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Beetle blog

January 21, 2011

Fieldwork - it's a smelly business

Posted by Blaps Jan 21, 2011
Hello beetlers,
A busy week here in Coleoptera (yes millions of dead beetles do keep us quite busy) what with visitors to the department, our band of regular and merry volunteers, and a few new additions.
Lydia and Lucia join us for a couple of months on placement from Plymouth University to help us clear out a very smelly cupboard, (well, a bit more than that, but that cupboard really is smelly – imagine the smell of ‘what the cat dragged’ in, or our pets’ determined efforts to sniff out something foul and rancid and then roll around in it, then, you have the smell of our fieldwork collections’ cupboard. But don’t let this put you off if you ever felt that a career in entomology was for you.  L and L are quite happy as this image proves.
land l for web DSC00129.JPG
Here they are working on field samples collected from Peru by Max Barclay and Howard Mendel (entomology inspired clothing is a fashion favourite!). When deciding on any fieldwork expedition the scientific merit is considered. Collecting biological samples can be contentious and so we make value judgments on a number of factors, such as benefit to the Museums’ collection, the impact of the sampling on the chosen habitat and its peoples, the likely value of the data to the scientific community and to the larger community, indeed the world. The samples being worked on here are from the region of Cuzco. We know that rainforest habitats are severely threatened, so simply put, if we can provide a baseline data set of the biological diversity of the area, then we are better placed to protect that habitat for the future survival of the species that live there. Beetles are excellent indicators of habitat health and environmental change due to their diversity of life-habits and the vital role they play in the food chain as recyclers, decomposers and a plentiful food supply for higher organisms.
Here is the process: (Collecting methods employed sample as many species as possible from various trophic (ecological position in the food chain) levels and behaviours such as day and / or night hunting beetles, winged or flightless beetles, some live in the bark of trees, others feed on poo…the list is very long and so our collecting methods still may not yield what is truly representative of one given habitat, but as the photos below show, we managed to collect enough to be going on with…
max light trapping for web34782_.jpgHere's a tropically bedraggled Max searching for beetles amongst the night flying moths. This method of light trapping is commonly used for attracting the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) but beetles can fly at night too.
malaise for web peru.jpg Malaise trapping in the jungle. This method is used for flying insects and it acts as a flight interception trap. The insects hit a vertical sheet of netting and are guided upwards towards light by the angle of the pitched roof. Here a hole in the netting allows it to pass into the attached collecting bottle which is usually filled with a preservative such as alcohol.


bait trap for web.jpg This is a bait trap, where a suitable bait, depending on what species you wish to attract, is hung above some pitfall traps. Here, the sophisticated method of an old sports sock, filled with...poo? is employed. Arguably this gentleman's sock alone would surely have attracted an interesting sample.

samples compressed for webDSCN4447.JPG Here's what the samples look like once they are returned to the lab, complete with labels which contain locality and collecting information. The plastic container to the left is filled with some residual 'beetle juice'.
web edit lucia and lydia peru mountingDSC00127.JPG Here is Lydia and Lucia extracting the specimens from the samples: discarding the beetle juice, drying out the specimens, and either pinning or mounting them on card.
for web fieldwork beetle pointing DSC00130 (1).JPG And here is the finished article, awaiting labelling, identifying and incorporating into the main collection. I'm sure we'll get some new species out of this lot!
Next time, fieldwork in Tanzania...


Member since: Sep 15, 2009

I'm Beulah Garner, one of the curators of Coleoptera in the Entomology department. The Museum's collection of beetles is housed in 22,000 drawers, holding approximately 9,000,000 specimens. This little collection keeps us quite busy!

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