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Beetle blog

November 2010



As I promised, we have over two hundred years of stories to share with you about beetles, collecting and general shenanigans here at the Natural History Museum. Here is one such tale:


In a news month that sees £53 million being paid for a Chinese vase found in a house clearance in Pinner, perhaps we have all looked a bit closer at what might be lurking at the bottom of a cupboard, in the attic or the cellar...


One such Coleopterist did just that, but perhaps was a little disappointed to find, not a priceless Ming vase, or a jewel to rival the Hope diamond, sadly no, rather a collection of beetles from an Imperial College 1960 expedition to Ghana!


This expedition in 1960 yielded a fantastic collection of beetles, which, donated by the coleopterist (who shall remain nameless)  was accessioned into the Museum's collection in 1967. 1967! Some years later, no doubt whilst searching for some suitable pieces to flog on Cash in the Attic, found some long forgotten collecting boxes under his bed...


This week the collection is reunited in its entirety and we are now in the process of very meticulously placing accession labels on each specimen from 1967!


Here's one of our excellent volunteers, Gabrielle, moving the beetles from their original collecting boxes to unit trays ready for incorporation into the main collection, and just one of the collecting boxes, in very good condition.

gabrielle.jpgThe moral is: you can't put a price on beetles!



okay ghana 005.jpg


Why collecting is important.

Posted by Blaps Nov 17, 2010

Hello beetlers!

This week, well it’s all about collecting. We have been working on a number of specimens that have resulted from collecting trips abroad.

Firstly Max and Howard’s collecting trip to Bolivia (and yes, it wasn’t just beetles they picked up!)

Here’s Max collecting something somewhere in South America:


max south america.jpg

To follow Max's Coleopterising (this is now officially a word!)

When the Museum undertakes a collecting trip, it considers many factors. As one of the world’s leading natural history institutions we act as a depository for the world’s species. This has been going on for at least two hundred years, beginning with the inception of the British  Museum of Natural History in 1881, though we hold collections that are much older. It makes sense that specimens that are collected from anywhere in the world is held by an institution that can make this knowledge available to all.

Now more than ever, collecting is important because it can give us a base-line of the biodiversity of the planet. So many species are under threat – how do we conserve them if we don’t know what we have, or indeed the habitats in which they live?


From areas in the world that have been well represented by collecting (especially the old British Empire) our collections already provide a base-line data from which to inform conservation efforts. From those countries in the world that are under threat from development /climate change / burgeoning populations, we can collect species (adhering to a scientifically robust protocol), not only as base line data but as a means of helping to defend fragile habitats from development.


Meet Megacephala (Tetracha) spixii ssp. opulenta. This species was newly described to science in 2007 by Naviaux, and is a nocturnal hunter.

It was collected by Barclay & Mendel in Bolivia in 2004 and is now deposited here in the Museum. One more species new to science (and counting) – isn’t that amazing?!




This beetle belongs to the subfamily Cicindelinae of the Ground beetles (Carabidae), otherwise known as the tiger beetles, characterised by their long legs and large, fierce mandibles (biting mouthparts). They are predatory beetles which move very fast and are excellent hunters, for example, Cicindela campestris which is found in the UK, is measured as having a running speed of at 0.62 metres per second!



Cicindela campestris. This image can be found on the National Insect Week website

Unlike most other ground beetles, these beetles easily take to the wing, but much prefer to run their prey to the ground. The larvae of the tiger beetles are even more predatory, lying in wait in an underground burrow, until a hapless insect should cross their path.

Aside from their predacious nature they are considered excellent ‘indicator species’ which means their presence in a habitat can be used as measure of habitat quality and in turn biodiversity. This is why we collect and record them.


Welcome to the Beetle Blog!

Posted by Blaps Nov 17, 2010

Hello beetle lovers - and if you are not converted yet then hopefully, as you follow this Blog you will become as enchanted and fascinated as I and my good colleagues here in the Coleoptera & Hemiptera section of the Entomology department!


You may or may not know that 'Coleoptera' is the scientific name for the beetles. This comes from the Greek, meaning 'sheathed wing' quite literally koleos = sheath and pteron =wing. It is because of this morphology that the beetles are such a successful group. Not only do they have a pair of protective hardened wings (known as elytra) to protect the wings and body underneath, they also have a pair of flight wings which means they can disperse easily and flee from predators.


Not all the beetles are capable of flight and their wing cases may be fused together, this is true of many of the ground beetles (the Carabidae) which is the group or family that I work on here in the department. There are many families of beetles, at least well over a hundred, this figure changes over time with taxonomic revision (taxonomy = the classification of biological organisms).


There are six curators of beetles here in the section who all care for the 9,000,000 specimens we hold in our collection - yes, that's 9 Million specimens of beetles! As well as the curators we have researchers from the UK and all over the world who visit the collection as well as a merry band of volunteers and students. I'll be asking my colleagues to contribute to the Blog as there is no shortage of stories or interesting projects to be shared with you.


Currently I am working on the revision and recuration of a subfamily of the Scarab beetles, the Phanaeini. These beetles are one of the groups of dung beetles (we all love the dung beetles right?!), and for creatures that make a living out of exploiting that most abundant of natural resources - poo - they are really rather attractive!



Phanaeini 004 web.jpg


These fantastic metallic green beetles Phanaeus (Notiophanaeus) achilles were curated by my ex colleagues CG & NDS, and are found in South America: Peru and Ecuador. They are interesting in that males and females work together in excavating a tunnel under the 'dung' taking some of the dung with them in order to lay eggs into. When the eggs hatch the larvae have a plentiful food resource. All dung beetles are important nutrient recyclers in the natural environment.









Also, this group gives us great examples of 'sexual dimorphism' (difference in form between males and females).  Below you can see the horned male on the left and the 'hornless' female on the right of the species Phanaeus (Notiophanaeus) achilles. This horn we would term as a sexual ornament, it may be used for attracting a female as well as fighting off competition from other males for the females' attentions!


dimorph Phanaeini 013 web.jpg


















If you are interested in beetles, one of the publications we used to recurate the group is this excellent text by Patrick Arnaud.


beetles of the world phanaeinae web.jpg      phan long shot drawer web.jpg



Member since: Sep 15, 2009

I'm Beulah Garner, one of the curators of Coleoptera in the Entomology department. The Museum's collection of beetles is housed in 22,000 drawers, holding approximately 9,000,000 specimens. This little collection keeps us quite busy!

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