Volunteering at the OUMNH

 A word from one of our volunteers:

“Hi! My name is Helen, and I am a student at Derby University. I am starting an MRes (Master of Research) degree in Forensic Science in the new academic year, and I am working towards a future career in Forensic Entomology.

In July this year, I undertook two weeks of volunteering in the entomology department of the OUMNH. I was really excited to see another side of entomology, and to be able to get some more practical experience in the field. I have been interested in museum work for some time, so I was pleased to find that I really enjoyed the owrk that the team do.

When I arrived, I was given a tour of hte department and then given a drawer full of mixed specimens to sort to order level.

entomology, orders, insects, soritng, volunteering, OUMNH
Drawer of insect orders to be sorted (there are some trick specimens in here)

It was really good practice for being able to trecognise the different orders, and I enjoyed looking at all the different specimens.

Later, I got some extra practice at recognising orders when I sorted some specimens collected in Bolivia.

In my first week, I attended an IPM (Intergrated Pest Management) conference, which helped me learn about the problems with pests in museums, and the methods which are avaliable to help prevent important collections from ebing eaten by hungry critters.

I also got to develop my skills in identifying insects using keys, and I had a go at point mounting some specimens – a technique used to moutn very small insects for identification and display purposes.

insect, entomology, pointing, mounting, volunteering, practice
My first attempt at pointing insects

In my second week of volunteering, I was able to practice the new skills I had learned in my first week as well as gaining some nrw ones. I had a go at direct pinning some specimens and added some new labels to part of the collection which had belonged to W.J. Burchell. I also uised the auto-montage to create some amazingly detailed photographs.

auto-montage, photography, diptera, entomology, volunteering, OUMNH, composite
An auto-montage photograph of Calliphora vicinia.

I would really recommend volunteering to anyone with an interest in entomology – it’s such a wonderful experience to be able to see what goes on beind the secenes in a museum, as well as having the chance to see such a huge variety of insects in the collections I would love to go back and do some more volunteering at the museum in the future.”

The department would like to thank Helen for all her hard work and the for the contributions she made during her two weeks with us.

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Egg-cellent!

The Easter weekend has now been and gone but for some inexplicable reason we have all come in to work with eggs on the brain (figuratively speaking that is). We don’t often get to see eggs-amples of eggs in the department as they are not often collected, so whilst we have thousands of specimens of adult insects and even a few jeuvenille ones, we don’t have many eggs.
Which is a bit sad in our opinion, as the eggs themselves tend to be egg-ceedingly interesting and beautiful, often have complex sculpturation or construction and can allow you to egg-stract information regarding species behaviours and habitat use.

So here we present some very egg-citing photographs of some eggs-traordinary insect eggs that we did manage to find in the collections. Eggs-amine them closely and see if you can figure out what sort of insect they belong to- answers will be at the bottom of the post.

insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, ootheca, mantid
Picture 1: Technically an egg sac or cluster, this weird shape houses a number of individual eggs belonging to what kind of insect?

insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, ootheca, cockroach, blattodea
Picture 2: Another one containing multiple eggs. Here you can see the individual eggs that are paired up along a central spine. Which kind of insect makes eggs like these?

insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, butterfly, lepidoptera, hairstreak
Picture 3: Only just visible to the naked eye, this tiny egg proves to be beautifully micro-sculptured once you get close up. This photograph had to be taken using a microscoped with camera attachment just so we could show it off. What kind of insect lays an egg like this though?

insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, ootheca, cockroach, blattodea
Picture 4: Okay, so we are repeating ourselves now but this egg ‘sac’ was just too egg-sciting not to photograph! The delicate little wave-formation along one edge demonstrates which kind of insects aesthetic tastes?
insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, hemiptera, belostomatidae
Picture 5: Each of these is an individual egg which has been laid in a neat little cluster by which kind of insect?

Whilst you are musing on your answers for the above five questions here are some even more egg-citing photographs for you to study. These are pictures of some mystery eggs. We know that they probably belong to some kind of decapod. They were found attached to a water beetle that was collected in Mozambique. If anyone reading this has any idea about what the egss might be then we would love to know.

insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, decapod eggs
Mystery eggs 1: Here you can see that there are small clusters of eggs attached to the underside of the beetle next to it’s coxae.

insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, decapod eggs
Mystery eggs 2: We had to take the specimen out of alcohol and dry it off to take the pictures so the eggs look very shiny. If you look really closely you can make out little pairs of eyes in each of the eggs.

insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, decapod eggs
Mystery eggs 3: Here’s a real close-up shot. Are those tiny legs and antennae that we can see?

Egg-shausted by eggs yet? Over egg-cited maybe? Ready to egg-splode from all the egg-stravagent egg puns?

Here are the answers to the above quiz questions:

  1. Mantid ootheca
  2. Cockroach ootheca, in this case belonging to a species of madagascan hissing cockroach
  3. Butterfly egg: Order Lepidoptera, Family Lycaenidae.
  4. Another cockroach ootheca (we warned you it was a repeat)
  5. True bug eggs: Order Hemiptera, Family Belostomatidae. Interesting fact- the males of this family carry the eggs on their backs (the females stick them on there with a water resistent glue) until they hatch.
insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, hemiptera, Belostomatidae
Egg cluster on the back of a male Belostomatid
That’s all yolks!
No more egg puns until next year- we promise.

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.

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.