Hello beetle lovers - and if you are not converted yet then hopefully, as you follow this Blog you will become as enchanted and fascinated as I and my good colleagues here in the Coleoptera & Hemiptera section of the Entomology department!
You may or may not know that 'Coleoptera' is the scientific name for the beetles. This comes from the Greek, meaning 'sheathed wing' quite literally koleos = sheath and pteron =wing. It is because of this morphology that the beetles are such a successful group. Not only do they have a pair of protective hardened wings (known as elytra) to protect the wings and body underneath, they also have a pair of flight wings which means they can disperse easily and flee from predators.
Not all the beetles are capable of flight and their wing cases may be fused together, this is true of many of the ground beetles (the Carabidae) which is the group or family that I work on here in the department. There are many families of beetles, at least well over a hundred, this figure changes over time with taxonomic revision (taxonomy = the classification of biological organisms).
There are six curators of beetles here in the section who all care for the 9,000,000 specimens we hold in our collection - yes, that's 9 Million specimens of beetles! As well as the curators we have researchers from the UK and all over the world who visit the collection as well as a merry band of volunteers and students. I'll be asking my colleagues to contribute to the Blog as there is no shortage of stories or interesting projects to be shared with you.
Currently I am working on the revision and recuration of a subfamily of the Scarab beetles, the Phanaeini. These beetles are one of the groups of dung beetles (we all love the dung beetles right?!), and for creatures that make a living out of exploiting that most abundant of natural resources - poo - they are really rather attractive!
These fantastic metallic green beetles Phanaeus (Notiophanaeus) achilles were curated by my ex colleagues CG & NDS, and are found in South America: Peru and Ecuador. They are interesting in that males and females work together in excavating a tunnel under the 'dung' taking some of the dung with them in order to lay eggs into. When the eggs hatch the larvae have a plentiful food resource. All dung beetles are important nutrient recyclers in the natural environment.
Also, this group gives us great examples of 'sexual dimorphism' (difference in form between males and females). Below you can see the horned male on the left and the 'hornless' female on the right of the species Phanaeus (Notiophanaeus) achilles. This horn we would term as a sexual ornament, it may be used for attracting a female as well as fighting off competition from other males for the females' attentions!
If you are interested in beetles, one of the publications we used to recurate the group is this excellent text by Patrick Arnaud.
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!