Super Science Saturday – 27th November

People & Planet

Come along to the museum for this fun family Science Fair, Saturday 27th November, 12-4pm.

Meet scientists and community organisations to learn more about current environmental research and projects.

Find out what scientists get up to and how they research the effects of our lifestyle choices on the planet and the things that live on it. Learn more about community larders and environmental projects that are working on creating a healthier planet. You can even try eating insects and decide if you think that’s the way forward to keep our planet healthy.

No need to book – just come along.

Find out more on our website.

How to get to the museum.

Bees, Riddles and a Talking Dung Beetle

We had a very busy half term week here at the museum. You could say it was buzzing!  It was great to meet so many young people interested in entomology and all things invertebrate! If you weren’t able to join us, here is a taste of what we had on offer.

Insects: Beastie or Bestie?

Our new family Science Show:  Insects: Beastie or Bestie? played to a packed house on Tuesday 26th October.  Staff from the museum showed off their acting skills as they took on the roles of a large, chatty dung beetle and an insect-phobic visitor to the museum.

Helped by members of the audience, the unlikely pair looked at the wonderful, and vitally important, role of insects in our world. From their position as pollinators, to their function in food chains; from the waste they recycle, to the many hours of joy and entertainment they bring as the heroes and villains of so many films, TV shows and books, all bases were covered! The audience went away with a greater understanding of why insects are vital to our existence and what we can all do to help safeguard their future.

Bees and Riddles

As well as enjoying the show, the Crunchy on the Outside team were also in the museum with some challenging insect activities for our young entomologist friends to try. 

In our To Bee or Not to Bee activity, we had 10 beautiful specimens for people to view: 5 bees, 4 flies and 1 moth, but could our visitors tell which was which?  Some clues in the entomology gallery helped identify these tricky mimics.

Have a look at these two specimens.  Which one is a bee?  What type of insect is the other one? 

Let us know what you think using CONTACT US or leave a comment below.

We also had a super tricky quiz with answers to be found in our entomology gallery.  This included some really challenging insect riddles (courtesy of Susie!).  Here is one of the riddles.  Which insect do you think this might be? 

For buzzing insects in your garden, consider what to grow.

Lavender and foxglove seeds are the ones to sow.

When looking for a home, and deciding what is best

This solitary bee makes an old snail shell its nest.

Lavender. Image credit: Thowra uk CC BY 2.0; Snail Shell. Image credit: Aesop CC BY-SA 2.0

Send your answers to us using CONTACT US or leave a comment below.

We will be hosting more Crunchy on the Outside events in the future.  Remember to check back regularly to be the first to find out about them. 

FREE Insect fun at the Museum this half term

Don’t forget to join us at the Museum this half term for some fabulous, free insect fun. We have a Science Show for you on Tuesday 26th October, and drop in activities on Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th October. Read on to find out more!

Insects: Bestie or Beastie? A Family Science Show

Join us for our brand new, interactive family Science Show on Tuesday 26th October at 2pm or 3.30pm. Find out what happens when an insect-phobic visitor to the museum meets a giant talking dung beetle!  It promises to be a lot of fun!   Tickets to the show are completely FREE but you do need to book.

Book tickets for Tuesday 26th October, 2pm

Book tickets for Tuesday 26th October, 3.30pm

Take the Crunchy on the Outside Challenge!

On Tuesday 26th October, 1-4pm, Susie and Kate will be in the Museum main court with some fiendish insect challenges for you. Drop by and see if you can solve the puzzles with your insect intellect (no booking needed)!

Flower Power Drop-in Activities

Drop in on Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th October, 1pm – 4pm, for an afternoon of insect crafts, plus getting up close and personal with some fabulous insect specimens.  No need to book; just drop-in! 

Susie and Kate look forward to seeing you there!

FREE Insect fun at the Museum this half term

Join us at the Museum this half term for some fabulous, free insect fun. We have a Science Show for you on Tuesday 26th October, and drop in activities on Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th October. Read on to find out more!

Insects: Bestie or Beastie? A Family Science Show

Join us for our brand new, interactive family Science Show on Tuesday 26th October at 2pm or 3.30pm. Find out what happens when an insect-phobic visitor to the museum meets a giant talking dung beetle!  It promises to be a lot of fun!   Tickets to the show are completely FREE but you do need to book.

Book tickets for Tuesday 26th October, 2pm

Book tickets for Tuesday 26th October, 3.30pm

Flower Power Drop-in Activities

Drop in on Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th October, 1pm – 4pm, for some insect fun in the museum main court with an afternoon of insect crafts, plus getting up close and personal with some fabulous insect specimens.  No need to book; just drop-in! 

Susie and I look forward to seeing you there!

Chameleon of the spiders: Misumena vatia

If you love spiders, as well as insects, then this post is just for you! HOPE for the Future Collections Assistant, Steven H. Williams, tells us about a fascinating spider with the ability to change colour; Misumena vatia, the flower spider.

Misumena vatia (the flower spider), waiting for prey. ©S.H.Williams 2012

Gerald Durrell wrote in his famous book: My Family and Other Animals, that he excitedly discovered little spiders that ‘could change colour just as successfully as any chameleon’. He was referring to a family of spiders commonly known as crab-spiders. Crab-spiders get their name due to the position in which they hold their front legs that resembles a crab’s claws, and their ability to walk sideways like a crab. Although we cannot be clear which species Durrell had found, we know that a colour-changing crab spider which is quite common in the southern half of Britain during May-August is Misumena vatia (the flower spider).

