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2

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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Some of our catch

 

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

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

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

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The wooden drawers are housed in the metal cabinets


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

 

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

 

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

 

great_wall.jpgThe Great Wall

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

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Chris and Conrad on The Wall

 

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

 

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

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

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Inside the (no longer) Forbidden City

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Shenyang J-6 fighter gathering dust at the Military Museum

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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The Institute of Zoology's very own Natural History Museum

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Conrad

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Chris

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Weevil
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Panda

 

Photographs by Conrad Gillett, Chris Lyal and Ren Li

3

Dear beetlers,

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

 

'A meaningful evasion from selling croissants...


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

 

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

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


One small step for man...

 

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


Jewels and broken pins...

 

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

 

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

 

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A Geotrupid with a damaged pin


Good tools make good workers...

 

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

 

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

 

Tales of loans...

 

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

 

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

 

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Geotrupes kuluensis Bates; and a Krikken label


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

 

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


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

5

Toshi's Entomological Gap Yar!

Posted by Blaps May 4, 2012

Dear Beetlers,

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

This spoof filmed by Ian Baldwin in Tanzania, 2012

4

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

 

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

 

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

 

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A tea plantation

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Chris and Conrad looking for weevils in a leaf litter sample

 

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A gully containing humid forest

 

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

 

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

 

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A molytine weevil (subfamily Molytinae)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Conrad collecting samples from a combined malaise/flight interception trap

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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A species of Curculio (Curculioninae) attempts to take off

 

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One of several species of Mecycolobini (Molytinae) collected

 

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A species of cryptorhynchine weevil (Cryptorhynchinae)

 

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A weevil belonging to the subfamily Entiminae

 

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A large species of Languridae

 

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A common metallic blue leaf beetle (Chrysomelidae)

 

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A horned dung beetle of the genus Liatongus (Scarabaeinae)

 

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A riverside that was teeming with Odonata

 

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A brilliant emerald green male damselfly

 

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A stalk eyed fly

 

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A lycaenid butterfly

 

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Two brightly coloured bug nymphs

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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One interesting item found in a local supermarket!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Two species of leaf rolling weevils (Attelabidae)

 

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

 

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A specimen of the tropical longhorn beetle Diostocera wallichi

 

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A remarkable orthopteran mimic of an arboreal tiger beetle

 

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

 

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A large praying mantid in fierce threat-display posture

 

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Chris enveloped in the luxuriant vegetation of a humid gully

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Photographs by Conrad Gillett and Ren Li

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.
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Ceroplesis militaris, Cerambycidae


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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…"

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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

1

100 years ago, on the fateful day that RMS Titanic struck the iceberg, another less dramatic event occurred in a quiet corner of Southern England which made ripples in the calm waters of the entomological world; in a moorhen's nest in the river at Potter's Bar, chartered surveyor and amateur beetle expert E.C. Bedwell (1875-1945) collected two specimens of a beetle that had never been seen by anyone, either before or since.

 

The beetle itself is far from titanic - 1mm long, brownish black, it is not much to look at, but this is perhaps just as well considering that only one person has ever seen it alive, and that was 100 years ago.

 

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Aglyptinus agathidioides with K.G. Blair's orignal determination label

Image Harry Taylor 2012

 

After confusing the scientific community and being passed from specialist to specialist for nearly 20 years, the the 'Potter's Bar Beetle' (a member of the fungus beetle family Leiodidae, of which there are approx 3,800 described species worldwide) was eventually given a scientific name in 1931 by Natural History Museum coleopterist Kenneth Gloyne Blair (1882-1951); he called it Aglyptinus agathidioides, the specific name marking its similarity to the widespread genus Agathidium. [see footnote] 

 

In the ensuing 100 years numerous coleopterists have dug through swan and moorhen's nests (neither easy nor pleasant, the nests are usually foul smelling mounds of vegetation, often in the river itself) in Hertfordshire in search of it, but no more beetles have ever been found. It has been speculated that the beetles were tourists, imported from another continent, but which one, and how? Their closest relatives apparently occur in North and Central America, but neither US entomologists, nor the extensive 'Biologia Centrali Americana' (1879-1915) picked up anything similar. It is also not clear how imported beetles could have been found in a moorhen's nest on a sleepy stretch of an English river.

 

The Biolgogia Centrali Americana http://www.sil.si.edu/DigitalCollections/bca/

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A moorhen nest

Image Ianaré Sévi 2008

 

Conservationist blogger Mark Avery discussed his unsuccessful attempts to rediscover it in 2010, and it was thanks to his enquiries that we got the Type Specimen out of the collection and noticed the inauspicious collection date!

 

One of the two specimens (the male Holotype) is now at the Natural History Museum in London and the other (the female Paratype) in E.C. Bedwell's collection at the Norwich Castle Museum; they are carefully looked after as the only examples of their kind. It is not often that a new species is discovered in England, and even rarer that it disappears as suddenly as it appeared!

 

One can imagine Bedwell getting home from his collecting trip, and saying to his family 'I found an interesting beetle yesterday, anything else much happened in the world?'

 

And while the world was reeling from the unexpected destruction of a glorious symbol of industrial might and imperial power, Bedwell was poring over his vials of beetles and thinking 'I wonder what that little brown one is...'

 

_________________

 

Footnote: The genus Agathidium has since achieved its own notoriety; in 2005 US scientists Quentin Wheeler (former Keeper of Entomology at the Natural History Museum) and Kelly Miller named some new species of that genus after politicians George Bush (Agathidium bushi), Donald Rumsfeld (Agathidium rumsfeldi) and Dick Cheney (Agathidium cheneyi). Small leiodid fungus beetles seem to have a tendency to get mixed up in world affairs....

