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Archive for the ‘Museum Visitors’ Category

About 30-40% of the visitors to the Manchester Museum’s Entomology Department are art or design students and professionals, who come over to get inspired by the variety of insect shapes, colours and patterns, and to talk to the museum curatorial staff about what interests them. Museum’s curators are especially pleased when such visits result in something tangible, such as an installations, original ideas for contemporary product and/or jewellery design, and, of course, pure examples of fine art.

Here we are pleased to present an interview with Robin Gregson-Brown, a Lepidoptera artist as he calls himself, from Derbyshire (recorded 20th October 2016). At the age of 80 and in retirement, Robin has embarked a new career of poetic artist of nature. And what could be more beautiful nature’s beautiful creatures than moths and butterflies? Hardly anything! Robin is fascinated by Lepidoptera all his life and now started to satisfy his passion by painting them in mixed media.

In collaboration with the Derby Museum and the Manchester University Museum, he has produced a series of spellbinding images of endangered and extinct butterflies, which were displayed once in his personal exhibition at the Derby Museum (22nd May – 5th June 2016).

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Writing a poem seems to be a mystery for many people, and it is indeed an act of creativity by those who are able to observe the world within or around them and to perceive it in a new way. A poem can be about anything, from old love memories to a crawling bug; it is about capturing a feeling that you have experienced. However, it’s hard to know where you should start. Helen Clare, a freelance writer and poet from Manchester, presents a possible approach to how to write a poem on the basis of, say, a visit to the Manchester Museum. If you want to know how to write a poem, this story is for you.

Below you can listen to the poem narrated and presented by Helen Clare. The printed text of the poem can be found here.

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In recent years, an increasing concern has been caused by the decline of butterflies in Britain. Almost half of the 59 resident species have reduced their ranges over the last 150 years, and five species have become extinct: Black-veined White (Aporia crataegi; c. 1925); Large Copper (Lycaena dispar, c. 1851); Mazarine Blue (Cyaniris semiargus, c. 1903); Large Blue (Maculinea arion, c. 1979); and Large Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis polychloros, 1980s?). Many of the remaining butterfly species continue to decline nationally or even have become extinct locally on many sites. One of such species is the Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus argus), which is scarce elsewhere in the UK with a high extinction rate (evaluated as 25%): i.e., the species no longer occurs in about a quarter of the localities from where it was recorded in the 1970s. In the UK, this species declined most severely from 1950 to 1980, but with relatively few extinctions occurring between 1980 and 1985 (data by Warren, 1993, for Central Southern Britain).

The main reason for extinction/declining of this and other butterfly species in the UK is a combination of habitat loss and fragmentation/isolation, and changes in habitat management (especially, in Forestry Commission and Public Authority sites). Butterflies are known to be highly sensitive to environmental changes and therefore they often decline whilst their larval food-plants are still widespread and abundant. However, any changes in butterfly populations are to be seen as early indicators of habitat changes that in the future will affect many other wildlife groups.

The Silver-studded Blue is more usually associated with heathland habitats, and a number of regional nature reserves have been specifically established to protect it. One of such sites is the Prees Heath Common Reserve (Shropshire), the last sanctuary for the Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus argus) in the Midlands.

Stephen Lewis, Officer at the Prees Heath Reserve, visited the Manchester Museum on 19/12/2014 in order to study historical records of the Silver-studded Blue from the Midlands on the basis of museum specimens.  He also gave us a short interview about the conservation of the Silver-studded Blue in Shropshire (see below).

A more complete story of the Silver-studded Blue butterfly at the Prees Heath Common Reserve presented by Stephen Lewis can be seen in the following short video.

If you are interested in British Butterfly Conservation (the British Butterfly Conservation Society) and their currently formulated strategy for British butterflies please visit the society’s site.

Further reading:

Warren, M.S. 1993. A review of butterfly conservation in Central Southern Britain: I. Protection, evaluation and extinction on prime sites. – Biological Conservation, 64, 25-35; pdf-file online.

Warren M.S., Barnett L.K., Gibbons D.W. & Avery M.I. 1997. Assessing national conservation priorities: an improved red list of British butterflies. – Biological Conservation, 82: 317-328; pdf-file online.

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Being fascinated by a range and diversity of Manchester Museum’s galleries and exhibitions, many of our visitors want then to visit a particular Museum’s store in order to know more about the collections deposited behind-the-scenes and/or people working there. The Manchester Museum’s Entomology store retaining some 2.5 million specimens of insects is a usual place for visits not only by specialists-entomologists but also by art, design or photography students. Photographic reports resulting from such visits are always welcomed by the staff, as they show how different maybe a visitor’s view compared to what we can think of as a usual place and/or routine practice. Here is a short report received from one of our visitors, George Burgess, a first-year photography student, who visited the Entomology store in late Nov 2013.

“For my first-year photography assignment I was producing photograms – images made without a camera – using bugs. On a visit to the museum, Dmitri’s display in the Manchester Gallery caught my eye and I wanted to know more. It was really interesting to visit the department and see how everything is labelled and the large quantities of insects.”

