Wednesday, 21 August 2013

WE HAVE MOVED!!!

The Hope Entomological Collections blog has moved to a new address: hopeyoulikeinsects.com

Please update your links to reflect this change. The blog has been moved to a new platform so that it can be included in the Museums blog family and be given a smart new look. This version on the blog will remain on-line but dormant for anyone who needs it.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Volunteering at the OUMNH

 A word from one of our volunteers:

"Hi! My name is Helen, and I am a student at Derby University. I am starting an MRes (Master of Research) degree in Forensic Science in the new academic year, and I am working towards a future career in Forensic Entomology.

In July this year, I undertook two weeks of volunteering in the entomology department of the OUMNH. I was really excited to see another side of entomology, and to be able to get some more practical experience in the field. I have been interested in museum work for some time, so I was pleased to find that I really enjoyed the owrk that the team do.

When I arrived, I was given a tour of the department and then given a drawer full of mixed specimens to sort to order level.

entomology, orders, insects, soritng, volunteering, OUMNH
Drawer of insect orders to be sorted (there are some trick specimens in here)

It was really good practice for being able to trecognise the different orders, and I enjoyed looking at all the different specimens.

Later, I got some extra practice at recognising orders when I sorted some specimens collected in Bolivia.

In my first week, I attended an IPM (Intergrated Pest Management) conference, which helped me learn about the problems with pests in museums, and the methods which are avaliable to help prevent important collections from ebing eaten by hungry critters.

I also got to develop my skills in identifying insects using keys, and I had a go at point mounting some specimens - a technique used to moutn very small insects for identification and display purposes.

insect, entomology, pointing, mounting, volunteering, practice
My first attempt at pointing insects

In my second week of volunteering, I was able to practice the new skills I had learned in my first week as well as gaining some nrw ones. I had a go at direct pinning some specimens and added some new labels to part of the collection which had belonged to W.J. Burchell. I also uised the auto-montage to create some amazingly detailed photographs.

auto-montage, photography, diptera, entomology, volunteering, OUMNH, composite
An auto-montage photograph of Calliphora vicinia.

I would really recommend volunteering to anyone with an interest in entomology - it's such a wonderful experience to be able to see what goes on beind the secenes in a museum, as well as having the chance to see such a huge variety of insects in the collections I would love to go back and do some more volunteering at the museum in the future."


The department would like to thank Helen for all her hard work and the for the contributions she made during her two weeks with us.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Goes to Town

A new exhibition is opening up around Oxford city centre. While the Museum of Natural History is closed in 2013, some of the inhabitants have made their way to Oxford town centre. Find them all before January 2014, record their Danger and Rarity ratings and enter our competition at the Goes to Town website.

Goes to town, OUMNH, exhibitions

The Hope Entomological Collections are missing a few of their insects. There are two displays featuring bugs around and about town which we hope you will enjoy. The first features the beautiful bookworm, literary critic and the second a selection of edible insects. Yes, insects that you can eat rather than ones that eat you.

 entomology, displays, OUMNH, town trail, bookworm, Anobium punctatum
The bookworm bites back- installation of the bookworm damaged book is complete!

If you are in Oxford town centre today (July 1st) then you might be lucky enough to see some members of the installation team that are out and about putting the various objects on display. They are easily spotted by their white lab coats emblazoned with the Goes to Town logo (as sort of seen in the above photo). Below is a sneak preview of the edible insects case:

edible insects, entomology, entomophagy, displays, OUMNH, town trail
Fancy a quick bite? Have alittle nibble on one of these tasty critters.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Saga pedo - the Spiked Magician

Orthoptera, identification, cricket, Tettignoidae, Saga pedo
Saga pedo, a species of bush cricket. Photograph courtesy of M. Steadman.

We get a number of enquiries each year from the general public asking us to identify various insects that they have found in their homes or gardens. The majority of these enquiries are of British insects (as you might expect) but we also get a handful of more exotic and exciting insects that people have seen whilst on their travels in other countries.
The photograph above was sent to us by Mr M. Steadman and was taken whilst on holiday in Turkey.