 

Note: This story was investigated and written by Max Barclay, Coleoptera Collections Manager
0

Imagine the scenario: dung is thin on the ground (literally) - we find no monkey dung, no big cat dung, in fact no dung other than dog-poo with which to entice those most industrious of organic recyclers, the dung beetles (sub family Scarabaeinae) in to our collecting pots. There is nothing else for it but to 'make' our own. Now, amongst entomologists this is common practice - perfectly normal, honestly, it is! But to 'normal' folk, this might seem a bit strange, indeed, not a common topic of conversation. I recall back in the day when I was a mere novice, perusing the Museum's collection and coming across a label which read 'collecting method: human faeces'; I recoiled in horror, quickly looked over my shoulder to see if anyone had noticed my extreme reaction; but my secret was safe; I had to come to terms with it - this was 'normal'.

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A less alarming data label: 'dung-baited pitfall trap'. Scarabaeinae; Oxysternon sp.

 

 

So there we were, over 30 keen entomologists, in fact to classify us correctly - Entomologists; Coleopterists; Scarabaeologists - coming together from all over the world, in darkest Peru, secondary forest, over 200km from Lima, having traversed the mid range peaks of the Andes at over 4000m altitude and arriving at a jungle lodge which would be our home for the next two weeks; only to discover very early on that there was a poo-deficit!

I might suggest that should you ever find yourself in the company of strangers and are looking for a conversational opener, poo will get you right in there - it breaks down barriers, it is the lowest common denominator (as it were) for most of the organisms on the planet - what better subject to make friends with than...poo?

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A cross-section of scarab fieldworkers, Chanchamayo, Peru: Bethany Teeters, Ami Maile, Bruce Noll, Fernando Escobar Hernandez, Miryam Damborsky, Jhon Neita Moreno, Sayde Ridling, Beulah Garner, Andy Matz, Mario Ibarra Polesel, Dana Price, Nicole Gunter

Photo: Jhon Neita Moreno 2012

 

For more information Scarab beetles and the work of 'Team Scarab' follow this link

http://www-museum.unl.edu/research/entomology/scarabcentral.htm

 

At first strangers (this collecting trip brought together scarab workers from all over the planet, mainly north & south America, and a small commonwealth contingent!) with a common purpose, to learn tropical fieldwork techniques, to meet fellow workers and form future collaborations, and most importantly to collect beetles; by day two, 'poo' was a common topic of conversation over breakfast!

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Breakfast

Photo: Brett Ratcliffe 2012

 

It goes something like this:
'So how are you today?'
'Oh, a little 'backed-up' you know, I think it's all this rice.'
'Yes, me too, having a bit of difficulty 'making bait'. Perhaps if we drink more coffee that will help?'
'It's worth a go, but really, I think it's all this rice.'

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Rice

 

So one by one, we would discreetly excuse ourselves and head off to our respective receptacles and 'make bait'. In fact we were doing the plumbing infrastructure of Peru quite a favour. The plumbing system is by no means able to cope with a 'heavy flow' and it is recommended not to flush paper or any other foreign object down the lavatory unless you are prepared for a reprisal! Anyway, collecting methods I'm sure varied, and I never did go as far to ask any of my colleagues exactly how they 'captured' their bait. I for one was armed with old pairs of 60 denier tights with various holes and ladders rendering them no longer fit for their original purpose, but, they make excellent 'bait' receptacles, being porous they effectively let out the enticing odour to lure the unsuspecting beetle to its scientific end. Other methods include wrapping the 'bait' in muslin / cheesecloth or simply placing the bait in a small plastic container such as those little mouthwash cup that dentists use!

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A 'baited' pitfall trap, already some unsuspecting scarabs have been enticed!

 

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Scarabs are not the only insects attracted to bait traps!

 

Then, one morning, I was woken by my housemate to the alarmed cry:
'SOMEBODY STOLE MY POO!'

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Nicole gathering 'bait' of the canine variety - happy in the days before we discovered a poo-thief!

 

 

 

The four of us sharing our little lodge had a rude awakening. Surely not? Who or what could do such a thing?
As you can imagine, stock-piling poo for bait is not a particularly social occupation. I am happy to say that none of us were anti-social enough to keep it in our rooms or even the shared bathroom, but we did on one occasion try to keep it in the fridge (with temperatures on average of 28 degrees and high humidity, things 'go off' pretty quickly) along with the coke (for energy), water (for hydration) and rum (requires no explanation), oh, and a few overly excited insects that needed calming down a bit before a photo shoot. But we soon realised that this was in fact anti-social so we took to keeping our bait outside our front door in sealed pots in zip-lock bags.

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Crime scene

 

On this particular occasion, we had managed to secure some dog poo which was kept in a separate clear vial, and our own bait which was in an opaque container, both in a zip lock bag. The human bait had been taken, and only the dog poo remained, with the bag perfectly sealed. We all stared on incredulously; my housemate hanged her head, crestfallen, and whimpered, '...but I worked really hard to make that bait...' We all reassured her, surely there was plenty more where that came from! But, to this day we shall never truly know who or what stole the bait; perhaps it is enough to say that this prized commodity had driven people to the extreme of their integrity; and the desire to collect beetles overcame any other reason...


The take home message is this: you're not an entomologist until you've got a s**t story...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The author is indebted to the organisers of this trip: 'Team Scarab' : Drs Brett Ratcliffe, Mary Liz Jameson, Ron Cave, Paul Skelley, Andrew Smith, Federico Ocampo & too to all the brilliant and enthusiastic participants!

