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With over two and a half million specimens deposited in the Manchester Museum’s Entomology Department, ongoing re-curating and documenting these collections constitute a significant part of the wok undertaken by the Curator and his colleagues. Such huge insect collections also present lots of opportunities for students to volunteer in the Museum and to help out museum staff with the documentation and re-organisation of its insect collections.

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Louis Nicolls extracting information from data labels of the Manchester Museum’s mantis collection.

Below is a short report prepared by one of the Museum’s volunteers, Louis Nicolls (see above), a second-year undergraduate student from the Manchester Metropolitan University whose passion is mantises (Mantodea):

“I am currently working on the mantis collection at the Manchester Museum. The work I’m tasked with consists of the extraction of any information from the museum’s archives, collection and annual reports with the aim to collate it all into one succinct report describing the history of the mantis collection, including the first accessions and the collectors who’ve donated the specimens. The report will also provide statistics on the collection, stating its size, the number of species and the percentage of the world’s species we have at the Museum. It will highlight interesting species and any type specimens. Behind the scenes, I will also be updating all the relevant information within the museum database on locality, date and collector information.

This project is exciting because I have been learning a great deal about praying mantises. it’s allowing me to better understand their distribution, taxonomy and history from a systematic context. The project is also providing excellent experience with museum entomological collections, pushing me to learn how they are organised and run as well as how fundamentally important they are within the sciences but also to the general public. The nature of the work is a balanced melding of historical research and scientific study making it stimulating and informative as it pushes me to use initiative and apply myself in ways I wouldn’t normally do so.”

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Example of the drawer with mantises from the collection of Manchester Museum.

Further reading:

Logunov, D.V. 2010. The Manchester Museum’s Entomology Collections. – Antenna, 34(4): 163-167.

Logunov, D.V. & N. Merriman (eds). 2012. The Manchester Museum: Window to the World. London: Third Millenium.

Logunov, D.V. 2012. Why do museums have natural history collections? – Feedback, the ASAB education newsletter, 52: 12-15.

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Copris lunaris

Horned Dung Beetle (Copris lunaris; family Scarabaeidae) from the collection of the Manchester Museum. © Martin Wilson.

About 25-30% of the visitors to the Manchester Museum’s Entomology Department are designers, artists and photographers who come to get inspired by the great diversity of shapes, colours and forms of millions of insects that are retained there. One of the photographers who have been attracted and inspired by our insect collections is Martin Wilson, a photography student from University Centre Blackburn College (accredited by Lancaster University). The aim of Martin’s current project is to create a series of high-quality macro photographs of endangered British insects, some of which – like the Horned Dung Beetle (Copris lunaris) depicted above – are in decline or already became extinct. From November 2018 till March 2018, the Manchester Museum will hold an exhibition of the excellent photographs created by Martin Wilson in order to draw attention of our visitors to their phenomenal beauty and the need to protect and conserve them. The humanity needs insects not only for the ecological services they provide (e.g., here), but also for the sake of their own beauty that has been inspiring artists, poets and entomologists for generations.

“Rare beetles and molluscs which daytime abhor,

Fly larvae, pale woodlice all come to the fore

Midst wood boring creatures with death-tapping call

For savings allotted from decades of store” – by Chris Terrell-Nield (2017)

Lixus paraplecticus

A rare species of British weevils (Lixus paraplecticus; family Curculionidae) from the collection of the Manchester Museum. © Martin Wilson.

Although the Manchester Museum has offered the exhibition space for Martin Wilson for free, some funding for production costs are required, such as the cost of printing, framing and promoting this exhibition. You could help Martin Wilson to produce this exhibition by providing a donation, no matter how small. If you are in the position to help, please, go here for further details.

 

 

 

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Fig. 00. Young specimens of Migratory Locust (Locusta migratoria), NE Kazakhstan. The photo demonstrates distinct colour differences between solitary (left), intermediate (middle) and gregarious (right) forms. © Victor V. Glupov (Novosibirsk, Russia).

