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Hello again,

Well it’s now almost the end of my second, and last, week of internship here at the Natural History Museum and I’ll definitely be sad to see it go! There is always so much to do here in the identification service, with a constant stream of enquiries covering all areas. This week I was able to hold a fossilised oyster and dinosaur bone both up to 200 million years old!

However, it’s now time for me to present what I’ve found from the database research I’ve been doing over the past two weeks, looking into the sort of public enquiries the Identifications and Advisory Service receive. Using data from 1992-2008, I have been able to build up a good picture of the sort of information everybody wants from us.

I took a look at which types of insects were usually involved in enquiries in order to ascertain whether butterflies were brought in for identification more than mites or ants, for example.


… however, the winners were the Coleoptera, the beetles, with almost a quarter of all enquiries! A trend which carries on …


… as the most popular individual insect is the lovely Drugstore beetle (aka the Bread beetle or the Biscuit beetle) - Stegobium Paniceum (above). Think of all those poor biscuits!



It was interesting to see how the Identification Service has been used, as most of the top ten enquired about insects were pests- Stegobium paniceum, Vespa crabro, Plodia interpunctella, Anthrenus verbasci, Attagenus pellio, Tineola bisselliella, Dermestes peruvianus, Urocerus gigas and Tenebrio molitor- an understandable concern for many.


Macroglossum stellatarum, the Hummingbird Hawk Moth is an exception and not a pest at all!


Hopefully the team here at the Angela Marmont Centre will be able to use my research to update their supply of fact sheets, helping them to reply more quickly to these common enquiries!


Thanks Rebecca!


And just one last word from the IAS... it's been really useful having Rebecca work with us this last few weeks - so much data - so little time, but what we have got is some very useful information which can really help us to inform our responses to common enquires. It is a sorry indictment that the most common species are the ones that are percieved to cause a nuisance - but not to be beaten, part of our job here in the centre for UK biodiversity is to break down notions of insects as pests and to encourage people to find out more about the weird and wonderful world of insects - remember - insects are our friends too...!


We've asked Rebecca, our excellent intern, to write about her experiences so far here in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity. Rebecca is working on our database of insect enquiries which goes as far back as 2002! This data is as yet not analysed; though we are able to see trends on a seasonal basis, we haven't measured for sure such things as species distribution, increases and declines. So the work that Rebecca has been tasked with is really important in helping us to produce some quantificable results.

Over to Rebecca:

Hi, I’m Rebecca, and for the past week I‘ve been an intern with the Identification and Advisory service.

I’m here with the Young Graduates for Museums and Galleries program, which aims to get some of us students behind the scenes of a few of the London-based institutions. Many of us, including myself, are already looking towards careers in museums and galleries and this program gives us a unique chance to fully understand what we would be getting ourselves in for, hopefully persuading us to continue down this path, as well as providing us with vital experience when considering future job applications!

But that’s enough about that, I’ve been asked to tell you what we’ve been getting up to this week!

I don’t know how much you know about camel spiders (Solpugids) but, when I was shown some of the office collection just the other day, I came far too close to one for comfort- despite it being long deceased and the presence of the glass that separated us! Not one usually bothered by spiders, these terrifyingly huge, extremely hairy and double fanged creatures (though not technically spiders) gave me the creeps!

Here are two being picked up by some members of the American forces, though it isn’t clear whether they are mating or fighting.


Not to worry you too much, while their bite is painful, they aren’t venomous and certainly not native to Britain. That said, I think I’d still prefer them to be in the museum display cases!

Moving a bit closer to home, there have been a lot of Lepidoptera queries coming in this week from those believing to have found some very exotic caterpillars. However, many of these are actually exciting looking species native to Britain (something I have learnt this week)! Below is the caterpillar of the poplar hawk-moth, Laothoe populi, which is a stunning bright green.

We may not be the sunniest of countries but at least we still have the dazzling wildlife!


