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.

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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.

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.

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 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.
 
 

    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.