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It’s Science Uncovered time again beetlers! We can’t wait to show off our beetles to the thousands of you who will be visiting the Natural History Museum on the night. We'll be revealing specimens from our scientific collections hitherto never seen by the public before! Well, maybe on Monday at the TEDx event at the Royal Albert Hall we did reveal a few treasures, including specimens collected by Sir Joseph Banks and Charles Darwin, as seen below.

 

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Lucia talking to the audience of TEDx ALbertopolis on Monday 23rd September.

 

lydtedweb.jpgLydia and Beulah spanning 250 years of Museum collections at TEDx Albertopolis.

 

Last year we met with about 8,500 of YOU – so that’s 8,500 more people that now love beetles, right? So, as converts, you may be coming back to see and learn some more about this most speciose and diverse of organisms or you may be a Science Uncovered virgin and no doubt will be heading straight to the beetles (found in the DCII Cocoon Atrium at the Forests Station).


This year the Coleoptera team will be displaying a variety of specimens, from the weird and wonderful to the beetles we simply cannot live without! Here’s what the team will be up to...


Max Barclay, Collections Manager and TEDx speaker
For Science Uncovered I will be talking about the diversity of beetles in the tropical forests of the world. I have spent almost a year of my life in field camps in various countries and continents, and have generally come back with thousands of specimens, including new species, for the collections of the Natural History Museum. I will explain how we preserve and mount specimens, and how collections we make today differ from those made by previous generations.

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Crocker Range, Borneo - it's really hard work in the field...but, co-ordinating one's chair with one's butterfly net adds a certian sophistication.

 

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The Museum encourages its staff to be respectful of and fully integrate with local cultures whilst on fieldwork. Here is Max demonstrating seemless cultural awareness by wearing a Llama print sweater in Peru.

 

I will also talk about the Cetoniine flower chafers collected and described by Alfred Russell Wallace in the Malay Archipelago, and how we recognise Wallace’s material from other contemporary specimens, as well as the similarities and differences between techniques used and the chafers collected in Borneo by Wallace in the 1860s, Bryant in the 1910s, and expeditions of ourselves and our colleagues in the 2000s.

 

Lydia Smith and Lucia Chmurova, Specimen Mounters and trainee acrobats
As part of the forest section at Science Uncovered this year we are going to have a table centred on the diversity of life that you may see and hear in tropical forests. Scientists at the Natural History Museum are regularly venturing out to remote locations around the world in search of new specimens for its ever expanding collection.

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L&L acrobatic team on an undergraduate trip to Borneo with Plymouth University.


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Maliau Basin, Borneo: Lucia injects some colour into an otherwise pedestrian flight interception trap

 

We will be displaying some of the traps used to catch insects (and most importantly beetles!) along with showing some specimens recently collected. We will also have a sound game where you can try your luck at guessing what noises go with what forest creatures. Good luck and we look forward to seeing you!

 

Hitoshi Takano, Scientific Associate and Museum Cricketer

Honey badgers, warthogs and Toto - yes, it can only be Africa! This year at Science Uncovered, I will be talking about the wondrous beetles of the African forests and showcasing some of the specimens collected on my recent fieldtrips as well as historic specimens collected on some of the greatest African expeditions led by explorers such as David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley.

 

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Museum cricket team, The Archetypes (yes, really!). Hitoshi walking off, centre field, triumphant! Far right, Tom Simpson, Cricket Captain and one of the excellent team organising Science Uncovered for us this year.

 

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Mount Hanang, Tanzania: Jungle fever is a common problem amongst NHM staff. Prolonged amounts of time in isolated forest environments can lead to peculiar behaviour and an inability to socialise...but don't worry, he'll be fine on the night...

 

There are more dung beetle species in Africa than anywhere else in the world - find out why, how I collect them and come and look at some of the new species that have been discovered in the past few years!!

 

Beulah Garner, Curator and part-time Anneka Rice body double

Not only do I curate adult beetles, I also look after the grubs! Yes, that's right, for the first time ever we will be revealing some of the secrets of the beetle larvae collection. I can't promise it will be pretty but it will be interesting! I'll be talkng about beetle life cycles and the importance of beetles in forest ecosystems. One of the reasons why beetles are amongst the most successful organisms on the planet is because of their ability to inhabit more than one habitat in the course of their life cycles.

 

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Crocker Range, Borneo: fieldwork is often carried out on very tight budgets, food was scarce; ate deep fried Cicada to stay alive...

 

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Nourages Research Station, French Guiana: museum scientists are often deposited in inacessible habitats by request from the Queen; not all breaks for freedom are successful.

 

On display will be some horrors of the collection and the opportunity to perhaps discuss and sample what it will be like to live in a future where beetle larvae have become a staple food source (or entomophagy if you want to be precise about it)...go on, I dare you!

 

Chris Lyal, Coleoptera Researcher specialising in Weevils (Curculionidae) and champion games master

With the world in the throes of a biodiversity crisis, and the sixth extinction going on, Nations have agreed a Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. The first target is to increase understanding of biodiversity and steps we can take to conserve it and use it sustainably. That puts the responsibility for increasing this understanding fairly and squarely on people like us. Now, some scientists give lectures, illustrated with complex and rigorously-constructed graphs and diagrams. Others set out physical evidence on tables, expounding with great authority on the details of the natural world. Us – we’re going to play games.

 

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Ecosystem collapse! (partially collapsed).

 

Thrill to Ecosystem Collapse! and try to predict when the complex structure will fall apart as one after another species is consigned to oblivion. Guess why the brazil nut tree is dependent on the bucket orchid! Try your luck at the Survival? game and see if you make it to species survival or go extinct. Match the threatened species in Domino Effect! Snakes and ladders as you’ve not played it before! For the more intellectual, there’s a trophic level card game (assuming we can understand the rules in time). All of this coupled with the chance to discuss some of the major issues facing the natural world (and us humans) with Museum staff and each other.

 

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Here Chris tells us a joke:

'Why did the entomologists choose the rice weevil over the acorn weevil?'

'It was the lesser of two weevils'

IMG_7063.jpgJoana Cristovao, Chris's student and assistant games mistress!

Big Nature Day at the Museum: Joana with a... what's this? This is no beetle!

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One last thought, things can get a bit out of hand late at night in the Museum, it's not just the scientists that like to come out and play once a year, it's the dinosaurs too...

 

We look forward to meeting you all on the night!

3

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.

 

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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.

 

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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. 

 

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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.

 

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Roger waxing lyrical on J.B.S. Haldane; '...an 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.

 

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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.

 

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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

 

 

...as 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!

 

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This is perfectly normal...

            

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  A collection of entomologists...

 

 

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

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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'!

 

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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.

 

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'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.

 

Hanang_dung_trapping_Tanzania_01.08.2012 (105)web (Medium).JPG

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!

 

Tanzania_2012 (381)beudungweb (Medium).JPG

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...

 

Buffalo_dung_Longido_09.08.2012web (Medium).JPG

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!

 

Mbulu_insearchofwaterbeetles_tanzania_12.08.2012htweb (Medium).JPG

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...

 

Longido_water_up_the_mountain_09.08.2012 (3)beuweb (Medium).JPG

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.

 

Longido_erecting_slam_trap_Tanzania_08.08.2012 (3)web (Medium).JPG

Hoisting the trap with BG and Saleem

 

Longido_slamtrapBG&HT_08.08.2012beuhitoshiweb (Medium).JPG

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!

 

erectingmalaiseweb (Medium).JPG

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

 

Mbulu_Malaise&HT&BG_Tanzania_13.08.2012trapedweb (Medium).JPG

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!

Longido_downpour_Tanzania_08.08.2012.JPG

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

 

Mbulu_BG&thelighttrap_Tanzania_13.08.2012web (Medium).JPG

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

 

Mbulu_mountain_view_taking_a_break_BG_Tanzania_12.08.2012.JPG

And we leave you for now with a beautiful view!

 

Next time the hardships and hiccups of fieldwork; and after that, fashion, fieldwork and friviolity...watch 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! http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/after-hours/science-uncovered/index.html

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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...

5

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

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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.

elephants.JPG

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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

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When I think of Tiger beetles, (subfamily Cicindelinae) I think of William Blake’s most wondrous poem The Tyger (as was spelled by him in 1794). He was writing of that famous mammalian predator the tiger (Panthera tigris). Here is the first stanza:

 

Tiger Tiger burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

 

 

Could he have been writing also of those most accomplished and fearful predators the tiger beetles? I bet Blake scholars have never thought of that!
When viewed close up, their mandibles (jaws) are truly fearsome! These beetles are as close to perfect symmetry as any other creature found in nature.

This species of Pseudoxycheila lateguttata Chaudoir ssp. peruviana Cassola, 1997
(new to the Museum’s collection and found on a collecting trip to Peru in 1984 by Martin Cooper) is a prime example of the tiger beetles’ ability to devour its prey – just look at those mandibles!

Pseudoxycheilawebuse.jpg

Image courtesy of Tristan Bantock 2011

 

Tiger beetles run very fast (approx 5 mph!) and select a varied invertebrate prey. Most species are found during the day and are prevalent in hot dry countries such as South Africa. They are heliophilic which means they love the sun – being cold blooded creatures; it gives them the required velocity to out-run their prey, or indeed their predators. Their enlarged compound eyes are extremely powerful – if you have ever encountered one, you will know that they move very quickly at the slightest detection of movement! Their exceptionally long legs not only aid speed but also help to keep them cool as they are elevated from the heat of the earth. They are found in dry sandy habitats, usually in the vicinity of water and are generally cosmopolitan. In Britain there are just five species.

 

megacephalaweb.jpg

Some Megacephala from Tanzania (nocturnal predators)

 

 

I have been working on some collection expansion (we have a few new species to the collection) which could not be possible without the identification skills of the world’s expert in the Cicindelinae, Fabio Cassola from Italy. For more on Fabio and the cicindelinae in general follow this link:

http://www.cicindelaonline.com/FabioCassola.htm

Each year on our sojourns to Prague Insect Fair we meet up with Fabio and give him a few hundred specimens from all over the world to identify! This March we went out to Prague with 327 unidentified specimens from various collections that have either been donated to the Museum or result from the Museum’s own collecting trips. By the time we return to Prague in October, Fabio will have identified the lot!

 

Neocollyris.jpg

Neocollyris apteroides from NE India (Assam) approx 25mm length (new to the Museum's collection)

Image courtesty of Tristan Bantock 2011

 

 

In March 2010 we sent to Fabio Cassola 327 specimens of 71 taxa– as a result the following are new to the Museum’s collection:

 

Neocollyris (Pachycollyris) apteroides (W. Horn, 1901) (7) 
NE INDIA, Assam: Bhalukpong, 27°02N-92°35E, 150 m, 28.V-3.VI.2006, P. Pacholá tko; L. Dembicky & P. Pacholátko, BMNH(E) 2006-48, 4m 3f (=male / female)

 

Pseudoxycheila lateguttata Chaudoir ssp. peruviana Cassola, 1997 (1)
PERU, Amazonas: Rodriguez de Mendoza, 1400 m, 29.XI.1984, M. Cooper,
1m

Ronhuberia fernandezi (Cassola, 2000) (2)
COLOMBIA, Nariño: Barbacoas, 1000 m, 23.III.1974, M.C. Cooper, 2m

 

Elliptica kolbeana (W. Horn, 1915) (2)
TANZANIA: Tulawaka, Biharamula, 1250 m, XI.2002, Bucket pitfall, riverine forest, University of DSM; BMNH (E) 2010-91,1m
TANZANIA: Tulawaka, XI.2002, Bucket pitfall, riverine forest, University of DSM; BMNH (E) 2010-91,1m

 

Cylindera (Ifasina) discreta (Schaum) ssp. subfasciata (W. Horn, 1892) (10) 
INDONESIA, Borneo, Kalimantan Tengah: Busang/Rekut confl.,0°03S-113°59E; August 2001, MV light, Brendell/Mendel; Baritu Ulu 2001, BMNH(E) 2001-191, 4m 6f

 

Brasiella (Gaymara) balzani (W. Horn, 1899) (5)
ECUADOR, Morona-Santiago:  Macas (Rio Upano), 1000 m, 7.V.1981, M.C. Cooper, 3f
BOLIVIA, Cochabamba:  Villa Tunari, 800 m, 14.X.1981, M.C. Cooper, 2f


