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Hello blood fluke enthusiasts,

 

Once again I am posting about my favourite parasite, the blood fluke called Schistosoma. I want to tell you about an exciting project that is going on on the beautiful archipelago of Zanzibar.

 

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Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous archipelago of Tanzania. The two main islands are called Unguja (or Zanzibar island) and Pemba. We are working on a very exciting project to stop schistosomiasis transmission on these islands.

 

This is a bit of a long post but please if you can bear it read on! If successful this project could revolutionize our approach to schistosomiasis (blood fluke disease) control.

 

Schistosomiasis control

 

As I explained in my first blood fluke post, infection with the blood fluke Schistosoma causes a disease called Schistosomiasis (aka Bilharzia).

This disease affects over 200 million people worldwide, the majority living in sub-Saharan Africa. It is strongly linked to poverty and does heart-breaking damage to children and adults in the poorest and most vulnerable communities.

 

bloody urines.jpgSchistosomiasis-boy.jpg

The clinical symptoms of schistosomiasis aka bilharzia, the blood fluke disease: (L)  bloody urine from children excreting the parasite eggs through urination and (R) a malnourished child with a hugely enlarged liver due to damage caused by the parasite eggs stuck in the tissue.

 

Depending on the species of the infecting schistosome worms the disease can cause:

•          Diarrhoea, bloody stool, blood in urine, painful urination.

•          Anaemia, stunted growth, enlarged liver and spleen.

•          Damage to the liver leading to liver fibrosis.

•          Damage to the genitals, kidneys and bladder potentially leading to bladder cancer.

•          Increased risk to sexually transmitted diseases like HIV.

 

Currently there is no vaccine. Schistosomes are masters of disguise when it comes to the immune system which means vaccines that rely on your immune system are difficult to develop. Researchers are trying though! Thankfully there is an effective oral drug called Praziquantel that kills the adult worms in humans. BUT it is the only effective drug against all species of this parasite, which raises concerns regarding drug resistance, and it does not stop people from becoming re-infected.

 

school children in East Africa being treated with Praziquantel the only drug effective against all schistosome blood flukes.jpg

A boy being treated for schistosomiasis. The treatment is an oral dose of Praziquantel. Although the side-effects are minimal the pill is quite bitter and can cause stomach upsets so making sure a child has some yummy juice and a bit of food with treatment is important.

 

Up until now efforts to control schistosomiasis in sub-Saharan Africa have focused on regular treatment of school children to reduce infections and prevent the severity of the disease. The theory being that if you treat regularly you can prevent the child from developing those nasty outcomes listed above. The drug is donated and there are excellent NGOs providing support to programmes wishing to deliver the drugs to schools. Hurrah!

 

However this regular treatment approach has NOT interrupted schistosomiasis transmission in a sub-Saharan African country. This means it requires a (very) long term commitment from the programmes and ministries of health. A lot of these countries have weak and struggling health systems burdened with many challenges (lack of water & electricity, clean needles & surgical equipment, painkillers, antiseptic cream etc) as well as a whole range of poverty-loving diseases to deal with. How long can a struggling health system keep up 'regular' treatments in difficult to reach areas? Once these are missed, or the programme is interrupted, the disease comes back.

 

What about stopping transmission?

 

Elimination = stopping local transmission

 

This is is exactly what is being attempted in Zanzibar through a multi-institute and major collaborative project led by:

 

There are three additional key players:

  • My friend and colleague Dr Steffi Knopp from the Museum and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute. Steffi is tirelessly overseeing the details and daily running of this project as well as analysing the results and publishing whatever new insight we get into schistosomiasis elimination from this ambitious project.
  • SCORE (Schistosomiasis Consortium for Operational Research and Evaluation) funds this project with money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, a wonderful NGO based at Imperial College providing countries with all the logistical and implementation support needed for national treatment programmes (they do accept donations and fundraising so if interested just get in touch.

 

Together (and with a few other people whom I have not mentioned and I do hope will forgive me), they form (drum roll please...):

 

ZEST – the Zanzibar Elimination of Schistosomiasis Transmission

 

(And now superhero music, or better yet Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire)

 

This project aims to answer the question:

What tools do we have to stop transmission and what is the most effective way of achieving this?

 

Schistosomiasis life cycle.jpg

Transmission between humans and snails occurs in the local water bodies. In order to reach the water the parasite eggs come out with stool or urine. Because there are rarely toilets and no sewage system or human waste treatment facilities this human waste reaches the water that people frequent and the snails live in. The parasite is then able to continue its life cycle by first infecting a snail and then infecting a human.

 

So where on the life cycle can we intervene to stop transmission?

  1. We can kill the adult worms inside people by treating them with Praziquantel – Mass Drug Administration to communities at risk of infection.
  2. We can remove the intermediate host snail from the human water contact areas – Snail Control in local water contact sites.
  3. We can stop the eggs from reaching the water and warn people from going into known transmission sites – Behavioural Change Intervention.

 

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A typical transmission site for schistosomiasis. Families come to the water to wash, clean, fish, etc.

 

These are the three interventions we have available to us. What is the most effective way to eliminate schistosomiasis in an area?

 

In order to test this ZEST has randomly organised all the distinct community areas of Zanzibar and Pemba into our three intervention groups:

 

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A car full of donated Praziquantel treatment for schistosomiasis, about to head out to the communities.

 

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Collecting urine samples from children to test for the presence of schistosoma eggs. This is how we diagnose schistososmiasis.

 

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Spraying local water contact sites with a chemical that kills the aquatic snail host of schistosomes.


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This is a familiar face to you I’m sure, Dr Fiona Allan our resident schistosome snail expert surveying sites in Zanzibar. She has a sixth sense on where the snails will be and where transmission occurs. We are now calling her 'snail whisperer'.

 

1. Mass Drug Administration – Treatment of communities twice a year with Praziquantel. Now the truth is it would be unethical not to treat people we know to be suffering from the disease purely in the name of science. We may be scientists but we’re not evil scientists! So EVERYONE on BOTH ISLANDS IS GETTING TREATMENT. But in group 1 they are ONLY receiving treatment. No snail control, no behavioural intervention. This is to test the effectiveness of the current approach (treating people regularly).

 

2. Snail Control - Snail Control by spraying transmission sites with a safe and gentle dose of Niclosamide. The communities are receiving treatment as normal however their villages have been surveyed for human-snail water contact and schistosomaisis transmission sites. These sites then get sprayed with the molluscicide (chemical that kills snails) Niclosamide. Niclosamide is also used as parasite treatment for livestock and is safe for mammals and birds. It does kill all snails though so we only want to use it in the areas that have transmission, nowhere else. We also know that it quickly breaksdown in the environment. This is good because it means it does not linger around however it’s also bad because a good rain storm and off it goes down the river without killing any schistosome infected snails.

 

3. Behavioural Change Intervention – Mobilizing communities by teaching them about schistosomiasis transmission and supporting them to find their own solutions. Education teams go out to the communities, teach the village leaders, the religious leaders, the teachers about schistosomaisis and the blood fluke life cycle. They then help the communities to develop ways of raising awareness of schistosomiasis, educating parents and children and encouraging positive behaviour change that will prevent disease transmission. This has taken form of:

    • Special Kichocho (Swahili word for schistosomiasis) events, where safe games are played, little educational sketches are watched and fun is had.
    • Training teachers to teach children at schools about the schistosoma life cycle.
    • Building latrines and urinals for children and adults to use instead of urinating outside.
    • Making signs warning people of the presence of kichocho in the water and the risk of infection.
    • Other solutions like safe clothes washing areas etc.

 

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Big red signs warning the community about the presence of Kichocho (schistosomes) and konokono (snails - intermediate hosts of schistosomes) in the local water.

 

The behavioural intervention team on Pemba and Michael, an MSc student from the University of Tulane, with the help of the wonderful behaviour scientist Dr Bobbie Person, have created an amazing educational video in Kiswahili to show in villages and schools. Do take a look - it is fantastic!

 

 

A video made by the schistosomiasis behaviour intervention team on Pemba with the help of Michael Celone to teach communities about the life cycle of Kichocho (schistosomiasis). The video is in Kiswahili with English subtitles.


 

 

A second video teaching communities about behaviours that increase transmission and risk of infection as well as what they can do to prevent Kichocho (schistosomiasis). The video is in Kiswahili with English subtitles.

