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Beetle blog

19 Posts tagged with the entomology tag
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It’s Science Uncovered time again beetlers! We can’t wait to show off our beetles to the thousands of you who will be visiting the Natural History Museum on the night. We'll be revealing specimens from our scientific collections hitherto never seen by the public before! Well, maybe on Monday at the TEDx event at the Royal Albert Hall we did reveal a few treasures, including specimens collected by Sir Joseph Banks and Charles Darwin, as seen below.

 

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Lucia talking to the audience of TEDx ALbertopolis on Monday 23rd September.

 

lydtedweb.jpgLydia and Beulah spanning 250 years of Museum collections at TEDx Albertopolis.

 

Last year we met with about 8,500 of YOU – so that’s 8,500 more people that now love beetles, right? So, as converts, you may be coming back to see and learn some more about this most speciose and diverse of organisms or you may be a Science Uncovered virgin and no doubt will be heading straight to the beetles (found in the DCII Cocoon Atrium at the Forests Station).


This year the Coleoptera team will be displaying a variety of specimens, from the weird and wonderful to the beetles we simply cannot live without! Here’s what the team will be up to...


Max Barclay, Collections Manager and TEDx speaker
For Science Uncovered I will be talking about the diversity of beetles in the tropical forests of the world. I have spent almost a year of my life in field camps in various countries and continents, and have generally come back with thousands of specimens, including new species, for the collections of the Natural History Museum. I will explain how we preserve and mount specimens, and how collections we make today differ from those made by previous generations.

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Crocker Range, Borneo - it's really hard work in the field...but, co-ordinating one's chair with one's butterfly net adds a certian sophistication.

 

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The Museum encourages its staff to be respectful of and fully integrate with local cultures whilst on fieldwork. Here is Max demonstrating seemless cultural awareness by wearing a Llama print sweater in Peru.

 

I will also talk about the Cetoniine flower chafers collected and described by Alfred Russell Wallace in the Malay Archipelago, and how we recognise Wallace’s material from other contemporary specimens, as well as the similarities and differences between techniques used and the chafers collected in Borneo by Wallace in the 1860s, Bryant in the 1910s, and expeditions of ourselves and our colleagues in the 2000s.

 

Lydia Smith and Lucia Chmurova, Specimen Mounters and trainee acrobats
As part of the forest section at Science Uncovered this year we are going to have a table centred on the diversity of life that you may see and hear in tropical forests. Scientists at the Natural History Museum are regularly venturing out to remote locations around the world in search of new specimens for its ever expanding collection.

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L&L acrobatic team on an undergraduate trip to Borneo with Plymouth University.


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Maliau Basin, Borneo: Lucia injects some colour into an otherwise pedestrian flight interception trap

 

We will be displaying some of the traps used to catch insects (and most importantly beetles!) along with showing some specimens recently collected. We will also have a sound game where you can try your luck at guessing what noises go with what forest creatures. Good luck and we look forward to seeing you!

 

Hitoshi Takano, Scientific Associate and Museum Cricketer

Honey badgers, warthogs and Toto - yes, it can only be Africa! This year at Science Uncovered, I will be talking about the wondrous beetles of the African forests and showcasing some of the specimens collected on my recent fieldtrips as well as historic specimens collected on some of the greatest African expeditions led by explorers such as David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley.

 

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Museum cricket team, The Archetypes (yes, really!). Hitoshi walking off, centre field, triumphant! Far right, Tom Simpson, Cricket Captain and one of the excellent team organising Science Uncovered for us this year.

 

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Mount Hanang, Tanzania: Jungle fever is a common problem amongst NHM staff. Prolonged amounts of time in isolated forest environments can lead to peculiar behaviour and an inability to socialise...but don't worry, he'll be fine on the night...

 

There are more dung beetle species in Africa than anywhere else in the world - find out why, how I collect them and come and look at some of the new species that have been discovered in the past few years!!

 

Beulah Garner, Curator and part-time Anneka Rice body double

Not only do I curate adult beetles, I also look after the grubs! Yes, that's right, for the first time ever we will be revealing some of the secrets of the beetle larvae collection. I can't promise it will be pretty but it will be interesting! I'll be talkng about beetle life cycles and the importance of beetles in forest ecosystems. One of the reasons why beetles are amongst the most successful organisms on the planet is because of their ability to inhabit more than one habitat in the course of their life cycles.

 

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Crocker Range, Borneo: fieldwork is often carried out on very tight budgets, food was scarce; ate deep fried Cicada to stay alive...

 

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Nourages Research Station, French Guiana: museum scientists are often deposited in inacessible habitats by request from the Queen; not all breaks for freedom are successful.

 

On display will be some horrors of the collection and the opportunity to perhaps discuss and sample what it will be like to live in a future where beetle larvae have become a staple food source (or entomophagy if you want to be precise about it)...go on, I dare you!

 

Chris Lyal, Coleoptera Researcher specialising in Weevils (Curculionidae) and champion games master

With the world in the throes of a biodiversity crisis, and the sixth extinction going on, Nations have agreed a Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. The first target is to increase understanding of biodiversity and steps we can take to conserve it and use it sustainably. That puts the responsibility for increasing this understanding fairly and squarely on people like us. Now, some scientists give lectures, illustrated with complex and rigorously-constructed graphs and diagrams. Others set out physical evidence on tables, expounding with great authority on the details of the natural world. Us – we’re going to play games.

 

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Ecosystem collapse! (partially collapsed).

 

Thrill to Ecosystem Collapse! and try to predict when the complex structure will fall apart as one after another species is consigned to oblivion. Guess why the brazil nut tree is dependent on the bucket orchid! Try your luck at the Survival? game and see if you make it to species survival or go extinct. Match the threatened species in Domino Effect! Snakes and ladders as you’ve not played it before! For the more intellectual, there’s a trophic level card game (assuming we can understand the rules in time). All of this coupled with the chance to discuss some of the major issues facing the natural world (and us humans) with Museum staff and each other.

 

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Here Chris tells us a joke:

'Why did the entomologists choose the rice weevil over the acorn weevil?'

'It was the lesser of two weevils'

IMG_7063.jpgJoana Cristovao, Chris's student and assistant games mistress!

Big Nature Day at the Museum: Joana with a... what's this? This is no beetle!

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One last thought, things can get a bit out of hand late at night in the Museum, it's not just the scientists that like to come out and play once a year, it's the dinosaurs too...

 

We look forward to meeting you all on the night!

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Somethin’ fishy about Borneo

Posted by Blaps May 10, 2013

Dear Beetlers,


This prolonged absence may have something to do with your good authors finding themselves abandoned somewhere in the Crocker Range in darkest Borneo with the sole purpose of collecting beetles! As you will come to learn over the next few blogs there are many methods, both creative and gruesome, for collecting in the field.


It takes a huge amount of planning and resources to transplant four game entomologists from their cosy little nest at the Natural History Museum to one of the remotest and under-explored parts of the world, namely Sabah (formerly British North Borneo). So, with limited time and a mission to collect as much of the area’s biodiversity as possible over the period of just one month, we really had to think about what methods we would employ to maximise our collecting.

 

So why not use rotting fish? I know, it’s obvious!

 

It all began within the sanitised environs of one of the many air-conditioned shopping malls to be found in Kota Kinabalu, the region’s capital.

 

First choose your ‘bait’.

 

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Here is Max Barclay and retired Head of Collections, Howard Mendel, carefully selecting just the right type of frozen fish to attract our little beauties.

 

Before heading in to the field, we had a days’ shopping to procure everything we needed for three weeks in camp. This included luxury items such as wet wipes and instant coffee, as well as the above bait, and the essential fieldwork tool, the panga, (yes, dark thoughts did set in after about week one…)

 

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Max possesses - or becomes possessed by - the 'blade of Borneo'

 

As the fish was frozen, this allowed us to transport it into the field and it be relatively ‘fresh’ for making into bait. Max ‘like a fish to water’ took to the role of fishmonger. It was almost as if he were born to it, so expertly did he fillet!

 

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Actually filleted fish and not the remains of one's colleagues...

 

We use fish as bait as it rots down quite ‘nicely’ (for want of a better word!), and it really, really stinks - apparently with an attractive smell to many beetles. Given the temperatures on average were around 31°C, and humidity was high, this facilitated the rotting process and it was interesting (really, it was!) to see the changes in beetle fauna over the advances in decay.

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Here is our delightful bait: from fresh to semi-decomposing in about four days!

 

Ours was not a precise science; and it is very difficult to work in a controlled way in the field when there are so many variables to affect the outcome of our trapping methods. So basically we chopped up the fish, put various parts into sections of cut up opaque tights (see how we recycle!) and hung them over a bucket that, in turn, was hung over a tree branch or some such so as to not be taken by carnivores (though one would have to be desperate to take this rotting fish!). The beetles should be attracted to the bait and fly to land, falling in to the bucket from which they cannot escape! We set four traps and checked them every few days as the rotting process was so accelerated.

 

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Here is the somewhat alarming final stage of decay which resembled porridge with blueberries, or some such – breakfast, anybody?! Beetles were retrieved using a pair of forceps and precise dexterity!

 

As you can imagine (but I understand if you dont want to!) this was a very messy and smelly business. Managing to empty the traps without covering oneself with mushy-maggot-infested-rotting-fish-guts was a challenge, and there were a few near misses. Despite my most careful emptying, the smell would linger for a few days afterwards, just in time to empty them once again!


As for the results, well this is quite exciting. We think we collected between 30-50 different species of beetle. The main families were the Hybrosoridae (vertebrate and invertebrate carrion feeders as we would expect!), Scarabaeidae and Staphylinidae, and two specifically exciting species (well to us at least!) were Phaeochroops gigas Arrow, 1907 (Hybrosoridae), and Synapsis cambeforti Krikken, 1987 (Scarabaeidae) described from Brunei and endemic to Borneo; this species is considered really quite rare and only collected from a few localities (though this might be why we consider it rare!). The beetles are now here at the Museum and will be distributed to experts for identification. We expect to have results for some groups within six months!


