Harvestman home

My second Entomological project has been one of the most enjoyable so far. Dmitri Logunov, Curator of Arthropods, set me to amalgamate some collections of Harvestmen (Opiliones) currently occupying 2 drawers and a jar:


Jar of mixed species Opiliones, one species per tube but! more than one tube per species.


Trays: again – one species per tube.


The original tubes had plastic caps.  Labels provide taxonomy and locality information, and accession numbers which had been allocated previously.

First the Harvestmen were sorted into species.  For each species:

The taxonomic name was checked using a reference text  (Harvestmen by P D Hillyard (Field Studies Council, Dec 2005)).

A jar was prepared to receive all the tubes of that species by part-filling with 70% IMS solution and adding a temporary label.

Taking the first tube,  the old liquid was poured out (important!) without pouring out the leggy contents.

The new alcohol solution in the jar was used to refill the tube and to wet some cotton wool to plug the tube mouth, checking no air bubbles had snuck in.


The cotton wool is pre-soaked in IMS solution to remove air bubbles.

 The tube was immersed in the alcohol in the jar.

When all the tubes with that species name were in the jar, and covered by alcohol solution, the jar was sealed.

This process was repeated for each species.


Finally, label neatly and arrange in the spirit store by genus and alphabetically by species.


Some were relatively local.


Some were from further afield.


All with a story to tell (if only they weren’t pickled).


Some interlopers tried to sneak in, like this False Scorpion, labelled Neobisium carpenteri.

DSCF0488The finished collection of 25 species containing around 170 tubes.

Documenting Geometridae


Geometridae show great variety in their appearance.

My first project in the Entomology department has been to document on the Collection Management System 561 species of Geometridae moths.  I’m seeing a pattern here, new department – first job, get to grips with how it uses KE EMu.

Curatorial Assistant of Entomology Phil Rispin has been recurating the Geometridae section of the C H Schill Worldwide Lepidoptera collection and allocating them accession numbers during the process so that they can be catalogued on KE EMu.

The important Schill Lepidoptera collection includes 40,000 specimens from 8,000 species of all families of butterflies and moths*.  For comparison, I and Phil had some difficulty in finding an agreed value for the current known number of Geometridae species, but a figure of around 22,000 was suggested to me by John Chainey, Curator of Lepidoptera at the Natural History Museum.  This doesn’t include subspecies or synonyms.  Geometridae are divided into a number of subfamilies.  The family Geometridae belongs (along with two other families) to the superfamily Geometroidea.


The unique accession number  can be seen underneath each specimen as well as much more information on locality and identification, in tiny, tiny writing, – more frequently printed nowadays. (I have read that keepers of collections used to be tested on their ability to write microscopically small before being appointed.)

Almost all of the 561 species had to be added as new species on KE EMu, along with the number of representatives of each species.  That totalled information on 2,310 specimens, which took me 3 and a half days, (this was the point at which I caught up with Phil, who is still in the process of accessioning the Geometridae) during which I learnt quite a bit more about superfamilies, families and subfamilies.


In your face …


… and beautifully subtle.

*Logunov, D V & Merriman N [Ed] (2012) The Manchester Museum: Window to the World.  The Manchester Museum, (01) 7: 87.

Urban Naturalist: Moss


We found this beautiful moss (Grimmia pulvinata – Grey-cushioned Grimmia?) growing on the edge of a large concrete planter. The white hairs are elongated leaf tips.

In this 2-hour session, part of the Museum’s Urban Naturalist series of public events, Russell Hedley of Nature Talks and Walks shared his enthusiasm and knowledge about moss.    Russ explains more about moss in his blog.  We explored from the Manchester Museum allotment around the precincts of the University, peering into trees, grass and cracks in the pavement and crawling around on our hands and knees, lenses in hand.  The people in the group were very enthusiastic and some asked for a record of what we’d seen and heard – so here it is …

We learnt that mosses are plants.  They takDSCF0693e in water and nutrients mainly through their leaves (which usually only have a single layer of cells) and use sunlight to create food by photosynthesis, but don’t have a water transport system like vascular plants.  They therefore need to live in damp places.  They reproduce using spores, not seeds and don’t have flowers (so don’t need pollinating), even though the spore-bearing structures can look flower-like, as in this picture.

Also they have threadlike structures that hold them to a surface, but they don’t take water up through these.



Water also needs to be present to transfer sperm from the male plants to the female eg the moss growing in this tree may use gravity to transport sperm down the trunk.  This prompted a discussion about whether you can use moss on trees as a compass, or if it just grows on the dampest side, which might be the north facing side or the shadiest, or have water running down it for some other reason.

There are more than 600 British mosses, adapted to live in varied environments.  Some more mossy pics …


Other distractions we came across were …




Female gametophore.

This lovely liverwort (possibly Marchantia polymorpha, – common or umbrella liverwort) has so much going on.  Among the rosette of flattened leaf-like thalli the star-shaped umbrellas here are the female gametophores which produce ova. (The male gametophores are leaf shaped rather than star-shaped).

As a back-up, the cup-like structures on the upper surface of the plant contain balls of cells genetically identical to the parent . Rain splashing in the cups throws these out and they develop into new liverwort.  Not content with this, asexual reproduction can also occur when older parts of the plant die and newer branches develop into separate plants.


and lichens (on beech) …


Fungi …

And of course, flora …


Black medick Medicago lupulina L.


Russ suggests the amazing pattern in the bark of this birch may be caused by a virus.