STEM Live talk and behind the scenes museum tour reveal the brilliance of beetles

STEM Live talk and behind the scenes museum tour reveal the brilliance of beetles

23 June 2023

Entomologist Mr Max Barclay, Senior Curator in Charge, Coleoptera at the Natural History Museum, shone a light on the fascinating world of beetles (Coleoptera) for many Woldingham students and staff. On Thursday 22 June, Mr Barclay’s STEM Live talk brought alive his adventures in Los Volcanes, Bolivia, searching for beetles and other insects. The audience also learnt about his work managing the Natural History Museum’s historic Coleoptera collections, which date back to the expeditions of Charles Darwin and Captain Cook. The previous week, students in Years 7-9 on our Kritikos* programme were lucky enough to see some of these collections first-hand on a behind the scenes visit to the Natural History Museum, hosted by Mr Barclay.

Laura K, Year 9

On Thursday 15 June, we had the extraordinary opportunity to explore the hidden realms of scientific discovery at the Natural History Museum. 

One of the highlights of our behind the scenes tour was delving into the fascinating world of beetles. Guided by Mr Max Barclay, we entered a vast room filled with a collection of 8–10 million beetles from around the world. Countless drawers and cabinets revealed a staggering array of colours, shapes and sizes, showcasing the remarkable diversity of this insect order.

We saw rare and exotic species, ranging from tiny beetles only 1mm long to the world’s largest beetle, Titanus giganteus, which is about 17cm long. Mr Barclay shared lots of information with us and showed us some of the historical collection of beetle ornaments that date all the way back to the ancient Egyptians. We were captivated by the stories behind each specimen and developed a newfound appreciation for these tiny yet essential creatures.

Our exploration continued in another captivating realm of the Natural History Museum - the vast collection of zoology specimens preserved in jars. The storage room smelled like decayed animals and alcohol. As we walked through rows upon rows of glass containers, we were all fascinated by the incredible diversity of the animal kingdom. Each jar contained a meticulously preserved creature, allowing us to witness the astonishing complexity of different species up close. Some specimens were very rare and historical, ranging from a baby hippopotamus to the Komodo dragon to Charles Darwin’s own collection. We were introduced to creatures we might never encounter otherwise. 

Throughout the visit, we had the privilege to chat with Mr Barclay. He told us how he became an entomologist, explained that he has had a passion for beetles since he was our age, and talked about his work at the Natural History Museum, discovering and identifying different types of beetle.

Our trip to the Natural History Museum allowed us to embark on a captivating journey, exploring the diverse realms of beetles and zoology specimens. The experience deepened our appreciation for the natural world's richness and complexity – and means many of us are no longer afraid of the beetle world.

*Kritikos is a programme for students demonstrating both high academic ability and high engagement with learning. Kritikos comes from the ancient Greek idea of intellectual discernment. It is the ability to judge and evaluate rather than simply recite information.

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