Aside from these various experiences whilst shadowing the staff here at the Angela Marmont Centre, I have also been working on collating their database, for which I will be providing some statistics next week. Though it doesn’t sound quite as exciting, it is one of the behind the scenes jobs that needs to be done in order to provide a top quality output from the identification and advisory service - a view my program has been aiming for.

Next week I am hoping to be able to give the team an idea of the most common inquiries so we can put together some useful information sheets - helping to reply to queries more efficiently!


It is Lepidoptera season! July through to August are the best months for spotting these insects on the wing and observing the multifarious and mysterious larval forms.


We have had two great stories this week...


Here at the Centre for UK Biodiversity we welcome anyone with an interest in natural history, to come and use our UK reference collections and library resources to identify their finds, solve a taxonomic puzzle, and satisfy their curiousity.


This happened this week with the Welsh Wave, Venusia cambrica Family Geometridae, found in London nr. Wimbledon. Wimbledon? Surely not! This species likes a hilly terrain and is found in the North of England and Wales, and Scotland and Ireland. Its English South West distribution doesn't include London (obviously!). By using our reference collections the lepidopterists amongst us agreed it was indeed the Welsh Wave!


We have posted it on our forums here.


Next up is  the Jersey Tiger, Euplagia quadripunctaria Family Arctiidae

Jersey Tiger Moth for web.jpg

This striking day flying moth gets its name from its once Channel Island and South East coast only distribution - oh, and that it has tiger stripes on its forewings - but you knew that!

This is  a successful species whose distribution is changing relatively quickly, now found in parts of Dorset, Devon and even the Isle of Wight - but London? How did it make the leap from South coast to London without filling in its geographical range as it went? It's possible this was an accidental introduction and now there is a thriving localised population; this week a confirmed sighting in SE3!


The best sighting though has to come from Jack, aged 90 no less, who wrote us this charming letter, and unless anyone can put me right, I reckon this is the Jersey Tiger!


1589-2010 Jersey tiger by Jack aged 90 019.jpg


The Tale of the Wasp and the Weevil


Every insect has a fascinating tale to tell, and some have a sting in their tail...


Some are quite simple: from the pupa the insect emerges, they fly around a bit to find a mate, some might pause to lap up some nectar along the way, the males die off whilst the female lays her eggs and then too dies or maybe she will overwinter, emerging again the following spring. And there is a larval stage in there somewhere too.


This is a familiar metamorphic pattern followed with unerring regularity (aside from stochastical effects completely out of the insects, um, hands, so to speak!).


But to call an insect’s life-history simple is to do most of these fascinating creatures a disservice. There is one insect in particular which arrived on the wings of the postal service in to our inbox that is simply amazing! Well, I say insect, rather evidence of said insect!


And now for the challenge:


Any ideas?

No? At first, neither did we!


What arrived was a clear plastic measuring container with obvious insect debris inside collected by a lovely lady convinced that this was something to do with Colletes hederae (the Ivy bee). Her hypothesis was that this debris was the cocoon of the solitary bee (found in a cliff face), but what was the other ‘stuff’ found nearby? Looks like dead bodies, but Ivy bees are not predatory!


This somewhat macabre collection is the empty abdominal carcasses of weevils (minus heads and other appendages), in fact, the debris of a fierce predator.


The deflated cocoon type debris, is, …empty cocoons.


The predatory solitary Crabronid wasp (family Crabronidae) has left incriminating evidence behind!

And so the fascinating, macabre, and deadly tale of the wasp, Cerceris arenaria, reveals itself. See this link to BWARS to see C. arenaria in action


This species of Cerceris is one of the largest found in Britain (between 10-15mm). The wasp can be seen over dry sandy areas such as cliff faces from May onwards, where this evidence was found.

The cocoons or cells in the image are constructed inside a tunnel, up to 40cm.

The female then goes out hunting for weevils. Weevils are dive-bombed, then paralyzed by venom injected into the exposed soft tissue of the beetle. The cells are then provisioned with the paralyzed weevils, sometimes as many as 12 per cell. The wasp larvae then feed at their leisure from the internal organs of the tragic weevils.
This is actually quite a common species but few would know its terrible secret!