Skip navigation

Curator of Diptera's blog

1 Post tagged with the museum_week tag


So this piece has come about because of my participation in Twitter's recent #MuseumWeek. This was a global series of twitter questions, answers, selfies, confessions, etc. about the work, specimens, collections and staff that reside in museums. As a consequence of I have been nominated to join in the '11 Museum Blogger Questions' by Emma-Louise Nicholls who wrote a fine blog piece herself, answering the same questions and then passed the challenge on to me to talk about my life in the Natural History Museum.


Right, I will get on and respond:


1) Who are you and what do you blog about?


I am one of the collection Managers at the Natural History Museum - I manage the team who are involved with the Diptera, Arachnida, Myriapoda and Siphonaptera collections and personally am responsible for part of the collection (the Larger Brachycera - big, chunky flies). We estimate that there are between 3 to 4 million specimens in the collection here but that is a conservative guess as there are many jars of unsorted material (volunteers anyone?).


So I blog about my professional life in and out of the Museum; the collections that I look after, the field trips I go on and all the other parts that make up an incredibly varied job! I sit at this desk below when i am not in the Darwin Centre Cocoon, or the lab responding to emails asking for flies that I will send off around the world.




2) Which post on your blog did you have the most fun writing?


OK, so this is a hard one. It’s great writing about my field trips (e.g. Ethiopia or Tajikistan) as it helps me remember all of the fantastic things that I have seen and come across, as well as documenting some of the more interesting finds. However, in truth, writing the blogs about the specimens is what I really like. The one on Nemestrinidae was great because not only do I get to show off the specimens that usually remain hidden in closed cabinets but also I get to learn something along the way.


longirostris (1).jpg

One very beautiful fly


I spend ages checking the nomenclature, reading the publications associated with the material, imaging the specimens and so really get to know set parts of the collection. It’s a win/win situation. Although anytime I get to write about maggots is a bonus.


3) If you could nominate anyone to write a blog on the subject of your choice, who would you ask and what would it be on?


Dead or alive? Hmm, I think it would have to be Harold Oldroyd – a dipterist who worked in the Department many years ago. He worked on many groups of diptera and had an incrediable knowledge of both flies and the collections at the Museum.


Amongst his many achievements he wrote a book on the Natural History of Flies which is one of the most beautifully written books I have read - his language is charming and whimsical! - and it is the dipterists bible so I often refer to it.



The dipterist's bible


It would be great to read him waxing-lyrical about all the additions and changes that have occurred in the last 50 years since this book was published. I think his take on the different ways in which we can use technology to help describe new species from highly specialised microscopes to molecular techniques would be most insightful.


4) Why do you work in a museum?


Because it is the best place to work - simple. Where else would you get such an interesting, varied job! One minute I explaining the mating habits of flies to 200 people, the next I am holding on to the side of Peruvian mountains, and then I am recurating a collection containing specimens that were donated by Darwin. I am sampled flies from poo all over the world - there are not many people who get to put that on their CV!


5) If you could spend a year in a ‘job swap’ with someone at another museum, who would it be?


Hmmm. OK would I go for specimens or the curator. Oh, this is hard. Right if you forced me to chose just one - it would be with Torsten Dikow at the Smithsonian. I really like the group of flies called Asilidae (Robberflies - see below) and he is one of the leading experts in the field.


Ommatius discalis (3).jpg


He also manages the fly collection there and thanks to his interests in the Asilidae, the collection is mighty fine.


6) If time and money were not an issue, which museum in the world would you most like to visit?


Easy - I want to go and see the Entomology collection at the Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii. It is an enormous collection with some excellent dipterists looking after it (and a real expert on Bombyliidae - the beeflies), and it contains so many endemic species only found in Hawaii. The collection also has the added bonus of holding the bombyliid collections from other institutes including the Smithsonian. In fact maybe I should change my earlier answer and spend the year there instead. It does have the added advantage of being in Hawaii...


7) What’s the one thing in your average week at work that you look forward to doing the most?


Looking at flies. I do this job primarily for the love of the insects that I work on. Identifying specimens and knowing that this information will be used to help us understand pollination events, climate change, vector distributions, etc. is just a bonus to looking down the microscope at some of the most gorgeous specimens.





8) Please share a museum selfie.


OK, here's me and Daz....


me and daz.JPG


9) If you could sell something in your museum shop (that you don’t already), what would it be?


Either sweep nets, microscopes or Steve Marshall's book on flies. I have all of these and would be loathe to part with any. Maybe skittles [the sweet] would be good as well, for when I get mid-day cravings.


10) What is it about the people you have chosen to nominate next, that made you think they were a good choice?


I am going to nominate my colleague Alessandro Guisti. He works on the more showbiz insects (butterflies and moths) but I dont hold that against him. There is always so much going on that sometimes the only way you can keep up with colleagues is to read about what they are doing via their blogs. He writes very well and you can really feel his passion for his subject matter.


The second is Richard Jones who, although he dosent work for a museum, did once spend some time working for one and I think would have an interesting slant on blogs


11) If you turned into a devious miscreant over night, which specimen in your museum would you steal and why?


Either one of the diamonds or one of the meteorites. I’m not daft though - not the biggest but one I can sell and then buy a tropical island and then carry on collecting flies. I wouldn’t take an insect as that wouldn’t be right…


OK nominated bloggers, it's your turn and here’s what you have to do:


Answer the 11 questions I have listed for you below (you can adapt them slightly to fit your blog if you wish).


Make sure you include the BEST BLOG image (see the top of this page) in your post, and link the blog back to me, or this blog post.


Think of who to nominate next, I’d recommend two or three though it is up to you, and either give them the same 11 questions or change them however you wish.


Your questions are;


1. Who are you and what do you blog about?


2. What blog piece did you enjoy writing the most?


3. What made you want to start a blog?


4. What is the best thing about working in a museum?


5. If time and money were not an issue, which museum in the world would you most like to visit?


6. What is your earliest museum memory?


7. If you could be the director of any museum, which one would it be and why?


8. Share a museum selfie?


9. If you could own a single object or specimen from a museum’s collections, which one would it be and why?


10. What is the most popular post on your blog?


11. What’s the oddest question you have received in relation to a blog post?


Good luck!

Erica McAlister

Erica McAlister

Member since: Sep 3, 2009

I'm Erica McAlister, Curator of Diptera in the Entomology Department. My role involves working in the collection (I have about 30000 species to look after and over a million specimens), sometimes in the lab, and thankfully sometimes in the field.

View Erica McAlister's profile