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Beetle blog

7 Posts tagged with the fieldwork 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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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...

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So, come Friday 23 September, it’ll be time for us dusty old curators to kick off our sensible sandals and get fashion forward for this year’s free Science Uncovered event.

 

If you were expecting this:

 

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...think again, because for one night only we are sexy, sophisticated and scientific – like this:

 

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No? If you don’t believe me, you better come along to find out

 

Science Uncovered 2010 was the first year that the Museum opened its doors to the public on such an unprecedented scale. We were expecting a few thousand; but after a few weeks of blogging, twittering and Face-booking over 6000 of you came to see the secrets of the Natural History Museum revealed – some for the first time.

 

And not only our prized treasures of science, but our scientific staff, who, just like our specimens, don’t get out much! My experience last year was incredible, from 5pm to 10pm my colleagues and I did not stop talking – to you! It was simply amazing, invigorating and yes, exhausting to have the opportunity to engage on such a wide scale, and also on such an intimate scale with hundreds of conversations about the Museum, our specimens, and most pertinently our research.

 

Last year I spent my time on the Identification and Advisory Service’s ‘Identification Roadshow’ where we invited you to bring along your natural history finds for on the spot identification. Here I am, looking a little bit overwhelmed, along with Stuart Hine, Richard Lane and Gill Stevens in the foreground, along Dino-way, where this year you will find the entomology station.

 

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But this year I move over to my first love, the beetles!

 

Here’s one I found in Southeast London this summer, you may recognise it? And it may make an appearance on the night!

 

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With over 400,000 species of beetles in the world, and the NHM’s collection holding representatives of at least half of that figure, it’s quite hard to choose what we might talk about or put on display on the night. But because beetles are so diverse and occupy so many niches in the natural and unnatural environment we won’t be short on conversation; naturally we will show you specimens that exhibit sexual dimorphism (differences between the sexes), the incredible size range of beetles – from the smallest to the largest:

 

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Here is Conrad, a Scarab expert who will be there on the night, with one of the largest beetles in the world, the aptly named Titanus giganteus which may make an appearance…

 

We will also show you some of the most beautiful creatures in the world, for example this wonderful Plusiotis, a member of the shining leaf-chafer beetle sub-family. Chrysina aurigans (Rothschild & Jordan, 1894): collected by Martin Brendell in the cloud forests of Costa Rica.

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Here is Max Barclay, who will be available on the night at our entomology fieldwork Science Station armed with field equipment and some examples of what we find when we head off to research remote areas throughout the world.

 

Other colleagues include Hillery Warner, who is expert in photographing our specimens; see some of her work on Flickr here.

 

And the formidable Peter Hammond, previously senior researcher in Coleoptera, and now a Scientific associate, here is Peter, armed with those two most important of entomologist accessories: a pint of beer and a specimen tube (for beetles, of course…!)

 

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We can’t wait…can you?

 

About Science Uncovered 2011:

 

Science Uncovered is a free event on Friday 23 September 2011 at the Natural History Museum.  All events and tours at Science Uncovered will be free but, due to time and space constraints, some will require you to book free tickets in advance.

To find out more visit Science Uncovered on the Museum’s website.

 

The Natural History Museum at Tring, Hertfordshire, will also be holding its own Science Uncovered event. Find out more about Science Uncovered in Tring.

 

Online community

 

To get involved before the night, visit our Science Uncovered online community where you can get previews of what’s happening and join in with discussions and debates.