And this is just one story. We have a long history of this type of partnership with experts in many Coleoptera groups from all over Europe and indeed the world who work tirelessly and devotedly (some might say obsessionally (I know that’s not a word okay!) to contribute to the world’s knowledge of its amazing diversity.
Here is me, working tirelessly and devotedly (and always with a smile?!) on this beautiful group of beetles.

beu cicindelinae blogweb.JPG


Post Script from Max Barclay from 2009/10:


We have just received a list of tiger beetles returned from identification by the world expert Fabio Cassola, including many species that we had no recent material of, and an amazing 10 species new to the collection (not bad for a well known and well collected group!); almost all of these were relatively recently acquired from field work expeditions (the details of which can be read from the list of species new to the collection below) or recovered from old unprocessed material in the last few years; some dating back to 1974!
I would like to thank all of you who have contributed to this great piece of collections development, and particular congratulations to those people who scored a 'new to NHM' species, Martin Brendell, Richard Smith, Hitoshi Takano, Donald Quicke, Jon Martin, Daegan Inward, Colin Vardy and P Hanson.
(Max Barclay, Collections Manager).

 

Of the 271 specimens sent out on this loan in 2009/10, 10 were new to the Museum’s collection:

 

Neocollyris (Brachycollyris) purpureomaculata (W. Horn, 1922) (1)
W. MALAYSIA, Cameron Highlands: Tanarata, 8-26.IV.2002, Malaise trap, 10°55N-83°30E, BMNH (E) 2005-151, D L JQuicke, 1m  

Collyris robusta Dohrn, 1891 (1)
BRUNEI: Bandar Seri Begam, mangrove/forest interface, 20.VI.1983, P.J. De Vries,1m

 

Tetracha (Tetracha) s. spixii (Brullé, 1837) (1)
PERU, Amazon: Iquitos, Rio Napo-Rio Sucusari, 3°96'46S-73°15'49W, XII.1997, lowland forest,M.V.L.Barclay, BMNH(E) 2003-49, 1f

 

Odontocheila cinctula (Bates, 1881) (8)
COSTARICA: Guanacaste: Golfo Dulce, 10 km N Piedrasblancas, II-III.1989, P. Hanson; BMNH (E) 1997-188, P. Hanson, 1m 1f
COSTARICA: Puntar.: Golfo Dulce, 24 km W Piedrasblancas, 200m, III-V.1989, P. Hanson; BMNH (E) 1997-188, P. Hanson, 1m
COSTARICA: Guanacaste: Estac. Pitilla, 9 km S Santa Cecilia, 700m, VI.1989, I. Gauld; BMNH (E) 1997-188, P. Hanson, 5m [2 ]

 

Therates apiceflavus Sawada & Wiesner, 1999 (2)
W. THAILAND: Thung Yai Wildlife Sanctuary, 15°26 (an 28) N-98°48E, 300m; Tak Province, Umphang District, Song Bae Stream, 18-27.IV.1988; evergreen rain forest, M.J.D. Brendell, B.M. 1988-183, 1m 1f [1 ] 

 

Hipparidium pseudosoa (W. Horn, 1900) (3)
TANZANIA, Nija Panda, Mwanihana, Udzungwa Mountains NP, 07°47’27.7S-36°49’11.7E, 27-30.XI.2010, Smith R. & Takano H., general collection; BMNH (E), 2010-91, 1m 2f [1 ]

 

Cylindera (Plectographa) ritsemae (W. Horn, 1895) (1)
ARGENTINA, S. del Estero:  Thermes de Rio Hondo, 27-28.XI.1979, C. & M. Vardy, B.M. 1980-67, 1f 

 

Naviauxella davisoni (Gestro, 1889) (1)
W. THAILAND: Thung Yai Wildlife Sanctuary, 15°25N-98°48E, 300m; Kanchanaburi Province, Sangkhla Buri District, Mae Kasa Stream, IV-V.1988; decidous dipterocarp forest, M.J.D. Brendell, B.M. 1988-183, 1f  

 

