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.

Danielle Czerkaszyn

You may already know that the museum contains millions of natural history specimens, but did you know that it also houses a world-class collection of books and journals, plus a priceless archive?  Held in 38 different locations across the museum, the collection of over 20,000 books covers all areas of natural history: zoology, geology, mineralogy, palaeontology, and is particularly known for its collection of entomology books and journals.  In fact, we believe it is the third largest entomology library in the UK after the Natural History Museum in London and the library of the Royal Entomological Society.  

In addition, there is a priceless archive of letters, maps, field notebooks, photographs, artwork and other items of interest.  Where else would you find letters from Charles Darwin, the death mask of the Swiss biologist and geologist Louis Agassiz, and the trowel that laid the foundation stone of the museum’s building in 1855.

Trowel used to lay the Museum’s foundation stone

So, who is in charge of this fascinating treasure trove? That job falls to Danielle Czerkaszyn, the museum’s Librarian and Archivist.  I went along to meet Danielle to find out how she came to work at the museum, what her job involves and to learn more about the amazing collection in her care.

Danielle Czerkaszyn

From History to Natural History

Having first completed a degree in History in her native Canada, Danielle came to the UK to do a Master’s degree in Museum Studies.  Following this, she was selected for a place as a Graduate Library Trainee at the Bodleian History Faculty Library here in Oxford and secured her post at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in 2017.  Danielle revealed:

“When I came for the interview, I was asked what my weakness would be in the role and I replied that I didn’t really know a great deal about natural history! The good thing is that I learn new things every day and my knowledge of natural history has expanded!”

As well as a valuable resource for staff at the Museum and other members of the University, the library and archive is open to anyone with an interest in natural history.  On a day to day basis, Danielle deals with many enquiries from the public requesting visits or requests for articles and chapters of books to be provided digitally to help with research.  High-use collections in the library and archive are currently in the process of being digitised which will make it even more accessible to natural historians around the world.  Danielle is also responsible for keeping the collection up to date with new publications and dealing with donations that come in from members of the public. 

Highlights of the Collection

I asked Danielle to choose some of her favourite entomology items from the collection and she suggested two incredible and unique works – one from the archive and one from the library. 

The first is William Jones’ Icones, one of the most scientifically important and stunning works on butterflies and moths ever produced.

William Jones’ Icones

“This work as one of my favourites because the paintings are so

detailed and beautiful. Plus it is completely unique.” 

Danielle Czerkaszyn

Danielle’s second choice is Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (Insects of Surinam) published in 1705. 

Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (Insects of Surinam) published in 1705

“Maria Sibylla Merian is definitely a figure to be admired as a pioneering role model for women and I love showcasing her work.”

Danielle Czerkaszyn

Check out our blog posts on these incredible items from the collection to find out more:

William Jones’ Icones

Maria Sibylla Merian’s Insects of Surinam

Thank you so much to Danielle for giving us a fascinating insight into the library and archive here at the Museum of Natural History, and for sharing some of the incredible works in her care. 

To find out more about the library and archive visit https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/library.

Do you have a favourite book on insects? Tell us about it here or in the comments below.

Red-Tailed Bumblebee

If you see a big jet-black bumblebee with a red tail in Britain, its probably the Red-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus lapidarius. If it has a scruffy white collar, then its a male.

The Red-tailed Bubmblebee has extended its range northwards in recent years and is now common throughout Britain. It can often be seen in parks and gardens. The workers have short tongues and forage on flowers like daisies and thistles which have a big area for them to land on and are made up of small florets, each with a little nectar. Leaving dandelions to grow in the spring helps provide food for these and other insects early on in the growing season.

Let dandelions grow in spring to help insects. Image credit: Pixabay / Claudiu Mladin CC0

The Queens nest under stones and so are sometimes disturbed when these are moved. If you find one like this, have a look without disturbing it then just put the stone back. They may also enter our homes through open windows in search of nesting sites.

The Red-shanked carder bee, Bombus ruderarius, can look similar but is much scarcer in the UK. While the Queens of B. ruderarius are smaller. the workers of the two species can be a similar size. You can tell the difference by looking at the back legs. B ruderarius has red pollen baskets on its otherwise black legs, whereas the leg hairs of B. lapidarius are all black.

Lincoln Kwong was one of the participants at our Summer school in August. He was so inspired by the HOPE collections team at the museum that he decided to start his own insect collection. One of his first specimens was a dead red-tailed bumblebee that he found in his garden. He preserved and pinned this and recorded the data following advice from James.

Bombus lapidarius. Image credit: Lincoln Kwong

Let us know if you have your own collection. You can get in touch using the CONTACT US page. We’d also love to see any pictures any would be happy to feature them in our PHOTO GALLERY!

Featured image credit: Gail Hampshire CC BY 2.0

Events 4U in ’22!

