The Cupboard under the Stairs

By Monique Newberry – 16 May 2016

The Haswell wet lab, where most of our exciting wet specimens are kept could easily be the hidden secret at this university. In a tiny room, underneath the Macleay Museum are thousands of specimens, meticulously organized and tucked away inside compacting shelves.

Inside the cupboard under the stairs, you’ll find beautiful specimens of reptiles, spiders, amphibians and sponges, but sometimes the most wonderful things can be the jars the specimens are stored in.

My role in Project Haswell, so far at least, has involved conservation work and curation management of some of the specimens found in the wet lab. So, ensuring all these specimens are in good condition, and if not giving them a bit of TLC.


Here’s one of my finds that needs a bit of TLC. A baby croc that needs some upkeep and labelling!

One of my favourite finds so far, is an example of a beautiful old tea chest found 17 fathoms deep, off Masthead Island (part of the Great Barrier Reef).

An amazing historical metal tea-box filled with Formanifera from the Great Barrier Reef

This was the very first specimen I encountered here at Haswell, and as the label suggests, this old tea tin contains Foraminifera. Perhaps because it was the first thing I laid eyes on in Haswell or perhaps because of how mysterious it looks, but I was determined to get to the bottom of this. Did 17 fathoms refer to depth? Or did 17 fathoms refer to the shipwreck in Ontario? What did Masthead refer to? (Well I’ve spoiled any surprises there- Masthead Island but let’s keep the mystery alive!!)

Using the current card system in place, which our supervisor Lindsey is in the process of adding to her extensive Haswell database, I determined that “Masthead” on the physical specimen is referring to Masthead Island, and therefore that 17 fathoms is in reference to depth and not a mysterious shipwreck.

It hasn’t all been old tea tins and marine protists, I’ve found some tardigrades (which will always fascinate me) and a whole host of Acanthocephalans-parasitic worms (almost all collected from pig intestines). Each of these discoveries is more fascinating then the next and I feel part of something truly incredible, every time I conserve a specimen.

Here are some photos I’ve taken recently of some things you might not traditionally think as beautiful, but these creatures are spectacular


An Echiura which I found rather captivating


A Sipunculid which I’ve found equally captivating.