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.

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.

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.

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.