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Preparing Lepidoptera for Digitisation | Digital Collections Programme

We are working to digitise more than half a million British and Irish butterflies and moths. Our three year iCollections project started in 2013, and we have received additional funding from the Cockayne Trust to continue this digitisation work to September 2017.

Photograph from above of a drawer filled with vertical columns of the butterflies pinned to the base, with paper labels in the top and bottom left, and the bottom right.

Original drawer with Mullein (Cuculblia verbasci) specimens.

The mass digitisation of this collection has given Museum scientists the opportunity to study these specimens in new ways. In addition to research carried out in the Museum, digitisation also allows anyone around the world to see the specimens via the Data Portal. Continue reading

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The flies that use their eyes to fight for love… well, sex at least | Curator of Diptera

Before the Museum exhibition about Colour and Vision closes on 6 November, I thought I should write a piece about some of nature’s most amazing eyes (their patterns and shapes). I’m talking of course about those belonging to flies – the most enigmatic of all species on the planet – and specifically all the species referred to as stalk-eyed flies.

stalk-eyed-fly

Male stalk-eyed fly of the species Teleopsis dalmanni. The span from eye-to-eye is nearly as wide as the fly’s body is long © Rob Knell, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

My first experience of stalk-eyed flies came while I was carrying out fieldwork in Costa Rica over 10 years ago and it can probably go down as one of my favourite fieldwork moments. So what happened?

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What do fjords, climate change and our microfossil library have in common? | Curator of Micropalaeontology

Earlier this month one of our long term visitors Prof John Murray published a paper with Elisabeth Alve outlining the distribution of Foraminifera in NW European Fjords. The main purpose was to provide a baseline for assessing man’s impact on the environment.

Map Norway, N Sea, Greenland Sea

Map showing the Norwegian Coast, oceanic currents and biogeographic provinces. Murray & Alve Fig. 1. Reproduced with permission by Elsevier License 3958190505543.

Read on to hear how Prof Murray used our microfossil library and collections to support their observations and investigate other factors that could control the distribution of these important environmental indicators.

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Past legacy sheds light on the future | Digital Collections Programme

The butterflies and moths amassed by avid collectors Dr EA Cockayne, Dr HBD Kettlewell and Lord Walter Rothschild make up the core of the Museum’s world famous collection of British and Irish Lepidoptera.

lycaena-phlaeas-2000

Small copper butterflies that have been digitised and rehoused as part of the project

The Museum is digitising the Lepidoptera collection and using the data to ask important scientific questions about the effects of environmental change. Dr Cockayne passion led him to form the Cockayne Trust for Lepidoptera research, his legacy is funding the digitisation.

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Beamtime at the Advanced Light Source | COG3 Consortium

In November, Laura Newsome, a Research Associate, and Sul Mulroy, a PhD student at the University of Manchester Geomicrobiology group, travelled to California for beamtime at the Advanced Light Source synchrotron at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

outside-advanced-light-source-berkeley

At the Advanced Light Source in Berkeley, California

Laura and Sul travelled to analyse samples generated from their work on the COG3 project. Sul reports from the visit.

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What do scientists do at conferences? | Curator of Micropalaeontology

The micropalaeontology team attended the annual conference of The Micropalaeontological Society in Lille last week. My wife thinks that conferences are just an excuse for drinking, but I keep telling her that this is only partly true.

Micropalaeo team

The Micropaleontology team at the TMS conference dinner at Dubuisson Brewery

Read on to find out what we were doing in Lille, besides drinking Belgian beer of course! Continue reading

Whale preparation: conserving the blue whale skeleton and planning articulation | Conservators

It has been several months since my last post looking at blue whale on the move but finally the long process of cleaning and conserving each individual bone has been successfully completed and the conservators are now just embarking on surface scanning the bones in high definition. Conservation can be an extremely slow process but it is worth the time and effort. During the past 9 months the team have cleaned and conserved over 220 individual bones. This equates to over 110m2 of whale bone surface area.

Photo showing a man kneeling inside a scale model of the Museum's Hintze Hall, manipulating part of the spine of the scale model of the whale hanging within it. The model is approximately the same size as the man.

Articulation of the blue whale using a 3D printed scale model

During this time we also planned the final position and articulation of the whale for its suspension in Hintze Hall so the armature design could commence.  This post outlines the conservation treatment and articulation planning phase of this project.

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The day the ‘Sea elephant’ came through the roof – Explore Your Archive Week | Library and Archives

Elle Larsson is a PhD student at King’s College London, researching the specimen and archival collections related to Lord Walter Rothschild, at the Natural History Museum (at both South Kensington and Tring). A significant part of this involves going letter by letter through the volumes of correspondence of the Museum at Tring. In the following blog, Elle highlights one particular letter which describes the planned arrival for a very large #AnimalArchive acquisition in 1900.

Being able to delve into the Archives of the Museum has to be one of the most exciting things about doing a collaborative PhD with the Museum. In my case I’m looking at the Tring correspondence collection, the papers and letters which came from Lord Walter Rothschild’s (1868-1937) Zoological Museum at Tring (now the Natural History Museum at Tring). I am not a scientist but a historian and am looking to find out more about Rothschild’s zoological enterprise and scientific work. The Museum Archive is a critical source of information for my research.

Photograph of a paper unfolded in its middle with several lines of cursive handwriting on each side of the fold.

7 April 1900 correspondence between Lord Walter Rothschild and Ernst Hartert

In recent weeks I’ve come across some fantastic items including original watercolour drawings completed by Clara Hartert the wife of Tring curator, ornithologist and zoologist, Ernst Hartert (1859 – 1933), while on an expedition with her husband; a letter which contained feathers originally sent in 1894; and cheque stubs which reveal the colossal sums of money that changed hands as natural history specimens were traded. However it is the letters which relate to specimens held in the Museum collections, which add a whole new dimension to the work I’m doing. Recently I came across two letters which referred to a ‘Sea Elephant’ and one which can still be seen in Gallery 5 at the Natural History Museum at Tring.

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The Museum ‘homemade’ mobile field laboratory – Explore Your Archive Week | Library and Archives

Scientific expeditions have been regularly undertaken by the Museum since it opened its doors in 1881. These are often abroad and need to be planned well in advance, with supplies and equipment ordered and prepared, often on the Museum site. On many occasions staff can find themselves having to be creative and imaginative, especially when the terrain about to be experienced is likely to be extreme and the facilities limited.

Colour archival photograph showing a white truck in the mid-distance, parked in sparsely vegetated bushland next to a watering hole, with sand dunes rising from the horizon in the background

Museum field work in Namibia during the 1970s needed some special #AutoArchives facilities…

In the 1970s a group of Museum entomologists did just that, having acquired an ex-army lorry they were to transform it into a mobile field laboratory suitable for all their scientific research needs during a five month expedition through southern Africa. And thus, our Explore Your Archives Week stories continue…

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The Chrysler that drove across Africa in search of birds – Explore Your Archive Week | Library and Archives

An event such as Explore Your Archive Week (#ExploreArchives on Twitter) provides a great opportunity to challenge us to look at our collections in different ways. Today’s theme of transportation and automobiles (#AutoArchives) is a perfect example. As a natural history library and archive, we wouldn’t be an obviously rich source for material on this subject, but it is exactly for this reason that real gems can emerge.

Black and white archival photograph showing a man sitting at a portable table in the foreground, a vehicle to his right and another man seated beside it to the rear.

Lynes (foreground) and Vincent, at breakfast in their mobile camp

When I approached our volunteers Effie and Judith, who work with our ornithology manuscript collections at the Natural History Museum at Tring, they knew exactly where to look!

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