Naviauxella ramai Naviaux, 1991 (1)
W. THAILAND: Thung Yai Wildlife Sanctuary, 15°25N-98°48E, 300m; Kanchanaburi Province, Sangkhla Buri District, Mae Kasa Stream, IV-V.1988; decidous dipterocarp forest, M.J.D. Brendell, B.M. 1988-183, 1m  

 

Brasiella (Brasiella) mendicula Rivalier, 1955 (3)
BELIZE: Chiquibul Forest Res., Las Cuevas Field Station, 16°44N-88°99W, 300-700m, 1.VII.1997, D. Inward, BMNH (E) 2005-78, 1m 1f [1 ]
BELIZE, Cayo, Chiquibul FR, my light sheet; Las Cuevas Research Stn., clearing, VI.2002, J.H. Martin coll.; BMNH (E) 2005-43 J.H.Martin, 1f


Tiger Tiger burning bright…

 

final.jpg

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Vertebrates - mammals, birds, fish and amphibians - have broadly the same body plan with two pairs of limbs.  However, over time, some species and groups have lost one or both pairs of limbs.  Many others have reduced limbs.  Whales, snakes, caeclian amphibians and a range of fish are some of the examples.

 

Modern scientific research has a strong interest both in the patterns of development and in how and why these change as a result of genetic evolution - it does appear that different genes can be involved in limb reduction and loss in different groups. 

 

Drs Ralf Britz and Lukas Rüber (NHM Zoology) and colleagues from University College London and the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, Grahamstown reported the first case of pectoral fin loss in the Mastacembelidae (Teleostei: Synbranchiformes) with the discovery of a new species of spiny eel from Lake Tanganyika in the Journal of Zoology.

 

A previous evolutionary phylogeny of mastacembelids using comparisons of genetic differences between different species,  coauthored by Dr Rüber , had placed the new species Mastacembelus apectoralis sp. nov. within the Lake Tanganyikan species flock, having diverged from its sister species M. micropectus around 4.5 million years ago. M. micropectus also shows a reduction in the size of its pectoral fin and endoskeletal girdle, and has largely cartilaginous pectoral radials and a reduced number of pectoral-fin rays. This is in contrast to the bony skeletons of most fish species in this group

 

The loss of pectoral fins and reduction of associated girdle elements in M. apectoralis represent another independent occurrence of this evolutionary phenomenon within teleosts. The discovery of this species highlights the exceptional diversity of the biodiversity hotspot, Lake Tanganyika, the understanding of which is of critical importance with the pressures of pollution, overfishing and climate change threatening the speciose and evolutionarily significant diversity of this ancient lake.


Brown, K. J., Britz, R., Bills R., Rüber, L. & Day J. J. (2011). Pectoral fin loss in the Mastacembelidae: a new species from Lake Tanganyika. Journal of Zoology April 2011 doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2011.00804.x

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Tanzania fieldwork part II in Beetle blog