I shall leave you with some images of us actually enjoying fish, which was not rotting.

 

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Well okay, not actually fish but in close proximity to: Beulah and Alessandro share a well earned deep fried squid, it was a beautiful moment!

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Again, not actually fish, but the world's largest prawn, swiftly consumed by the Fishmonger of Borneo (I'm not mentioning the T-shirt, it speaks for itself...!)

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Dung, fog and more dung in Borneo

Posted by Blaps Mar 25, 2013

This blog is from one of our excellent specimen preparators and research assistants,  Lucia Chmurova who was lucky enough to spend some time on one of the Museum expeditions to Borneo. Here she gives us an insight into beetle collecting in the tropics!

 

'I was very lucky to join a big NHM expedition to Borneo in August 2012. I was extremely excited because I have missed Borneo ever since I returned from my first trip there in 2010. Upon Max Barclay's advice I agreed to sample dung beetles as my project (and unwittingly I agreed to everything that comes with it…). I followed a set protocol developed for dung beetle trapping in order for future comparison with already sampled sites by other scientists. The protocol consists of 10 dung, and 2 carrion-baited pitfall traps and 2 flight interception traps. The Malaysian dung beetle fauna is well known, well represented in the museum's collection, and there are specialists that are able to identify them. Fulfilling these three criteria suggests a promising and achievable project. With my project chosen and kit assembled I was ready to go!

 

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A quick teaser for invertebrate fauna of Borneo; a predatory land flatworm or a ‘hammerhead worm’.

© Tim Cockerill

 

Our expedition started in the Danum Valley, perhaps one of the busiest research stations in the world. Located in the middle of a conservation area in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, the Danum Valley field station is very well equipped and has housed hundreds of scientists from around the world. The timing of our arrival was somewhat comical, coinciding with a visit from Prince William and The Duchess of Cambridge on a leg of their Southeast Asian tour. As the couple emerged, perfectly dressed, from their helicopter, our team covered in mud and sweat looked a bit less royal in comparison.

 

Some readers might not know that traps for catching dung beetles must first be baited by … well … dung. This involves preparing wrapped packages of dung and hanging them above the trap to lure beetles in. I thought to myself that I should be perhaps a bit more selective about where I would go and prepare my perfumed 'dung packages' so I don't put off potential future patrons of the station. As for the perfume, I was quite well-equipped and so the highly dreaded preparation of tens of dung packages wasn't so bad after all! I have to admit I opted out from Max's tip to use a plastic bag with a hole in its corner and squeeze dung out like I would do with icing for a cake! I used a fork instead.

 

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Me and THE package.

© Tim Cockerill

 

I am not going to go into much detail about what trapping techniques we used while in the field as these are already nicely described in the Tanzania blog , perhaps with the exceptions of water pan traps and fogging. Although not so much used by Coleopterists, water pan traps are very popular when trapping for wasps and bugs. These are simply plastic bowls of various colours (most commonly yellow or blue) filled with water and a few drops of detergent. Its smell in combination with yellow colour attracts insects that are eventually drawn inside the traps.

 

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Although the contents of this pan trap might not look like much, what looks like dust to our eyes, might in fact be hundreds of tiny Hymenoptera trapped inside.

© Tim Cockerill

 

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I could not resist showing you this sophisticated upgrade to a pitfall trap: chopsticks and a plate instead of a usual leaf to stop the trap filling with rainwater! (to find out what exactly a pitfall trap is, read …)

© Tim Cockerill

 

Fogging is perhaps the most efficient sampling method for insects - it collects vast amounts of all kinds of insects in a short period of time. A selective insecticide (which doesn't affect birds or mammals and evaporates quickly) is sprayed into a tree, under which collecting trays are placed to catch all falling insects.

 

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A fogger being hoisted up the tree.

© Neil Greenwood

 

 

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Collecting trays ready to collect falling insects.

© Tim Cockerill

 

This must be done in perfectly windless and rainless conditions, to avoid the insecticide being spread out into surrounding trees and insects sticking to the leaves once they are dead. As the name ‘RAIN’ forest hints, these conditions do not happen very often. All fogging kit assembled together is quite bulky so we were happy when a group of Oxford University students volunteered to help with carrying all the heavy kit for us. After a few attempts of waking up at 5 in the morning (as this is unfortunately the 'windlessest' hour of the day) and trekking to the field site only to discover that leaves are once again wet, we eventually managed to fog at least once!

 

At the start, the lucky chosen individual (in this case a professional fogger, Timothy), tries to start the fogger by moving the engine rod quickly in and out, looking comical and failing repeatedly. Eventually the fogger trembles vigorously and a sound similar to a lawn mower spreads through the forest. After this amusing start, thick fog starts spreading up the tree and the whole situation suddenly looks nothing but impressive. One has to wonder what insects live up 40m tall trees. It was amazing to realise that even my help and research could help to be a step closer to discovering diversity of one of the earth's least known faunas - that of tree canopies. 

 

Some of the joys of field work:

 

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Coleopterist Peter Hammond and lichenologist Pat Wolseley forgot their waterproofs, bin bags did well enough.

© Neil Greenwood

 

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#Hymenopterist Andy Polaszek after a sword fight (or leech fight?!).

© Neil Greenwood

 

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Some serious work after a successful fogging day. In case you don't recognise us, from left:

Neil Greenwood, Andrew Polaszek, Lucia Chmurova and Tim Cockerill.

© Neil Greenwood

 

 

 

Our last stop was Maliau Basin. The forest here looked a bit different to that in the Danum Valley; here there were many more old growth trees present with open spaces between them in comparison to vine and rattan-entwined trees in the first field station. It felt a bit less disturbed, and even the bearded pigs looked attractively slimmer here. My pitfall traps were getting so full after one day of collecting that beetles started literally spilling over and escaping from them. A picture below shows the contents of a single pit-fall trap!

 

 

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The contents of a single dung pitfall trap.

© Tim Cockerill

 

 

After a few days in the Maliau Basin, and collecting kilos of dung beetles, our trip came to an end. Although very sad when leaving Borneo, I was happy about my successful trapping. At the moment, my collected material is still in Malaysia but will hopefully be sent to London soon so I can have a look at the wonderful diversity of beetles that scientific trapping reveals'.

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A tenebrionid couple.

© Tim Cockerill


 

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Some moths (notably members of the Arctiidae family) pupate in a woven basket of the caterpillar’s body hairs rather than silk.

© Tim Cockerill

 

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Coccinellidae

© Lucia Chmurova


 

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A cockroach shedding its skin.

© Lucia Chmurova

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News from the field, this year Zambia. Here we hear from Scientific Associate Hitoshi Takano on his latest collecting adventures...

 

'November 1855. The Zambezi River. What must Dr David Livingstone have felt when he happened upon Victoria Falls?

 

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“…scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight” is what Dr Livingstone is said to have commented as he looked out over the falls. It truly is a beautiful sight.

 

He had heard many years before about a “Great Waterfall” on the Zambezi River but it was not until 16 November, 1855 that he paddled across to one of the giant landmasses in the middle of the river overlooking the falls. He named this great discovery in honour of the Queen of England.

 

Last week I flew into the quaint town of Livingstone, the capital of Zambia’s Southern Province, some 10km from Victoria Falls and the Zimbabwe border. The landscape is dry woodland for as far as the eye can see, except for a big winding river and what looks like a huge cloud hovering above the falls; there is no hint of the 100m drop in the Zambezi.

 

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The Livingstone Museum in the town of Livingstone, has on display many items of Livingstone memorabilia including his coat and weapons, as well as some of his original letters.

 

The local name for the falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya which translates rather poetically as ‘The Smoke That Thunders’. It is the perfect description. It is now approaching the end of the rainy season and the amount of water flowing over the falls is enormous. A short walk over the aptly named Knife-Edge Bridge brings you face-to-face with the wall of water. And a wall of noise. It is an exhilarating experience; the spray from the waterfall is so great that most of the time nothing is visible, a huge rainstorm swirling around you. Rain coming at you from every direction. And then the wind blows in a different direction bringing sunlight and a clear view of the face of the falls. It was a most beautiful and breathless sight; one feels very small and insignificant in the presence of the immense power of nature.

 

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Face-to-face with Victoria Falls. I was completely drenched by this point and my camera nearly died from all the water everywhere!

 

Today, the 19 March, is David Livingstone’s 200th birthday (1813-1873). His exploits from his upbringings in Scotland, his exploration of Central Africa and the search for the source of the Nile are well documented. But perhaps the natural history discoveries made on these expeditions are not quite as well known. Today is as good a day as any to showcase some of the beetle specimens from the Natural History Museum collections associated with Livingstone and his Zambezi Expedition (1858-1864).

 

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The first specimen is of a Cetoniine fruit chafer Marmylida impressa (Goldfuss, 1805), caught in Tete by Dr. Livingstone himself. Tete was an important mission town in Mozambique on the Zambezi River.

 

The second specimen was collected by the botanist and physician on the Zambezi Expedition, Sir John Kirk (1832-1922). One of the main aims of the Zambezi Expedition, aside from identifying the natural resources and availability of raw materials in the Zambezi area, was to find cotton, an important commodity in post-Industrial Revolution Britain.

 

Kirk collected a beautiful Goliathus species “among the hills of Kebrabassa, which is situated about forty miles beyond the Portuguese town of Tete [a town in modern-day Mozambique]”. This large beetle was described as Goliathus kirkianus by George Robert Gray (1808-1872) in 1864, the then Assistant Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum of Natural History. This species was later synonymised with Goliathus albosignatus (Boheman, 1857).

 

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Goliathus kirkianus (Type specimen label just visible underneath the specimen).

 

 

Both of these species are widespread throughout Southern Africa and I have collected them on my previous trips to Tanzania. To think the specimens I collected sit in the same drawer of the Museum collections as those collected by Dr Livingstone is really quite mindboggling!

