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Macrodontia_dejeani_MM

Male (left) and female (right) of the longhorn beetle Macrodontia dejeani Gory, 1839 from Colombia; the Manchester Museum’s Entomology collection.

This species of longhorn beetles (family Cerambycidae) is rare in collections. It has a claimed range from Costa Rica to Ecuador and Peru but its heartland is Colombia. If 70 years of civil war and drug wars in Colombia is beginning to settle down, then perhaps more collectors will run collecting night lights there and more dejeani will appear.  This beetle is named after General Pierre Dejean, a prominent figure in Napoleon army and a notable entomologist at the same time. The story of this eccentric man is told by Martin Laithwaite (Huddersfield, West Yorkshire).

Pierre Francois Marie Auguste Dejean (1780-1845)

Pierre “Auguste” Dejean was a soldier of fortune during the Napoleonic Wars; he became Colonel of the 11th Dragoons in 1807, General of Brigade in 1811, General of Division in 1814, served eight years as head of the Administration of War under Napoleon and was one of the Emperor’s aide-de-camps at the Battle of Waterloo. A prominent figure during the Empire, he is mentioned in Marshall MacDonald’s and Baron de Marbot’s memoirs.

He is also well-known for his five volume work on beetles and was one of the most important entomologists of his time. The Annals of the Entomological Society of France, vol. 2, p.502, 1845 relates that General Dejean, commanding the French army at the battle of Alcanizas was awaiting the attack of the enemy and noticed a rare specimen on a nearby flower. Jumping from his horse, he captured the click beetle, a Cebrio ustulatus, fastened it to a piece of cork, which he always carried under his chapeau for this reason, remounted his horse and won the battle.

The account was written by his private curator M. Boisduval “Before the battle of Alcanizas, which Dejean won after a long-contested fight, taking a great number of prisoners, when the enemy had just appeared and he was prepared to give the signal of attack. Dejean, at the border of a brook caught sight of a Cebrio ustulatus on a flower.  He immediately dismounted, pinned the insect, applied it to the inside of his helmet which, for this purpose, was always supplied with pieces of cork, and started the battle.  After this, Dejean’s helmet was terribly maltreated from cartouche fire; but, fortunately, he refound his precious Cebrio intact on its piece of cork.”

Most of the soldiers in his regiment learned to collect insects. Each carried a small vial of alcohol in which to place the insects he collected. It was claimed that even the enemy knew of Dejean’s eccentricity – those who found dead soldiers on the field having with them a little bottle containing insects in alcohol always sent the bottle to Dejean, regardless of who won the battle.

He amassed vast collections of beetles and listed 22,399 species in his cabinets in 1837—at the time, the greatest collection of coleoptera in the world. In 1802, he began publishing a catalogue of his collection, including 22,000 species names. Dejean was an opponent of the Principle of Priority in nomenclature. “I have made it a rule always to preserve the name most generally used, and not the oldest one; because it seems to me that general usage should always be followed and that it is harmful to change what has already been established”. Dejean acted accordingly and often introduced received popular usage names, given by himself to replace those already published by other authors; his names became invalid. However he is the authority for the family names of attractive popular well-studied beetle genera such as Batocera (family Cerambycidae) and Chrysochroa (family Buprestidae).

Dejean was president of the Société Entomologique de France in 1840. In 1834, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In later life, Dejean financed a number of collecting expeditions (particularly to what is now Panama and Colombia) and much of what he received was new to science.

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Fig 1The 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.

Fig 2

Tantalising shapes – the moths in their paper packets.

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.

Fig 3

Entomology cabinets at Manchester Museum.

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.

Fig 4

A drawer of the Death’s-head Hawk-moth, Acherontia atropos, in the British 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.

Fig 5

Some of the hawkmoths have extremely long tongues. They pollinate flowers which provide nectar at the bottom of correspondingly long flower tubes, such as orchids and petunias.

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.

Fig 6

A moth removed from its packet (Adhemarius species).

Fig 7

Moths relaxing in dessicator.

Fig 8

Each moth is set out, pinned down and left to dry for a fortnight (Adhemarius species shown here).

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.

Fig 9

Erinnyis species before adding labels to the moth’s pin.

Fig 10

Eumorpha species.

Fig 11

Work in progress – some of the Adams/Bernard collection.

Fig 12

Claire Miles, Honorary Curatorial Associate at The Manchester Museum, working with the Adams/Bernard Sphingidae collection

References:

Adams MJ. 1984. Andean Butterflies – Search and Research. Alpine Journal. 89: 90­-96.

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.

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/natureplus/community/research/life_sciences_news/lepidoptera/blog/2014/03/17/a-whopping-private-collection, accessed 27 Feb 2017.

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.

 

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