Our butterfly and moth data takes flight! | Digital Collections Programme

Our previous blog post looked at preparing the Lepidoptera for digitisation. In this post, we will look at the second part of the digitisation process; the imaging and transcription that allows data to be set free and accessed by the global science audience on the Museum’s Data Portal.

Photo showing a DSLR camera on a mount, with a tray containing a pinned butterfly speciment beneath the lens. The butterfly and accompanying scale bar and labels is visible on a computer screen to the right.
The imaging equipment set up to digitise the Lepidoptera collection

Let’s find out what’s involved and why it’s leading to new ways of accessing and using the information in our collections. Continue reading “Our butterfly and moth data takes flight! | Digital Collections Programme”

Preparing Lepidoptera for Digitisation | Digital Collections Programme

We are working to digitise more than half a million British and Irish butterflies and moths. Our three year iCollections project started in 2013, and we have received additional funding from the Cockayne Trust to continue this digitisation work to September 2017.

Photograph from above of a drawer filled with vertical columns of the butterflies pinned to the base, with paper labels in the top and bottom left, and the bottom right.
Original drawer with Mullein (Cuculblia verbasci) specimens.

The mass digitisation of this collection has given Museum scientists the opportunity to study these specimens in new ways. In addition to research carried out in the Museum, digitisation also allows anyone around the world to see the specimens via the Data Portal. Continue reading “Preparing Lepidoptera for Digitisation | 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”

Why georeferencing is the most important thing for the Museum since sliced bread | Digital Collections Programme

The ‘spatial wealth’ of the Museum’s collections is often ignored or at best under-appreciated. Most specimens if not all have a spatial locality associated with them, either written on to a label, written in a notebook, or on the specimen.

Close crop of a photo of a drawer of pinned clouded yellow butterflies with QR code and hand written labels visible
Digitising the Museum’s collections will let us unlock and share a treasure trove of information about our 80 million specimens

These localities can vary between very precise (e.g. a GPS-based latitude/longitude), very imprecise (e.g. ‘South America’) or, most likely, somewhere in-between. Most specimens within the Museum do not have a latitude and longitude, but do have detailed locality information on the accompanying label, which can be used to define co-ordinates for that specimen. So what is georeferencing, why do we need it, and how do we use it?

Continue reading “Why georeferencing is the most important thing for the Museum since sliced bread | Digital Collections Programme”

Guest post: What an experience! A working week at the Museum | Curator of Lepidoptera

One of the most important aspects of being a curator is not actually related to the Museum’s collections, but instead it’s ensuring that we encourage others to become interested in the natural world and the role we perform. So, this August gone, I was very lucky to have help from Billy Stockwell, a young wildlife enthusiast, who spent a few days at the Museum for work experience. Here’s his own tale of his time here, which he has kindly given me permission to reblog and I encourage you to read the rest of Billy’s adventures in the world of nature on his own blog:

The Natural History Museum is far more than just a museum. With 80 million specimens straddling 4 billion years of natural history it’s more of a microcosm of mother nature herself; a snippet from each stage of our planet’s life hitherto. Its collections are no less over-whelming, including prehistoric creatures worthy enough to feature in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, to millions of butterfly specimens whose species inhabit our modern world today.

Photo showing hawkmoths in a drawer
Hawkmoths in the Museum’s collection

From a visitor’s perspective the most exciting aspects of the Museum may be the captivating dinosaur exhibition, the butterfly house, or even the Museum’s gift shop. But if you’re brave enough to venture behind the scenes you have another thing coming! And that’s exactly what I decided to do for my work experience a few weeks ago…

Continue reading “Guest post: What an experience! A working week at the Museum | Curator of Lepidoptera”

Taking inspiration from the field and from women artists | Identification Trainers for the Future

In the latest update from our Identification Trainers for the Future project, Sally Hyslop continues the story of the work our five trainees have performed thus far.

Trainee life in the Museum is often focused through a microscope and so, after many months of study, it was brilliant to refresh our zeal for the natural world this month with a field trip to the Dorset coast. We spent three days exploring dramatic cliffs and coastal heathlands: by day, putting our developing botany skills into practise, and by night, spotting bats and catching moths.

The trainees in the field in Dorset
The trainees in the field in Dorset

The Museum’s Fred Rumsey and Mark Spencer led us through heath and bog on a hunt for the elusive bog orchid, Hammarbya paludosa. By the end of the day we found 109 spikes of these miniscule and delicate, rare, green flowers. On top of this, we encountered blankets of dainty white beaked sedge, flowering bog asphodel and all three UK species of sticky, carnivorous sundews along with their two hybrids.

Continue reading “Taking inspiration from the field and from women artists | Identification Trainers for the Future”

Reviewing a new record in the Wildlife Garden | UK Wildlife

While winter tasks in the Wildlife Garden kept most of us busy outside for the first quarter of the year, these cold months are also a good excuse to hunker down inside and look back at the previous season’s species records, enter new records on our database and consolidate reports on our findings.

As mentioned in one of our early blogs biological recording is carried out – like most activities here – with the help of many volunteers (specialists as well as beginners), and naturally our own scientists, during the course of their working day. Sometimes we enlist the help of aspiring young scientists…

Volunteer Alex Domenge has spent days entering records on the Wildlife Garden database
Volunteer Alex Domenge has spent days entering records on the Wildlife Garden database

Recording is carried out by observation and surveys. From mosses on walls, rocks and bare ground and the animals that inhabit these miniature forests, to the tree tops where great and blue tits may be spotted feeding on aphids and other small insects in the upper branches, as well as high flying butterflies such as the purple hairstreak that feed off honeydew.

Purple hairstreak butterfly (Favonius quercus). © Jim Asher, Butterfly Conservation
Purple hairstreak butterfly (Favonius quercus). It’s hard to see because it spends most of its time in the upper leaf canopy feeding on honeydew. © Jim Asher, Butterfly Conservation

Invertebrate surveys are carried out using a variety of methods including pitfall traps for ground invertebrates, malaise traps for flying insects, and light traps for nocturnal fliers.

Continue reading “Reviewing a new record in the Wildlife Garden | UK Wildlife”