The Etymology of Entomology

Honorary Associate Dr George McGavin and Assistant Curator Darren Mann of the HEC will both be putting in an appearance on the BBC Radio 4 program ‘The Etymology of Entomology‘ which is being broadcast this Saturday, the 9th of March at 10:30 (BBC Radio 4 FM: 92.5–96.1).

“Zoologist Dr. George McGavin delves into the strange and often bizarre names given to the planet’s insects.

There are an estimated 10 million living insect species, with new specimens being discovered almost daily. Entomologists are turning to ever more imaginative names, referencing everything from literary figures, celebrities and politicians to playground puns.

George takes us into the complex and intriguing world of the taxonomist. From the 18th century father of modern taxonomy Carl Linnaeus to the present day, he explains why naming the things that surround us is the foundation of all science.
There are flies named Pieza kake and S. beyonceae (after the singer); beetles with political connections – A. hitleri, A. bushi, A. cheneyi and A. rumsfeldi; and some entomologists have even named discoveries after romantic conquests. Unsurprisingly, names can prove controversial but, once set, are difficult to change.”

We hope that this will be a fun introduction for anyone who has questions about how and why we name species in the way that we do. We will be writing blog posts in the future that tackle the subjects of taxonomy and classification in both the broader sense and the minutiae so for the moment, let us leave you with a selection of our favourite fun names of insects and animals:

 

EDIT: An article about the radio show has now appeared on the BBC News website in the Science and Environment section.
 
 

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    There’s a fly on my nose!

    By Mike Ackland
    Honorary Associate of the HEC

    In September 2011, John Carr of Massachusetts, USA, posted photographs of an anthomyiid fly on the website diptera.info. This site has thousands of photos of flies, sent in by both diptera enthusiasts who are keen photographers, and experts who offer advice and possible identification.

    I recognised the anthomyiid as a species of Eutrichota, which has over 50 species in the Nearctic Region. Positive identification to species however generally requires examination of a specimen under a microscope. John, who is a very good photographer and naturalist, later added to his posting some very clear close-ups of various parts of a male specimen he had caught, and offered to send the specimen to me. This proved to be Eutrichota affinis (Stein), a species widespread in America and which is associated with the groundhog Marmota monax L. and may be found in and around their burrows. The larvae are considered to be facultative commensals probably feeding in excrement and debris in the burrows.

    A few other species of Eutrichota in North America have been associated with mammals including ground squirrels, Spermophilus tridecemlineatus (Mitchell), chipmunks, Tamias striatus (L.) and various species of gophers (Geomys spp.).

    In Europe other species of Eutrichota have been found around the burrows of the Alpine Marmot Marmota marmota L. There are seven species of Eutrichota in Britain, though no life histories are known. See Pont & Ackland, 1995 for more details of the flies found in the Alps (full reference below). I first met Adrian Pont (another Hope Department Honorary Associate) in the mid 1950’s in Leigh Woods near Bristol, where we were both collecting insects. So we have both been studying flies for over 50 years.

    Recently John Carr sent me two photographs of specimens of Eutrichota affinis on the head and nose of a groundhog. These were taken in Connecticut on 30th May 2009. The groundhog family was living in a culvert, and John reports that they later ate part of his sister’s garden!
    My thanks to John for permission to use these excellent photos.

    Diptera, Anthomyiidae, fly, Eutrichota, Eutrichota affinis, Marmot, Marmota monax
    There’s a fly on my nose!
    Diptera, Anthomyiidae, fly, Eutrichota, Eutrichota affinis, Marmot, Marmota monax
    Females of Eutrichota affinis (Stein)(Diptera: Anthomyiidae) on the head of the groundhog Marmota monax L.

    Reference
    Pont, A.C. & Ackland, D.M. (1995). Fanniidae, Muscidae and Anthomyiidae associated with Burrows of the Alpine Marmot Marmota marmota Linnaeus in the upper Ötz Valley (Tyrol, Austria). Insecta, Diptera. Berichte des naturwissenschaftlich-medizinischen Vereins in Innsbruck, 82: 319-324.