 

0

Merry Christmas Beetlers and buggers!

 

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It comes as an obvious choice for a Christmas blog to write about Mistletoe (Viscum album L.)!
Christmas – that wonderful time of year where we are fortunate to have the opportunity to gather with our loved ones, cook the goose and burn the plum pudding, have a fight with our loved ones, and then leave! However, what of those all alone? Surely a sprig of Mistletoe engenders a ray of hope for a chaste kiss over Christmas? Or, for those already attached… a ‘kiss me slow’?

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Mistletoe infested tree            This year's Coleoptera Christmas party; about to get busy under the mistletoe...

Cambridgeshire

Image courtesy of Orangedog 2009

 

Ixapion variegatum lives on Mistletoe and is affectionately called the ’kiss me slow’ weevil. This (currently) rare little beetle was first discovered in Herefordshire in 2001, ref: Foster, A.P., Morris, M.G., & Whitehead, P.F., (2001). Ixapion variegatum (Wencker, 1864) (Col. Apionidae) new to the British Isles with observations on its European and conservation status. Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, 137: 95 – 105.  Though it appears as a recent discovery, with no previous British records, Foster et al suggest that it is probably long - established, just simply overlooked by collecting efforts.

 

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Ixapion variegatum collected by Mike Morris from Herefordshire in 2000

Image courtesy of Tristan Bantock 2011

 

Mistletoe is generally found in old orchards, themselves a rare and threatened habitat and this magnificently historic and parasitic plant supports a range of other insects in addition to I. variegatum. These include several true bugs (Hemiptera) of which the striking green and red Pinalitus viscicola is usually the commonest.  Since all these species are entirely dependent on mistletoe, it is therefore essential that this plant be conserved, along with the habitats that support it.

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A festive red and green Pinalitus viscicola

Image courtesy of Tristan Bantock 2011

 

I. variegatum has since been found in many other localities such as Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, and isn’t too hard to identify once you know what you are looking for!
It has a Western European range and is constantly found in very low population densities. It appears to thrive on mistletoe that is under stress on old trees reaching the end of their life. The adults are usually to be found in summer through to autumn, and possibly they can overwinter as adults (it would be a shame to miss out on all that kissing!).
The eggs hatch in April and the larvae can be found in the stems of the mistletoe until they mature in the summer, when the adults mate.

 


A note on Mistletoe
Most of the mistletoe harvested for the Christmas season comes from the orchards of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Somerset and Herefordshire, in effect Cider country! However these orchards, especially ancient orchards which support a diverse and fragile fauna are seriously under threat. The National Trust has an ongoing campaign to conserve our mistletoe and encourage people to buy sustainable sourced mistletoe for that special ‘kiss me slow’! So this year, if you are hoping for a Christmas kiss, make sure it’s a sustainable one!
http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-global/w-news/w-latest_news/w-news-campaign-launched-to-give-mistletoe-the-kiss-of-life.htm

Thanks to Tristan Bantock for images and info on the bugs; and to Lucia for the hat!

3

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright...

Posted by Blaps Dec 2, 2011

When I think of Tiger beetles, (subfamily Cicindelinae) I think of William Blake’s most wondrous poem The Tyger (as was spelled by him in 1794). He was writing of that famous mammalian predator the tiger (Panthera tigris). Here is the first stanza:

 

Tiger Tiger burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

 

 

Could he have been writing also of those most accomplished and fearful predators the tiger beetles? I bet Blake scholars have never thought of that!
When viewed close up, their mandibles (jaws) are truly fearsome! These beetles are as close to perfect symmetry as any other creature found in nature.

This species of Pseudoxycheila lateguttata Chaudoir ssp. peruviana Cassola, 1997
(new to the Museum’s collection and found on a collecting trip to Peru in 1984 by Martin Cooper) is a prime example of the tiger beetles’ ability to devour its prey – just look at those mandibles!

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Image courtesy of Tristan Bantock 2011

 

Tiger beetles run very fast (approx 5 mph!) and select a varied invertebrate prey. Most species are found during the day and are prevalent in hot dry countries such as South Africa. They are heliophilic which means they love the sun – being cold blooded creatures; it gives them the required velocity to out-run their prey, or indeed their predators. Their enlarged compound eyes are extremely powerful – if you have ever encountered one, you will know that they move very quickly at the slightest detection of movement! Their exceptionally long legs not only aid speed but also help to keep them cool as they are elevated from the heat of the earth. They are found in dry sandy habitats, usually in the vicinity of water and are generally cosmopolitan. In Britain there are just five species.

 

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Some Megacephala from Tanzania (nocturnal predators)

 

 

I have been working on some collection expansion (we have a few new species to the collection) which could not be possible without the identification skills of the world’s expert in the Cicindelinae, Fabio Cassola from Italy. For more on Fabio and the cicindelinae in general follow this link:

http://www.cicindelaonline.com/FabioCassola.htm

Each year on our sojourns to Prague Insect Fair we meet up with Fabio and give him a few hundred specimens from all over the world to identify! This March we went out to Prague with 327 unidentified specimens from various collections that have either been donated to the Museum or result from the Museum’s own collecting trips. By the time we return to Prague in October, Fabio will have identified the lot!