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Tanzania fieldwork part II

Posted by Blaps Apr 15, 2011
Hello beetlers,
Well our intrepid explorer is alive and well, despite the dramatic shaky camera and ‘fade to black’ in the last video entry!
Finally we get some beetle information, proof that he is out collecting for us, and not just sunbathing (or drying off from the rains)!
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Wet kit drying on the ridge
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Porters preparing for the journey into the mountains. Those chinese laundry bags get everywhere!
Over to Hitoshi:
"This is a beetle blog after all so I guess I should talk about the beetle fauna! The groups I have been concentrating on mainly in Tanzania are the chafers (Cetoniidae) and the dung beetles (Scarabaeidae). This time round in the Ngurus Mountains, I have seen a couple of beautiful species which have not been observed in the previous seasons, namely Dicronorrhina derbyana and Megalorrhina harrisi. These Cetoniids are attracted to a broad leaved shrub which produces a sap which is irresistible to insects. Often from one small sap flow, one can observe butterflies and beetles fighting over the sweet liquid.
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Dicronorrhina derbyana is a real beauty!
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Megalorrhina harrisi basking!
Unfortunately, the dung pitfall traps did not work too well due to the rainwater washing out almost all of our pitfalls. However, of the ones which remained un-flooded they yielded some very interesting Onthophagus dung beetle species as well as other small Staphylinids (rove beetles) and Carabids (ground beetles).
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Here's something else that didnt work too well! Truck gets stuck in the mud...
Another interesting find was Ochyropus gigas, a giant Scaritine ground beetle which was found scuttling around the forest floor. This is a species which is common in West and Central Africa but are most unusual on this side of the Rift Valley.
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The formidable Ochyropus gigas, and yes, it can give you a nasty nip!
You learn something new every day: Passalids make squeaking noises – I did not know this!"
HT
Thanks Hitoshi - happy collecting!
Ochyropus gigas belongs to the subfamily Scaritinae (Bonelli, 1810). These beetles are commonly known as burying ground beetles, and are predatory, as is immediately obvious from those huge mandibles! Other features include enlarged and broadened front tibia adapted for digging and ‘wasp waist’. They spend the day in burrows and come out at night to hunt their prey!
The Passalidae are a family of beetles within the super family Scarabaeoidea. They are commonly known as ‘bess bugs’ or ‘bess beetles’ particularly in America, (America has the best common names for beetles!). These amazing beetles not only squeak (to communicate with one another) but are brood carers, living in social groups in rotting wood. (This unfortunate creature can be seen in the video from the previous post, squeaking on demand!).Their famous squeak is produced by rubbing the upper abdomen against the wing cases. The larvae also squeak and do this by rubbing the second and third leg together.  They care for their young by feeding them and assisting in building the pupal case. Somewhat unpalatably, the larvae and adults feed on regurgitated faeces which are also broken down by microflora, a bit like cows ruminating!
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Well 'tis the season - fieldwork season that is, and also the rainy season in Tanzania - which is NOT the season for fieldwork! But, if you are Hitoshi Takano, and determined to find that elusive species new to science, then needs must. This week, our fledgling entomologist has flown the NHM Coleoptera nest and managed (against the odds) to send us his 'notes from the field'. Here are the highs and lows thus far:

 

“For the rain it raineth every day”

 

It has been tough. It has seemed like everything has been against us – a long and drawn out April Fool’s joke that Feste in Twelfth Night would be proud of. The wet season in tropical Africa really is a most unforgiving place. Especially up in the mountains.

Our drive from Dar es Salaam to the village of Maskati in the Nguru Mountains should only take 7 hours or so in normal conditions; it took nearly 14 hours this time. The roads leading up to Maskati are winding and contain some pretty challenging uphill hairpins and turns with huge 100m drop offs. Dangerous enough in the dry season, let alone with the torrential rainfall. The deforestation on these slopes don’t help at all. The topsoil just erodes away and flows into the rivers; landslides are not uncommon in this region.

 

 

Half way up to Maskati the back wheel of our trusty vehicle slipped off a concrete bridge. The whole vehicle ground to a halt with its weight bearing down solely on the differential! It took us nearly 2 hours of lifting and pushing with the help of the locals to get the car out. We thought this was bad enough; 200m further up the road, up an especially tricky uphill turn, the vehicle nearly flipped onto its side; it slipped down hill and ended up with its front left tyre completely off the ground! There were many points along this road where we had to unload the kit from the vehicle, reload it only to get stuck 100m further down the road. There were times where we thought it would just be impossible to make it to the village due to the atrocious roads. But Maskati and the Ngurus are well worth the effort. With the sun setting behind the mountains, the village must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. I would guess this is the kind of place James Hilton imagined when he described Shangri-La in Lost Horizon. The air is cool and refreshing. Maskati has been known to the Europeans for over a century. The mission and the church in the village were built by the Germans in 1909 and are still the pride of the village.

 

The walk into the mountains is also very tough. Two serious up-hills interjected by fast rivers flowing over slippery granite. Having overcome this obstacle, one reaches an incredible ridge at about 2100m. Beyond this ridge is a 200m drop off into what feels like Jurassic Park; a prehistoric forest with wonderful streams and rivers which contain many endemic frogs and chameleons, tree ferns, mosses and lichens. Many of the neighbouring forests have been logged out but because it is so difficult to get here (and to get the timber out) this area has escaped the deforestation.

To rub salt into the wound, this long walk was undertaken during a torrential downpour! I made a massive hash of packing my kit and because none of my clothes were in dry bags, absolutely everything got wet! Thank goodness we had three hours sunlight on top of the ridge to dry my clothes. I was not very happy with my schoolboy error!