 

ZEST.jpg

The Zanzibar Elimination of Schistosomiasis Transmission study design. MDA – Mass drug administration of safe anti-schistosomal drug Praziquantel delivered to the villagers twice a year. Snail Control – removing snails in human water contact sites by spraying with safe molluscicide Niclosamide. Behaviour Intervention – Community-lead behavioural change intervention to stop behaviour that leads to transmission/infection of schistosomes.

 

Wish us luck and watch this space!

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Hello honorary parasitologists,

 

I know there has been a bit of radio silence on my part and I apologise, summer was calling me and there was a lot of stuff to get through before I could escape on annual leave.

 

I'm back now and picking up where we left off. Perhaps you are wondering what happened to all those samples we collected in Tanzania in May (see previous posts). Well wonder no longer, I am about to reveal all.

 

A quick recap of our collecting in Tanzania:

  1. We collected miracidia, the parasite larval stage from infected children, and stored them onto special paper (called Whatman® FTA cards) that stores their genetic material.
  2. We also collected the intermediate host snail from potential transmission sites on the banks of Lake Victoria.
  3. Finally we collected cercariae, the larval stage from infected snails, and stored their genetic material on the Whatman® FTA paper.

 

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Visiting schools to identify infected children, collect the schistosome larval stage (miracidia) and treat the children.

 

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Snail collecting on the banks of Lake Victoria.

 

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Collecting cercariae, the Schistosoma larval stage, from infected snails.

 

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Whatman® FTA cards store the genetic material of schistosome larvae collected from infected children and/or snails.


 

Storing our collected schistosome larvae on Whatman® FTA cards is ideal for us because:

  1. We avoid storing them in flammable liquids like ethanol.
  2. We avoid having to bring back live, infected snails.

 

...two things that aiports and customs really don't like!

 

The Whatman® FTA cards lyse (break) open the parasite cells and lock the genetic material onto the card, keeping it stable and safe at room temperature until we need to use it. So this means we can bring back our samples safely in our suitcases. Hurrah!

 

The snails, on the other hand, have to be stored in glass tubes with ethanol, so these we have to leave behind in the safe hands of the National Institute for Medical Research, Mwanza. Our collaborators take good care of them until we can arrange a courier service to bring them to the Museum.

 

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Whatman® FTA cards with collected schistosome genetic material from Tanzania, catalogued and stored safely by SCAN in the Molecular Collections Facility at the Museum.

 

Once back in the UK I hand over all collected samples and forms to the wonderful SCAN,Schistosomiasis Collection at the Natural History Museum, team. SCAN takes care of the thousands of schistosome samples collected from all over the world and stored at the Museum. This colleciton is very precious and in high demand for lab-based scienists researching the genome of the parasite and host snail in search of new ways to understand and control the disease. 

 

SCAN cares for collected samples and manages all the associated data, such as:

  • GPS coordinates - so we know where the sample has come from.
  • Collection method - what technique was used to collect the sample?
  • Date of collection - how old is the sample?
  • Storage medium -  is the sample stored on Whatman FTA card or ethanol or any other storage tool?
  • Data on the parasite host - did the sample come from an infected human, cattle, snail? If a snail what species? If a human what age? Gender? 

And lots more.

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The fieldwork forms I fill in when collecting samples in Tanzania. I hand these forms over to the SCAN team along with all my collected samples. They then have the frustrating task of trying to decipher my handwriting.

 

You have met two members of the SCAN team in my previous posts; Fiona Allan, who acted as our fieldwork photographer whilst helping me in Tanzania and Muriel Rabone, who came to my rescue after Fiona had to head back to the UK. There is just one more person for you to meet; the ever-patient and resourceful Aidan Emery, who manages SCAN

 

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Fiona and I going through my fieldwork forms and samples - "what have you written here? It's illegible!" Oops!

 

As you can see there is A LOT of data that goes with each and every schistosome/snail collected and researchers need to have all this information when analyising a parasite or snail sample. SCAN ensures that all this information is properly entered into a database and linked with the samples stored in the Molecular Collection Facility (more on this in a bit).

 

The SCAN team has even created a wonderful online catalogue of all the collected samples they care for, along with all the data linked to each sample. This greatly assists researchers from all over the world, allowing them to have a look and see what samples are available to them. 

 

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Fiona and Aidan storing the Tanzanian schistosome samples collected onto Whatman® FTA cards. Fiona is showing off the little blue booties we have to wear in the Molecular Collections Facility to avoid bringing in contaminants or anything that could harm the hundreds of thousands of precious samples stored there. 

 

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The SCAN team takes a photo and measures the size of every snail that arrives from our African collaborators. In order to extract the DNA from the snail for molecular work the shell must be crushed and removed. It is good to have a picture of what the shell looked like before doing so.

 

The Molecular Collections Facility is a crucial facility in the Museum, as it has all the equipment necessary to keep molecular and genetic samples (such as our schistosome samples) stored safely, stabily and for a long, long time. What equipment am I talking about? I mean: -80 freezers, nitrogen tanks, air-tight cabinets, equipment to release/elute genetic material from stored samples, centrifuges, pipetting robots, you name it. It is run by the very helpful Jackie Mackenzie-Dodds.

 

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Jackie runs the Molecular Collections Facility where all our schistosome samples are stored. All the freezers and nitrogen tanks have alarms linked to them to make sure they continue to function correctly. If one fails an alarm goes off on Jackie's mobile phone so no matter where she is she is immediately notified and able to respond.

 

MCF_nitrogen&Jackie.jpg

Jackie is showing me the liquid nitrogen tanks in the Molecular Collections Facility. Whilst nitrogen in gas form is harmless, liquid nitrogen is very, very cold and any contact with it can cause severe frostbite, even freeze your arm off. Also as it boils it uses up a lot of oxygen in the air, which can lead to asphyxiation. So oxygen monitors are always used. Its incredible freezing ability means it is very effective at storing rare, degraded and old tissue samples.

 

So there you have it, all our samples are archived carefully until we are able to perform the molecular work we need to do for species identification and to determine how the genetic diversity of the parasites is being affected by treatment control programs. My next couple of blood fluke posts will be about the techniques we use to do this. So read up on Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCR)... it does feature!

 

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Fiona and I have managed to decipher my handwriting! Hurrah! The samples are saved!

1

Jambo from Mwanza, Tanzania

 

It's my last week here and as much as I have enjoyed the fieldwork I can't wait to get back home. But there are a few more days of work to do first!

 

Back to blood-fluke fieldwork

 

This time I want to tell you about our snail collecting work. Snail in Swahili is called Konokono. The snails we are interested in are aquatic, pulmonate little dudes belonging to the Biomphalaria genus.

 

They are the intermediate host of Schistosome mansoni, the blood fluke species responsible for intestinal schistosomiasis and it's detrimental health consequences in humans (see previous post - the Blood Fluke story).

 

We collect these snails in order to study the blood fluke parasites they carry.

 

The collecting process involves:

 

  • Scooping for snails on banks of Lake Victoria. We use protective waders to prevent blood fluke infection from the water.
  • Carrying the snails back to the lab, where we use microscopes to identify schistosome parasites.
  • Documenting the infected snails, which will be taken back to the Museum for DNA analysis.

 

 

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Aquatic snail of the Biomphalaria genus, host to the human blood fluke Schistosoma mansoni, the causative agent of schistosomiasis.

 

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Muriel and the team scooping for snails on the banks of Lake Victoria.


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Mr Revocatus and Mr James with the snail scoops and protective clothing (hip waders) to prevent blood fluke infection from the water. Credit Fion Allan.

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Village kids from local fishing village. Credit Fiona Allan.


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Mr Revocatus carrying the dredge to our next snail site. Yes this is a beach on Lake Victoria. Not the sea!


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Mr James with the dredge getting ready to collect those lake bottom snails. Credit Fiona Allan.


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Dredged up snails from the lake bottom. Now we have to find the small Biomphalaria species we are after. Credit Fiona Allan.

 

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Sometimes we have to work around the local fauna.

 

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More local fauna. Credit Fiona Allan.

 

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Activities by the snail collecting sites. This lady is drying small fish in the sun.

 

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Back in the lab, we sort through all our collected snails, put them in water and check for schistosome parasites.

 

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Biomphalaria snails in individual wells with water. We check each well for the presence of the parasite larval stage, cercariae.

 

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Blood fluke larvae (cercariae) under the microscope - those little white things in the water. They're looking for humans to infect!

