The following report has been prepared by Claire Miles, Honorary Curatorial Associate at The Manchester Museum.
Manchester Museum purchased the Adams and Bernard collection of 300 Venezuelan Lepidoptera in April 1976. Since then, if a curious curator removed the lids from the cardboard boxes to peer at the ghostly silhouettes in their translucent paper packets, the lids were always replaced. Now, thanks to funding from the Natural Science Collections Association (NatSCA), part of this collection – around 175 hawkmoths – can be set out, identified, catalogued, and made useful. This blog is a brief summary of progress so far.
In the paper packets, the hawkmoths lie with their wings folded together. With wingspans of up to 17 cm, setting the hawkmoths out will take up quite a bit of expensive storage space. Thanks to the NatSCA funding, the necessary glass-topped drawers can be purchased for the Entomology department’s new metal cabinets.
The entomology collections at Manchester Museum contain more than three million specimens including about two and a half million insects (Logunov & Merriman 2012; Logunov 2010). They already hold around 2000 hawkmoths (Sphingidae) representing around 270 species: 700 in the British collection, 850 in the C. H. Schill Worldwide Lepidoptera collection and 370 in the P. Schill Palaearctic Lepidoptera collection.
To put this in perspective, there are about 1500 known hawkmoth species worldwide, and this collection is a drop in the ocean compared to the Natural History Museum’s holdings of 289,000 Sphingidae. Curating and identifying the Adams/Bernard collection serves multiple purposes. It will extend the range of Manchester Museum’s Sphingidae, it will increase the accessible Sphingidae by about 9%, it will hopefully add some species new to the collection (and who knows, possibly completely new species), it will improve access to the collections, and it will improve their storage and security. In addition, I get to hone my practical skills setting the moths, with expert guidance from Phil Rispin, Curatorial Assistant in the Entomology Department.
Hawkmoths are fast-flying moths with streamlined bodies, present on almost every continent except Antarctica. They are pollinators as adults, and can be agricultural pests as larvae, which makes them ecologically and economically important, and their relatively well-understood taxonomy and fast response to environmental changes makes them useful environmental indicators (Camargo et al., 2016). This collection gives a snapshot of the species that were present in Venezuela 40 years ago when Mike Adams and George Bernard collected them in May 1975. This was one of a number of expeditions they mounted to Columbia and Venezuela in the 1970s and 80s, searching the high montane cloud-forests of the northern Andes for Pronophiline butterflies (a subtribe of the subfamily Satyrinae), on which they published a number of papers. The hawkmoths were collected in a region 24km north of Altagracia, Miranda State, at altitude 700m; from Guapo Dam, Miranda, and from Rancho Grande, Aragua, at altitude 1090m. The Museum’s Annual Report of 1976 describes the pair only as ‘University Zoology students’ at the time, although it appears they were recent graduates when they started their explorations (Adams, 1984).
Out of their packets, the hawkmoths were found to be in pretty good condition and the colours are remarkably fresh. Six weeks into the project, we have developed a routine – Phil puts the moths to relax in a damp atmosphere at the beginning of the week, and I (generally working one day a week) set them out at the end of the week.
Once set, the collection data label and accession number are added to the pin. 80 moths have been set so far, and at a quick count those represent at least 20 species. The next step will be to identify them. Ultimately, the aim is to collate the information on all the Manchester Sphingidae collections into a single resource, and these stunning moths will be available for research and provide a fantastic resource for the museum’s teaching, displays, public events and engagement activities.
de Camargo AJA, de Camargo NF, Correa DCV, de Camargo WRF, Vieira EM, Marini-Filho O, Amorim FW. 2016. Diversity patterns and chronobiology of hawkmoths (Lepidoptera, Sphingidae) in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. Journal of Insect Conservation. 20 (4): 629–641.
Giusti A. 2014. A whopping private collection – yet something still is missing.
Kitching, I.J. 2017. Sphingidae Taxonomic Inventory, http://sphingidae.myspecies.info/, accessed 27 Feb 2017.
Logunov DV. 2010. The Manchester Museum’s Entomology Collections. Antenna 34 (4): 163–167.
Logunov DV & Merriman N. (eds.). 2012. The Manchester Museum: Window to the World. Third Millenium Ltd., London.