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Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

About 30-40% of the visitors to the Manchester Museum’s Entomology Department are art or design students and professionals, who come over to get inspired by the variety of insect shapes, colours and patterns, and to talk to the museum curatorial staff about what interests them. Museum’s curators are especially pleased when such visits result in something tangible, such as an installations, original ideas for contemporary product and/or jewellery design, and, of course, pure examples of fine art.

Here we are pleased to present an interview with Robin Gregson-Brown, a Lepidoptera artist as he calls himself, from Derbyshire (recorded 20th October 2016). At the age of 80 and in retirement, Robin has embarked a new career of poetic artist of nature. And what could be more beautiful nature’s beautiful creatures than moths and butterflies? Hardly anything! Robin is fascinated by Lepidoptera all his life and now started to satisfy his passion by painting them in mixed media.

In collaboration with the Derby Museum and the Manchester University Museum, he has produced a series of spellbinding images of endangered and extinct butterflies, which were displayed once in his personal exhibition at the Derby Museum (22nd May – 5th June 2016).

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Do butterflies migrate and if they do how long distances are they able to cover? How many British Lepidoptera species do migrate to the country? Why do butterflies and moths migrate? These and other questions related to migratory species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) were discussed with an expert, Prof Laurence Cook of the University of Manchester (Manchester, UK).

The interview is presented here in two parts.

Watch interview, part one:

Watch interview, part two:

You can find useful information about two British migrant species (Painted lady and Humming-bird Hawk-moth) and the initiative ‘Migrant Watch’ online on the Butterfly Conservation site, here.

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In recent years, an increasing concern has been caused by the decline of butterflies in Britain. Almost half of the 59 resident species have reduced their ranges over the last 150 years, and five species have become extinct: Black-veined White (Aporia crataegi; c. 1925); Large Copper (Lycaena dispar, c. 1851); Mazarine Blue (Cyaniris semiargus, c. 1903); Large Blue (Maculinea arion, c. 1979); and Large Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis polychloros, 1980s?). Many of the remaining butterfly species continue to decline nationally or even have become extinct locally on many sites. One of such species is the Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus argus), which is scarce elsewhere in the UK with a high extinction rate (evaluated as 25%): i.e., the species no longer occurs in about a quarter of the localities from where it was recorded in the 1970s. In the UK, this species declined most severely from 1950 to 1980, but with relatively few extinctions occurring between 1980 and 1985 (data by Warren, 1993, for Central Southern Britain).

The main reason for extinction/declining of this and other butterfly species in the UK is a combination of habitat loss and fragmentation/isolation, and changes in habitat management (especially, in Forestry Commission and Public Authority sites). Butterflies are known to be highly sensitive to environmental changes and therefore they often decline whilst their larval food-plants are still widespread and abundant. However, any changes in butterfly populations are to be seen as early indicators of habitat changes that in the future will affect many other wildlife groups.

The Silver-studded Blue is more usually associated with heathland habitats, and a number of regional nature reserves have been specifically established to protect it. One of such sites is the Prees Heath Common Reserve (Shropshire), the last sanctuary for the Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus argus) in the Midlands.

Stephen Lewis, Officer at the Prees Heath Reserve, visited the Manchester Museum on 19/12/2014 in order to study historical records of the Silver-studded Blue from the Midlands on the basis of museum specimens.  He also gave us a short interview about the conservation of the Silver-studded Blue in Shropshire (see below).

A more complete story of the Silver-studded Blue butterfly at the Prees Heath Common Reserve presented by Stephen Lewis can be seen in the following short video.

If you are interested in British Butterfly Conservation (the British Butterfly Conservation Society) and their currently formulated strategy for British butterflies please visit the society’s site.

Further reading:

Warren, M.S. 1993. A review of butterfly conservation in Central Southern Britain: I. Protection, evaluation and extinction on prime sites. – Biological Conservation, 64, 25-35; pdf-file online.

Warren M.S., Barnett L.K., Gibbons D.W. & Avery M.I. 1997. Assessing national conservation priorities: an improved red list of British butterflies. – Biological Conservation, 82: 317-328; pdf-file online.

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During the field trip to Iceland, we have visited many places of interests, including of course pebble-beaches on sea shores made of  grey, smooth basalt pebbles.

Grey basalt pebbles on the sea-shore of western Iceland (Londrangar, Snaefellsnes)

Grey basalt pebbles on the sea-shore of western Iceland (Londrangar, Snaefellsnes)

To my surprise, the same pebbles can be found on shelves of many gift- or craft-shops that are available virtually in every hamlet, village or town of Iceland. However, the pebbles in shops are nicely hand-painted, representing examples of mini-artworks, often naive but always touchy (see on the photos below). In one shop the painted pebbles were crafted as ladybirds of various shapes and colours (from yellow and green to the traditional red-coloured beetles).

Lovely ladybird crafted from pebble, NW Iceland.

Lovely ladybird crafted from pebble, NW Iceland.

