Hayleigh Jutson

Hayleigh Jutson is the HOPE For the Future Community Officer. She is working with the HOPE project team to develop and deliver a programme for working with community groups across generations and making the Museum as an friendly space for older people. She wants  “museums to be a space for all to enjoy and develop their sense of wonder and imagination, no matter what age they are”.

How did you first become interested in insects?

I have always been interested in insects and all things in Nature – ever since I can remember. I grew up in the South West of England, playing on Dartmoor and the glorious beaches of Devon and Cornwall. I was always out in Nature with my brother, cousins and friends, looking for slowworms, caterpillars, crickets, stick insects – all sorts. That interest and sense of awe and wonder has never left me and I think I’m even more excited about it all now, as an adult.

What does your work on the HOPE project involve?

I run a programme of natural history focussed activities at the museum for older people, called Age of Nature. I also take specimens out to Community groups around Oxfordshire to engage older adult social groups. With community groups, I run projects for older people and intergenerational projects. These often involve grandparents and their grandchildren. I’m working to make the museum an Age-Friendly space so that our older visitors can enjoy it as much as everyone else.

What is your favourite insect?

This is a really hard question, because there are so many to choose from!

I recently fell in love with the Summer Chafer (Amphimallon solstitialis). These clumsy not-so-little coleopterans look a lot like the common Cockchafer, but smaller. From around June – August you’ll see these cute, chunky beetles wobbling around in gardens or inelegantly flying around the tops of trees, bashing into each-other and everything else around them with a great clonk. Around July – August this year, I had around 10 summer chafers per night, come through my house and crashing into my windows, sending themselves into a half-conscious daze. They often land on their backs and immediately try to fly, but because they’re upside down, they end up whizzing around in circles, quite loudly, like they’re taking part in some sort of breakdance battle – it’s quite entertaining!

They’re very cute and gentle creature, and while I was up and down picking them up and taking them back outside, I had the pleasure of seeing them up close and watching their funny little characters and antics. There were so many above my tree, certainly hundreds – they made it sound electrified, with all their zipping and zapping of their wings colliding with each other. Who couldn’t fall in love with this little face?

I’m also quite fond of Stick-Insects. I mentioned that I used to go looking for them when I lived down in Devon and Cornwall when I was young. Stick-Insects are not actually native to this country and often when I tell people I used to play with them in the wild when I was little, they say “you must be mistaken, they couldn’t have been Stick-Insects – you don’t get them in the UK”. The reason I used to find lots of stick insects everywhere when I was younger, is because, three species of stick insects from New Zealand were released in Devon and Cornwall between 100 – 50 years ago. They came here by accident, when plants from New Zealand were shipped to plant nurseries in the South West of England, which were hosting the phasmid’s eggs. Phasmids are insects in the Order Phasmatodea, which Stick-Insects belong to. ‘Phasma’ means phantom in Greek.

Metallic stick insects (Achrioptera manga) are a big hit with Museum visitors of all ages!

Stick-Insects always used to fascinate me with their expert camouflage, which used to give me hours of challenging entertainment, when my brother and cousins and I were playing in the woods, seeing who could spot the most Stick-Insects. I love the way they move too and now that I work here at the museum, we have quite a few live Stick-Insect species that I love to stop and watch as I walk by. We also have some live, large, blue Metallic Stick Insects (Achrioptera manga) that we take out to community groups and school groups for people to see and hold. They are so beautiful and the more I’ve gotten to handle them, the more I’ve seen that they each have their own little personalities! There’s one that often gets a bit grumpy and flares his wings out with a bright red flash of colour. And there’s the dopey one, who is really placid and likes to put his two front legs up and it wiggle side to side, like he’s showing us a little dance, before walking off the edge and falling on the floor. They’re really very sweet and cute.

If you enjoyed Hayleigh’s description of the Summer Chafer, you might like this blog post all about Chafers. We haven’t written about stick insects yet but perhaps we should? Let us know what you think using the Contact Us page.

Beetle biscuits

Enjoy biscuits? Like beetles? Then you’ll love our iced beetle biscuits! We have designed ours to look like ladybirds, but you can decorate yours in any way you like. If you haven’t got time to bake the biscuits you could buy some and decorate them.

You will need:

  • Round biscuit cutter
  • Baking tray – lightly greased or with baking paper
  • Mixing bowl
  • Rolling pin
  • Wooden spoon
  • teaspoon
  • A work surface sprinkled with flour
  • A wire rack to cool the biscuits
  • Oven pre-heated to 190oC (170oC if its a fan oven)
  • Oven gloves
  • A grown-up assistant

Ingredients:

  • 100g butter – take it out of the fridge to soften it
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 80g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon of milk
  • 3 drops of vanilla extract

To make the icing:

  • 100g icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (use water if you haven’t got juice)
  • Food colouring – colours of your choice

How to make the biscuits:

  1. Wash your hands. Make sure your assistant washes theirs too.
  2. Lightly grease the baking tray.
  3. In the mixing bowl, rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips. Keep going until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
  4. Add the sugar, beaten egg, milk and vanilla extract.
  5. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. You can use the spoon to start but as the dough forms you will probably find it easier to use your hands to shape it into a ball.
  6. Using the rolling pin, roll out the dough on the floured work surface until it is spread out in a thin layer.
  7. Cut out biscuit shapes from the dough and put them on the baking tray.
  8. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Ask your assistant to take them out when they are golden brown.
  9. Cool the biscuits on the wire rack. watch that your assistant doesn’t try to snaffle the warm biscuits!

