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Curator of Diptera's blog

19 Posts tagged with the diptera tag
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So I am in the new Darwin Centre and unpacked. And I have to say it is lovely. I have my specimens that I am working on in a cabinet directly behind me. I have a spacious desk with all my catalogues arranged close by. I have a wet lab for sorting my specimens in alcohol a minute away. And it is so light that desk lamps are redundant. And I have a foot rest. I can finally get back to work (there is still the minor problem of the collection that is yet to move into the building though….early November for that and my, it will be crazy). And I have to find a quick route from my desk to the staff entrance..

 

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My bay

 

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View from our floor over the Cocoon

 

Yesterday, though, I got to work on some recuration. I had lent (and by that I mean the Museum) all of our Sisyrnodytes specimens to a researcher in South Africa. These are a genus of Robber flies and the researcher in question is a leading authority. The specimens returned some while ago but I have not been able to put them back in the collection as he had designated one a Lectotype and described two new species from the material.

 

When new species are discovered and named, if it comes from a series then the author may choose to call all of the specimens from the same collecting event etc ‘Syntypes’ (we often have 10+ syntypes). This is not very helpful when it comes to descriptions, so what often happens is that one of them at a later point will be designated a Lectotype. To have this accepted along with the new species that he described, he needed to publish his descriptions.

 

This has now happened so I am able to link the material to the publication, update our system and reinstate the material (all lovingly housed in new Museum standard trays) back into the collection. I have now only another couple of thousand drawers to recurate and a whole lot more of unidentified material…..

 

old style drawers:

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And my nice new ones

 

We are off on fieldwork tomorrow. We have five days based in BridgNorth, near Wolverhampton….Not familiar at all with the area so it should be interesting. It is with the Dipterists Forum and I think that there will be about 10 of us.Today and yesterday the three of us from the Museum that are going have been organising our equipment. We have nets, microscopes, wellies, id guides etc etc that are waiting to be loaded up.

 

These trips are brilliant for many reasons. We get to run round the countryside, we learn a lot more about the British Fauna and we get to socialise with some of the top Dipterists in the UK. We are prioritising at the moment for species that we don’t have in our collection. It does seem odd that there are some UK species missing from the national collection but it has not been a collection priority for a while.

 

This is all changing with the opening of the Angela Marmont Centre for UK biodiversity. With over 7000 species of fly in the UK we should be kept busy hunting for a while

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So I have finally said goodbye to the Tajiks. It has been nearly two weeks of mosquito fieldwork, lectures, larval rearing, crashing minibuses, lab techniques, Brighton Pier, Elisa techniques to determine malarial parasites, Salsa dancing, pinning adults (mosquitoes that is) to name just a part of it. We went out for a final meal last night and all toasted ourselves on how brilliantly it went! Really looking forward to going back over to Tajikistan next year.


We were in one of the final meetings yesterday trying to sort out the methodology of the sampling strategy and it was amazing that even that still needed lots of work. It is the critical part of the project – without a sound scientific methodology the results could at best be unclear and at worst, meaningless. We were not sure half the time whether it was a language barrier or a scientific one. There will lots of emails of the next couple of months to see how things are going. They got to go on a tour of the new cocoon area of the Darwin Centre before they went to play on the interactive displays. My lovely interpreter squealed at the video I filmed in Thailand and Vietnam. They were taking photos of the video…….

 

I had to spend the afternoon in the SPA (specimen preparation area inside the cocoon). This is the bit on the tour where a scientist sits in a preparation area and the public can ask them anything about what they are doing. We had the press yesterday. I took along some recuration work that I needed to finish soon, but with one thing and another it is not progressing as fast as I would like. The work is the bee-fly collection and I love bee-flies (Bombyliidae) – amazing flies, small, furry with a long proboscis (mouth part) and they are parasites of ants J. My favourite flies do tend to be the bitey stabby piercing maiming ones – must be something about my personality.  Anyway, the press…well I don’t think that they were particularly interested in my flies (I never understand when people aren’t….) but they liked the building and I think that they understood the concept. Some of the papers had quotes of ‘10 million bugs’ amongst other things……that would be something if that was true but there are only approximately 3 million (true bugs that is). I do believe that a bit of my hand made it into the metro though….I will be in the ‘box’ tomorrow, again recurating bee-flies but this time to the international press so I will try and drum up some more enthusiasm for my little ones.

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Friday morning

Posted by Erica McAlister Aug 7, 2009
I have now contacted 6 farms/animal adventure parks for next weeks field work down in Somerset. I wonder what the farmers make of me requesting to suck up their mosquito population! Some refused point blank, others were worried due to TB and swine flu and they were not letting anyone in, but most were most obliging (one even said that she would prefer it if we removed all of their flies…) so we have our field sites, our field equipment is being organised, dry ice is in house, we have a freezer at a local University down south to store our specimens... all we have to do is hope that the weather will be favorable.

As well as doing this, we are finalising a visit from the ‘Tajiks’ – this is work that I am undertaking with Ralph Harbach, a leading mosquito systematist. We have been contracted to help the Tajikistan research institutes with their mosquito eradication program alongside Nigel Hill from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. We have already been over there to look at the field sites and see their facilities and their local museum and now we are organising a training trip for them here. It is a lot of work and that is before they have even turned up. We have them for three weeks and it is at the same time that the new Darwin Centre will be launching.

And I have some Brazilian researchers turning up then too….

We also have our synoptic collection to organise (we being Entomology but more specifically I mean Diptera). We are organising labels, trays and drawers but as of today there are not enough trays and drawers!! This is a usual problem as we are always needing these due to incoming material and the need to properly house our specimens.

I am already planning a holiday for after this period... some where very remote with some nice wine
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Hi, I'm Erica

Posted by Erica McAlister Jul 29, 2009
This is my first post! l will be writing about the life behind the scenes at the museum, mainly my work and my obsession with insects.

I have just arrived back from a lovely week away to the trauma of hundreds of emails, meetings, loans, identifications etc etc.  Everything is very busy in the Museum at the moment- it is the school holidays and the public areas are packed! And behind the scenes most of us are getting ready for the big opening and move into the new Darwin Centre. I am now just looking forward to moving into the new building – it seems to have been a long time ago that we moved out of the old Entomology builiding. I love my desk in the old ‘Origins Gallery’ (our tempory home) with the different animals carved into the stonework but i won’t miss the bouncy floor, the poor lighting and noisy staff

I am involved with many different projects at the moment including some on mosquitoes (in the UK and Tajikistan, Thailand and Vietnam), recuration of Bombyliidae (amazing beeflies), making slides of fungus gnat wings and organising a Dipterists Forum AGM and meeting here at the NHM. As well as this I have my day to day tasks which may include Loans of flies to people from around the world, answering enquiries about flies , and updating the database.  There are field visits to go on, samples to sort and and awful lot of specimens to look after!

at the moment i am trying to contact pigeon fanciers to see if they will let me sample mosquitoes in their lofts!
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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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