 

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Identifying infected snails and giving them an ID number. We then preserve the snail in ethanol and bring them back to the Museum for genetic barcoding (species identification).

 

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After a hard days work, Muriel and James getting ready to tuck into some food.

 

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Me about to eat some Wali na Samaki (rice and fish).

0

Jambo from Tanzania,

 

I realise I'm a bit late with this post so lets get straight to it. Just a warning though, this will be a rather disgusting post so get ready to be grossed out.

 

You'll remember from my previous post about our school visits that we collect stool samples from infected children. This is because we collect the miracidia larval stage that hatches out of the parasite eggs. And these eggs come out with stool.

 

The blood fluke life cycle - a recap

 

Schistosoma. The worm pair releases schistosome eggs into the blood system. The eggs pierce through the wall of the intestinal/urinary tract and exit the host when he/she defecates or urinates. They reach fresh water and hatch out into a larval stage called miracidia.

 

Life Cycle Screen shot 2014-04-25 at 16.35.40.jpg

Life cycle of Schistosome, blood fluke parasite and the specimens we collect during our fieldwork (circled in yellow).

 

So in order to collect miracidia we need stool from infected children. Diagnosis of infection is achieved using the Kato Katz method: a specimen of stool viewed on a microscope slide. If schistosome (blood fluke) eggs are observed in the stool specimen then the person is infected with at least one pair of schistosomes. For more information on diagnosis have a look at this video.

 

Collecting eggs from stool

 

Once we know which kids are infected we go to the schools and get stool samples (see previous post). We take these back to the lab and then a long process of stool filtering begins. We filter the stool for schistosome eggs, these we place in water and light. This induces them to hatch out into miracidia. We collect the miracidia onto special cards that store their DNA. We transport these back to the UK.

 

We use a pair of filters called Pitchford funnels (devised by Pitchford & Visser). The inner smaller funnel has bigger pores that allow the schistosome eggs to pass through but stops larger pieces of stool. The outer funnel is made of a finer mesh with pores that stop schistosome eggs from going through, this allows us to pour lots of water through the funnel thereby washing the eggs of stool material that may stop them from hatching.

 

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Pitchford Funnels (devised by Pitchford & Visser). Credit Fiona Allan.

 

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Stool Samples. Credit Fiona Allan.

 

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Sieve to break up stool. Credit Fiona Allan.

 

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Using the sieve to break up the stool sample.

 

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Pouring stooly water through Pitchford Funnel. Credit Fiona Allan.

 

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Myself and Mr John processing stool samples. Credit Fiona Allan.

 

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Adding formalin to left over stool samples to kill of anything inside. These are disposed of safely later. Credit Fiona Allan.

 

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>Revocatus adding formalin to stool. Credt Fiona Allan.

 

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My Nagai releasing the eggs and some water into a petri dish.

 

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Petri dishes of eggs and water. Waiting to hatch.

 

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Fiona starts checking for miracidia swimming in the petri dish.

 

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Fiona and James in the lab in National Institute for Medical Research in Mwanza.

 

Sometimes out in rural areas where we use local hospitals to process our samples things can go wrong, such as a power cut. No electricity means no light through the microscope. Thankfully we rise to the challenge and strap our head torches round our microscopes as an alternate source of light. Not quite as clear but it still works.

 

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Even a power cut will not stop us, we use our head torches as a light source and continue working.

 

So that's it for now. Tune in for the next post - snail collecting on the banks of Lake Victoria.

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Jambo (hi) from Tanzania!

 

We are now into our second week of the trip and the blood fluke parasite collection is going well. A few logistical hiccups but nothing we can’t handle (so far).

 

Last week we went to a few schools to collect schistosomes from infected children. Just to recap why and what we are collecting from schools, here is the life cycle with the stages we are collecting on this trip:

 

Life Cycle Screen shot 2014-04-25 at 16.35.40.jpg

The life cycle of blood flukes, Schistosoma, involving a vertebrate (e.g. human) host and an aquatic snail host. Transmission is through contact of infested freshwater. The yellow circles are the stages and specimens we collect when doing fieldwork.

 

So we have the delightful job of collecting the larval stage, called miracidia, that hatch out from eggs. How do we do this? We go into a school, collect stool samples from infected children and filter out the eggs. We then put them in some water in sunlight and wait for them to hatch. I will explain this in more detail in a subsequent post on lab work. For now let's stick to the first stage: visiting schools.