How to make the biscuits:

While the biscuits are cooling, mix the icing ingredients. The icing needs to be liquid but not so runny that it runs off the biscuit when you put it on. If it’s too runny, add a bit more icing sugar. If its too stiff, add a drop of water. Divide your icing between bowls, one for each colour you are using. For the biscuits in the picture, we used red and violet and also kept some white icing. Add a drop of food colour to each bowl and mix it in. When the biscuits are cool, use the teaspoon to spoon a little icing onto each biscuit, then smooth it on with the back of the spoon. You can use a cocktail stick to spread out small amounts of icing.

Top tip: if you have a piping bag, you can stop the colours mixing into each other, pipe the outline of the parts of your beetle, let that icing dry, then fill in with more liquid icing.

We hope you enjoy your biscuits! Why not send us a picture of your design for our Photo Gallery?

Ladybird origami

Ladybirds are beetles from the family Coccinellidae. There are over 45 different species found in the UK. Some of these will very familiar to many people, with their bright colours and red or black spots. Other species, known as inconspicuous ladybirds, have more drab and muted colouring. In the video below you can learn how to make your own origami ladybird. Origami is the art of folding paper into shapes and decorations, that originated in Japan. All you need to make this origami ladybird is a square piece of paper (ideally black, yellow, red or orange), a black colouring pen, a white piece of chalk and a spare few minutes:

As you can see, I tried decorating my origami to look like ladybird species that we would find here in the UK. If you want to do the same there are some helpful ID guides by the Woodland Trust and the UK Ladybird Survey. Show us pictures of your Origami Ladybirds either in the comments below or email them to us at hopelearning@oum.ox.ac.uk.

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.

Let there be Light!

When is a worm not a worm?  When it’s a glow-worm… because a glow-worm is actually a beetle!

Male glow-worms look like typical beetles with wing cases (elytra) covering their second pair of wings, but the females are very different, having no wings and resembling beetle larvae.  It is the females who emit a greenish-orange glow from their back ends by a process called bioluminescence. Light is produced by energy released from chemical reactions occurring inside the glow-worm’s body.  In nature, bioluminescence occurs in many different types of organisms from bacteria to marine vertebrates and invertebrates.  It serves different purposes such as to warn or evade predators; lure or detect prey; or, in the case of the glow-worm, as a means of communication. The female glow-worms use the light to attract males.  Male glow-worms have large eyes with a high degree of sensitivity to light, so they are well adapted to being able to spot females in the dark. Once the glow-worms have mated, the females stop glowing and lay their eggs. If you are out for a night time walk in an area of grassland in June or July, you may be lucky enough to spot these amazing insects glowing in the dark! Glow-worms can be found in England (particularly in the South), but also in lowland Scotland and Wales.

Ferocious Predators

Glow-worm larva hunting snails. Image credit: CC-BY-SA-4.0, Hans Hillewaert

It is not only the female glow-worms who can glow, however.  The larvae are also able to flash a light on and off and it is thought that this is to deter predators or to help with their night time hunting. Glow-worm larvae are ferocious hunters of slugs and snails!  They have formidable mandibles and inject toxins into their prey which paralyses and liquefies them.  The toxin can take a while to take effect so the larva may ride around on the shell of the snail, waiting for it to die! The larval stage of the glow-worm lasts for between 2 and 3 years.  Winters, when prey is scarce, are spent in a state of torpor under logs and stones, or buried in the ground. 

The Race is On!

Once the larvae have pupated, the glow-worms need to mate as quickly as possible.  They do not eat as adults and only have enough stored energy from their larval stage to survive for about 10 days before starving to death.  Hopefully with a bright lantern to attract the males, the females will mate successfully and have her eggs fertilised before dying.   

Have you seen a glow-worm recently?  We would love to hear about it.  Let us know in the comments below or via the contact us section of the blog.

The Marvellous Maybug

As the month of April fades into May a certain beetle can be found flying noisily about its business. Cockchafers, often called Maybugs, are relatively large members of the Scarab beetle family. There are three different species of Cockchafer found in Europe;

  • The common cockchafer, Melolontha melolontha
  • The forest cockchafer, Melolontha hippocastani
  • The large cockchafer, Melolontha pectoralis

Cockchafers spend most of their lives, 3 to 4 years, as larva, living underground, munching away at the roots of plants. In large numbers they can become pests, doing significant damage to crops.

It is as adults that they emerge above ground, flying around for roughly 5 to 6 week looking for a mate and feeding on the leaves of trees. They can usually be spotted making their noisy flight at dusk on warm evenings. You may even find them flying into and around your outside lights.

Common Cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha) © OUMNH

They are around 3cm long, with reddish brown wing cases and distinctive fan shaped antennae. Despite their intimidating size and noisy flight, they are actually harmless to humans. I once had one fly in the house and land on my big toe, waking me up from a nap!

Pesticides used farming in the mid-1900s brought them to the brink of extinction in the UK. However, changes in farming practises and pesticide use has allowed them to make a comeback. They can now be found across England, are particularly common in the south of England and the Midlands. They are much rarer in Scotland.

Do you know of any other insects that are considered pests by farmers? Let us know in the comments below or via the contact us section of the blog.