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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.

Alfred Russel Wallace


In 2013, 100 years after his death, we celebrate the life of Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), one of the greatest Victorian naturalists, travellers and collectors, a scientific and social thinker, early bio-geographer and ecologist, co-founder with Charles Darwin, of the theory of evolution through Natural Selection.

The Hope Entomological Collections (HEC) has many examples of species named after Wallace and of specimens collected by Wallace himself including species types such as Wallace’s giant bee.

Hymenoptera, Megachilidae, Megachile pluto, bee, insect, type, OUMNH, HEC
Megachile pluto described by B. Smith, 1869 is the largest bee species in the world. It occurs in Indonesia and builds its nest inside active termite nests.

The OUMNH also has nearly 300 letters written by Wallace discussing scientific topics, social issues, his relationship with Charles Darwin, and family matters which have been scanned as part of the Wallace Correspondence Project (WCP). Recently, the WCP has launched a new searchable open access on-line database entitled  ‘Wallace letters on-line‘. Staff and volunteers in the HEC have put in many hours of work in order to add our own holdings of letters and correspondance to this exciting project.

Wallace, correspondance, letter, entomologist, naturalist, archives

Wallace, correspondance, letter, entomologist, naturalist, archives
A letter from A.R. Wallace to E.B. Poulton, a former curator of the Hope Entomological Collections.
Wallace was largely self-educated. He developed an interest in natural history when young, and, like Darwin, became a keen beetle-collector. Fourteen years younger than Darwin, and from a less wealthy background, Wallace always had to earn a living while developing his scientific ideas. The Victorians were fascinated by the mystery behind the development of species and the anonymous publication in 1844 of ‘Vestiges of the Origin of Creation’ (actually written by Robert Chambers) caused a sensation. Wallace determined to resolve the species question himself, and travelled to South America with Henry Walter Bates to collect specimens and theorise about species, inspired by earlier travellers such as Humboldt, Edwards and Darwin himself. 
Wallace spent four and a half years in Amazonia before returning to England (losing most of his precious collections and notes in a ship’s fire on the way home) and had already published some scientific articles before publishing two short books, ‘A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro’ and ‘Palm Trees of the Amazon and their Uses’, but he realised he needed to continue collecting if he was to achieve his aim.
Wallace chose as his new collecting ground, the Indonesian region. Before leaving England, Wallace happened to meet Darwin briefly at the British Museum. While Darwin continued his painstaking work on barnacles and other researches, Wallace arrived in Singapore in 1854 and spent eight and a half years travelling an estimated 14,000 miles throughout the region, as described in his much republished book ‘The Malay Archipelago’.
It was here that Wallace wrote his illuminating essay ‘On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction of New Species’ (known as the ‘Sarawak Law’ paper) in 1855. This was followed in February 1858 by Wallace’s most famous paper ‘On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type’ which did lead Darwin to publish On The Origin of Species the following year.
Wallace was suffering from malarial fever when the idea crystallised in his mind. Between bouts of fever, he wrote out his theory in a few days, and sent it to Darwin (whom he knew would be sympathetic to his ideas), hoping for advice on whether and how to publish it. A key for both Darwin and Wallace in formulating their theories of natural selection was recollection of Malthus’s essay on population. Of course, when Darwin received Wallace’s letter, he was presented with a dilemma. He had been working on his theory for twenty years, and here was an outline of that theory, written by a relative unknown, far away in the tropics. Darwin sought advice from Sir Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker(later Sir Joseph Hooker), who decided that it would be fairest to publish some extracts of Darwin’s earlier writings together with Wallace’s paper, at the next meeting of the Linnean Society. It happened that an emergency meeting was being called and the papers were added to the agenda and read on 1 July 1858, with neither author present (Wallace was still in the Malay Archipelago and Darwin’s son Charles had just died).
Darwin was relieved when he found that far from resenting his treatment, Wallace felt honoured for their ideas to be associated. In fact, when writing about natural selection, Wallace chose the term ‘Darwinism’ and defended ‘Darwinism’ with vigour, both in England and abroad, describing himself as a ‘Darwinian’. Both Darwin and Wallace recognised that their theory (which they both acknowledged had been arrived at independently) had anticipators and were fully aware of the importance of recognising the contributions of others. They remained correspondents, consulting each other on various topics and Wallace was one of the pall-bearers at Darwin’s funeral.
Wallace was a believer in inspiration and said ‘all my best ideas have come to me suddenly’. Modest to a fault, he was happy to receive (among many other honours heaped on him) the Royal Society’s ‘Darwin’ medal, and described as ‘outrageous’ attempts to put him on same level as Darwin. 
When presented with the first ‘Darwin-Wallace’ medal by the Linnean Society on 1 July 1908 (celebrating the anniversary of publication of the Darwin-Wallace papers), Wallace contrasted himself with Darwin: “I was then (as often since) the “young man in a hurry”: he, the painstaking and patient student, seeking ever the full demonstration of the truth that he had discovered, rather than to achieve immediate personal fame.”.  Wallace felt himself more suited to fieldwork (he was meticulous with his labels and had always recognised the importance of noting the location where each specimen had been found) and was glad that Darwin had been able to provide the vital detailed proofs and analysis for their controversial ideas.
Although they did not agree on everything (and sometimes had to agree to disagree), Darwin and Wallace shared mutual respect and friendship, and believed ardently in the spirit of co-operation, which their relationship personified.
Wallace, correspondance, postcard, entomologist, naturalist, archives
The postcard above, written in Wallace’s handwriting reads as follows ‘Many thanks for the kind congratulations- Am feeling quite jolly! Alfred R Wallace’