The large and very impressive insect pictured is Saga pedo- a species of cricket belonging to the family Tettigonidae. It is an unusual species for a number of reasons but in particular because it is predatory. Nearly all crickets are herbivores, feeding on a wide variety of plant species. Saga pedo feeds primarily on insects and has been known to cannabilise members of its own species. There are even a number of reports of this species hunting small reptiles and young birds.

This species is also unusual because it appears to reproduce asexually by parthenogenesis. Specimens are therefore female and can be identified by the long spear shaped ovipositor at the rear of their body (as seen in the photograph above). There has yet to be a reliable sighting of a male specimen of Saga pedo.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Spot the difference!

We are having rather a busy time of it in the department at the moment with lots of visitors, volunteers and outside activities including the 'Creatures of the Night!' late night event that was held at the Museum of the History of Science last Friday evening.
After all the hard work we decided that it was time for something fun so here is a five minute distraction for you whilst you have a cup of tea and a biscuit.

The rather stunningly handsome beetle below is a member of the genus Megaphanaeus. He is complete in the first picture but FIVE things have changed by the time we get to the second photo. See if you can spot them all!

Complete beetle

What's missing here? Can you spot the five differences?

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Gynandromorphs

Very occasionally we come across some rather special butterfly specimens. These are gynandromorphs, individuals which are part male and part female. In many species of butterfly males and females have different colour patterns. In these species spectacular gynandromorphs can sometimes arise where one half is male and the other female. The genetic cause of these bilateral gynandromorphs is complex but essentially an X chromosome is lost very early in cell division of the embryo.

lepidoptera, gynandromorph, butterfly
The Mocker Swallowtail (Papilio dardanus) showing the female (left), male (right) and gynandromorph (center)
lepidoptera, gynandromorph, butterfly
Three specimens of the Common Yellow Glider (Cymothoe egesta). The gynandromorph (center) is slightly asymmetrical as the female half also includes some male cells with the yellow pattern.
lepidoptera, gynandromorph, butterfly
Example of a British Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) gynandromorph (center) from the Mark Colvin collection.

dermaptera, gynandromorph, earwig
Gynandromorphs also occur in other invertebrates, such as this earwig which has one longer male forcep and a short female one.

Monday, 29 April 2013

EntoModena

by Darren Mann

entomodena, insect fair,
Specimens and equipment for sale at EntoModena
Last week I spent a few days in sunny Italy, visiting my good friends Stefano and Roberta Ziani and timed to coincide with the Italian entomological show 'EntoModena'. I had a wonderful few days of dung beetle chitchat and homemade, mouth-watering Italian gnocchi.

vegan, gnocchi, delicious
My vegan gnocchi as made by Roberta Ziani- it was that good it needed a picture all to itself.
Stefano is a dung beetle researcher, specialising in the fauna of the Middle-East. He has published over 40 papers, mostly on faunistics and taxonomy and systematics, and has described a number of new species to sciences from the genus Onthophagus, including some that are associated with nests of small mammals. During my visit I had the chance to study Stefano's superb collection of Palaearctic dung beetles, which is better than our Museum's, and with this collection finally managed to get a grasp of the identification of some difficult species.

EntoModena is similar to the Juvisy and Prague shows, a sort of trade fair with a difference- you can buy live and dead insects, as well as books and various items of equipment. Most people go to meet up with old friends and make new ones.

entomodena
Pasta picnic at EntoModena 2013
I met for the first time Giovanni Dellacasa, the world's leading expert on the small dung beetles in the group Aphodiinae, although we have corresponded over many years and even published a paper together (Dellacasa, G., Dellacasa M. & Mann, D.J., 2010. The morphology of the labrum (epipharynx, ikrioma and aboral surface) of adult Aphodiini (Coleoptera: Scarabeaidae: Aphodiinae), and its implications for systematics. Insecta Mundi 0132: 1-21). I also chatted with Giuseppe Carpaneto and other dung beetle researchers, bought a few bits of equipment and admired the selection of insects for sale.

