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Hello beetlers,

Here is the final instalment of HT's intrepid adventures in Africa. We shall be sorry there are no more tall tales from the interior, but happy to have him back in the Coleoptera fold, and even happier with the beetles he will return with for us!

This is quite a long entry, but it's worth it to read to the end and celebrate the Royal Wedding once more (any excuse, and remember, it's always cocktail hour somewhere in the world!) with Hitoshi and his fieldwork companion Ian...I think you will find what they get up to in this video installment quite revealing...and no skipping to the end! BG

 

Uluguru Mountains

Expeditions in remote parts of the world have their ups and downs, and inevitably, things do not go to plan according to your itinerary. On departing Mahenge, our journey up to the Uluguru Mountains was hampered by the crossing of the Kilombero River, something that was very simple on the way down. There is no bridge here and the only means of crossing is a short ferry ride. This crossing is also the route linking the capital Dar es Salaam and Malawi – this is the main road, an economic highway of significant importance. We arrived at the crossing after a long day’s drive from the mountains and found that the ferry had been out of service for four days and a long queue has formed - four day’s worth of vehicles waiting to cross! This, unsurprisingly, made the national news. Not much forethought went into the ferries and unfortunately the spare ferry was also broken. Typical. We were stuck.

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Flooded Kilombero River

 

 

So to Plan B.

With nowhere else to go, we headed back south to a small piece of lowland forest called Nambiga, and camped by the side of the road. We don’t miss an opportunity for entomological collection and so up went the light trap right next to the vehicle! We attempted to cross the Kilombero in the morning but due to the incapacitated ferry, we took a small boat with all the kit across the swollen Kilombero and had another vehicle meet us on the other side.

This delay did at least allow us to watch the Royal Wedding on a tiny television screen in the only bar of a village in the middle of nowhere! It did however mean that we had to postpone the celebratory drinks planned for the forest until the following day. This did not matter too much – it gave us more time to secure the important gin.

If you are thinking that the last part of this trip has turned into one massive booze-up you would be extremely (well, partly) mistaken. There is still a lot of work to do.

Uluguru is an isolated set of mountains near the large town of Morogoro in the centre of the country. The close proximity of the forest to human habitation has meant that over the years, incredible amounts of deforestation has taken place and much of the forest has now disappeared. There are small pockets of intact forest left such as at Tegetero, the site of our research. Now, if you were wondering if I was going to make a comment on European architecture in Africa at this point, you will not be disappointed. The church and the mission at the village of Tegetero were built by the British in the 1940’s.

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Church at Tegetero

 

The walk in was similar to the other mountains – farmland, scrub and then forest. Unfortunately, the local villagers have been using the forest as their local “supermarket” and according to the local forestry officer, all large ground dwelling mammals such as duiker, bushbuck and bush pig have been hunted out. Just a small population of Colobus monkeys is all that remains. Having said this we also encountered an extremely rare bird; the Uluguru Bush Shrike is only found in these mountains and it was actually rather common, their noisy calls being heard regularly.

The lack of large mammals also means a lack of dung. The dung baited pitfalls were pitiful and caught four beetles in the whole time we were here! We might as well have just stuck a few cups in the ground and hoped for the best.

General collection and beating have worked rather well, the latter producing some fine weevils. Some of the most beautiful beetles we have seen here have been the large black ground beetles with a green iridescence belonging to the genus Tefflus which I have not seen elsewhere. These voracious hunters are often found on the forest floor near water and exude a rather unpleasant smell when held.

 

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Tefflus sp (Carabidae)

The MV bulb has worked better and on more than one occasion, we have had excellent nights with an incredible variety and number of moths. The hawkmoths are certainly some of my favourites and the species which have been turning up to the light have been spectacular. Pictured are Xanthopan morgani (with an incomprehensibly long proboscis), Euchloron megaera (left) and the Death’s Head Hawkmoth, Acherontia atropos (right).

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Xanthopan morgani

 

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Euchloron megaera (left) and the Death’s Head Hawkmoth, Acherontia atropos (right)

 

Yes, I know photos of moths on a beetle blog. My apologies. So to rectify the situation a beetle, Ceratocentrus spinicornis, that was also attracted to the light. As far as I can remember, the NHM collection does not have a single specimen of this species from East Africa.

 

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Ceratocentrus spinicornis (Cerambycidae)

 

Apart from the aforementioned, it has been rather quiet on the beetle front. It just goes to show that seasons play an important role in the abundance of all insects here – when I was last here in November/December, the light traps would be covered in beetles, especially the Melolonthine scarabs. This time around, only a few individuals have been present.

Our nightly visitors to feast on the insect “buffet” that is the MV light here in the Ulugurus have included amongst others, bats, geckoes and this beautiful tree frog.