 

Unsurprisingly, many species of plant and animal have been named after Dr Livingstone over the years. One of the most spectacular is a species of Manticora ground beetle from the vicinity of Lake Ngami, north of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Francois Laporte, The Count of Castelnau, often known as Laporte de Castelnau (1812-1880) described Manticora livingstoni in 1863 in honour of the great explorer; (despite Livingstone having reached Lake Ngami in 1849, the specimens used by Castelnau for the description were not collected by Livingstone but by local collectors sent out by Castelnau).

 

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The formidable Manticora livingstoni.

 

From the Great Waterfall at Livingstone, I will now be heading north-west to the forests of the Angola-Zambia-Congo borders, very near to the source of the River which brought Dr Livingstone so much joy as well as despair.

 

 

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A statue of Dr David Livingstone at the entrance to Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, Zambia

 

Happy Birthday Dr Livingstone!'

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The Etymology of Entomology!

Posted by Blaps Mar 8, 2013

As our beetle blog heads towards 50,000 views, it is fast becoming one of the most important interfaces between the Coleoptera Section and the world at large, but it is not the only public outreach that we do here on the section. As well as very regular Nature Live Events and Night Safaris at the Museum, we make occasional forays into radio and television, and one such example was on the 30th January when presenter Dr. George McGavin and BBC producer Andrea Rangecroft came to the Collections to record an interview on the 'Etymology of Entomology'

 

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Max Barclay and George McGavin having a friendly chat about taxonomy, probably!

 

Even since the biblical instruction to Adam in the Garden of Eden to give 'a name to every creature' (leading to the oft-repeated quip that taxonomy, rather than anything else, is the 'oldest profession'), or perhaps more seriously since Linnaeus's Systema Naturae in 1758 which marks the start of formal Zoological Nomenclature, people have trying to name and classify the breathtaking biodiversity they see around them. There is considerable debate as to what is actually the largest group of organisms, with nematodes, some microbes, Hymenoptera (bees, ants and especially wasps) and Diptera (flies) all competing with beetles for the hypothetical species-richness crown, but of one thing we are certain: None of these groups has been so exhaustively and comprehensively named as the Coleoptera. Over 400,000 described species of beetles (about 20% of known biodiversity) shows an average rate, still undiminished, of 1000-2000 scientific names proposed each year since 1758 for beetles alone. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that a BBC team interested in the 'Etymology or Entomology' should have wanted to pay a visit to the beetle section..

 

Dr. George McGavin, the presenter of the show is an entomologist and zoologist and was once a student based at the Natural History Museum, so he is no stranger to the whiff of naphthalene and the ranks of cabinets and drawers that house one of the biggest slices of Earth's biodiversity to exist in one place anywhere in the world. His background of course meant that he knew many of us, and also pretty much what he wanted to see. In the radio show, he interviews a number of entomologists, (including me), and nomenclators in the UK and the US, such as the staff of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (the august body based at the Natural History Museum, that regulates the naming of animals). To hear a sneak preview click on Radio 4!

 

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The ranks of cabinets of the Coleoptera section holding over half of the World's known species

 

To provide a bit of background, Linnaeus's system, that is still used today, requires that each species has a unique scientific name, based (loosely) on Latin or Greek, and consisting of two parts, the genus name and the species name. These names are 'universal', i.e. used by scientists throughout the world and allow us to know exactly what species we are talking about; I have had many conversations with entomologists with whom I have no common language, that consist of pointing at specimens and saying scientific names, and it seems to work. Most of these names are serious, often descriptive, referring to colour (e.g. ruber, niger, albus, viridis), shape (spinosus, elongatus, angulatus), habitat (marinus, sylvaticus, montanus, campestris), size (maximus, minimus, pusillus, giganteus, nanus). Others refer to places of origin (germanicus, africanus, yorkensis, londonensis) or to people who the describer wanted to honour or commemorate. In the last case, the name is formed by adding a latin genitive '-i' or '-ii' for a man, '-ae' for a woman, or '-orum' for more than one person, to the end of the name in question (e.g. Eulipoa wallacei, Wallace's Megapode; Ischnura fountaineae, Margaret Fountaine's damselfly; Apion hookerorum, a weevil named after the Hooker brothers). Often the person honoured will be the collector, but sometimes it will be a figure from outside the world of science, a writer or entertainer or whatever, and in some cases a politician.

 

One of the beetles that George asked to see is one of the most controversial to be named after a famous person, a blind cave beetle forever cursed by its describer Oscar Scheibel with the name Anophthalmus hitleri. Scheibel presumably collected and named that species in 1936, because it was published in 1937, and it shows that one should never name anything after politicians, or at least wait until they are good and dead, since you never know what they are going to do.

 

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Scheibel's unfortunately named beetle!

 

Other politically named beetles include Quentin Wheeler and Kelly Miller's slime mould beetles Agathidium bushi, Agathidium rumsfeldi and Agathidium cheneyi, named after US republican leaders. It is a popular misconception that in such cases the beetles are named as an insult, because beetles are considered somehow unpleasant (especially when they live in or feed on slime-moulds), but this is nonsense- we love our beetles too much! No professional coleopterist considers beetles to be unpleasant, and the names above are certainly honorific (in fact at least one of the scientists also named species after his wife). 

 

On the subject of naming of insects after partners or prospective ones, George Willis Kirkaldy (1873-1910)  deserves a mention. British born and based in Hawaii working for the sugar plantations, he studied the true bugs (Heteroptera) and discovered that the Greek suffix -chisme sounds, when spoken aloud, sufficiently like 'kiss me' that he prefixed a lot of genus names with words that sounded like the names of young ladies (or at least, the kinds of names that young ladies had in the early 20th century) - Dolichisme, Elachisme, Florichisme, Peggichisme, and Polychisme. Apparently Kirkaldy was criticised for frivolity at the Zoological Society of London, and one can imagine that a young man using the scientific nomenclature to crow about his romantic conquests might have raised a few eyebrows among the bewhiskered Edwardian patrons of that learned institution. A close contemporary of Kirkaldy, Horace Donisthorpe (1870-1951), whose collection is also at the NHM, apparently employed a similar strategy: many of his species and subspecies are named after young women of the day, some examples being primroseae, irenae, florenceae. The striking thing about these names is that none of them have stood the test of time- all have been shown by subsequent workers not to be distinct. One is drawn to the conclusion that Donisthorpe looked at something that the young ladies in question had collected, told them it was new, and went as far as formally naming it after them, but that his motives in doing so were perhaps not entirely scientific...

 

We also discussed the Russian entomologist Nikolay Nikolaevich Plavilstshikov (1892-1962), who (perhaps unsurprisingly) was drawn to complicated names and gave the world the longest scientific name, Brachyta interrogationis interrogationis var. nigrohumeralisscutellohumeroconjuncta Plavilstshikov, 1936 - a rather attractive, 1cm-long yellow and black longhorn beetle that lives in peonies in northern Eurasia. Plavilstshikov is also remembered for bringing a gun into work and shooting at his line-manager, and getting away with it, but that is another story...

 

With 400,000 beetles one can only imagine how many stories, told and untold, surround the choosing of their names. We have attempted on 'Etymology of Entomology' to tell just a few of the best of those stories, and our colleagues from other institutes and other countries have told others. We do hope you'll tune in at 10.30 on Saturday 9th March, and we'll provide live links as we get them

 

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Max shows George some of the species talked about in the radio show

 

To find out a little more about the programme please read on...and tune in on Saturday 9th March at 10.30am

 

On Saturday 9th March at 10.30am on BBC Radio 4, popular culture meets science as zoologist Dr George McGavin delves into the strange, and often bizarre, names given to insects.

 

There are an estimated 8-10 million living insect species with new specimens being discovered almost daily. Entomologists are turning to ever more imaginative names, referencing everything from literary figures, celebrities and politicians to playground puns.

 

There are flies named Pieza kake (piece of cake) and Scaptia beyonceae after the singer; beetles with political connections - Anophthalmus hitleri, Agathidium bushi, Agathidium cheneyi and Agathidium rumsfeldi; even entomologists who name discoveries after romantic conquests. Unsurprisingly, names can prove controversial but, once set, are difficult to change.

 

"Taxonomy is the foundation stone of science…without a stable system of classification, science would be nothing but a jumble of uncorrelated observations."

 

George takes us into the complex and intriguing world of the taxonomist. From the 18th century father of modern taxonomy Carl Linnaeus, to the present day, he explains why naming the things that surround us is the foundation of all science.

 

George pieces together his story at Linnaeus’ original collection at The Linnaean Society, and at the capital’s Natural History Museum and London Zoo. He also reveals some insects named after him at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

3

2012 was an eventful year in London, marked by the Olympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee. However, the collections we serve have seen four centuries and ten monarchs, plenty of Olympics (including three in London) and more than a few jubilees (though no Diamond Jubilee since 1897, when the likes of the great Coleopterists Sharp and Champion were still hard at work). For the collections, and their curators, the year has brought its own challenges, triumphs and celebrations.

 

When the year began, Sharon Shute, Curator of Bostrichoidea, Chrysomeloidea and Historical Collections, had not been replaced since her retirement in 2011. It is a great credit to the team that we managed to keep everything more-or-less together during this period of being one person short, between us covering Sharon’s loans, visitors, databasing, enquiries etc. We made some significant steps forward as well. You can imagine our delight in October when we were given the go-ahead to recruit a new permanent curator, and after a rigorous recruitment we appointed Michael Geiser from Switzerland.  We have known Michael for a few years, he has visited us twice on Synthesys grants and we have seen him at Prague Entomological meetings, often with his mentor Michel Brancucci (1950-2012), whose premature and much regretted death in October was a major loss to Coleopterology. 

