Thursday, 26 February 2015

Behind The Scenes At Oxford's Natural History Museum Where I Fell In Love....

Well, it's not even ten o'clock and so far this morning I have: dropped L at school, done the food shop for the weekend, walked the dogs and had a blood test. Busy, busy, busy.

Yesterday, we had a college trip to the Natural History Museum in Oxford which has to be one of the best places for naturalists and entomologists in the country.
 

























I have been before, but never behind the scenes to where the researchers work and the oldest collections are housed. We had a guided tour by the Head of Life Collections and saw things that, if you're keen on natural history, you would find amazing and spine-tingling.

Those of you who know your Evolutionary History will know that the Oxford Museum houses the room in which the Great Debate between pro-Darwin Huxley and anti-Darwin Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford, took place on June 30th 1860. Darwin's theory of Evolution by Natural Selection had been published the previous year and as such was a revolutionary concept strongly resisted by the Church. The arguments for and against it that were voiced in this room were as fierce as you might imagine.

I have seen the room in a documentary on tele before but I still got goose bumps when we actually went and stood inside it..


Now it is lined with lots of cabinets containing numerous important collections...

 
It also has beautiful windows...



The museum houses some vitally important collections, such as the Zoological Collection and the Hope Entomological Collection. Together these comprise several million specimens, including many that are now extinct, such as this display of British butterflies which includes two specimens of Bloxworth Blues (Short-Tailed Blue), extinct in the UK and only seen as a rare migrant...


They also have a room dedicated to British entomological species which contains examples of every insect in the UK. It is used for taxonomic and species checking purposes. Of course I asked to see the Moths, and we were able to hold this display of Hawk Moths which Dave is modelling for me :o)


Here's a close up of the Death's-head Hawkmoth from that display. It is the only moth to make a noise (it squeaks). Just look at the size of the caterpillar!

 
Among the collections are specimens brought back by Darwin from his voyage around the world on the Beagle, 1831-1836. His presence on board as the Ship's Naturalist made it one of the most famous ships and journeys in the world. The picture below shows insects caught by Darwin in Australia and brought back to England where they were eventually given to the museum. You can see from the label that one of them was named after him. It is amazing to me to think these creatures were last seen alive by Darwin, a hundred and fifty years ago.


 

The museum also some Tsetsee flies caught and labelled by Dr Livingstone (famous explorer and campaigner for an end to the slave trade who disappeared in 1864 in Africa, only to be found again by Henry Stanley in 1871 with the immortal words: 'Dr Livingstone, I presume?'). You can just make out his name above the squashed insects on the middle paper.




The next photo is a collection of bees, showing the biggest bee in the world (middle row, 2/3 of the way down).


 And here is one of beetles...

 
And here we all are looking at another collection of beetles which was instrumental in preventing the mis-identification of a type of beetle as a new taxa. Cutting edge science, eh? :o)


As well as all the insects, the museum also has the only surviving specimen of Dodo from which soft tissue and therefore DNA can be taken. As a result of this, scientists from Oxford University were able to confirm that the Dodo is closely related to pigeons and thus solve once and for all the question of its ancestry.
This is the leg bone of the Dodo from which the DNA was taken for this research- you can see the cut where the DNA was removed...


After all that you could be forgiven for thinking that no further excitement could possibly be had or indeed taken, but you would be wrong, because we then went to see the live specimens and that is where I fell in love.


You don't think a dried, crumpled, brown leaf is a fair thing to fall in love with?


How about now?







She's a Ghost Mantis. And they are very shy, nervous little creature. Ghost Mantids eat flies but bigger prey can often frighten them. I was Utterly Captivated by her- in fact, she had a strange effect on most of the members of the class. She moved very gracefully and delicately and when she grew brave enough she turned her little head to look carefully at everybody. She sat on my finger for ages and I would quite happily have taken her home, although I did allow my buddy Dave to hold her - for a while :o)



Amazing camouflage eh? (that's the Mantis, not Dave).

We were also given the opportunity to hold Hissing Cockroaches- the boy hissed, his wife was quieter...


And then this gorgeously coloured Praying Mantis. She was much bolder than the Ghost and kept leaping about all over the place...





