Worcestershire Record No. 4 May 1998 p. 15
Harry Green and I have, for a long time, been meaning to arrange a visit to the cellars of the Worcester Museum where old natural history collections of national importance are held. From a preliminary visit at which we were kindly guided by the Curator, Mr. Garston Phillips, we knew that the flora, lepidoptera and coleoptera collections were in reasonable condition, though in need of cataloguing so that information can be published. Early in May we decided to make another visit to look at the hymenoptera collections which, Mr. Phillips told us, were in a fairly sorry state.
We met at about 9.30 a.m. and walked to the museum. Just outside my attention was drawn to a large hymenopteran, which at first I thought was some sort of bee, crawling across the pavement and about to be squashed flat by the hurrying Worcester commuters. I picked it up and examination revealed it to be a sawfly of a species neither Harry nor I had encountered before.
The first piece of luck was that Harry happened to have a collecting tube in his pocket - we had not expected to be collecting in the middle of Worcester. The specimen was duly "bagged" and put on one side for later identification.
Inside the museum Mr. Phillips conducted us into a small cellar, near the central heating boiler, in which was located a steel cupboard. The cupboard contained piles of old dirty boxes, some of which were labelled as containing hymenoptera. Space on a table had been cleared and we set to. Dust was blown from the first box, resulting in Harry having a worrying sneezing fit as he was on the receiving end of the cloud, the lid was lifted and there revealed were some of the dirtiest specimens I have seen, including some of the same type as the large hymenopteran we had just picked up outside! It was thus identified as a member of the genus Trichiosoma, probably tibiale (the Hawthorn Sawfly). Some doubt remained as the books we had noted that the taxonomy of this genus is still uncertain. Later reference to John Meiklejohn confirmed our identification. The species is recorded as having become considerably less common in recent years.
We marvelled at the probability of our finding it before it got squashed, having a container to put it in, and finding a similar specimen in the first box we opened in the museum! Lady luck was certainly smiling that day!
And what of the museum collections? The specimens are indeed in a bad state. They are covered in dirt and many are disintegrating. However, most are well labelled and we hope to get permission to go back to salvage what we can and catalogue the collection before the data is lost. There are odonata, diptera, homoptera, hemiptera and others as well as the hymenoptera so we have our work cut out. One or two boxes are likely to defeat us - these contain minute chalcid wasps and difficult ichneumon wasps. In the record of the boxes in which I have noted the contents and commented on their condition I found against these specimens I had put the single word "unspeakable", referring not to their state but to the sheer impossibilty of naming them. Any offers?
By the way - these specimens were collected mainly around 1870, so they are at least 120 years old. The boxes? They are old cigar boxes with warped ill-fitting lids, impregnated with a century of city grime!
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