Posted by Blaps Apr 15, 2011
Hello beetlers,
Well our intrepid explorer is alive and well, despite the dramatic shaky camera and ‘fade to black’ in the last video entry!
Finally we get some beetle information, proof that he is out collecting for us, and not just sunbathing (or drying off from the rains)!
Clothes and kit drying on the ridgewebedit2011.JPG
Wet kit drying on the ridge
porters in front of the old mission building, preparing for the long walk into the forest._webP1000021.JPG
Porters preparing for the journey into the mountains. Those chinese laundry bags get everywhere!
Over to Hitoshi:
"This is a beetle blog after all so I guess I should talk about the beetle fauna! The groups I have been concentrating on mainly in Tanzania are the chafers (Cetoniidae) and the dung beetles (Scarabaeidae). This time round in the Ngurus Mountains, I have seen a couple of beautiful species which have not been observed in the previous seasons, namely Dicronorrhina derbyana and Megalorrhina harrisi. These Cetoniids are attracted to a broad leaved shrub which produces a sap which is irresistible to insects. Often from one small sap flow, one can observe butterflies and beetles fighting over the sweet liquid.
Dicronorrhina derbyana2011IMGA0154webedit.JPG
Dicronorrhina derbyana is a real beauty!
Megalorrhina harrisi2011IMGA0130web.JPG
Megalorrhina harrisi basking!
Unfortunately, the dung pitfall traps did not work too well due to the rainwater washing out almost all of our pitfalls. However, of the ones which remained un-flooded they yielded some very interesting Onthophagus dung beetle species as well as other small Staphylinids (rove beetles) and Carabids (ground beetles).
Tan_truck_stuck_ 2011IMGA0053web.JPG
Here's something else that didnt work too well! Truck gets stuck in the mud...
Another interesting find was Ochyropus gigas, a giant Scaritine ground beetle which was found scuttling around the forest floor. This is a species which is common in West and Central Africa but are most unusual on this side of the Rift Valley.
Ochyropus gigasIMGA0096web.JPG
The formidable Ochyropus gigas, and yes, it can give you a nasty nip!
You learn something new every day: Passalids make squeaking noises – I did not know this!"
HT
Thanks Hitoshi - happy collecting!
Ochyropus gigas belongs to the subfamily Scaritinae (Bonelli, 1810). These beetles are commonly known as burying ground beetles, and are predatory, as is immediately obvious from those huge mandibles! Other features include enlarged and broadened front tibia adapted for digging and ‘wasp waist’. They spend the day in burrows and come out at night to hunt their prey!
The Passalidae are a family of beetles within the super family Scarabaeoidea. They are commonly known as ‘bess bugs’ or ‘bess beetles’ particularly in America, (America has the best common names for beetles!). These amazing beetles not only squeak (to communicate with one another) but are brood carers, living in social groups in rotting wood. (This unfortunate creature can be seen in the video from the previous post, squeaking on demand!).Their famous squeak is produced by rubbing the upper abdomen against the wing cases. The larvae also squeak and do this by rubbing the second and third leg together.  They care for their young by feeding them and assisting in building the pupal case. Somewhat unpalatably, the larvae and adults feed on regurgitated faeces which are also broken down by microflora, a bit like cows ruminating!
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Well 'tis the season - fieldwork season that is, and also the rainy season in Tanzania - which is NOT the season for fieldwork! But, if you are Hitoshi Takano, and determined to find that elusive species new to science, then needs must. This week, our fledgling entomologist has flown the NHM Coleoptera nest and managed (against the odds) to send us his 'notes from the field'. Here are the highs and lows thus far:

 

“For the rain it raineth every day”

 

It has been tough. It has seemed like everything has been against us – a long and drawn out April Fool’s joke that Feste in Twelfth Night would be proud of. The wet season in tropical Africa really is a most unforgiving place. Especially up in the mountains.

Our drive from Dar es Salaam to the village of Maskati in the Nguru Mountains should only take 7 hours or so in normal conditions; it took nearly 14 hours this time. The roads leading up to Maskati are winding and contain some pretty challenging uphill hairpins and turns with huge 100m drop offs. Dangerous enough in the dry season, let alone with the torrential rainfall. The deforestation on these slopes don’t help at all. The topsoil just erodes away and flows into the rivers; landslides are not uncommon in this region.

 

 

Half way up to Maskati the back wheel of our trusty vehicle slipped off a concrete bridge. The whole vehicle ground to a halt with its weight bearing down solely on the differential! It took us nearly 2 hours of lifting and pushing with the help of the locals to get the car out. We thought this was bad enough; 200m further up the road, up an especially tricky uphill turn, the vehicle nearly flipped onto its side; it slipped down hill and ended up with its front left tyre completely off the ground! There were many points along this road where we had to unload the kit from the vehicle, reload it only to get stuck 100m further down the road. There were times where we thought it would just be impossible to make it to the village due to the atrocious roads. But Maskati and the Ngurus are well worth the effort. With the sun setting behind the mountains, the village must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. I would guess this is the kind of place James Hilton imagined when he described Shangri-La in Lost Horizon. The air is cool and refreshing. Maskati has been known to the Europeans for over a century. The mission and the church in the village were built by the Germans in 1909 and are still the pride of the village.

 

The walk into the mountains is also very tough. Two serious up-hills interjected by fast rivers flowing over slippery granite. Having overcome this obstacle, one reaches an incredible ridge at about 2100m. Beyond this ridge is a 200m drop off into what feels like Jurassic Park; a prehistoric forest with wonderful streams and rivers which contain many endemic frogs and chameleons, tree ferns, mosses and lichens. Many of the neighbouring forests have been logged out but because it is so difficult to get here (and to get the timber out) this area has escaped the deforestation.

