Our First BBC Radio 4 Doc - The Etymology Of Entomology!
15 March 2013, Posted in: In the studio

The Etymology of Entomology aired last Saturday 9th March and was our first documentary for BBC Radio 4!

Presented by zoologist and broadcaster Dr. George McGavin and produced by Andrea Rangecroft, the half hour programme looks at the unusual and often very funny names that scientists give to insects.

From a rare Australian horse fly named after the singer Beyonce to a trio of slime mould beetles called Agathidium bushiAgathidium cheneyi and Agathidium rumsfeldi after the Bush administration, we met the entomologists behind the names and found out from the organisation that lays down the rules, the ICZN, just why these strange names can't be changed.

Max+George2 Max Barclay and Dr. George McGavin in the Natural History Museum's entomology collection

Folded Wing and George went on a journey across the UK to capture content for the documentary. We started at the Natural History Museum in London where we met Max Barclay, the Curator of Beetles and True Bugs. Max showed us the tiny beetle named in honour of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s as well as the largest beetle in the world, Titanus giganteus.

Titanius Gigantius Titanus giganteus

George worked at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History for 35 years so we went down there next to talk to his former colleague Darren Mann about some of their specimens. Darren showed us the oldest pinned insect in the world, the Bath White butterfly, as well as some dung beetles with names like sordidus and putridus. He and George then compared the number of insects they've got named after them. (George has five!)

Oldest_Insect_On_A_Pin The Bath White butterfly (centre)

George+Darren1 Darren Mann shows Dr. George McGavin insects specimens in the Hope Entomological Collections at Oxford

At London Zoo we were introduced to the Head of Invertebrates, Dave Clarke, who told us about the importance of correctly identifying the right hissing cockroach when it comes to conservation. Have a listen to find out what a hissing cockroach sounds like.

I think the highlight for George was going down into the strong room in the basement of The Linnean Society in London to see the original collections and personal library of the great Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. Here we met Mike Fitton who looks after the insect collection. Mike pulled out some specimens that were pinned by Linnaeus himself in the 1700s and showed us Linnaeus' own copy of his seminal work Systema Naturae, the book that laid down the system of classification that we still use for all living organisms today.

Mike Fitton and a first edition of Linnaeus' Systema Naturae Mike Fitton and a first edition of Linnaeus' Systema Naturae

We're really pleased that the programme has been chosen as Radio 4's Documentary of the Week which means that it will still be available to download for a week after it comes off of the iPlayer.

We have also had some great press around the programme including being chosen as Radio Times' top 5 shows of the week and being used as an example of how speech radio has grown more intelligent in The Sunday Times!

The BBC's own Science and Environment online section featured an article on the topic and we also had write ups in The Saturday Times, The Daily Mail and The Metro. Not forgetting a whole host of blog posts from our contributors including Quentin Wheeler from International Institute For Species Exploration, a brilliantly detailed blog by Beulah Garner at the Natural History Museum in London and a piece by Rachel Parle at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History as well as a post on their Hope Entomological Collections blog.

Team Insect (L-R - Dr. George McGavin, Ian Parkinson, Andrea Rangecroft, Micky Curling) Team Insect (L-R - Dr. George McGavin, Ian Parkinson, Andrea Rangecroft, Micky Curling)

Thanks to everyone who was involved in the programme.

Watch this space for future Folded Wing documentaries on BBC Radio 4.