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Curator of Lepidoptera

4 Posts tagged with the hawkmoth tag
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In the last few posts of my blog I have been talking about the Museum’s holdings of hawkmoths, which amount to 289,000 specimens, and how the Lepidoptera section is dealing with the re-housing, care and accession of this important group.

 

This will be my last post related to this subject and in concluding I want to talk about a private collection of hawkmoths, specifically the Cadiou Collection, which has enriched and transformed the Museum lepidoptera holdings.

 

This large and valuable collection was purchased by the Natural History Museum in August 2008, thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Rothschild family, the de Rothschild family, the John Spedan Lewis foundation, Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust and members of the public.

 

Picture1edited.jpgThe Cadiou Collection with its 230,000 specimens was acquired for the nation and for science in August 2008.

 

 

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Dr Jean-Marie Cadiou was a non-professional lepidopterist with an interest in hawkmoths.


 

Cadiou began amassing his collection while working for IBM in California in the late 1960s, and continued during his subsequent employment with NATO and the EU Directorates General. At the time of his unexpected and untimely death in May 2007, he had authored or co-authored 32 scientific papers and one book, described 65 species and subspecies of hawkmoths and managed to create an extensive collection of thousands of specimens.

 

Picture3.jpgFour hawkmoths described by Cadiou. From top left clockwise: Eupanacra busiris ssp. myosotis (Sulawesi), Orecta venedictoffae (Ecuador), Xylophanes haxairei (French Guiana, Colombia, Ecuador, north Brazil) and Rhodoprasina corrigenda (Thailand).

 

The Cadiou collection contained an estimated total of almost 230,000 pinned and papered specimens and when this collection was put on sale after Cadiou’s death the Museum couldn’t miss the chance to acquire it.

 

The reasons behind this interest were multiple:

  • The majority of the Cadiou material was post-1970 with precise locality data.
  • The collection contained at least one genus and 99 species and subspecies not represented in the Museum.
  • It was also rich in species of which the Museum had only five specimens or fewer (at least 200).

 

In comparison the Sphingidae collections of the Museum at that time comprised 60,000 pinned specimens, many of which were over 100 years old.

 

Pic4 Cadiou's mixed boxes.jpgTwo colleagues of mine went to Belgium to pick up the collection in Cadiou’s house. The plentiful and various types of boxes containing the specimens had to be packed into large cardboard boxes for ease of transport.

 

Copy of Picture5.jpg430 cardboard boxes containing the collection were loaded into a hired large track for transport.

 

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Meanwhile back in the UK a large freezer was hired to quarantine the material before transferring it into the collection areas.

 

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After 21 days in the freezer at -40°C, the boxes were finally moved in the collection area.

 

At that time the Lepidoptera collection was housed in one of the Museum's storage places in Wandsworth, while the new building that would have housed the entomology and part of the botany collections, namely the Darwin Centre, was being built in South Kensington.

 

Once in the collection, we started the process of transferring the pinned specimens from various kind of boxes and drawers of the Cadiou collection into refurbished Rothschild drawers. Many curators and a volunteer were involved in the transferring of the material, and eventually, just before the Lepidoptera collection was ready to join the other entomology collections in the newly built Darwin Centre, in South Kensington, all pinned specimens from the Cadiou collections were transferred into Rothschild drawers and ready to be moved in their new home.

 

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Our long-term volunteer John Owen transferring some hawkmoths from Cadiou’s boxes into Rothschild drawers.

 

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At the end we had filled around 750 Rothschild drawers with pinned Sphingidae (top) and an extra 70 different types of drawers with non-sphingid Lepidoptera (bottom), all these from the Cadiou material.

 

We are now left with 120 boxes containing papered material, some of which has already been sent to Prague for mounting.

 

The actual amalgamation of all the Sphingidae in one large collection started in May 2010 and is still in progress. In this project I work alongside Ian Kitching, one of the researchers in our section and a world expert on Sphingidae. The aim of the project is to re-house the specimens from the main, supplementary, accession and the recently purchased Cadiou collections, into one collection inside refurbished Rothschild drawers.

 

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Some of the re-housed drawers of Sphingidae. From top left, clockwise: Langia zenzeroides ssp. formosana, Platysphinx stigmatica, Smerinthus ocellata ssp. atlanticus, Falcatula falcatus.

 

I am transferring the specimens using a relatively new way of arrangement which consists of rows of specimens facing each other. This method is particularly easy to carry out thanks to the falcate shapes of the dry pinned sphingids and has helped in increasing the number of specimens that fit in each drawer, therefore reducing the total number of drawers and ultimately the space necessary for their housing.

