Animals have a unique power to command our attention and their behaviour remains an enduring source of fascination for people of all ages.

“Exhibitions like this one play a huge role in raising awareness of the fragility and vulnerability of the natural world and in giving visitors an insight into the impressive breadth and variety of our natural sciences collection.”

Beavers to Weavers: The Wonderful World of Animal Makers opens at Leeds City Museum on July 6 and runs until Jan 6, 2019.

The exhibition, which is free to enter, will also include a programme of family-friendly talks and activities.

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