Displaying insects & biodiversity

Displaying insects & biodiversity

23 October 2020

We have over 100,000 insects in our collections at The Box, and we wanted to reflect this in the new natural history gallery, Mammoth.

Displaying 4836 specimens was no easy feat. The design was drawn, but the practicalities of getting the specimens in took a lot of planning, pinning, printing, and precision.

The display was created with 31 panels of acrylic, with each panel having rods of different lengths that the specimens would be pinned to. The rods had to be placed into holes on the acrylic panels, so we needed to know precisely where the holes were going to be. The best way to plan where the holes were to be drilled on the panels was to create exact templates using Plasterzote (an inert foam that is used by museums) and a paper template of each panel. The paper template was placed on top of the foam template, and the specimens were then pinned into position.

As each specimen was pinned to the template, tiny labels were printed out: one to go under the specimens to say which drawer the specimen had come from; and one for the drawer to say where the specimen was going.

Pinning butterflies and creating labels

It took our Natural History Curator around 4 months to prepare all the templates, with support from a placement student and another entomologist. The acrylic panels for display had the holes drilled in them, and rods of different lengths were pushed into the exact positions as outlined on the paper templates. One by one, the specimens were transferred from the foam templates. Our Natural History Curator worked closely with the mount maker to carefully place and screw them into positon.

The installation of the insect display, someone carefully pins the insects while standing on a ladder

This striking display of 4836 specimens highlights several different things. By looking at so many different insects, visitors can learn about taxonomy: how and why scientists classify life on our planet. It also shows the incredible biodiversity of life from this ‘small’ selection of insects. Species are disappearing at an alarming rate due to climate change and habitat destruction. We see this more visibly with animals like elephants or orang-utans. But hundreds of thousands of insects are at risk of extinction each year. We hope that by displaying such a huge variety of insects, our visitors will see their beauty and how each individual species is so important to a healthy ecosystem.

The new insect display in the natural history gallery at The Box.