 

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Neocollyris apteroides from NE India (Assam) approx 25mm length (new to the Museum's collection)

Image courtesty of Tristan Bantock 2011

 

 

In March 2010 we sent to Fabio Cassola 327 specimens of 71 taxa– as a result the following are new to the Museum’s collection:

 

Neocollyris (Pachycollyris) apteroides (W. Horn, 1901) (7) 
NE INDIA, Assam: Bhalukpong, 27°02N-92°35E, 150 m, 28.V-3.VI.2006, P. Pacholá tko; L. Dembicky & P. Pacholátko, BMNH(E) 2006-48, 4m 3f (=male / female)

 

Pseudoxycheila lateguttata Chaudoir ssp. peruviana Cassola, 1997 (1)
PERU, Amazonas: Rodriguez de Mendoza, 1400 m, 29.XI.1984, M. Cooper,
1m

Ronhuberia fernandezi (Cassola, 2000) (2)
COLOMBIA, Nariño: Barbacoas, 1000 m, 23.III.1974, M.C. Cooper, 2m

 

Elliptica kolbeana (W. Horn, 1915) (2)
TANZANIA: Tulawaka, Biharamula, 1250 m, XI.2002, Bucket pitfall, riverine forest, University of DSM; BMNH (E) 2010-91,1m
TANZANIA: Tulawaka, XI.2002, Bucket pitfall, riverine forest, University of DSM; BMNH (E) 2010-91,1m

 

Cylindera (Ifasina) discreta (Schaum) ssp. subfasciata (W. Horn, 1892) (10) 
INDONESIA, Borneo, Kalimantan Tengah: Busang/Rekut confl.,0°03S-113°59E; August 2001, MV light, Brendell/Mendel; Baritu Ulu 2001, BMNH(E) 2001-191, 4m 6f

 

Brasiella (Gaymara) balzani (W. Horn, 1899) (5)
ECUADOR, Morona-Santiago:  Macas (Rio Upano), 1000 m, 7.V.1981, M.C. Cooper, 3f
BOLIVIA, Cochabamba:  Villa Tunari, 800 m, 14.X.1981, M.C. Cooper, 2f


And this is just one story. We have a long history of this type of partnership with experts in many Coleoptera groups from all over Europe and indeed the world who work tirelessly and devotedly (some might say obsessionally (I know that’s not a word okay!) to contribute to the world’s knowledge of its amazing diversity.
Here is me, working tirelessly and devotedly (and always with a smile?!) on this beautiful group of beetles.

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Post Script from Max Barclay from 2009/10:


We have just received a list of tiger beetles returned from identification by the world expert Fabio Cassola, including many species that we had no recent material of, and an amazing 10 species new to the collection (not bad for a well known and well collected group!); almost all of these were relatively recently acquired from field work expeditions (the details of which can be read from the list of species new to the collection below) or recovered from old unprocessed material in the last few years; some dating back to 1974!
I would like to thank all of you who have contributed to this great piece of collections development, and particular congratulations to those people who scored a 'new to NHM' species, Martin Brendell, Richard Smith, Hitoshi Takano, Donald Quicke, Jon Martin, Daegan Inward, Colin Vardy and P Hanson.
(Max Barclay, Collections Manager).

 

Of the 271 specimens sent out on this loan in 2009/10, 10 were new to the Museum’s collection:

 

Neocollyris (Brachycollyris) purpureomaculata (W. Horn, 1922) (1)
W. MALAYSIA, Cameron Highlands: Tanarata, 8-26.IV.2002, Malaise trap, 10°55N-83°30E, BMNH (E) 2005-151, D L JQuicke, 1m  

Collyris robusta Dohrn, 1891 (1)
BRUNEI: Bandar Seri Begam, mangrove/forest interface, 20.VI.1983, P.J. De Vries,1m

 

Tetracha (Tetracha) s. spixii (Brullé, 1837) (1)
PERU, Amazon: Iquitos, Rio Napo-Rio Sucusari, 3°96'46S-73°15'49W, XII.1997, lowland forest,M.V.L.Barclay, BMNH(E) 2003-49, 1f

 

Odontocheila cinctula (Bates, 1881) (8)
COSTARICA: Guanacaste: Golfo Dulce, 10 km N Piedrasblancas, II-III.1989, P. Hanson; BMNH (E) 1997-188, P. Hanson, 1m 1f
COSTARICA: Puntar.: Golfo Dulce, 24 km W Piedrasblancas, 200m, III-V.1989, P. Hanson; BMNH (E) 1997-188, P. Hanson, 1m
COSTARICA: Guanacaste: Estac. Pitilla, 9 km S Santa Cecilia, 700m, VI.1989, I. Gauld; BMNH (E) 1997-188, P. Hanson, 5m [2 ]

 

Therates apiceflavus Sawada & Wiesner, 1999 (2)
W. THAILAND: Thung Yai Wildlife Sanctuary, 15°26 (an 28) N-98°48E, 300m; Tak Province, Umphang District, Song Bae Stream, 18-27.IV.1988; evergreen rain forest, M.J.D. Brendell, B.M. 1988-183, 1m 1f [1 ] 

 

Hipparidium pseudosoa (W. Horn, 1900) (3)
TANZANIA, Nija Panda, Mwanihana, Udzungwa Mountains NP, 07°47’27.7S-36°49’11.7E, 27-30.XI.2010, Smith R. & Takano H., general collection; BMNH (E), 2010-91, 1m 2f [1 ]

 

Cylindera (Plectographa) ritsemae (W. Horn, 1895) (1)
ARGENTINA, S. del Estero:  Thermes de Rio Hondo, 27-28.XI.1979, C. & M. Vardy, B.M. 1980-67, 1f 

 

Naviauxella davisoni (Gestro, 1889) (1)
W. THAILAND: Thung Yai Wildlife Sanctuary, 15°25N-98°48E, 300m; Kanchanaburi Province, Sangkhla Buri District, Mae Kasa Stream, IV-V.1988; decidous dipterocarp forest, M.J.D. Brendell, B.M. 1988-183, 1f  

