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Us and Them

Posted by Erica McAlister Dec 30, 2009

I have titled this blog so as at the moment it really does feel like it! There are virtually no science staff (most are on holiday) but 5 million visitors!! The Museum is exceptionally busy at the moment and the fact that it has not stopped raining has compounded the problem!! The public are queuing around the ice rink!! Just getting through the public galleries is an ordeal!! I feel nicely tucked away in my bay just listening to the few other entomologists typing away . I have been reading papers on the use of museum specimens for DNA analyses and am now itching to get back into the lab and have another go at extracting. We are working on some UK mosquitoes at the moment that were collected from our various fieldtrips this year that have been stored in the freezer to prevent the DNA degrading.


I have spent the morning in the Specimen Preparation area in the Cocoon. I have been waiting to properly get my hands dirty with the material that came from French Guyana and so though that this would be the perfect opportunity. For some reason there are an awful lot of horse flies. Several of us have commented on this fact that when using malaise traps (tent like trap for catching small flying insects) there is always an abundance of them. The speaker system was not working though and I spent a long time scribbling down things for the public. These samples have an abundance of dung beetles, cockroaches, hymenoptera of all sorts, bark beetles and of course my babies! As well as all of the horse flies (and some long tongued ones!) and the robberflies there are also some very pretty soldier flies . I cant decide which is better - knowing that there is loads of new, undescribed species or being able to say what is in there already. It's all terribly exciting - I will calm down soon!

 

I was trying to write down little facts for the public as I sorted. I am not sure that they were happy about some of them. There are the Phorid flies of which some burrow down into coffins whilst others decapitate ants! Then there were the assassin bugs of which some are blood feeders on us! There are the dung beetles where i described my fieldwork of collecting them using various different types of dung....

 

...I will have to change the alcohol that the sample arrived in though as after two hours i was a little bit vacant to say the least!

 

This afternoon i am writing a case study for sampling insects in Costa Rica for a book to be published later on in the year. I have written a draft already but it needs to be more concise. I see an afternoon of red pen!

 

I am preparing myself for the sleepover as well. I have been revising my knowledge of all arthropods that can harm, maim, cause death etc. I will be such a hit at the New Years Eve party I am going to!

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Seasons greetings

Posted by Erica McAlister Dec 18, 2009

I have not posted for a while - sorry. This week has just been about parties though. The advantage of working in a place with many different departments is that there are many different departmental parties . However, I have been missing most due to illness - I promise to try not to be rude to people who have had flu again...(only to try mind you).

 

We had the museum party on Monday night which is down in the picnic area. Bangers and Mash theme and the food was proper old school stodge. It was exceptionally dark but that could have been on purpose . It is a nice chance to catch up with other people from the different sides of the museum. The 'life sciences' party was on Wednesday night with the theme of C and D in honour of the new building. Quite a few vampires, a dalmatian, the odd plant were among the many costumes. I went as Curator of Diptera...One colleague came with a chart attached to him with which you could change the reading depending upon what time it was and his level of conciseness . Watching serious entomologists etc dancing the maccarena has traumatised me though...

 

But back to work. I have been winding down for Christmas with all loans being on hold due to the Christmas post being crazy. I get to catch up on some paper work and answer all those emails that have been building up. I have many boxes of flies on my desk that I need to sort through. I am trying to edit the database at the same time and cross check that all of it is cited and refered correctly. It all takes time.

 

I have also taken on two Masters work experience placements. I love having people to work here - just ask anyone how kind and understanding I am...They have been given little projects working on UK flies - to recurate, identify and transfer information about any BAP species etc onto recording schemes. It will be great to get some of our specimen level data on the recording schemes (about time!) The Forum began to take information of the labels and we are trying to think about a quicker way of doing this. Any ideas?

 

I was also in the paper on Tuesday as well which resulted in my emitting a little squeal on the way home on the tube! Spelt my name wrong though! But yes we are doing a sleep over and the more I think about it the more that I am wondering why on earth!! 200 children!! At least I do get to go home at the end of the evening and have a massive glass of wine! I will be giving a talk on venomous and poisonous arthropods so that should relax the little darlings before they go to sleep

 

I have literally just recieved a consignment from French Guiana. Oh my, my christmas' for many years has just happened. Apart from me killing all of my colleagues with the smell of some highly distilled alcohol which leaked over the box - the pots are amazing. I have just had a poke in the smallest one and pulled out this many robber flies (please see photo below) - How cool is that!!! It will take a considerable amount of time just sorting this material to order! But so worth it. The material is fresh and from a part of the world that still contains good prestine habitat

 

pot of mixed.jpg

Ok I am off to play with the specimens

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It is a Tuesday morning and I have a stinking cold. I have this now as yesterday I spent the day recovering from the last three weeks and so my body thought it was time to give me all the infections that had been going around the department previously which it had been storing up for a special occasion!

