Archive by Author | margaretgold

3rd expedition of the NHM Chalcids launched in ‘Magnified’

Well, that came quick! We’re thrilled to now be launching our third and final batch of Chalcid slides on Notes from Nature!

Before you dive in, we thought you might like to find out more about these astonishing creatures in this article about the third-smallest winged insect ever known, which was discovered by our now-retired NHM colleague John Noyes and fellow researcher John Huber while on a research trip in Costa Rica:

The mysteries of the tinker bell wasp, one of smallest bugs ever discovered

Shots of a tinkerbella nana female taken under a microscope. From the top of its head to the bottom of its abdomen, the tinker bell wasp is 0.25 mm in length, about three times the width of the average human hair. (From the Journal of Hymenoptera Research)

Thank-you to everyone who gave us feedback about how we might make this last set easier to transcribe, with some additional information about where to find the required data on the labels.

There are three collectors in particular who have made a very large contribution to this collection, so we thought it might be useful to highlight their slide labels and point out some information that might have been hard to interpret.

JS Noyes

John Noyes is a recently-retired colleague at the Natural History Museum who we still regularly see in our collection room pursuing his love of studying the Chalcidoidae – in fact he created a database that you may find to be a valuable resource when puzzling out scientific names: We like how neat and tidy his slides always are!

SB / S.C.B. 

Sydney Charles Scarsdale Brown lived in Bournemouth, and seems to have gone on lots of local jaunts to collect the Mymaridae, using Malaise Traps. You can learn more about him in our post The Dentist who collected Fairyflies . His slides are some of the most frustrating in the collection because they’ll get your head flipping from one side to the other, but once you know that there are typically only a few pieces of data we need here, they are much easier to process.


C. Waterhouse

Charles Waterhouse  was an Assistant Keeper at the Natural History Museum, and seems to have preferred Richmond and Burnham Beeches to go on his collection trips for the Chalcidoideae. His slides will often have nicely printed labels with old fashioned hand-writing and a neatly typed British Museum registration number.

Fred Enock

You will also see many slides that have been prepared by Fred Enock, who worked at the Museum at the same time as C. Waterhouse, and was an Entomologist in his own right – naming many species (see if you can spot ‘enock’ written after any of the scientific species name on some of these labels). But more commonly found in our collection will be his preparation labels, where he is NOT the Collector. He’s quite an interesting person who we know a fair bit about – so keep your eyes peeled for a future blog post!


Three cheers for Visiteers!

Thanks to an awesome group of volunteers who came to visit us at the Natural History Museum London today (Visiteers), the second batch of Chalcid slides in the Magnified section have now been completely classified! Hurray!



Visiteering is one of the ways in which we invite the public to take part in our science at the museum, and today’s stellar group has set an all-time record for number of classifications in one day. Absolutely Awesome.


We’ll try to get the third and final batch of Chalcid slides launched in a new Expedition soon – but in the meantime, a VERY big thank-you to the Notes from Nature community and our Visiteers in the museum for all of your help in setting this data free.


The Dentist who collected Fairyflies

s-b-bournmouthFor those of you who have been helping us to transcribe the Chalcid specimen labels in Miniature Lives Magnified, you’ll have been coming across one particular style of slide label that always get us flipping our heads from side to side to read.

And almost all of those specimens seem to have been collected in Bournemouth, and the surrounding area.

Once you start seeing a few of these, you’ll start to notice that they are all marked ‘S.B.’ – who is in fact the Collector of these specimens.

I started to become curious about the mysterious S. B., and the hyper-local nature of his or her collecting, so I decided to do a bit of sleuthing with the help of our Curator Natalie.

“I do know about the Bournemouth man: he was a dentist, and originally a lepidopterist but worked a lot on Mymarids… “

So here’s what I’ve found out.

S.B. is Sidney Charles Scarsdale Brown – born in London in 1903, and passed away in Bournemouth, Dorset in 2003.

