Skip navigation

Behind the scenes

2 Posts tagged with the moths tag
0

It's almost a year since I started blogging for the Museum, and as I considered what I should profile for my 12th Specimen of the Month, I inevitably began to reflect on all the amazing specimens I've already written about, those on my list to write about in the future (which, for various reasons, can't be featured today), as well as all the specimens I've yet to even discover exist here.

 

One of the most incredible things about the Museum is just how many specimens we care for. To describe it by coining a phrase from Charles Darwin (although he was talking about the evolutionary Cambrian explosion, but anyway...), the Museum's collection is full of 'endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful'.

 

So today I thought I would celebrate all the specimens in our collection. All 80 million of them!

 

As you can obviously gather, not all 80 million are on public display. In fact, only about 0.04% of our total collection is on show in the public galleries. The rest is housed behind the scenes, in specially-built, and often specially-temperature-controlled, storage facilities.

 

Our 80 million-strong specimen collection is composed of:

 

More than 34 million insects in 140,000 drawers, of which 8.7 million are butterflies and moths.

insect-collections---lepidoptera-L-entomology-R.jpg

Some of the modern and historic storage cupboards containing the drawers that house our insect collections.

 

weevils__700.jpg

The collection was boosted in 2010 with the donation of 45,000 weevils of 4,500 different species from Oldřich Vořisek, a private collector in the Czech Republic. Half were new to the Museum, and it included almost 750 type specimens. Pictures © Libby Livermore.

 

More than 27 million animals, ranging from the smallest fishes and frogs to enormous elephants and blue whale skeletons.

CH---elephant,-1924__700.jpg

Before Dippy took pride of place, elephants were a dominant feature of Hintze Hall (or Central Hall as it was back then). In this picture from 1924, three elephants can be seen on the main floor, while a further two elephant heads are mounted above the Darwin statue on the stairs.

 

headsx2_700.jpg

Mounted heads used to be much more prominent around the Museum in years gone by, as illustrated by this photograph of the balcony of Hintze Hall from 1932 (left). [Note, also, the terrifying location of the glass display cases at the top of the stairs!]

Today, most of our mounted animal heads are kept in storage (right).

 

More than 7 million fossils, with the oldest dating back more than 3.5 billion years.

petrified-stump__700.jpg

One of my favourite fossils is this petrified tree trunk: the wood of a conifer from the Triassic era (250-200 million years ago) has been replaced with the mineral agate.

 

calcite-crystal-ammonite_700.jpg

Another fossil I'm quite fond of, which also has a mineralogical connection, is this ammonite (Parkinsonia dorsetensis), from the mid-Jurassic era (174-166 million years ago): its chambers have been filled by calcite crystals.

 

More than 6 million plants, algae, ferns, mosses and lichens, 10% of which come from the British Isles.

oldest-plant-specimen_500_700.jpg

Our oldest plant specimen is a mounted American hop hornbeam (Carpinus virginiana), which dates to 1740 and was collected just about a mile from here at the Chelsea Physic Garden.

 

 

Watch herbarium technician Felipe Dominguez-Santana demonstrate how plant specimens are mounted in this video from 2009. It was filmed around the time that all our herbarium specimens were moved into the then-newly-built Darwin Centre.

 

More than 500,000 rocks, gems and minerals, of which 5,000 are meteorites.

minerals-gallery-selfie_700.jpg

Here I am reflected in some pyrite in the Minerals gallery.

 

malachite-penis_700.jpg

For some reason this malachite specimen causes innumerable giggles. We don't know why.

 

And, more than 1.5 million books and artworks in the Museums Library and Archives.

library__700.jpg

As a book junkie, the Museum's Library collection (of which there are six sub-collections: zoology, Earth sciences, botany, entomology, general, and ornithology at Tring) is a thing of beauty in itself, to me. This is a view from the balcony over the Earth sciences collection, which is in the old Geological Museum building (now the Red Zone), built between 1929 and 1933.

 

darwin-books__700.jpg

Just a small selection of some of the 540+ copies of Origin of Species held by the Museum's library. We have the largest collection of Charles Darwin's works in the world.

 

Finally, not officially counted in the 80+ million, but...

museumdinos_700.jpg

The web team's collection of dinosaur toys, totalling 15.

0

The Army Biscuit Enquiry

Posted by Amy Freeborn Aug 8, 2014

If an army marches on its stomach (as Napoleon famously proclaimed), then ensuring soldiers' food is of good quality is essential. So when British troops stationed abroad found themselves receiving tins of biscuits in their ration packs that were infested with moths and beetles, the Museum was called in to investigate the source of these 'injurious insects'.

 

In 1910, at the request of Brigadier-General S S Long, Director of Supplies for the British Army, sample tins of biscuits were withdrawn from stocks at various stations abroad and sent back to Britain for inspection at Woolwich Barracks by Museum entomologist Dr John Hartley Durrant.

 

Three possible points of infestation were considered: 1) at home before packing, 2) during transit, or 3) in the country where stored. However, as the biscuits were packed in hermetically sealed tins, it was presumed that - providing the tins weren't compromised - infestation must have taken place in the biscuit factories.

 

After careful examination of the tins at Woolwich, they were pronounced to be intact, but nevertheless, when opened, contained a foreign flour moth, Ephesita kuehniella, in various stages of development.

 

In his paper published in the June 1913 edition of the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, Dr Durrant said:

This proved conclusively that infestation had taken place in the factories before the tins were soldered, and indicated that preventative or remedial measures must be undertaken in the factories themselves.

infested-biscuits_700v2.jpg

Images from Durrant's paper showing moth-infested biscuits found in tins sent to troops stationed in South Africa and Mauritius.

 

So down to a biscuit factory in Bermondsey went Durrant to carry out some tests. From these tests he concluded:

 

  • Although it was a given that flour was 'often infested by insects in various stages of development' (perhaps modern-day health and safety excesses aren't so bad after all), if the flour was sifted through a mesh of 320 strands to the inch, that should be sufficient to eliminate ova.
  • Temperatures within the biscuits during baking quickly reached 95degC in the first few minutes, and continued to rise to around 100degC in the centre of the biscuit before the end of the baking period. Meanwhile, laboratory experiments showed that 60degC 'may probably be accepted as a maximum temperature above which it is unnecessary to go for the destruction of ova'.

 

Therefore, Durrant said:

We are of opinion that infestation of the biscuits must take place after baking, during cooling, and prior to the tins being soldered.

 

Durrant offered a series of suggestions, including:

 

  • Introducing 'screened cooled air during biscuit cooling to render it practically impossible for the moth to oviposit on the biscuits', and
  • 'Puncturing the biscuit tins before leaving the factory, raising the temperature to a lethal point, then re-soldering'.
  • He also alerted the Board of Agriculture that foreign moth species were present in the UK.

 

In 1915, to showcase Durrant's work, as well, perhaps, to show support for British efforts in the then-recently commenced World War I, the Museum made a public display of what it dubbed the Army Biscuit Enquiry.

 

army-biscuit-enquiry-700.jpg

The Army Biscuit Enquiry display: 'The research which has been carried out jointly by the War Office and the Museum has ensured the protection of Army Biscuits from the possibility of such attacks by insects in the future.'

 

The Museum made many important contributions to the military efforts during the war, in a wide range of areas, including supplying departmental expertise, furthering public education, providing public services and, of course, undertaking military service.

 

Further WWI posts: