Archive for October, 2018


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and records in the Museum’s database, as some of the species names it contains are up to 60 years old, being thus out of date.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 One of her main roles includes updating the outdated nomenclature with modern names based on a much more recent British Hymenoptera checklist, published in 2014.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.


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.



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.

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