To rub salt into the wound, this long walk was undertaken during a torrential downpour! I made a massive hash of packing my kit and because none of my clothes were in dry bags, absolutely everything got wet! Thank goodness we had three hours sunlight on top of the ridge to dry my clothes. I was not very happy with my schoolboy error!

 

 

During my time in the Ngurus it really did rain a lot. If we had less than 10 hours rain in the day, we were lucky; on bad days, it rained for 12 hours and more. Cold and wet. Nothing dries - putting on wet clothes in the morning has got to be one of the more unpleasant experiences when in the field.

The wet season also means that two of my fears become a palpable reality. Firstly, lightning and thunder which in their own right are extraordinary spectacles, but camped perilously on an exposed ridge with quite a lot of metal from all our equipment is not in the least bit amusing! Secondly, slugs and snails – my inordinate fear. They are everywhere. On the forest floor, on my tent, even in my tent. When walking at night looking for insects, every leaf you look at and every log you turn over, there is always some filthy slimy creature waiting for me! Give me spiders and scorpions any day!

Having managed to get up to the mountains and to base camp in the forest, we found to our despair that the generator we bought with us did not survive the journey. Light trapping is such an important weapon in an entomologist’s armoury that without it, comprehensive collection becomes very difficult. We painstakingly had another generator sent up into the forest and although it seemed like it was working, this too failed to light our Mercury Vapour lamp! Unbelievable! Other things which decided to die at crucial points included our inverter/battery charger, the choke for one of the actinic tubes and a digital camera. At this point it seemed very clear that it was worth cutting our losses and returning to Dar es Salaam to sort out our electrical problems; we really need it working for the rest of the trip. It is a terrible shame but we will be returning to the mountains towards the end of the trip to light trap high in the cloud forest.

 

I will now be heading south to the Udzungwa Mountains where elephants and buffalos await – and no doubt, more rain!

HT

Next time, we see some Tanzanian beetles encountered along the way...

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Fieldwork in Africa in Beetle blog

Posted by Blaps Feb 3, 2011
This week one of our academic visitors Hitoshi Takano shares the trials and tribulations of fieldwork, in one of the most hostile and unforgiving places in the world, Africa. But aside from the hardships of fieldwork it is also a beautiful and rewarding place with nature at its rawest and wildest. And, there are thousands of beetles!
However, there appears to be a distinct lack of any evidence of beetle collecting, but here’s a black and white Colobus monkey. Magombera Forest, Tanzania, just to make up for it – and no, HT didn’t bring it back to the Museum for closer study.
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In HT’s own words: “Did I really spend all that time just standing in the sun wielding a butterfly net or slumped next to a light trap with a bottle of whisky? I also have a total of zero beetle pictures - it seems I stick them into a tube of alcohol before I even get the chance to take a photo. Note to self for the future - more science and beetle photos!” Yes, more beetles please!
Taking part in fieldwork can often highlight the degradation of habitats, or even countries. When HT went on fieldwork to Sierra Leone this was immediately apparent. Sierra Leone is the world’s worst off nation, after nine years of civil war ending in 2000, it is not jus the economy and the peoples that are affected, it is also the natural environment. After a failed attempt to track the pygmy hippo (one of Africa’s many endangered species whose populations are under threat from deforestation and poaching), he tells this story:
“…with an outdated guide to the local mammal fauna, we headed for a locality in ‘impenetrable’ Sierra Leone. We soon understood that this habitat could no longer support a viable population of hippos. After years of civil war, mass deforestation, and farming, the landscape was barren; we couldn’t even pitch our hammocks. Forget hippos, there weren’t even trees, which meant the breaking of the cardinal Ray Mears rule of never sleeping on the ground in the tropics…. But on a positive note, unlike some virgin tropical Africa explorers we didn’t emerge from the jungle with our stomachs in a bag and an unknown virus rioting through our veins! Another of our research sites was more positive, the Outamba-Kilimi National Park had good populations of chimpanzees and elephants, and despite unseasonably long periods of torrential rainfall, there was an abundance of Lepidoptera and Coleoptera.”
So, to get back to beetles, here are some photos of fieldwork, this time in Tanzania.
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Setting up the light trap at dusk, Mwanihana peak, Udzungwa  Mountains
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Dung baited pitfall trap (collecting Scarabs which are very good indicators of ecosystem fitness), Nguru  Mountains (and yes, entomologists do get a bit obsessed with poo, though we are most definitely not 'anally retentive'!)
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Here is HT (on the left) employing the sophisticated fieldwork method of grubbing about in elephant dung with some sticks, looking for beetles...
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All good stories, and hard days' fieldwork, end on a sunset, and perhaps a bottle of whisky!
Nguru Mountains, Tanzania
Next time, let's talk about love...
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We have covered 6,000 km, and found 27 different species of Solanum. Our car suffered 6 punctures! Everyone is very tired. We drove back to Dar es Salaam today to process our collections and get ready to leave Tanzania the day after tomorrow. It will be very strange to be back in London after travelling around Tanzanian for 23 days.