You will have noticed that many of his slides are also marked  ‘Trap‘ (which is why we don’t see host insect & host plant information on these). Mr. Brown has written something about how he found these marvelous creatures in the following note in the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine: 108: 94 (1973):

Novel method of obtaining Fairy Flies

Mr Brown is mentioned on page 18 of The Conservation of Invertebrates report of the Monks Wood Experimental Station Symposium No 1, March 23rd – 25th, 1965:

“…a great deal of the information about the insect fauna of Scotland can be found in the diaries of a Mr. Harwood who lived in Aviemore just before the War…the diaries were now in the possession of Mr. Scarsdale Brown of Bournemouth, and on his death would be handed to the Hope Department, Oxford.”

MYMARIDAE - FAIRY FLY SLIDE-MOUNTED Stephanodes elegans #1414690 (1)

Mymaridae – Fairy Fly – Stephanodes elegans

He is also listed with all of his bona fides as S.C.S. Brown. F.D.S., L.D.S.. R.C.S., Vice President of the Bournemouth Natural Science Society, in their published proceedings from 1989 – 1990, which shares this wonderful background information about him:

“At the present time, the Society is very fortunate to have as a member Mr S.C. Scarsdale Brown. He joined the Society in 1937, was Chairman of Entomology 1939- 48.

After a few years away from the Society, he rejoined in 1967 and was – 44 – President 1975-76, the subject of his Presidential Address being “The Natural History of Bournemouth 1800-1900”. He edited the Proceedings from 1978-82 and is now an Honorary Member.

He has lived all his life in the Bournemouth area, working as a Dental Practitioner.

As a young man his interests centred on the Macrolepidoptera. He met W. Parkinson Curtis, who became a life-long friend, and joined the Society for British Entomology. There he met eminent entomologists such as Lt. Cdr. Fraser and William Fassnidge. The latter introduced him to the world of Microlepidoptera, at which he quickly became an expert, especially on the group of tiny moths known as Nepticulidae. Mr Brown was one of the contributors to the Illustrated Papers on British Microlepidoptera published in 1978 by the British Entomological and Natural History Society, his paper being illustrated with the superb paintings of Lt. Col. Fraser.

A meeting with Philip Harwood – one of the finest field entomologists – further added to his interests. Harwood concentrated on what are known to Lepidopterists as “Other Orders”, i.e. groups such as Coleoptera (beetles), Hemiptera (bugs) and Hymenoptera (bees and wasps).

Scarsdale Brown has studied all these groups, but has become one of the country’s leading specialists in Aculeate and Parasitic Hymenoptera. His meticulous and painstaking fieldwork is illustrated by his work on the group of Parasitic Hymenoptera known as Fairy Flies (family Mymaridae). This contains what must be some of the world’s smallest insects – one of the largest of the fairy flies has a wingspan of only 3mm; they pass their larval stages inside the eggs of other insects such as dragonflies.

During the course of his study, he has recorded 7 species of Mymaridae new to Britain.

His collection of specimens is a joy to behold – each fairy fly mounted in a microscope slide, and the tiny Nepticulid moths perfectly set. Mr Brown is an excellent artist in watercolour, and has contributed many notes to entomological magazines.

Over the years the members of the Society have heard some fascinating lectures from him on Hymenoptera and other groups. In 1988 he received an award in the Manse 1-P leydel 1 Prize Essay Competition.

In recent years he has suffered from failing eyesight, which has prevented any of the entomological study he loves, but he still attends some lectures of the Society, and maintains his own garden, where he specialises in growing camellias and lilies.”

Explore the world of the wasps with our Curator Gavin Broad

For all of you who have been helping us transcribe the specimen labels of the Chalcids – our slide-mounted parasitoid wasps, we thought you might enjoy learning about these fascinating creatures, and other members of the wasp family. Gavin Broad, who is Curator of Hymenoptera at the Natural History Museum did an #NHM_Live on Facebook last night (a weekly broadcast). Do watch the recording to find out why wasps are so undeserving of their bad reputation and that some even make honey.

2nd expedition of the NHM Chalcids launched on ‘Magnified’

We’re pleased to launch our second batch of microscope slides featuring the parasitoid wasps called Chalcids (pronounced ‘kal-sids’), which lay their eggs inside other insects. 

