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Museums: With the Beetles at London’s Natural History Museum

Opinion

As the Daily Telegraph reported,

Insect experts at the Natural History Museum have been unable to identify an insect found in their grounds, despite the museum holding 28 million specimens in its collection.

    

The tiny red and black bug, which has baffled specialists from across Europe, has been spotted all over London and experts believe it could spread across Britain.

It was the 5 year old son of one of the museum’s entomologists, Max Barclay, who found it whilst they were having lunch in the museum gardens,

"My field work has taken me all over the world — to Thailand, Bolivia, Peru. So I was surprised to be confronted by an unidentifiable species while having a sandwich in the museum’s garden, " Barclay says.

In the same way that when considering space (not ad space you understand, but the place where no one can hear you scream) one is confronted by dizzying numbers – as in the fact that there are over a hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe and that our own relatively average, run-of-the-mill galaxy, the Milky Way contains up to 400 billion* stars – the sheer number of beetles is head spinning.  (*Plus or minus 200 billion- this is not an exact science!)

The current estimate of known beetle species is around 350, 000 , half of which are weevils.  This is around 40% of all known insect species and over 6 times the number of all vertebrae species. However, scientists reckon that the vast, vast majority of species remain unkown. Out in the tropics, the number of new insect species being discovered shows no sign of abating, leading some to suggest that there might be as many as 50 million species of insects alone.

In Panama ten years ago, a study of the insect fauna on one single species of tree, Luehea seemanii, in a tiny patch of forest, found over a thousand species of beetle. Bearing in mind that 1 hectare (10, 000 sqm) of rich tropical rain forest can contain up to 245 species of tree, we are talking a whole boatload of beetles.

So the natural world continues to astonish and amaze and an entomologist and his son had a lunchtime to remember. I am off into the fields to locate the first known specimen of Arocatus blooloopius…

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Rachel Reed

Rachel Read

Rachel is Finance Director. She has a degree in engineering from Cambridge University and qualified as a Chartered Accountant at Deloittes in London. She worked in finance in industry for twenty years. She oversees our news and also manages our events.

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