She Quite Liked my camera :o)

 
There was also this incredible Leaf Insect...




While I was busy being captivated by my little Ghost Mantis, the rest of the class suddenly gathered round and oohs and ahhs were emitted....


If, like me, you are NOT a spidery person, skip the next photo. 




Fortunately, the Tarantula didn't stay out long and then we were all entertained by the Scorpion, who turned bright blue when the light was switched off and the ultra violet went on...

 
When the normal daylight returned, he faded back to black..


Apols for the blurry pic- he was a right old wriggler and wouldn't keep still :o)

Science has no consensus on why they've evolved to glow under ultra-violet light, but one theory is that it's to do with converting the moon and stars' ultra-violet light into the colour they see best, which is blue-green. The suggestion is that they do this by turning their entire bodies into light collectors and it may help them locate shelter.

Scorpion stings, are, of course, toxic and painful. The rule of thumb is that fat tails and thin claws indicate more highly toxic stings than thin tails and fat claws. This chap pinches his handler whenever he's nervous and stings him about once a year! He was worried when he was in his house and raised his tail to warn us to Keep Away, but he soon settled down enough to be picked up (although not by any of us).

It was a Top Day Out. I learned so much and saw so many things I really didn't expect to see. The museum is well worth a visit as the public-access areas have amazing things on display with well written and simple information boards that help you understand what you're looking at. There is also the Pitt Rivers museum next door which is an interesting place too.

Hope you enjoyed all of that. In a break with tradition, and because I think she deserves it, I will leave you with a final picture of my beautiful and graceful Ghost Mantis...


Hope you are all well?

CT :o) 

PS- Ive edited to add these amazing stone carvings which are part of the Victorian building. Also, a very old indeed hand axe made from flint and this equally ancient venus (Jennifer, the carvings are for you!) x











































































































41 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness - I'm crying - tears and trembles and confess I'm very envious. What a wonderful trip - feel quite emotional and lost for words - will go back and enjoy your pics again (beautiful limestone leaf carving). Phew!

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    1. It had a profound effect on me, seeing all those important and amazing collections, and being inside the building where so much that is so important to our understanding of our world has happened. And as for that little Mantis, well, I shall never forget her.

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  2. Sorry, should have said thankyou THANKYOU for sharing this bounty

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    1. You are MOST welcome, I'm so pleased you enjoyed it. I have added a few extra pics on to the end of the post of carvings which I thought you might like x

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    2. How special - you are a sweet - just look how the carver has managed to get the feel of leaf and petal - what a wonderful treat you've given me today. Thankyou.

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    3. I find myself really noticing carvings in stone since following your blog. Have always loved them but they definitely draw my eye more now :o)

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  3. Oooh,ooooh, I'd LOVE that...all apart from the scorpion...pretty cool when he turns blue,but I don't trust 'em.
    Jane x

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    1. I left feeling quite tender towards the little scorpion- it was the way his handler said he grips his finger when he's worried and the way he relaxed his tail when he realised he knew the person who was picking him up. Great place!

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  4. What a great museum! I'm not a big bug and spider person, but the collections of colorful beetles were kind of pretty. But you wouldn't get me holding any of those bugs....

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    1. I was spell bound- all the different colours, sizes, shapes, the camo, their different types of behaviour. Such a fantastic place.

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  5. Amazing! It is sad in a way to think of those creatures that gave their lives, but it is obviously a great source for research and learning too, so that is good. Most of all I am glad that you found it so interesting! xx

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    1. I agree- I don't like killing things as you know, but I can see the importance to science of having old collections like this, and sadly, new ones too if we keep wiping things out at the rate we're going. Such a fascinating day out xx

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  6. Oh CT what an absolutely fabulous day out for you, I was fascinated the entire length of your post. Such amazing creatures to view & hold. Wonderful! xx

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    1. So pleased you enjoyed it, Jo, it was smashing and something I'll remember for a very long time xx

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  7. wow! What a collection. I've heard about this place but never been - I'd love to visit though! I haven't been to NHM in London either, there's another place I need to spend a few days! Thanks for sharing - what a day is must have been!

