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.

Insects Online

When the weather is chilly there aren’t many insects about, but we still have lots of online ‘Crunchy’ insect activities for you to try. We hope they will boost your insect expertise!

How to spot an insect

What makes an insect an insect? How to spot an insect is an introduction to insect anatomy: the body parts that make up an insect. Discover the key features entomologists use spot insects and how insects are different from some of their close relatives. You can then test yourself with our quick quiz!

Insect ID

Ever wondered what that insect is? Insect ID takes you into a deeper exploration of the ‘Big 5’ groups of insects in Britain:

  • beetles
  • bees, wasps & ants
  • butterflies & moths
  • true flies
  • true bugs.

Discover the differences between them, learn how to spot each type and put your skills to the test with our ID challenge.  

Know your bees

There is more to bees than hives and honey! Know your bees explores some of the rich variety of bees found in Britain. We’ve also included some tools to help you make your own observations of bees.

Looking for more?

Hummingbird hawkmoth, Macroglossum stellatarum. Image credit: Rodger Caseby

If you’d like to go a bit further and, as the weather gets a bit warmer, get outside and do some investigating of your own, why not try one of our inset investigation ideas:

  • Different flowers asks whether different types of flower attract different insects
  • Insect Pollination investigates the range of important insect pollinators (it’s not just bees!)
  • Time of day explores whether different insects visit flowers at different times of day

We would love to hear how you get on. Get in touch using the comments below or the 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.

Bee-flies: A sign of Spring

At this time of year, after the long winter months, we are all looking for signs of Spring.   One thing that entomologists look forward to is the first sightings of bee-flies.   These very cute, furry flies start to emerge in late February and early March.

Bombylius major, the dark-edged bee-fly, is one of Erica McAlister’s favourite British insects and she tells us why in this video.

Find out more about Bee-flies

To find out more about bee-flies, check out this page on the Dipterists Forum. There is also an excellent guide to bee-fly identification which you can find here.

In addition, the Dipterists Forum run an annual Bee-fly Watch which gathers together records of sightings.  This is really important for monitoring changes in distribution and flight period.  You can contribute to this important science project by adding your sightings here:

Bee-fly Watch | Soldierflies and Allies Recording Scheme (brc.ac.uk)

Have you seen any bee-flies yet this Spring? Let us know, too, by telling us below or by using the Contact Us page.