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2

Chris Lyal and Conrad Gillett last left us as they were returning to Beijing after a fortnight of weevil collecting in southern Yunnan. The final part of their blog details the last few days of their trip during which they were hosted by colleagues of the Institute of Zoology (IoZ) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Beijing.

 

"After our collecting in tropical Yunnan, we arrived to a Beijing where spring had clearly sprung compared to the wintery scene we had left behind two weeks previously. The campus of the Academy of Sciences now looked decidedly green and flowery. We arrived in the evening and were quite tired from the journey and just wanted to get a good night's rest before a day in the collection the following day. We checked ourselves into the on-campus guesthouse, and managed to communicate with the lady at reception through her ingenious use of an online translation website - isn't technology sometimes wonderful!

 

After a good rest, the following morning we met up again with some of the entomologists at the Institute of Zoology. We were very hospitably looked after by Prof. Runzhi Zhang who is the principal investigator in the Group of Identification & Management of Invasive Alien Species. His colleagues Ren Li and Zhilian Zhang were also of great assistance during our stay.

 

The first thing to do was to sort, store and pack the weevils we had collected over the last two weeks. It is always interesting looking over the specimens again, as inevitably by the time a collecting trip is over, one has a faded memory of some of the early captures! The specimens were moved into fresh ethanol and all were carefully labelled and packed for the voyage home. We had a go at identifying some of the specimens, the Molytinae in particular, through comparison with preserved specimens in the  IoZ collections, although with the limited amount of time we had, this proved a little frustrating and we ended up discovering a whole hoard of additional unidentified weevils as a result of our attempts! Chris’s bright idea of “a short paper covering the Mecysolobini of China since we caught a fair number and there are only 8 species here” was slightly dented by his discovery of 40 distinct unidentified species in the collections. The taxonomist's work is never done!"

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Chris boards our flight back to Beijing at Kunming airport, after the small debacle with his cabin bag detailed in part 2 of this blog!

 

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The Institute of Zoology in Beijing - as can be seen, it is a very extensive and modern facility
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Conrad and Chris sorting, labelling and packing specimens

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Some of our catch

 

" The IoZ collections are housed in very good conditions, in a climate-controlled modern room. The specimens are arranged in wooden drawers kept in metal cabinets that are in compactor racks. It all seemed quite well organised. There was a large amount of interesting 'accessions' material which contained lots of weevils that had been identified to tribal level by Miguel Alonso-Zarazaga the previous year, and rather more that he had not managed to get to.

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The modern collection facilities at the IoZ, with metal cabinets in compactor racking

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Chris and Ren Li studying weevils form the accessions material in the collections

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The wooden drawers are housed in the metal cabinets


Did our colleagues get a chance to see anything of Beijing during their visit?

 

"We decided to take part of our last weekend in China off, having been on the go continuously for more than two weeks. One sight that we were both keen to see was the Great Wall of China and on Saturday morning we were very kindly taken there by three of the students in the department who were excellent guides (and translators!). We really would have struggled to make it there on our own as we were not keen on joining a big tourist guided tour. We were able to travel to a section of wall that remains mostly in its original state, which was  preferable to the more easily reached sections that have been rebuilt. Our trip took place on a very misty Saturday, which whilst not being ideal for long uninterrupted views over the length of the wall's winding course, did impart somewhat of a mystical air to proceedings!

 

We eschewed the luxury of a cable car from the starting point  to the Wall itself – had the mist been less we might have reconsidered this, but what turned out to be 1,400 steps later we made it to the top, and were able to explore more than two kilometres of the Wall itself .it must be said that after spending a few hours walking and climbing along the impressive structure (and then descending the 1,400 steps again) we were mostly pretty well spent! We both would like to thank Yang Ni, Zhang Jingjie and Xie Quanrong for a memorable visit to The Wall. And before you think to ask - yes we did find a beetle on The Wall (actually on Chris’s back)- what a great data label that will have!"