 

 

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Buying a new tyre on the roadside on the way back to Dar.

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Successful day today. We drove inland to Kongwa to look for a potential new species, a strange plant that was collected there in 1975, similar to Solanum cyaneopurpureum but not quite the same.

 

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Kigogo villagers gathered round looking at the specimen picture and discussing where to find the plant. One of them is a local traditional healer and recognised the plant in the picture.

 

 

We could not find anything and we showed a specimen picture to the local Kigogo villagers. One of the villagers was an old traditional healer. He recognised the plant straight away and took us to a remote farm where it was being grown in a maize field, for use as stomach medicine. The women say that this species used to be common in the mountains but now it is rare, and when they find it they take seed and cultivate it.

 

The plant was interesting – most of the stems were just like Solanum cyaneopurpureum, but some basal leaves and inflorescences were exactly like the specimen collected in 1975. I suspect this is a cultivated variant of Solanum cyaneopurpureum: cultivation on rich soil gives it better growing conditions so it can produce more flowers, and the leaves become wider and darker.

 

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Eric and I are looking at the plant while David and the villagers are gathered around watching. It is difficult to concentrate and think when people are gathered all around you watching and shouting, but I am getting used to it!

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We got soaked to the skin and carried on walking through rice fields for many hours. I put my belongings in plastic bags, inside other plastic bags, but the papers and my notebook still got wet. It was a warm and pleasant temperature but everything was totally drenched, and my boots were full of water all day, and we didnt have any food. We were back in Ruvu Forest, making another attempt to find the new Solanum species that may be extinct. We reached the place where it was originally collected in 2001. This turned out to be a dense thicket of spiny lianas climbing over strange-shaped limestone rocks, the only place unsuitable for cultivation and so not cleared for farming. I spent a while climbing inside it looking for the Solanum. It wasnt there, but I found a stinging liana instead, and I now have large red welts all over my arms - would be interesting to know what species it was. We got lost in the mixed mosaic cultivation of rice, maize, and sesame, in spite of walking with several local guides. Our car got stuck in the mud and had to be pushed out by numerous local villagers. I was very relieved when we were back on the tarmac road. All the streams swelled during the day and if we could not get out of there, we would have had to spend the night in the forest and order a tractor to pull us out tomorrow.

 

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Eric and I are soaked to the skin, trying to shelter from the rain in a small farmer’s hut. The roof was leaking and the rain showed no sign of stopping, so we had to carry on going.

 

pic2-rainy-season-road.jpgFinally back on the main road! These roads become completely impassable when the rainy season starts properly, and we were lucky to get out of there without getting seriously stuck.

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Very blurry picture of Eric playing the trumpet with the local band in Morogoro. As soon as he started playing everyone came on the dance floor!

 

Today is our 19th day on the road collecting. We found 25 species of Solanum so far, amazing success! Only four fieldwork days to go. I feel guilty that Frank and David are working with us instead of enjoying the Easter break with their families. Our restaurant in Morogoro had a band playing and they invited Eric to play trumpet with them – he was brilliant!

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Me with Udzungwa National Park rangers. Many of them carry guns as a defence against animals and poachers.