The Flame-Shouldered Blister Beetle – re-discovered at last!

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One of Britain’s rarest beetles is the secretive, endangered Flame-shouldered Blister Beetle Sitaris muralis – belonging to the family Meloidae (oil and blister beetles). This attractive 8-14 mm long beetle was last found in Oxfordshire up until 1969, but then it was rediscovered in Brockenhurst, Hampshire in 2010 (the last New Forest record before that was in 1947) on a brick wall over 100 years old. However, they are seldom seen outside the nest burrows of the Hairy-footed Flower Bee Anthophora plumipes in old mortar [the entry / exit point looks rather like bullet holes].

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It is not clear why this parasitic beetle is so rare as the host is widespread throughout Britain and common in the south in spring; the larvae feed on the bee’s brood.

Paul and Helen Brock have found the beetle each year since 2010 mainly in August, mostly dead with at least one apparently evicted from the nest (the latest finds though, on 20-21 August 2013 were alive). Others may be trodden on by passers by, as these clumsy insects fall to the pavement in a busy village site. The slightly brighter males have much longer antennae than females; both sexes have strange-shaped wings designed to enter a bees nest.

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The bright orange is presumed to be a warning. In addition to sporting warning colours, during perceived danger such as attack by a possible predator, males curl up in defence, remaining in the position for up to a minute.

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This elusive insect could turn up almost anywhere, but is most likely in southern England on a brick wall- so keep an eye out next time you are out and about!

Our thanks to Paul and Helen Brock for supplying the content and photographs for this post.

Our new-look blog

Westwood paussidae

The Hope Entomological Collections blog has landed! All of the content of the blog has now been transferred over to the WordPress platform- we just have some final tweaks to make. The toughest decision is going to be over the image that we use for the background. So many insects, not enough time.

We’ll be trialling a number of different pictures over the next week or so, so remember to check back regularly and let us know which one you like best by leaving a comment on this post.

Today’ss background picture (also above) is of a historic collection drawer from the J.O. Westwood Paussidae collection. Westwood was the first curator of the Hope Entomological Collections.

The old version of the blog will be left on-line. If you are looking for it, it can be found here

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 hte 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.

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.

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.

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?