View of the entomology store and one of our reference collections of British butterflies

View of the entomology store and one of our reference collections of British butterflies

There are hundreds of store-boxes containing thousands of undetermined insects; Dmitri, the curator, is holding a draw of undetermined parasitoid British wasps

There are hundreds of store-boxes containing thousands of undetermined insects; Dmitri, the curator, is holding a draw of undetermined parasitoid British wasps

Besides insect collection, the Manchester Museum's Entomology department retains archive originated from the people who used to work in the Museum or who donated their collections

Besides insect collections, the Manchester Museum’s Entomology department retains related archives that originated from the people who used to work in the Museum or who donated their collections

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The Manchester Museum holds a fantastically diverse collection of insects, with over 2.5 million specimens deposited, which represent an important scientific resource for taxonomic, biodiversity and conservation studies. One of such academic studies is now being undertaken by Ms Roisin Stanbrook, a postgraduate student reading for a MSc. in Conservation Biology at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is lucky enough to be travelling to Tanzania this summer (2013) to conduct research for her final project. Her dissertation investigates the use dung beetles (Scarabaeinae) as bioindicators of habitat disturbance in African savannah ecosystems. Habitat fragmentation, hunting, logging and other changes in vegetation usually cause a reduction in species richness, abundance and biomass when compared to undisturbed habitat. Roisin’s study will measure each of these variables to ascertain which type of ecosystem: disturbed pasture, upland secondary forest and pristine primary forest contains the greatest abundance and dung beetle species richness. Many invertebrate groups, especially dung beetles are used as focal taxa in disturbance studies because of their abundance, habitat specialization and response to small-scale habitat heterogeneity. In fact, such is the adeptness of dung beetles, previous studies have demonstrated that composition changes distinctly across habitat types and a complete species turnover have been observed in as little as 100m! In addition, many dung beetle species show a graded response to various kinds of disturbance. Therefore, measuring dung beetle response to human activity can help us assess the functional consequences of human disturbance and aid implementation of appropriate conservation policies to combat habitat and species loss. By studying the extensive dung beetle collection held at the Museum Roisin is able to gain valuable ‘eyes on’ experience before she begins her research and becomes acquainted with her favourite beetles up close!

 Any researcher is most welcome to come over to the Manchester Museum and to work with what we think is the best entomological collection in North-West.

Roisin looking at some dung beeles from the collection of Manchester Museum

Roisin looking at some dung beeles from the collection of Manchester Museum

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The Manchester Museum’s Entomology Department welcomes a wide array of visitors, from scientists coming to study our extensive insect collections to designers and artists exploring the diversity of shapes, colours or patterns of the many thousands of creepy-crawlies deposited here. Some time ago, the Entomology Department was visited by Ms Michelle Topping based at Mirabel Studios in Manchester. Michelle spent a day looking at and drawing various butterflies from our collection and here is her first result, the painting inspired by her visit.

The painting inspired by the visit to the Entomology department of the Manchester Museum

The painting inspired by the visit to the Entomology department of the Manchester Museum

Here is some information Michelle wrote about her own work:

My paintings explore the two worlds of reality and the virtual world of being online. The butterflies reflect a fragile impermanent beauty which can often be missed when attention has been stopped to the here and now. Most of my work involves portraits of people who have inspired me and others with certain characteristics and talents. It’s the word talent which interest me the most, as I like to explore the hard work and determination which hides behind it.

 Michelle is based at Mirabel Studios in Manchester. They have an open studio on the 9th May. Everyone is welcome. For more information go online.

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Some people may think that natural history museums deposit only old, historically and/or scientifically important collections. Although this is true, museums also continue to acquire new materials coming to them in various ways. In order just to give visitors an idea about how new collections can be acquired, here is a very brief report on new acquisitions made by the Manchester Museum’s Entomology department during the last five years, from January 2008 to December 2012.

A total of 66 acquisitions of 17,477 specimens have been received, as follows:

1.    Fieldwork (by the curator): 3 acquisitions of 368 specimens.

2.    Enquire-based acquisitions (usually via the identification service we provide): 10 acquisitions of 61 specimens.

3.    Acquisitions related to the public events that we support (Bioblitzes and others): 5 acquisitions of 112 specimens.

4.    Exchange: 1 acquisition of 121 specimens.

5.    Donations: 47 acquisitions of 16,815 specimens.

 Of the aforementioned donations, the largest single one was the spider collection of Dr. Eric Duffey (Norfolk) from Britain, France and Spain acquired in July 2011, which alone consisted of more than 6,000 sample tubes containing 12,545 specimens. The collection has a high scientific value and started being intensively used both for research and for teaching.

Some donations are quite unusual. For instance, a set of three trays apparently produced in Brazil and received in July 2011. Each tray contains a selection of 12 to 21 showy tropical butterflies incorporated inside its bottom, with a nice Morpho-butterfly in the centre (see photo). The trays were first given to us for the identification of butterflies, which we did, and then were simply donated to the Museum.

Unusual Trays acquired in July 2011.

Unusual Trays acquired in July 2011.

Although the majority of newly acquired insect or spider collections represent an essential resource for taxonomic research, many specimens can also be used (and are used) in various Museum’s educational programmes or temporary/permanent exhibitions. A new permanent Museum’s exhibition called ‘Nature’s Library’, which is due to open in April 2013, will be specifically devoted to our large natural history collections hidden behind-the-scenes and to why these collections are here and how are they used. Do not miss out the opening date (check out the Museum’s site regularly).

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