The Flame-Shouldered Blister Beetle – re-discovered at last!

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One of Britain’s rarest beetles is the secretive, endangered Flame-shouldered Blister Beetle Sitaris muralis – belonging to the family Meloidae (oil and blister beetles). This attractive 8-14 mm long beetle was last found in Oxfordshire up until 1969, but then it was rediscovered in Brockenhurst, Hampshire in 2010 (the last New Forest record before that was in 1947) on a brick wall over 100 years old. However, they are seldom seen outside the nest burrows of the Hairy-footed Flower Bee Anthophora plumipes in old mortar [the entry / exit point looks rather like bullet holes].

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It is not clear why this parasitic beetle is so rare as the host is widespread throughout Britain and common in the south in spring; the larvae feed on the bee’s brood.

Paul and Helen Brock have found the beetle each year since 2010 mainly in August, mostly dead with at least one apparently evicted from the nest (the latest finds though, on 20-21 August 2013 were alive). Others may be trodden on by passers by, as these clumsy insects fall to the pavement in a busy village site. The slightly brighter males have much longer antennae than females; both sexes have strange-shaped wings designed to enter a bees nest.

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The bright orange is presumed to be a warning. In addition to sporting warning colours, during perceived danger such as attack by a possible predator, males curl up in defence, remaining in the position for up to a minute.

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This elusive insect could turn up almost anywhere, but is most likely in southern England on a brick wall- so keep an eye out next time you are out and about!

Our thanks to Paul and Helen Brock for supplying the content and photographs for this post.

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Our new-look blog

Westwood paussidae

The Hope Entomological Collections blog has landed! All of the content of the blog has now been transferred over to the WordPress platform- we just have some final tweaks to make. The toughest decision is going to be over the image that we use for the background. So many insects, not enough time.

We’ll be trialling a number of different pictures over the next week or so, so remember to check back regularly and let us know which one you like best by leaving a comment on this post.

Today’ss background picture (also above) is of a historic collection drawer from the J.O. Westwood Paussidae collection. Westwood was the first curator of the Hope Entomological Collections.

The old version of the blog will be left on-line. If you are looking for it, it can be found here

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.