 

Michael is a well-known coleopterist, and has worked for seven years in Collection Management at the Basel Museum, where one of his achievements was the incorporation of the large collection of Walter Wittmer (1915-1998). Like Wittmer, Michael has a strong knowledge of, and interest in, the Cantharoidea, as well as in non-clerid Cleroidea, Chrysomelidae, and a number of other beetle groups. He has also been involved in Basel Museum’s Laos Project, and has spent more than nine months on tropical fieldwork in Laos. He will start work in May 2013, since he needs some time towards completion of his PhD on the small cleroid family Prionoceridae.

 

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Michel and Michael at Prague insect fair

 

 

In the meantime we are very lucky to have Alex Greenslade as an interim curator, who has already started work on databasing the huge Criocerine genus Lema.  Alex has been a volunteer at the Museum for over a year, working with Beulah Garner on recuration of Carabus ground beetles and Hypothenemus coffee berry borers, with Max Barclay on Ecuadorian dung beetles, and with Dick Vane-Wright on the beetle fauna of Bingley Island in Canterbury.  He will be with us until the end of April working on various problems of the Chrysomeloidea.

 

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Alex Greenslade at Science Uncovered 2012

 

We are proud to have a 6th Scientific Associate, Hitoshi Takano, who will join Richard Thompson, Howard Mendel, Peter Hammond, Mike Morris and Robert Angus in this prestigious club. Hitoshi has a deep knowledge of several beetle groups especially in Cerambycidae and Scarabaeoidea, with probably his greatest strength in the African Cetoniinae. He is a very experienced fieldworker and has collected in Borneo, the Philippines, Guyana, and most particularly Tanzania and Zambia. The huge volumes of interesting material he has collected are being processed by Lydia Smith and Lucia Chmurova, and we are very pleased to have them back on the team.

 

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Lucia and Lydia, not only beetle experts but recently obtained the serious accolade of Glue Gun Olympics World Champions in Lichtenstein earlier this year...

 

 

In the earlier part of the year Katie Bermingham was also working on this project, but has now gone on to curate the Natural History Collections of Eton College but keeps in touch with her excellent blog.

 

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Here's Katie - in the pink! With Ian Swinney (Bookham Common Warden), Stuart Cole (Bookham Common Coleoptera recorder) and Alex and Emeline enjoying a rare rain-free day on the common

 

 

Between them they have databased almost 10,000 Tanzanian beetles at specimen level and mounted and family sorted considerably more. At the beginning of 2012 we were visited by Bruno Nyundo from the University of Dar-es-Salaam, who brought with him two students, Justine Maganira and Anna Mwambala. They stayed for a month, pinning, mounting and identifying Tanzanian beetles, as well as getting their first experience of a Northern Hemisphere winter, snow and all - but we hope they had a fantastic time while they were here. The whole Tanzania project would not have been possible without the support of Richard Smith, to whom we are all extremely grateful.

 

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Anna, Justine, Max and Hitoshi in the lab (note: since when was tweed appropriate lab wear hmm?)


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Hitoshi in the field in Tanzania - this is what happens when fieldworkers are left alone for too long in the wilderness; you make your own fun...

 

Our excellent team of volunteers have kept up the good work over the year. Emeline Favreau has completed recuration and reindexing of the Geotrupidae with the addition of several new species to the collection. Alexander Sadek is continuing with the huge African collections of the Reverend C. E. Tottenham, otherwise known as ‘Dotty Totty, who gave up the almighty for the Staphylinidae’; Alex has labelled literally thousands of Tottenham’s specimens collected in West Africa in the 1940s-1960s (Tottenham’s total collection, housed in hand made ‘match-boxes’ was estimated to comprise 250,000 specimens when it arrived in the 1970s).

 

Tom Thomson from Plymouth University has processed and labelled hundreds of molecular voucher specimens from the labs, and has completed the extraction of the data from all our UK BAP specimens. Gillian Crossan has continued with the conversion of the entire collection of Buprestidae to unit trays, which is being overseen and databased by Malcolm Kerley. Alex Greenslade, Emma Little, Andrew Richens, Bernadeta Dadonaite and Tom Thomson have worked on the Ecuador dung beetle project. Other volunteers and students who have made a contribution to the section this year include Georgie Macdonald, Lucy Cooper, Rosie Goldsmith, Adam Sharp, Stuart Cole, Alexander Kazhdan, Emma Hughes, Magnus Rowbotham, Harry Kelleher, Paul Klein, Rasa Sittamparam, Ayako Mori, Li Min Cheong, Hui Erh Tay, Sean Jordan and James Blyth Currie.

 

 

The year saw more than a little fieldwork, much of which has already been covered in the pages of this blog. Beulah began the year with a trip to Peruvian cloud forests with Brett Ratcliffe, Mary Liz Jameson and other members of the famed Team Scarab’.

 

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The international scarab collecting team in Peru

 

Hitoshi, Beulah and David Oram visited Tanzania, Hitoshi twice, as well as Zambia for 6 weeks.

 

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The ever stylish entomologists reach the summit of Mount Hanang. Hitoshi models this season's must have red bandana and Beulah remains classic in Breton stripes...

 

 

Peter Hammond was in South Africa, Howard Mendel in Spain and Ascension Island, Lucia Chmurova was in Borneo, Rob Angus in Sardinia, Mike Morris in Bulgaria, and on top of that we also received beetles from members of other sections: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Geoff Martin & Andy Polaszek), Madagascar (Geoff Martin and David Ouvrard), and UK (Duncan Sivell and David Notton), as well as material of great interest from Africa and South East Asia from Donald Quicke.

 

 

We have not neglected Bookham Common where we have run Lindgren Funnel Traps for the second year running in the hopes of augmenting a list that already stands at almost 1,600 species of beetles, and we are very grateful to National Trust Ranger Ian Swinney for his continuing support of our activities at this excellent site.

 

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Alex, Beulah, Emeline, Roger Booth, Christine Taylor and Malcolm Kerley at Bookham

 

We also had some UK fieldwork in Bingley Island, near Canterbury, on a project led by Dick Vane-Wright and run by Alex Greenslade and Andrew Richens.

 

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Dick Vane-Wright (far right) and team at Bingley

 

 

This year has also seen the acquisition of several major collections.  The collection of Eastern Palaearctic Cerambycidae of Jiri Vorisek includes some 17000 specimens of 2256 species, with 28 Holotypes and 396 Paratypes; the type material includes some of Jiri’s own species, as well as type material from Breuning, Danilevsky, Heyrovsky, Holzschuh, Plavilstshikov and other (largely unspellable) 20th century authors. It was acquired partly thanks to the generosity of the artist Sarah Graham and partly through the vision of the NHM Collections Committee. 

 

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A typical drawer of Lepturinae longhorn beetles

 

We were also pleased to receive the beautifully curated British Beetle collection of Donald Prance, a quantity of material from Imperial College at Silwood Park (thanks to the good offices of Donald Quicke), some magnificent Neotropical material from Martin Cooper, part of the collection of the late botanist Eric Groves, the collections of the late Eric Brown, coleopterist father of Senior Hemiptera curator Paul Brown, and Derek Lott, well known specialist on Staphylinidae. Many of these people were (or are) our friends and close colleagues, and it has been said that leaving your collection to the Natural History Museum  is equivalent to being buried in Westminster Abbey; we hope and trust that we can do justice to the faith that has been placed in us!

 

Throughout most of 2012 a case featuring part of the A.A.Allen collection of British beetles (acquired in 2010) and an account of Allen’s life and work was on display in the public galleries, where it was available to up to 4.5 million people.

 

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A fascination with beetles...

 

Three grants have been received to bring specialists over to work on the collections. Lukas Sekerka, working on Hispinae and Cassidinae, visited for 2 months in the winter, and Roger Beaver, expert on Scolytinae, will come in June to work on the F.G. Browne collection of that family. We also have a grant to strengthen our links with Peruvian entomologists, and we will be inviting some of our counterparts to visit in 2013.

 

 

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Chrysomelidae expert Lukas Sekerka raiding the coleoptera reprints!

 

 

Our statistics for the year remain impressive: 158 academic visitors used the collections for a total of 645 days. This beetle blog reached a total of 36 articles and more than 46,000 hits. We issued 304 loans of 24,000 specimens, and added 1833 new species of beetle to the collection.

 

The databasing of the collection of Thomas Broun (1838-1919), including more than 3,000 types, was completed, and work began on databasing one of our last undatabased assets, the Atlantic Islands collection of Thomas Vernon Wollaston (1822-1878).

 

Roger Booth has completed incorporation of the main J.A. Power (1810-1886), G. C. Champion (1851-1927) and David Sharp (1840-1922) collections of British aleocharine Staphylinidae; this material is taxonomically very complex, and very type rich, especially for the Homalota species described by Sharp in 1869. Much of it has been unincorporated and unprocessed since its acquisition in the early 20th century, formerly being held as three separate collections.

 

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Roger waxing lyrical on J.B.S. Haldane; '...an inordinate fondness for beetles...'

 

 

Malcolm Kerley has completed the databasing of the Lucanidae identified by Matt Paulsen on his Curatorial Fellowship grant last year, and the entire databased collection of this family, including the large collection of Hugues Bomans, has been digitally scanned by Harry Kelleher, Vladimir Blagoderov and others. This vast resource will soon be made available online, so watch this space.

 

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Malcolm demonstrating the 'Christmas spirit'!

 

Richard Thompson has completed the incorporation of the collection of the late Eric Gowing-Scopes, which comprised more than 44,000 specimens, mainly weevils. Richard has now turned his attention to the vast genus Otiorhynchus, which he intends to entirely recurate! We doubt that there is anyone else alive today who would even consider taking on such a vast and intricate task, and we wish him all luck and fortitude.

 

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Scientific Associate Richard Thompson weeviling away in the collections!

 

Christine Taylor, helped by volunteer Molly Clery, has made great inroads into the incorporation of the collection of Robert Angus, and his British material of all families is now incorporated. She will now begin on his extensive and important collections of water beetles. As a Scientific Associate Robert has remained active not just in extant water beetles, but also in fossils, and in chromosome work on Leiodidae and Scarabaeidae, as well as an application to the ICZN to preserve current usage of the name Aphodius fimetarius for a common, bright red dung beetle.  

