If you have visited the Museum lately you may have noted some changes. Some sections have been closed and some mysterious sounds have been heard from behind the boards that hide the view. What is going on?
Well, some exciting changes are coming! The main court is being revitalised with the first major redisplay of the permanent exhibitions for over 20 years. Visitors will be able to experience our collections like they never have done before, with new displays showcasing Life, as we know it.
The new displays will focus on the interaction between the changing geology of our planet with how life has evolved on Earth. Our new exhibits will trace the story of life on Earth and celebrate our planet’s incredible diversity of life. They will also encourage visitors to think about the future, as well as the past. We want to inspire our 750,000+ yearly visitors to take action to help preserve global biodiversity.
You may have already seen the first phase of Life, as we know it. In 2018 our Out of the Deep displays were installed. The work going on now is Phase 2 of the project and we will be continuing work on Life, as we know it over the next few years, with plans to update exhibits that extend throughout the Museum.
Things might look a bit unfinished at the moment, but were doing our best to keep disruption to a minumum. Right now, you can get an exciting glimpse of the displays as they come together, including new insect exhibits. Later in the Autumn you’ll be able to enjoy the finished results!
Have you seen anything new in the Museum? Let us know by getting in touch using our Contact Us page.
2022’s ‘Insect Investigators’ Summer School’, organised by ‘Hope for the Future’ Project, has been a wonderful experience for me. Not only was I able to learn new facts and skills, I also took my interest in insects to the next level. I also met new people and made new friends!
One of my favourite activities was catching insects. We tried this at different places (like the Oxford University Park and Harcourt Arboretum) and on different days. We were given a large sweeping net, a transparent bag, a tray, and some tubes with lids to contain the insects. The sweeping net was used in the long grass. You sweep in loops, making infinity signs whilst walking through the field. Then, a friend could help you to empty the things caught inside the net into the transparent bag. You then place it upon the tray and see what you have caught. If you want to examine it closer or if you find it unique and interesting, you can gently put the insect into one of the tubes and then use the many insect guide books (brought from the museum) to identify them.
I always felt excitement growing when looking at what I had swept up in the net. I was not only able to learn this new skill, I have also learnt about the many insects I came across: there are larvae which have three pairs of ‘real legs’ and little bags of fat for the rest; grasshoppers drop their legs sometimes to divert their predator’s attention when being hunted (the legs won’t be able to grow back if they are adults); and a wasp nest contains all sorts of hidden treasures like beetles and their larvae.
It was an absolute delight to go to the Oxford Botanic Gardens on our second day. Even more so to learn about taking photos of various insects. Insects are small creatures, hard to spot, even harder when amongst the enchanting plants and beautiful flowers. But we were told where to look: upon the bitten leaf, beside the blooming flower, within the fallen apple… There, we find the angle, adjust the focus, and carefully, snap!
As we took photos, I was able to learn more about the insects I’d found. For example, on one of the leaves of a tree, I found an ant upon a group of small insects. I later found out that the black ant was eating the sweet sap that aphids (small sap-sucking insects) produce from the tree. The ant then protects the aphids in exchange. It was very interesting. There were also many bees including honeybees and bumblebees that were all busy feeding off the nectar and pollen. This meant that they did not mind us so I was able to snap many good pictures of them. There was a Seven-Spot Ladybird on the smallest leaf of a plant, a few Flea Beetles beside some small flowers, and a Hoverfly resting on a leaf. I even saw a Red-Eyed Damselfly upon a lilypad.
It was stunning to see the beauty of nature around us, and to search for the hidden ones like detectives trailing clues. Photography allows me to capture the special moment and I also love it as a hobby.
Near the end of the week, we were able to put everything we know together to create an investigation. I chose to compare the number of grasshoppers in two different places— fresher grass and dry grass. My prediction was that there would be more grasshoppers in fresher grass than in dry grass. To make it a fair test, I used the same net, I always made 5 loops/infinity signs when sweeping, and I was always 5 steps in the grass when catching insects.
I was very happy when my results showed that my prediction was correct, My conclusion was that there were more grasshoppers in fresher grass than in dry grass which may be because of five things. First, grasshoppers eat grass and would naturally prefer fresher grass over dry grass. Second, grasshoppers lay their eggs beneath the grass in the soil. Dry grass usually means more exposed to the sun, which means hard and crusty soil— hard to burrow through. Third, some species of grasshoppers are green so they could camouflage better in the fresher, greener grass to escape predators. Next, fresher grass means better conditions, which means a variety of different plants that could provide for them. And last, more plants and fresher grass could also attract other insects. This could either divert their predators’ attention, or work together like the aphids and ants. This was a great way to put everything we’ve learnt together. I’ve enjoyed it very much.
Hope for the Future
As I’ve said before, insects are small creatures, but they are able to make great changes to the world. Looking back and seeing all these little creatures continuing on with their daily routines, it reminds me of their similarity with us— humans. For we are also creatures very much like them, except we have evolved and created trouble (like climate change and global warming) as well as solutions. Although this brings some sadness into me, I am also filled with hope. My hope for the future is for all humans to be brought together to face problems and to tackle them. Just like the aphids and the ants, we can help each other out. In a way, part of our future relies on insects, so we should spend our time wisely to look at them and see them for what they can do, and achieve. I believe that this ‘Hope for the Future’ Project has done an amazing job to make everything run smoothly, as well as making me enjoy every second of it! They have given me this chance to explore and learn, and I hope to take part in more of their programme!
The next event for young entomologists is ‘Entohunt’ on Wednesday 31 August 2022, 10am-12pm at the Museum. It’s free but you need to book a place in advance.
Our next event for young entomologists, aged 10-14, will be ‘Entohunt’ on 31 August 2022, 10am – 12pm at the Museum of Natural History in Oxford.
Entohunt is your chance to take a closer look at the wonderful world of insects on our doorstep. We’ll start by making pooters in the museum and then, weather permitting, test them out in University Parks and see what insects we can find. There will also be a chance to try out other entomological collection methods.
When it opened in 1860, the role of Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History was to bring together scientific studies from across the University. Since then it has assembled an incredible and internationally-significant collection of natural history specimens and archives, including the British insect collection, which spans almost the entire history of British entomology. However, the museum itself, as well as being a striking example of Victorian neo-Gothic architecture, is in my opinion as impressive and intriguing as the collection it houses.
In the video it was mentioned that there is an encyclopedia of plant carvings on top of the pillars. On your next visit can you spot any insects hidden amongst this foliage? Let us know, or show us in a photo, where you have spotted them in the comments below or in the Contact us section of the blog.
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.
Discover the amazing world of beetles, bees and butterflies at our free Insect Investigators Summer School for 10 to 14 year olds; 10.00am – 3.00pm, 1st to 5th August 2022. THIS EVENT IS NOW FULLY BOOKED.
Through the week participants will get a sneaky peak behind the scenes at the museum and will explore some of Oxford University’s amazing outdoor spaces. Activities will include insect handling and pinning with entomologists in the museum, insect photography with a wildlife photographer, learning about how entomologists collect and study insects, and planning and conducting their own insect investigations.
If you would like to know more, or want to book a place, please get in touch using the Contact Us page, or email Rodger, Susie and Kate at email@example.com. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!