A Museum Full of Legs

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As well as working on Manchester Museum’s Visitor Team, Diana also volunteers behind the scenes in the Entomology department. In today’s Story From The Museum Floor, Diana takes us on a many legged journey through one of the Museum’s largest collections.

For more on our Entomology collections please have a look at the curator’s blog.

A Museum full of legs

Would you believe me if I told you that there are more than one and a half million legs at Manchester Museum – only counting spider legs?

Arachnophobes read on at your own risk!

Manchester Museum houses nearly 200,000 British and foreign spider specimens, representing more than 3,600 species. The spider collection (class Arachnida, order Araneae) is worldwide in scope and likely to be the third largest in the UK.
This blog explores some of the history and people involved in assembling and maintaining this collection, with examples of large and small spiders on display at Manchester Museum and the curation process behind the scenes.

A little history

The building up of the Museum’s spider collection started all the way back when the first Senior Assistant Keeper and Curator of Entomology, John Ray Hardy, was appointed in 1908. John Hardy acquired the first spider collection donated by Wybrow Freston (1867-1936) in 1910. Since then, many others have been acquired through bequest or donation to the Manchester Museum by naturalists, businessmen or amateur and professional arachnologists. Other specimens have come from fieldwork, for example, collected by the curator of Arthropods, Dmitri V. Logunov, or from enquires and the identification service provided by the curator (for example, spiders imported to the UK with fruit).

 

spiders-3.jpgTop: Spiders from Manchester Market found in imported bananas. Manchester Museum Collection. Bottom: Spider donated by John R. Hardy (1844-1921), first Senior Assistant Keeper and Curator of Entomology, Living Worlds Gallery, Manchester Museum.

The Entomology department houses many important spider collections, such as the one that belonged to David Mackie before being acquired by the museum in 1984. Mackie, a shipping electrical engineer, led a small group of enthusiasts to form the Flatford Mill Spider Group in 1958 that marked the beginning of the British Arachnological Society. Another important collection consisting of 8,684 specimens was received in 1991 from Ted Locket, who was one of the authors of the classic three-volume ‘British spiders’, completed in 1953.

The largest spider collection was received by the museum from John Murphy in 2015, with over 45,000 specimens from 72 countries, including Great Britain. John Murphy and his wife, Frances assembled this collection during more than 30 years of fieldwork and trips around the globe. They made important contributions to arachnology, the study of spiders, and to the British Arachnological Society. More recently, in 2017, around 10,000 spider specimens, mainly from the UK and Spain, were donated by R.D. Jones, a good friend of Murphy. Currently, these two big collections are under re-curation by a number of departmental volunteers.

spiders4Jar with specimens and important field notes from the curator of Arthropods, Dmitri Logunov, in The Manchester Gallery (currently closed), Manchester Museum.

Spiders in the galleries

Through public display on our galleries, the museum explores not only the importance of natural history scientific collections, but also provides an opportunity to overcome fears and/or to change perceptions of nature or what could be seen as dangerous creatures (e.g., spiders). The Nature’s Library gallery shows how the Museum’s natural history collections are organised – very much like a library but with specimens instead of books, they. The collection is divided into categories according to the classification system created in 1888 which is still used. A unique accession number (the museum’s internal identification number), beginning with a different letter for each group of organisms is given to each specimen, for example, those numbers for spiders start with the letter ‘G’. Numbers are stored in an electronic catalogue, making the collection easily searchable in the Museum’s electronic catalogues and more accessible.

 

Top Left: Arthropods (a taxonomic group including scorpions, mites, crustaceans, and spiders), the unique identification number begins with the letter G. Nature’s Library, Manchester Museum. Bottom Left and Right: Insects and Arachnids  in Nature’s Library, including British spiders and mites in glass tubes. Information about where, when and who they were collected by are kept in small labels inside each tube, Nature’s Library, Manchester Museum.

From drawers to the spirit store – what happens behind the scenes

Dmitri Logunov (Curator of Arthropods) and Phil Rispin (Curatorial Assistant) are in charge of the Museum’s largest collection, composed of more than 2.5 million insects and arachnids. They are always busy preparing specimens for displays and/or research, maintaining the collection, making sure that the collections are safe and ready for use, and managing many volunteers who support curatorial work with the collections; for example, the re-curation of one of the largest national spider collection.

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This poster summaries the principle steps of the re-curation process. The final aim of the process is to preserve the soft bodies in alcohol in the spirit store to have them more accessible for research and outreach activities, Manchester Museum

Engaging with visitors, inspiring future generations

At the last ‘Science Uncovered’ Event (European Researcher’s Night) at Manchester Museum in September 2018, many visitors looked at spiders from our collection with different eyes. Visitors had the opportunity to handle a large tarantula, to find out interesting facts about spiders, such as their morphological characteristics, and to learn more about the curation process behind the scenes.

 

Top Left and Right: Museum visitors learning about the spider collection, European Researcher’s Night, Manchester Museum. Bottom: Inspiring future generations with a hands-on activity at a children’s event at the Manchester Museum.

The spider collection is not only used as a scientific material for doing taxonomic and other research, but also for photography and art projects.

Diana 1South American bird spider (Avicularia avicularia) ©France Rocco (art student visitor)

Come and see who those millions of legs belong to, at Manchester Museum!

Diana Arzuza & Thomas Devenish Arzuza

Many thanks to Dmitri Logunov for his comments, support, and for introducing me (and my co-author) to the world of spider collections.

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For more on our Entomology collections please have a look at the curator’s blog.

Find our more:

Entomology at the Manchester Museum

The spiders in our entomology collection

The museum filled with venemous spiders that just won’t die

The mysterious power of spider silks

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