Coleoptera, scarabaeidae, dung beetles, researchers, entomodena
From left to right: Giovanni Dellacasa. Stefano Ziani, Giuseppe Carpaneto and me, Darren Mann.
My only chance to sit down during the day was by meeting up with Magdelana and Marek from Majkowski Woodworking Company who had a table (and chairs) of their wares; this is the company who supply our wonderful collection drawers, postal boxes and wooden cabinets.

drawers, entomological cabinets, unit trays, entomological and musuem equipment
Magdelana and Marek from Majkowski Woodworking Company.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Research links: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Recently, Darren Mann (HEC) and Mike Wilson, Head of Entomology at the National Museum Wales in Cardiff visited Tabuk, Tabuk Province, Saudi Arabia. They were there to meet lecturers and students of Tabuk University and discuss setting up collaborative links to establish an entomology course, a collection of insects and undertake a faunal survey of the area. Below are some pictures from their trip:

Darren, night collecting- sorting dung beetles from camel dung
 
A hawkmoth (Sphingidae) caterpillar. Note the spine on its rear end.

Anthia duodecimguttata Bonelli, 1813, a species belonging to the coleoptera family Carabidae (Ground beetles) 
Species of the genus Anthia are some of the largest of the Carabidae. All of them are heavily armoured and have strong, sharp mandibles which they use to catch and crush their prey with. The species are usually black with either white or creamy-yellow spots or stripes on them. Many of them also have descriptive species name. With the above species 'duodecimguttata' translates roughly as '12-spot'.

Mike attempting to make friends with the local camel population

A desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria. Orthoptera: Acrididae.

Darren, camel trekking. Note the slightly uncertain look on his face and the slightly wry one of the face of the camel.
Darren attested to the speediness of this particular camel, something that it seemed particularly proud of and eager to demonstrate at any available opportunity.

Orthoptera: Acrididae, Poekilocerus bufonius (Klug, 1832), a possible new species record for this area of Saudi Arabia.
The grasshopper above can be identified as female by looking at the length of the wings. In this instance the end of the abdomen (tip of its bottom) pokes out by an easily visible amount from under its wings. Male grasshoppers of this species have wings that completely cover the abdomen.

Dermaptera (earwigs) feeding on a flower head of Cynomorium coccineum L. at night

Darren and Mike with , Haitham Badrawy, one of the lecturers at Tabuk University.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Egg-cellent!

The Easter weekend has now been and gone but for some inexplicable reason we have all come in to work with eggs on the brain (figuratively speaking that is). We don't often get to see eggs-amples of eggs in the department as they are not often collected, so whilst we have thousands of specimens of adult insects and even a few jeuvenille ones, we don't have many eggs.
Which is a bit sad in our opinion, as the eggs themselves tend to be egg-ceedingly interesting and beautiful, often have complex sculpturation or construction and can allow you to egg-stract information regarding species behaviours and habitat use.

So here we present some very egg-citing photographs of some eggs-traordinary insect eggs that we did manage to find in the collections. Eggs-amine them closely and see if you can figure out what sort of insect they belong to- answers will be at the bottom of the post.

insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, ootheca, mantid
Picture 1: Technically an egg sac or cluster, this weird shape houses a number of individual eggs belonging to what kind of insect?

insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, ootheca, cockroach, blattodea
Picture 2: Another one containing multiple eggs. Here you can see the individual eggs that are paired up along a central spine. Which kind of insect makes eggs like these?

insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, butterfly, lepidoptera, hairstreak
Picture 3: Only just visible to the naked eye, this tiny egg proves to be beautifully micro-sculptured once you get close up. This photograph had to be taken using a microscoped with camera attachment just so we could show it off. What kind of insect lays an egg like this though?

insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, ootheca, cockroach, blattodea
Picture 4: Okay, so we are repeating ourselves now but this egg 'sac' was just too egg-sciting not to photograph! The delicate little wave-formation along one edge demonstrates which kind of insects aesthetic tastes?
insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, hemiptera, belostomatidae
Picture 5: Each of these is an individual egg which has been laid in a neat little cluster by which kind of insect?