 

Naviauxella ramai Naviaux, 1991 (1)
W. THAILAND: Thung Yai Wildlife Sanctuary, 15°25N-98°48E, 300m; Kanchanaburi Province, Sangkhla Buri District, Mae Kasa Stream, IV-V.1988; decidous dipterocarp forest, M.J.D. Brendell, B.M. 1988-183, 1m  

 

Brasiella (Brasiella) mendicula Rivalier, 1955 (3)
BELIZE: Chiquibul Forest Res., Las Cuevas Field Station, 16°44N-88°99W, 300-700m, 1.VII.1997, D. Inward, BMNH (E) 2005-78, 1m 1f [1 ]
BELIZE, Cayo, Chiquibul FR, my light sheet; Las Cuevas Research Stn., clearing, VI.2002, J.H. Martin coll.; BMNH (E) 2005-43 J.H.Martin, 1f


Tiger Tiger burning bright…

 

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6

Hello beetlers, (and a special 'Ajoh' to our Czech counterparts!)

 

This week we ask, 'What's the point?' Not an existential question but rather, a special on the merits of 'pointing' beetle specimens.

We are lucky enough to have in our band of ardent coleopterists a young American lady who is expert at pointing beetles (the preferred American way of mounting dry beetle specimens, as oppsoed to card-mounting specimens), and has developed over trial and error a steamy method for one of the more challenging aspects of beetle mounting.

Here is Hillery Warner, our specimen preparator in action:

 

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So ever wondered what you might do with that vegetable steamer that you bought on a whim whilst on a health kick; and now it sits gathering dust on top of a kitchen cupboard. Here's your answer: STEAM BEETLES!

 

We have a specially adapted appliance for this very job with its own beetle setting (10 mins for beetles; 20 mins for an egg!)

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Beetles with their chitinous exoskeleton are extremely tough and so often times, especially with historic specimens that have not been treated to a professional mount, they require 'relaxing'. Relaxing the beetle means that its component parts (in particular antennae and legs) can be moved into a position that is both conducive for the safe prolonged care and storage of the specimen as well as making available and visible the most important identifying features of the specimen.

 

Currently we have a collection of beetles from Brazil, that has never been mounted. This material is over 60 years old and has been stored in the original packing it was transported in, which are these rather lovely triangular packages. They look charming, but in fact once opened we find very dry beetle specimens further entrapped in cotton wool! If we were to handle them at this dry brittle stage, we would only damage them, as bits that are trapped in the cotton wool would just break off.

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Specimens collected around 1961/1962 from Brazil, so far most have been from around Guanabara Bay.

Brazil adheres to the the Convention on Biological Diversity regulations regarding the collecting of biological property. For more information on this follwing this link:

http://www.cbd.int/

 

And for more on the Museum's collection and how it adheres to regualtions set out by the Brazilian government follow this link:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/hillerybwarner/4505223466/sizes/l/in/set-72157623814129816/

 

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In order to mount them safely with minimum damage, we give them a good steam!

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Above are some specimens undergoing the steaming process, which usually takes about ten minutes per batch, but this does depend on the size of the beetle. Once the steaming begins the specimens give off a fragrant scent of Thymol (which is found in oil of Thyme...mmm!) and is used as an anti-fungal treatment. We take special care to keep the labels with the specimens at all times (a specimen is no good without its data!).

 

 

Once the specimens are flexible enough, the mounting begins. In Hillery's own words, this is why pointing is a good idea:

 

"… beetle filled mugs masquerading as tea, hot plates, vegetable steamers… oh the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done to relax beetles just to untangle them from cotton so I can then pin and dry them out again!!!

The point of mounting a specimen is to observe, study, and either identify or describe it.  The point of a point is to allow you to do as much of this work as possible with minimal actual contact with the specimen (to avoid damaging it / destroying unique physical characters).  You don’t want to waste lots of time boiling something off a card to find out that it’s something boring (common) if you don’t have to, but if you identify something on a point that turns out to be something exciting then you can card it for the added protection..."

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Image Hillery Warner 2011.

 

 

Thanks Hillery!

 

 

Specimens are mounted on card points that are tipped with a tiny drop of organic glue. They are lined up on a plastazote block, heads all facing the same way and on their backs. The tip of the card has been slightly curved to accomodate the shape of the beetles' ventral surface. The card point is then positioned ideally between the middle and hind leg (see image above) t oallow for optimum visibility of all the beetles' features. Et Voila!

 

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Beetles 'relaxed' and ready for pointing                                                         

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Card point attaching to specimen

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Final pointed beetles complete with data label, awaiting further labelling

 

 

On average it takes about 3.5 minutes to make a point, point a specimen, and label it (minus label deciphering time which can be substantial!).  Pinning takes a lot longer - more like 10 minutes per specimen (not counting drying time… or boiling).  Currently Hillery's ballpark figure for the number of specimens already prepared are around 4,900 pointed specimens *OR* 1,730 pinned specimens in the last few months.  This work is really valuable in improving the quality of the Museum's collection in terms of specimen care and accessibilty to the specimens from worldwide experts.

 

And to end on a steamy note, some previous beetles that were given the steamy treatment became overnight stars in the Museum's recent Sexual Nature exhibition. These weevils were caught (in the act) in the 1970's and remained in an... um, private place, until Hillery came across them; and was able to conserve them in such away as to record for prosterity that BEETLES MEANS LOVE!

