Invasion of the monster insects

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INSECTS the size of dinosaurs have descended on the Natural History Museum in London. They form the centrepiece of a new exhibition of moving robots that the museum hopes will attract much-needed summer visitors.

The robot insects are up to 90 times lifesize and have been carefully designed with the help of expert entomologists to emulate the movements of real insects, just as the museum's exhibit of robot dinosaurs are built to mimic the true behaviour of the prehistoric creatures.

The museum, which has been criticised in the past for concentrating on Disney-type exhibits at the expense of more traditional displays, defended its position yesterday on the grounds that it needs to introduce a wider public audience to its collection.

Miranda MacQuitty, the researcher and writer of the robot insect exhibition, said: 'The robots have got an educational role because by magnifying them to this size the public can appreciate them more.'

Dr MacQuitty said that it was important to have both traditional displays, with insects mounted behind glass displays, and more modern exhibits that include moving robots. 'We want to appeal to a wider audience,' she said.

The exhibition, which opens today, includes:

Two fighting atlas beetles, magnified to 40 times lifesize and measuring 20 feet in length, compete for the attention of females by locking their horns to try to lever one another off a branch.

A female stick insect, built to 30 times lifesize, which raises its tail to make itself look more threatening.

A swallowtail caterpillar, 90 times lifesize, which stops munching on a leaf to rear up and display its 'eyespots', making it resemble a much larger animal to scare away enemies.

A desert locust, 60 times lifesize, which flexes its powerful back-legs to launch into the air with its wings spread wide.

(Photograph omitted)