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Beetle blog

January 2011

Fieldwork - it's a smelly business

Posted by Blaps Jan 21, 2011
Hello beetlers,
A busy week here in Coleoptera (yes millions of dead beetles do keep us quite busy) what with visitors to the department, our band of regular and merry volunteers, and a few new additions.
Lydia and Lucia join us for a couple of months on placement from Plymouth University to help us clear out a very smelly cupboard, (well, a bit more than that, but that cupboard really is smelly – imagine the smell of ‘what the cat dragged’ in, or our pets’ determined efforts to sniff out something foul and rancid and then roll around in it, then, you have the smell of our fieldwork collections’ cupboard. But don’t let this put you off if you ever felt that a career in entomology was for you.  L and L are quite happy as this image proves.
land l for web DSC00129.JPG
Here they are working on field samples collected from Peru by Max Barclay and Howard Mendel (entomology inspired clothing is a fashion favourite!). When deciding on any fieldwork expedition the scientific merit is considered. Collecting biological samples can be contentious and so we make value judgments on a number of factors, such as benefit to the Museums’ collection, the impact of the sampling on the chosen habitat and its peoples, the likely value of the data to the scientific community and to the larger community, indeed the world. The samples being worked on here are from the region of Cuzco. We know that rainforest habitats are severely threatened, so simply put, if we can provide a baseline data set of the biological diversity of the area, then we are better placed to protect that habitat for the future survival of the species that live there. Beetles are excellent indicators of habitat health and environmental change due to their diversity of life-habits and the vital role they play in the food chain as recyclers, decomposers and a plentiful food supply for higher organisms.
Here is the process: (Collecting methods employed sample as many species as possible from various trophic (ecological position in the food chain) levels and behaviours such as day and / or night hunting beetles, winged or flightless beetles, some live in the bark of trees, others feed on poo…the list is very long and so our collecting methods still may not yield what is truly representative of one given habitat, but as the photos below show, we managed to collect enough to be going on with…
max light trapping for web34782_.jpgHere's a tropically bedraggled Max searching for beetles amongst the night flying moths. This method of light trapping is commonly used for attracting the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) but beetles can fly at night too.
malaise for web peru.jpg Malaise trapping in the jungle. This method is used for flying insects and it acts as a flight interception trap. The insects hit a vertical sheet of netting and are guided upwards towards light by the angle of the pitched roof. Here a hole in the netting allows it to pass into the attached collecting bottle which is usually filled with a preservative such as alcohol.


bait trap for web.jpg This is a bait trap, where a suitable bait, depending on what species you wish to attract, is hung above some pitfall traps. Here, the sophisticated method of an old sports sock, filled with...poo? is employed. Arguably this gentleman's sock alone would surely have attracted an interesting sample.

samples compressed for webDSCN4447.JPG Here's what the samples look like once they are returned to the lab, complete with labels which contain locality and collecting information. The plastic container to the left is filled with some residual 'beetle juice'.
web edit lucia and lydia peru mountingDSC00127.JPG Here is Lydia and Lucia extracting the specimens from the samples: discarding the beetle juice, drying out the specimens, and either pinning or mounting them on card.
for web fieldwork beetle pointing DSC00130 (1).JPG And here is the finished article, awaiting labelling, identifying and incorporating into the main collection. I'm sure we'll get some new species out of this lot!
Next time, fieldwork in Tanzania...

New Years (beetles) Honours list

Posted by Blaps Jan 9, 2011

A belated Happy New Year!


With the passing of 2010, we look back over what has been an eventful and at times poignant year for the beetling community. It would be impossible to include everything that happened in and around the Coleoptera department in 2010 in a mere blog, so apologies if anything significant has been missed, but here are a few shining examples to set the standard for the coming year:


This year saw two majorly significant collections come to the Natural History Museum, the Vorisek collection of Weevils (Curculionidae) (which is now housed in the Coleoptera department) and AA Allen’s collection of British beetles (which is awaiting deposit to the Museum). These two collections constitute a lifetime’s work of these great Coleopterists and the Museum, indeed the scientific community is indebted to their dedicated work of the previous century.


AA Allen

Mr Anthony Adrian Allen (1913-2010) was a leading authority on the British beetle fauna and published hundreds of papers and scientific notes, in a career going back to the 1930s. He formed a bridge between the contemporary community and some of the great names of the past, such as his close contacts Phillip Harwood and Horace Donisthorpe. (Max Barclay, The Coleopterist)


This year we intend to digitally scan the whole collection which includes most representatives of all the c.4000 British species, which will then be made available on the internet as a scientific resource, and as a permanent record of A.A. Allen’s immense contribution to the understanding of the British Coleoptera.


A.A. Allen’s portfolio of publications included the descriptions of four valid new species of British beetle:

Aleochara phycophila Allen, 1937 (Staphylinidae)

Acrotona benicki (Allen, 1940) (Staphylinidae)

Scraptia testacea Allen, 1940 (Scraptiidae)

Longitarsus fowleri Allen, 1967 (Chrysomelidae)


A tribute to AA Allen can be found in The Coleopterist, the journal for British Coleoptera


Oldrich Vorišek


© Libby Livermore 2010


Oldrich Voríšek, an amateur Czech collector whose collecting efforts of over 40 years yielded a collection of 45,000 specimens and 4,500 species of weevil from Europe, came to the Museum in 2010. It still takes my breath away to think of it, let alone to even physically start working with the collection. Currently we have a few volunteers, namely Libby and Katie who are assisting in recurating the beetles, and incorporating them into the Museums’ collection. There are 750 Type specimens which through our curating efforts will eventually be made widely available to the scientific community, both physically and virtually!


For more information on the Vorišek collection follow this link.



New species


And now to the lighter side of the news, new species are discovered and described every year by the academic Coleoptera community, and in this age of decreasing biodiversity (of named species), it is ever more important to know what we have got. My vote for new species of the year goes to Hydroscapha redfordi (10 of the type series are deposited here in the Natural history Museum).

For a full description here is the paper citation:

Crystal A. Maier (a), Michael A. Ivie (a), James B. Johnson (b) and David R. Maddison (c). 2010. A New Northern-Most Record for the Family Hydroscaphidae (Coleoptera: Myxophaga), with Description of a New Nearctic Species. The Coleopterists Bulletin


The authors’ decision to name the species after the great actor, director and environmental campaigner Robert Redford, for his continued efforts to support the conservation of the Rocky Mountains, is prompted by the film Jeremiah Johnson, with Redford playing the leading role. Hydroscapha redfordi is found in hot springs where it inhabits rock faces covered by mats of filamentous algae. The Type locality of this species is Jerry Johnson Hot Springs.

Here is Robert Redford with an animal at least beginning with ‘B’, if not an actual beetle!


jerry johnson.jpg

Image Courtesy of IMDB


New species are often named in honour of significant people (known as patronyms), either in the scientific community, for example the Lucanid, (Scarabaeoidea) Erichius darwinii Paulsen 2010, another new species for 2010, or in the world of popular culture, such as Agra katewinsletae (Carabidae) Erwin, 2002. You might have guessed, after the actress Kate Winslet for her role in Titanic. In the original description Erwin cites his somewhat tenuous choice of name, Her character did not go down with the ship, but we will not be able to say the same for this elegant canopy species, if all the rain forest is converted to pastures. Well said!


agra for blog.jpg

Some specimens of the curious aboreal carabid, Agra.


And to end on a tragi-romantic note, here is Kate and know what happens next...

kate and leo.jpg


Next week, fieldwork from 2010...



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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