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Fascinating Facts About Minibeasts

Why do Museums Have Minibeast Collections?

York Museums Trust has an extensive collection of invertebrates, which is stored at the Yorkshire Museum. 


What is 'Entomology'?

Entomology is the study of insects. Someone who studies insects is called an entomologist. There are around 141,500 specimens in the entomology collections at the museum.  These include very important collections of British beetles, butterflies, moths, ants, bees, wasps and flies. 

The museum doesn't just have one of each type of insect, it has lots. This is so the specimens can be studied and compared as they are all very slightly different, just like one human is different to another! 

A tray of moth specimens, including yellow, brown orange and yellow coloured moths.
Moth Specimens, Including Tiger Moths

How are the Insects Stored? 

As you can see from the photos on this page, the specimens are kept in cases like drawers with glass tops for viewing.  These drawers are then kept in chests to keep the light out.  Exposing the specimens to light would damage them over time.  The insects are usually preserved by being sprayed with a special solution to protect them from decaying.

Multiple cabinets of skinny drawers with labels on.
Stored Entomology Collections at the Yorkshire Museum.

The insects are usually pinned to the base of the drawer with a pin through their body.  This is done after the insect has been caught and is dead

Photograph of a museum case full of Swallow Tail Butterfly specimens
A Museum Case of Swallow Tail Butterfly Specimens

Why do we need the Specimens? 

Specimens like these are used by scientists studying natural history.  They provide a record of what creatures were around at certain times.

Most of the specimens are from before 1950 and some are even from Victorian times.  In those days people did not worry as much about animal welfare.  Nowadays we have excellent digital cameras and can take good photographs of live insects instead. 

However, sometimes it is necessary to have the real thing in order to study the insect's body (anatomy) close up.  Identifying specimens can then help us to preserve their habitat and ensure they do not die out.

Butterfly is pale yellow with dark grey markings.  On the bottom edge of the lower wings is a blue design with a red dot.
Swallow Tail Butterfly Specimen