Digitising lice and uncovering the Meinertzhagen mystery | Digital Collections Programme

We are in the process of digitising the Museum’s parasitic louse (Phthiraptera) collection, which consists of around 73,000 microscope slides. The collection is one of the largest – and the most taxonomically comprehensive – in the world.

A high resolution image showing two human lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) in detail.
Human lice specimens (Pediculus humanus capitis)

Lice are permanent ectoparasites, meaning they live on the outside of their bird and mammal hosts. They are highly host specific, with the majority of the ~5,000 louse species being unique to a particular host species of mammals and birds.

Continue reading “Digitising lice and uncovering the Meinertzhagen mystery | Digital Collections Programme”

The Museum ‘homemade’ mobile field laboratory – Explore Your Archive Week | Library and Archives

Scientific expeditions have been regularly undertaken by the Museum since it opened its doors in 1881. These are often abroad and need to be planned well in advance, with supplies and equipment ordered and prepared, often on the Museum site. On many occasions staff can find themselves having to be creative and imaginative, especially when the terrain about to be experienced is likely to be extreme and the facilities limited.

Colour archival photograph showing a white truck in the mid-distance, parked in sparsely vegetated bushland next to a watering hole, with sand dunes rising from the horizon in the background
Museum field work in Namibia during the 1970s needed some special #AutoArchives facilities…

In the 1970s a group of Museum entomologists did just that, having acquired an ex-army lorry they were to transform it into a mobile field laboratory suitable for all their scientific research needs during a five month expedition through southern Africa. And thus, our Explore Your Archives Week stories continue…

Continue reading “The Museum ‘homemade’ mobile field laboratory – Explore Your Archive Week | Library and Archives”

At the International Congress of Entomology | Digital Collections Programme

This October, several colleagues from the insects division of the Museum attended the 25th International Congress of Entomology (ICE2016), an event that is held every four years. This year’s took place in Orlando, Florida with the theme “entomology without borders.” The Museum’s Vince Smith writes about his experiences at the world’s biggest entomological conference.

Photo of a lake plus fountain in front of trees and the convention centre building
Part of the cavernous Orange County Convention Center which hosted ICE2016

With 6,682 delegates from 102 countries, giving a staggering 5,396 presentations, the plenary sessions were more like attending a football match (in scale if not in tone) than a scientific meeting! This is the largest conference I’ve ever attended – my heartfelt congratulations to the organisers for ensuring ICE2016 ran smoothly.

Continue reading “At the International Congress of Entomology | Digital Collections Programme”

Past legacy sheds light on the future | Digital Collections Programme

The butterflies and moths amassed by avid collectors Dr EA Cockayne, Dr HBD Kettlewell and Lord Walter Rothschild make up the core of the Museum’s world famous collection of British and Irish Lepidoptera.

lycaena-phlaeas-2000
Small copper butterflies that have been digitised and rehoused as part of the project

The Museum is digitising the Lepidoptera collection and using the data to ask important scientific questions about the effects of environmental change. Dr Cockayne passion led him to form the Cockayne Trust for Lepidoptera research, his legacy is funding the digitisation.

Continue reading “Past legacy sheds light on the future | Digital Collections Programme”

Invertebrate hunting in Dominica | Curator of Diptera

I’m currently in Dominica, collecting insects with Operation Wallacea but this isn’t the first time I’ve been to this beautiful country. Here’s a blog post I prepared earlier about my field trip last year…

I have just finished 4 weeks of fieldwork collecting insects in Dominica. I can’t really complain about that except that the fieldwork did not follow my usual routine. Generally when employed at Museum your fieldwork is either part of a general collecting trip hoping to find as much as possible (work with Dipterists Forum); part of a research-focused group (me collecting flies from Potatoes in Peru); or part of a consultancy project (Mosquitoes in Tajikistan). However this trip was different, I wasn’t marauding around the countryside with collector’s glee, this time I had to teach as well as collect.

Photo showing a view of a shallow, rocky river with deep forest on either side
Collecting in Dominica definitely has its advantages…

It’s not the first time I have taught students. I lectured for a while before joining the museum and was involved in a tropical ecology field course in Costa Rica for several years. However that was university students and they were mostly master’s students who already were interested in Entomology. I had never taught or been involved with younger people – teenagers as I believe they are called. That had previously sounded like a mild form of torture! Could they concentrate? Would they even be interested?

