National Insect Week at the Natural History Museum

22 June 2010

You might prefer not to live with them, but you can’t live without them. Insects are crucial creatures we all depend on and they are the focus for National Insect Week (NIW) from 21 to 27 June.

Organised by the Royal Entomological Society, National Insect Week celebrates insects through activities across the UK, including those at the Natural History Museum.

Importance of insects

Without insects, our world would be deep in dung, without pollinated plants to produce much of the fruit and vegetables we eat, and without the beauty of butterflies, beetles and much more.

As well as providing food for many other animals, insects play a vital role in maintaining the delicate balance of nature’s ecosystems. And they often get less publicity than, for example birds or mammals.

An incredible 80% of the world's known species are insects and the UK has about 23,500 different types. 2,000 of these could pop up in a typical UK garden! So, why not find out more about them this week.

Museum insect activities

Pond-dipping in the Wildlife Garden, and talks on topics such as insects as pets or as masters of disguise, are some of the events at the Museum this week. Other talks reveal what Museum insect experts, entomologists, do and what their favourite insects are from the 28 million insect specimens.

There is also a special evening event called Six-legged Wonders on Thursday 24 June, where visitors can chat to Museum scientists, explore specimens, sip wine and take part in a quiz, as part of the Nights at the Museum.

Online, the Museum has the Bug forum where you can get expert help identifying creepy crawlies you’ve found. And the Museum’s Species of the day, highlights some fascinating insects starting with the scary hornet robber fly, a predatory fly that looks like a hornet, on Monday.

Museum bug book

Giants of the insect world are explored in a new Museum book Big Bugs: Life-size that includes not just insects but other bugs such as spiders. Written by Museum insect expert George Beccaloni, prepare yourself as you find out about a fly as big as your eye and a cockroach with the wingspan of a cereal bowl!

Studying insects

As well as the NIW events, the ongoing work of Museum scientists continues behind the scenes, including research into insect-borne diseases like malaria and using insects to help solve criminal investigations such as murders.

And this all begins with the job of a taxonomist, who identifies, names and classifies organisms, crucial for knowing what you are looking at and for getting a better understanding of the diversity that exists on our planet. Almost 1 million insects have been scientifically named so far, but there are still millions more to discover.

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