Drawing techniques for publication

By Katherine Child

Despite the prevalence of photography in scientific and technical books and papers today, there are still times when a scientific work will call for a more traditional approach. Drawing remains an important part of natural history illustration, and can often provide a more specific and flexible way of communicating information.

Coleoptera, Corylopidae, beetle, drawing
An example of the way key features can be highlighted and isolated to provide clarity in a drawn illustration. Cleidostethus meliponae Arrow, from the genus Cleidostethus Arrow, by Stanley Bowestead.


Stanley Bowestead and Thomas Eccles are both enthusiastic advocates of drawing and have recently published a joint paper on technical drawing for publication in collaboration with the HEC. They argue that the value of drawing lies not only in the end results ability to communicate, but also that the process of drawing is in itself crucial to the better understanding of the subject at hand.  Producing a detailed drawing of a beetle for example, requires rigorous observational skills and after studying the insect, the observer will have gained a unique understanding of the form of that specimen.
Coleoptera, Coccinellidae, ladybird, beetle, drawing

Anatis ocellata (L.) by Stanley Bowestead. White gel pen has been used to highlight the setae on the legs.

In the past it was not only the lack of modern alternatives which made drawing a popular tool for documenting scientific findings. Science, art and religion all used to be closely linked to one another – to the point of being virtually indistinguishable as separate subjects. The study and appreciation of natural history through drawing was thought to bring a person closer to God, as well as being at the height of fashion during the Victorian era.    

So, it is shifting attitudes towards science and art, as well as photographic advances and the development of other imaging techniques such as SEMs, that have lead drawing to decline over the last 50 years or so in the study of natural history.  


Coleoptera, Scarabaidae, Cetoniinae, beetle, scarab, insect
An automontage photograph of a scarab. Photographic equipment and image processing have advanced rapidly in the last 30 years and high quality digital pictures are now becoming normal in scientific publications.
Stan and Thomas’ paper as well as being a practical how to guide on the technical drawing of insects, hopes to promote the value of drawing alongside other contemporary methods of illustration, as being something which remains relevant and invaluable as a learning resource in the field of science today. ­­
Coleoptera, Carabidae, Harpalinae, ground beelte, drawing

Lebia chlorocephalaby Thomas Eccles. Worked in colour pencil with highlights picked out in white ink.


The paper is available to download for free from the museum’s website.

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A new record for a little red Lygaeid

Arocatus longiceps is in the insect order Hemiptera, commonly called ‘true bugs’ and is part of the family called Lygaeidae often referred to as seed bugs, due to their feeding behaviour on plant seeds. This species is not native to the UK and was first discovered in Britain during 2007 on plane trees in the grounds of the Natural History Museum, London. This appearance made the bug quite famous; it even featured on the BBC News in 2008 as a new, apparently unidentifiable species.

Originally this species was determined as Arocatus roselii, however specialist researchers in seed bugs were consulted and the bug was finally identified as Arocatus longiceps an eastern Mediterranean species which has been spreading across Europe over the last few decades.

The species has mainly been recorded in the London area; but on the 30th November 2012 two specimens were found in the basement rooms at the Museum. This is a new record for Oxfordshire (Flanagan & Ryan, personal communication) and is probably the most Northerly record so far.

Hemiptera, Lygaeidae, Arocatus longiceps, true bugHemiptera, Lygaeidae, Arocatus longiceps, true bug
Photographs of the Arocatus longiceps taken using the auto-montage system
This bug is commonly found across Europe, and in October Amoret saw quite a few during a visit to Prague. The host plant is the plane tree; when the specimens were found in the museum, it prompted us to see whether there were more. As the photos below show, upon searching the plane trees outside the museum, we found an abundance of this bug.
Hemiptera, Lygaeidae, Arocatus longiceps, true bug, entomology, field

Chris Jarvis of the Education Department uses his detective skills to find the bug.

Hemiptera, Lygaeidae, Arocatus longiceps, true bug, field entomology

A large number of Arocatus longiceps were found beneath the bark. They overwinter as adults in clusters.


It’s a home invasion!