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/hillerybwarner/4479178323/in/set-72157594210721967

 

 

Thanks to Hillery Warner for providing information and some images. Katie Bermingham and Stephanie Unna have also worked on this beetle mounting project.

0

Naturist Bill with Layered up Lill

Posted by Blaps Oct 19, 2011

Dear Beetlers,

 

It's been a while but now things have quietened down there is some time to write and reflect on the past summer months that just flew by. Our two interns from Plymouth University, Lucia Chmurova and Lydia Smith , or 'Team LL' as they came to be affectionatley known, have left us, (oh boo hoo) to return to their studies; but there's no such thing as a free on the job taxonomic training internship, so I've asked them to write a few words on the past seven months spent learning this beetling game!

 

By means of introduction here is Lucia demonstrating the Coleoptera Section Health & Safety protocol:

 

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And here is Lydia with Coleoptera section's pet chicken (actually it's not our pet; that would be completely AGAINST Health & Safety).

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Here is what they have to say:

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“Seven Scarab beetles vomited up by a Somali woman”!!
This is an example of some of the strange and wonderful things we came across while working in the Coleoptera and Hemiptera section and one of many memories I will have for years to come!
Lucia and I have both been in the privileged position to do our University placement-year in origins for the past 7months.
We were so excited when we found out we could come not only to THE Natural History Museum in London, but to the Bug and Beetle department that I spent the first couple of months feeling so overwhelmed and excited that I felt sick! The excitement has not gone away, but luckily the sick feeling has and fortunately for me there were no unexpected Scarabs involved!
We started off with a stint of slave labour making piles of unit trays and then moved onto mounting Peruvian dung beetles, family sorting, order sorting and beetle identification for a Silwood park project, cabinet expansion project (we counted over 22,000 drawers in the coleopteran collection), recuration of drawers, beetle measuring for Nigel, de-moulding, dissection, making labels for drawers and specimens, testing new traps on Bookham Common and we concluded our placement with mounting and family sorting incredibly beautiful Tanzanian specimens collected by a resident expert! We were made to feel so welcome from our first day at the museum and I am so grateful for the most amazing experience ever.
My favourite entomological story was one Max told us and one I asked him to repeat it on numerous occasions! It was about the missing wing case of a beetle belonging to NHM, but lost when the specimen was loaned to the Paris museum. The collector then donated his collection to the Paris museum and because they had the missing wing case at the time of donation they now have ownership of the wing case while the rest of the specimen lives in London!
I just want to write about some of the highlights; First of all I have been inspired by the sheer depth of knowledge held by the people I have met from both origins and from all other areas of the museum. People’s willingness to answer our many questions and to show us around their collections has been incredible and such a wonderful opportunity. We had the chance to visit the forensic lab, the fish, reptiles and amphibian storerooms, the British reference collection, the imaging lab, the historical books, the Arachnid, Mantid and Mollusc collections and to do a week each of field work with the Soil Biodiversity Group in the New Forest.

 

 

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Herman’s herbarium books with a pressed frog and plant specimens – one of the oldest books in the museum.

It was really good going to Friday coffee mornings and meeting lots of people from the whole of entomology, I loved going to Nature Live talks and hearing about people’s work and their experiences from their field. Lucia and I also really liked our lunch breaks with Malcolm and his great plethora of hilarious stories.
 

BioBlitz: The Big Nature Count
We went to the BioBlitz in the museum gardens with Beulah and Roger and helped children sort through trays of compost looking for invertebrates with plastic spoons! I think they were far more impressed by the stag beetle Roger cleverly brought in with him though!
You can just make out the Stag beetle crawling up Roger’s Big Nature day T-shirt!

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Dissection
I was taught to dissect Phalacrids by Mr Richard Thompson on the training microscope. This is a couple of afternoons I will certainly never forget. I watched and listened intently to a man who is to me exactly what the museum is all about, passion, knowledge, dedication and expertise. He introduced me to the idea of making your own tools like bending over the tip of a pin to use as a miniature hook for removing structures form the abdomen and how to keep a beetle the size of a coma motionless while doing so. I saw how important it was to do dissections of these smaller groups when I discovered that the 3 beetles I thought were all one species turned out to be 2 different species. We carefully compared the diagrams in the keys with the structures we had removed and it was quite clear we had 2 species. I will never forget how excited and inspired I was after this experience!

Tanzanian specimen preparation
We spent a lot of time working with Toshi on Tanzanian specimens collected in this year. We helped to sort them from alcohol into orders and also mounted a vast number of them on pins, cards and points. 
Here are some beetles that we mounted. You may recognise the Passalid beetles in the 3rd row down because one of them featured in Toshi’s video clip from the field in an earlier blog.

 

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Family sorting all our mounted Tanzanian specimens at the end.

 

*    *    *    *
I can only agree with Lydia and use the same word ‘privileged’ for being able to spend our placement in the Colepoptera Department of the museum. I actually remember my very first day in the museum very clearly and there are certain things that I will never forget. One -  the swiping of my pass to get ‘behind the scenes’ and into Origins and ever since I have absolutely loved this very action of being allowed to get somewhere where others were not! It always made me smile when I could use my pass to enter the realm of the museum’s collections.
Two - I remember I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw rows and rows of metallic cabinets that hold one of the most important beetle collections in the world. When I stood at one end of the collection looking down to the other end, it seemed to me as if the cabinets went on forever and never stopped. I could not (and still can’t!) get my head around the sheer number of beetles these cabinets hold (it is believed that there are 10 million beetles!!!).  I was just hoping and wishing that maybe one day we will be allowed to open any of the cabinets we wish and find out what they are hiding inside. This day came soon after we arrived at the museum and I think I have never felt more privileged than when I was given my own key to the cabinets of the beetle collection. “This means I can go there anytime and open any cabinet I like!” And I of course made use of this opportunity. Sometimes when I was bored or had to clear my head after working for hours, I just popped down to the collection, opened a few random cabinets and just browsed through the drawers. It made me feel kind of calmer. However, now I am not sure if it was looking at the beetles or the amounts of alcohol or mercury that you breathe in from historical collections that made me feel so calm!     
Three - when I first came up to the top floor of Origins I instantly loved it. The picture of the beetle poster on the wall and the view of the long straight corridor is perhaps the most vivid picture that stayed in my mind.

