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Mass migration at the Museum

20 August 2005

28 million insects and spiders are on the move at the Natural History Museum before their current home is demolished to make way for a new £65.9 million extension.

The move is the latest stage in the Museum's Darwin Centre Phase Two project, which will provide a secure home for vulnerable plant and insect collections and give the public the chance to explore them for the first time.

Until the new building is completed in 2009, the insects, together with the 120 scientists that work with them, will have temporary homes in other parts of the Museum and at a special South London storage facility.

Alaptus magnanimus, fairy fly © The Natural History Museum, London 2005

Alaptus magnanimus, fairy fly © The Natural History Museum, London 2005

Insect specimen collection

The Museum's insect specimen collection has been gathered over the last 300 years and includes specimens collected by Charles Darwin.

The insects range in size from the barely visible fairy fly, Alaptus magnanimus, (with a wingspan of 0.02cm) to the world's largest moth, Thysania agrippina, from Central and South America (with a wingspan of 30cm). The largest specimen to move will be a 105 x 42cm hornet nest (Vespa crabro crabroniformis ) from China.

'It's a huge project and an incredible responsibility - the specimens we are handling are unique and extremely fragile', said Professor Nigel Fergusson, Museum entomologist and one of the people in charge of co-ordinating the move. 'The insect collections form an irreplaceable 'library of life' supporting research on human health, biodiversity, conservation and the environment around the world.'

Largest move ever
This is the largest number of specimens the Museum has ever attempted to move:
  • 28 million specimens, held in more than 140,000 drawers
    32,000 drawers of slides
  • 7,250 cabinets that hold the drawers
    a library of 75,000 bound volumes and 33,000 drawings
  • 120 staff, their furniture and computers alongside laboratory equipment and large freezers
  • 450 cages, similar to the carts used by supermarkets for delivering bulky items, are being used
  • the move will last 18 weeks
  • the collections are moving to seven destinations within the Museum plus a storage facility in South London
  • the Museum's Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) collections, about 14 million specimens, are moving to South London in three to five van loads per day

Further Information