Day Four: Entomology

Figure 1: What are these? (answer at bottom of blog!) (Photographed courtesy of the Natural History Museum).

Kirsty and I spent today in the company of Alessandro Giusti, who is a curator of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) at the museum.  Alessandro gave us a great look around the HUGE entomological collection at the NHM; and also shared his thoughts on being a curator, fascinating wildlife facts (did you know that a caterpillar can be deadly (see below)?) and tips on identification.

Figure 2: Hairy caterpillars like these can be deadly (they can kill you by causing internal bleeding)! (Photographed courtesy of the Natural History Museum).

We also got shown round the ‘wet collection’ (stored in spirit) of arachnids by Jan Beccaloni, the curator of Arachnida and Myriapoda (centipedes and millipedes).  She showed us how unsuitable some jars (particularly the plastic lidded variety!) are for holding arachnids and how it was important to keep information on the label with the specimen when transferring them to new homes. (This is helped by a lot of labels being written in ‘Indian ink’ which doesn’t dissolve in alcohol).

Figure 3: Correctly stored spiders in the ‘wet collection’. (Photographed courtesy of the Natural History Museum).

The entomological specimens are now housed in new state-of-the art metal cases in the Darwin Centre.  These rooms are temperature (15 degrees celcius) and humidity controlled to discourage pests, and can also detect high levels of alcohol in case of any spillages.  However, some of the collection is still housed in old glass covered ‘Rothschild’ drawers.  These are so-called because most of the drawers are found as part of the massive collection donated by Sir Charles Rothschild donated to the NHM.

Figure 4: In addition to founding the UK’s wildlife Trusts, Sir Rothschild had a penchant for paying people to shoot insects; as this butterfly testifies! (Photographed courtesy of the Natural History Museum).

Now the drawers are being reorganised so that a species occupies a whole drawer; or different species are organised within separate boxes in the drawer.

Figure 5: If there are too few specimens to occupy a full drawer (like these moths), then you can seperate them within plastazote foam-insert (inert and unreactive) boxes. (Photographed courtesy of the Natural History Museum).

Part of the process of changing drawers can involve re-pinning also.  In addition to being pinned on cork in wooden boxes (which can warp and release gases), the pins themselves may react with the abdomen of the specimens themselves.  This ‘verdigris‘ effect can be problematic, potentially resulting in explosive reactions!  The only way to prevent this is to re-pin with stainless ‘Continental’ pins.

Figure 6: Some specimens in this drawer (particulaly at the bottom) are suffering from ‘verdigris’ and have exploded!  I’ve decided to try and re-pin one…! (Photographed courtesy of the Natural History Museum).

Figure 7: This ‘old-school’ box is used to send an electric current through the pinned insect to aid in removing it from its old pin. (Photographed courtesy of the Natural History Museum).

Figure 8: Here I am embarking on re-pinning my moth! (Photographed courtesy of the Natural History Museum).

Figure 9: Success! (Although a wing fell off during the process which I then needed to glue back on!) (Photographed courtesy of the Natural History Museum).

I had a great day in the entomology department and, though tired, am looking forward to the final day (in the mineralogy department!)

(BTW the answer is they are moths; a great example of Batesian mimicry in action!)

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About Trainee Curator

I will be writing a blog about the next twelve months spent as a trainee biological curator based at Manchester Museum.
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One Response to Day Four: Entomology

  1. Pingback: Longhorn beetle project | Trainee Biological Curator

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