The Verrall Supper 2013

Once a year, on the first Wednesday of every March, when the weather is especially chilly (or so it seems), entomologists can be seen flocking towards the bright lights of London. As they wend their way towards South Kensington you may be forgiven for thinking that there is some kind of mass migration going on, and it’s true, entomologists do often seek warmer climes than Britain may have to offer, if only because of the abundance of insects is so much greater in those areas of the world where it is hot and sticky (and if there is one thing that entomologists cannot refuse, it’s an abundance of insects).
But on this occassion you would be wrong. For the first Wednesday of every March is devoted to the Verrall Supper. Arguably the highlight of the social calendar for all entomologists, the evening consists of a lecture, hosted by the Royal Entomological Society and presented by a distinguished entomologist, which is then followed by drinks, dinner and much socialising.

This year the dinner was hosted at The Rembrandt Hotel which is a short stroll from the Natural History Museum. Staff from the HEC left Oxford early in order to spend some time in the collections in the NHM, checking type specimens and doing a little research as a form of pre-dinner exercise just to sharpen our appetites.
The Rembrandt Hotel was a new venue for the Verrall Supper which for the last 10 or more years has been held at Imperial College. It proved to be an excellent setting although it seemed to take everyone a little while to get used to the idea that the tables were round instead of the long bench style table at Imperial that seat about 60 people. This new format made mingling with other guests between courses much easier however and it has to have been one of the chattiest Suppers that any of us have to been to in a while. Of course, the fact that there was 183 collected entomologists (a recent high in attendance) in the room might also have played a part.

Verrall Supper, The Entomology Club, entomologist, entomology
What’s the collective noun for entomologist’s? A colony? Maybe a rabble? Cluster? Army? Clutter? Intrusion? Answers in the comments box below!

Verrall Supper, The Entomology Club, entomologist, entomology
Zoë Simmons and Dr Jose Nunez-Mino, an associate of the HEC
Verrall Supper, The Entomology Club, entomologist, entomology
Amoret Spooner and Mike Wilson, Head of Entomology at National Museum, Wales.

Verrall Supper, The Entomology Club, entomologist, entomology
Darren Mann (right), talking to Charles Godfray (left), Hope Professor, Oxford.

One other notable change was the increase in the number of people documenting the ocassion. Social media is fast becoming a part of peoples daily lives so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to find that the Verrall Supper had acquired it’s own hashtag on Twitter or that photos of the dinner appeared within minutes of the courses being served.

If you would like further information about the history of the Verrall Supper or the Entomological Club through which the supper was established then there is an excellent publication on the subject by Pamela Gilbert.

Gilbert, P. (2005). The Entomological Club and Verrall Supper: A History (1826-2004). The Entomological Club c/o The Royal Entomologists Society. Headley Brothers Ltd, Kent.

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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.
 
 

    A date for everyone’s diary


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    We are pleased to announce that we will be hosting the BENHS for their Member’s Day/AGM on the 23rd of March.

    “The Society was founded in 1872 as the South London Entomological and Natural History Society and since its inception has always included amongst its members many of the leading entomologists of the day.

    The objectives of the Society are the promotion and advancement of research in entomology with an increasing emphasis now being placed on the conservation of the fauna and flora of the United Kingdom and the protection of wildlife throughout the world”.

    The department has in the past, greatly enjoyed hosting the BENHS and other societies for a variety of different events and we hope that this occassion will be as entertaining as the others. We expect it to be a busy day, with staff dividing their time between the lecture theatre, the collections and socialising with members. We will be on hand to try and answer any questions people may have about the collections or entomology in general as well as to make sure that there is plenty of tea and biscuits avaliable to help fuel the thinking.

    Details of the meeting, which is open to members and non-members alike, can be found below. 

     ~
    BRITISH ENTOMOLOGICAL & NATURAL HISTORY SOCIETY
    AGM and Members’ Day Programme Saturday 23rd March 2013
    Hosted by the Oxford University Museum of Natural History
    Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PW
    All of the meeting is open to both members and non-members, although only members are allowed to vote on any motions put to the AGM.
    Exhibits of live or dead insects, photos, literature, posters etc. will be most welcome. Please display these in the lecture theatre when you arrive. They may then be viewed and discussed during the lunch break.
    Within the UK, the Hope Entomological Collections are second in size and importance to the national insect collection at the Natural History Museum, London. The collection houses over 25,000 arthropod types, and comprises over 5 million specimens.  The collection includes many specimens of great historical interest from such sources as the Hope-Westwood and Verrall-Collin collections. 
    For those wishing to consult the collection during the day, please contact the department in advance: entomology@oum.ox.ac.uk

    .

    Programme for the day
    10.15   Arrive, coffee/tea, display of exhibits

    10.50   Welcoming remarks and introduction to the day

    11.00   Galls and their insects. Margaret Redfern (University of Sheffield and British Plant Gall Society)

    11.35   21st century insect arrivals in the UK.Sharon Reid (FERA)

    12.10   The effects of extreme fluctuating temperatures on aphid life history traits. Christopher Jeffs

                (University of Oxford). Student presentation

    12.30   Facing up to Beetles. Michael Darby (BENHS)

    12.50   Something different. Glenda Orledge (BENHS) Please bring a pen or pencil for this item

    13.00   Lunch and viewing of exhibits (bring your own packed lunch or forage in one of the nearby pubs or

    eateries)

    14.00   Society notices

    14.15   Annual General Meeting with elections, reports and Presidential Address (PTO for AGM notice)

    15.00   Extreme Insects. Richard Jones (BENHS). By special invitation of the President

    15.45   Conclusion of the AGM and Tea

    16.00   Tour of the entomological collections,led by Darren J. Mann

    16.45   Close of meeting

    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

    Alfred Russel Wallace


    In 2013, 100 years after his death, we celebrate the life of Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), one of the greatest Victorian naturalists, travellers and collectors, a scientific and social thinker, early bio-geographer and ecologist, co-founder with Charles Darwin, of the theory of evolution through Natural Selection.