 

great_wall.jpgThe Great Wall

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Our lovely guides, left to right: Xie Quanrong,  Zhang Jingjie,  and Yang Ni who took us to and showed us around The Wall

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Chris and Conrad on The Wall

 

"On the following day, Conrad decided to see a few more sights in Beijing, including Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. He eschewed the (cheap) taxis for a trip on the Beijing underground system which was very modern and efficient, in addition to being air conditioned and very easy to navigate for a non-Chinese speaker/reader - and all this for 20p per journey! For the equivalent of the London underground tube ticket prices, Conrad could probably have travelled by private helicopter around the city!"

 

"The Forbidden City, the former palaces of the Chinese Emperors, was a stupendous sight - it is absolutely enormous, seemingly expanding wider the further you walk through it! Even after more than two hours , Conrad did not reach the end before having to turn back to head to the final stop on his self-made tour. This was to be the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution as he has a penchant for the 'taxonomy' of military aircraft, and was pleased to be able to see some cold war era hardware, including a good number of fighter jets now peacefully gathering dust in their final resting places.

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One entrance to the Forbidden City at Tiananmen Square - somewhat overshadowed by the acrobatic antics of the chap behind me!

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Inside the (no longer) Forbidden City

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Shenyang J-6 fighter gathering dust at the Military Museum

 

After the weekend it was back to work in the collections for a couple of days before returning to England. Chris met with the director of the IoZ to discuss future possible collaboration with the museum and discovered that the director has links with the UK because he spent time at the University of East Anglia, where both Conrad and one of Chris' daughters also study/have studied!

 

Runzhi Zhang also showed us around a laboratory and quarantine facility just outside Beijing which is used for pest-control research. The labs were very modern and equipped with very similar or identical equipment to what we have back home and is especially well set up for molecular genetics work. We were impressed not only by the modern PCR machines, gel-imaging cameras and freezers, but also by the cute pipette-tip bin! The facilities also included a large number of greenhouses where quarantine of pest interceptions can be undertaken.

 

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Chris and Runzhi Zhang inspect the molecular laboratory in the pest and quarantine facility we visited - the cute pipette-tip bin is a nice touch!

 

"The Institute of Zoology has its very own Natural History Museum and we were able to make a short visit towards the end of our stay. The public galleries contained many well presented and labelled specimens and were very well maintained - it was impressive to see quite so many biological samples on show, mostly exhibiting the Chinese fauna. Insects were very well represented with a separate section for butterflies and one for beetles too - that is not common these days! Over the entrance to the beetle displays, a mammoth-sized bronze rhino beetle (Allomyrina dichotoma) was placed to welcome the visitor. Chris was particularly taken with the display of Zoraptera – possibly the only one in the World - which comprised a two-millimetre specimen inside a plastic vial positioned centrally in a large and otherwise empty case.  Once inside, representatives of many beetle families were found in the wall-mounted displays, all neatly mounted and labelled.

 

However, even for both of us with decades-worth of beetle obsession behind us , it can hardly be denied that the most exciting, entertaining and bewildering exhibition was that in one of the temporary galleries. This gallery was presently in use housing the entries for an amateur taxidermy competition.  That is something that you will not see every day! Although of course taxidermy has played an undeniably important role in natural history museum collections. The entries were remarkable and ranged from those portraying, in almost life-like realism, re-enactments of nature (with a definite bias towards fierce predators mauling their prey) to those that simply defy explanation, representing animals in decidedly unnatural poses, situations and even attire!"

 

 

 

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The Institute of Zoology's very own Natural History Museum

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A giant rhinoceros beetle guarding over the beetle collection!
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A display on insect collecting, complete with net, collecting tubes, pitfall cups, setting boards and other entomological paraphernalia

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A highly dramatic and realistic taxidermy display of wolves hunting an ibex

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An equally dramatic but not-so realistic entry in the taxidermy competition.  Readers who are able to explain anything in this picture are urged to write in

 

"Before we returned to England, we were to experience one last culinary delight courtesy of our ever-charming colleague Ren Li, who very kindly took us out to lunch on our last day in Beijing to experience a gastronomic speciality of Hubei province: donkey. We were taken to a restaurant that specialised in equine epicurean delights such as donkey-skin soup, donkey kebabs (sort of) and donkey hot-pot! It was mostly very tasty but Conrad did struggle with the soup!

