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.

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.

The Big Draw: Insects!

Our next event for young entomologists, aged 10-14, will be ‘The Big Draw: Insects!‘ on Wednesday 26 October 2022, 10.30am – 12pm at the Museum of Natural History in Oxford.

Timed to coincide with the half-term break for local schools and to link in with other ‘Big Draw’ events in October, The Big Draw: Insects! is your chance to try your hand at drawing insects in three different styles: artistic, scientific and cartooning.

We’ll be based in the newly-refurbished Westwood Room at the museum and will be drawing a range of exciting insects from the museum’s collections. This event is suitable for all abilities from beginners to those who already enjoy drawing frequently.

The Big Draw: Insects! is free but you need to book in advance by emailing us at hopelearning@oum.ox.ac.uk

If you’re interested in cartooning, you might be interested in this post by Chris Jarvis on Drawing a Minotaur Beetle.

Life, as we know it

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.

Artist's impression of how some of the new displays about the diversity of life will look
Artist’s impression of how some of the new displays will look

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.

Out of the Deep

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.

Kate and Susie, HOPE Learning Officers

Kate Jaeger and Susie Glover have been Learning Officers at the heart of the HOPE For The Future project since the programme started in 2020. As their time with the project draws to an end, they reflect on their exciting role, what they enjoyed most about it, and choose their favourite insects from the many they encountered.

There are three HOPE Learning Officers and one Community Officer working on the project. We all help people learn more about insects and the museum’s collections, inspiring them to learn more, and even get more involved.

The learning officers work with young people. You may have met us at school, at an event in the museum, or you may have read an article like this in the blog. Our role includes running insect themed activities:

  • Insect Discovery Days in Schools
  • Insect Investigators Summer School
  • Insect Explorers after school club in the museum
  • Events for young people
  • Training for teachers to help them teach about insects

Of course, we also run this blog aimed at young people who want to learn more about insects, as well as developing various online resources for teachers and young people to use, and enjoy.

When did you first become interested in insects?

Kate:

I have always loved the natural world.  As a child, I lived in the countryside and my pockets were often full of things I had collected such as stones, seeds, sticks and, once, much to my mother’s surprise, a live mole!  I was especially fond of butterflies and had an I-Spy book in which I ticked off species I had seen.  Soon other books on insects, birds, fossils, minerals, dinosaurs and human evolution filled my shelves.

This interest in the natural world stayed with me into adulthood and when I became a teacher, I trained as a Forest School Leader so that I could share my love of the outdoors with others.  Working on the HOPE for the Future project has given me a unique opportunity to indulge my passion and learn much more about insects from the incredible entomology team here at the museum.  The more I find out about insects, the more fascinated I become!  The insect world is full of surprises and I am constantly amazed by these tiny creatures, without whom our planet Earth would not be able to survive.

Susie:

As a child I loved being outside, climbing trees, digging holes, investigating the different creatures in my back garden, and generally being surrounded by natural and wildlife.

I did well in school, but was particularly good at Biology. It just made sense to me, and I found it really interesting, and so I went on to study it at University. While biology is a fairly broad subject, I focused mainly on ecology, animal behaviour and evolution, learning more about the creatures all around us, including insects.

I have worked for several years teaching people about Nature and British Wildlife, including British insects, and always found them interesting. However, it wasn’t until I started my role here at the museum, working on the HOPE for the Future project that I really focused in on insects. Over the past couple of years I have learnt so much more about these fascinating creatures, and the multitude of different ways they find to survive and thrive.

What is your favourite insect?

Kate:

My favourite insect is constantly changing, but at the moment I am keen on this little true bug:  Issus cleoptratus.

Issus cleoptratus. Image credit: Fritz Geller-Grimm, CC BY-SA 2.5

Not the most beautiful of insects but a fascinating one nonetheless! This species of plant hopper is the first living creature known to possess functional, interlocking gears or cogs.  These gears are positioned on its hind legs and help to synchronise the legs when jumping, making sure the bug can hop in a straight line!

Check out this video which explains it all:

Working gears evolved in plant-hopping insects. Scientific American.

See what I mean about the insect world being full of surprises?

Susie:

I have always loved butterflies. They are such beautiful majestic creatures. When I see the first butterflies of the year, which are often the bright yellow brimstone butterflies, I feel that winter is over and summer is truly on the way. However, I think my favourite has to be one of the most common garden butterflies in England and Wales, the Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io).

The Peacock Butterfly, Aglais io

To protect themselves these butterflies use a combination of camouflage and Mimicry. When at rest they sit with their wings closed, so that all you can see are the almost black undersides of their wings that look rather like dead leaves. But when their wings are open, you can see the brightly coloured top side of the wings, with large round spots, that look like large eyes. These eyespots are there to startle and confuse predators.

What is your favourite part of the project?

Kate:

Well, I have had the privilege to work in one of the world’s most fascinating museums, with one of the best entomology collections in the UK and with some very interesting people.  I particularly enjoyed creating the ‘To Bee or not to Bee’ activity in which you have to identify the real bees among the bee mimics. It has proved a hit with all ages, from young children to seasoned entomologists, and we hope to produce an online version to bring it to a wider audience. The thing I have enjoyed most, though, is meeting hundreds, if not thousands, of young people through the course of the project, both here in the museum and in their schools.  Their interest and enthusiasm for insects and the natural world has really given me hope for the future. 

Susie:

I love coming up with new activities to help people learn about insects and the world around them. There are three activities that I particularly enjoyed developing:

  1. The Case of the Stolen Specimen – this was for an event for 10 to 14 year olds. We developed a puzzle for the young people to solve. A Specimen had been stolen from the museum and they had to solve puzzles and follow clues to find out what had been stolen, and who the thief was. It was great to see how much the participants seemed to enjoy working out the clues and rushing off to solve the crime.
  2. Food Chains – this was an activity for the Discovery Days, that is now also available online for teachers to use. It is made up from a series of cards which each have a photo of an animal on one side (mostly insects), and information about what they eat on the other. You have to use this information to build food chains and webs.
  3. Peppered Moth – this was also an activity for the Discovery Days. The participants have to put on glasses, which distort their vision, and then use tweezers to pick up as many “moths” as they can in a certain time. They can see which moths they pick up, and how the colour of the moth and background affected this.

We wish Kate and Susie all the best for their future as school teachers. If you have enjoyed this post, you might like to read about other people who work with insects on our ‘People’ section.