Only about 30 species of crab-spider can change colour, most stay as different shades of brown or green with a slight pattern on the abdomen, but some species, including our native Misumena vatia, can alter their appearance quite drastically to blend into the background.

Crab-spiders do not spin webs like orb-weaving spiders would, instead they wait, poised for action, ready to attack insects that stray into their path. Misumena vatia (the flower spider), as its common name suggests, sits on flowers ready to pounce on any insect that chooses to land near it, often hover-flies or even bumblebees. The venom inside crab-spiders is quite strong as they can kill insects much larger than themselves but don’t worry, the flower spider and all other British crab-spiders only have small jaws and cannot hurt humans!

The flower spider is mostly seen as pure white or a lemony-yellow colour with a red mark on either side of its abdomen, but it has also been found green and even faintly slate-blue.

The total transformation from one colour to another takes several days and it is easier to go from yellow to white than white to yellow. These spiders can choose from many different types of flowers as they easily disappear into their surroundings. The favourite flower of Misumena vatia in Britain appears to be the ox-eye daisy, but it has also been seen on ragwort, and other flowers with white or yellow petals. Only the females can make these drastic colour changes though, the males are much smaller and sadly cannot change colour.

So next time you are out exploring for insects and spiders why not see if you can spot a Misumena vatia inside a flower?

Steven H. Williams

___________________________________________________________________________

Many thanks to Steven for a fascinating insight into these beautiful spiders. For more information, check out the British Arachnological Society website: https://www.britishspiders.org.uk

people: amo spooner

Meet Amo Spooner, Collections Manager for Coleoptera, Hemiptera and Small Orders.  Her job, here at the Museum of Natural History, indulges her love of both insect collections and animals in general.   I met up with Amo to find out what sparked her interest in the natural world, how she began working at the Museum of Natural History and what her current job involves.

How did you first become interested in insects?

I have always loved the natural world and have a very vivid memory of being woken up in the early morning by my Grandad who wanted to show me some dragonflies emerging from their nymphs in our pond.  We rushed out to the pond where dragonflies were pulling their bodies out of the last of their nymph exoskeletons and emerging as adults. I kept the nymph skins as a souvenir and even have a tattoo of an adult dragonfly emerging from its nymph stage to remind me of that time.

How did you come to work in entomology?

After leaving school, I went to college to do a First Diploma and a BTEC National Diploma in Animal Management.  At college, I learnt how to care for a wide range of animals from guinea pigs to geckos and helped to run the Exotic Unit.  Once I had completed my qualifications, I decided to train as a Veterinary Nurse.  It was during the final year of my degree that I first volunteered at the Museum of Natural History and by the time I finished University, I realised that I really wanted to work at the museum, particularly with the insect collection.  I moved to Oxford, volunteered at the museum during the day and worked at Waitrose in the evenings to fund my time at the museum. 

After volunteering for around 1000 hours, I got my first paid job at the museum! This was working on a collection of entomological specimens that Oxfordshire County Council had donated to the museum.   Much of the collection was damaged, but it was possible to save some specimens and incorporate them into the wider museum collection. 

What is your role here at the Museum?

I have now worked at the museum for around 11 years and have had several different roles during that time, including re-curating the World Coleoptera collection housed in the Huxley Room.  Now, I am on secondment from my Collections Manager role for Coleoptera (beetles), Hemiptera (true bugs) and Small Orders (Dragonflies, praying mantis, cockroaches, lacewings, grasshoppers and allies), leading the collections team responsible for re-curating the British insect collection as part of the HOPE for the Future project.

(See our blog post on Tom Greenway to find out more about this re-curation.)

Together with one of my team, I am also responsible for looking after the museum’s collection of live insects and other invertebrates.  These include Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches, Tarantulas, Stick insects and a Peacock Mantis.  I enjoyed designing and working with an expert to build their new tanks a couple of years ago. 

Madagascan Hissing Cockroach

Can you tell us about any particularly challenging aspects of your role?

One of the most challenging aspects of my job is the battle to protect the specimens from insect pests!  When live insects infest specimen drawers they can cause considerable damage and it is part of my job to ensure that drawers are checked on a regular schedule to ensure any infestations do not get out of control.  This has been particularly challenging during the pandemic when the museum has been closed and access to the collections, even for those of us who work here, has been limited.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I am fascinated by the history of the collections.  For example, my favourite entomology collection in the museum is the Baden-Sommer collection which dates back to the early 1900s.  It is housed in its original furniture, and is really rich in a wide variety of species, including an incredible number of type specimens.  I really enjoy understanding how specimen data labels and pinning techniques have changed over time.  For example, when faced with an undated specimen, the handwriting on labels and how an insect is pinned can give you clues about its age. It’s like being an insect detective!

I take great pride and comfort in the fact that my work helps to keep the collection safe for future generations.  The work that I am currently undertaking on the British Insect collection as part of the HOPE for the Future project is a great example of this, and will result in the collection being accessible to the public online, and available for teaching and research for many years to come. 

Thank you so much, Amo, for some fascinating insights into your role at the museum. Good luck with the Hope for the Future project!