 

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Ren Li at a table covered in donkey-based dishes - we thank her for her generous hospitality and for widening our horizons!

 

"And so, having added the last species to our 'eaten it' list, and packed our specimens for travel we bid farewell to all our friends at the IoZ and set off on our long journey home after experiencing a unique country and culture.

We would like to especially thank Runzhi Zhang, Ren Li, Zhilian Zhang as well as all the other people that helped us during our visit to China and without whom it would have been an impossibility. We now look forward to studying the specimens that we collected and hope that they will advance our knowledge of the systematics of that most diverse group of insects, the weevils.

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Conrad

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Chris

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Weevil
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Panda

 

Photographs by Conrad Gillett, Chris Lyal and Ren Li

3

Dear beetlers,

This week one of our excellent volunteers, Emeline Favreau tells us about her week:

 

'A meaningful evasion from selling croissants...


During the week, I sell croissants and coffees to busy commuters. But on Wednesday, it's my volunteering day at the Museum. And it is such a delight to come volunteering! It brings meaning to my daily life, for curating beetles feels such an important aid for biodiversity research and protection.

 

Wednesdays at the Entomology Department are also fulfilling and entertaining, as it is slowly revealing secrets from the past and from abroad. As the week goes by, the less I think about cafè latte, the more I think about beetles.

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Emeline assisting in recurating the Geotrupidae; Scarabaeoidea - Earth boring dung beetles


One small step for man...

 

There is something special about coming to Origins, where the Entomology Department is located in the Museum. First I get to the Earth Sciences gallery, with this immense globe and its mysterious music coming out of it. Have I landed somewhere unknown to humanity? Then I pass through the Bird Section, which I imagine comes alive at night and becomes this wonderful exotic hen house. Then Dippy and Charles Darwin are here to remind me about the great legacy of the works of thousands scientists battling elements and society in the name of science. Then I slip through the doors of Origins and the smell of these cabinets full of beetles brings me back to 2012.


Jewels and broken pins...

 

My first project in the Coleoptera Section was to convert the collection of Deltochilum (Scarab beetles) into new unit trays, create labels and update the electronic collection. It was a brilliant way into the collection, caring for these jewels of Coleoptera. I can't help but fall in love with the brightest, most colourful ones! Like the species that shows variants of metallic colours in different specimens.

 

It was also challenging due to verdigris and broken pins. These specimens are very fragile by nature, so when verdigris starts destroying the inside of the beetles, handling the whole lot becomes like eating a fresh almond croissant: it breaks into a thousand pieces before you can do anything with it. Lucky was I to have some emergency help from Max and Beulah!

 

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A Geotrupid with a damaged pin


Good tools make good workers...

 

Curating beetles requires a specialist kit, which I learnt to use throughout my various projects at Origins. Two types of handling tools are used: the pinning forceps and the fine forceps for specimens. Pins come in various sizes, which is useful when replacing a pin. A pinning block is rather fascinating: you can pin labels at the exact level needed, depending on the number of labels linked to one beetle. A delightful thought for a volunteer stubborn and slightly on the side of perfectionism! An organic glue is good when it comes to sticking parts together to form one specimen, because if I get it wrong it can be easily removed. A pen with archive ink is necessary for writing labels that should last for few centuries. Gelatine capsules collect parts that can't be mounted back to their original bodies. Maybe a lucky entomologist will find in there the missing part of his specimen.

 

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Tools: Size two pins, springform forceps, watchmakers forceps, pinning stage and glue!

 

Tales of loans...

 

I helped Max Barclay to prepare some specimens to send overseas for loans. I first found it dangerous to mail brittle little things to Spain or Japan. I soon discovered that the Museum has specific procedures to keep the package safe. Other countries are more relaxed in terms of secure parcels, which creates a sort of lottery for the state of the contents.

