Yesterday I had a great day in London at the Natural History Museum! The trip was organised by Conrad, a guy who we have got to know through several of our field trips, and who happens to be an expert in beetles. The idea of taking a day trip to London was rooted in our time in Swaziland , where we spent some of our time helping him identify beetles in the field. Some of the ecologists are getting very into their beetles, and he thought it would be great to take us to the Natural History Museum on a day to show us the Coleoptera collection! He has studied and worked there and so knows all the staff, and so getting us in the behind the scenes was a breeze. Another plus was getting a very detailed tour from someone who knew his way around, which was super fun! We set off towards London at 7.15 in the morning on the Megabus to Victoria in London, and several hours later and a quick ride on the tube we arrived at South Kensington outside the Natural History Museum. We signed in and headed towards the Coleoptera floor. Inside we were greeted by a friend of Conrad who told us about the Masters programs they do at the Museum, and the volunteering opportunities in the summer! Personally, the volunteering thing sounded more appealing, what great experience to be able to put on your CV! Definitely something I would love to do!
Afterwards we were left to our own devices with Conrad and he started off by showing us some beautiful displays of weevils (the blue ones) and other beetles. Some of these displays were more for the aesthetics, without the the rigid taxanomic setup, with different beetles from different families but together to show the diversity and variance withing the beetle order. The colour and extravagant shapes were mesmerizing, Mother Nature is definitely an artist.
We then headed down the isles and isles of lockers, filled with drawers and drawers of beetles. The collection is categorised using taxonomy, and labelled with other important information like from what biomes etc. The vastness of the collection was mind-blowing. Conrad presented us with tons of different specimens, with lots to say about all of them! Conrad explained the interesting facts about their colouration, how some beetles colour will fade in the collection as it lies in the pigments, whilst other colours (often more metallic looking) are structural to the organism and will never fade. He also talked about how a lot of beetle species are sexually dimorphic, and that the males are the ones with the extravagant ornament such as horns. He showed us the morphological variance between individuals of the same species, but also mentioned that the variance can be even greater between environments within the same species. In one biome the species all may be green, and in another they may be blue.
We also found some boxes of dung from dung beetles that were cut in half to see inside. The dung beetles roll their dung and lay an egg inside. They then cover the outside with clay for protection. When the egg hatches it eats the dung until it is hollow shell, and emerges. My favourite part was definitely when we got to see specimens of some of the largest beetles known to man; Titanus gigantus (brown and elongated) and Goliathus beetles (with white stripes). They were with no doubt bigger than some birds! Apparently in the old days, colonialists love to shoot the large goliath beetles in Africa to collect them, as they were so big. you could actually see the led in the beetle specimens from this era.
Back at the entrance we got to see some more displays, one of which showed Darwin’s journey on the H.M.S Beagle around South Africa, and what beetles he collected on his way. Darwin was in fact quite an eager beetle collector! He wasn’t a very good one at times though managing to loose and not catch species in the field. It is funny to read about such a great man struggling with problems I myself have faced; I must tell you what happened to me on the banks of the Cam in my early entomological days; under a piece of bark I found two carabi (I forget which) & caught one in each hand, when lo & behold I saw a sacred Panagæus crux major; I could not bear to give up either of my Carabi, & to lose Panagæus was out of the question, so that in despair I gently seized one of the carabi between my teeth, when to my unspeakable disgust & pain the little inconsiderate beast squirted his acid down my throat & I lost both Carabi & Panagus!
Afterwards we went for some lunch at a uni pub round the corner, followed by a talk by the museum on Copepods. The talks were designed for the public, and were a bit basic at times, but still very interesting! Afterwards we had an hour to spare to walk round the museum (where we obviously got a Darwin Selfie) before we went in the live butterfly exhibition called “Sensation butterfly”. It was a very humid tent filled with tropical plants and real butterflies flying around. A surreal experience. We saw some stunning butterflies and a HUGE colourful moth known as an Atlas moth. We are talking larger than my head size.
All in all a great day! Sadly my break is over now, after having the day off.. I need to start revision for my last exam and I am so not motivated anymore. I could have so done with last weeks exam stress being the end of it. It is hard picking yourself up again and keep on working. I also still have so much more to organize: my visa application (I can’t start until I get the right documents from Wollongong University), storage of stuff in England, planning Norway trip with David and Jodie, and packing! Time is ticking, and I can’t really start any of it yet. I am getting worried about my visa situation, I might send a message to UOW and ask them what’s going on.. I only have two weeks to sort out my visa, and I don’t know if it will take hours, days or even weeks to sort out.