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Curator of Lepidoptera

2 Posts tagged with the zoology tag
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Not only Leps!

Posted by Alessandro Giusti Sep 3, 2013

In previous posts I described how I have been lucky enough to travel to Borneo on fieldwork for the Museum. I explained how moths are collected using light traps, and we also got to meet some of the moths I found during this trip.

 

The four light traps at our camp were obviously very popular with many different species of moths, but when you put up a light trap in areas which are biologically rich - and this is particularly true in tropical regions - a whole range of other insects show up too.

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Enthralled by the many exotic species of moths attracted to one of our light traps.

 

Many species of beetles, attracted by the bright ultraviolet light of our traps, kept the coleopterists on the trip, Beulah, Max and Howard, busy collecting their favourite invertebrates.

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Collecting our favourite species at the light traps.

 

Some interesting and rare species were sampled in this way, including the magnificent Chalcosoma, a dynastine beetle.

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The striking dynastine beetle Chalcosoma moellenkampi (female on the left and male on the right) was one of the many interesting and rare insects visiting the light trap.

 

Other frequent visitors to the light traps were mantises and crickets which, true to their predatory habit, invariably found a tasty prey to feed upon. Hefty cicadas and large bees and wasps were also numerous; their blatant cries and unpredictable flight paths were a source of constant distraction for us, as we tried to concentrate on less vociferous and placid species. Many flies, stink-bugs, frog- and leaf-hoppers, parasitic wasps and flying ants and termites were also regular visitors at our light traps.

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A great variety of other species of insects are commonly attracted by light traps.

 

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…and even a terrestrial crab!

 

At times, it seemed that the arthropod fauna of the entire neighbourhood was paying a visit to our light traps and every night we were pleasantly surprised to find a new species of moth or beetle appearing at the trap for the first time. The number of insects visiting the traps only decreased during a few nights at the end of the trip; this is because the moon was full and clearly visible from early evening to late night. However we were still up late, trying to collect the few interesting species which, untouched by the resplendent show in the sky, were still paying a visit to our comparatively dingy traps.

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There is no way a light trap can compete with such a large and incredibly luminous celestial body!

 

During the mornings, while my colleagues were checking the Flight Interception and Malaise traps we put up in the forest, or collecting beetles using other methods, I was busy pinning the moths collected the night before. 

 

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Setting micro- and macromoths in the field.

 

This has definitely been an amazing field working experience and judging by the number of specimens we have brought back a very successful one too. We’ve collected in the region of 13,000 specimens, which, after having gone through the freezing process, will soon be ready to be sorted and identified, mounted and labelled, electronically recorded and finally incorporated in our ever growing collections.

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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.

 

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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.