 

We visit state primary schools in the Mwanza region of Lake Victoria. To get to these schools we sometimes have to drive for hours through dirt tracks. All sorts of obstacles occur but the most common one is this: cattle!

 

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On our way to a school, a herd of cattle, goats and sheep block our path.

 

When we arrive we visit the head teacher and get a proper greeting from the school. The teacher then calls out our selected students - the ones we know are infected from a previous survey, more on this later.

 

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Children were practicing singing, dancing and music on the day we arrived. Credit: Fiona Allan.

 

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Up close and personal, the kids stare at us. Eventually we do get them to smile. Credit: Fiona Allan.

 

We’re a small team: two scientists from the Museum (Fiona and myself) and 3 research technicians from the National Institute for Medical Research in Mwanza - Mr John, Mr Nagai and Mr James. As well as our trusted driver – Mr Lenard.

 

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The team, Mr John, Mr Nagai and me. Getting our gloves on and our kit ready. Credit: Fiona Allan.

 

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My colleague Fiona Allan, a brilliant schistosome expert and our trip’s photographer.

 

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Me holding a football I am about to present to the headteacher as a present. Credit: Fiona Allan.

 

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Mr James is teaching the children how to give us a stool samples and most importantly to wash their hands afterwards! Good hygiene practice!

 

We give the kids a container to put a stool sample, and some toilet paper. They run off to the latrines and come back with a full container. How they are able to poop on demand always amazes me. We label the containers with unique identification numbers for each child. And then go back in the lab to process the samples. All the children in the school receive treatment a couple of weeks later. We always treat any infected child!

 

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Mr Nagai and Mr John handing out toilet paper to the kids. Credit: Fiona Allan.

 

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The children all grab for a container for their stool sample.

 

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School latrines. Credit: Fiona Allan.

 

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Mr James supervises the hand washing.


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We were very happy to see this in some of the schools: a warning about schistosomiasis, called Kichocho in Kiswahili, and an explanation about the life cycle. Credit: Fiona Allan.


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Some shots from the school. A little girl with a necklace of bottle tops, this actually serves as a abacus in the schools. Credit: Fiona Allan.

 

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Local abacus, device for learning arithmetic. Credit: Fiona Allan.

 

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Kids playing in front of a typical Mwanza rock.

 

This time I came with some gifts for the schools. Back in the UK I decided to get a football for each school. The footballs they use are often just rags and plastic wrapped into a tight ball and tied together, or completely deflated punctured balls. So I went shopping at Altimus. The staff and manager were curious about why I wanted 16 footballs. When I explained they very kindly gave me a generous discount. So this is a thank you to Altimus!

 

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Kids playing football with their old cloth ball.

 

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The new football next to the old football. You can see why the teachers and kids are delighted with the gift. Thank you Altimus.


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Girls playing basketball with the new ball from Altimus.


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Time to say Asante (thank you) and Kwaheri (good bye).

 

That's it for today. Next post - what do we do with poo and how to go parasite fishing with a microscope.

 

Asante sana (thank you very much in Swahili).

0

Hello super-fly and parasite enthusiasts. Time for blog post 2, which is coming to you from the Mwanza region of Tanzania, bordering the banks of Lake Victoria. My colleague and I are here to collect specimens of the blood fluke Schistosoma from infected humans and snails.

 

Infection with the blood fluke Schistosoma causes a disease called Schistosomiasis (aka Bilharzia). Over 200 million people worldwide are infected with over 700 million people living at risk of infection. Over 80% of infected people live in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a disease of low socio-economic status, affecting the poorest communities and most neglected, vulnerable people. Infants and children are especially prone to infection due to their less developed immune system.

 

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Children in a school in Niger, West Africa, queuing to be tested for schistosomiasis. The little boy at the front is showing the swollen liver and spleen symptom. A result of being infected with schistosomiasis.