 

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By February 2014 I created 877 Rothschild drawers of hawkmoths from merging main, supplementary, accession and Cadiou collections. A total of approximately 45,000 specimens have been transferred so far. These include 105 genera out of a total of 207. The re-housed taxa have all been labelled and had their location, with other important details, recorded in our electronic database.

 

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Allow me to make a plea, before concluding. Of the 207 genera of Sphingidae so far known 206 are represented in our collections. The only one currently missing is the genus Baniwa which has only one species described in it, Baniwa yavitensis, from Venezuela. We really would like to have one!

 

However, this is not an invitation to collect it from the wild as this species is very rare and almost certainly protected. We certainly don’t endorse indiscriminate and illegal collecting, and specimens entering our collections need to be accompanied by a regular collecting permit. So, if there are some collections out there with surplus specimens of Baniwa, keen on giving one away (I can hear someone laughing mockingly), please get in touch. We shall provide it with a comfortable, and most of all protected, accommodation.

 

That’s it! I shall now officially relieve you from any further information about sphingids…well, only for a while though, because as you may have noticed, I have a soft spot for hawkmoths and can’t resist conversing regularly about them.

 

Thanks very much for following this blog trend on hawkmoths; I shall keep you posted with more news on lepidopterans and the Museum’s collections.

 

One last thing, don’t forget to visit our Sensational Butterfly exhibit, which opens on 3 April 2014. There are also some moths in the house and who knows, you might be lucky enough to be brushed past by a skilful and hurried flyer…did someone just mention a hawkmoth.

 

C. hylas edited.jpgI photographed this beautiful Cephonodes hylas resting and feeding on the flowers of the a Scarlet Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) in a previous Butterfly Exhibit here at the Museum. Perhaps we'll be able to enjoy some nice hawkmoths this year too.

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Re-housing hawkmoths

Posted by Alessandro Giusti Nov 5, 2013

Hello again!

 

Some of the enquirers during the recent #askacurator day event on Twitter were curious to know what curators do every day in their work. Well, I suppose it really depends on the type of collections in their care, and curators in a natural history museum might deal with different tasks compared to curators in an art collection for example.

 

Around 35% of mine and of my colleagues’ working time is dedicated to re-housing specimens, which is the transferring of pinned specimens from outdated or transitory drawers into new, more permanent drawers.

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Re-housing specimens of hawkmoths in the collection.

 

Many of the original drawers in our collections are not up to scratch with respect to the most recent guidelines of conservation and collections policy, therefore we are actively replacing them with refurbished or brand new drawers.

 

oct13.jpgTwo old types of drawers in our collection. We have already emptied & refurbished thousands of them, but there are still quite a few left to clear.

 

Once emptied, the majority of the old drawers are sent for refurbishment and then re-use in the collection; other old drawers, as well as many boxes that come in with acquisitioned material, are sold and the proceeds used to buy new drawers or furniture for the collection.

 

Many drawers in our collections still contain unsorted and often unidentified material; this is because new material has been regularly added to the Museum through fieldwork, donations and purchases since the very early days.

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Drawer with unsorted moths recently collected in Bolivia.

 

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Specimens are also often donated to our Museum and others are purchased.

 

We always identify specimens before transferring them into new drawers along with the identified material already in the main collection. Eventually, when newly re-housed drawers are created, they need new labels, and their location, with other important details, are recorded in our electronic database.

 

These are all necessary steps if we want to make sure our collections are useful and easily accessible. If you consider that our section is made up of more than 80,000 drawers, it is crucial for us and for our visitors to know precisely where a particular drawer is located. 

 

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Re-housed drawers in their new location. Each curated drawer has internal labels stating the scientific name of the species inside, and also two external labels specifying the content. It also has a unique number; these details are all recorded in our electronic database so that specimens can be easily found in our extensive collection.

 

One of my current tasks is the re-housing of the entire Museum collection of hawkmoths (Sphingidae), which contains “only” around 114,000 specimens housed in about 2,130 drawers, and an extra 176,000 papered specimens, still in their original envelopes, waiting to be mounted.

 

Before August 2008 the Museum’s collection of Sphingidae contained ca. 60,000 pinned specimens, the vast majority of which were from the Rothschild Collection, dated pre-1930.

 

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An original Rothschild drawer with specimens of the Oleander Hawk-moth waiting to be re-housed into new drawers.

 

Then, thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Rothschild family, the de Rothschild family, the John Spedan Lewis Foundation, Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust and members of our public, the Museum was able to acquire one of the largest private collections of Sphingidae, the Jean-Marie Cadiou collection.

