Wonderful Wasps!

Many people are wary of wasps, they like interrupting our picnics, they can look a bit fierce, and some have a sting in the tail, but it’s well worth getting to know this amazingly diverse group of insects. Our next Crunchy on the outside event for young people interested in nature, and insects in particular, is Wonderful Wasps! It’s at the Museum on Wednesday 28 December, 10.30-12.00pm.

We’ll be finding out about some amazing wasp species, looking at the Museum collections to see the fantastic range of different wasps in the UK, and making our own wasp models.

It’s free but booking is essential. To book a place please email hopelearning@oum.ox.ac.uk

We hope your New Year resolution will be to look after our wonderful wasps!

Take a look at our article on fig wasps here: Fabulous Fig Wasps.

Are You a Fantastic Fly Finder?

Take part in this exciting ecology project and become a fabulous Fly Finder! Scientists are trying to understand how humans are changing mountain lakes. Insects that live near water are a crucial food source for birds, frogs, and bats. Climate change and predators introduced by humans may be affecting these important species. 

Scientists have caught insects in traps and need your help to count the different types. In this citizen-science project from Zooniverse, you will be shown a picture of some flies. The insects you’ll see were hatched in lakes high above sea level in California, where they feed and grow until they’re ready to emerge as flying adults. These adults are often eaten by animals like birds. This makes them a perfect ‘pipeline’, delivering nutrients and energy from the aquatic environment of the lake to the terrestrial environment surrounding it! Your effort on this project will help scientists understand what changes threaten this connection, and what we can expect in years to come.

Start by following this link to Fly Finder. Click on ‘Identify insects’ to start. You can click on ‘Learn more’ first if you want to find out more about the project.

Sample of flies from Fly Finder

You will see an image of a sticky white card that has been used to catch flies. Looking at the image, you first have to decide what types of fly you can see. That might sound tricky, but there is an on-screen field guide to help you and most of the time you just need to decide whether it’s a ‘small fly’ or a ‘medium fly’. One you have decided, you just select the correct category from the list by clicking on it, then move your mouse (or your finger on a tablet) and click (or tap) on the fly. This will mark it for the researchers.

Screenshot from Fly Finder. This sample has a lot of flies!

Some of the images show several flies, others show quite a lot and a few will have none at all. You can do as few or as many pictures as you like. Lots of people doing a little each soon creates a lot of results for the scientists. This shows them which types of insect, and how many, are found in the different places where the traps were set.

If you enjoyed Fly finder, or your like the idea of taking part in other projects, why not have a look at our Make and Do page?

Pictures from our ‘Big Draw’ Event

During the October half-term school break a group of aspiring young artists gathered in the Westwood Room for our latest Crunchy on the outside event. We have now put some images from the event on our Photo Gallery for you to enjoy.

During the event, we all had a go at cartooning with Chris (you can have a go too, with this minotaur beetle video), biological drawing with Rodger, and our own art using a range of media. Danielle and Matt also showed us some artistic treasures from the Museum archives.

If you attended, took a drawing home to finish and would like us to include it, please email it to hopelearning@oum.ox.ac.uk.

Of course we’re always interested in seeing artwork and photos of insects by any of our followers. send them in using the same address and we’ll add them to our gallery too!

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.

Say Hello at Harcourt Arboretum

Come and see us at Harcourt Arboretum on Monday 24 October. The HOPE For the Future stand will feature lots of insect specimens and our ‘To Bee or not to Bee’ challenge.

We will be joining our friends at the Arboretum to support The Wonderful World of Insects, an interactive family show from WhatNot theatre company that explores themes of biodiversity, the importance of insects and their declining populations, and the connections between plant life and insects.

The show will run at 12.30pm or 2.30pm encourages us all to learn to love, respect and care for our six-legged friends. It is included with entry to the Arboretum but registration is required. Please book your day ticket as normal (not needed for annual pass holders or Friends) and then reserve your space for either show here. (Note: this is a link to an event booking site)

You don’t need to register for the Hope For the Future stand – just pop along and see us during your visit to the Arboretum! We will be there from 12pm to 3.30pm.

Still time to book for The Big Draw: Insects! on 26 October

We still have a few places left for The Big Draw: Insects! at the Museum of Natural History in Oxford. Aimed at 10-14 year olds, this is your chance to try out different styles of drawing, see amazing art from the Collections, and be one of the first visitors to enter the newly-refurbished Westwood Room. Please use the Contact Us page or email us at hopelearning@oum.ox.ac.uk to book a place.

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?