 

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Robert Angus has left (the entomology) building, Prague!

 

 

Mike Morris has now completed the fifth volume in his Royal Entomological Society Handbooks for the Identification of British Weevils – it is probably the last unless he decides to recognise the Scolytinae as weevils- but he has plans to go back to the beginning and redo the early volumes to make allowance for numerous new introductions and discoveries in the British Isles fauna.

 

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Mike has also register-labelled and checked the identification of several thousand weevils from the Oldrich Vorisek collection, acquired in 2010.

 

We have done our share of public outreach during the year, with Max, Chris Lyal and Conrad Gillett, Beulah, Hitoshi and most recently Lydia and Lucia as features in the Museum’s Nature Live calendar.

 

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Lydia, Max and Lucia with Nature Live host Ana Rita explain what it means to work with beetle soup - every day...!


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Emma Hughes (wearing non-standard issue bird themed top), Beulah wearing standard issue beetle themed top for National Insect Week!


 

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Big Nature Day at the NHM; there was a lull in the crowd, interest had waned; entomologists went wrong!

 

Science Uncovered on the 28th September was extremely well attended, with our beetle stall ably manned by Alex, Conrad Gillett, Hitoshi, David Oram, Lydia, Beulah, Max and others. 

 

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David Oram and Hitoshi at Science Uncovered (David is traitor - those are butterflies not beetles!)

 

 

We also repeated our successful training course ‘On the job training in family level identification of a hyperdiverse insect group: The Beetles (Coleoptera)’ , which was attended by Agnese Zauli from Rome and Natalie Lindgren from the USA.


The section has been present at both of the International Insect Meetings in Prague, in March and October, accompanied as ever by many friends  and colleagues.

 

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I like to call this one 'the money shot'! Donald Quicke, Michael Geiser, Hitoshi, Beulah, Howard Mendel, Duncan Sivell, Mike Morris and Martin Brendell enjoy more pork and beer in Prague after a hard days coleopterising!

 

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Beulah and retired Collections Manager Martin Brendell marvel at the stuffed-to-the-rim jar of beetles (13,140 to be precise!) from Laos (Martin is much more cool about it than Beulah though!), Prague insect fair

 

 

...as well as Entomodena in Italy during September

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Max Barclay with Rebecca and Luca Toledano, Sergio Facchini, Stefano Zoia, Roberto Caldara, Mauro Daccordi (and a cardboard box full of parmesan cheese...?)

 

 

Max and Beulah (together with Erica McAlister and Duncan Sivell from Diptera) attended the Entomological Society of America (ESA) annual meeting in Knoxville Tennessee between 10th – 14th November which attracts over 3000 delegates from the United States as well as internationally, and the Entomological Collections Network (ECN) conference 10th-11th November. Beulah presented a talk on incorporating accessions material in to the main collection, entitled ‘Incorporating Carabus Accessions into the Natural History Museum World collection: 200 years in two months’ and Max spoke on the value of loans  ‘Loans: Raising interest rates in our collection’ and on ‘An enigmatic new taxon of Neotropical Tenebrionoidea’.

 

The week was an exceptional networking opportunity, and an interesting foray into the heart of America; our hotel had notices warning us not to panic if ladybugs or stinkbugs (Harmonia axyridis or Halyomorpha halys) came into our rooms (which seemed somewhat superfluous considering that most of the guests were professional entomologists), and deep fried cricket and caterpillar snacks were served instead of peanuts at the evening mixer!

 

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Don't be alarmed - it's only beetles (and bugs)!

 

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It's funny how most of our photos seem to involve drinking and eating! Left to right: Mike Ivie, Donna Ivie, Ted McRae, Frank Etzler, Rita Isa Velez, Beulah, Paul Johnson and Max in a seafood restaurant somewhere in Knoxville, Tennessee!

 

 

The year ended on a high note with a sectional lunch at the Oriental Club, organised by Hitoshi, David and Beulah, where exceptionally good food and fine wines underlined what has been a very successful year for the Coleoptera Section.  We hope for, and would like to wish you all, a very happy and prosperous 2013!

 

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This is perfectly normal...

            

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  A collection of entomologists...

 

 

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It's not all fun in the Coleoptera section, we are bang up-to-date and have been busy working on our trees...!

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Dear Beetlers,

 

Come to Science Uncovered this Friday 28th September to hear more about this:

 

We have returned safe and well from our recent fieldwork trip to Tanzania (we are into our second year of collecting!) and really want to share with you some of the techniques employed in the field. This trip was undertaken in the months of July and August - the dry season, where ordinarily there is not much beetle activity; however, one of the aims of this series of collecting trips is to map Tanzania's beetle and butterfly and moth fauna through all of the seasons. Eventually we will have a really useful data set from many (and remote) localities; and hopefully this will yield some very interesting new species...but until we get everything identified (we are still identifying material from 2010 - there's soooo much of it!) here is how we found our specimens in the first place...

 

Given we were heading to some really remote localities it was really important to inform local officials and indeed local people who we were and why this pair of crazy western 'researchers' had just appeared from nowhere. Here is our 4x4 vehicle with its very official notice!

 

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U Tafiti is 'research' in Swahili; 'wadudu' is insect! So we were entitled 'U Tafiti wawadudu'!

 

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Here is HT having quite a giggle with the Mama and farmer at Mount Hanang where we camped (Tanzania's fourth highest mountain at 3417m)

 

Once we had set up camp after a five hour drive from the city of Arusha; it was time to um, relax!

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The beautiful Mount Hanang in the background.


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HT and some cows; overseeing unpacking proceedings!

 

But, whilst some of us lounge about taking it easy, others are hard at work keeping the camp in order...

 

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BG working hard whilst HT 'relaxes'! This is our 'science table' where all the processing of specimens: labelling, cleaning, filling up tubes with IMS happens.

 

And so into the field. Here at Mount Hanang there is diverse habitats: mid altitude grassland, farmed countryside, ericaceous forest and sub-montane and montane forest all a happy hunting ground for the intrepid entomologist...

 

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HT, our local guide Isaiah and Jembe our Masai guide all erecting a butterfly trap on the forest edge at Hanang. This will be elevated high up in to the canopy and baited with some delicious rotting fruit.

 

Whilst HT was busy butterfly trapping I was off in another direction beating for beetles!

 

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BG, our camp expert Saleem and Jembe all looking for SBJs (small brown jobs, such as Phalacrids, Shining Flower Beetles) and weevils by  beating vegetation with a big stick onto a big umbrella-like white sheet!

 

Winkler Traps

 

Then it was into the forest edge to collect some leaf litter for sieving (again SBJs live in leaf litter, we are hoping to find things like fungus beetles (Lathridiidae) and Pselaphinae, and all manner of Cucujoidea)!

 

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And the prize for the most boring photo...


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Here's HT and Jembe sorting through leaf litter with a series of sieves

 

As most creatures that live in leaf litter are small and secretive there is another very effective method we use to collect them by, which is known as the Winkler trap! Once we have sieved the litter to remove all the big stuff the remaining topsoil and litter is placed inside mesh bags within the cotton bag and basically hung up to dry. Eventually the small organisms will start moving about and head to the bottom of the trap where they fall into a waiting pot of IMS.

 

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Me with my Winkler! A very cold early morning at Mount Hanang!

 

We took samples of leaf litter at all three sites we collected from. The final site at Hasama Forest in Mbulu district was again at high altitude (c.2000m); as far as we know the last person to collect in this area was Kielland in 1990 and he was looking for butterflies...

 

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Sieving litter for Winkler traps at Hasama forest, Mbulu. It was soo cold and windy that the only way to do it was to seek refuge by the truck!

 

Dung Traps

 

We can't have a blog without mentioning poo it would seem so, onto dung trapping! We were very lucky at Mount Hanang to have the employ of a team of able and willing young entomologists who worked very hard searching for dung beetles (so we didnt have to!) and were amply rewarded with 500 Tanzania shillings and a packet of sweeties! Our  'snacky time' was around 5pm and the children soon learned that the office would be open once the hard fieldworkers had taken off their boots and had time for a G&T before supper (very civilised!). Here's HT 'negotiating' prices with the children.

 

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'Snacky time' at Hasama Forest! Of course a freshly pressed newspaper was always made available!

 

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Driving a hard bargain! Our terms: one full tube (no padding with extra dung) and no repetition for 500 Shillings and a packet of jellies!

 

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Team dung beetle! (I'm the one on the left...).

 

As our dung beetle workers would never reveal their sources, (very good business!) we did employ other methods. The classic dung pitfal trap where little pre-made knapsacks of dung (this time buffalo!) are suspended above pitfal traps work really well. These were placed every one hundred meters into and along the forest at Hanang.

 

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HT and Isaiah preparing dung pitfal traps

 

On to Longido, about 50 km from the Tanzanian / Kenyan border to a very different habitat: the bush! Very very dry and surrounded by Masai, goats and Acacia trees...we had to work very hard to find beetles here!

 

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Longido bush setting traps: dung knapsack - tick! Soap-laced water for pitfall traps - tick! This entomologist is good to go!

 

Sometimes less sophisticated methods can also be employed given one has the time and the inclination to look hard enough...

 

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Yes, I am literally grubbing about in fresh buffalo dung; here I found some interesting Hydrophilid beetles especially adapted to living in poo!

 

Water Beetles

 

That takes us on nicely to collecting for water beetles. Whilst having a dreamy ride through the Eastern Rift mountains on our way to Mbulu, HT exclaims rather excitedly 'Stop the truck! Water!' I was less enthusiastic and stayed in the truck observing from a safe distance whilst HT sank up to his knees in a stagnant no doubt disease ridden puddle of water in the pursuit of water beetles and their ilk (Dytiscidae). And what better way to catch them than with a household sieve!