    A pdf version of the paper is avaliable HERE.

    10th Coleopterists Day


    On February 2nd we hosted for the second year the annual national beetle (Coleoptera) enthusiasts day, with the fifty attendees coming from as far as Cornwall and Lancashire. The day kicked off with proper coffee, tea and biscuits and then a series of talks, followed by a tour of the entomology department and a dung beetle workshop. 


    The talks presented were a nice mix of professional, student and enthusiast and were enjoyable and entertaining. The talks were: Using traits to evaluate ladybird distributions – Richard Comont, CEH; Prionus coriarius in Richmond Park – John Lock; Suckers & sexual conflict in diving beetles – Dave Bilton, Plymouth University; Studying the ecology of British Oil Beetles – John Walters; New initiatives to support beetle recording in Britain – Helen Roy, BRC.

    Coleoptera, beetles, lecture, OUMNH
    Helen Roy presenting her talk on beetle recording in Britain
    The collections (thanks to Amoret Spooner) and Library (thanks to the Librarian Kate Santry) were accessible throughout the afternoon, and many took advantage of using the library (for the first time) and the collections to confirm identifications against our reference material or just to see the more unusual species and extract data. 


    The workshop ‘Dung Beetle Identification’ was a bit of squeeze in our teaching area, with a few too many enthusiastic coleopterists wanting to know how to identify the small and often difficult Aphodius

    Coleoptera, beetles, dung beetles, Scarabaeidae, British, identification
    Darren Mann presenting his workshop on dung beetle identification

    However, using our digital video set-up and monitor we managed to get through the entire dung beetle fauna, giving tips and tricks on their identification and interpretation of the key couplets, the stalwart coleopterists continuing until 8pm.

    Coleoptera, beetles, identification, course, Scarabaeidae, characters, morphology
    Darren Mann using the video microscope to show characters used in the identification of British dung beetle species

    Drawing techniques for publication

    By Katherine Child

    Despite the prevalence of photography in scientific and technical books and papers today, there are still times when a scientific work will call for a more traditional approach. Drawing remains an important part of natural history illustration, and can often provide a more specific and flexible way of communicating information.

    Coleoptera, Corylopidae, beetle, drawing
    An example of the way key features can be highlighted and isolated to provide clarity in a drawn illustration. Cleidostethus meliponae Arrow, from the genus Cleidostethus Arrow, by Stanley Bowestead.


    Stanley Bowestead and Thomas Eccles are both enthusiastic advocates of drawing and have recently published a joint paper on technical drawing for publication in collaboration with the HEC. They argue that the value of drawing lies not only in the end results ability to communicate, but also that the process of drawing is in itself crucial to the better understanding of the subject at hand.  Producing a detailed drawing of a beetle for example, requires rigorous observational skills and after studying the insect, the observer will have gained a unique understanding of the form of that specimen.
    Coleoptera, Coccinellidae, ladybird, beetle, drawing

    Anatis ocellata (L.) by Stanley Bowestead. White gel pen has been used to highlight the setae on the legs.

    In the past it was not only the lack of modern alternatives which made drawing a popular tool for documenting scientific findings. Science, art and religion all used to be closely linked to one another – to the point of being virtually indistinguishable as separate subjects. The study and appreciation of natural history through drawing was thought to bring a person closer to God, as well as being at the height of fashion during the Victorian era.    

    So, it is shifting attitudes towards science and art, as well as photographic advances and the development of other imaging techniques such as SEMs, that have lead drawing to decline over the last 50 years or so in the study of natural history.  


    Coleoptera, Scarabaidae, Cetoniinae, beetle, scarab, insect
    An automontage photograph of a scarab. Photographic equipment and image processing have advanced rapidly in the last 30 years and high quality digital pictures are now becoming normal in scientific publications.
    Stan and Thomas’ paper as well as being a practical how to guide on the technical drawing of insects, hopes to promote the value of drawing alongside other contemporary methods of illustration, as being something which remains relevant and invaluable as a learning resource in the field of science today. ­­
    Coleoptera, Carabidae, Harpalinae, ground beelte, drawing

    Lebia chlorocephalaby Thomas Eccles. Worked in colour pencil with highlights picked out in white ink.