 

There are also evidences of loans within the drawers of the collection, with labels describing the name of the borrower, the number of beetles and the date of loan. Max told me once about this man Krikken who in the 1970s borrowed some specimens but never returned them, making sure everyone knew by pinning his name on a pretty label. See my evil eyes?

 

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Geotrupes kuluensis Bates; and a Krikken label


The hitch-hiker's guide to the galaxy Coleoptera...

 

Opening drawers of the Coleoptera collection is like travelling in time and space. Some labels are handwritten in a fashion that dates several centuries ago. I can imagine Victorian times and explorers à la Livingstone. Other labels cite the location that no longer exists. A captivating lesson of geopolitics can be learnt from one drawer only. Sometimes it is useful to fiddle with German, French or Spanish to decrypt the location. And a bit of Latin vocabulary is always useful to understand and remember the scientific names of the Coleoptera.


After a whole day at the Museum curating the collection, I feel that I travelled beyond my imagination to ancient countries, sampling jewels in deep and luxurious forests. This thought keeps me entertained for the whole week, when I stand between my pains au chocolat and cups of coffee.'

5

Toshi's Entomological Gap Yar!

Posted by Blaps May 4, 2012

Dear Beetlers,

 

 

This video is an excellent portrayal of just how hard and confusing fieldwork can be, especially in Africa. Entomology is a difficult subject and well; we can’t always get it right…

 

 

 

 

This spoof filmed by Ian Baldwin in Tanzania, 2012

4

We rejoin our exploring entomologists who have again made contact from China, transmitting the next chapter in their weevil collecting travelogue from southern Yunnan.

 

“We have spent the last week collecting at various sites in Xishuangbanna Prefecture. Initially we collected in rather dry forest areas with limited results, though with some interesting species found including a grey-coloured entiminine weevil that was often beaten from the tea plants in the many plantations in the region.

 

Chris was able to observe the courting behaviour of a male as it tried (unsuccessfully!) to mate with a female (the male rather charmingly nibbling the back of the female’s head, although what was happening at the other end was somewhat less romantic). We suspect that this species may be a potential pest of the venerable leaves that make that quintessential Chinese and British drink! Now just imagine if tea plantations were to become heavily infested with this weevil and production of tea was negatively affected; heaven forbid the dire consequences that would result from the populance at large back home not being able to get its morning cuppa!

 

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A tea plantation

 

Moving onto happier thoughts, we last left you soon after our arrival in the area around the Xishuangbanna tropical botanical gardens in Menglunzhen, after our trusty and knowledgeable local driver Yang Kun had driven us there, where beetle activity was picking up with the arrival of rains. Often when collecting beetles, especially in unfamiliar areas, it takes some time to get one’s ‘eye in’ as to where best to look for them. This seemed to be just the case in Yunnan, where we eventually realised that some of the most productive areas to look for weevils were in steep-sided, forested gullies with streams along their bottoms, running down mountainsides and accessible (in places) from the road. These gullies tended to be very humid compared to the surrounding forest, and to contain perse vegetation. But finding the best places for weevils is only half the story; when to look for them is equally important.

 

We noticed that in Yunnan, weevils are late risers. During the morning few are active, with activity gradually increasing to peak quite noticeably during the hottest part of the day. Therefore the most fruitful collecting was to be had between 13:00 and 16:00 hours when our beating sheets and sweep nets, whilst not quite groaning under the weight of chitin, nevertheless picked up the majority of each day’s catch. Of course this is precisely the time of day that is the most physically demanding, which combined with the near-saturated atmospheric humidity, left for some very sticky field shirts indeed!

