Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente

Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente, Deputy Head of Research here at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, tells us how he first became interested in natural history. Hear about his work as a palaeoentomologist specialising in the study of insects fossilised in amber, including the discovery of a fascinating lacewing species from around 100 million years ago with an ingenious method of camouflage and defence.

Ricardo’s research into the fossilised lacewing species, Hallucinochrysa diogenesi, has shown that the strategy of covering the body with materials from the environment as a way to camouflage and defend, known as trash-carrying, evolved at least 100 million years ago. Several species of invertebrates use this strategy today, including green lacewing larvae, and some sea urchin and crab species. Can you think of other ways in which insects defend themselves from their prey? Let us know in the comments below or in the Contact Us section of the blog.

Danielle Czerkaszyn

You may already know that the museum contains millions of natural history specimens, but did you know that it also houses a world-class collection of books and journals, plus a priceless archive?  Held in 38 different locations across the museum, the collection of over 20,000 books covers all areas of natural history: zoology, geology, mineralogy, palaeontology, and is particularly known for its collection of entomology books and journals.  In fact, we believe it is the third largest entomology library in the UK after the Natural History Museum in London and the library of the Royal Entomological Society.  

In addition, there is a priceless archive of letters, maps, field notebooks, photographs, artwork and other items of interest.  Where else would you find letters from Charles Darwin, the death mask of the Swiss biologist and geologist Louis Agassiz, and the trowel that laid the foundation stone of the museum’s building in 1855.

Trowel used to lay the Museum’s foundation stone

So, who is in charge of this fascinating treasure trove? That job falls to Danielle Czerkaszyn, the museum’s Librarian and Archivist.  I went along to meet Danielle to find out how she came to work at the museum, what her job involves and to learn more about the amazing collection in her care.

Danielle Czerkaszyn

From History to Natural History

Having first completed a degree in History in her native Canada, Danielle came to the UK to do a Master’s degree in Museum Studies.  Following this, she was selected for a place as a Graduate Library Trainee at the Bodleian History Faculty Library here in Oxford and secured her post at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in 2017.  Danielle revealed:

“When I came for the interview, I was asked what my weakness would be in the role and I replied that I didn’t really know a great deal about natural history! The good thing is that I learn new things every day and my knowledge of natural history has expanded!”

As well as a valuable resource for staff at the Museum and other members of the University, the library and archive is open to anyone with an interest in natural history.  On a day to day basis, Danielle deals with many enquiries from the public requesting visits or requests for articles and chapters of books to be provided digitally to help with research.  High-use collections in the library and archive are currently in the process of being digitised which will make it even more accessible to natural historians around the world.  Danielle is also responsible for keeping the collection up to date with new publications and dealing with donations that come in from members of the public. 

Highlights of the Collection

I asked Danielle to choose some of her favourite entomology items from the collection and she suggested two incredible and unique works – one from the archive and one from the library. 

The first is William Jones’ Icones, one of the most scientifically important and stunning works on butterflies and moths ever produced.

William Jones’ Icones

“This work as one of my favourites because the paintings are so

detailed and beautiful. Plus it is completely unique.” 

Danielle Czerkaszyn

Danielle’s second choice is Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (Insects of Surinam) published in 1705. 

Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (Insects of Surinam) published in 1705

“Maria Sibylla Merian is definitely a figure to be admired as a pioneering role model for women and I love showcasing her work.”

Danielle Czerkaszyn

Check out our blog posts on these incredible items from the collection to find out more:

William Jones’ Icones

Maria Sibylla Merian’s Insects of Surinam

Thank you so much to Danielle for giving us a fascinating insight into the library and archive here at the Museum of Natural History, and for sharing some of the incredible works in her care. 

To find out more about the library and archive visit https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/library.

Do you have a favourite book on insects? Tell us about it here or in the comments below.

Treasures from the Museum Library and Archive

Maria Sibylla Merian’s Insects of Surinam

The Library here at the Museum of Natural History is lucky enough to hold a copy of Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (Insects of Surinam). This large and stunningly beautiful book by the German artist, scientist and adventurer, Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), was published in 1705.  Trained as a professional artist, Maria studied insects and observed their metamorphosis from an early age. She could be described as one of the earliest entomologists. 

A woman truly ahead of her time, at the age of 52 she travelled with her daughter to the newly-founded South American colony of Surinam to study insects.  Maria carefully recorded what she found in the most fantastically detailed drawings and paintings which were later published in the form of a book. 

The illustrations show insects in all stages of their life cycles, increasing knowledge of metamorphosis at the time.  By showing insects in their natural settings and on their preferred vegetation, she also highlighted the relationship between insects, plants and other animals.  Not only are the illustrations beautiful but they are also very accurate and detailed enabling them to act as the basis for the naming and identification of a number of species. 

“Maria Sibylla Merian must have been an incredible woman to undertake such a journey in 1699 without patronage or being accompanied by a man.  Once in Surinam, she also had to withstand the conditions of a newly-formed colony, which must have been very basic.  She is definitely a figure to be admired as a pioneering role model for women

and I love showcasing her work.”

Danielle Czerkaszyn, Librarian and Archivist, Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History

Treasures from the Museum Library and Archive

William Jones’ Icones

Icones is the work of 18th-century wealthy wine merchant and entomologist William Jones (1745–1818). It is one of the most scientifically important and stunning works on butterflies and moths ever produced.  In it, Jones carefully painted over 760 species, describing many for the first time.  What makes this book even more special is that it was never published and the copy held in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History archive is the original and only copy.   

Two of the hundreds of butterfly and moth species carefully recorded in Icones.

Volume I, William Jones’ Icones

Completed between the 1780 and 1810, Icones is now bound in six leather volumes. Using his own Lepidoptera collection and the collections of other naturalists, Jones create the book at a time when collecting natural history specimens from newly discovered parts of the world was a fashionable pastime among the wealthy.  Many of the species are described for the first time in this work and are classed as Iconotypes.  This means that the illustrations act as type specimens against which all other specimens of that species are compared for the purposes of identification.

Click to find out more about this unique work and to see more of William Jones’ incredible illustrations.

Events 4U in ’22!

Happy New Year!  We hope 2022 is full of exciting times and awesome insect discoveries. We are SO excited because this year, we are inviting you to join us for FREE Crunchy on the Outside events here at the museum. Come and take part in some fabulous activities specially designed for young people, aged 10 – 14, interested in natural history and insects in particular. Keep an eye on this blog for news of forthcoming events.

Read on to find out more about the first event happening in February half term and how to book!

Acorn Weevil – Curculio glandium

Insects under the Lens – Wednesday 23rd February 2022, 1 – 3pm

Intrigued by insects? Join us to take a closer look at some of the museum’s 5 million insect specimens under a variety of different lenses. We will be using microscopes and digital photography to reveal beautiful details of insect anatomy not visible to the naked eye.  This workshop promises to unlock some of the secrets of the insect world and develop your powers of observation!

Six-belted Clearwing Moth under the microscope

FREE workshop – Insects under the Lens 

Wednesday 23rd February 2022 , 1pm to 3pm

Museum of Natural History, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PW

10 to 14 year olds

To book – email: hopelearning@oum.ox.ac.uk

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.