Over the course of the year we get many enquiries from members of the general public asking us to ‘name that bug’. Some of these enquiries are of insects that people have spotted whilst out and about in the town and surrounding countryside, a few are even of tropical species that people have photographed whilst on holiday. The majority however, come from people who have found something inside their homes and they might want to know what it eats or whether to worry about it being venomous but more often than not, people just want to know what it is. Often these insects have become objects of fascination and people want to learn about them but until they have a name it can be hard to find the information they want.

So that’s where we come in. We provide a free identification service (entomology@oum.ox.ac.uk) for anyone who might have an insect related question, regardless of where they live. We have identified insects for people from places as far away as Australia or as close to home as the Chemistry Laboratory next door.
We always enjoy the challenge and are more than happy to supply people with on-line links or articles about the insect they have found.

In order to get your insect identified then we need one of two things- either a good photograph of the insect or the specimen itself, alive or dead.
If you have the capability to take a good photograph then this can be an excellent resource. Preferably the photograph would be a dorsal shot (the top side of the insect) with good natural lighting. Make sure that all the legs and antennae are in focus and that there is some frame of reference for size. Adding a ruler or coin to the picture will do nicely. Sometimes it might take two or three photos to show the different parts of the insect, especially if it is a bit wriggly.

As many insects are very small and thus difficult to photograph well another option is to send us the specimen. Specimens can be dropped off in the museum in person where we may be able to give you an on the spot identification or they can be posted to us. When posting a specimen you want to pack it into something sturdy such as an old film canister with a bit of tissue in it to stop the insect from rattling about. This works for specimens whether they are dead or alive.

Regardless of whether you send us a photograph or the insect itself there is some extra information that is always useful to us. Firstly, your contact details so that we can let you know what it is that you have found. Secondly, a bit of information about where and when it was found as even a small piece of extra detail can help when identifying something.
For example, there are a few red beetles in the UK such as the Cardinal Beetle, Pyrochora serraticornis or the Poplar Leaf Beetle, Chrysomela populi but if you added in that you had found it on a lily plant then we would know before we had even seen it that it was mostly likely going to be the Scarlet Lily Beetle, Lilioceris lilii which is a pest of Lilium, Cardiocrinum and Fritillaria (lilies and fritilaries). Incidentally, two fun facts: this species makes an audible squeak when you pick it up and the larvae disguise themselves from predators by covering themselves with their own excrement!

Here is an example of an insect that walked in to be identified today, a Pentatomid bug that goes by the name of Dolycoris baccarum or The Hairy Shield Bug. Even though the picture is slightly out of focus there is still enough detail in the photograph for us to be able to identify it.

Hemiptera, Pentatomidae, Dolycorris baccarum, Sheild bug, insect, identification
An adult Dolycorris baccarum or Hairy Shield Bug

This species can commonly be found in houses at this time of year as they seek out a warm, concealed spot in which to over winter. Other things to look out for include ladybird species such as Adalia 2-punctata, (the 2-spot Ladybird) and Harmonia axyridis (The Harlequin Ladybird) which like to hibernate around the edges of windows.

If you have any questions or would like us to identify an insect for you then please contact a curator using the following e-mail address: entomology@oum.ox.ac.uk

The Elephant in the Room

The Museums Association (MA) recently held their annual Conference and Exhibition at the EICC. Reported to be the largest gathering of museums and heritage professionals in Europe, it showcases  suppliers, hosts workshops and various meetings. Darren Mann of the HEC was there as a speaker to present a talk entitled ‘The Elephant in the Room‘ which tackles some of the difficult questions that are currently being raised about the future of natural history collections in the UK.

Elephant hawkmoth, Lepidoptera, Sphingidae, Deilephila elpenor
Elephant hawkmoth, Deilephila elpenor

What questions are those? Well, here is the background in a nutshell :

“Natural history collections are under threat but are vital for taxonomic research, environmental monitoring and education.
The number of specialist curators is declining, so should collections be redistributed to centres of excellence or are there other solutions for orphaned collections?”

The main question that is raised by this is- How do we prevent the loss of these collections? and it is one that is very much on the minds of all natural history curators at the moment as we hear of more collections being ‘moth-balled’ (put away into storage) and the loss of curators through redundancies or down-sizing, leaving many collections without people to care for them, interpret them or make them available for research.