It seems that apart from Locust (and perhaps fleas) there are no other insects which could have been so destructive to human affairs and civilizations. When conditions are favourable, vast migrating swarms of Locusts can appear as a cloud that darkens the sky and rapidly devour all plant material on their way, from field crops to the foliage on trees. So great is their apocalyptic quality in human minds that, since the time of the Pharaohs, Locusts have been seen as a symbol of destruction – the wrath of God or a sign of cosmic disorder.

At first glance, Locusts look like large, short-horned and harmless grasshoppers, but their behaviour is different. Unlike grasshoppers, when Locusts are present in large numbers they tend to crowd together, forming vast swarms that can migrate long distances and cause catastrophic plagues. Large swarms can invade an area of Africa and Asia that extends across 57 countries and covers more than 20% of the land surface of the Earth (Fig. 1).

A single swarm may contain many million individuals, with an overall mass of several tonnes. Since these insects eat approximately their own mass of vegetation daily, they cause immense destruction of crops and pastures. For instance, 2.5 square kilometre’s worth of locusts – 100 to 200 million individuals – can consume 220 to 270 tonnes of food, which is enough to feed 200,000 people. In a single day, an average swarm can eat the same quantity of food as 2,500 people.

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Fig. 1. The invasion area of the Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) and areas in which outbreaks are known to have occurred (from Logunov, 2006).

The apocalyptic quality of Locusts in human minds seemed to be the reason why their grotesque figures – gargoyles – were sometimes carved into the architecture of churches and monasteries (Fig. 2), perhaps creating a symbolic representation of hell. Furthermore, of some 98 bug species mentioned in the Revised English Bible, the Locust is referred to at least 31 times (see also here). For instance, “…When morning came, the east wind had brought the locusts. …They devoured all the vegetation and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had spread.” – The Bible, Exodus (10: 13–15). Indeed, it could be an apocalypse for those people who observed Locust swarms in action.

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Fig. 2. A Locust gargoyle in the two-storey cloister of the Jerónimos Monastery (16th century, Lisbon, Portugal). © Dmitri V. Logunov (Manchester, UK).

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that ecclesiastic institutions of early medieval Christian Europe portrayed Locusts as chimeras, demonic and malevolent creatures (Fig. 3, on the left). Such visualization reflected the prevailing theological conceptions of Locust as an instrument of divine vengeance. Its more or less human-like head reflected the mind needed to separate sinners from pious people; the strong wings were needed to fly over humans in order to administer the justice; the scorpion-like tail was the main tool of chastise; etc. Such depiction of the Locust is a striking example of the distortion of human perception induced by the symbolic view of reality, which was introduced by theologians. No doubts, even in the sixteen century people knew very well how real insects look like (Fig. 3, on the right).

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Fig. 3. Two contrast depictions of Locusts. On the left: A section of the Monogrammist HW, “Natuerliche Contrafeyhing…”, dated 1556, a diabolic depicting of the locust (Zürich; modified from Ritterbush, 1969: fig. 2). – On the right: A section of the plate from “Archetypica studiaque patris Georgii Hoefnagelii”, dated 1592, a realistic depiction of the locust; from the archives of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (from Smith, 1986: plate 13).

Despite some Locusts are great pests in many parts of the world, human attitude towards them is not particularly cruel. In India, when a swarm of Bombay Locusts (Nomadacris succincta) comes, people just try to scare them away by lighting fires, beating brass pots, and ringing the temple bell. In Uttar Pradesh, people catch one Locust, decorate its heard with a spot of red lead, salaam to it, and let it go; thereupon people believe that it will immediately depart with all its companions.

There is at least one benefit of having locusts in swarms: they can be harvested and used as food (Fig. 4; see also here). The Arabs boil them with salt, and then add a little oil or butter; sometimes they toast them by the fire before eating them. In Madagascar, there is a common saying: “One needs to waken early in the morning to catch grasshoppers”. About 80 grasshopper/locust species are consumed worldwide. In Morocco, even the price of provision falls when the Locusts appear. The main problem with consuming Locusts is that due to their status of agricultural pests they may be sprayed with insecticides in governmental control programmes, which makes them a polluted food.