 

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NOT allowed back in the truck!

 

Once at Longido, our Masia guide (we are not permitted to enter any forest reserve without a local guide) promised there was water in the mountains. After an arduous trek to approx 2500m, and at times loosing what path there was, not to mention the searing heat, we eventually came to a mountain stream...

 

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Here we found not only some curious looking Dytiscids (predacious diving beetles) but also some whirligig beetles (Gyrinidae), leeches (yuk!) and a fresh water crab!

 

Water beetles are really hard to catch, being predacious they are really fast swimmers and also the bigger ones can give you a nasty nip if you're not careful; we found some big ones...

 

SLAM and Malaise trapping

 

Trapping using nets is the most common method but can often times be difficult in challenging terrain, not to mention remote environments where local people are overtly curious about what on earth you are up to! In Longido, where Masai children would appear as if by magic (We hold them entirely responsible for our missing pitfal traps!) we decided that the SLAM trap was too enticing for curious minds so we erected it as high up in the canopy as we could! This type of trap is very versatile as it can be erected anywhere but is especially good for wood piles where emerging beetles will fly into the net and become trapped.

 

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Hoisting the trap with BG and Saleem

 

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The entomologists demonstrate their good work!

 

Malaise traps are more precise in where they should be placed. Ideally they should be in the way of an insect flight path so that insects fly into the net, instinctually fly upwards and just like the SLAM trap, become, um, trapped!

 

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The very important job of holding a piece of string; erecting the Malaise trap, Mount Hanag

 

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But oh no! It's all gone wrong  - in an ironic twist of fate it is the entomologists that have become trapped...

 

Finally to end on a 'lighter note' we must mention light trapping! Light trapping might be commonly employed for trapping butterflies and moths but it is actually very effective for catching beetles too. So, each night at dusk we would start up the generator and the mercury vapour light would work its magic! One night at the Longido camp an unexpected downpour somehow broke the light and so we lost a nights trapping; at Hasama forest the winds were so high that the light was smashed; another nights trapping lost. But, on a good night, it's possible to stay up for as long as you can, say until 3pm gradually picking off the insects that come to the light. At longido I found a prize Carabid, an Anthia, or more commonly known as a Domino beetle, that was more attracted to the sausage flies than the light!

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The downpour at Longido; luckily we had enough tarpaulins but failed to secure the storm flaps on one of the tens = wet sleeping bag!

 

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The entomologist (still apparently in her pyjama bottoms), demonstrates the light trap!

 

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And we leave you for now with a beautiful view!

 

Next time the hardships and hiccups of fieldwork; and after that, fashion, fieldwork and friviolity...watch this space!

 

So the intrepid entomologists say farewell; and hope that you will join us and our wonderful colleagues on Friday night at Science Uncovered to hear more about collecting in the field, all over the world! http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/after-hours/science-uncovered/index.html

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Entomological Gap 'Yah': Part Deux

Posted by Blaps Aug 16, 2012

 

A more serious post on beetle collecting in Tanzania will follow once our intrepid explorers return from the field and all their beetles are identified...we are hoping for some new species...

1

In search of sunshine and beetles!

Posted by Blaps Jul 12, 2012

Hello Beetlers!

 

It’s that time of year again when we dusty pale-skinned curators are lead blinking and shivering reptile-like from our gloomy and chilly collections and out in to the wilderness once more to collect yet more beetles to add to our beloved collections.


So armed with plenty of sun cream (the sun did actually shine on this day, really, true story!) and insect repellent and hay fever tablets, and… we headed off to Bookham Common where we and many other collectors and natural historians have collected for over 50 years.

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This is what beetle collectors generally look like: disparate (not desperate - well, maybe a bit...), a bit scruffy and well, a little bit weird; from left to right:

Alex Greenslade, Beulah Garner, Emeline Favreau, Roger Booth, Christine Taylor and Malcolm Kerley

 

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Not ones for the spotlight, we soon lose interest in all this posing...but hang on a minute, what's this Roger has caught in his sweep net...?

 

 

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Whilst our trusty coleopterists are so easily distracted, Emeline seizes the moment...; and as for Malcolm, well he's still posing!

 

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Oh but wait, even Emeline's dastardly plan is foiled by the excellent collecting skills of Roger Booth, who at this very moment has found Meligethes matronalis! Yes, really! Meligethes matronalis Audisio & Spornraft, 1990, whose larvae are meant to develop solely on Hesperis matronalis - Dame's Violet, although adults can be found on the flowers of other plants; a new record for Bookham Common.

 

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And finally, as punishment for Emeline's insubordinance...we made her carry all the collecting equipment...Ha!

 

With easy access from London it is no surprise that it is so well recorded and continues to be the case. The ‘Bookham Common List’ is almost a benchmark for invertebrate diversity and a tribute to this incredible habitat-diverse and well managed sight. It is really interesting to look back at the list over the years to see the ebb and flow of species; what once was scarce is now abundant, some species have not been recorded there for decades, others are making a come-back and most importantly, we are finding new records all the time! For such a well recorded sight this is quite remarkable and paints a healthy picture of species diversity down in leafy Surrey! It also importantly highlights the need for us to continue to collect and record the amazing natural history we have here in the UK…there’s always some thing new to discover…

 

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Talking of new discoveries, here's Malcolm with a caterpillar (not a beetle!) he has identified as a Brindled Green Moth Dryobotodes eremita Fabricius. A species of Noctuid common on the old oak trees of Bookham Common.

 

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Here is Max Barclay (or as he is better known to the Elves, Ents, Goblins and Fairies of Bookham Common woods,  'Gandalph' with his magic beetling wand)...

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See that ray of light? That's no accident; it is actual beetle magic...

 

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As this image clearly illustrates, Max is also a fully qualified and indeed skilled aboroculturalist (Look! No hands!).

 

 

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And here is Max's trusty assistant, Francisca, changing the Lindgrun funnel traps

 

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The hunters (Christine, Beulah and Roger) become the hunted...watched undisturbed from a camouflaged viewpoint the coleopterists go about their business...

 

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Beautifully synchronised grubbing about in the mud (for Bembidion beetles who love a bit a of mud!); and yes ,we may well have been humming the 'Hokey-Kokey'.

 

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Talking of mud; an occupational hazard when searching for water beetles...


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...as Julien Haran manfully demonstrates.

 

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Entomologists don't always get along; and what better way to settle differences than to literally thrash it out. Molly and Alex beating about the bush...

 

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Some stylish (?) entomologists! Alex and Molly have made up with the help of Julienne, Hui Erh and Limin!


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Some friendly entomologists with National Trust Bookham Warden Ian Swinney, Bookham Coleoptera Recorder Stuart Coles, Alex, Emeline and Katie

 

 

From a couple of days collecting we already have an impressive list of interesting species; here are the highlights:

 

Cerambycidae – Longhorn beetles
Grammoptera ustulata: Lepturinae
Collected by Roger Booth: New record for Bookham
Found April – July; this beetles’ larvae is associated with deciduous trees such as oak and the fungus that grows on them, Vuilleminia comedens
For images go to the Encyclopaedia of Life (EOL) page: http://eol.org/pages/348333/overview

 

Agapanthia villosoviridescens: Lamiinae
Collected by Tristan Bantock: New record for Bookham
Adults found May – June in wet meadows and hedgerows feeding on Umbellifers and nettle

 

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Agapanthia villosoviridescens

 

Rutpela maculata (locally common) and an early record for Bookham. This can be found from May through to August with adults living between two to four weeks. larvae live in the decaying wood of species such as Oak, Beech and Birch.

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Museum specimen of Rutpela maculata

 

Eucnemidae – False click beetles
Melasis buprestoides: one in flight near Merritt's Cottage: New record for Bookham (apparently a new family).

For more information on this beetle follow the link below:

http://eol.org/pages/3266136/overview

 

Chrysomelidae – Leaf beetles
Bruchidius villosus: from broom in Merritt's Cottage Garden; first post-1950 record.

Go to EOL for more inofrmation on this species:

http://eol.org/pages/1172668/overview

 

Lymexylidae – Ship timber beetles!
Hyloceotes dermestoides; one in flight on main path; 2nd record for the common (one collected by Ian Menzies in 2007)

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©Stanislav Krejcík

Adults are short lived, seen on the wing for a few days from May to July; larvae feed on the fungus Endomyces hylecoeti in the heartwood of trees such as Oak and Pine.

 

Elateridae – Click beetles
Selatosomus bipustulatus: Nationally scarce; new to Bookham

Colydiidae – Cylindrical bark beetles
Pycnomerus fuliginosus (naturalised); new to Bookham.

To see this species follow the link to the NHM's Beetles and Bugs Flickr photstream:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/nhm_beetle_id/5102549090/

 

Dermestidae – Dermestid beetles
Megatoma undata: Nationally scarce: last Bookham record, 1941 by A.M. Easton

For more information go to EOL:

http://eol.org/pages/3267077/overview

 

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©Stanislav Krejcík

 

That's about it for now...

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Miss Blonde, Mr Blue, Mr Brown, Miss Pink...'Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am suck in the forest with you...'

 

And finally, I leave you with this thought, 'how far would you go in the name of entomology?'

In pursuit of Meligethes, Roger Booth was last seen being swallowed by the notorious caniverous plant Umbelliferus carnivorus; sadly there was no one around to heed his screams; as we'd all gone down the pub...

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3

Hello Beetlers!

In this blog we hear from Hitoshi Takano as he once again heads into the Tanzanian wilderness in search of those most beautiful and endearing of beetles, the scarabs!

B

 

"I have once more returned to the land of giraffes and honey badgers. And the rain.

 

I am now in the north of Tanzania and it looks just like Africa as represented in wildlife documentaries and travel agent brochures – acacia trees with animals posing for the perfect photo.