 

The melt down has occurred through a culmination of the collection moving, a synoptic collection being created and the hosting of the Dipterists Forum at the weekend based in the New Darwin Centre. However it was fab. For months now I had been organising catering, room booking, way-signs etc etc with the rest of the team being enlisted to make labels, print forms, lug equipment around etc. And yet still on Saturday morning when everyone turned up there were still things that went wrong (not helped by the tube shutting both the district and circle lines!!! ). I guess that had to be expected.

 

But we had four fabulous talks on Saturday morning to an audience of just under 60 in the new Neil Chalmers Lecture theatre. First up was Chris Thompson (eminent American Dipterologist) who talked about the state of Diptera identification from it's beginnings to now. It is always lovely to hear someone from the States to say how brilliant the UK is about certain things, one of which is level of which our fauna is studied and the passion of the wider community for recording etc. This is seen with things like the hoverfly recording scheme. Looking at a world map showing spots where records had been added to GBIF etc. The UK is absolutely covered with the rest of the world showing a distinct lack of sites (apart from Chris's backyard!).

 

Next was the fabulous Geoff Hancock (Glasgow Museum - all the more fabulous for stepping in at late notice) who gave a talk on specific craneflies that you could identify through the pupal cases that they left behind. This is a secondary character that enables ecologists to monitor populations without killing any of the specimens so are crucial when dealing with rare and/or endangered species.

 

After coffee we started with Graham Rotheray (Edinburgh Museum) who discussed higher Dipteran larvae, specifically their feeding apparatus. Some excellent photographs showing the very reduced structures associated with the heads. And finally Stuart Ball who gave a talk on recent work on Hoverflies. Lot's of fun with modelling of the data! We dragged everyone upstairs to our lovely new common room giving a few people vertigo on the way for lunch! The afternoon resumed with the AGM followed by individual recording groups detailing the years activity. Some lovely photographs supplied by Judy Webb for Peter Chandlers Mycetophila talk.

 

Then off to the pub! followed by a meal. Brilliant

 

The next day a fair number of people returned to the museum for a tour and then to play in the collections! The tour started with Hannah Cornish giving an introduction and show round of the AMC for UK biodiversity.

 

AMC sign.jpg

 

 

They were impressed by the space and hopefully you will see some workshops on Diptera identification being run from there soon. Next was the UK Diptera synoptic collection. This collection was finished on Friday at 4.15pm!! Nigel Wyatt, Kim G, Hannah and I have worked solidly over the last two weeks to get the collection in. I was a walking zombie often leaving past nine at night. One night even my Mum helped although she did spend a fair amount of time laughing at all the species names. But against much adversity it was completed (albeit the slide and the ones that we had no pads for! they turned up this morning!) But by the time the tour started 250 drawers were in the synoptic collection and being looked over by the amateur specialists. It was such a lovely site.

 

We then carried up to see the spirit collection (and try and presuade them that they wanted to help sort material ) followed by a look in the imaging lab. Finally we showed them the cocoon ends and the main British and World collection in their new homes. They loved it! People split off and either corrected the synoptic collection, retrieved data off labels, used the collection to aid in identifications, or generally just nosed around 'ohhing' and 'ahhing' every now and again. People donated material and there were many offers of future donations to fill the main gaps in the collection

 

dipterists in cocoon.jpg

 

We have decided to hold another session similar to this in February before the sampling kicks in again to provide opportunities for the group to cross check material etc. My highlights were the hedgehog fly and i have to say I was very impressed with some of the Tachinids (not a group i usually look at). Stuart Balls comment of having walk through genitalia was my favourite of the day

Erica McAlister

Erica McAlister

Member since: Sep 3, 2009

I'm Erica McAlister, Curator of Diptera in the Entomology Department. My role involves working in the collection (I have about 30000 species to look after and over a million specimens), sometimes in the lab, and thankfully sometimes in the field.

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