Visit to the Entomology Department, Museum of Natural History, Oxford

On Monday 6 December, fourteen Field Club members enjoyed a fascinating tour of the Entomology Department of the Museum of Natural History in Oxford.

Initially, we were given a brief introduction to the Hope for the Future Project, the aim of which is to share and protect the Museum’s unique and irreplaceable British insect collection. The collection is named after its founder, the Reverend F W Hope, who established the collections and their global reputation in the late 19th century. The collection is second in size to that of the Natural History Museum, London, with an estimated five million specimens.

A new gallery is currently under construction which will house some of the Museum’s enormous collection of insects. These collections are in the process of being prepared for transfer so we were shown only a selected sample from the collection.

We were given a tour of two areas of the department. James guided us through historical collections and archives, showing us specimens from Charles Darwin’s Australian collection, A R Wallis’s Malay Archipelago insects and C W Dale’s butterflies. The large copper butterfly in the latter collection is now extinct in the British Isles, demonstrating the importance of these collections in providing a unique historical record. Additionally, they give information on any genetic variations over time, as well as recording the distribution of insects.

Male and female Stag Beetles, OUMNH.

Some of the cases donated to the museum showed evidence of carpet beetle attack. To combat this, cases are frozen at minus twenty degrees for two weeks prior to opening. Naphthalene is no longer used as a preservative.

The second part of the tour looked at samples from the British collection. We were shown a case of Purple Emperor butterflies, Death’s Head Hawkmoths, beetles and insects so minute it was hard to focus on them. We even learned how to distinguish a male cranefly from a female!

Ryan and Louis, who showed us the collection are passionate about their work and their enthusiasm was contagious. I believe we all really enjoyed our visit and would like to return. We’d like to thank James, Ryan and Louis for taking their time to talk to us and show us some – but only a tiny fraction – of the collection’s specimens, and Hayleigh for arranging our visit.

Julia Reid, December 2021

John C adds:

The Hope Collection’s website is well worth visiting for more information, wonderful pictures of insects, and some learning resources which help you sort your hymenoptera from your hemiptera! There are also a couple of amusing quizzes to test your knowledge.