“Mr. Cooper, meet ALICE.” – Part 1 | Digital Collections Programme

Guest Blog by Phaedra Kokkini

If you visit our Digitisation Team, you might be drawn to one of our more curious imaging setups, the ‘Angled Label Image Capture and Extraction’ or to close friends: ALICE.

ALICE came about through the collaboration of  Small Orders Curator Dr Ben Price and Digital Collections Project Manager Dr Steen Dupont in order to automate some of the processes to speed up our pinned insect digitisation.

A peculiar setup that used to feature a bucket and six cameras is now a hexagonal light box with cameras that can image pinned insect specimens at multiple angles to digitally extract the attached labels and could provide a breakthrough to an even faster specimen digitisation.

Dr Steen Dupont describes ALICE

I was very excited to start this project as the first test of ALICE’s true potential. What I didn’t expect was that the collection chosen to test ALICE would reveal some stunning wasps and an intriguing untold story of its previous owner. Continue reading ““Mr. Cooper, meet ALICE.” – Part 1 | Digital Collections Programme”

Illustrating our Collections | Digital Collections Programme

Seven illustration and reportage graduates and two tutors from the University of the West of England (UWE) recently visited the Digital Collection Programme. We took them behind the scenes showing them our innovative technology and the entomology and botany collection in order to inspire their love of nature. In return, the artists renewed our creativity and enabled us to see our work with fresh eyes.

 ‘Witnessing the digitisation process was fascinating and knowing about the digital archive means I have a vast and rich resource to access’ Jay Simpson, UWE graduate

Continue reading “Illustrating our Collections | Digital Collections Programme”

Digitising British Bumblebees |Digital Collections Programme

Bombus hortorum also known as the garden bumblebee displays a wide range of colour forms.

A bumblebee is any one of over 250 species in the Bombus genus, whose name derives from the Latin for a buzzing or humming sound. We have been digitising the Museum’s collection of British Bumblebees in order to release a new resource to those researching and working with Bees globally.  Continue reading “Digitising British Bumblebees |Digital Collections Programme”

Freezing thousands of bees at -80 degrees | Digital Collections Programme

The UK Insect Pollinators Initiative (IPI) provided funding between 2010-2015. This was a joint initiative supported by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), NERC, the Wellcome Trust and the Scottish Government, under the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership to support projects studying a wide variety of UK pollinators and their habitats.

Nine separate projects were funded and as a result of these projects around 50,000 specimens were collected.

A photograph of the Molecular and Frozen Collections Manager with some of the frozen IPI specimens.
Jacqueline Mackenzie-Dodds, Molecular and Frozen Collections Manager with some of the IPI specimens.

Insects visiting flowers, including bees, hoverflies, beetles, butterflies and moths, are very important to plants. While moving between flowers they carry pollen from one flower to another.

Continue reading “Freezing thousands of bees at -80 degrees | Digital Collections Programme”

03 Wasps: 100,000 species and counting | #NHM_Live

In this episode of #NHM_Live, Gavin Broad, Curator of Hymenoptera, talks to Alison Shean about the huge variety of wasps in nature and why they are so undeserving of their bad reputation. Learn about wasps that build nests, make honey and even practise mind control.

If the show piques your interest, you can take part in a wasp-based citizen science project through Miniature Lives Magnified. See the Take Part section of our website for more information and ways you can get involved with science projects from the Museum.

Series 1 of #NHM_Live was broadcast in February 2017. We’d love you to join us for our next series which will start in June. Watch this space for more details.

Going digital! New crowdsourcing project launched | Miniature Lives Magnified

Be a digital volunteer for the Museum and help transcribe scientific data from microscope slides… We are so very excited to launch our latest citizen science project Miniature Lives Magnified.

As part of our Digital Collections Programme,  we have imaged 100,000 microscope slides of some of the world’s smallest insects and we need your help to unlock the data from the specimen labels, so that we can uncover more of nature’s secrets.

Rectangular glass microscope slide, with old handwritten labels.
Spot the wasp: we have 6,000 microscope slides of Chalcid wasps, that we would like you to help us to transcribe data from.

In partnership with our good friends from the online crowdsourcing platform Notes from Nature, today we launch our first collection called ‘The killer within: wasps but not as you know them’.

Continue reading “Going digital! New crowdsourcing project launched | Miniature Lives Magnified”

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”

Reaching the halfway point | Identification Trainers for the Future

Our initial cohort of ID Trainers for the Future are nearing the end of Phase 2 of their 12-month long traineeship – Chloe Rose provides an update on the work they’ve been doing so far:

Over the last six months you will have heard all about the vast array of workshops we’ve had delivered to us by the Museum’s experts, the beautiful parts of the country we’ve visited for field trips and the various different projects we’ve all been working on. It has been an action packed, whirlwind and we’ve all gained so much. But it’s now time to wrap things up as we head towards Phase 3 of the traineeship. This will mean the five of us going off on our separate ways for three months, to spend time with one of the Museum’s curation teams.

Photo of the ID Trainers walking to a fieldwork site
Setting out to perform Hymenoptera fieldwork

Here is where we will get the opportunity to refine our identification, fieldwork and curatorial skills to one particular species group. Between us we will be covering beetles, dragonflies, lichens and flowering plants. My project will involve working on the hymenoptera collections and looking at an understudied subfamily of parasitic wasps. I will be required to sort and describe the species and look to writing a comprehensive key for identification purposes. Watch this space for future updates on how our curation projects are going. For now, though, back to what we have been doing during August.

Continue reading “Reaching the halfway point | Identification Trainers for the Future”

The Identification Work Begins! | Identification Trainers for the Future

This month it is the turn of Katy Potts to give us an update on the progress of the trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project. Since Anthony’s review of their first month with us the trainees have progressed onto Phase 2 of their programme, where their species identification training really starts in earnest and we’ve certainly been keeping them busy! The past two months have been both exciting and enlightening in educating us about the world of biological recording and species identification. It was while I was at Plymouth University that I first discovered species identification in an invertebrate taxonomy module with the ever inspiring entomologist Peter Smithers. It was under Peter’s guidance and teaching that I fell in love with the six legged insects that run our world. Moreover, it was the passion for taxonomy from Peter that inspired me to delve into this field of biology.

Sally and Katy hunting for bryophytes at Burnham Beeches
Sally and Katy hunting for bryophytes at Burnham Beeches

The past two months have been fantastic. We are currently in Phase 2 of our programme where the core identification workshops, Field Studies Council placements and project work are taking place. Continue reading “The Identification Work Begins! | Identification Trainers for the Future”