Training week at the Natural History Museum

What an exciting week! We learnt and experienced so much that there is no way I can show you all the photos I took and type up all the information I absorbed, but here are some highlights.

Titanus beetles

Our host was Clare Valentine, the head of Zoology collections. She gave us valuable advice about which publications were essential reading for natural history curators and which societies to join. We were then given a tour of the spirit room and other areas in Zoology. All people who have done the spirit tour are familiar with the giant squid (Architeuthis) that dominates the room, but they now have part of a colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis) head in the tank with it. The tentacles are juxtaposed beside one another to show visitors one of the main differences between Architeuthis and Mesonychoteuthis- their tentacles:

On the second day, we were given a tour of the Palaeontology department, then got to work. We helped measure the vertebrae of a plesiosaur to assist with research regarding the evolutionary morphology of their necks.

measuring cervical vertebrae

In the afternoon, I was shown some extinct bird specimens and how their remains were curated. The ratite eggs in particular were amazing to see:

Day 3 was spent in the Botany department. We learnt how to process a loan on Ke Emu and basic curatorial procedures with regards to managing herbarium sheets. The sheets are curated alphabetically or by publication, depending on the family or genus. They are also geographically arranged. These different systems made for some detective work, which I found enjoyable.

The fourth day was spent in Entomology.  Here are some beetles collected by Sir Joseph Banks:

We learnt how to remove verdigris, a green substance that is formed when copper reacts with the fats inside insects using a depinning machine. Verdigris can not only damage specimens by expanding and making the specimen “blow up”, but can also make it difficult to remove a specimen from a pin. An electrical current is passed through the pin, which heats it up and allows the specimen to slide off and be re-pinned with a non-copper pin.

lepidoptera specimen with verdigris

de-pinning machine

On the fifth day we had a short tour of the Mineralogy department, then a short tour of the arachnid collections. I’ll close this post with what the curator of Arachnids calls a “cheap and cheerful” way to curate a specimen that presents the problem of being round. Sometimes the best way is not always the most expensive way. That’s one of the many things I love about curatorial work. You are constantly using your brain to discover new methods to care for these wonderful things:

Millipedes wrapped up like presents to prevent damage

Many thanks to all the curators and collections managers at the NHM who allowed us this fantastic opportunity.


About Gina Allnatt

I have just finished a year long traineeship as a Biology Curator at Manchester Museum. I am currently a research and curation volunteer in the Entomology and Botany departments. -Gina Allnatt
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2 Responses to Training week at the Natural History Museum

  1. Paul Mudie says:

    Fascinating stuff! But yikes – I wouldn’t want to find a Titanis beetle crawling up my leg!

    • I saw a documentary a while back where they were trying to find a titanis beetle and they put up a lit, white sheet in the jungle to attract insects. They knew they had a titanus when they heard something big crash into the sheet!

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