Why collect insects

As part of the HOPE project, Kate, Rodger and I take insect specimens from the collection out to schools. Two questions I have been asked a number of times are:

  1. Are they real?
  2. Why did you kill them?

The answer to the first question is fairly simple. Yes! They are real insects that were once alive, but are now dead and have been carefully preserved.
The answer to the second question is a little more complicated. The British Insect Collection, at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, consists of over 1 million specimens, collected over a period of about 200 years. I think the real questions are why do we keep this vast assortment of insects and what are they used for?

Identification

When investigating insects, it often is not possible to identify them out in the field, or from photographs. Some insects need to be looked at under a microscope, or even dissected, to tell them apart and identify them to species level. Also, just think how small some insects are, it could be very easy to miss them altogether. As a result, entomologists sometimes use insect collecting methods that involve killing the insects, and taking them back to their labs for identification.

The collection is also used to help with identification. If an entomologist comes across an insect species they have not seen before, or are struggling to identify, they can compare it with those already in the collection. Getting a correct identification is really important. It helps entomologists know if they are talking about the same insect.

Historical record

In the collection each specimen has a label which gives key information regarding where, when and by whom it was found. The collection contains specimens for almost the entire history of British entomology, giving us information on the biodiversity of Britain, during this time. From this we can see how insect populations have changed, for example how the numbers of the different forms of the Peppered moth (Biston betularia) varied during and after the Industrial Revolution. Scientists from all over the world regularly use and reference the British Insect Collection as part of their research.

The collection offers an amazing glimpse into the natural world with dozens of iconic species now considered extinct in the UK, including the large copper butterfly and the blue stag beetle. It also contains many examples of the first British capture of insect species.

Education

We use the collection to help people to learn about the wonders and importance of insects in our world. While it is very valuable for people to see living insects in their natural environment, they often move around very fast. It is much easier to use specimens from the collection to look at and understand the features of different insects.

In my experience of taking specimens into schools, seeing these insects up close in this way not only inspires a sense of wonder, interest and excitement, but also allows those who are more nervous of these little critters to gain confidence as well as understanding.

Cinnabar moth on the road

Why did the insect cross the road?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I love a good joke, or even the odd bad joke. I am now on the lookout for new insect jokes. This is where you come in. We want to hear your insect jokes, both ones that you have heard and ones that you have created yourselves. Here are a few ideas and examples to get you started and in the zone:

Traditional Jokes

There are some jokes that have been around for a while. Most people know the original form, and enjoy making up new variations of those same jokes. Here are some insect versions of popular traditional jokes:

Examples of Traditional Jokes (Knock Knock! Who’s there? Abby! Abby who? A bee just stung me; Why did the insect cross the road? To get away from the pesti-side; Doctor Doctor. I keep seeing an insect buzzing about my head! Don’t worry! It’s just a bug that’s going around.)

Puns

Many jokes rely on puns, some clever, some less so. A pun is a play-on-words, and makes use of different possible meanings of the same, or similar, words. To illustrate this I will tell you about some of my insect puns:

They are un-bee-lieveable. I hope they are not fly-ing over your head. Some people find them annoying. Do they bug you?

As you can see you can drop them into general conversation, they can be incorporated into a story or they can form the punchline of your joke:

Joke with a pun as the punchline (What is a grasshopper’s favourite sport? Cricket)

Another word for pun is paronomasia, though this term is a little too pun-usual for my taste.

One liners

A one liner is a joke that is made up of just one line or sometimes even just one sentence. You have to listen closely, or you may miss the punchline. You may not even realise that the person is telling a joke until they have finished:

I saw a fantastic film about a really large insect. It was XL ant!

No doubt you can tell better insect jokes than the ones above. Please share them with us in the comments below.

Butterfly Origami

Have a go at making an origami butterfly. Origami is the art of folding paper into shapes and decorations, that originated in Japan. All you need to make this origami butterfly is a square piece of paper and a spare few minutes:

Here are written instructions for making the origami butterfly, in addition to the video:

  1. Take a square piece of paper. Fold it diagonally, press along the fold, and unfold. Repeat the other way.
  2. Turn the piece of paper over. Fold the bottom edge to the top edge, press along the fold, and unfold. Fold the left edge to the right edge, press along the fold, and unfold.
  3. Fold the left edge to the right edge, allowing the other edges to fold inward along the creases. This will form a triangle shape.
  4. Fold the top layer from both bottom corners of the triangle towards the top corner, but each slightly to either side of that top corner. Press along the creases.
  5. Fold the bottom layer from the top of the triangle towards the bottom flat edge, so that it overlaps a little, and fold it over. Press carefully along the crease, as the bottom “wings” will be drawn up.
  6. Press along the middle crease to help keep the fold over in place.

We would love to see pictures of your creations, please do share them with us.