 

The north is a very different landscape to what I saw down in the south and is peppered with extinct volcanoes and craters including the highest peak in Africa.  A great poet once said “Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti”. It really does. Many of these great volcanoes have excellent forest on the slopes and this is where I am conducting my research.

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A rare sight of Mt Kilimanjaro in the rainy season – usually it is covered in clouds!

 

With the huge populations of animals, it really is dung beetle country up here! So numerous are these beetles that they are regularly bouncing off the windscreen of our vehicle!


The first main research site was within the famous Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The Ngorongoro Highlands are a vast area of mountains and craters covered in forest and moorland.

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The world famous Ngorongoro Crater. Fact of the day: Ngorongoro is so called because of the noise the cow bells make whilst the Masai people herd their cattle.

 

The two research sites I chose were Mt. Makarot and Empakaai crater. With the very strict regulations within the NCA, I was not allowed to camp on Makarot but instead stayed at a camp site overlooking Ngorongoro crater itself. Goodness me there are a lot of dung beetles in this area! There must have been dung beetles arriving at the light in the evening every few minutes! 5 species of Heliocopris, some very large Catharsius and some interesting looking Copris and Bolboceratids.

 

Aside from a few Aphodiines and a very common species of Staphylinind, that was it for the beetles which is most unusual. The nightly visitors to the light trap have been the usual culprits of bats, frogs and geckoes but on this trip we have had another hungry critter feasting on the insects – this hedgehog!

 

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Hedgehog!

 

The campsite was an open grassy area and every night animals would be seen or heard at close range; lions, hyenas, elephants, jackal and the most immediate danger – buffalo. Huge herds of buffalo would wonder into the area. They seemed to stay away from the MV bulb but they would feed very near the tents. Late one evening after checking the light sheet for the final time, the herd proceeded to congregate around my tent and there was no way out. You know that feeling when you really need to go to the toilet…! They are very noisy eaters – the only thing I can liken it to is the sound of a washing machine with the occasional grunt and snort!

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Three male specimens of the spectacular Heliocopris hunteri, one of the species of giant dung beetle attracted to light

 

From here I headed to the remote Empakaai crater which is truly magnificent. From the main crater of Ngorongoro, we drove north through the highland moorlands, which out of interest look surprisingly like the Scottish Highlands except for the occasional Masai in his red cloak and herds of Zebra, Thomson’s Gazelle and Ostrich! But apart from that the fauna is not too dissimilar – stonechats, kites and buzzards are very common up there as are clouded yellow and painted lady butterflies (Note to self: I must be much fitter to chase butterflies at just below 10000ft; the first time I did it, I thought my lungs were going to collapse!).

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A panorama view of Empakaai Crater from the bottom – flamingos often congregate in large numbers on the salt lakes

 

Empakaai crater is in the middle of this moorland and has good forest all down the ‘bowl’ towards the salt lake at the bottom. Again due to the NCA regulations, we were not allowed to camp within the crater and had to walk in and out every day which was rather hard going (though excellent aerobic exercise)! But it was well worth it. The dung traps on the rim and inside the crater yielded very different numbers of species, with the latter producing what must be a new species of Onthophagus.

From Ngorongoro we drove to Mount Hanang via the Mbulu mountains. Hanang is the fourth highest peak in Tanzania and stands at 3,417m.

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The magnificent Mt Hanang viewed from the top of the Rift Valley

 

The sight of this lone mountain standing tall in a barren and flat landscape when driving over the rift valley escarpment wall is awe inspiring. It also fills one with much trepidation – these mountains are incredibly unpredictable meteorologically speaking. The last time I was here, a freak storm appeared with no warning – with extreme winds up to 80mph it was rather frightening!

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An exhausted HT on the summit of Mt Hanang; it is cold, wet and dark up there!

 

The most exciting find on the previous trip to Hanang were four male specimens of the very rare “giant” (this species really is not that big!) dung beetle Helicopris erycoides. It is so far only known from the male and my challenge for this wet season trip was to find the female. So how did I get on? Well, it is difficult to say. When one is searching for something that is unknown, how does one know if they have found it?! We literally left no dung pat unturned and from our haul of 12 Heliocopris specimens, there are two small female Heliocopris which are about the right size when compared with the male. So could this be the hitherto unknown female??!! Watch this space…

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Possibly Heliocopris erycoides male (left) and if so, could this be the unknown female (right)?!

 

I will now be heading off to Mount Meru, the second highest peak in Tanzania (4,565m) and then the massive Mount Kitumbeine to finish this incredible seven week expedition."

HT

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

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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

2

Life's a picnic in Tanzania...

Posted by Blaps Apr 25, 2012

Well, It looks like fieldwork season is upon us and everyone but everyone is out and about in the never ending quest for beetles (especially new to science beetles!) but then, just as it's always cocktail hour somewhere in the world, so too it is always fieldwork season somewhere in the world (I love these excuses; as I write I'm thinking, hmm, it's 9am GMT, where in the world right now could I be sipping a gin martini?!).

 

Anyway, back to the point of things, recently one of our long-standing volunteers decided to take himself off to Africa, along with his long-obliging / suffering and lovely wife (wives, lovers, partners, husbands of entomologists you will understand what I mean!). This little trip was part of a collaboration to basically collect more beetles from more places in Tanzania than our usual intrepid entomologist Hitoshi - for Hitoshi's fieldwork exploits read here.

 

David Oram has worked in the Entomology Department for about seven years first starting out in the Lepidoptera section (Lepidoptera being his first love) and lately in the Coleoptera section where presently he is working on a recurating the Meloidae (the oil beetles). In real life David is a dentist. Really.

 

Fieldwork may appear glamorous, romantic, exotic and... a picnic! Below is David and his wife Dawn enjoying a well deserved break from beetle collecting in the Selous Reserve.

 

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And now I hand you over to David's account of his fieldwork trip to Tanzania:

 

"Following on from some of the recent venturesome exploits of a certain member of the Coleoptera section at the NHM to Tanzania (namely HT) ; DAO and DO have just paid a visit to the Udzungwa Mountains in Tanzania during March 2012.
The Udzungwa Mountains cover an area of approximately 1990 Km² in the Iringa and Morogoro regions of south central Tanzania; part of the chain of a dozen large forest-swathed mountains, rising from the flat coastal scrub of eastern Tanzania, known collectively as the Eastern Arc Mountains. These stretch from the Taita Hills of southern Kenya to the Makambako gap southern Tanzania.

 

mountains Udzungwa.JPG
The mountains are about 7-8 hours drive southwest of the capital Dar Es Salaam and are bordered in the northeast by Mikumi National Park in the east by Selous Reserve beyond Kilombero Valley, in the north by the Great Ruaha river and Ruipa river in the southwest.

As our time was limited we travelled initially by small plane to Mikumi from the Selous Reserve, continuing the last shorter distance by road. This did not prove to be without incident as enroute a tree fell down over a vehicle just ahead of us nearly killing all the occupants. Somewhat shaken we arrived safely at the Hondo Hondo campsite in the afternoon.

 

tree falling on car.JPG
This time of year being the start of the rainy season, to have dry weather was a bonus so when we arrived we set to with the mercury vapour (M.V.) light but first found we had to make some alterations. The choke needed replacing as did the light, but most of the equipment was in place and plenty of kind help was around from Jock the manager of the camp and his staff. The light and sheet was set up on a beautiful site overlooking the forest and mountains which just rise up in front of you.

left to right Emmanual Jock Salim moth trap.JPG

Jock and staff fixing up the M.V. light

 

The early evening was warm and humid but dry with clear skies. On the forest edge we could watch the antics of some of the unique primate life of the Udzungwa red colobus and Black and white colobus and listen to the noises of the forest.

 

red colubus.JPG
This was a magic spot until we could hear the sound of thunder; there was no rain to start with until after dark and the M.V. light had been on for half an hour or so. Then it rained like a continuous thunderstorm for at least five hours. A lot of rice is grown in this area and I now realised why. The field with the light and sheet was like a paddy field in at least 1-2 feet of water. The insect nets were like planks of wood and anything that could not swim was in trouble. We continued hoping for a change in the weather but gave up in the early hours of the morning. We must have been quite a sight inspecting the sheet and light every thirty minutes or so, into which things were still trying to fly into, in a small column of umbrellas.


The light survived this onslaught of appalling weather really due to the sound electrical connections by Jock and his men. We moved the M.V. lamp to a more sheltered spot for the next four nights. Needless to say it did not rain again at night.


Beetles and Moths arrived in even numbers most nights and included;  the beautiful black and red flat faced longhorn Ceroplesis militaris; some large Prioninae Tithoes maculata; a ship timber beetle possibly Atractocerus brevicornis; plenty of chafers and dung beetles. The moths included many hawk moths; Hippotion celerio, Hippotion eson; the beautiful green hawk Euchloron megaera; Nephele comma; Nephele rovae and many species of Saturniidae.
flat faced longhorn ceroplesis militaris.JPG

Ceroplesis militaris, Cerambycidae


ship timber beetle Lymexilidae Atractocerus brevicornis.JPG

Atractocerus brevicornis, Lymexillidae - a rather unusual looking beetle; and what do you think it's mimicing?!


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Tithoes maculatus, Cerambycidae - Will give you a nasty nip - just look at those mandibles!

 

Dung beetles
For dung beetles we did set up some traps interestingly on the path used by the Elephants every morning at about 4am on the edge of the forest and our campsite. I was a little concerned about this but Emmanuel who was with me suggested these would be good sites and how right he was even the elephants seem to have been careful not to tread on them. One day was spent setting the traps up and finding local farmers to help; collecting some dung left by elephants contained dung beetles already who often were better diggers than us and avoided our attempts at capture. A number of these dung beetles have yet to be identified.

