The catalogue project was initiated as part of the Museum's Parasites and Vectors research initiative. It is no surprise that the list of all mankind's parasites covers a broad sweep of the tree of life. This taxonomic spread means that the specimens are scattered in different collections across the Museum's campus, and the information on those collections is also scattered. It is hoped that by making all the information on the specimens available at one location, current research on the material will be facilitated, and ultimately that it will stimulated new topic and approaches for our research. It is also hoped that the catalogue will aid external research teams to make use of the Museum's specimen collections.
The catalogue project is currently in phase one.
Phase one: inclusion of specimens housed in the parasitic worms collections
Phase two: inclusion of specimens housed in the entomology collections
Phase three: inclusion of specimens housed in the protozoan collections
It is difficult to date the origins of the Natural History Museum's collections, as the Natural History collections themselves predate the separation of our museum from the British Museum in Bloomsbury in 1881. Material received into collections would be entered by hand into the registers, one for each separate collection. The information in these ancient leather bound volumes has now been carefully transcribed into a database as part of a large-scale archiving project. We are therefore confident that this catalogue contains information on every relevant specimen, dating from the very origins of the collection to the present day.
Methods of specimen preparation and preservation vary between the different taxonomic groups, and have changed over time, as new techniques have become available, and old substances have been declared unsafe for continued use. Below are details of the principal techniques used to treat specimens for each of the different collections which feature in the catalogue.
Traditionally three different methods of preservation have been used for material in the Entomology collections, the choice depending on the size of the specimens, the morphological structures of interest, as well as the personal preferences of individuals processing the material. The catalogue contains details of specimens preserved using all of these methods. Specimens preserved wet are placed whole into industrial methylated spirit inside labeled tubes. This method is often chosen for more soft bodied groups, and particularly common for collections of immature life stages. Dry specimens will have been positioned on a metal pin when fresh and allowed to air dry, this is the most common preservation method for adult insect specimens. Methods used to kill the specimens (present as contaminants on the specimen) vary. Recent specimens will have been killed with Ehtyl Acetate fumes, older material may have been killed with cyanide fumes, or even tobacco smoke. Slide mounts are used to preserve very small specimens, which cannot be placed on a pin, and to display structures which would not be visible on a whole specimen. The specimens will have been macerated in KOH to remove the soft tissue, and probably cleared, stained and dehydrated using a series of different chemical treatments. Dissection of the specimen is also common. Once prepared the specimen is then position on a glass microscope slide and embedded in an optically suitable mountant. Over the years a number of mountants have been used, but the most common and best, are Canada Balsam and Euparal.