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Weaving through mazes of ancient-looking cabinets, the ever-present scent of mothballs permeating the air, one can only begin to comprehend the breadth and magnitude of the Museum of Manchester’s entomological collection of 2.5 million specimens. Much of it was donated or bequeathed from individual collections, and as such, allows a fascinating representation of the history of entomology around the world. By studying these collections, we can not only gain insight into the insects themselves, we can reveal peculiarities about the contexts in which they were collected. In today’s blog post, I would like to introduce you to a drawer of particular interest, originating from the collection of Mr. Joseph Sidebotham.

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Josef Sidebotham, the frontispiece from Grindon’s (1886) memoir

Joseph Sidebotham (1824 – 1885) was a Mancunian businessman with a broad range of interests including, but certainly not limited to, natural history (Cook, 2015). A member of numerous scientific societies and highly esteemed in his community, his collection of Lepidoptera was donated to the Museum by his heirs in 1919, and included 1,900 species of mostly British origin. At first glance, they appear relatively consistent with other individual collections of the time. The butterflies are set with their wings depressed, nearly touching the bottom of the drawers, a style of mounting which was common until the 1860s. Despite being very aesthetically pleasing, only a few are labelled with dates or locations, as many personal collectors did not regard this information as vital.

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The style of butterfly mounting in the Sidebotham collection; the Manchester Museum.

Upon closer inspection, elements of mystery begin to reveal themselves. The left-most column displays Orange-tip Butterflies (Anthocharis cardamines), which are a sexually dimorphic species, meaning that males and females look different. Male Orange-tip butterflies have (you guessed it) orange-tipped wings, while the females have more inconspicuous colouration. So, what are those two specimens in the middle, each with a single orange-tipped wing?

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Drawer of butterflies from the Sidebotham collection; the Manchester Museum.

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Two gynangromorph specimens of the Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines) from the collection of the Manchester Museum.

Those individuals are known as gynandromorphs, meaning they show both male and female characteristics (gyn – female, andro – male, morph – form). Resulting from errors during early development, they are uncommon in nature, but gynandromorphy has been documented in a wide range of insects (see Narita et al., 2010 for further details), spiders (e.g., Kaston, 1961) crustaceans (e.g., brine shrimps; see Campos-Ramos et al., 2006) (and even birds (Agate et al.,2003). It is most easily distinguished in sexually dimorphic species; however the pattern of male and female tissue can differ between individuals. Bilateral gynandromorphs, such as the Orange-tips above, have a left-right split of male and female characteristics. Individuals of the same species with a more random distribution of tissues, known as mosaic gynandromorphism, can also be found.

The matching pair of Orange-tips were likely a point of pride within Sidebotham’s collection, as their opposing colouration provides a striking example of gynandromorphism, and such specimens were often favoured by insect collectors due to their rarity and unusual appearance. Besides, these specimens seem to represent one of the oldest records of gynandromorphism in Lepidoptera (Narita et al., 2010). Now, they provide the Museum with not only an educational tool, but an intriguing little piece of history.

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Jamie Burnett, the author of this post, with a drawer of butterflies from J. Sidebotham’s collection.

If you’d like to know more about Joseph Sidebotham, see online here and here.

If you’d like to know more about gynandromorphism in general, see online here and here.

If you’d like to know more about gynandromorphism in arthropods see online here.

 

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Manchester’s urban green spaces and parks provide homes to a vast array of wildlife, and The Friends of Fletcher Moss Park and Gardens are inviting everyone to lend a hand at their BioBlitz event on Saturday 18 May – an exciting race against the clock to discover, identify and record as many species of bird, insect, mammal and plant life as possible.

The BioBlitz will have a particular focus on the insects that fly, buzz, wriggle and crawl in the habitats around the park and within the nearby Mersey Valley, and there will be experts on hand from a number of organisations including Manchester Museum and the RSPB to help identify what is found. The data recorded will be shared with Greater Manchester Local Records Centre and the National Biodiversity Network and will be used to measure the impact of future conservation work, undertaken in partnership with Manchester City Council, at the site. 

At the start of the event there will be a rare opportunity to observe nocturnal insect species up close, and throughout the day there will be guided walks suitable for all ages that will showcase the range of species that can be found at Fletcher Moss Park. More information about the times of the walks can be found by visiting rspb.org.uk/events and searching for events in Greater Manchester.

