Taking Wing: curating a collection of Venezuelan hawkmoths

Entomology Manchester

Fig 1The following report has been prepared by Claire Miles, Honorary Curatorial Associate at The Manchester Museum.

Manchester Museum purchased the Adams and Bernard collection of 300 Venezuelan Lepidoptera in April 1976. Since then, if a curious curator removed the lids from the cardboard boxes to peer at the ghostly silhouettes in their translucent paper packets, the lids were always replaced. Now, thanks to funding from the Natural Science Collections Association (NatSCA), part of this collection – around 175 hawkmoths – can be set out, identified, catalogued, and made useful. This blog is a brief summary of progress so far.

Fig 2 Tantalising shapes – the moths in their paper packets.

In the paper packets, the hawkmoths lie with their wings folded together. With wingspans of up to 17 cm, setting the hawkmoths out will take up quite a bit of expensive storage space. Thanks to the NatSCA funding, the…

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Signs of life

Collections in the Landscape


Teeth. Feel your teeth with your tongue. Bite together. Use your fingers to feel them through the skin of your face. Do you like your teeth? Do you like the way they shape your face? Or have you always hated them? Do you feel guilty about the state of them? Would you trust them with a toffee?

Much more than buried bones, our teeth are an obvious part of our everyday appearance and shape how we see ourselves and others, and they’re tied up with all sorts of emotions we can easily imagine and share.

The teeth in the picture belong to a young woman. They were found with her skeleton at Fin Cop, a hillfort overlooking Monsal Dale, and are now at Buxton Museum. Although she lived around 2,300 years ago, her teeth are instantly recognisable and familiar objects to us, and they can tell us something about her.


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Making faces

Arranging for the reconstruction of the faces of early Peak District people is part of a work-based project I’m completing at Buxton Museum. The Museum is supporting this aspect of my work towards the Associateship of the Museums Association (AMA).

Collections in the Landscape

This week two of the human skulls at Buxton Museum were scanned to see if these faces from the past can be reconstructed. This will help us tell their story in the new Wonders of the Peak gallery. One skull is of a young person found at Fin Cop Iron Age hillfort, dating from around 300 BCE. The second skull belongs to a man buried around 2000 years earlier at Liffs Low.

The scanning was carried out by Mark Roughley and Dr. Eilidh Ferguson from Face Lab Research Group at Liverpool John Moores University and it was absolutely fascinating watching them work.

Mark and Eilidh make an initial assessment of the material. Mark and Eilidh make an initial assessment of the material.

The research group at Face Lab provides expertise in analysing the bones of the skull and face. They use it to identify bodies in forensic investigation, and to make archaeological images of historical figures. Mark has a background in medical illustration and Eilidh in forensic anthropology and they were…

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Peak District Cave Lions!

Collections in the Landscape


This amazing Cave Lion foot is part of Jackson’s collection of animal bones from Hindlow near Buxton. We recently decanted it from its ‘Bone hole’ on the gallery where it lay along with other Hindlow remains of bison, horse, mammoth and wolf. Up close, it’s much more obvious what a large animal the Cave Lion was, much larger than present day lions.  Going for a walk would be very different if these creatures still roamed the Peak District!

Painting of lions at Chauvet Cavern, Southern France (museum replica). Wikimedia Commons

20160302_093659[1] Part of the Cave Lion material in store.

Most of the Hindlow material is held in store because there is just too much of it to display. One of our expert volunteers Bente Loudon is working her way through assessing the material but previous research by Danielle Schreve (1997) on the Hindlow bones identified the presence of at least two lions. The bones include most of…

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Lava in the landscape

Collections in the Landscape

Some geology additions to the Buxton collections show volcanic events in the making of the local geology and gave a great excuse (as if one was needed!) to get out and explore to see where they came from. Some of the new specimens came from Cressbrook Dale, a dramatic limestone dale near Litton dominated at the top end by the imposing Peter’s Stone. At various times there’s been volcanic activity at a number of centres in the White Peak, which include Tunstead, Matlock, Alport and Eyam Edge. Not necessarily large volcanoes, these could have been areas of vents and fissures under the shallow sea that covered the area at the time, and from which lava flowed or material was ejected to produce falls of ash. This led to layers or intrusions of lava flow and tuff inside the limestone.