Whilst you are musing on your answers for the above five questions here are some even more egg-citing photographs for you to study. These are pictures of some mystery eggs. We know that they probably belong to some kind of decapod. They were found attached to a water beetle that was collected in Mozambique. If anyone reading this has any idea about what the egss might be then we would love to know.

insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, decapod eggs
Mystery eggs 1: Here you can see that there are small clusters of eggs attached to the underside of the beetle next to it's coxae.

insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, decapod eggs
Mystery eggs 2: We had to take the specimen out of alcohol and dry it off to take the pictures so the eggs look very shiny. If you look really closely you can make out little pairs of eyes in each of the eggs.

insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, decapod eggs
Mystery eggs 3: Here's a real close-up shot. Are those tiny legs and antennae that we can see?

Egg-shausted by eggs yet? Over egg-cited maybe? Ready to egg-splode from all the egg-stravagent egg puns?

Here are the answers to the above quiz questions:
  1. Mantid ootheca
  2. Cockroach ootheca, in this case belonging to a species of madagascan hissing cockroach
  3. Butterfly egg: Order Lepidoptera, Family Lycaenidae.
  4. Another cockroach ootheca (we warned you it was a repeat)
  5. True bug eggs: Order Hemiptera, Family Belostomatidae. Interesting fact- the males of this family carry the eggs on their backs (the females stick them on there with a water resistent glue) until they hatch.
insect eggs, photograph, OUMNH, hemiptera, Belostomatidae
Egg cluster on the back of a male Belostomatid



That's all yolks!

No more egg puns until next year- we promise.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Gené dor left open



Carlo Giuseppe Gené (1800-1847) was an Italian naturalist, who became the Professor of Zoology and director of the Royal Zoological Museum at Turin (1830). Between 1833 and 1838 Gené made four trips to Sardinia to collect insects. These trips resulted in two primary publications, in which he described many new species to science:

Gené, C. G. 1836: De quibusdam Insectis Sardiniae novis aut minus cognitis. [Fasciculus I.]. Memorie della Reale Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, Torino 39: 161-199, [1] Taf. (Fig.1-29).

Gené, C. G. 1839: De quibusdam Insectis Sardiniae novis aut minus cognitis. [Fasciculus II.]. Memorie della Reale Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, Classe die Scienze Fisiche, Matematiche e Naturali, 2. Ser., Torino 1: 43-84, Taf. I-II.


Most of Gené's insect collection is in Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali di Torino, with duplicates being deposited in the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale de Milan and in Museo storia naturale di Pisa.  However, some of his insect specimens are believed to be lost or destroyed.

For example, in the recent revisions of the genus Chelotrupes (a dor beetle) by Dellacasa and Dellacasa (2008) the authors were unable to find the original specimen(s) Gené used to describe Chelotrupes hiostius and so designated a neotype (a new type to replace one that is lost or destroyed). Hillert et. al. (2012) followed this in their review of the genus Chelotrupes.

The department provided the type specimen of Chelotrupes momus (Fabricius, 1792) for the Hillert et. al. (2012) work on the genus, and when the paper was recently sent to us along with the returned loan of our specimen, we noted the 'lost' Gené specimen cited. We knew we had some of Gené's specimens in Oxford, but the value and extent of this collection had not been realised. 