 

The Cadiou collection, which contained 53,000 pinned specimens and 176,000 unset and still in the original envelopes, doubled the size of the Museum's original holdings and has provided modern material that was lacking in our collection.

 

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The Museum’s hawkmoth collection has been transformed by the arrival of the Jean-Marie Cadiou collection.

 

Follow me in the next few posts, where I will talk about both the original Museum and the recently purchased Cadiou sphingid collections. I will explain how the current curation of the important and comprehensive Museum’s collection of sphingid into modern unit trays and refurbished Rothschild drawers is taking place.

 

Thanks for reading.

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In my last post, I described how and why I was in Borneo. Time now to feature some of the moths I collected...

 

First, let me illuminate you on light trapping as this is one of the most favoured ways of collecting moths, and indeed the method we have used to collect the majority of the ca. 2700 specimens of Lepidoptera we brought back from this trip. 

 

Moths seem to be more attracted by UV light than by normal tungsten bulbs and there are different devices used to lure them. A functional and unsophisticated device is a white sheet hanging on a vertical support with a UV light bulb suspended in front of it. One just stands next to it and enjoys the flying critters attracted by the light from the dark surroundings.

 

Pic 12.jpgOne of the 4 moth traps at the camp. We would spend hours every night, checking each of them in turn

 

A popular (and more expensive) method is to use designed light traps, such as the Robinson, Skinner and Heath traps. They still have UV bulbs but they are contained traps. There is a box under the light bulb where the moths fall after being attracted and confused by the light, egg cartons are placed inside the trap to create hiding places for the moths.

 

The advantage of using these types of light traps is that there is no need to stand around them because the moths that have fallen inside often remain in the trap, and are found the morning after, resting under the egg cartons.

 

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The Robinson Moth Trap in the Wildlife Garden of the Museum. My colleague, curator Martin Honey, has been monitoring moths in the Garden since 1995 and so far 600 species have been recorded in this modest but vital green space in Central London

 

Designed light traps are generally used in temperate areas. On the other hand, in the tropics the white sheet is the favoured method because, in these regions, there are many more species of moths that are often more numerous and larger than the ones found in temperate localities. Therefore, it is much better to use a larger surface to collect them.

 

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Collecting moths at one of our light traps in Borneo

 

It is still uncertain why many species of moths - and indeed the majority of species of insects - are attracted to artificial light sources, but I won’t delve in conjecturing here as a simple search in the web will give you plenty of hypotheses, none of which has been so far validated. However, below is a series of photos of some of the moths that were visiting our moth traps… absolutely gorgeous stuff (for me at least!)

 

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Marapana flavicosta a moth of the Erebidae family with very long labial palps. This moth has been recorded only in Borneo in montane forests between 1200 and 1900 m. We have the type* of this species here in our Museum! 
* When a new organism is described and named, the specimen (or specimens) on which the author based the description becomes the 'type' (or types) for the species. Our beetler Beulah has a fun post about this here

 

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This pretty little moth that reminds me of a clown is very likely Cyana costifimbria, or a species very close to it. It also belongs to the Erebidae.

 

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Acherontia lachesis, the oriental death's-head hawkmoth. An awe-inspiring moth and a skilled honey stealer! The adults (and even the pupae!) of the three known species of hawkmoths squeak when disturbed. Hear one here.

 

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Barsine roseororatus - another erebid moth - frequently found in the forested and disturbed habitat of Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia. The type of this species is also here in the Museum!

 

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Callidrepana argenteola, a moth in the Family Drepanidae (the hook-tip moths). The caterpillar of this species resembles a bird dropping but unfortunately I could not find one to photograph. Again, we have the type specimen of this species in our collections.

 

Kunugia basinigra.JPG

Kunugia basinigra belongs to the family Lasiocampidae, commonly known as eggars, snout or lappet moths and this little fellow has certainly a snout to be proud of.

 

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The Tropica Swallow Tail moth (Lyssa zampa), an uraniid moth distributed from North East Himalaya to South China and Thailand, also Philippine, Sulawesi, Borneo and the Malayan Peninsula. This species is relatively common particularly in montane forest, where it’s been recorded as high as 2600m on Mount Kinabalu. The caterpillar of this species feeds on plants of the Genus Endospermum in the family Euphorbiaceae. The type specimen of this species was also deposited in our Museum.


