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


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


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


Michael Geiser and Michel Brancucci at Prague October 2011.JPG

Michel and Michael at Prague insect fair



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


We're pleased to have Alex Greenslade on the team...JPG

Alex Greenslade at Science Uncovered 2012


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


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



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


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



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


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

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


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


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



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


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The international scarab collecting team in Peru


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


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



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



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


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


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


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



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


A typical drawer of Lepturinae from the recently acquired Vorisek Collection of Cerambycidae. Red labels (as usual) indicate Type Material.jpg

A typical drawer of Lepturinae longhorn beetles


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


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


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A fascination with beetles...


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



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Chrysomelidae expert Lukas Sekerka raiding the coleoptera reprints!



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


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


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



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



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



Malcolm demonstrating the 'Christmas spirit'!


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



Scientific Associate Richard Thompson weeviling away in the collections!


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


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



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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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



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

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


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


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

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



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


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


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Oh No! You may see the Lady Bugs! Incidentally the picture shows the wrong species, Coccinella septempunctata rather than Harmonia axyridis..JPG

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


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



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



This is perfectly normal...



  A collection of entomologists...




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


The T to the Y to the P to the E

Posted by Blaps Dec 17, 2012

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


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


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


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


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


H-W-Bates-206x300.jpgHenry Walter Bates


What did Bates find special about this beetle?


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

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



Chrysina optima Bates


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




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


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


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



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


Dear Beetlers,


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


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


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


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



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


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

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The beautiful Mount Hanang in the background.

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HT and some cows; overseeing unpacking proceedings!


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


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


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


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


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


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


Winkler Traps


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


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And the prize for the most boring photo...

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


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


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


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


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


Dung Traps


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



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


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


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


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


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HT and Isaiah preparing dung pitfal traps


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


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


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


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


Water Beetles


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


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NOT allowed back in the truck!


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


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


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


SLAM and Malaise trapping


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


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Hoisting the trap with BG and Saleem


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The entomologists demonstrate their good work!


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


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


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


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


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


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



And we leave you for now with a beautiful view!


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


So the intrepid entomologists say farewell; and hope that you will join us and our wonderful colleagues on Friday night at Science Uncovered to hear more about collecting in the field, all over the world!


Entomological Gap 'Yah': Part Deux

Posted by Blaps Aug 16, 2012


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


In search of sunshine and beetles!

Posted by Blaps Jul 12, 2012

Hello Beetlers!


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

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

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

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


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



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



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



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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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



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



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

jmud.jpg Julien Haran manfully demonstrates.



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



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


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



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


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


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



Agapanthia villosoviridescens


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

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Museum specimen of Rutpela maculata


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

For more information on this beetle follow the link below:


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

Go to EOL for more inofrmation on this species:


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

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©Stanislav Krejcík

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


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

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

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


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

For more information go to EOL:


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©Stanislav Krejcík


That's about it for now...


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


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

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



Hello Beetlers!

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



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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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





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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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



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!"

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!



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

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.


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

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

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


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


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.


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


Inside the (no longer) Forbidden City


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.


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!"





The Institute of Zoology's very own Natural History Museum


A giant rhinoceros beetle guarding over the beetle collection!

A display on insect collecting, complete with net, collecting tubes, pitfall cups, setting boards and other entomological paraphernalia


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


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!



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.









Photographs by Conrad Gillett, Chris Lyal and Ren Li


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.



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?



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.'


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


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!



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!”



Chris and Conrad looking for weevils in a leaf litter sample



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.



A molytine weevil (subfamily Molytinae)



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



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



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.”



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.



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).



Conrad collecting samples from a combined malaise/flight interception trap



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!”



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!



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.



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



A species of Curculio (Curculioninae) attempts to take off



One of several species of Mecycolobini (Molytinae) collected



A species of cryptorhynchine weevil (Cryptorhynchinae)



A weevil belonging to the subfamily Entiminae



A large species of Languridae



A common metallic blue leaf beetle (Chrysomelidae)



A horned dung beetle of the genus Liatongus (Scarabaeinae)



A riverside that was teeming with Odonata



A brilliant emerald green male damselfly


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A stalk eyed fly



A lycaenid butterfly



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.”



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.



One interesting item found in a local supermarket!



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!”



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.



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!


attelabid2web.jpg attelabid3web.jpg

Two species of leaf rolling weevils (Attelabidae)



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



A specimen of the tropical longhorn beetle Diostocera wallichi



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.



A large praying mantid in fierce threat-display posture



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!”



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.



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



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




Photographs by Conrad Gillett and Ren Li


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.


breakfast in Selous.JPG


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


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


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

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


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

left to right Emmanual Jock Salim moth trap.JPG

Jock and staff fixing up the M.V. light


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


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

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

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

Ceroplesis militaris, Cerambycidae

ship timber beetle Lymexilidae Atractocerus brevicornis.JPG

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

prionid mandibles.JPG

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.


dung trap david and Emmanual.JPG

David and Emmanuel setting an elephant dung trap


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

chafers on bamboo sap.JPG

Neptunides polychrous, Cetonidae, Scarabaeoidea; on sap

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


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.


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


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.


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.


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?


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.


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!


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


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."


Malaise trap in operation



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.


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!


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!

pink molytineweb.JPG

A lurid pink molytine weevil (Molytinae)


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.


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!


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!


Who wouldn’t want one of these?


Weevil keep you informed with our progress!


Conrad and Chris, 13 April 2012, Xishuangbanna prefecture


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.



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


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

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'.

oxysternon 002closeup.jpg

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?


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


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!



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.'




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!


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



Scarabs are not the only insects attracted to bait traps!


Then, one morning, I was woken by my housemate to the alarmed cry:


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.


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!



Merry Christmas Beetlers and buggers!


ixapionwebwith hat.jpg

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’?

399px-Mistletoe_infested_tree.jpg                   444px-Christmas_throughout_Christendom_-_Under_the_Mistletoe.jpg

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


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.



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.


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!

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

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Member since: Sep 15, 2009

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

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