 

Talking of field-clothing, the second week of any expedition, seems to be, in Conrad’s case at least, the limit of endurance for a lot of his kit! No sooner had the second week ‘Rubicon’ been crossed, than his beating sheet came apart, his backpack fell to bits (a locally sourced replacement was to last a further 3 or 4 days) and all field-trousers were torn with varying degrees of flesh exposure! Not highly desirable when surrounded by a plethora of ticks, rash-inducing plants and arboreal leeches, the latter two of which we both succumbed to. A gasp of horror was induced when Chris’ blood-stained clothes were handed over to be laundered, although we were pleased that no further undergarments went missing!”

 

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Chris and Conrad looking for weevils in a leaf litter sample

 

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A gully containing humid forest

 

“Amongst the weevils collected during these days were a number of species belonging to the tribe Mecysolobini (subfamily Molytinae) and a species of wood-feeding Lobotrachelini (Conoderinae), both of which are new tribes for Conrad’s phylogeny. Also collected were a number of as-yet-unidentified sub-corticolous weevils belonging to the subfamilies Cossoninae, Scolytinae and Platypodinae, and the family Brentidae (straight-snouted weevils). The last of which was represented by a couple of species including an inch-long attractively red-spotted one displaying marked sexual dimorphism; the females have a long, narrow rostrum and the males a short rostrum with robust mandibles.

 

In this secretive world sandwiched between the bark and the wood of certain trees, Coleopteran life was flourishing. With each pull of the bark, this habitat seemed to be increasingly teeming with beetles, with all species highly adapted to their tightly confined home (not for the claustrophobic!). The beetles, from a wide variety of families including predacious rove beetles (Staphylinidae), ground beetles (Carabidae) and histers (Histeridae), to the vegetarian weevils, had reached a consensus. They (or more correctly their long-line of ancestors over thousands of years) had uniformly decided that it was a good idea to be as flat as pancakes! Sometimes evolution just jumps out at you.

 

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A molytine weevil (subfamily Molytinae)

 

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A fallen dead tree under whose bark a plethora of beetles were living

 

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A pair of straight-snouted weevils (Brentidae), The female is above and the male is below.

 

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An impressively flat hister beetle, possibly of the genus Hololepta (Histeridae)

 

Back at the botanic gardens in the evening we checked the lights for any business, making sure to scan neighbouring vegetation and trees, on which many species prefer to alight rather than flying directly to the lights. Several chafers were around, mostly belonging to the subfamily Melolonthinae, and one species looked decidedly familiar. This was a member of the genus Melolontha, looking not unlike our very own cockchafer, M. melolontha from Europe which, incidentally, should shortly be on the wing during the spring evenings.

 

Whilst checking the trees, Chris was able to collect three further species of weevils from one particular fig tree – no others were to be seen on other similar trees. The attractiveness of specific inpidual trees for beetles is something that we have come across before. Notably, Conrad recalls one tree stump in Ecuador that consistently attracted fungus beetles (Erotylidae) whilst similar stumps were always devoid of the insects. This phenomenon is somewhat of a mystery, although a particular fungal composition or state of stress or decay could be the lure for the beetles.”

 

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A chafer of the genus Melolontha attracted to lights, it is closely allied to the European cockchafers

 

In the preceding part of the blog Chris and Conrad described how they set up malaise and bottle traps in a section of forest. How did these fare?

 

“On our final morning at the botanical gardens we planned to check the traps we had placed earlier, however before we set off to do so, we had to recover some of Chris’ belongings. He woke at around 6 to a soft thud, and realised in a rather sleepy way that the curtains to his window were open, and protruding through them was a shadowy head and shoulders and what appeared to be a short fishing rod.

 

On being challenged (“WHATDOYOUTHINKYOUARDOING!” – daft question really) the thief fled, leaving Chris’ medical kits spread on the ground outside. Later Chris found a three-pronged fishhook embedded in his computer bag – obviously that was the next target. The slightly tarnished silver lining was that the hotel gave us a £5 discount to acknowledge Chris’ distress and mental anguish.