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Four, the horrid smell of alcohol-infused dung beetles! I will definitely never forget when Max put a big bag full of dung beetles in smelly, sticky, brown alcohol in front of us and said that now we will learn how to mount beetles. However, as we started to dry the beetles out and uncover beautiful metallic colours, we quickly stopped paying attention to the smell. That smell actually stayed on my fingers for a few days even after we finished mounting them!
Five, the day when I first saw mounted beetles on boards. When I saw those beetles surrounded by 10s of pins, I honestly thought that someone was just really bored (and creative) and pinned the pins around the beetles as a joke. Soon I realised that it was no joke and board pinning became one of my favourite activities I did in the museum.

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Six - the historical collections. My placement project included one part where I needed to compare the way beetles were mounted in the past to the conventional way it is done today. Just the very fact that some of the beetles in the historical collections are more than 250 years old is breathtaking. Working with them always made me think about the old naturalists and I wished I could teleport to those times and go collecting and exploring with them! I would have to dress as a boy though to be accepted on board as in those days the term woman-entomologist did not exist! My absolute favourites were dissected beetles mounted by Sharp. I remember how impressed Lydia and I were when Max recognised Sharp’s hand writing on a label in a drawer full of other beetles.

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Seven – everyone that works in the Department. I will certainly never forget people I worked with in the museum .With this last point Lydia and I would like to thank everyone for making our placement one of the greatest experiences we have ever had. We have learnt so much and met amazing and interesting people. Special thanks goes to Max Barclay for accepting us as the first placement students, for looking after us all the time and making us feel like we belong there, and for giving us priceless experiences and references. Thank you everyone, we hope we will see you all soon.
Lucia and Lydia.

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(No one except us will know that these figures were from L&L's leaving cards, which they have creatively interpeted!) B

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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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Hi Beetlers,

 

The last few months my trusty volunteer Katie and I have been slowly but surely working on a huge re-curation project. And we chose our group well, a very large and tricky genus of the beautiful flower chafers (sub-family Cetoniinae) the Protaetia Burmeister, 1842. In the sub-family Cetoniinae there are approximately 4000 known species, within this sub-family is the tribe Cetoniini which includes 107 genera, of which the Protaetia is one. The Museum collection currently has 271 species, and counting. These beetles are so attractive and collectable they attract a good deal of research, though little is known about their natural ecology. If you would like to find out more about some of the research going on try here:  http://cetoniinae.blogspot.com/ and here is the checklist we have followed for the re-curation http://www3.famille.ne.jp/~kazuo/

 

Here is Katie with a drawer of Protaetia, and she now is going to tell us all about her experience with these beauties:

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"I have to say that as I’m not a Coleoptera expert I feel quite honoured to be asked to write in the beetle blog. The current project I am working on is the recuration of a genus of beetles called the Protaetia - I have been working on it one day a week for the last few months. Here is how I have been spending my Fridays. 
Recuration  of the Protaetia
I didn’t know what the Protaetia were before I started this task but I do now! They are a big genus of chafer beetles that seem to be found just about everywhere in the world. They are currently taking up 35 drawers in the Coleoptera collection and I’m sure that number is set to increase in the near future. They range in size from about 1-3cm long and come in a variety of colours; some very plain and some with very intricate markings.
After looking through all the drawers (what did I sign myself up for?) and making sure that there weren’t any loose body parts or specimens that needed some attention, my first task was to label all the unit trays containing the specimens with the basic taxonomic information (species, subgenus, genus, author etc). Although it sounds like an easy job this actually was the part that took the longest. The Protaetia have undergone a revision since the labels were last written (if they even had a label to begin with!) and most species are now placed into a subgenus (there are approximately 49 subgenera!) and some of the species were sitting under a synonym.

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Curation in progress!


Once I knew what was in each unit tray the next task was to arrange them in the correct sequence. First should come the Protaetia that are not in a subgenus and they are ordered according to their geographical location. Then come the various subgenera in alphabetical order; this task was quite an undertaking.The only sensible way to get them in the correct order was to lay all the drawers out over any available desk space – even so the drawers had to be stacked several deep. (Most of the credit for that has to go to Beulah; without her I would have been lost under a pile of drawers!) One important thing we also had to remember was to leave space for later expansion; there are many species in the Protaetia that the museum currently has no meterial for. 

 

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Drawers piled up and laid out!

 

The final ongoing stage is databasing all the species of Protaetia that are present in the collection. When I’m finished each will have basic information on taxonomy, location in the collection,  whether any type material is present and the geographical localities of the specimens. I’ve been keeping a count as I go along; I’ve done over a hundred species so far and I’m just over the half way point.
I’ve really enjoyed having the opportunity to work on such a fascinating and varied group of beetles. I wish I could show you pictures of all my favourite species but there are just too many to go into."

