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3 Posts tagged with the natural_history_museum tag
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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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The T to the Y to the P to the E

Posted by Blaps Dec 17, 2012

Chrysina optima (Bates, 1888) is fast becoming the most famous beetle in the Natural History Museum's Coleoptera collections.

 

Not only is this beetle rarely collected which adds to its mystique, its aura of beauty and other-worldliness, its remarkable metallic colouration that makes one think of shiny chocolate covered sweeties, beautiful gold jewels and rather seasonally, Christmas baubles… oh for a Christmas tree decorated with nothing but beautiful shiny beetles…

 

But, better than any of that, this beetle’s fame will know no bounds, as it has become the star of a brilliant new song made especially for the Natural History Museum!

 

How can a very special beetle, that rests in perpetuity in a darkened drawer, just one of the nine million beetle specimens residing in the Museum, become such an overnight sensation? Well read on...!

 

This beetle was first collected and named in 1888 by Henry Walter Bates, who travelled extensively in the Amazon and came across this Chrysina in Costa Rica. It was published in the Biologia Centrali-Americana, which itself was published from 1879 to 1915 in 215 parts and written by the leading natural historians of the day, including Bates.

 

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What did Bates find special about this beetle?

 

Here is an excerpt from the original description of the type specimen:

'The rich red-golden hue of the upper surface and mirror-like polish make it one of the most conspicuous species of a genus remarkable for metallic splendour.'

 

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Chrysina optima Bates

 

Nowadays this lucky beetle is cared for by a super team of curators who instinctively know of its star potential. So, one day when a curious artist came knocking on the heavy wooden doors guarded by entwined snakes, the portal into the Coleoptera section of the Natural History Museum, with a very specific scientific question; it was this beetle that best described the answer we would give him.

 

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And so it came to pass that we met John Hinton, an artist and performer who very much likes to go camping. He told us that he would be camping in the Museum grounds during the school’s half-term week this past October and had this question that he simply couldn’t get off his mind – could we help?! Of course we could!

 

And his question was a big and very important one; it is in fact the first question of taxonomical science…WHAT IS A TYPE?

 

Here is the answer we decided upon, and John has been singing about it ever since…we invite you to join in in the chorus!

 

 

This project is a collaborative one between the Natural History Museum and the artist John Hinton. It was devised as part of the events performed in the October half term 'Campsite' as part of the Darwin Centre Arts Events Programme curated by Sarah Punshon.

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Why collecting is important.

Posted by Blaps Nov 17, 2010

Hello beetlers!

This week, well it’s all about collecting. We have been working on a number of specimens that have resulted from collecting trips abroad.

Firstly Max and Howard’s collecting trip to Bolivia (and yes, it wasn’t just beetles they picked up!)

Here’s Max collecting something somewhere in South America:

 

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To follow Max's Coleopterising (this is now officially a word!) http://twitter.com/Coleopterist

When the Museum undertakes a collecting trip, it considers many factors. As one of the world’s leading natural history institutions we act as a depository for the world’s species. This has been going on for at least two hundred years, beginning with the inception of the British  Museum of Natural History in 1881, though we hold collections that are much older. It makes sense that specimens that are collected from anywhere in the world is held by an institution that can make this knowledge available to all.

Now more than ever, collecting is important because it can give us a base-line of the biodiversity of the planet. So many species are under threat – how do we conserve them if we don’t know what we have, or indeed the habitats in which they live?

 

From areas in the world that have been well represented by collecting (especially the old British Empire) our collections already provide a base-line data from which to inform conservation efforts. From those countries in the world that are under threat from development /climate change / burgeoning populations, we can collect species (adhering to a scientifically robust protocol), not only as base line data but as a means of helping to defend fragile habitats from development.

 

Meet Megacephala (Tetracha) spixii ssp. opulenta. This species was newly described to science in 2007 by Naviaux, and is a nocturnal hunter.

It was collected by Barclay & Mendel in Bolivia in 2004 and is now deposited here in the Museum. One more species new to science (and counting) – isn’t that amazing?!

 

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This beetle belongs to the subfamily Cicindelinae of the Ground beetles (Carabidae), otherwise known as the tiger beetles, characterised by their long legs and large, fierce mandibles (biting mouthparts). They are predatory beetles which move very fast and are excellent hunters, for example, Cicindela campestris which is found in the UK, is measured as having a running speed of at 0.62 metres per second!

 

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Cicindela campestris. This image can be found on the National Insect Week website http://www.nationalinsectweek.co.uk

Unlike most other ground beetles, these beetles easily take to the wing, but much prefer to run their prey to the ground. The larvae of the tiger beetles are even more predatory, lying in wait in an underground burrow, until a hapless insect should cross their path.

Aside from their predacious nature they are considered excellent ‘indicator species’ which means their presence in a habitat can be used as measure of habitat quality and in turn biodiversity. This is why we collect and record them.



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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