 

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The hotel at the Xishuangbanna botanic gardens, where a thief attempted to fish Chris’ belongings out of a window

 

After this little fiasco we were finally able to check our traps. Unfortunately the banana bottle traps were very disappointing and did not yield any beetles except for some pollen beetles (Nitidulidae), which are a staple in such traps. We had hoped for some weevils including some belonging to the family Dryophthoridae, which can be successfully collected on banana. However, whilst none came to our traps, we did find the pest species Cosmoplites sordidus on cut banana plants nearby.

 

The malaise/flight-interception combo traps were a little better, with perhaps seven different species of weevils captured (Molytinae, Rhyncophorinae, Anthribidae and Dryophthoridae) as well as quite a lot of bark beetles (Scolytinae) caught in the trays of one trap set on the edge of the forest – some of these specimens were so small that it looked like they could have flown through the mesh of the malaise trap without touching the sides! Bark beetles are indeed weevils according to most systematic studies, though at a casual glance they look nothing like a ‘standard’ weevil, especially because they lack a prolonged rostrum and are usually cylindrical in shape (a common adaptation taken on by many wood-boring beetles).

 

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Conrad collecting samples from a combined malaise/flight interception trap

 

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A weevil that is a pest of bananas: Cosmoplites sordidus (Dryophthoridae)

 

Just before departing the botanical gardens, we looked at a rainforest display in one of the visitor buildings and were particularly interested by a case of locally collected stag beetles (Lucanidae). Possibly the most exciting discovery of the trip was made as the beetles, labelled as Lucanus elaphus, represent an enormous range extension from the nearest records for the species in the eastern United States! Either that, or someone has been trying to identify Chinese beetles with the wrong literature, which we think is more plausible!”

 

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A drawer of locally collected stag beetles, misidentified as the North American species Lucanus elaphus

 

Chris and Conrad, together with Ren Li, their colleague from Beijing, were then driven to one of the very southernmost tips of China, right on the frontier with Myanmar to the West and Laos to the South and East, to continue their collecting activities in this region.“Our next base was in the town of Mengla, very close to the border with Laos on the eastern edge of a southern-poking extension of Yunnan. We were rather hoping that this region would be as humid as the area around Menglunzhen, or that at least the rains would follow us on our southbound route, but in fact the hilly terrain in this completely tropical part of China was once again rather dry.

 

Our arrival in Mengla coincided with the first day of the town’s most important annual local festival, loosely translated as the ‘festival of splashing water’, meant to celebrate the coming of the rainy season and as significant as our own New Year’s festivities. We were warned by Ren Li that the festival, lasting for several days, would indeed entail a certain risk of being dowsed in water by the locals, and we prepared accordingly by placing wallets, cameras and passports in plastic zip-lock bags in anticipation of a soaking!

 

That evening after dinner, we were drawn to a firework display and musical extravaganza taking place near our accommodation, but thus far the crowded festivities proceeded without any obvious ‘splashing’! In fact as it turned out the festival of splashing water was something of a damp squib in this respect! The only evidence we came across of its intention were some burst water balloons on the streets the following day - evidently we had missed the main event! Perhaps here too a ‘hosepipe’ ban had been enforced due to the unseasonal dry weather, just as we had heard had happened in parts of Britain!

 

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The town of Mengla, during the annual ‘water splashing festival’

 

From Mengla we made daily excursions into the hills, collecting in gullies, along roadsides and off the vegetation lining river- and stream-sides. We also had a particularly good day’s collecting at the edge of a forested area where we could also access a riverside. Here a wide variety of weevils were found including at least three species of the subfamily Curculioninae (including a small orange species that upon first impressions is quite baffling), a cryptorhynchine and more Molytinae and Entiminae, plus the occasional baridine to name a few. A species of black Apionidae that we had been collecting almost everywhere else, seemed to actually be absent from this area though!

 

Of other insects, we came across a wonderful selection of damselflies and dragonflies (Odonata) at the streamside, including a gleaming emerald damselfly and a smart jet-black species. Other interesting sights included stalk-eyed flies, more butterflies, including a lycaenid with exceptionally long ‘tails’ on its hind wings and a wide variety of crickets and colourful bugs – the latter often represented by flamboyantly coloured, rectangular-shaped nymphs.