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that we have updated the Expedition title from ‘Killer Wasps’ to “Miniature Lives Magnified” and have made some small tweaks to the structure of the Workflow, and have also attempted to make our instructions and ‘Need more Help?’ text and examples more clear. Do drop us a note in the Talk forum if we can continue to make further improvements.


The Background Story

As part of our effort to digitise the collections of the Natural History Museum London, we have been collaborating with the Notes from Nature team to explore the potential of crowdsourcing the transcription of our specimen labels. 

Our first pilot project was called The killer within: Wasps but not as you know them, and was launched in the newly-created ‘Magnified’ section on Notes from Nature on August 16th, 2016.

The purpose of this initial Expedition was to test the functionality of the platform, and the difficulty of the task for the community of volunteers.

Your response was stellar – over 600 people got involved in completing the first batch of 2,000+ slides  – a particular thank-you goes out to our 9 super-transcribers @maggiej , @reinheitscat , @dfreezor , @Sagaman , @HDumas , @RedBee , @stevenhm , @rgerman , and @Mikusan. The data-set that you have created for us is looking good. We are therefore launching our second batch of slides with confidence!

About the Chalcids

These microscope slides feature parasitoid wasps called Chalcids (pronounced ‘kal-sids’), which lay their eggs inside other insects. These tiny wasps are parasitoids, meaning they lay their eggs inside other insects. When chalcid eggs hatch the emerging larvae eat the inside of their host. They then grow and pupate until mature enough to burst out as adults, finally killing the host.

We have 6286 microscope slides in the collection and are asking the crowdsourcing community to collect data about when and where the specimen was collected, who by, and what host species it was collected from, as well as some museum collection data.

Here’s an example:


These microscope slides contain the smallest members of the Chalcidoidea Superfamily, which are unfortunately impossible to see in the images on Notes from Nature – we encourage you to take a peak at those that are large enough to pin – their variety and beauty is amazing!


Hundreds of Chalcidoidea species have been used in biological control programs to combat insect pest species that damage crops, this translates into millions of pounds of savings in the agricultural sector.  Digitisation of Museum specimens such as those in our Miniature Lives Magnified project will help unlock and preserve species and distribution data essential for carrying out research to develop such programs.”- Natalie Dale-Skey Curator, Entomology



First ‘Miniature Lives Magnified’ expedition complete

Yay! We have finished our first expedition of the parasitoid Chalcid wasps in Magnified, beating the ETC by 4 days! I reckon that Friday the 13th is a lucky day after all.

An especially big thank-you goes out to @maggiej , @reinheitscat , @dfreezor , @Sagaman , @HDumas , @RedBee , @stevenhm , @rgerman , and @Mikusan who have all been particularly prolific in helping us to transcribe these microscopic slide labels – but of course many more people than can be mentioned have also generously donated their time to us. We thank you ALL.

And we know it wasn’t easy.

Laurence and Natalie and I at the Natural History Museum in London have been taking a look at the data that you have transcribed for us, and we can see that it often wasn’t clear what the difference was between the Species or Genus name of the Chalcid itself, the host insect it was found on, and the host plant they were both found on. We’ve got some thoughts on how we might make that both easier and more clear, so please bear with us while we take a few days to prepare for the Chalcids #2 expedition.

If you have any suggestions for us on how to structure or explain the fields we are asking you to fill, and how to provide better examples, please do drop us a note in the Magnified section of Talk. It is hugely helpful to us to receive your feedback.

In the meantime, I leave you with this beautiful image of a ‘Fairyfly’ – one of the Chalcid wasp families.


Setting the world’s Natural History data free

For all of you who have been helping us transcribe all of these specimen labels, I thought you might enjoy hearing from my boss (Vince Smith, who leads the Informatics team) and our Head of Life Sciences (Ian Owen) at the Natural History Museum in London, in their talk about how digitising the Museum’s 80 million specimens will help scientists answer big questions about how human behaviour is affecting life on earth.  – See more at:

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