FREE workshops coming up in May and June

The Case of the Stolen Specimen

Irreplaceable insect specimens have been stolen from the Museum! Help us solve some insect-based clues to unmask the thief.  Explore behind-the-scenes at the Museum to learn about the importance of the entomology collection, and why it must be protected.

Here are all the details you need:

WHAT: FREE workshop – The Case of the Stolen Specimen

WHEN: Tuesday 31st May 2022 , 1pm to 3pm

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

WHO: 10 to 14 year olds

Booking is essential, email hopelearning@oum.ox.ac.uk to secure your place.

Insect Field Craft

Celebrate National Insect Week by taking a closer look at the wonderful world of insects on our doorstep.

Come out and about with us to learn how to find insects outside. You’ll even get a chance to make and use an insect pooter. We will start by making our pooters in the Museum and then – weather permitting – will test them out in University Parks. There will also be a chance to try out other entomological collection methods.

Here are all the details you need:

WHAT: FREE workshop – Insect Field Craft

WHEN: Saturday 25th June 2022 , 10am to 12pm

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

WHO: 10 to 14 year olds

Booking is essential, email hopelearning@oum.ox.ac.uk to secure your place.

Biodiversity: exploring the variety of life.

Biodiversity is an exhibition at the Museum of Natural History that explores biodiversity through the celebrated art of Kurt Jackson and reflections from reserchers at Oxford University.

What is biodiversity?

The word Biodiversity describes the variety of life. In any one place, the range of living things, including plants, animals, and bacteria, is called its biodiversity. It is used as a measure of how well or poorly natural life is coping with stresses like loss of habitat, pollution or climate change. The higher the number of different species, the greater the biodiversity. Biodiverse habitats are healthier because they can cope with change. When there are many different plants and animals, a change is unlikely to affect them all so many will survive.

Daddy Long Legs by Kurt Jackson

Because human activity has an impact on biodiversity we have a responsibility to look after the health of ecosystems. Each habitat has its own distinctive biodiversity, from the fields and forests, seas and streams, to the increasingly buit up places where we humans tend to live. Under the water, on a mountain, in your garden; what lives there?

What’s in the exhibition?

This exhibition shows artworks made by artist and environmentalist Kurt Jackson. The art was made in a number of different locations across the UK. Alongside it, there are displays of specimens from the Museum’s collection. These highlight the range of species found in landscapes across the UK. The artwork and museum specimens have been combined with responses from biodiversity researchers at the University of Oxford. How can we understand it? How can we protect it? What does it mean to us all?

British insects on display in the Biodiversity exhibition.

“Daily, during my time spent making art outdoors, I notice the life around me – the plants and animals that share these places with me.”

Kurt Jackson

Insects and biodiversity

Scientists measure biodiversity by looking at the abundance and distribution of species.

  • Abundance describes how numerous species are. Because they are interested in changes over time, scientists often measure relative abundance: how numerous species are compared to a point of time in the past.
  • Distribution describes how wide the area is over which species are found. Relative distribution compares this to a point in the past.

Both these measures are important. For example, having large numbers of many different species (high abundance) is good, but if they are restricted to a small area (low distribution) then they are vulnerable.

Change in relative abundance of 76 moth species. Defra 2019.

Rather than trying to measure the numbers of all the plants and animals in a habitat, scientists often monitor indicator species. These are particular plants and animals that tell us about the health of whole ecosystems. Insects can be indicator species. For example,in the UK, the Department for Environment, food and Rural Affairs (Defra) monitors 76 species of moth (as well as many other plant and animal species).

Visiting the exhibition

You can visit the Biodiversity exhibition in the Main Court of the Museum until 15 May. Entrance is free and there is no need to book

Selection of insects from the collections of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

If you would like to investigate biodiversity where you live, take a look at some of our suggestions and resources for Finding and Identifying Insects.

We’d love to hear about what you find!

Book your place at our FREE Event this Easter!

