Rehousing the Robertson Collection in 6 steps

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1. Rehouse specimens

Like many entomologists, Derek Robertson made all his own insect drawers economically using plywood, lined with polystyrene and lidded with greenhouse glass. These outdated drawers didn’t stop museum pests from getting in and eating the moths inside, leaving behind lines of frass (larvae excrement). To preserve the collection for future generations and to prevent any further damage, the whole collections is transferred one by one to permanent, pest proof drawers.

2. Give every moth its own identification number

No two moths are the same. Every moth is seen as a separate museum object and should be identified with a unique number to make it easy to locate. This number is printed onto tiny paper labels and pinned underneath the moth.

3. Extract data from tiny specimen labels

All good museum specimens have a specimen label, hidden underneath the insect. Vital information about the moth is written here like where and when it was collected. This data has been entered into our collections management system so it can be accessed at the click of a button. We can send this data to researchers and conservationists like Butterfly Conservation so they can use the data to see how moth distributions have changed and see which species need the most conservation.

4. Show every moth some TLC

Like any museum object, moths need to be conserved to make sure they are around for future generations to use. This means fixing ripped wings, reattaching detached abdomens, removing verdigris and mold.

5. Update species names

All biological organisms are given Latin names based on the International Code of Zoological (or Botanical) Nomenclature. Scientific names are constantly changing as our understanding of how species relate to each other deepens. Sometimes one species may have several names until it is decided which collector named the moth first!

6. Photograph each and every moth

We used the software inselect, created by the Natural History Museum, to take pictures of 45 trays and crop each tray to create 4000 photographs of individual moths in no time at all. Now scientists, artists and everyone in between can see our moths from anywhere in the world.

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