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Tarsolepis sommeri, a moth in the family Notodontidae (the prominents and kittens), is relatively well distributed in various lowland forest areas of the Oriental region. The moth looks rather prickly with those amazing tufts of reddish scales and spiky hairs at the base of the abdomen… I feel itchy just looking at them! In some species of the Notodontidae family the females are known to cover their batch of eggs with scales and hairs from the abdominal tuft, to give them protection. This moth has been observed feeding from mammalian lachrymal secretion in Peninsular Malaysia.

 

I’m going to leave you with a collage I created with some drawings (not mine) of moths and an outstanding palindrome (a phrase that reads the same way in both directions) I found on the web. The palindrome is in Latin and translates: “We wander in the night, and are consumed by fire”, which I thought fitted particularly well with the subject of this post.

 

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“We wander in the night, and are consumed by fire”

 

I hope you have enjoyed reading, and marvelled (as we did!) at the various amazing moths we encountered in Borneo.

 

I shall feature some more photos of nice invertebrates in my next post. 

Thanks for reading and see you then.

4

My recent field work

Posted by Alessandro Giusti Jun 20, 2013

So let me tell you about my last bit of work experience - if you've already been enjoying Beulah Garner's Beetle blog, you'll know that recently she and her fellow coleopterists went on a trip to Borneo. For the sake of completeness, I should point out that the Borneo team for the trip also had a lepidopterist on board. And that was me! Hence, in the company of three beetle zealots that go by the name of Beulah the blaps, Max the Macrodonta and Howard the Temerarious, I thought I’d be up for a challenging field work experience.

 

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Alessandro, Max, Howard, and Beulah socializing and relaxing in Kota Kinabalu, before the hard work begins.

 

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Despite being a moth curator, I can’t resist showing a picture portraying myself with a beautiful newly emerged Troides amphrysus, a papilionid butterfly.


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And here I am again, this time face to face with a handsome hawkmoth (Daphnis hypothous).

 

Once in the field the four of us did a great deal of sniffing, inspecting and probing, trying to ascertain each others’ intentions; and after our exigencies and flaws had been determined we recognized where each of us stood and accepted our echelons.

 

And so began our fieldwork experience which, apart from the rare squabbles caused by blunt episodes of trespassing in our private boundaries, turned out to be a rather successful one. After all we were there with a common aim that could have only been achieved with a team effort and we certainly had the enthusiasm to go with it.

 

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Our first supper at the camp. Little did we know that from that day onwards, rice was to be the fundamental ingredient of all our meals, breakfast included…not to mention the questionable rice wine.

 

The aim of this trip was to collect insects from an area near the western edge of the Crocker Range, in the Sabah region of Borneo, an area not well represented in our Museum collections; all in order to expand our knowledge of the world’s biodiversity.

 

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Our base was at ca. 1,200 metres above sea level and we had amazing views of the surrounding valleys and mountains.

 

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Further in the distance the impressive 4,095 metre high Mount Kinabalu seemed to keep a constant vigil on our camp.

 

Different sampling methods are used to collect different groups of insects, and during this trip we employed a good range of them. We set up 7 malaise traps and 7 flight interceptor traps (FIT) in selected sites of the forest around the camp, to collect flying insects such as beetles, flies and Hymenoptera (bees and wasps).

 

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Putting up flight interceptor and malaise traps, and digging for victory (or was it for dung traps?).

 

We gathered leaf litter, dead wood and other organic material, such as figs, Asplenium ferns and bracket fungi, and sampled them separately in Winkler bags or by hand; we filled buckets with rotting fish, fermented fruits and dung (I won't tell you whose it was) to attract beetles and other unfussy insects. We regularly went for long walks in nearby areas to collect insects by sweeping with nets.

 

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On one of our long walks collecting insects by netting. We were often also sampling for insects in different types of organic material.

 

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Some days the field work was so exhausting that even the experienced and indefatigable amongst us had to take a nap.

 

And as if that wasn’t enough, every day after having being mesmerized by yet another magnificent and unique sunset, we would turn on our light traps (4 of them to be precise) and spend hours checking each of them in turn, collecting whatever we thought was worth recording.

 

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Every evening the sky and landscape around the camp would become the backdrop to breathtaking and exclusive sunsets.

 

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Can photographing sunsets every evening, have disturbing consequences on people’s size? 

 

Sorry if I haven’t talked much about lepidopterans in this post, but I thought it was important to give a little introduction before getting down to business. So if you enjoyed reading this make sure you don’t miss my next entry where I will actually feature some lepidopterans and talk about catching moths in Borneo.

 

But ... just to wet your appetite...

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Large - and beautiful - Atlas moths were regular visitors at our moth traps. This is Archaeoattacus staudingeri, a relative of the more common Attacus atlas, found in Borneo and other areas of the Sundaland region.