Are you aged 10 – 14? Then join us for a FREE Crunchy on the Outside event here at the museum this Easter.

A Game of Life Cycles – Tuesday 12th April 2022, 1 – 3pm

Discover more about the stages of insect life cycles, then make and play your own insect-themed board game.  Can your insect make it through all the stages of metamorphosis to become an adult? Can they overcome the challenges along the way and lay eggs to make the next generation?

Here are all the details you need:

WHAT:              FREE workshop – A Game of Life Cycles

WHEN:             Tuesday 12th April 2022 , 1pm to 3pm

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

WHO:               10 to 14 year olds

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

Ryan Mitchell

Ryan, a Collections Assistant for the HOPE for the Future Project at Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History, tells us about the important work of the project, and how he first became interested in insects.

Ryan mentions catching grasshoppers in his hands as a child. Have you found any insects in your garden or local green space? What were they? We would love to hear about them in the comments below, or through our contact us page.

According to Type

Tucked away in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History’s Entomology (insect) department, are a series of mysterious looking cabinets, all labelled with a yellow circle with” PR (Priority Rescue)” on them. But why? What does this mean? What is in these Cabinets?

Priority rescue is referring to the fact that in case of a fire, or other emergency that could cause damage to items within the museum, these cabinets are to be rescued first, before other items. But they aren’t filled with expensive technology, or millions of pounds of precious gems. They contain something totally irreplaceable and priceless: type specimens.

What are Type Specimens?

When it comes to Taxonomy, type specimens have a really important role. Taxonomy is the process of naming, describing and organising living things. It involves choosing names for organisms based on the features they share with other organisms.

For example Bombus subterraneus and Bombus terrestris have the same genus name “Bombus” but have difference species names “subterraneus” and “terrestris”. This means that they are closely related and have similar features, they are still different species. Can you spot some differences?

Short-haired bumblebee, Bombus subterraneus ©OUMNH
Buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris ©OUMNH

When a taxonomist names a new species, they will designate a particular specimen the “type specimen”. A type specimen is the physical example of a particular species that all other specimens of that species are compared to.

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History has over 5 million insect specimens. Around 20,000 of these are type specimens, the first specimen of a species to be described and named.

Type specimen for Dixeia pigea erubescens © Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Type specimen for Sangala beata © Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Just to make things more complicated there are some different types of type specimen. Here are just a couple of examples that we have come across:

Holotype: a single physical example of a species, used to describe that species.

Syntype: a series of specimens of a species, used together to describe that species.

Paratype: additional specimen or specimens used, alongside a holotype, to help describe a species.

Iconotype: a drawing of a specimen that is used to describe that species, and serves as the type specimen. At the museum we have a book, William Jones’ Icones. It contains many species of butterflies and moths that are described for the first time and are classed as iconotypes.

By why is it important to have designated type specimens? What do you think? How might they be used? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, or using the Contact us page. Also, it can be quite a confusing concept, so please do ask us any questions.

Insect Fun in the Museum – Saturday 12th March

Super Science Saturday: Fantastic Minibeasts

OUMNH Super Science Saturday by IWPhotographic

Drop in to the museum for this fun family Science Fair on Saturday 12th March, 12-4pm. Meet experts to find out more about tiny creatures like insects, spiders and more!

No need to book – just come along and, whilst you are in the museum, why not join us for our Insect Show: Insects: Beasties or Besties.

Insects: Beasties or Besties Family Science Show

Saturday 12th March, 1pm and 2.30pm

Ages 6+

Come along to our fun and interactive family show all about insects. You’ll meet a visitor to the museum, with a dislike of insects, who is confronted by a giant talking dung beetle! The unlikely pair take a journey, looking at the wonderful, and vitally important, role of insects in our world.

Please note that the show will be held in the Museum’s Lecture Theatre which has a capacity of 195 seats and social distancing will not be in place. Visitors are encouraged to wear a face mask for the duration of the show and hand sanitiser will be available when you enter/exit. 

The show is FREE but please book online.