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.
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..
It also has beautiful windows...
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 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)
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.
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?
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