Kate and Susie, HOPE Learning Officers

Kate Jaeger and Susie Glover have been Learning Officers at the heart of the HOPE For The Future project since the programme started in 2020. As their time with the project draws to an end, they reflect on their exciting role, what they enjoyed most about it, and choose their favourite insects from the many they encountered.

There are three HOPE Learning Officers and one Community Officer working on the project. We all help people learn more about insects and the museum’s collections, inspiring them to learn more, and even get more involved.

The learning officers work with young people. You may have met us at school, at an event in the museum, or you may have read an article like this in the blog. Our role includes running insect themed activities:

  • Insect Discovery Days in Schools
  • Insect Investigators Summer School
  • Insect Explorers after school club in the museum
  • Events for young people
  • Training for teachers to help them teach about insects

Of course, we also run this blog aimed at young people who want to learn more about insects, as well as developing various online resources for teachers and young people to use, and enjoy.

When did you first become interested in insects?

Kate:

I have always loved the natural world.  As a child, I lived in the countryside and my pockets were often full of things I had collected such as stones, seeds, sticks and, once, much to my mother’s surprise, a live mole!  I was especially fond of butterflies and had an I-Spy book in which I ticked off species I had seen.  Soon other books on insects, birds, fossils, minerals, dinosaurs and human evolution filled my shelves.

This interest in the natural world stayed with me into adulthood and when I became a teacher, I trained as a Forest School Leader so that I could share my love of the outdoors with others.  Working on the HOPE for the Future project has given me a unique opportunity to indulge my passion and learn much more about insects from the incredible entomology team here at the museum.  The more I find out about insects, the more fascinated I become!  The insect world is full of surprises and I am constantly amazed by these tiny creatures, without whom our planet Earth would not be able to survive.

Susie:

As a child I loved being outside, climbing trees, digging holes, investigating the different creatures in my back garden, and generally being surrounded by natural and wildlife.

I did well in school, but was particularly good at Biology. It just made sense to me, and I found it really interesting, and so I went on to study it at University. While biology is a fairly broad subject, I focused mainly on ecology, animal behaviour and evolution, learning more about the creatures all around us, including insects.

I have worked for several years teaching people about Nature and British Wildlife, including British insects, and always found them interesting. However, it wasn’t until I started my role here at the museum, working on the HOPE for the Future project that I really focused in on insects. Over the past couple of years I have learnt so much more about these fascinating creatures, and the multitude of different ways they find to survive and thrive.

What is your favourite insect?

Kate:

My favourite insect is constantly changing, but at the moment I am keen on this little true bug:  Issus cleoptratus.

Issus cleoptratus. Image credit: Fritz Geller-Grimm, CC BY-SA 2.5

Not the most beautiful of insects but a fascinating one nonetheless! This species of plant hopper is the first living creature known to possess functional, interlocking gears or cogs.  These gears are positioned on its hind legs and help to synchronise the legs when jumping, making sure the bug can hop in a straight line!

Check out this video which explains it all:

Working gears evolved in plant-hopping insects. Scientific American.

See what I mean about the insect world being full of surprises?

Susie:

I have always loved butterflies. They are such beautiful majestic creatures. When I see the first butterflies of the year, which are often the bright yellow brimstone butterflies, I feel that winter is over and summer is truly on the way. However, I think my favourite has to be one of the most common garden butterflies in England and Wales, the Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io).

The Peacock Butterfly, Aglais io

To protect themselves these butterflies use a combination of camouflage and Mimicry. When at rest they sit with their wings closed, so that all you can see are the almost black undersides of their wings that look rather like dead leaves. But when their wings are open, you can see the brightly coloured top side of the wings, with large round spots, that look like large eyes. These eyespots are there to startle and confuse predators.

What is your favourite part of the project?

Kate:

Well, I have had the privilege to work in one of the world’s most fascinating museums, with one of the best entomology collections in the UK and with some very interesting people.  I particularly enjoyed creating the ‘To Bee or not to Bee’ activity in which you have to identify the real bees among the bee mimics. It has proved a hit with all ages, from young children to seasoned entomologists, and we hope to produce an online version to bring it to a wider audience. The thing I have enjoyed most, though, is meeting hundreds, if not thousands, of young people through the course of the project, both here in the museum and in their schools.  Their interest and enthusiasm for insects and the natural world has really given me hope for the future. 

