Behind the scenes
Hidden behind the scenes in our natural history store are creatures great and small from all over the world.
Large taxidermy specimens are stored on heavy duty shelves in compactor racking. Movement of the larger animals requires a lot of planning and teamwork.
Some of our insect collections are housed in their original cabinets and store boxes. A large proportion of the species occurring in the UK have been consolidated into a taxonomically organised reference collection. Each insect is mounted on a pin so they can be moved and examined without having to touch the specimen itself.
Our spirit collection holds an assortment of soft bodied creatures and smaller vertebrates. Preservation in alcohol helps maintain soft tissue shapes that would become deformed if the specimen was allowed to dry out. Because alcohol evaporates quickly the levels in the glass containers must be regularly checked.
Being made almost entirely of natural materials, our collections are a potential food source for a variety of insect pests, the most notable of which is Anthrenus verbasci, the carpet beetle. You might notice these tiny beetles emerging from old carpets and gathering at windowsills in springtime, but in Museums they can build up to huge numbers if left unchecked. It is the hairy larva, known as the ‘wooly bear’ that causes all of the damage as they chew through specimens, shedding theirs skins at intervals to allow growth and emerging as adult beetles when they are full.