Families can drop in to take part in fun activities, including pond dipping, minibeast hunting and worm charming – these activities count towards the RSPB’s Wild Challenge, a digital rewards scheme to encourage families to get closer to nature all year round by completing fun activities that will help wildlife in their own back garden and the great outdoors. For more information about the Wild Challenge, visit rspb.org.uk/wildchallenge

Venue: Fletcher Moss Park and Gardens. Use the Millgate Lane entrance, M20 2SW. Activities will be signposted upon entering the park.

Contact: For more information, email Mersey.Valley@rspb.org.uk

 For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:

Jenny Hackland, Mersey Valley Project Officer on 07540 121 309 or email jenny.hackland@rspb.org.uk

Or

Annabel Rushton, RSPB Regional Communications Manager, on 01524 581026 or 07793 902 590 or email annabel.rushton@rspb.org.uk

Follow us on Twitter: @RSPBManchester

Like us on Facebook: RSPB North West England

 Editor’s notes

1.     Manchester City Council and the RSPB are developing an exciting new vision to connect people with nature in the Mersey Valley. The two organisations are working closely with local people and groups, such as the Friends of Fletcher Moss and Parsonage Gardens, Didsbury, to explore ways of encouraging people to do something positive for wildlife, reconnect with nature and help look after the Mersey Valley by getting actively involved.

2.     The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

 3.     The RSPB’s Wild Challenge is free, it’s open to everyone and there are things to do at any time of the year. Get closer to nature all year round by completing fun activities that will help wildlife close to home and further afield, and collect rewards too! Visit rspb.org.uk/wildchallenge

 4.     The Friends of Fletcher Moss meet on a regular basis and organise practical volunteering session in partnership with Manchester City Council to improve the park. The group welcomes new members, if you would like to get involved or to find out more, contact Alan Hill at awhill@globalnet.co.uk

5.     If you’d like to change how you hear from us, it’s easy to do. Just call us on 01524 581026 (Monday to Friday, 9am–5pm), email annabel.rushton@rspb.org.uk or write to Communications Manager, RSPB, 7.3.1 Cameron House, White Cross Estate, South Road, Lancaster, LA14XF.

 The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity in England and Wales 207076, in Scotland SC037654.

The Manchester Museum’s huge insect collections are used in many different ways, for instance, for research projects by staff and students of the University of Manchester. The project briefly described below is being carried out now by Lydia Koutrouditsou, a Greek Erasmus student under the supervision of Robert Nudds from FMBH.

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Lydia Koutrouditsou is selecting a specimen of Swallowtail for taking a photo; the Manchester Museum.

Robert and Lydia take photographs of the museum specimens of swallowtail butterflies (both dorsal and ventral) in order to analyse and calculate their wing shapes using a technique called geometric morphometrics. The researchers are interested in two British butterfly species: Swallowtail, Papilio machaon (incl. the subspecies britannicus), and Scarce Swallowtail, Iphiclides podalirius podalirius. Both species are known to be sexually dimorphic in terms of overall size, with females being the larger. What Robert and Lydia want to investigate is whether the butterflies also differ in the shape of their wings and their tails. If it is found they are different, the study will then go on to look at the aerodynamic consequences of these shape changes.

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Robert Nudds is taking a photo of a Swallowtail butterfly; the Manchester Museum.

Stories from the Museum Floor

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As well as working on Manchester Museum’s Visitor Team, Diana also volunteers behind the scenes in the Entomology department. In today’s Story From The Museum Floor, Diana takes us on a many legged journey through one of the Museum’s largest collections.

For more on our Entomology collections please have a look at the curator’s blog.

A Museum full of legs

Would you believe me if I told you that there are more than one and a half million legs at Manchester Museum – only counting spider legs?

Arachnophobes read on at your own risk!

Manchester Museum houses nearly 200,000 British and foreign spider specimens, representing more than 3,600 species. The spider collection (class Arachnida, order Araneae) is worldwide in scope and likely to be the third largest in the UK.
This blog explores some of the history and people involved in assembling and maintaining this collection, with…

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December Moth

Moths in December, is that possible?

Maybe autumn and winter are not the best time to spot insects in England, but believe it or not, there are some that can only be seen during the coldest time of the year! This is the case with the December Moth Poecilocampa populi (Linnaeus, 1758).

When is the best time to spot the December Moth?

The adult of the December Moth flies mostly from November until late December. They are found in woodlands, parks and large gardens with lots of trees. It is a very common moth in England, Wales, the lowlands of Scotland and Ireland.

How does the December Moth survive the winter?

Some insects have developed amazing strategies to survive the coldest months of the year. In the case of the December Moth, the adult lays hard, oval grey eggs on branches or in cracks in the bark. The thickness of…

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Fig. 1. Megan Baker working on the British Ichneumonidae collection. © The Manchester Museum.

