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Curator of Diptera's blog

2 Posts tagged with the beetle tag
2

Work experience

Posted by Erica McAlister Apr 6, 2010

As well as a marauding mass of volunteers….

 

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I also take on work experience students who are in Year 10 (this means nothing to me). I thought that you would like to know what he thinks of it so far....

 

Hey,

 

My name is Elliot Neillands and I am currently doing work experience in the Entomology Department with my supervisor Erica McAlister and one thing I’ve learnt so far from “working” here is that a lot of Entomologists have an un-healthy obsession with genitalia simply mention the word and they get all excited and worked up about how they are going to dye, dissect or scan a poor fly or beetles whatsits. And yet they insist it’s perfectly natural and healthy even to poke about an insect’s nether regions. Although they seem to be perfectly friendly I often wonder if they are actually bordering on the insane. But in all fairness they have been extremely nice despite some scarring conversations involving masking tape.

 

I have actually been doing some pretty interesting things here including sorting a bowl of tiny insect soup from French  Guiana into their groups. I have learnt the proper names for some of the groups including Diptera for flies, Hymenoptera for bees, wasps and ants and lepidoptera for moths and butterflies. I have also learnt how to tell these groups apart using their number of wings and the structure of their body. I had the pleasure of enlightening some students (yes, from uni) about how the bark beetle was attracted to ethanol of which all of the insects were drenched in with the smell leaking onto me (this lead to some vicious look from old ladies’ on the tube.) My next task of the day after writing this is to remove the wings from flies which I find Ironic since that is often in the nature of cruel little children to do, albeit they will be dead when I do it (I think.)

 

I will be here all next week.
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Well – I have had quite a week and all topped off with Dinosnores on Saturday night! The New Year has been great so far. We are more relaxed – the synoptic collection is finished and the labels for the drawers are being done. We have a list to go onto the Dipterists forum website that has all the missing species from the collection and we hope that this list will get much, much smaller!

 

I have managed to complete some tasks that have been taking ages! I have still some wings to cut of the fungus gnats but I hope to do some more of those later this week. They are being photographed and the images are great.

 

As well as this the loan system is up and running and I have been sending flies around the world. Before Christmas our Brazilian visitors brought back a loan, donated us some material and wanted to look at more of the collection. My colleague and I have been preparing the loan and all of the paperwork associated with this! We have to be very careful when donating or accepting any material as we are covered by the Museums Act. This applies to all our material, even removing a leg for DNA sampling is seen as destructive sampling and our actions have to be justified. This is generally a good thing as we are trying to preserve our biological heritage, not loose it. There was a time (long long ago) when many insect specimens were just thrown away – we don’t like to talk about it…..

 

We have been photographing types as well for external requests and as a secondary bonus, for adding to our database. I am sending some photos of a lovely little Acrocerid to the States. I love these flies (yes, I realise I say this a lot about many flies) – but these are very unusual. Shrunken little heads on a massive body!! I

 

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A lovely little acrocerid

 

I gave a small introduction talk to the students at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine this morning. It was a brief talk into the collections and use of the collections. It is always good to get a chance to wax lyrical about the collections.

 

And of course the Dinosnores sleepover on Saturday night! Wow – that was a high adrenaline event! I was due to give the talks with Nick Baker, who I had not met and only had one email and one phone call with! I was prepared to accept that this could be an unmitigated disaster! However he turned up half an hour before our briefing and we started bickering from the very first moment! (In a good way..) Our approach to many things is different but we both agree in the promotion of science, especially when it comes to the invertebrates. He also talks as much as I do, which believe me, is something! We swapped stories on who was bitten where and exchanged insect facts and hoped that that would be enough!

 

I had organised for a colleague in the museum to put a load of venomous insects into resin and I had some spiders in spirit material. I have given the talk on venomous and poisonous arthropods before and the main problem is that there is never enough time and the difficulty in seeing the specimens. The insects in resin were great to hand out to the audience and a lot of my colleagues would like their own collection!

 

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A bombardier beetle. They are able to squirt a toxin from their rear that are 100oC and they can twist their abdomens around and aim up to 30cm away!

 

We had three sessions in a row of hyped up children. I believe that there were about 300 (200 kids plus adults) and they were all so keen (even the kids…) There was one boy at the end who was such a keen entomologist that I thought he would dislocate his arm he was stretching it so far up to get noticed! Nick told stories of climbing into bed with caterpillars and I went for tales of necrotic wounds J I managed to wangle in a few fly stories including the phorids where the larva is inserted into the thorax, it then crawls through to the head, eating as they go, and causing the head to eventually fall off, in which the larva pupates J Brilliant

 

 

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A European Hornet.

 

I have a lot of time now for Hornets, they are very docile and although they can give a painful sting – they rarely do so! They are fairly uncommon in the UK.

 

It was a buzz talking that fast, about so many insects and arachnids, and in such rapid succession. Towards the end we had no idea which groups we had told what. We ended the talks with the live scorpions! It is entertaining to think that more people were worried about this than the jar of Lonomia (very old caterpillars). The fact that the specimens are all double bagged and in a sealed container with massive warning labels all over them should give some hint to how bad they are!

 

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Part of the label from the jar of Lonomia caterpillars!

 

All in all I thought that the event went well. We would have liked to talk longer but as with all of these events there never is! It was the first one though and so it will be interesting to see how the next one goes.



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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