Gené corresponded with our founder Frederick W. Hope (1797-1862) and in our archive collection there are letters to Hope dated 7th March 1835, 25th February and 24th October 1837 and June 1844. The most interesting archive (dated 1837) was a list of ninety-six Insects from Sardinia that Gené sent to Hope. In which, several of the new species, identified in the list by having 'nob' after their scientific name, which is shorthand Latin for nobis- which translates as 'belonging to me', and was used by authors to designate their new species. In this list was Geotrupes hiostius (as Gené called it).

archive, letter, species list, coleoptera, OUMNH, library
List of specimens that Gené sent to Hope

After the discovery of this archive we searched the collections and found the 'lost' type of Chelotrupes hiostius (Gené) in our dor beetle collection.

Coleoptera, type, Chelotrupes hiostius, OUMNH, Gené, Sardinia
The type specimen of Chelotrupes hiostius



An amazing discovery for us, as this specimen's scientific importance had not been recognised for over 170 years! We have looked for a further two specimens from this list, and have found both, one Oil Beetle and a Stag Beetle. We hope to spend some time over the summer to see how many more from this list we can find!


References:

Dellacasa M. & Dellacasa G. (2008). Revision of the genus Chelotrupes Jekel, 1866 n. stat. (Insecta,    Coleoptera, Geotrupidae). Zoosystema 30 (3): 629-640.
 Hillert, O., Kràl D. & J. Schneider. (2011). Revision of the European genus Chelotrupes (Jekel, 1866) (Coleoptera: Geotrupidae: Chromogeotrupidae). Acta Societatis Zoologicae Bohemicae 76: 1-44.

For more information about Gené please use the following links.



Monday, 18 March 2013

Taxonomy 101: 2 common questions

Taxonomy as subject, or rather how and why we name things the way that we do, is one of those tricky things that we get asked about all the time.
It's a tricky thing because really there is so much that we could talk about we often don't know where to start. Of course, asking us is a bit like asking a 5 year old polar bear enthusiast to tell you why they like polar bears- soon you will know everything there is to know about polar bears and probably a bit more on top. It's the same with us and insect related questions, we just can't help but get over-excited and try to tell you absolutely everything there is to know. Considering that there are over million described insect species and hundreds of years of history to taxonomy, collections, museums and science it's not surprising that staff can still be talking days after you ask your original question.

So here, in jaunty cartoon format are the pithy answers to the two most commonly asked taxonomy related questions:


taxonomy, classification, systematics, cartoon, latin, binomial
taxonomy, classification, systematics, cartoon, latin, binomial
Latin is a universal language. It doesn't matter which country you are from or what language(s) you speak, using a latin name for a species allows you to be precise about the species you are talking about, so if a researcher in Spain communicates about a species with a researcher in Malaysia they know that they are both talking about exactly the same thing.
taxonomy, classification, systematics, cartoon, latin, binomial
Sometimes, species end up with multiple common names. There is no code or list of rules for giving a species a common name (which there is when it comes to latin names) and so some species end up with lots of different names. Ladybirds are variously known as: lady bugs, lady beetles, god's cow, ladyclock, lady cow and lady fly among others.
taxonomy, classification, systematics, cartoon, latin, binomial

taxonomy, classification, systematics, cartoon, latin, binomial
Various taxonomical systems have been employed in the past. The binomial system (2 names) as refined and perfect by Carl Linneaus is the one that is now used by taxonomists. A trinomial name system (3 names for a species) was in existence for a while but it was found to be too cumbersome, as were a few other systems that we will touch on in future posts.
The other advantage to using a binomial system is that it lets you reuse specific names for multiple species across different genera. The rules do not allow for generic names to be used more than once so you can never completely duplicate a name. For example all the following species have a specific name of punctata but belong to different genera, hence you can differentiate between them: Platythyrea punctata (an ant), Phyllorhiza punctata (a jellyfish), Drepane punctata (a sicklefish) and Tangara punctata (a bird).