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Fig. 4. Locusts are ready for consumption. © J. Princess.

In some other cultures, for instance, those of Native Americans, the relationships between Locust-like insects and man were less dramatic than in medieval Europe, although not fully friendly. The following animation ‘Banquet’ is loosely based on an old folktale by Yaqui people from northern Mexico. It is about a Grasshopper and a Cricket that attended an Indian banquet. They ate and drank with the Chief but behaved badly, so that Yaqui people did not want them coming back.

Created by Eva Akesson, a BA Animation student of the Manchester School of Art at the Manchester Metropolitan University in 2016. Music composed by Peter Byrom-Smith and performed by the Guild Hall Collective, conducted by Rod Skipp.

Control of Locusts is a challenge. Some says that no attempt to control locusts or bring down the swarm has ever succeeded – in each case the plague disappeared only when nature had run its course. Globally, the costs of combating this plague were colossal, over 300 million US$. It is believed that recent plagues happened mainly due to the decline of co-operation between neighbouring countries. Survey and control operations often have to be carried out in important breeding areas in which access is severely restricted due to civil conflicts and general insecurity (some regions of Algeria, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and others). Thus, the true key issues of locust control now are not the lack of scientific knowledge or technical means, but a problem of socio-political organization which cannot be controlled by scientists. Unless this basic issue is resolved, alas, humans will always be at the mercy of nature when it comes to dealing with locust plagues.

 Further reading

Chapman, R.F. 1976. A Biology of Locusts, Studies in Biology no. 71, Edward Arnold, Great Britain.

Logunov, D.V. 2006. Locusts: God’s wrath or revelation. Biological Sciences Review, 19(1): 6-9.

Kritsky G. & Cherry R. 2000. Insect Mythology. Writer Club Press, San Jose, New York, Lincoln, Shanghai.

A view of the cockroach collection of the Manchester Museum.

Any online dictionary (e.g., here) can provide a clear definition of what is a human civilization. For instance, it is “the stage of human social development and organization which is considered most advanced”. Such advanced stage is achieved by bringing out of a savage, uneducated or unrefined state, and is commonly measured by a high level of culture, science, industry and government (whatever the latter could mean). Certainly, such definition is rather egocentric and likely to reflect human’s own pride. Possible side effects of any human civilization are rarely considered, not to mention that all such civilizations are developed and thrive at the expense of the Nature surrounding them.

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Fig. 1. A visual history of the cockroaches, from the world it shared with dinosaurs to the urban world it shares with man, by Brian Raszka, 1999 (from M. Copeland, 2003, ‘Cockroach’).

All human civilizations create a specific urban environment, which is not sterile and inhabited by plethora of living beings, such as: rats, fleas, bed-bugs, mosquitoes and other wicked bugs. Collectively they are called synanthropic species, i.e. associated with man. These creatures live with us only because we have provided them with a suitable environment and food. More importantly, their presence is difficult/impossible to control (Fig. 1) – they always are and will be wherever humans do. They share the civilization with us regardless of what we think of them. Thus, why not to accept them as a legitimate part of a ‘human civilization’?

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Fig. 2. Cockroaches as victims of the humans, ‘Executions’ by Catherine Chalmers (from M. Copeland, 2003, ‘Cockroach’).

Cockroaches are among those wicked bugs that are particularly hated by humans (Fig. 2). They are regarded as public health pests, but hardly deserve such a bad reputation. Cockroaches do not sting and do not eat our crops, though may occasionally transmit some pathogens (e.g., salmonella, staphylococcus, etc.) on their feet or their presence may cause an allergic reaction. They have been living alongside the man for hundreds of years, apparently from the time of cave man. The main problem with cockroaches seems to be that we cannot control them. If the environment is suitable (i.e., the right humidity & temperature and the availability of food) – which is usually correct as far as human dwelling concerned – they will always be there. Thus, if it is us who provide cockroaches with a suitable accommodation and lots of food, should we really blame/hate them for staying with us?