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David and Emmanuel setting an elephant dung trap

 

Sap loving beetles
Another day at Hondo Hondo or rather the nearby village of Mang’ula was to prove interesting. Emmanuel who had helped with the dung beetle traps had a farmer friend at Mang’ula where he harvested bamboo sap for a drink. Bamboo is grown often around the edges of rice fields and suger cane here. The bamboo is used to make baskets and for transporting agricultural produce. We walked to Mang’ula as it was only a couple of miles away and the roads around Hondo Hondo are dirt roads with many undulations and corrugations so progress in a vehicle is slow. Once with the farmer's family I realised getting to the bamboo was not as easy as we had to cross some flooded fields of rice but supplied with wellingtons I was all kitted up. The sap is harvested by cutting through a stem of the bamboo then attaching a collecting bottle at an angle to allow the sap to just flow into it in a similar way to rubber sap. The chafer beetles congregate around the cut ends of the bamboo with lots of like minded insects including ants, bees, wasps, and butterflies. The end of our visit to the bamboo was rewarded with a shared drink of sap with the locals; fine as long as it's not too alcoholic…"

chafers on bamboo sap.JPG

Neptunides polychrous, Cetonidae, Scarabaeoidea; on sap


meloid on hibiscusMyalabris amplectens.JPGMylabris amplectens, Meloidae; on Hibiscus

4

This latest beetle blog comes from two members of the Coleoptera section who are presently conducting fieldwork in China - Chris Lyal (researcher) and Conrad Gillett (PhD student). Chris and Conrad are collecting weevils (superfamily Curculionoidea) together with their Chinese colleague, Ren Li, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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Chris (left) and Conrad (right) in standard issue tropical weevil collecting uniform with their preferred weapons

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Tropical montane forest in Xishuangbanna prefecture, Yunnan

 

"Weevils are the single most diverse family-level group of organisms on the planet, with an estimated 62,000 described species, or about 15% of all beetles. They are plant feeders with a wide variety of life histories, ecologies and interesting distribution patterns, often linked to the distribution of their host plants, which can be very specific (often a single plant species) or more general. Weevils are therefore worthy of study not only because of their intrinsic interest in being highly diverse, but also because we can investigate their co-evolution with plants and the many and varied adaptations that they have developed for feeding on these and on different plant tissues such as leaves, bark, wood, roots and seeds. They are also important because a number of species are now widespread pests of plants cultivated by man, such as palms and bananas, or even the vectors responsible for transmitting fungal diseases such as Dutch elm disease. However, on the positive side, weevils have also been used as biological controls against invasive plants that have been spread by man outside of their natural ranges."

 

Weevils are generally recognised at first glance by possessing an extension of the head called the ‘rostrum’, at the end of which the biting mouthparts are located. The rostrum has the appearance of a ‘proboscis’ though it is nothing like that of a butterfly’s. At the moment there is a great deal of uncertainty as to how the various subgroups within the weevils are related to one another. Conrad is currently tackling this problem through analysing their genetic information, the DNA in a number of different genes, from a wide range of weevils belonging to as many of the weevil subfamilies and tribes (both these are taxonomic groups below the family level) as possible.

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Leaf-rolling weevil (Attelabidae)

 

"There are around 300 currently accepted weevil tribes – think of these as lineages – and we need to sample as many of these as possible to get a clearer picture of how they are related. We need to collect specimens that are fresh because otherwise it is difficult or impossible to obtain DNA for analysis. The specimens are collected into pure ethanol, which preserves their DNA, until we can bring them back to the laboratory where the genetic work is done. We have come to southern China’s Yunnan province because it is a very interesting area, known as a ‘biogeographic crossroad’, which means that here two biogeographic regions, the eastern Palaearctic (northern Asia) and the Oriental (southeast Asia) meet, and elements from both their faunas can be found in one area. Each biogeographic region usually contains species that are only found there, but where two regions adjoin each other, it is possible to find species from both together or very close by – this is why biogeographic crossroads are so biodiverse; they also usually contain a wide variety of habitats, which can be separated by elevation or by localised microclimates.

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Montane forest

 

Weevils occur in all terrestrial habitats where plants are found, so we need to look in as many of these as possible, such as in rainforests and montane forests. Before coming out here we had not been able to get specimens from a number of tribes that occur in these two biogeographic regions, so it is really important to try to find them for our investigation."

 

Chris and Conrad have spent the last week collecting at several sites in the Xishuangbanna prefecture in the south of Yunnan. This is an area of relatively low elevation (at least for Yunnan, which has mountains towering to heights of 6000m in the north!) and of tropical and subtropical climate. The tropic of Cancer crosses the area, which also borders Myanmar and Laos to the south. So how are they managing to find these weevils?

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Weevil (Molytinae) and weevil hunter (Homidae)

 

"Because weevils live on plants, in order to collect them we look for them on as many different species of plants and parts of plants that we can. To do this we beat vegetation and foliage onto a sheet which allows us to see the weevils that are knocked off the plants and to collect them into tubes or into a ‘pooter’ (if anybody is interested we’ll explain that rather curious item of equipment in another blog – just think of it as a mouth-operated vacuum cleaner). We also use a ‘sweep-net’ to sweep across low vegetation for weevils and we look closely at fallen or cut tree trunks, logs and branches, as well as looking under bark. Of course it is not only weevils that we see, in fact we have come across representatives of many insect orders during the course of our collecting.

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Large longhorn beetle (Batocera sp., Lamiinae) found stuck in its too-tight pupal chamber in a fallen tree – and ‘rescued’ (with the help of a swiss army knife), albeit in three pieces!

 

These have included many bugs, ants, wasps, and an incredible variety of praying mantids and spiders as well as the odd stick insect, and other beetles, especially leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae) and ladybirds (Coccinelidae) to name just a few. The diversity of butterflies has also been quite good, with the large and gaily coloured swallowtails being particularly delightful. Beating and sweeping will also pick up the odd vertebrate including lizards and frogs which are only to glad to be able to beat a hasty retreat once released!

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A lizard we accidently caught out of a bush was kind enough to pose for us before making good its escape

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A jade-coloured swallowtail (Papillionidae) in all its glory – perhaps a reader will know which species!

 

In addition to these active forms of collecting, we have also set up some traps, including combined malaise and flight-interception traps (to catch flying weevils) and banana-baited bottle traps placed in trees to hopefully catch some species that are attracted to the bait. We’ll be checking the traps in a couple of days, so hopefully we’ll report back on the results in our next blog entry."

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Malaise trap in operation

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One of many species of praying mantis we have seen in Yunnan

 

Climatic conditions can have a major impact on how easy it is to collect beetles and the time of year for the expedition was chosen carefully to coincide with the start of the rainy season to increase the chances of success (many insects emerge or are more abundant during this period). Travelling to a new area for our scientists is also challenging because one can never quite know exactly what it will be like and what trials and tribulations may lurk ahead! How has this been affecting collecting?

 

"China is an enormous country and when we arrived here we spent a day at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, in the northeast of the country, which was still very much in the grip of winter, with no sign of leaves on the trees yet. But when we first arrived in Kunming (the capital city of Yunnan) things could not have been more different, and the tropical luxuriant vegetation was in stark contrast to what we had left behind in Beijing a few hours earlier. It was also a lot warmer and more humid of course! However our first few days of collecting in the forested hills in the vicinity of the town of Pu’er showed us that in fact it was still quite dry and the rainy season had not yet begun there. Consequently finding weevils was quite difficult as their activity was low. It has also not been particularly easy to find completely wild and untouched natural areas because a lot of the Chinese countryside and landscape is intensively used, either for agriculture or for housing, and evidence of new large-scale development is evident almost everywhere we have been.

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Three of the surviving elephants in the area

 

However, we decided to move further south and we are presently in the area around Menglunzhen which has received its first few rainstorms and consequently we are finding more and more weevils each day. There is an air of things being ‘on the cusp’ of exploding into full activity, which was evident last night when there was a greatly increased activity of insects attracted to the lights in the Xishuangbanna tropical botanical garden, which is where we are based at the moment!

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Sunset over Xishuangbanna tropical botanical gardens

 

So far, although it is difficult to identify weevils in the field without the use of a microscope and all the relevant taxonomic literature, we think that we have found several very interesting specimens for the study. Some of the highlights have included a finding a good range of molytine weevils (this subfamily is one that Chris is especially interested in), and Conrad has particularly enjoyed trying to catch the quick-moving and flighty conoderine weevils found on dead wood – equally as challenging as hunting agile tiger beetles or jewel beetles!

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A lurid pink molytine weevil (Molytinae)

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A fast-moving and very nervous conoderine weevil (Conoderinae) on a dead branch– they are challenging to collect and difficult to photograph!

 

We are also hoping to find new species of weevil to describe together with our Chinese partners, and this co-operation between our institutes is something we are both keen to promote and to foster."

 

China has of course a rich cultural heritage and an ancient civilisation, so what have our colleagues experienced of this? And how are they getting by with the language?

 

"We have been very fortunate in that our Chinese colleague Ren Li, who has come out with us, is helping us out with all the day-to day things which would be very difficult without speaking Chinese (which neither of us do!). It has been very interesting just seeing how people go about their lives here, although I think even to our Chinese friend, things down here in the tropical south are quite different to back in Beijing! We have seen some interesting sites including an abandoned and overgrown but still grandiose complex of temples and festive sites where we collected and the beautiful botanic gardens mentioned earlier.

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Chinese dragons guarding over an abandoned temple

 

We have also been lucky because we are experiencing some authentic Chinese cuisine as we are well off the tourist trail and Ren Li is ensuring that we taste the local specialities. Thus far we have had epicurean delights including (but not limited to) duck tongue, marine snails and the famous thousand year old eggs!

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After a day’s collecting, an evening meal with our Chinese colleague Ren Li (left) in Menglunzhen

 

We have also been impressed by the popular local transport, an intriguing combination of pick-up truck and motorbike – who wouldn’t want one? We haven’t been so impressed with the laundry service at a hotel we stayed at, with some of our undies going AWOL!

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Who wouldn’t want one of these?

 

Weevil keep you informed with our progress!

 

Conrad and Chris, 13 April 2012, Xishuangbanna prefecture

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