Specimen recuration or ‘how to fix a broken beetle’

We recently had an enquiry asking for advice on how to fix an entomological display specimen and after some discussion, it was decided that it would be best if the specimen be bought into the collection to be professionally repaired. The specimen was that of a scarab beetle, Chalcosoma atlas (Rhinoceros or Atlas beetle) a relatively large species found in South-east Asia. 
As specimen repair is something that we have to undertake on almost a daily basis and one of the seemingly more baffling aspects of our job (not many people get to say that they glue insects back together for a living after all) we thought it might be interesting to show something of the hands on side of our work. We undertake repairs on a whole variety of dried insects and arachnids, many of which are of historical value. Damage can occur either through pest or mechanical action or from initial poor specimen preparation.

The first image shows the scarab as it was when it arrived. Along with the obvious destruction, there was also severe pest damage, caused by the Flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum. This meant that before any restoration could be done, the specimen needed to be frozen to kill any remaining pests. It was bagged up and frozen at -30°C for six days. Once it was un-bagged and removed from the frame, it was vacuumed thoroughly to remove all the dust and debris caused by the pests. A paint brush was used to gently clean the specimen. 

Insect, Coleoptera, Scarabaeidae, Chalcosome atlas, HEC, OUMNH, specimen repair
Pest damage has led to this specimen disarticulating in its display case
The restoration had to be done in-situ as the specimen was glued to the glass to with some heavy duty glue and could not be removed. 
The first stage of repair was to reattach the legs; there were two missing, one beneath the right wing and the right front leg, which was also missing part of its claw (these areas are highlighted in red on the image below). The glue we use to fix insects is of conservation grade and water-soluble; this means that it will not have a detrimental effect on the specimen; it does take longer to dry, but has the benefit of drying clear.
Insect, Coleoptera, Scarabaeidae, Chalcosome atlas, HEC, OUMNH, specimen repair
Areas ringed in red show where repairs have been undertaken on the specimens legs
Once the legs were secure, the head was attached. Foam was required to form a ledge to raise the head to the correct angle; pins were then used to hold it in place for the two hours it took for the glue to dry. The image below, top shows the positioning required. The final stage was the re-attachment of the elytra (front wings). A similar method was used as for the head, but this time towers of white tack were also needed along with the pins to form full support (below, bottom); because the area of attachment was so small, the weight of the elytra needed to be completely supported while the glue dried.
Insect, Coleoptera, Scarabaeidae, Chalcosome atlas, HEC, OUMNH, specimen repair
Head propped on plastazote block to obtain correct angle
Insect, Coleoptera, Scarabaeidae, Chalcosome atlas, HEC, OUMNH, specimen repair
Wings held in posistion with stacks of white tack


Once the glue had dried clear in all the areas, the specimen was finished and ready to be reframed, as seen below- or not as the case may be as the aim of all repair is to do it in such a way that it should be almost impossible to tell that it has been fixed.
Insect, Coleoptera, Scarabaeidae, Chalcosome atlas, HEC, OUMNH, specimen repair
The final appearance of the specimen once it had been repaired