Museum to move its insects (that's all 28 million of them)

The specimens form part of one of the biggest insect collections in the world - second only to that of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington - and their removal is the most complex ever undertaken in Britain.

Over 18 weeks the museum hopes to ship out its entire collection of insects and spiders to eight locations, seven within the grounds of the museum and one at a warehouse in south London.

Here they will be stored temporarily until a £65.5m building at the museum's home in South Kensington is finished ready for their return in 2008 when many will return to public display.

The collection has a rich history, the oldest specimens dating back 300 years and some being brought back to Britain by such scientific luminaries as Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, the 19th-century naturalist who, like Darwin, travelled the world in search of rare creatures.

Professor Nigel Fergusson, a museum entomologist who is helping to co-ordinate the move, said the shipment was a logistical nightmare because many of the specimens were old and delicate. "It's a huge project and an incredible responsibility," he said. "The specimens are unique and extremely fragile."

The collection, which includes spiders, is held in 7,250 museum cabinets, containing more than 140,000 drawers holding some 32,000 individual microscope slides for the smaller items. The largest specimen is a 3ft 6ins-tall hornet's nest from China. The smallest specimen is the barely visible fairy fly with a wingspan of less than 8/1000 of an inch; the largest insect is a moth with a wingspan of almost a foot.

Some one million species of insects have been formally described by science and three-quarters of these are defined as "type specimens" kept by the Natural History Museum, Professor Fergusson said.

"The insect collections form an irreplaceable library of life supporting research on human health, biodiversity, conservation and the environment around the world."

Fourteen million specimens alone form the Lepidoptera collection of moths and butterflies which will be stored in Wandsworth, south London. In addition, the removal men have to shift a library of 75,000 bound volumes and 33,000 scientific drawings.

Pests, humidity and fire threatened the collection in its old building which dates from the 1930s. The new Darwin Centre Phase Two will by contrast be an environmentally controlled "cocoon" seven stories high, Professor Fergusson said.

More than £59.6m has been pledged to build the next phase of the Darwin Centre, with funding coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Wellcome Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation and GlaxoSmithKline, the drugs company.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before