Light look at nature’s darkest secrets

Voodoo-style dancers performing a sacrificial ritual at the Nature in the Dark exhibition
Skullduggery: voodoo-style dancers performed a sacrificial ritual complete with dagger and fake heart

Stuffed bats, a skull-faced jazz band and creatures that glow in the dark – not the sights and sounds of a Halloween party but an after-hours event at the Natural History Museum exploring Nature in the Dark.

The eerie, educational evening was one of the exclusive Priceless Nights evenings for MasterCard® cardholders, accessible through its Priceless Cities programme. Free events are arranged around the UK, and this one promised expert talks, fun activities, and delicious food for lucky ballot winners.

After cocktails and canapés, we were split into groups and led off to the first of four activities, in the museum’s Red Zone. Here expert Epifanio Vaccaro talked us through life, the universe and everything, explaining how stars and planets are created, allowing us to handle meteorites older than Earth itself and look at 3D photos of the Moon.

Monkey business: the bug-eyed tarcier was just one of the nocturnal animals on show

Next we enjoyed a talk on nocturnal animals by Louise Tomsett, who recently led a research study in Borneo. From
bug-eyed tarciers to long-eared bats and the stink badger (a skunk-like creature whose defence mechanism involves jetting out a stream of noxious green liquid capable of knocking a dog unconscious), we learnt all the ways these creatures have adapted to life without light and to avoid larger, more daylight- dependent predators.

Back downstairs, where a band in skull facepaint played spookily good tunes, we were treated to wine and creole- inspired food before heading to a creepy craft session, where we got to make our own voodoo doll.

Then in the Blue Zone, expert Jon Ablett took us on a funny and fascinating journey to the deep to look at creatures that live in the darkest depths of the ocean, from giant squid – they have a single and terrifying eye up to 10in across, the diameter of a dinner plate – threadfin dragon fish, which use bioluminescence to confuse predators, and the angler fish, which has a fleshy growth a bit like a fishing rod on its head that acts as a lure for prey.

Fishy fun: guests at the exhibition were able to go face-to-face with a range of creatures

Finally we were led back to the foyer for drinks and dessert, where a group of voodoo-style dancers performed a sacrificial ritual complete with dagger and fake heart.

Then we were off out into the night, armed with our new nocturnal knowledge, and the reassuring sense that if things do go bump in the night they’re probably just as nervous as we are.

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