Green Tigers!

Click on images for a closer view.

Walking up a steeply sloping track yesterday, we came across a large number (at least 20) Green Tiger Beetles (Cicindela campestris) around a sunny, dry earth bank. They were very active, scurrying about and taking off in flight when disturbed, landing a short distance away, and were very eye-catching with metallic green bodies, purple legs and eyes and cream spots.

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Looking close, we could see their long legs, large eyes, strong jaws and their long, sensory bristles, which all help them catch their prey of small invertebrates such as spiders and ants.

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There were lots of round holes in the bank – the burrows where the beetles lay their eggs. As the larvae grow, they anchor themselves in the burrow with a spine on their back and lie in wait for small invertebrates. Although, these are the commonest Tiger Beetles in the UK, this was a new experience for us and fantastic to see them buzzing about in the sunshine.

References:

Chinery. M. (1993) Insects of Britain and Northern Europe. Harper Collins Publishers Ltd, London.

Chinery M. (2005) Complete guide to British insects. Harper Collins Publishers Ltd, London.

https://www.buglife.org.uk/bugs-and-habitats/green-tiger-beetle 

http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/species/green-tiger-beetle

http://www.arkive.org/green-tiger-beetle/cicindela-campestris/

Barnard P.C. (2011) Royal Entomological Society Book of British Insects. Wiley-Blackwell

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Developing a museum outreach collection

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On my first day at Manchester Museum, I was intrigued by some large silver boxes.  Each held a selection of objects from a different gallery in the Museum, or an aspect of a collection.  Community organisations can host a visit from these ‘Museum Comes to You’ boxes with a member of the Museum staff.

So I was excited to be asked to develop a box based on the Nature’s Library gallery – but also a little overwhelmed!  This beautiful gallery opened in April 2013 and showcases an outstanding collection of preserved animals, plants and fossils, collected from around the world over the last 200 years.   As a starting point in choosing 8 or 9 specimens out of over 4 million, I went out with Kerry Beeston and Curator of Community Exhibitions, Andrea Winn,  to see how the objects were used.

Andrea and Kerry skilfully described objects from the Natural Science collections to members of Henshaw’s Society for the Blind and there were soon lots of conversations and questions flying – ‘What is it?’, ‘Where does it come from?’ and ‘How old is it?’.

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Andrea and Kerry were praised for their engaging description of the objects.

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These particular objects  had been chosen for their variety of texture, shape and colour.    They didn’t necessarily have much information associated with them, limiting their usefulness as a flexible resource for a range of groups.

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A beautiful selection of shells from the Indian Ocean sparked lots of discussion and memories of distant lands.

Very positive feedback from this and two other groups asked for a greater variety of objects – Herbarium sheets were particularly mentioned, and staff wanted more information about objects.

Nature’s Library  ‘showcases objects from the collections, where they come from, how they are used for research and what they mean to people today’ with the overarching aim of inspiring a greater interest in the natural world, helping people think about their own relationship with the modern natural world and telling people about what the museum does.

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The fruit of the Coco-de-mer – an endangered palm with the largest seed of any plant, weighing up to 30 kg. Its interesting shape has given rise to many legends!

A group of 8 or 9 objects was considered optimalThe objects musn’t be hazardous obviously, and they need to be robust enough or suitably packaged for transport/handling.  Objects were chosen to:

  • Reflect the range of the collections
  • Be amazing in their own right, visually, with interesting texture, aroma or sound
  • Have fascinating natural history
  • Provide lots of angles to talk about –  the history of their collection, their collectors and how their use today reflects the  museum’s teaching and research role as a part of the university.

People are also interested in curatorial aspects – the various forms of conservation and storage, how the museum keeps track of them and their associated information.

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Apart from choosing the objects (liaising with the relevant curators), researching information was hugely enjoyable and hard to know when to stop.  But I had to remember that it can become a real memory test for those presenting the objects.  I aimed to provide enough variety of information that they could find something to connect with.  The objects are augmented by images of them in their natural habitat for use in the sessions.

I met members from the Engagement Team and Conservation Department to look at the final selection, to get their input from the presentational point of view and think about how people might engage with the objects, as well as flag up any handling issues.  Then the objects were left with the Conservation team to check their stability and to be mounted / packaged while pilot sessions are set up to try them out.

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This Whale Barnacle is my particular favourite.  This one is 6 cm across.  Not a mollusc, but a crustacean (like crabs etc).  They live almost exclusively on Hump-backed Whales.

A catalogue of earwig types

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Just before Christmas I completed a draft catalogue of the type specimens in Manchester Museum’s Dermaptera (earwig) collection.

The museum has about 11,000 Dermaptera including type material for 276 species.

There are 60 trays of earwigs  in 3 cabinets, where they are laid out by genus, and within genus by species.

This drawer shows the great variety between the species.

They show a fascinating variety.

The dried specimens are either pinned directly, or glued onto card which is on a pin.

Beneath the specimens are labels telling us about where they were collected, when and who by, and who determined which species it is.

Beneath the specimens, labels tell us where they were collected, when, who by, and who determined which species it is.

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Types are flagged up by special labels – pink for holotypes, cream for paratypes.

Accession numbers attached to the pins.

First job – attach unique accession numbers to the type specimens.

Information from the labels was transferred to the catalogue –

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The labels make fascinating reading – some of the earliest species for which types are represented here were described in the first few years of the 20th century.  Its likely they were collected years before publication, making them well over 100 years old.  Some were gathered by individuals, others by scientific expeditions.  There is hardly anywhere they do not come from.   Going through species alphabetically, even before we get into the ‘D’s we have such locations as:

Congo Guinea Colombia Kaschmir
Uttar Pradesh, India Venezuela Gabon New Caledonia
Burma Phillipines Kenya Dutch New Guinea
Nigeria Argentina Peru S. Rhodesia
South Africa Ecuador Zaire San Francisco
Cameroon Panama Sierra Leone Ceylon
Sudan Lesser Sunda Islands Bolivia Sarawak
Madagascar Uluguru Mts, Tanganyika Seychelles Uganda
New Hebrides Bhutan Sumatra Costa Rica

The reference for the original publication of each species was checked (the first line under the bold heading) and an initial foray made into identifying their current taxonomy.    For some of the species, many revisions have been made to their taxonomic name since their original description.  Ensuring this information is correct will be a much longer project for someone else.

Thanks are due to Dr Dmitri Logunov, Curator of Arthropods, for suggesting and guiding me through the project.

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:

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

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Trays: again – one species per tube.

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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.

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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.

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

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Some were relatively local.

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Some were from further afield.

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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In your face …

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… and beautifully subtle.

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