 

Other beetles seen included more leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae), various species of Languriidae, the odd longhorn (Cerambycidae) and an interesting persity of the family Lagriidae, which has only a single representative in Britain. Conrad made the fortuitous discovery of a cow-pat (the sight of livestock is quite rare here), which brought out the scarabophile in him, and a good old poke-around for dung beetles proved irresistible! This yielded a species of ball-rolling Paragymnopleurus and a horned Liatongus (Scarabaeinae) in burrows underneath the dung.

 

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Our vehicle parked at the edge of a bit of intact forest where we collected many weevils

 

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A species of Curculio (Curculioninae) attempts to take off

 

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One of several species of Mecycolobini (Molytinae) collected

 

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A species of cryptorhynchine weevil (Cryptorhynchinae)

 

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A weevil belonging to the subfamily Entiminae

 

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A large species of Languridae

 

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A common metallic blue leaf beetle (Chrysomelidae)

 

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A horned dung beetle of the genus Liatongus (Scarabaeinae)

 

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A riverside that was teeming with Odonata

 

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A brilliant emerald green male damselfly

 

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A stalk eyed fly

 

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A lycaenid butterfly

 

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Two brightly coloured bug nymphs

 

As mentioned previously in the blog, finding good, intact and accessible forested habitat has proved to be quite challenging in Yunnan. The extent of rubber plantations in particular has come as a bit of a shock and monocultures of this tree must cover literally thousands of square miles all around, right up to and including quite steep-sided hills. Often only the very tops are left forested or sometimes even these have been planted. And if rubber is not planted then the chances are that banana plantations will take their place. The large-scale deforestation and planting of oil palms in Borneo is something that is widely publicised in the west, yet we hear nothing of the massive rubber plantations in this part of the world, which by their vast extent, must be of equal conservation concern.”

 

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An all-too-common sight in Yunnan – rubber plantation in the background and bananas in the foreground

 

After a day in the field, what does the field entomologist get up to in the evenings?“We all normally meet up to have dinner at around 7pm, which is late by Chinese standards, as most people seem to eat at around 5 or 6pm. Sometimes a quick visit to a local market or supermarket proved most educational (you can really learn a lot about a culture this way!). It is apparent that there is a real penchant here for vacuum-packed assorted animal parts. Some are readily identifiable morphologically (e.g. chicken feet), others requiring further analysis beyond the scope of our present work.

 

Also interesting is that most of the local eateries do not have a menu to select from as such, but rather you choose your meal from a large fridge displaying all the ingredients on offer (vegetables, mushrooms, various meaty things etc.) – it seemed rather haphazard, but the vast majority of times we were presented with tasty dishes! On one occasion a tray of caterpillars lay among the various items on offer, but despite the almost unbearable temptation to try them out, they proved to be too expensive for our fieldwork budget. We can’t properly express in words our utter disappointment.

 

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One interesting item found in a local supermarket!

 

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A fridge in a local restaurant containing ingredients that can be chosen for a meal. A plate of beige-coloured caterpillars is visible in the centre-left

 

Returning to our interest in the local transportation, we have come across an even more desirable vehicle to the motorbike/pickup truck combo seen earlier. This particular hybrid however, is the offspring of a cross between a 2-stroke lawnmower and a horse drawn cart, with an estimated top speed of 50 mpd (miles per day). The sound of them chugging up the Yunnan hills is already a memorable part of the soundtrack to this trip!”

 

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One of the most common modes of transport in rural Yunnan – basically a hybrid between a lawnmower and a horse-drawn cart!

 

“Our final night’s sleep in Mengla was to be rudely and repeatedly interrupted by the loud snorting and grunting noises from two truckloads of tightly-packed pigs that had been courteously parked directly outside our bedroom windows. We awoke to the hotel lobby smelling like a pigsty and our breakfast seeming decidedly unappetising that morning, especially as it consisted of rice noodles with pork (the staple morning fare in these parts)! As soon as Chris had paid for the hotel and received a wad of receipts as thick as two short planks (receipts are given as separate sheets of paper for each note of money used as payment!) we set off on our last day of collecting which would take place on the drive back to Jinghong (the main city in Xishuangbanna) from where we would be flying back to Beijing the following day.

