Presenting… Darwin’s Insects


A new year, a nice new display case. You may already be familiar with the Presenting… series that we’ve been running since March 2013; it started as a way to showcase treasures from the Museum’s collection during our closure year. Something changing and engaging to see as you passed through our darkened museum into the Pitt Rivers. Since re-opening early in 2014, we’ve celebrated significant natural history anniversaries, shared some of the staff’s favourite objects and put on joint displays with other departments in Oxford University. Now, for 2015, Presenting…  is getting a make-over.

Bush cricket, family Tettigoniidae
Bush cricket, family Tettigoniidae
Amoret from Life collections installs a letter from Darwin to Hope

Today we’ve installed a brand new Presenting…  display, in a posh new case. With humidity control and UV protection, this standard-leading unit gives us the opportunity to showcase some of the really special and fragile specimens from the collections. We’re launching tomorrow with a display of insects collected by none other than Charles Darwin.

As well as showing off some specimens collected by the great man in Australia and Tasmania, Darwin’s Insects will tell the story of his close friendship with Frederick William Hope (1797–1862), founder of the Hope Department of Entomology in this Museum. Hope was one of the most eminent entomologists of his time and when Darwin collected insects he often turned to Hope to help identify them.

Preparing specimens in the Life collections
Preparing specimens in the Life collections

Darwin’s journey on HMS Beagle began in 1831 and towards the end of the trip he travelled around parts of Australia and Tasmania observing and collecting many species, including the insects you can see on display. They’re displayed in pill boxes similar to the type Darwin would have used to collect the specimens originally, and you can see Darwin’s handwriting on the tiny labels.

Ant lion, family Myrmeleontidae
Ant lion, family Myrmeleontidae

Alongside the pinned insects, you can see one of Darwin’s letters to Hope, sent in 1837. He mentions insects that he collected between January and April 1836, which include the specimens on display. He is asking for Hope’s assistance, because so many of these insects are unknown to science. Hope was always keen to help identify new species and in another correspondence, from 1834, he promised to give Darwin “all assistance in my power” with this task.

The insects and letter will be on display from tomorrow (10 January) until 8 March. Pop in and take a look!

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

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More than a Dodo

I'm Public Engagement Manager at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and I look after permanent displays and other interpretation. I do a bit of social media on the side, too.

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