    The paper is available to download for free from the museum’s website.

    A new record for a little red Lygaeid

    Arocatus longiceps is in the insect order Hemiptera, commonly called ‘true bugs’ and is part of the family called Lygaeidae often referred to as seed bugs, due to their feeding behaviour on plant seeds. This species is not native to the UK and was first discovered in Britain during 2007 on plane trees in the grounds of the Natural History Museum, London. This appearance made the bug quite famous; it even featured on the BBC News in 2008 as a new, apparently unidentifiable species.

    Originally this species was determined as Arocatus roselii, however specialist researchers in seed bugs were consulted and the bug was finally identified as Arocatus longiceps an eastern Mediterranean species which has been spreading across Europe over the last few decades.

    The species has mainly been recorded in the London area; but on the 30th November 2012 two specimens were found in the basement rooms at the Museum. This is a new record for Oxfordshire (Flanagan & Ryan, personal communication) and is probably the most Northerly record so far.

    Hemiptera, Lygaeidae, Arocatus longiceps, true bugHemiptera, Lygaeidae, Arocatus longiceps, true bug
    Photographs of the Arocatus longiceps taken using the auto-montage system
    This bug is commonly found across Europe, and in October Amoret saw quite a few during a visit to Prague. The host plant is the plane tree; when the specimens were found in the museum, it prompted us to see whether there were more. As the photos below show, upon searching the plane trees outside the museum, we found an abundance of this bug.
    Hemiptera, Lygaeidae, Arocatus longiceps, true bug, entomology, field

    Chris Jarvis of the Education Department uses his detective skills to find the bug.

    Hemiptera, Lygaeidae, Arocatus longiceps, true bug, field entomology

    A large number of Arocatus longiceps were found beneath the bark. They overwinter as adults in clusters.


    Rediscovered: Meloe mediterraneus

    A species of Oil Beetle, Meloe mediterraneus, which was previously thought to be extinct in the UK, has been rediscovered as part of the on-going Oil Beetle conservation project being run by Buglife.

    Coleoptera, Meloidae, beetle, Meloe mediterraneus
    Female Meloe mediterraneus. Photograph courtesy of John Walters.


    The beetles were found at Bolt Head, a National Trust site in South Devon by a local naturalist who was carrying out a study for the Oil Beetle conservation project. The discovery was confirmed by Darren Mann who is a specialist in British Oil Beetles. It is the first record for this species in over 100 years and the first ever for Southwest England. It is currently the only site that this species has been found at but it is hoped that with further survey work more populations can be found in other areas of the county.

    Prior to its rediscovery, the Mediterranean Oil Beetle was only known to have ever existed in the east of the country- in Essex and Kent. The beetle was last sighted in Kent in 1906 and was thought to be extinct in the UK until rediscovered this year.

    One reason for Meloe mediterraneus remaining undiscovered was that the specimens were mistaken for the similar looking Rugged Oil Beetle, Meloe rugosus (previously blogged about by us here). The adult Mediterranean Oil Beetle is slightly larger than the Rugged Oil Beetle, and has a larger thorax. The Rugged Oil Beetle also has a crease down the centre of the thorax that is absent in the Mediterranean Oil Beetle.

    Coleoptera, Meloidae, beetles, rugosus, mediterraneus, Meloe, British
    Photograph to illustrate the differences between Meloe rugosus (left) and Meloe mediterraneus. Note the groove on the thorax of Meloe rugosus. Photograph courtesy of John Walters.

    The triungulins (larvae) are possibly even more distinctive, with those of Meloe mediterraneus being entirely orange whilst those of Meloe rugosus have an obvious dark head.

    Coleoptera, Meloidae, triungulins, larvae
                        Triungulin of Meloe rugosus (left) and Meloe mediterraneus (right).                   Photographs courtesy of John Walters.

    In the news: Buglife, The Telegraph, WildlifeExtra
    Mini guide to identifying Oil Beetles