The biggest threat of course, comes to the collections themselves which may become damaged or lost altogether through poor storage and lack of care. For example, any item with fur, feather or chitin (e.g. taxidermy mounts or insect specimens) are open to attack from a host of pests including the one most reviled by curators, Anthrenus, which whilst being a rather pretty little beetle, views an insect collection as an assemblage of tasty snacks.

Anthrenus verbasci, Coleoptera, Dermestidae, beetle, insect
The Varigated Carpet Beetle, Anthrenus verbasci (Linnaeus, 1767).
Anthrenus, Coleoptera, Dermestidae, beetle, insect, damage
An example of the damage that Anthrenus can cause to an insect collection. This level of damage can occur within 2-4 years of a collection being ‘moth-balled’ if it is not in secure pest-proof storage or being regularly checked by a trained curator.

In a round up of the problems associated with deciding the future of these collections, Darren Mann pointed out that despite their huge popularity with the general public there has been a movement in the museums sector away from natural history and towards the arts and social sciences. To put some perspective on this, the Ashmolean Museum recently spent £7.83 million on Edouard Manet’s Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus. For the same amount of money the entire UK entomological collections* of over 10 million specimens could have been re-housed and systematically arranged in modern pest proof storage.
The Museums Association will be holding a ‘Vox Pop’ later this week to try and gain some insight into this situation. See the Museums Journal on-line for more information.
See here for a wider view on museum closures across the sector.
*Outside of National and University Museums. 

Well, oil be

Now is the time of year to look out for the Rugged Oil Beetle Meloe mediterraneus and Oxfordshire can boast being one of this species hotspots in the UK. BugLife, the invertebrate conservation organisation, has been collating distribution data and promoting the conservation of the British oil beetles, all of which are in decline.

meloe rugosus, beetle, insect, OUMNH, HEC, meloidae
A female Rugged Oil Beetle, Meloe mediterraneus (Family Meloidae)
This group of insects has benefitted greatly from increased public awareness and with the help of newly recruited recorders we now have a much better understanding of the groups distribution across the UK.
Out of eight species of Oil beetle that have been recorded in the UK, four are thought to be extinct*. Of the remaining four species, two are relatively common: the Black Oil Beetle, Meloe proscarabaeus and the Violet Oil Beetle, Meloe violaceus. The other two, the Short-Necked Oil Beetle Meloe brevicollis and the Rugged Oil Beetle Meloe mediterraneus however are very rare.
All four species are important idicators of solitary bee populations as they are dependant on the bees for their own reproduction. Their lifecycle is pretty exciting really but is a little complicated at first glance. Here’s a simplified version to explain how the bees come into it all:
  1. A female oil beetle digs a burrow and fills it with hundered of eggs.
  2. The eggs hatch and the larvae emerge. These are called triungulia** and exhibit unique co-operative behaviour.
  3. The larvae gather on flower heads, forming living pyramids so as to enable them to hitch a lift on solitary bees visiting the flowers.
  4. The bee unwittingly transports its passengers and ultimately with a little luck, they end up in a female bees burrow. At which point they hop off and make themselves at home.
  5. The larvae eat the eggs of the bee, along with any stores of pollen and nectar.
  6. The larvae develops in the burrow, eventually emerging as an adult ready to look for a mate.

The short story? The more adult Meloe that are seen then the more bees there are.

Obviously it is more complicated than this and a whole wealth of further information can be found on the BugLife website, along with links to the recording scheme, identification guides and the Oil Beetle Conservation Project.
Staff at the HEC have been helping by identifying and providing data on specimens from Museums across the UK, as seen in this recent news article.
*within the UK; not worldwide.
** their name comes from the fact that they have three claws on each foot.

Imaging the Lepidoptera Type collection

We have over 4,000 Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) types in the HEC. For the past two and a half years we have been working on a project to database and image all of the specimens so as to make them accessible to everyone the world over.

type, butterfly, Lepidoptera, OUMNH, HEC

 All of these specimens are special because they are types. Most of them are of historical value as well. The specimen above is over 100 years old and still looks as good as it did the day that it was collected, thanks to the careful care and attention it has been given by past curators here at the museum.

Our photographer, Katherine Child, has been working tirelessly to produce plates of each specimen and its associated labels. The finished database, which will be going on-line sometime in the near future, will hold all the information that researchers need in order to study species morphology and distribution. More than this though, it will hold the thousands of photographs of these beautiful insects for anyone to browse through at their leisure.