Susie:

I love coming up with new activities to help people learn about insects and the world around them. There are three activities that I particularly enjoyed developing:

  1. The Case of the Stolen Specimen – this was for an event for 10 to 14 year olds. We developed a puzzle for the young people to solve. A Specimen had been stolen from the museum and they had to solve puzzles and follow clues to find out what had been stolen, and who the thief was. It was great to see how much the participants seemed to enjoy working out the clues and rushing off to solve the crime.
  2. Food Chains – this was an activity for the Discovery Days, that is now also available online for teachers to use. It is made up from a series of cards which each have a photo of an animal on one side (mostly insects), and information about what they eat on the other. You have to use this information to build food chains and webs.
  3. Peppered Moth – this was also an activity for the Discovery Days. The participants have to put on glasses, which distort their vision, and then use tweezers to pick up as many “moths” as they can in a certain time. They can see which moths they pick up, and how the colour of the moth and background affected this.

We wish Kate and Susie all the best for their future as school teachers. If you have enjoyed this post, you might like to read about other people who work with insects on our ‘People’ section.

Zoë Simmons

Zoë Simmons, Head of Life Collections at Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History, tells us about her role, how she first became interested in insects and museum collections, and about some of her favourite insects.

In the video Zoë mentions the aposematic colouration of the pleasing fungus beetles. This means that these beetles are brightly coloured in order to warn predators that they are not good to eat (they are poisonous, venomous, or otherwise unpleasant to eat). Can you think of any other animals with aposematic colouring? Let us know in the comments below or via the Contact us page.

Seirian Sumner on Social Insects

Seirian Sumner is Professor of Behavioural Ecology in the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research (CBER) at UCL. She runs the social insect lab. In this video she talks about the work of the lab.

In the video Seirian talks about the role of wasps in the ecosystem, and how their importance is often overlooked in comparison with bees. She has recently released a book, Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps, which tells us more about these underrated insects.

Have you read this or any other good books or articles about insects that you would like to share? Let us know about them in the comments section or via the contact us page.

Fabulous Fig Wasps

Many insects are important pollinators helping plants to make seeds from which new plants can grow. One of these is the fabulous fig wasp. In this video fig wasp researcher Sotiria Boutsi explains the amazing life cycle of the fig wasp, and why without it we wouldn’t have any figs!

Sotiria Boutsi shares her fascination with fig wasps

Sotiria shared her interest in fig wasps with Crunchy on the outside while she was a Professional Intern in Public Engagement at the Museum of Natural History. She has a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology and is currently researching for a PHD at Harper Adams University on using genetic information to study how different species of fig wasp are related to each other.

You can find out about other amazing insects in the Insects section of the blog.

Update: So, are there wasps in figs we eat?

Sotiria’s video sparked some debate on social media about whether there are wasps in the figs we eat. This is a complicated subject, but the short answer is ‘no’. Many figs that are produced for sale in supermarkets and greengrocer’s shops are ripened without the need for them to be pollinated by insects. Some figs produced for sale are pollinated by fig wasps, but the fig produces a chemical that dissolves the wasps.

So, any crunchy bits inside a fig are seeds, not wasps!

Header image: Fig wasps, Philocaenus rotundus, on a fig. Alan Manson CC BY 4.0

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.

CSI: Crime Scene Insects

How can insects help solve crimes? In this video, forensic entomologist Dr Amoret Whitaker discusses her work and how she came to work with some common flies that can provide important clues.

The blow flies that Dr Whitaker talks about are a family of flies (Diptera) called the Calliphoridae. They often have bodies with a metallic sheen and are also known as carrion flies, bluebottles and greenbottles. The fly pictured in the video is Cynomya mortuorum, known as the yellow-faced fly or sometimes, more gruesomely, as ‘the fly of the dead’.

Forensic entomology is just one way in which scientists work with insects. If you would like to know more about different entomologists and what they do, visit the People section of the blog.