Happy New Year!  We hope 2022 is full of exciting times and awesome insect discoveries. We are SO excited because this year, we are inviting you to join us for FREE Crunchy on the Outside events here at the museum. Come and take part in some fabulous activities specially designed for young people, aged 10 – 14, interested in natural history and insects in particular. Keep an eye on this blog for news of forthcoming events.

Read on to find out more about the first event happening in February half term and how to book!

Acorn Weevil – Curculio glandium

Insects under the Lens – Wednesday 23rd February 2022, 1 – 3pm

Intrigued by insects? Join us to take a closer look at some of the museum’s 5 million insect specimens under a variety of different lenses. We will be using microscopes and digital photography to reveal beautiful details of insect anatomy not visible to the naked eye.  This workshop promises to unlock some of the secrets of the insect world and develop your powers of observation!

Six-belted Clearwing Moth under the microscope

FREE workshop – Insects under the Lens 

Wednesday 23rd February 2022 , 1pm to 3pm

Museum of Natural History, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PW

10 to 14 year olds

To book – email: hopelearning@oum.ox.ac.uk

Spiders: Super, Not Scary!

Related to insects, arachnids are a fascinating group of invertebrates. Several species of spider can be found in and around our home at this time of year, but not everyone welcomes them! Here we take a look at some of these super spiders and why there is no need to be scared.

Most spiders don’t want to come into our homes because they are too warm, too dry and there isn’t enough food (or perhaps they feel the same way about humans as many people do about spiders!). A few species do venture into our dwellings and have probably been associated with us for thousands of years and often perform a useful housekeeping job in reducing the number of flies inside the home.

House Spider (Tegenaria domestica).

The House Spider, Tegenaria domestica.

The House Spider builds a funnel-like web. It sits inside waiting for prey to land on the web, emerging quickly to trap it. Indoors, this is the spider we are likely to find in the bath! Some people feel alarmed by them, but they are completely harmless and will retreat into the plughole (or their funnel web) if they feel threatened. The males are active in the summer so when you see a house spider indoors it will probably be a male looking for a mate. The females usually eat them after mating, so the House Spiders you may find in your home in the late autumn will probably be females which can live for two years or more.

Giant House Spider (Eratigena atrica).

Giant House Spider, Eratigena atrica. Image credit: Ryan Hodnet CC BY-SA 4.0

The Giant House Spider has a similar appearance to the house spider but is larger. Females can grow up to 18mm in body length with a leg span of 45mm. Those long legs enable them to be one of the fastest running spiders: they can move at up to 0.5 m/s (1.2 mph). Their speed of movement can be startling but they are in fact easily outpaced by normal human walking speed (4 mph). They only use their speed for short bursts and the females normally stay within their funnel webs. It’s the males we see out and about in our homes in summer and autumn, looking for mates. Although the mouth parts of these spiders are theoretically capable of piercing human skin, they prefer solitude and to retreat when startled and so only bite rarely when provoked. Their venom cannot harm us.

‘Money Spider’ (Linyphia sp.)

This money sider landed on me while I was writing the article!

‘Money Spiders’ are not a single species. Hundreds of different small spiders are called ‘Money Spiders’. In the UK they usually belong to the Family Linyphidae. They get their common name from a folk saying that if one lands on you it’s lucky because it will spin you some clothes, meaning you will come into some money. If anyone has ever had a garment spun by a spider we’d love to hear about it! Money Spiders often land on us in the summer because they travel through the air on strands of silk, a method called ‘ballooning’. Money Spiders are completely harmless to humans and most go entirely unnoticed by us because they are so small.

Daddy Long Legs Spider (Pholcus phalagiodes)

‘Daddy Long Legs’ Spider (Pholcus sp.), not to be confused with a Crane Fly.

The Daddy Long Legs Spider is also known as the ‘Cellar Spider’. It prefers to spin loose strands of web in corners which it uses to capture prey. It is not to be confused with the Crane Fly, also called a ‘Daddly Long Legs’ in the UK, which is a fly, so has a pair of wings. These spiders will often start vibrating if you come close in an effort to scare you off. Alternatively, they may curl up completely and ‘play dead’. They are completely harmless.

Garden Cross Spider (Araneus diadematus).

Garden Cross Spider, Araneus diademata.

The Garden Cross Spider is usually found in the garden, but sometimes venture into our homes, as shown in the picture. They are large web-spinning spiders. Their webs are usually very noticeable on autumn mornings, revealed by drops of dew sticking to the strands. They can be recognised by the distinctive cross pattern on their back. The body of females can be up to 15mm long, although the males are a lot smaller and so we rarely notice them. Females can often be found protecting a ball of eggs or young spiderlings. They will be defensive of these, but are completely harmless.

Want to know more?

If you enjoyed reading about these house spiders, you might also like this post about the colour-changing Crab Spider.

Have you had any spider encounters at home? We’d love to hear about them! You can get in touch using the Contact Us page.