The Manchester Museum has very large collections of British insects, numbering some 750,000 specimens. Of them, the British Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, ants, and the like) collection numbers some 45,000 specimens representing 3,200 species (see Logunov, 2012). Unfortunately, the collection is in need of a thorough revision regarding its nomenclature and records in the Museum’s database, as some of the species names it contains are up to 60 years old, being thus out of date.

Megan Baker, a MSc student from the University of Manchester (Fig. 1), started to work on this project. One of her main roles includes updating the outdated nomenclature with modern names based on a much more recent British Hymenoptera checklist, published in 2014. Megan is also responsible for transferring the collection to newly acquired modern drawers and cabinets, relabelling and expanding the collection as she goes, leaving space to allow for new acquisitions (Fig. 2). Alongside this, she is also updating the database records with the newly added information, including any changes to the nomenclature, location, or data/ID labels. During her time at the museum, Megan has also been responsible for processing a newly obtained collection of some 900 identified specimens from Richard D.C. Jones (19432018) and documenting it in the Museum’s database. Later, this collection will be amalgamated with the main British Hymenoptera collection.

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Fig. 2. Example of the drawer with the British Ichneumonidae wasps that has just been re-curated. © The Manchester Museum.

This is what Megan said about her work in the Manchester Museum: “Through my work at the Museum I have gained an increased knowledge of the taxonomy and identification of Britain’s Hymenoptera, as well as an increased familiarity with many taxa. These tasks have also provided vital experience of working with entomological collections, as well as an insight into how such large and important collections are stored and cared for.

The Manchester Museum’s Entomology Department has lots of opportunities for volunteering for anyone who could be interested; enquires are to be addressed to the Curator of Arthropods, Dr Dmitri Logunov.

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Fig. 1: Specimens of the Lanternfly Fulgora laternaria from Mexico in the collection of the Manchester Museum. © The Manchester Museum.

Surely, there are no other living things that rival insects in their vast variety in shape and form. One of the most spectacular group of insects is Lanternflies or Lantern Bugs (family Fulgoridae, order Hemiptera) distributed in the tropics of both the Old and New Worlds (see here for images). The Lanternfly collection at the Manchester Museum is not particularly large, consisting of 150 specimens that belong to 34 identified species (see Allnatt, 2013, for further details).

The following story has been prepared by Kasia Majewski, the Curatorial Assistant within the Manchester Museum Vivarium, whose background is a mix of herpetological (reptile and amphibian) and Entomological work. One of Kasia’s entomological idols, and an inspiration for her passion in ecology, is Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), one of the first naturalists to observe insects directly, make associations between different insect species and host plants, and capture these interactions in stunning colour through her coloured plates. Mrs Merian was not only arguably the first female entomologist, but one of the first naturalists who was also a professionally trained artist, coupling her carefully written observations of species with her mesmerizing illustrations.

Many of her scientific observations are still recognized and valid today, however one story regarding a particular species has always captured people imagination. Fulgoridae, or Lanternflies, are tropical, often colourful flying insects with long protrusions coming from their heads, giving their bodies a uniquely triangular appearance when sitting at rest with their wings closed. In this position, they could be considered lantern shaped, but it is not from this form that they received their name. Across the world where Lanternflies are found, so too are ancient stories of their little bodies lighting up at night from their bright shining protruding “noses”. Maria Sibella Merian was one of the first Europeans to describe this behaviour during her time in Suriname. She wrote that she was presented with a box of live lanternflies, which produced “a fiery light so bright that she could read by it” from their unusually elongated heads (Fig. 2). Given Merian’s penchant for attention to detail, this account is intriguing.

 

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Fig. 2: A watercolour of a Punica granatum with the life stages of a Cicada (Fidicina mannifera) and a Lanternfly (Fulgora laternaria) from Merian’s Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (plate 49); online here.

More intriguingly, however, while these stories of light emitting flying lanterns have persisted through generations of native tribes in areas where lanternflies are found, from South America to Southeast Asia,  modern entomologists have never recorded any species of Fulgoridae producing any kind of bioluminescence (or here), and the function of that whimsical elongated “nose” remains a captivating mystery…

You can find more about the Manchester Museum’s Fulgoridae collection in the following paper: Allnatt G. 2013. Recuration of the Fulgoridae collection at the Manchester Museum. Journal of Natural Science Collections, 1: 4-7.

Illustrated records of particular fulgorid species in our collection can be searched online here.