BBC History Magazine

Diary: What to watch and listen to this month

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Insects outnumber humans by hundreds of million to one, yet many of us, wary of creatures that can seem so alien and are associated with disease, prefer not to think too much about them. It’s a shame, because – as a new weekday show presented by the Natural History Museum’s Dr Erica McAlister outlines – the study of mini-beasts has profoundly shaped such discipline­s as agricultur­e, medicine and aerospace. In each episode, McAlister focuses on the history of our understand­ing of one insect. Fleas, for example, can jump so high because of a protein called resilin. We know this in great part thanks to the research of Dame Miriam Rothschild (1908– 2005), a member of the banking dynasty who was a world-leading authority on fleas. She’s just one of the entomologi­sts we meet in a field that, it’s safe to say, has often attracted eccentrics. Other subjects include scientists taking inspiratio­n from the hawkmoth’s delicate long proboscis to develop “smart” probes, and the way that the Drosophila fly has transforme­d our understand­ing of human genetics. Underpinni­ng the whole series is the idea that insects have been central to the developmen­t of civilisati­on. Today, with plummeting insect numbers posing a threat to so many ecosystems, it’s becoming clear that they are also crucial to our continuing survival.

Metamorpho­sis BBC Radio 4 / Weekdays from Monday 1 March

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A late 19th-century illustrati­on of a variety of beetles. A new radio documentar­y explores how insects have been key to human developmen­t – and may be crucial to our survival
A feature, not a bug A late 19th-century illustrati­on of a variety of beetles. A new radio documentar­y explores how insects have been key to human developmen­t – and may be crucial to our survival

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