White admiral on leaf

Provide shady spots to protect butterflies from climate change

Researchers have discovered significant variations in the ability of different UK butterfly species to maintain a suitable body temperature. Species that rely most on finding a suitably shady location to keep cool are at the greatest risk of population decline. The results predict how climate change might impact butterfly communities, and will inform conservation strategies to protect them. The results, published in the Journal of … Continue reading Provide shady spots to protect butterflies from climate change

A cleared and stained backbone from a hatchling skate. Red staining indicates mineralised cartilage and blue staining indicates unmineralised cartilage.

Segmentation of the backbone

Kate Criswell, Postdoctoral Research Associate, writes: One of the key features that distinguishes vertebrate animals from our invertebrate cousins (such as insects and molluscs) is a backbone, or a series of vertebrae that run the length of the body. These vertebrae can range in number from only nine in frogs to over 300 in elongate animals like snakes and eels! They are important for providing … Continue reading Segmentation of the backbone

Oil palm (c) Valentine Reiss-Woolever

Palm oil boycotts may block the path to sustainability

Valentine Reiss-Woolever, a PhD student in the Insect Ecology Group, writes: Bamboo straws, Nordic flight shame, and reusable tote bags – environmentally minded consumption is increasingly common. A buzzword in recent years, “conscientious consumption” describes our attempts to spend money with an awareness of how our choices affect the world outside of ourselves. At the start of 2020, 64% of Germans said “living more sustainably” … Continue reading Palm oil boycotts may block the path to sustainability

Amjad with purple hairstreak butterfly on his finger

‘Chasing butterflies’ at the Museum of Zoology

Amjad Khalaf, undergraduate student, writes: One of my fondest childhood memories is chasing butterflies and ladybirds in the garden and being fascinated by their vibrant colours as they flew around. Thinking back, that was one of the main reasons I became interested in biology; I often found myself wondering  why they looked the way they did and how they lived their lives that were so … Continue reading ‘Chasing butterflies’ at the Museum of Zoology

Nephila sp. Golden orb weaver and oil palm

New study assesses the impacts of oil palm replanting on arthropod biodiversity

Michael Pashkevich writes: Palm oil seems to be everywhere:  it’s probably in your shampoo, the instant noodles you ate for lunch and – if you’re wearing it – your lipstick. In fact, palm oil is the most traded vegetable oil worldwide, in part because it can be used in so many products. But the production of palm oil is highly controversial. This is because oil … Continue reading New study assesses the impacts of oil palm replanting on arthropod biodiversity

Photograph taken with lense half-way into river water

Can how we manage agriculture’s impact on insects and biodiversity?

Martina Harianja, PhD student, writes: Imagine that you were eight times as big as a grain of sugar, and you live in a fast-flowing stream. To get food, you need to swim against the current. What properties would need to accomplish this?  Semi-aquatic bugs in the genus of Rhagovelia offer a brilliant approach. Their body length ranges from two to four millimetres as an adult, and … Continue reading Can how we manage agriculture’s impact on insects and biodiversity?

Two images showing the same butterfly species in wet season and dry season

Why do butterflies change their wing pattern with the seasons?

Sridhar Halali, graduate student researcher, writes: “While wandering amid the forests of India, I had always been struck by a few butterfly species, which seemed to exhibit different wing patterns in the wet and dry seasons. This is called ‘seasonal polyphenism’, and I found out subsequently that this phenomenon is one of the adaptations to the seasons experienced in the tropics. The wet season form … Continue reading Why do butterflies change their wing pattern with the seasons?

Conserving Pangolins

Charles Emogor writes: I saw my first live pangolin after almost two decades of being a pangolin enthusiast. This was a special moment especially as the purpose of the field trip in Nigeria’s Cross River National Park was to find and tag white-bellied pangolins to better understand their ranging behaviour and activity patterns. This work is part of my PhD on pangolin ecology and conservation … Continue reading Conserving Pangolins

Looking over Stave Hill (c) Ella Henry

The lesser known ecological parks of London

Ella Henry, undergraduate student, writes: A concrete jungle. The constant chorus of cars and buses. Streams of artificial light from headlights, street lamps and buildings. Flocks of people everywhere. London, along with many other cities, is probably not the first place you would associate with the word ‘biodiversity’. Nevertheless, returning to London during the lockdown period has led me to appreciate its nature-engagement spaces, which … Continue reading The lesser known ecological parks of London

Tanmay with cuckoo finch

Perfect signatures and perfect forgeries

Tanmay Dixit writes: I am studying the African cuckoo finch, which as its name suggests behaves like a cuckoo: it lays its eggs in the nests of ‘host’ birds, namely warblers. The warblers have evolved to reject eggs of the cuckoo finch, which has resulted in the cuckoo finch accurately forging the complex patterns (‘signatures’) of their hosts. How should hosts respond? I am trying … Continue reading Perfect signatures and perfect forgeries

Copyright All rights reserved by Steve Balcombe

Studying evolution through the specialisations of burying beetles

Swastika Issar, PhD student, writes: “I’ve always been fascinated by how new species can emerge from the way populations adapt to their local environments. For my PhD, I worked on the burying beetles. These incredible insects turn the carcass of a small vertebrate, such as a bird or a mammal, into an edible nest for their larvae. I was interested in studying how local adaptations … Continue reading Studying evolution through the specialisations of burying beetles

Parasitic finches mimic their hosts to deceive foster parents

Gabriel Jamie writes: Research recently published in the journal Evolution shows that the nestlings of brood-parasitic finches mimic the appearance, sound and movements of their host’s chicks. Working in the savannas of Zambia, Dr Gabriel Jamie and a team of international collaborators collected images, sounds and videos over four years to demonstrate this striking and highly specialised form of mimicry. The study, funded by The … Continue reading Parasitic finches mimic their hosts to deceive foster parents

wildflowers in the city (c) Stanley Quek

Singapore’s Nature Ways

Stanley Quek, an MPhil student focusing on assessing the effectiveness of the Nature Ways network in Singapore, writes: Singapore is an island country in the biodiverse region of Southeast Asia. Singapore is also a large city, with urban landscapes dominating the island. In the past, Singapore was completely covered with dense primary forests and mangroves, however, much of that has been lost with the development … Continue reading Singapore’s Nature Ways

Fossil fish specimen

390 million year old fish

To celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month the Museum is sharing the stories of 27 inspirational women, alongside the animals they work with the most. Dr Roz Wade Museum of Zoology “I wasn’t one of those children obsessed with dinosaurs. It was later, at university, that I discovered a love of fossils. I went on to study the Middle Devonian osteolepidid fishes of … Continue reading 390 million year old fish

Bird perching under woven nest

How a weaverbird outsmarts a cuckcoo

To celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month the Museum is sharing the stories of 27 inspirational women, alongside the animals they work with the most. Dr Jenny York Department of Zoology “Right now, I am studying the conspicuous nests built by male African weaverbirds. These work marvellously to woo females, who carefully inspect the nests before choosing their favourite and mating with the … Continue reading How a weaverbird outsmarts a cuckcoo