 

There are two forms of the disease, depending on the species of the infecting schistosome worm:

 

Intestinal Schistosomiasis

  • diarrhoea, bloody stool
  • anaemia, stunted growth
  • enlarged liver and spleen
  • severe damage to the liver leading to liver fibrosis

 

Urogenital schistosomiasis

  • blood in urine, painful urination
  • anaemia, stunted growth
  • damage to the genitals, kidneys and bladder
  • bladder cancer
  • increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV

 

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Urine samples from children infected with Schistosoma haematobium, the urogenital form of schistosomiasis. The red colour indicates blood seeping out with the urine due to the damage done by the schistosome eggs.

 

To help fight schistosomiasis we need to understand the complex life cycle of Schistosoma, which involves a vertebrate (in this case human) host, a snail host and transmission via water contact.

 

The blood fluke life cycle

 

Lets start with a worm pair living inside a little boy in sub-Saharan Africa. The worm pair resides in the blood system of the little boy, either around the intestinal tract or around the urinary tract depending on the species of Schistosoma.

 

The worm pair releases schistosome eggs into the blood system. The eggs pierce through the wall of the intestinal/urinary tract and exit the boy when he defecates or urinates. They reach fresh water and hatch out into a larval stage called miracidia. These infect a specific aquatic snail species and reproduce asexually, creating thousands of clonal larval stages called cercaraie.

 

Cercaraie leave the snail to locate and infect a human by piercing through exposed skin in the water. They travel to the liver via the blood system and there they mature into adult worms, ready to reproduce and continue the life cycle (see diagram below).

 

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The life cycle of blood flukes, Schistosoma, involving a vertebrate (e.g. human) host and an aquatic snail host. Transmission is through contact with infested freshwater. The yellow circles are the stages and specimens we collect when doing fieldwork. Credit: Aidan Emery.

 

Schistosoma blood fluke worm pair700p.jpgA schistosome worm pair. The fat male carries the thinner female worm folded in a little groove where he feeds and shelters her whilst she produces eggs. The worm pair lives inside the veins of animals.

 

The schistosome species I work on (Schistosoma mansoni) causes intestinal schistosomiasis. It lives in the vein blood system of the liver and intestinal tract of humans. The adult worms themselves don’t cause much harm but it is the eggs they produce that cause the disease, by:

 

  • Piercing the barrier between the blood system and the intestinal wall = bloody diarrhoea and painful cramps.
  • The eggs that don’t make it out get trapped in organ tissues, causing the immune system to overreact and damage the surrounding human tissues.
  • More worm pairs = more eggs = more damage to the organs and the host. This is what causes the chronic and more severe aspects of the disease such as kidney failure, bladder cancer and liver fibrosis in adulthood.

 

Thankfully there is an effective oral drug called Praziquantel that kills the adult worms. However it cannot prevent children from becoming infected. So in areas where there is no clean piped water or a sewage system, the local water bodies such as Lake Victoria are the only sources of water for the local population. People have no choice but to fish, wash, bathe and collect water from these schistosome-infested waters and therefore are reinfected quickly.

 

Treatment needs to be repeated regularly to avoid heavy worm numbers and high egg outputs. Regular treatment means controlling the disease but does not mean eliminating it. For this we need more research to develop better tools to fight the disease. There is also a major the worry that the parasite will become resistant to the drug. If the parasite develops resistance and the drug stops working there is currently no alternative treatment.

 

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Clean water is not available so local water-bodies are used, such as this irrigation canal in Niger, West Africa.


We are researching the impact of human treatments on the parasite population. This will reveal how the parasite is responding to ongoing treatment programmes, if the drug is working effectively and if there are any warning signs regarding drug resistance.

 

That’s it for now. Coming up, a visit to the schools to collect stool samples from infected children. Disgusting work but someone’s got to do it.

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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!

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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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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)!

 

collectingleaflitterweb (Medium).JPG

And the prize for the most boring photo...


sorting_leaf_litter_Hanang_02.08.2012htweb (Medium).JPG

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...

 

Mbulu_BG_Winkler_Tanzania_14.08.2012beuseiveweb (Medium).JPG

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.

 

Mbulu_snacky_time_Tanzania_2012.JPG

'Snacky time' at Hasama Forest! Of course a freshly pressed newspaper was always made available!

 

Hanang_beetle_negotiation_Tanzania_01.08.2012 (143)web (Medium).JPG

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!

 

Hanang_beetle_collectors_Tanzania_01.08.2012 (139)web (Medium).JPG

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!

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

 

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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.

 

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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!