Latest bugs sent to Museum for identification

26 June 2012

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It's National Insect Week and so the perfect time to take a look at the latest bugs sent in to the Natural History Museum's Identification and Advisory Service (IAS).

Long-horned beetle sent in to the Museum's IAS, accidentally imported from eastern Europe.

Long-horned beetle sent in to the Museum's IAS, accidentally imported from eastern Europe.

Many weird and wonderful creatures are posted or delivered by hand for the IAS team to identify. Stuart Hine, IAS manager, tells us about 3 of the latest live specimens he's received. Not surprisingly, 2 of them are beetles - they're the most diverse group on the planet with 400,000 species described!

Long-horned beetle

One of the specimens is a visitor to the UK shores rather than a usual inhabitant. The long-horned beetle, Morimus asper was sent in by a company importing goods from Eastern Europe. The species has very strong mandibles used for gnawing into wood and very long antennae. The antennae are loaded with chemical receptors, which the males use to find females, and the females use to find the right kind of wood to lay their eggs in. The larvae feed on wood for many years.

Stag beetle
A male stag beetle with striking antler-like mandibles. The species has protected status in the UK.

A male stag beetle with striking antler-like mandibles. The species has protected status in the UK.

Another beetle sent in recently is the mighty stag beetle, Lucanus cervus. It is mainly found in the south of England and is a protected species. Its larvae feed on dead and decaying wood, a habitat that has become increasingly rare and has caused their numbers to decline dramatically in the last 40 years.

Adults can be seen flying at dusk from the end of May for a few weeks only. It’s the adult male beetles that have the striking antler-like mouthparts or mandibles. The males can grow to 70mm and the females, although similar in body size and appearance, lack the impressive mandibles of the males.

Tube web spider

The tube web spider, Segestria florentia, is another specimen recently sent in to the IAS. It is not native to the UK, being introduced accidentally from the Mediterranean through trade many years ago. It is now well established in southern counties and 1 of 3 tube spiders living in the British Isles.

Tube web spider

Tube web spider is now established in the UK.

It makes a web in cracks and crevices in walls, fence panels, and stonework. It lines the crevice with tubes of silk and at dusk, dangles its legs out of the web to detect and catch passing prey.

The spider has iridescent green on its chelicerae, the part of the mouthparts that the fangs are attached to, which you can see in strong sunlight or if you shine a torch at it at night. People who pick them up are occasionally been bitten. It has quite a strong bite, but its venom doesn't seem to have much affect on us, however. 

Identification forums
Museum’s Identification and Advisory Service manager Stuart Hine

Museum’s Identification and Advisory Service manager Stuart Hine shows some of the bugs sent in, June 2012.

If you have found a bug and are wondering what it is, you should begin with one of the Museum's forums, says Stuart. 'Post your photo and details such as where you found it on our online identification forums. We have them for beetles, butterflies, caterpillars, ants, woodlice and many more'.

'Bugs' usually just means 'insects' but the forums also cover other non-insects such as spiders and other arachnids.

Expect the unexpected

Although it is less recommended, sometimes specimens are sent through the mail. The IAS receive them in all sorts of containers including jars, match boxes and shoe boxes. 

'Sometimes people have sent us little jewellery boxes with their finds in,' says Stuart. 'A kind of treasure for them and certainly a treasure for us, as not knowing what we're going to find is a very exciting part of the job. Our motto is "expect the unexpected".'

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