Although it’s only been a few weeks since I looked at ‘what lies beneath,’ it feels like a lifetime as so much has happened to our blue whale skeleton in a relatively short space of time. The biggest challenge of de-installing the skeleton from the Mammals Hall has been completed with resounding success and the Conservators are now busy with the next phase of cleaning and conserving each individual bone.
We all knew that safely removing the bones from the 81 year old armature was not going to be easy. Add in the fact that it was suspended over a large model of a blue whale and several other specimens with very little room for manoeuvre and you start to appreciate the whale-sized nature of the project. This post outlines what happened during the de-install.
Well as 2015 becomes an ever distant memory and we scuttle, creep, scurry, amble and roll (for this is how beetles move right?) into 2016, let us look back on a very successful year of collection enhancement.
The collection here is a big one, and serves to represent the world’s known Coleoptera biodiversity as comprehensively as possible but it is an uphill task to curate, much in the same way as a dung beetle may struggle against the desert sands with its dung ball prize.
As the end of the year draws closer, my mind has cast back to another story about bats… Well it’s not just that I’m obsessed with bats, but I do like sharing good news – in autumn we found that we have two species of bats newly visiting the wildlife garden.
During the week of our Bat Festival and International Bat Night, and through the help of Philip Briggs of the Bat Conservation Trust and tree surgeons Liam and James from Wassells Arboriculture, an Anabat recorder was installed in the lime tree overlooking the pond. This provided us with a new way to register bats visiting our small patch of London.
Within the Diptera section we are asked a lot about individual species of flies and so we thought we would put pen to paper (or key to board) and give some species descriptions of the more popular requests.
In the final post of our short series on the curation placements of our Identification Trainers for the Future, Chloe Rose gives us an insight into the work she has been doing in the Hymenoptera department. The Hymenoptera include all bees, ants and wasps, but Chloe has been focussing her work on the parasitic wasps, of which there are a surprising number in the UK.
I have been spending the last 2 months of my traineeship in the Hymenoptera department with Dr Gavin Broad (Senior Curator of Hymenoptera, specialist in Braconidae and Ichneumonidae). Here I have been working on a genus known as Alexeter, a group of wasps which parasitise sawflies.
These wasps fall into the Mesoleiini tribe which is part of a large subfamily known as Ctenopelmatinae. There are around 6,000 known species of parasitic wasps in the UK, a staggering number which is a huge portion of our insect diversity. However, little is known about many of these groups and few of these species have well illustrated identification keys available, making the area of study considerably less accessible. This is why I am helping Gavin to construct an easy-to-use identification guide for this poorly understood group of wasps.
In our next blog from the Identification Trainers for the Future trainees, Mike Waller gives you an insight into his curation placement. Mike has been working through lichen collections made by Francis Rose MBE. Rose (1921-2006) is perhaps best known for being the author of The Wildflower Key, for many the guide to British & Irish plants, however he was also an expert in lichens and bryophytes (mosses & liverworts) and much of his lichen collection is housed within the Museum’s cryptogamic herbarium, Mike’s work area for the last 3 months.
Deep within the dark, towering wooden cabinets of the cryptogamic collections, I’m tucked away at the end of a small corridor from where my seemingly endless journey has begun. The cryptogamic herbarium is also known as the Crypt in the Museum, but fortunately our crypt only contains the seedless plants and plant-like organisms such as mosses, lichens, ferns and fungi that are known as Cryptogams.
The ‘Crypt’ in the Museum, housing the cryptogamic herbarium
The ‘Crypt’ in the Museum, housing the cryptogamic herbarium
I’ve been tasked with preparing Francis Rose’s 5 years’ worth of Kent lichen specimens for incorporation into the main collection. With around 700 small packets containing lichen fragments from across 2 vice counties between 1965 and 1970, it’s far from simple.
Currently all five trainees from the Identification Trainers for the Future project are nestled away within various departments in the Museum on their curation placements. Here, we catch up with Katy Potts:
I have spent the past month in the Coleoptera department delving into the wonderful world of beetles. Part of my placement involves working on a project under the guidance of Max Barclay, Head of Coleoptera, assessing the beetle fauna on Bookham Common in Surrey.
Early in the season I set up four Lindgren funnel traps in the oak woodland at Bookham Common and I have returned to each trap fortnightly to empty the traps. I can only describe this process as resembling Christmas; as I unlock the collecting pot underneath the funnel I am faced with an array of invertebrates, most importantly the beetles.
For Explore Your Archives Week, Rosie Gibbs, buyer at the Museum talks about how the collections within the Library and Archives provide inspiration for her, her team and external designers.
The retail buyers at the Museum are responsible for sourcing and developing the products on sale in the Museum’s shops and online store, and one of the first places we look for inspiration for new ranges is our Library and Archive collections.
They are a fantastic source of design material and are incredibly important for retail products as they enable us to create ranges that help tell a story about the Museum and its collections. It is very important for us to be able to offer visitors exclusive gift products that remind them of their visit, and that they cannot buy anywhere else.
Curation is a key part of the Identification Trainers for the Future programme and over the past 2 months the trainees have been on placement in the Museum collections learning how best to preserve the historical and ecological information held within them. Following on from Anthony’s review of his time with the Odonata collections, Sally Hyslop brings us up to speed with her own project:
My curation placement is in the British and Irish Herbarium, working alongside Mark Spencer, the senior curator of this impressive catalogue of pressed plant specimens.
Each specimen in the herbarium holds information – whether it be from the DNA stored within the plants themselves waiting to be extracted and studied, or the historical annotations which depict the collection event itself. All specimens in the collection have a label describing the all-important who, what, where and when.
The date, location, name of the collector and the collector’s original identification is essential information which can further our scientific understanding.
Many of the scientific staff who have worked at the Museum over time, have made significant contributions to the world of science and their professional lives has been well documented. For one such individual is was the end of his life, that up until recently, was shrouded in some mystery.
If you research Oldfield Thomas’s time working at the British Museum (Natural History) as we were formerly known, you can see that he was a prolific writer, and his generosity to the Museum is shown by the items he donated during his life and upon his death.
Near the front entrance to the Museum is a small staff lift which has a plaque stating that it was installed using monies from Oldfield Thomas (OT), who served the Museum for 48 years. To many who study mammals he is still a hero but, after his death, he was surrounded in mystery and senior management staff at the time appear to have closed ranks to disclose nothing.
Whispers passed to those who enquire about OT, mention him committing suicide in his office, and that it took months for people to even be granted permission to enter his room. This is what got me interested in determining the truth to OT’s death.