In human dwellings, cockroaches hide in cracks/crevices and service ducting. The following short animation was created by Eifion Crane, a BA Animation student of the Manchester School of Art at the Manchester Metropolitan University in 2016. The story tells us about our unwelcomed neighbours who share our civilization with us.

Cockroaches feed on almost anything, from conventional foodstuffs to any kind of organic waste, including faeces. The main reasons why cockroaches become pests are because they are highly mobile, able to feed on almost anything and very prolific. For instance, during its life one female of the German Cockroach can produce 8 egg cases of 40 eggs in each, thus giving birth to some 3,200 youngsters.

There are about 4,500 described cockroach species worldwide (compare with 5,400 described mammal species); of them about a dozen are considered pests. Cockroaches are one of the oldest insects on the planet, dating back 350 million years (Fig. 3). As Don Marquis put it in his ‘Archy and Mehitabel’ (1913), “…I do not see why men should be so proud, insects have the more ancient linage…”.

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Fig. 3. The comparative evolutionary history of the cockroaches and humans, based on Lippman cartoon (from M. Copeland, 2003, ‘Cockroach’).

Cockroaches are gregarious, tending to live in large groups and fouling the environment with their droppings, castings or regurgitated food; they also produce specific smell. This is why in most human cultures cockroaches represent the clichéd symbol of dirtiness, and their presence can cause great distress to housekeepers. The most common house cockroach-mates in Britain (Fig. 4) are the Oriental Cockroach (Blatta orientalis), German Cockroach (Blatella germanica) and American Cockroach (Periplaneta americana).

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Fig. 4. Oriental (two on the left), German (in the centre) and American (right) Cockroaches; from the collection of the Manchester Museum, UK.

Is there any real remedy to get rid of cockroaches? Well, at least one can be suggested straight away. Based on the experience of our ancestors from the 19th century, it could be prudent to appeal to cockroaches’ common sense and intelligence, and to write them a letter: “Oh, Roaches, you have troubled me long enough, go now and trouble my neighbours”. This might help, but if not, then you are right: these cockroaches do not belong to such advanced civilization in which we all live. Something else is to be done (e.g., see here or here).

Cockroaches have had the long-standing relationships with humans, living alongside them since cave dwelling, and will apparently live after we’ve long gone. Knowing that the lethal dose of radiation for a cockroach is many times higher than for a man, one can say with certainty that they are more likely to survive an atomic explosion than us. Cockroaches have a resilience to survive, thriving off our cast-offs, and as humans, we have unknowingly fostered the creatures, which became part of any human civilization.

The following short animation was created by Emily Dobson, a BA Animation student of the Manchester School of Art at the Manchester Metropolitan University in 2016. Music composed by Peter Byrom-Smith and performed by the Guild Hall Collective, conducted by Rod Skipp. Enjoy the animation.

It seems that now there are fewer/no cockroaches in many houses than there used to be. Some say that this is because of electromagnetic waves generated by computers, smartphones and other gadgets we all use. Hooray!  The final remedy to get rid of cockroaches is found. However, is it really a good thing not to have cockroaches in/around our dwellings? If even cockroaches – the most resilient creatures on the planet – cannot survive in our dwellings, we could ask ourselves whether such dwellings are really healthy and suitable for us?

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The fable of the cockroach and the housewife, both do have the long-standing relations (from M. Copeland, 2003, ‘Cockroach’).

Finally, we do need cockroaches to thrive and be around; if they gone, the existence of our own civilization will be at great danger as well.