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Tree frog of the genus Hyperolius

 

I now have a fellow wet season explorer with me on this expedition – Ian Baldwin, a contemporary of mine from university years and an aspiring wildlife cameraman, has been filming all entomological and expedition related activities for a short film later in the year. Watch this space!

The fieldwork will shortly be coming to an end. We will be heading back to Dar es Salaam, to the University to help stabilize their natural history collections and then home. London.

HT

 

A huge thank you to Hitoshi for sharing his trials and tribulations with us, and welcome back!

Next time, we are much closer to home with fieldwork at Bookham Common, where there are no monkeys. BG

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Image caption: Prince William holds Sarah the tarantula

 

Did you see Prince William and the tarantula images in the press last week? Looking slightly wary or pretty relaxed depending on which millisecond of action the camera caught! He was holding the tarantula at the opening of the Museum's new Darwin Centre last Monday.

 

The tarantula in the photos is called Sarah and is the pet of a member of staff. She was brought in for the The Secrets of Spider Dating talk, part of the Museum's free daily Nature Live events.

 

Museum spider expert Jan Beccaloni gave the talk and shared her wisdom of spiders telling fascinating facts such as how there are 40,000 or more species of spider in the world and how the jumping spiders have the best eyesight.

 

And, if that isn't fascinating enough, the American Museum of Natural History has just put on display a textile made from spider silk. It took 80 people, using more than 1 million spiders, 4 years to make.

 

They collected female golden orb spiders daily from telephone wires from the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo, during the rainy season (the only time the spiders produce silk).

 

The process needed people to draw the silk from each spider using hand-powered machines. Each spider produces more than 24m of silk filament. The spiders are released afterwards unharmed.

 

So, if you are lucky enough to be in New York, make your way to the Museum and have a look at the rare specimen. Not in America? Get a copy of Jan Beccaloni's new book Arachnids.

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A day to remember in What's new at the Museum

Posted by Rose Sep 15, 2009

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Prince William greets visitors in the Museum's Central Hall on his way to open the Darwin Centre

Rehearsals started early for those involved in yesterday's royal opening event for the Darwin Centre. In the cocoon building’s grand hallway, I managed to catch a run-through of the spectacular butterfly acrobatic dance scheduled for later on in the day, watch the elegant drinks tables receive their finishing touches and then collide with very large security policemen on my way back to the office. I was lucky to get a glimpse, as the event itself was only open to VIP guests and those involved in the celebrations. Later I put together this royal event highlights slideshow.

 

Back in the main Museum, as the time of arrival of His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales at the Museum approached - he was expected at 14.30 – crowds gathered in the Central Hall to greet him on his way into the Darwin Centre down Dinosaur Way. For once, our famous Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton, usually the centrepiece of the Central Hall, was upstaged. As the Prince made his way through the Central Hall, onlookers waved flags adorned with red butterflies and many right at the front got personal handshakes. Prince William also acknowledged all the visitors and Museum staff who filled the Central Hall's grand staircase and overlooking gallery walkways.

 

The main celebrations kicked off at around 14.45 in the Darwin Centre as the incredible butterfly dance commenced to entertain the guests. While the Prince enjoyed the Cocoon tour, meeting scientists and exploring exhibits, guests revelled in a fantastic show above their heads in the grand entrance hall. A striking caterpillar dancer climbed up to a giant white flower suspended from the Darwin Centre ceiling, later to emerge as a gorgeous red-and-white butterfly. After spreading its wings, the male butterfly flew across the crowd and joined a female butterfly dancer in a dramatic aerial dance together.

 

Prince William was also taken on a Cocoon tour and shown the Attenborough Studio venue where he was introduced to Sarah, a huge tarantula. Not sure how much he enjoyed this bit! He was also filmed talking to our Interactive Media manager, Melissa Shaw, in front of the Centre’s amazing Climate Change Wall with one of the children from Royal Marsden hospital.

 

Then it was time for the speeches. Sir David Attenborough joined Prince William and Museum director Mike Dixon in praise of the new Darwin Centre and its vital importance today. Amidst a shower of red butterfly confetti from the dizzy heights of the cocoon building, Prince William declared the Darwin Centre officially open. Guests stayed on till after 19.00 in the evening to continue the celebrations.You can watch video clips of the speeches and royal visit on our website.

 

“It was a fantastic day,” said Serena Palmer, our Front of House Visitor Services manager. “Everything went like clockwork. No disasters. And the feedback from guests was absolutely brilliant!”

 

Today, there’s been a steady flow of eager visitors enjoying the newly-opened Darwin Centre and momentarily we all breathe a sigh of relief it is finally now open to the public…