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    1. It is a great place, Louise. You would love it, I'm sure.

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  8. Hey CT,
    Loved, loved, loved this post! I am going to read it through again because there was so much to look at and take in. I've showed some of the pictures to Olly. I took him to Bristol Zoo during half term, and we fell in love with a ghost mantis, stick insects, all the butterflies in the butterfly house and all the bugs in the bug house. Oh and the leaf cutter ants. It was such a treat to see him so engrossed in the very small. He loved the giant tortoises too, but then who wouldn't? I can well imagine you were in seventh heaven. Right off to have another read and look!
    Brilliant,
    Leanne xx

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    1. I think it's so great you show Olly all these things and that he loves them. A new generation to love and care for our wild things is what they so desperately need. I WAS in seventh heaven and am soooo pleased you enjoyed the post too- it really is a magic place xx

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  9. Ha ha!!! That bottom one is a very close likeness to yours truly!!! I love the ghost mantis. I did scroll quickly past all the bugs! They give me the Heebeegeebees!!

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    1. She has a great figure, eh? I think the word is probably "voluptuous" :o) Did you receive the new head? Wrinkle-free and aged 21 as promised... :o) xx

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  10. Wow what a fascinating place I bet you thought you had died and gone to heaven - I think they based that last carving of the Earth Mother on me haha.

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    1. It is a fantastic place and I am so glad that places like that exist and are open for the public to enjoy. As for the Venus, well! She is very voluptuous isn't she? :o)

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  11. WOW, what an amazing place. I MUST visit there one day with the children. Thanks for the tour. I particularly love beetles and butterflies, I could spent hours looking at them. CJ xx

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    1. I think you would all love it, CJ. The boys would probably like the Pitt Rivers next door (shrunken heads etc). There are beetles and butterflies enough to satisfy any enthusiast xx

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  12. Wow, that was a fantastic post to read with my morning cofffee. You enthusiasm is so contagious but then I don't know who could fail to appreciate such beautiful creatures! Well, the ghost mantis and the very beautiful Venus de Willendorf, the cockroach would have had me in hysterics. Is it funny how we respond to our natural world?! :)

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    1. The museum really demonstrates just how many things we share this planet with- so much colourful, vibrant life :o)

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  13. What a collection, just love the butterfly and bug displays, would love to see them...
    Amanda xx

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    1. I think you would love it there- you should definitely go if you get the opportunity xx

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  14. Great post CT - am still drooling over the photos :) Love the bees, butterflies and live insects. The backstage tour must have been brilliant. I love this museum although last time we went it was undergoing renovation and only the Pitt Rivers part was fully open. Must try and revisit some time this year. Thanks so much for sharing your trip :)

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    1. Certainly worth a trip- such a fantastic resource :o)

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  15. Hello CT

    What an amazing place to visit, I love Nature and so envious.
    I don't mind butterflies but not too keen on the bugs. Going behind the
    doors must have been a dream come true. Love, love the stone carvings especially the last one.

    luv
    irene
    xxxx

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    1. Hi Irene,

      I definitely recommend the ,museum for a visit if you get the chance. xx

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  16. What an amazing place! What history! And what a wonderful day you must have had. I would love to visit it myslef (though I don't think I could actually hold anything).
    Amalia
    xo

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    1. Thank you, Amelia. It was a really good day, full of interesting things.

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  17. oh fantastic, lucky you! I'm not sure I'd compete with you for your love interest though. I went to boarding school in Oxford and spent many wet afternoons in that museum, but never behind the scenes.

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    1. You would if you'd been there, she had something about her that little insect :o)

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  18. What a fascinating visit to see all these beautiful and unusual insects. The ghost mantis reminds me a bit of these leafy-looking seahorses at our zoo. (sorry, forget their name)
    Wendy

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    1. You're right they are similar (and I can't remember their name either!) :o)

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  19. What an amazing collection your uni trips are fascinating. I have never heard of this museum before. Have you visited there ever before? Sarah x

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    1. We have been before, but never behind the scenes. It was super xx

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  20. Lost for words! Wonderful things that make me go ooooh! and aaaah! and shiny!
    Brilliant :)

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x