What is the BioFresh Cabinet of Freshwater Curiosities?

Ole Worm's (1588-1655) Cabinet of Curiosities (image: Wikipedia)

Thought you knew about the  animals and plants that live in our rivers and lakes?  Do you know about scuba-diving spiders?  Or intergalactic amphibians with superhero defence mechanisms?  How about carnivorous plants?  Or a tiny seal that lives landlocked in the world’s oldest and deepest lake, hundreds of miles from the sea? Perhaps a trip through BioFresh’s Cabinet of Freshwater Curiosities is in order…

What is a Cabinet of Curiosities?

Often known as a Wunderkammer (literally, ‘wonder-room’), a Cabinet of Curiosities brings together a collection of unusual, obscure and exotic objects, trinkets and specimens. Popular in Renaissance Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, the cabinets reflected a thirst for intellectual stimulus and investigative spirit prompted by an increasingly expanding known world littered with new and exciting discoveries.  Encompassing natural history, archaeology, art and antiquities; cabinets often included a miscellany of preserved animals, skeletons, minerals, shells, maps, sculptures, paintings and other unusual cultural objects.

The distinction between truth and myth often blurred by the curator of a Cabinet of Curiosities – tales of mythical animals and phenomena were sometimes actively encouraged in order to captivate and challenge an audience.   For example, Albertus Seba’s thesaurus “Cabinet of Natural Curiosities”, originally published between 1734 and 1765 (and recently reprinted by Taschen here) contains references to seven headed serpents, double headed deer and a “monstrous cat”.   For many collectors, the value of a Cabinet of Curiosities lay in the ability to spark and stimulate conversation rather than imposing any set values or meanings on the (often disparate) collections.

The Domenico Remps Cabinet from 1690 (image: wikipedia)

The BioFresh Cabinet of Freshwater Curiosities

The BioFresh Cabinet of Freshwater Curiosities is a modern adaptation of the concept – a digital homage to a dusty history – intended to foster the same wonder and curiosity into the often neglected world of freshwater ecosystems. The Cabinet collects and collates a selection of the world’s most fascinating, bizarre and unique freshwater plants, animals and phenomena. It provides an interactive platform for users to engage with some little-known oddities and become further immersed in the curious world of freshwater ecosystems.

Get in touch!  Suggest a curiosity!

We are always keen to hear your thoughts on the curiosities – you can leave comments below each post; vote on our ‘curiosity’ polls; suggest new species for the cabinet through our feedback forms; or just say “hello” here.

Where can I find out more about Cabinets of Curiosities?

What is BioFresh?

BioFresh is an EU-funded international project that aims to build a global information platform for scientists and ecosystem managers with access to all available databases describing the distribution, status and trends of global freshwater biodiversity.  BioFresh is funded by the European Union under the 7th Framework programme, Contract No. 226874.

Join the discussion on the BioFresh blog here


The BioFresh Cabinet of Freshwater Curiosities is a forum to promote and discuss freshwater biodiversity, science, policy and society. The views expressed are preliminary. They neither represent the positions of any organisation nor do they necessarily reflect the belief of the contributors.

  • Background & header images sourced from Wikimedia here and here.
  • “Categories of Curiosity” images sourced from Creative Commons at Vintage Printable here.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carol S
    Mar 25, 2011 @ 18:25:46

    Hi Rob. Just read the article you’ll be publishing with us (I’m Mark’s co-editor) and came by to see the Cabinet, and I must say it is much fun. Love it! Going to poke around some more now.


    • biofreshblog
      Mar 28, 2011 @ 14:36:32

      Thanks Carol, I’m glad you like it – we’re always on the look-out for new ‘guest curators’, so if you’d like to submit a favourite curiosity, then please feel free!


  2. Trackback: An acid reign – twenty years at CCW

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