taxonomy, classification, systematics, cartoon, latin, binomial
Taxonomical systems are all based on the above format. Levels within a system vary depending on the subject, for example, a zoological structure dealing with mammals has a higher level structure, plant structures are complicated by hybridisation and insect based trees have an extraordinarily high number of branches due to the sheer volume of species involved.
taxonomy, classification, systematics, cartoon, latin, binomial
Further levels are available to a taxonomist than those above. There are both super- and sub- levels for each category (super-family or sub-order for example) as well as extra levels such as tribe which is inserted between family and genus. In fact, there are multiple variations around a theme and all of these structures are flexible. A classification scheme is merely something that is imposed on nature by humans as a way of grouping similar species together. Each levels creates a group of a greater or lesser size. Those at the top of tree (kingdom, phylum) create the biggest groups with each group becoming smaller as you move down the list until you reach species level which classifies to a single unit: one species.
taxonomy, classification, systematics, cartoon, latin, binomial
The information in this post has been boiled down to the basics. We will cover things individually and in more depth in later posts, when we can take a look at separate issues and discover more about how taxonomists set about sorting out and identifying species, describing new insects and establishing type specimens.
For now though, we hope that you have enjoyed meeting Bert the ladybird. If you have any more questions for us then please post them in the comments box below or e-mail us using entomology@oum.ox.ac.uk.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Verrall Supper 2013

Once a year, on the first Wednesday of every March, when the weather is especially chilly (or so it seems), entomologists can be seen flocking towards the bright lights of London. As they wend their way towards South Kensington you may be forgiven for thinking that there is some kind of mass migration going on, and it's true, entomologists do often seek warmer climes than Britain may have to offer, if only because of the abundance of insects is so much greater in those areas of the world where it is hot and sticky (and if there is one thing that entomologists cannot refuse, it's an abundance of insects).
But on this occassion you would be wrong. For the first Wednesday of every March is devoted to the Verrall Supper. Arguably the highlight of the social calendar for all entomologists, the evening consists of a lecture, hosted by the Royal Entomological Society and presented by a distinguished entomologist, which is then followed by drinks, dinner and much socialising.

This year the dinner was hosted at The Rembrandt Hotel which is a short stroll from the Natural History Museum. Staff from the HEC left Oxford early in order to spend some time in the collections in the NHM, checking type specimens and doing a little research as a form of pre-dinner exercise just to sharpen our appetites.
The Rembrandt Hotel was a new venue for the Verrall Supper which for the last 10 or more years has been held at Imperial College. It proved to be an excellent setting although it seemed to take everyone a little while to get used to the idea that the tables were round instead of the long bench style table at Imperial that seat about 60 people. This new format made mingling with other guests between courses much easier however and it has to have been one of the chattiest Suppers that any of us have to been to in a while. Of course, the fact that there was 183 collected entomologists (a recent high in attendance) in the room might also have played a part.

Verrall Supper, The Entomology Club, entomologist, entomology
What's the collective noun for entomologist's? A colony? Maybe a rabble? Cluster? Army? Clutter? Intrusion? Answers in the comments box below!

Verrall Supper, The Entomology Club, entomologist, entomology
Zoë Simmons and Dr Jose Nunez-Mino, an associate of the HEC
Verrall Supper, The Entomology Club, entomologist, entomology
Amoret Spooner and Mike Wilson, Head of Entomology at National Museum, Wales.

Verrall Supper, The Entomology Club, entomologist, entomology
Darren Mann (right), talking to Charles Godfray (left), Hope Professor, Oxford.

One other notable change was the increase in the number of people documenting the ocassion. Social media is fast becoming a part of peoples daily lives so it wasn't too much of a surprise to find that the Verrall Supper had acquired it's own hashtag on Twitter or that photos of the dinner appeared within minutes of the courses being served.

If you would like further information about the history of the Verrall Supper or the Entomological Club through which the supper was established then there is an excellent publication on the subject by Pamela Gilbert.

Gilbert, P. (2005). The Entomological Club and Verrall Supper: A History (1826-2004). The Entomological Club c/o The Royal Entomologists Society. Headley Brothers Ltd, Kent.