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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.