 

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The staple breakfast of the region: rice noodle with a pork or beef sauce and other condiments

 

Our last day’s collecting proved to be one of the most successful for weevils, and each site visited produced additional specimens. At the first site more Curculionini, Entiminae and Attelabidae were collected and a few other beetles were spotted including an Agrilus (Buprestidae) warming itself in the early morning sun atop leaves. The second site consisted of many felled trees and was not as productive for weevils as we had hoped although Chris found the gaudy longhorn beetle Diostocera wallichi (Lamiinae).

 

At the next site, Conrad caught what he at first took to be an arboreal tiger beetle of the genus Tricondyla (Cicindelidae). However just before the specimen was captured Conrad noticed that its behaviour was not quite right – it wasn’t fast enough! And the antennae were too long and too fine to belong to that of even a dainty tiger beetle. The specimen was in fact a marvellous orthopteran mimic of the tiger beetle, and surely amongst the finest of insect ‘mimics’! Here the plot thickens because it is thought that Tricondyla itself is a mimic of large ants, prompting us to rethink exactly who is the mimic and who is the mimicked in the dark underworld of insect deceit!

 

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Two species of leaf rolling weevils (Attelabidae)

 

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A jewel beetle of the genus Agrilus (Buprestidae) warming itself in the morning sun

 

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A specimen of the tropical longhorn beetle Diostocera wallichi

 

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A remarkable orthopteran mimic of an arboreal tiger beetle

 

The final gully we visited was also one of the finest, with an easy-to-follow trail through the humid rainforest, where giant yellow and black swallowtails darted through the clearings and large praying mantids made their ferocious threat displays. Many weevils were collected here belonging to several subfamilies, including a range of small species beaten from low vegetation at the entrance to the gully and attelabids perching on the surface of leaves. Inevitably, our final sweep, last ‘poot’ and Chris’ brief ceremony of throwing his trusty beating stick (that had lasted a full two weeks) back to the forest, heralded the culmination of our collecting in Yunnan. The tops of the last tubes were twisted shut and we headed to Jinghong and our final crossing of the Mekong river as the early evening sun sank ever lower.

 

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A large praying mantid in fierce threat-display posture

 

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Chris enveloped in the luxuriant vegetation of a humid gully

 

The following day we thanked and bid farewell to Yang Kun, who had so ably driven us to a total of 36 collecting sites in Yunnan (shown on the map), and we prepared to board our flight to Beijing. But one final near-calamity awaited us. As some of our check-in luggage had become overweight, some packing redistribution had to be performed at the check-in desk, during which a baggage combination lock was dropped on the floor before being used to lock Chris’ cabin bag. Subsequently as we passed through the baggage scanner on the way to our departure gate, a suspicious dark metallic object was identified in Chris’ bag and he was requested to allow the airport security officials to investigate inside.

 

At this point Chris realised that the combination lock was no longer responsive to the 4-number code and the bag could not be opened! For several minutes we tried in vain to open the lock, and with each passing second, suspicions were raised! Finally the airport staff let Chris through with his bag unopened, and seconds later Chris ‘cracked’ the combination code, which must have been knocked out of register by the earlier fall, to reveal that the offending item had been a metal handle to a sweep net! We are glad to say that the rest of our return trip was devoid of entomological mishaps!”

 

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Map of southern Yunnan Province showing our 36 collecting sites (numbered 14 to 50). Conrad and Chris, 24 April 2012

 

Stay tuned for Chris and Conrad’s final blog post detailing their visit to the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

 

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Chris and Ren Li in a moment of spontaneous public engagement, explaining to a group of locals our activities

 

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Left to right: Chris Lyal, Yang Kun and Conrad Gillett in Yunnan

 

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Photographs by Conrad Gillett and Ren Li