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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.