Continue reading “Invertebrate hunting in Dominica | Curator of Diptera”

Exploring the manuscripts in the Museum Library and Archives: Dru Drury (1725-1804) | Library and Archives

In the eighteenth century, trade and exploration flourished as the British Empire expanded. However, it wasn’t all about creating colonies and importing produce. Dru Drury (1725-1804), an eighteenth-century London silversmith, naturalist and author, saw the chance to develop an insect collection of unprecedented scope.

Photoof a yellowed page showing the handwritten list
A list of equipment provided by Drury to ships heading all over the world, to assist in insect collecting (Library Entomology special collections)

In the manuscript collection of the Library and Archives, we hold a number of Drury’s unpublished papers which consists of letters, instructions to ships’ captains, and private notebooks. His correspondence is interesting for many reasons as he was in contact with many of the great naturalists of the time including Carl Linnaeus but also his business dealings with goldsmiths all over Europe – the letters of which are more business-like, and quite formal.

Continue reading “Exploring the manuscripts in the Museum Library and Archives: Dru Drury (1725-1804) | Library and Archives”

A fond farewell | Identification Trainers for the Future

I can’t believe the last 12 months have flown by so quickly! Our first 5 trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project have now completed their traineeship with us and have been released into the wilds of the UK’s biodiversity sector, only now it’s with a whole host of new skills and a wealth of experience under their belts.

Photo showing the trainees standing as a group in a wood.
The first cohort of our Identification Trainers for the Future recently completed their programme of training and are now out in the wilds of the UK biodiversity sector. From left to right: Sally, Katy, Mike, Chloe and Anthony.

Before they left I caught up with each of them to find out what they have found most rewarding about their time with us and what they are going off to do next… Continue reading “A fond farewell | Identification Trainers for the Future”

The Verrall Lecture | Curator of Coleoptera

The Verrall Association of entomologists has existed in one form or another since 1887, almost as long as the Museum itself, and was founded by the noted dipterist, Conservative MP and horse-racing official George Henry Verrall (1848-1911), as an informal annual gathering and supper for entomologists, professional and amateur. It has continued in much the same capacity for over a century, at some stage in that long history acquiring a lecture before the supper and you can enjoy the history of the Verrall Supper in your own time.

Digital version of a flier for the Verrall Lecture showing title, price, location, time and date

It is my privilege this year to be giving what has come to be called the Verrall Lecture, which will take place in the Ondaatje Theatre of the Royal Geographical Society, just up the road from the Museum on Wednesday 2 March. The topic is appropriate for a crossover between the Museum, the Royal Entomological Society and the Royal Geographical Society, as the title is ‘Collections: the last great frontiers of exploration’.

Continue reading “The Verrall Lecture | Curator of Coleoptera”

Building a key to the British Alexeter | Identification Trainers for the Future

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.

Photo showing Chloe picking up a specimen via its pin, using forceps
Chloe in the process of re-curating part of the Hymenoptera collection.

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.

Continue reading “Building a key to the British Alexeter | Identification Trainers for the Future”

Darwin, dragons and damsels | Identification Trainers for the Future

In 2009, I visited the Museum’s Darwin Centre for the first time. It had been a culmination of a pilgrimage to see as many exhibitions as possible that celebrated Charles Darwin’s bicentenary of his birth that year. Little did I realise that 6 years later, as a trainee on the Identification Trainers for the Future project, I’d be lucky enough to work in the Darwin Centre itself, re-curating some of the Museum’s 80 million specimens that form the world’s most important natural history collection.

Photograph of the Cocoon structure from below looking upwards
The Cocoon in the Darwin Centre, which opened in September 2009.

I watched with bated breath on the 14 September 2009 as Sir David Attenborough and Prince William opened the state of the art facility. It allows over 350 scientists and researchers to study zoology, botany and entomology collections to address some of the key challenges of the 21st century such as food security, biodiversity loss and disease. As Sir David Attenborough so eloquently put it:

Never has it been so important to understand the  diversity of life on earth and how it is changing, if we are to tackle many of the issues that humans face today … The Darwin Centre will inspire the next generation of naturalists and scientists through its combination of scientific expertise, specimens, public dialogue, film and interactive media. It will enable all of us to explore the wonders of our world and investigate its secrets.

It was therefore a bit surreal when my curation placement actually took me to the 7th floor of the Darwin Centre in the Entomology Research and Curation Lab, where I have been asked to re-curate the Odonata of the UK. This order is split into Zygoptera (Damselflies) and Anisoptera (Dragonflies).

Continue reading “Darwin, dragons and damsels | Identification Trainers for the Future”