Field Event Reports

12 February 2015 - Hope Entomology Collections

Leader: James Hogan

Dr Hogan showed a wide variety of species

This visit was arranged to follow the earlier very successful one last November to allow those not able to come then to have the opportunity of visiting this historical and stimulating venue. Fourteen members attended. Our guide was James Hogan, one of three full time members of the Hope Museum curatorial staff. In all, our visit progressed through four rooms, slowly winding our way up a series of stairs to the now enclosed roof space. Throughout James presented stimulating scientific and practical information on the Collection, liberally illuminated with historical context. The Collection holds over seven million pinned specimens, including some million British ones and many 1000s of 'type' specimens. As well as study at the Museum, material is sent to scientific institutions throughout the world. Without going into any great detail here, the Collection tends to reflect British Colonial past in its international geographical distribution. It holds, for example, the first ever examples of tsetse flies collected by David Livingstone and many thousands of specimens collected by Alfred Russel Wallace.

Initially we were shown a draw containing dozens of examples of a single butterfly species, collected from many sources, some dated early 19th century. James explained that such collections were invaluable, showing how a single species can vary considerably in form and colour. One of the big problems was highlighted when we handled a draw containing the 'wreckage' created when specimens had been attacked by the dreaded Carpet Beetle. This is the most significant pest of stored specimens throughout the Collection, the prevention of which occupies a considerable amount of Hope staff time. James explained other curatorial duties, such piecing together broken specimens, sorting collections not yet added to the main Collection (we saw a tray from one he is working on containing amazing birdwing butterflies), and constructing record archives (much work still needs to be done on this as many specimens are just recorded in tiny handwritten notes beside them). He explained the somewhat messy method of preserving caterpillars and later showed us the 'caterpillar stuffer' apparatus.

Another important aspect of the Collection relates to those British species that have either gone extinct or are threatened. We were continually reminded, such as by the stunning swallowtail butterflies we saw, that the clues these give to the historical distribution and ecological requirements in the 19th century is of immense value for future conservation and possible reintroductions.

Our final stop was in the so-called Huxley-Wilberforce Debate Room, an evocative 'attic' cloaked in the beautiful arches of the roof, lit by the a stunning glazed end window and crammed with immaculately polished old cabinets (a stark contrast to the 'new' soulless white cabinets just viewable in an adjacent room). As the venue of the great debate on the origin of species between Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce, in 1860, this was a timely place to end our visit, which had taken us back into the world of famous collectors, naturalists and explorers.

Massive thanks to James for his stimulating and authoritative tour and to Steve Stevens for arranging the visit. One could not help but think that the responsibility for preserving this amazing Collection of over 7 million specimens for the future and servicing it for present-day needs falls on the shoulders of so few dedicated people today.

Steve Stephens, Graham Bateman, Tony Vincent, Dianne & Peter Rocket, David Lloyd, Michael Bloom, Dudley & Penny Iles, Nigel Gregory, David Guyoncourt, Chris & Bridget Biggs, Sue Morley 

Graham Bateman