Many of the visitors to the Manchester Museum’s Entomology store are researchers, studying various aspects of insect diversity, taxonomy and even physical properties of their colour. A group of researchers from the New Castle University (UK) is interested in what could be a real colour of butterflies and moths seen as if through the eyes of their predators, birds in particular. Here is a brief report provided by Matthew Wheelwright (Fig. 1), a postgraduate student who is involved in this research project:

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Fig. 1. Matthew Wheelwright, a postgraduate student from the New Castle University (on the left) and Phillip Rispin, a curatorial assistant from the Manchester Museum (on the right), are sorting out lepidopteran specimens for scanning.

Colour is vitally important for many aspects of insect lives. It can help them to control their body temperature, or allow them to be recognised by members of their own species. The right body/wing colour can allow insects to blend into their environment in order to hide from predators. Another way in which colour can be used to escape predation is through giving a clear message to their potential predators that they are toxic, not edible or unpleasant tasting and should therefore be avoided. Such insects are usually brightly coloured, with a mixture of yellow/orange and black stripes and spots on their wings. This phenomenon is known as warning coloration (=aposematism). Some other species which occur in the same areas can also benefit from these warning signals by evolving to look like these not edible species; this phenomenon is known as mimicry.

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Fig. 2. Butterflies and moths from the collection of the Manchester Museum sorted out for scanning by means of a hyperspectral camera.

The purpose of our study is two-fold. Firstly we want to find out what makes a good pattern of warning coloration and secondly to discover how closely a mimic must resemble a model having warning coloration (=aposematic model) in order to deceive predators into thinking that they are the same species. In order to do this, we need to know how these patterns look to predators (many of which have different visual systems to humans). We therefore take pictures of specimens from various collections from across the globe, including the entomology collection at the Manchester Museum (Fig. 2), using a hyperspectral camera (Fig. 3). This camera allows us to look at the exact colour spectrum of the specimens, including the amount of Ultraviolet (UV) reflected by them. The latter aspect is very important, as many predators, such as birds, can see in UV.

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Fig. 3 A hyperspectral camera at work, scanning the Black Witch Moth (Ascalapha odorata) from the collection of the Manchester Museum.

We then used models of predator visual systems to quantitatively compare the colour and pattern of aposematic species to non-aposematic species and the patterns of mimics and models to predict how the predators could perceive them and therefore react to them. In other words, we try to see butterflies and moths through the eyes of insect predators and hope to find out whether insects that look aposematic to us (or their mimics) are seen in the same way by their predators.

Such research project would be impossible without access to museum specimens from large entomological collections such as that of the Manchester Museum. So we would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr Dmitri Logunov and Phil Rispin for their assistance and generosity with the loan of some specimens.

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Fig. 1. The specimen of Euoniticellus intermedius (Reiche, 1849) from Honduras in the collection of the Manchester Museum. © Roisin Stanbrook.

In November 2017, the Manchester Museum acquired a specimen of a very interesting dung beetle – Euoniticellus intermedius (Reiche, 1849) (see Fig. 1) – collected from Honduras by Roisin Stanbrook, a young researcher from the Metropolitan University of Manchester who studies the ecology of dung beetles in Central Africa (see here for her interview). In Honduras, Roisin was running a field course for a group of British students, when she came across this beetle which she was familiar with from her fieldwork in Kenya. What a surprise! Below is a brief account of how this dung beetle species appeared in Central America.

E. intermedius is also known as the Intermediate Sandy Dung Beetle. It is a medium sized (6.5-9.5 cm long) species of the burrowing dung beetles that build brood chambers in the soil beneath a dung pat and supply them with dung as food for their larvae. Although this beetle is native to Africa, now it has a worldwide (=cosmopolitan) distribution because the species was intentionally introduced to many countries such as Australia, New Caledonia, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the USA, as a biological control to decrease the dung accumulation caused by cattle and the proliferation of pest flies.

Following its introduction to the USA (in California apparently in 1978, in Texas in 1979, and in Georgia in 1984), E. intermedius started a rapid range expansion across the south of the USA, up to Florida, and Central America, with an estimated speed of about 50 km or more per year. In 1992, it was first recorded in Mexico (the site Mapimí), then it reached Guatemala in 2002, Nicaragua in 2007 and Costa Rica in 2008; in 2015, the beetle was already recorded from the border of Panama (see Maps below).