    The Hope Entomological Collections (HEC) has many examples of species named after Wallace and of specimens collected by Wallace himself including species types such as Wallace’s giant bee.

    Hymenoptera, Megachilidae, Megachile pluto, bee, insect, type, OUMNH, HEC
    Megachile pluto described by B. Smith, 1869 is the largest bee species in the world. It occurs in Indonesia and builds its nest inside active termite nests.

    The OUMNH also has nearly 300 letters written by Wallace discussing scientific topics, social issues, his relationship with Charles Darwin, and family matters which have been scanned as part of the Wallace Correspondence Project (WCP). Recently, the WCP has launched a new searchable open access on-line database entitled  ‘Wallace letters on-line‘. Staff and volunteers in the HEC have put in many hours of work in order to add our own holdings of letters and correspondance to this exciting project.

    Wallace, correspondance, letter, entomologist, naturalist, archives

    Wallace, correspondance, letter, entomologist, naturalist, archives
    A letter from A.R. Wallace to E.B. Poulton, a former curator of the Hope Entomological Collections.
    Wallace was largely self-educated. He developed an interest in natural history when young, and, like Darwin, became a keen beetle-collector. Fourteen years younger than Darwin, and from a less wealthy background, Wallace always had to earn a living while developing his scientific ideas. The Victorians were fascinated by the mystery behind the development of species and the anonymous publication in 1844 of ‘Vestiges of the Origin of Creation’ (actually written by Robert Chambers) caused a sensation. Wallace determined to resolve the species question himself, and travelled to South America with Henry Walter Bates to collect specimens and theorise about species, inspired by earlier travellers such as Humboldt, Edwards and Darwin himself. 
    Wallace spent four and a half years in Amazonia before returning to England (losing most of his precious collections and notes in a ship’s fire on the way home) and had already published some scientific articles before publishing two short books, ‘A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro’ and ‘Palm Trees of the Amazon and their Uses’, but he realised he needed to continue collecting if he was to achieve his aim.
    Wallace chose as his new collecting ground, the Indonesian region. Before leaving England, Wallace happened to meet Darwin briefly at the British Museum. While Darwin continued his painstaking work on barnacles and other researches, Wallace arrived in Singapore in 1854 and spent eight and a half years travelling an estimated 14,000 miles throughout the region, as described in his much republished book ‘The Malay Archipelago’.
    It was here that Wallace wrote his illuminating essay ‘On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction of New Species’ (known as the ‘Sarawak Law’ paper) in 1855. This was followed in February 1858 by Wallace’s most famous paper ‘On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type’ which did lead Darwin to publish On The Origin of Species the following year.
    Wallace was suffering from malarial fever when the idea crystallised in his mind. Between bouts of fever, he wrote out his theory in a few days, and sent it to Darwin (whom he knew would be sympathetic to his ideas), hoping for advice on whether and how to publish it. A key for both Darwin and Wallace in formulating their theories of natural selection was recollection of Malthus’s essay on population. Of course, when Darwin received Wallace’s letter, he was presented with a dilemma. He had been working on his theory for twenty years, and here was an outline of that theory, written by a relative unknown, far away in the tropics. Darwin sought advice from Sir Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker(later Sir Joseph Hooker), who decided that it would be fairest to publish some extracts of Darwin’s earlier writings together with Wallace’s paper, at the next meeting of the Linnean Society. It happened that an emergency meeting was being called and the papers were added to the agenda and read on 1 July 1858, with neither author present (Wallace was still in the Malay Archipelago and Darwin’s son Charles had just died).
    Darwin was relieved when he found that far from resenting his treatment, Wallace felt honoured for their ideas to be associated. In fact, when writing about natural selection, Wallace chose the term ‘Darwinism’ and defended ‘Darwinism’ with vigour, both in England and abroad, describing himself as a ‘Darwinian’. Both Darwin and Wallace recognised that their theory (which they both acknowledged had been arrived at independently) had anticipators and were fully aware of the importance of recognising the contributions of others. They remained correspondents, consulting each other on various topics and Wallace was one of the pall-bearers at Darwin’s funeral.
    Wallace was a believer in inspiration and said ‘all my best ideas have come to me suddenly’. Modest to a fault, he was happy to receive (among many other honours heaped on him) the Royal Society’s ‘Darwin’ medal, and described as ‘outrageous’ attempts to put him on same level as Darwin. 
    When presented with the first ‘Darwin-Wallace’ medal by the Linnean Society on 1 July 1908 (celebrating the anniversary of publication of the Darwin-Wallace papers), Wallace contrasted himself with Darwin: “I was then (as often since) the “young man in a hurry”: he, the painstaking and patient student, seeking ever the full demonstration of the truth that he had discovered, rather than to achieve immediate personal fame.”.  Wallace felt himself more suited to fieldwork (he was meticulous with his labels and had always recognised the importance of noting the location where each specimen had been found) and was glad that Darwin had been able to provide the vital detailed proofs and analysis for their controversial ideas.
    Although they did not agree on everything (and sometimes had to agree to disagree), Darwin and Wallace shared mutual respect and friendship, and believed ardently in the spirit of co-operation, which their relationship personified.
    Wallace, correspondance, postcard, entomologist, naturalist, archives
    The postcard above, written in Wallace’s handwriting reads as follows ‘Many thanks for the kind congratulations- Am feeling quite jolly! Alfred R Wallace’