Stag beetleOxford Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) has to be one of the best museums in the world.  We worked with the Hope Entomological Collections to create some of the work for Lost & Found.

The collections house over 5 million insect specimens; in the UK they are second only, in size and importance, to the national insect collection at the Natural History Museum in London.  We are using butterflies, moths, bees and beetles from the collections, as source material for our images, and taking some of them on tour with the exhibitions.

As well as curating and conserving, the collections staff are engaged in research projects studying the biology, ecology, distribution and conservation of species, and lecturing in their own specialisms.

The collections are a fantastic educational resource, but also invaluable for other scientists working in life sciences today.  One such is Prof. Dave Goulson, another collaborator on Lost & Found.  In 2008 Dave started a project to attempt to reintroduce the short-haired bumblebee Bombus subterraneus to Britain, 20 years after it became extinct in 1988.  Initially the plan was to breed from a population of short-haired bumblebees in New Zealand where they were introduced in 1885.

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Short-haired bumblebee

Dave’s team was able to obtain tissue samples from short-haired bumblebees in the Hope Entomological Collection, from bees that were collected in the UK before they became extinct.  After comparing the DNA with that of the specimens from New Zealand, they established that this population had far too little genetic variation – they were too inbred and unlikely to be robust enough to survive relocation to Britain.  The project to reintroduce short-haired bumblebees continues using bees with more genetic diversity, from Sweden.

The museum and its collections has inspired our work and we extend sincere thanks to Darren Mann, Head of Life Collections, and his team for their support, time and patience.  Thanks to James Hogan for assistance with the collection of UK bumblebee species, Katherine Child for her technical expertise with electron microscope imaging and the brilliant Amoret Spooner for climbing ladders and trudging labyrinthine corridors on quests to meet our demands for specimens!