 

 

During my time in the Ngurus it really did rain a lot. If we had less than 10 hours rain in the day, we were lucky; on bad days, it rained for 12 hours and more. Cold and wet. Nothing dries - putting on wet clothes in the morning has got to be one of the more unpleasant experiences when in the field.

The wet season also means that two of my fears become a palpable reality. Firstly, lightning and thunder which in their own right are extraordinary spectacles, but camped perilously on an exposed ridge with quite a lot of metal from all our equipment is not in the least bit amusing! Secondly, slugs and snails – my inordinate fear. They are everywhere. On the forest floor, on my tent, even in my tent. When walking at night looking for insects, every leaf you look at and every log you turn over, there is always some filthy slimy creature waiting for me! Give me spiders and scorpions any day!

Having managed to get up to the mountains and to base camp in the forest, we found to our despair that the generator we bought with us did not survive the journey. Light trapping is such an important weapon in an entomologist’s armoury that without it, comprehensive collection becomes very difficult. We painstakingly had another generator sent up into the forest and although it seemed like it was working, this too failed to light our Mercury Vapour lamp! Unbelievable! Other things which decided to die at crucial points included our inverter/battery charger, the choke for one of the actinic tubes and a digital camera. At this point it seemed very clear that it was worth cutting our losses and returning to Dar es Salaam to sort out our electrical problems; we really need it working for the rest of the trip. It is a terrible shame but we will be returning to the mountains towards the end of the trip to light trap high in the cloud forest.

 

I will now be heading south to the Udzungwa Mountains where elephants and buffalos await – and no doubt, more rain!

HT

Next time, we see some Tanzanian beetles encountered along the way...

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Fieldwork in Africa

Posted by Blaps Feb 3, 2011
This week one of our academic visitors Hitoshi Takano shares the trials and tribulations of fieldwork, in one of the most hostile and unforgiving places in the world, Africa. But aside from the hardships of fieldwork it is also a beautiful and rewarding place with nature at its rawest and wildest. And, there are thousands of beetles!
However, there appears to be a distinct lack of any evidence of beetle collecting, but here’s a black and white Colobus monkey. Magombera Forest, Tanzania, just to make up for it – and no, HT didn’t bring it back to the Museum for closer study.
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In HT’s own words: “Did I really spend all that time just standing in the sun wielding a butterfly net or slumped next to a light trap with a bottle of whisky? I also have a total of zero beetle pictures - it seems I stick them into a tube of alcohol before I even get the chance to take a photo. Note to self for the future - more science and beetle photos!” Yes, more beetles please!
Taking part in fieldwork can often highlight the degradation of habitats, or even countries. When HT went on fieldwork to Sierra Leone this was immediately apparent. Sierra Leone is the world’s worst off nation, after nine years of civil war ending in 2000, it is not jus the economy and the peoples that are affected, it is also the natural environment. After a failed attempt to track the pygmy hippo (one of Africa’s many endangered species whose populations are under threat from deforestation and poaching), he tells this story:
“…with an outdated guide to the local mammal fauna, we headed for a locality in ‘impenetrable’ Sierra Leone. We soon understood that this habitat could no longer support a viable population of hippos. After years of civil war, mass deforestation, and farming, the landscape was barren; we couldn’t even pitch our hammocks. Forget hippos, there weren’t even trees, which meant the breaking of the cardinal Ray Mears rule of never sleeping on the ground in the tropics…. But on a positive note, unlike some virgin tropical Africa explorers we didn’t emerge from the jungle with our stomachs in a bag and an unknown virus rioting through our veins! Another of our research sites was more positive, the Outamba-Kilimi National Park had good populations of chimpanzees and elephants, and despite unseasonably long periods of torrential rainfall, there was an abundance of Lepidoptera and Coleoptera.”
So, to get back to beetles, here are some photos of fieldwork, this time in Tanzania.
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Setting up the light trap at dusk, Mwanihana peak, Udzungwa  Mountains
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Dung baited pitfall trap (collecting Scarabs which are very good indicators of ecosystem fitness), Nguru  Mountains (and yes, entomologists do get a bit obsessed with poo, though we are most definitely not 'anally retentive'!)
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Here is HT (on the left) employing the sophisticated fieldwork method of grubbing about in elephant dung with some sticks, looking for beetles...
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All good stories, and hard days' fieldwork, end on a sunset, and perhaps a bottle of whisky!
Nguru Mountains, Tanzania
Next time, let's talk about love...


Blaps

Blaps

Member since: Sep 15, 2009

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

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