 

 

Here are a few:

 

Photograph of P. cuprea ignicollis

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Striking colour variability in the Protaetia


Protaetia cuprea is probably the quintessential Protaetia that comes to my mind. This picture shows the subspecies Cuprea ignicollis. The elytra and most of the body are a metallic green and the pronotum and scutellum are a beautiful coppery colour.
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Photograph of P. bifenestrata

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P. bifenestrata is another of my favourites. I think it looks like a domino piece!

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Hello beetlers,

 

Now that spring has passed and summer is truly upon us, the field season begins. This is when entomologists get very excited about the prospect of going out in to the countryside (well, just ‘out’ really) with their sweep nets and collecting gear in pursuit of insects! Here in the coleoptera section, we are no exception, and when Max suggested a fieldwork day to Bookham Common, we literally jumped at the chance!

Here we are, literally jumping!

 

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From left to right Alex Sadek, Max Barclay, Malcolm Kerley, Libby Livermore, Beulah Garner, Laurence Livermore. Image courtesy of Libby livermore.

 

So what does field work mean to us? Well, we don’t just go out and collect insects - we go out looking for insects. We may have an idea of what we might expect to find, especially at any given time of the year, habitat or host plant. And when we find them, we record them. This information can then be fed in to local as well as national databases which record distribution of species across the UK. This is vital information to inform those that are involved in habitat and species protection / conservation, as well as climatologists (insects are very good indicators of climate change) and politicians!
Here is the link to the National Biodiversity Network http://www.nbn.org.uk/

 

Thereby much of what we find, we record and set free. However, should we be looking for a specific species, especially if it is not commonly found in the habitat in which we are collecting, we will retain the specimen for confirmation of identification and to provide what we call a voucher specimen. A ‘voucher’ provides tangible proof that the species exists and was found in a certain location. This voucher is then deposited in the Museum collection to act as a permanent record for the future.

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Here is the striking wasp mimic Clytus arietis (Cerambycidae), which we did set free! Image courtesy of David Oram.

 

So off we set to Bookham Common. Why Bookham Common, well it is a very important area for wildlife and has species records dating back over fifty years meaning it is one of the best and most comprehensively recorded sights in Britain. The various habitats include wet grassland, low lying meadows, scrub, ponds and (ancient) woodland. So here, not only can the past inform the future by for example, the analysis of species distribution trends or species ecology, such as time of insect emergence correlated with weather, but we can continue to build on this data by regular recording of what wildlife is present.
The commons are managed by the National Trust and principally recorded by members of the London Natural History Society; follow the link to find out more about the LNHS.
http://www.lnhs.org.uk/

 

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Here is Roger Booth demonstrating his 'pootering' technique to some fascinated passers-by! For those of you that don't know, he is holding a 'beating tray'. This is placed underneath a selected tree, the tree is beaten with a big stick, and hopefully some interesting insects fall out!

 

 

The coleoptera section has got some shiny new collecting equipment that we couldn’t wait to try out - seriously!
These new traps are called Lindgren funnel traps and are a series of black funnels connected together with a collecting trap at the bottom and a bait trap in the centre.

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Lingren funnel trap in the tree canopy. Image courtesy of David Oram.  Here is Malcolm Kerley (right) demonstrating the addictive properties of the bait trap!

 

The idea is that insects are attracted to the pheromone bait and fly into the funnels – the funnels are so shaped that the insects cannot fly out, but rather end up in the bottom of the trap which contains a collecting fluid such as ethanol with a drop of washing-up liquid to break the surface tension. These traps are commonly used in the USA to collect forest pests such as bark beetles (Scolytidae). The traps are hoisted into the canopy of the tree and secured by a long rope.

Imagine the logistics of first selecting a suitable tree, and then working out just how to get the trap into the canopy of said tree. This part of the fieldwork took some time, and involved much throwing of rope:
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Throwing the rope!

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Standing around thinking about throwing the rope!

 

 

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Letting go of the end of the rope so that it landed completely over the other side of said tree and not actually in the tree…

And so it went on until eventually there was success!

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Question: how many entomologists does it take to throw a rope?

From left to right Malcolm Kerley, Alex Sadek, Max Barclay, Max Barclay (stuck in a tree?) Roger Booth, David Oram.

 

 

But the major event of the day was the finding of the Scarlett Malachite Beetle, Malachius aeneus (Malachiidae - Soft-winged flower beetles).
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© Chris Gibson


This beetle, whose range has declined to such an extent that it is listed as 'rare' on the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan, http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=5155 is currently only known from eight sites throughout the UK.

 

 

For more information on this beautiful beetle, and especially if you would like to attempt to see it in the wild, go to Buglife, who are currently running a Scarlet Malachite Beetle Survey to help monitor this beetles’ populations.
http://www.buglife.org.uk/

 

 

OPAL (Open Air Laboratories), who have just launched their fantastic Bug Hunt Survey, will also help you to get outside and go collecting – more details here:
http://www.opalexplorenature.org/


Our Plymouth University intern Lucia Chmurova was sweeping a verge in the early afternoon consisting of mixed vegetation of rough grasses, buttercups, cow parsley and dock, when this beetle was caught in her net. This was truly an amazing find as this beetle hasn’t been recorded in Surrey for more than 50 years (Denton, 2005) and is a first record for Bookham! So well done Lucia, perhaps we are all ‘scarlet’ with envy, rather than green, at this find!
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Here is Lucia investigating the undergrowth!

 

Lucia’s note will be published in the next edition of the Coleopterist.
http://www.coleopterist.org.uk/

 

 

For some excellent cinematic photos of the day follow Libby Livermore’s (our official capturer of entomologists in action) link here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/evilibby/sets/72157626652914393/with/5748748470/

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