7 November 2014: Hope Entomological Collections

Leader: Darren Mann, Oxford University Museum of Natural History

The visit took place in the evening of Friday 7 November. James Hogan who was to be our guide had to call off at short notice. Fortunately, Darren Mann who is Head of Life Collections at  the Museum stood in for James and so we were greatly indebted to him. In fact, the body of the Museum was being used for a fashion show, however we were able to sneak up the stairs, past exotically dressed young women, and disappear into the offices of the Entomological Department. Darren had fetched out a number of trays of specimens and we immediately entered into the world of entomological history – leading off with whites from the Dale butterfly collection and the oldest pinned specimen. Frederick Hope founded the Hope Department of Entomology and resourced the Professorship of Zoology at Oxford with John Westwood the first professor and curator of the collection. James Dale’s collection (33 cabinets) was acquired for the Hope collection in 1906 as were many other collections. This first tray included an example of a gynandromorph - an orange tip female apparently, but with an edge of orange on one forewing. Then we looked at bees from the Wallace collection, including the world’s largest (Megachile pluto). Darren explained about ‘types’ and that the collection held many holotypes. We looked at ladybirds – a special request in view of the Society’s upcoming talk by Helen Roy – and then we got down to dung beetles, Darren’s first love. We were amazed by the close practical care which the dung beetle specialist takes to ensure the objects of his study have the right – well dung! This took us to Thomas Marsham’s collection of beetles (Coleptera) which was also acquired for the Hope collection. Darren explained the change from wings to mouth parts for classification and the enormous difficulty of identification and classification – which in turn took us to subtleties of the male dung beetle’s sex organ. We dwelt on Darwin, of course, and Darren pointed out that the great debate on the origin of species between Thomas Huxley (Darwin’s bulldog) and Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford (‘Soapy Sam’) in 1860, about which so many apocryphal words have been written, took place here in the museum just up the stairs. So that is where we went next and gazed at the beautiful arches of the roof and the old cabinets in this hallowed place. Darren felt we needed some live action after all this, so we finished by admiring, and handling a wonderfully docile red-knee tarantula (Brachypelma smithi) – ‘Dolores’. The scorpion we admired but did not handle. We could have asked questions forever and I think Darren would have kept answering forever.
 What an excellent visit led by an enormous enthusiast of huge knowledge. Thank you Darren.

Steve Stevens, Karina Morris, Hugh Summers, Vivienne Summers, Diane Rockett, Peter Rockett, Sally Ainslie, Catherine Hale, Jackie Hudson, Judith Hoskins, Lucille Savin, Robert Aplin, Heather Aplin and 2 visitors

Hugh Summers