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Maps. A – Dispersal of Euoniticellus intermedius in Mexico after its introduction in the USA (after de Oca & Halffter, 1998). B – Further dispersal of E. intermedius from southern Mexico across the Isthmus of Panama (after Solis et al., 2015).

 

The beetle has been particularly successful at colonizing arid zones, where the number of native burrowing dung beetles was rather low. For instance, at some places in Mexico, 96% of the individuals (and a great proportion of biomass) corresponded to two invasive dung beetles: E. intermedius and the Gazelle Scarab – Digitonthophagus gazella (Fabricius, 1787), another widely introduced species of dung beetles (see here for further information about it).

But why has the Intermediate Sandy Dung Beetle been so successful in colonizing Americas? There are two main reasons. First, this species has certain biological properties that help its rapid expansion: (1) it is a highly prolific species that can have two or more broods of offspring per year; (2) it is an eurytopic species that can live in a wide variety of habitats and tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions; and (3) it has a preference for bovine dung, which is both very abundant in cattle-farmed areas and nutritionally rich, but yet poorly/not utilized by native Central American species.

Second, quite favourable ecological conditions for E. intermedius (and for D. gazella) have been created by the human activity in Central America: viz., (1) deforestation leading to the creation of open, sunny and dry habitats (=pastures) to which this African species is well-adapted; (2) increase in cattle breeding resulted in the production of excessive amounts of dung (=food resource for the beetle); and (3) the inability of native dung beetles to properly utilize cattle dung, which actually means that there was no competition with native species for this food resource.

Although the ecological impact of E. intermedius on native dung beetles is poorly understood yet, those from the guild of burrowing (=paracoprid) dung beetles are to be affected for sure. Soon we’ll be able to see if this beetle is able to colonize South America and what its presence in the areas already invaded could do to the native biota.

Here and here you can find further information about E. intermedius.

Further reading:

Oca de, E.M. & Halffter, G. (1998) Invasion of Mexico by two dung beetles previously introduced into the United States.- Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment, 33(1): 37-45; http://dx.doi.org/10.1076/snfe.33.1.37.2174

Chinese_Mitten_Crab

The Manchester Museum’s specimen of the male Chinese Mitten Crab (Eriocheir sinensis), collected from Ribble Estuary, Lancashire, in 2007.

The Chinese Mitten Crab (Eriocheir sinensis) is an accidentally imported species in the North Sea, which is considered one of the World’s 100 worst invasive species. The crab first appeared in northern Germany in 1912. It was unintentionally brought from China, apparently as a stowaway in the ballast tanks of cargo ships. Since 1912, the crab has dramatically spread over northern Europe. It was first recorded from Thames River in 1935. Now it is also established in the Rivers Humber, Medway, Tyne, Wharfe and Ouse, increasing its range throughout England and Wales by several tens of kilometres a year. See here about Mitten Crab recording project in the UK.

This crab lives both in fresh and salt waters. In autumn, adult crabs undertake a mass migration from freshwaters to river estuaries for reproduction, crossing long distances over dry land. In October-December, crabs mate, females produce eggs and move deeper to the sea where eggs and several larval stages develop. Young crabs migrate back to freshwaters. They reach sexual maturity in three years and then migrate back to the sea to reproduce.

These crabs can cause serious ecological damage. As adults usually burrow in muddy riverbanks, they can damage them, modify natural habitats and compete with native species. There are no effective means to control this crab species. In Germany, special traps were used during mass crab migrations, but they proved to be ineffective. However, the crabs are edible and even considered delicacy in China. Thus, maybe these crabs should just ‘be eaten’ to stop them damaging British wildlife (see more about this)?

In the vide below, Dr Malcolm Greenhalgh, the author of the notable book on the British Freshwater Life is talking about the Chinese Mitten Crab and the first male specimen collected from North-West.