In Cressbrook Dale these outcrop where the rocks have been worn away.

Cressbrook Dale

The picture above shows the North end of Cressbrook Dale and another feature of…

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Butterflies and Moths

Collections in the Landscape


You’ll probably recognise many of these beautiful British butterflies. They come from two cabinets of butterflies and moths at Buxton Museum which, from the similarity of the labels, seem to be the collection of one person. The first cabinet contains eight drawers of moths, the second has six of moths and four of butterflies. The labels you can see in the photo normally live on the pins which hold the butterflies in place and show who collected them, when and where. The Camberwell Beauty in the bottom right is a rare migrant from Scandinavia and British sightings are usually on the East coast of England. Nowadays they sometimes escape or are released by breeders in this country. Unfortunately, this specimen had no information to say where it was collected. Many of the others are from Urmston, collected by C. S. Gleave in the 1930s and 40s and it would be great to find out more…

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A Hidden Herbarium

Collections in the Landscape

Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa), Buxton 1884

My ears pricked up when I heard there was an Herbarium in the Museum’s collection stores, and I was off to investigate at the first opportunity. The Herbarium is a collection of 97 sheets of plant specimens. It gives a wonderful snapshot of the flora of the time, as well as a fascinating insight into the collector’s life and the times she lived in.

A sense of place

Almost half of the specimens are from the Peak District and the plants evoke, according to each locality, woodland shade, an intimate limestone dale, a wide slow-flowing river or panoramic moorland.

Greater Willow Herb, Epilobium hirsutum, Bakewell, 1893

Blog_DERSB 2005.SH130 (55) Alpine Currant, Ribes alpinum, Millers Dale, 1892

DERSB 2005.SH130 (28) Lousewort, Pedicularis sylvatica, Nr. Buxton, 1895.

There are also 14 sheets of mosses, totalling 50 different species, although sadly its not clear where most of these were collected.

A handwritten…

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Hitting the right spot

I finally got round to signing up for the BTO Garden Birdwatch , so my weekly garden sightings are now uploaded online.  At least one Great Spotted Woodpecker visits the garden pretty much every day, but I hadn’t appreciated it wasn’t always the same one, and I finally got to sort out adults and juveniles and Great and Lesser Spotteds.

So now I know Great Spotted Woodpeckers have distinctive white ‘oval’ bars either side of the plain black back (which look more oval when in flight).  They also have a red undertail.


The male has a red splodge on the nape of his neck.


Plain black back outlined by two white wing ovals – Great Spotted. Red splodge on nape – male.


The female has no red on the head.


Juvenile GSWs have a red cap rather than a splodge at the nape.

Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers could be mistaken for a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, as they have a red cap too, but this bird quite clearly has ‘the white wing ovals’ and the plain black back, rather than the distinctive white ladder rungs on the back of the Lesser Spotted.

To do today:

Check out ovarian cancer symptoms here.

  • Each year around 7,000 UK women, like me, will find out they have ovarian cancer.*
  • 57% of them will die within 5 years because early detection is difficult. **
  • We need to know more about cancer and sooner.  You can donate to Cancer Research UK through my JustGiving page.


 Extracts from National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

“Delayed presentation coupled with a lack of awareness around the possible symptoms, unfortunately mean that far too many women are being referred to hospitals for suspected ovarian cancer once their disease is already at an advanced stage. This is frustrating as the stage of the disease at its diagnosis is crucial in determining which treatments can then be offered.

 “Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose from the symptoms alone. It is important for GPs to remember that irritable bowel syndrome rarely presents for the first time in women over fifty. Conversely, most ovarian cancers present in women over the age of fifty. Recurrent or prolonged symptoms require a diagnosis at any age.”

 “Having been through repeated courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy for ovarian cancer, I know how important it is for women to receive an early diagnosis. The symptoms can be confusing – I found that I was eating much less as I felt full very quickly during meals but instead of losing weight, I constantly felt bloated and in pain. It’s very easy for women to put their bodies on a backburner as they deal with busy family and working lives, but they should never ignore the possible symptoms.

“If the symptoms have been present for some time, women should go to see their GP and ask for the blood test. This will either help identify the cause early on, or give women the reassurance they may need.”

* http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-info/cancerstats/types/ovary/incidence/