I don’t know whether it is indeed a national Icelandic tradition to hand-paint pebbles, such craft is suitable to everyone, from children to enthusiastic adults, allowing everyone to become a master of own mini-masterpiece. Someone called this the ‘beach stone craft’; further instruction and inspiration of this craft can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Han-painted pebbles with diverse wishes, craft festival at Hrafnagil near Akureyri, NW Iceland.

Hand-painted pebbles with diverse wishes, craft festival at Hrafnagil near Akureyri, NW Iceland.

A collection of artworks (=painted pebbles) produced by students of a local primary school on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Natural History Museum in Heimaey Island.

A collection of artworks (=painted pebbles) produced by students of a local primary school on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Natural History Museum in Heimaey Island.

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On the second day of our field trip to Iceland, we visited the interesting site lying in the southern municipality of Reykjavik, called Garðabær, which literally means ‘Garden Town’. We walked around the beautiful Lake Urridavatn surrounded by boggy meadows full of sedge, dwarf bushes (like blue berry) and cotton grass (see on the photo).

Boggy meadow with cotton grass (left) and the blue berry bush (right) near Lake Urridavatn in Iceland

Boggy meadow with cotton grass (left) and the blue berry bush (right) near Lake Urridavatn in Iceland

On the meadow side of the path to the lake we found a plastic cup thrown by someone a few days ago. Incidentally, the cup, which was partly filled with rain water, became a deadly trap to insects and spiders. Having inspected the content of the cup I found two specimens of crab spiders (Xysticus sp.; male and female), one specimen of the ground beetle (family Carabidae) and one harvestman (family Phalangiidae). So, the cup ‘worked’ exactly in the way as true pitfall traps (see also here) that are used by scientists for ecological surveys. A poor thinking or maybe carelessness of someone who threw this plastic cup away instead of dropping it into a waste bin resulted in some casualties of minibeasts. Throwing a plastic cup (or any unwanted plastic item) away is hardly seen as a great deal or an action causing any threat to wild life. However, my short and simple story seems to say otherwise. In simple words, it reminds us that recycling waste is essential to both natural environment and humans, minimizing an unnecessary risk of damage to the environment and helping out our planet be a better place to live in. More about recycling can be seen here and here.

The plastic cup that became a deadly trap to a number of minibeasts near Lake Urridavatn in Iceland. See also a short video below.

The plastic cup that became a deadly trap to a number of minibeasts near Lake Urridavatn in Iceland. See also a short video below.

 

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At the La Selva Biological Station (Costa Rica), where we are now and where students are doing their individual research projects, there are lots of Leafcutter Ants.
‘Leafcutter ants’ is a group name for 47 species of the two genera Atta and Acromyrmex occurring in Mexico, Central and South Americas. Leafcutter ants form very large and complex underground colonies containing up to eight million individuals. The central mouth of such colonies can reach 30m in diameter. The ants cut fragments of fresh vegetation (leaves, flowers and grasses) and transport them to their nests. The fragments are then used as the fertilizer for cultivating special fungi, the main diet of the ant larvae. The adult ants feed on leaf sap. The trails used by ants for carrying leaves back to the colony often look like the paths trampled down by large animals (see the photo below).
What is interesting, many ants carry not only leaf fragments but also smaller ants sitting on them (see on videos). It is assumed that small, ‘hitchhiking’ ants protect foraging ants from parasitic flies (Phoridae), and may also play a part in the cleaning and preparation of leaves for the use as fungus substrate.
As some Atta species are capable of defoliating an entire citrus tree in less than 24 hours, sometime the ants may become a serious agricultural pest, defoliating crops and damaging roads and farmland with their nest-making activities.
For more general information on the Leafcutter Ants, see here and here.

Leafcutter Ants (Atta sp.) on the trail, La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

Leafcutter Ants (Atta sp.) on the trail, La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica


The large trail of Leafcutter Ants (Atta sp.), La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

The large trail of Leafcutter Ants (Atta sp.), La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica



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One of the most interesting groups of insects, ideal for student projects during a fieldcourse in the American tropics, is the Orchid Bees (Apidae: Euglossini). These are beautiful bees of which most species have metallic iridescent colour of various hues of green, blue or bronze, although there are hairy and black groups. Other conspicuous features of these bees are the long tongue, which is often longer than the body length, and the remarkably swollen hind tibia of the males. Male orchid bees play a key role in orchid pollinations, this is why their name. There are 66 recorded species of orchid bees in Costa Rica, of about 200 species known worldwide.
Male orchid bees can easily be lured with odour baits, for instance, clove or eucalyptus oils, and thus be closely observed by a student. Here are a couple of photos and two short videos showing the males of Euglossa bees in action.
Image_01_Euglossa

Another interesting group of bees commonly seen in tropical America is the Stingless Bees (Apidae: Meliponini). These are close relatives of the Orchid Bees, but highly eusocial – in other words, living in large family groups (up to 100,000 adult individuals depending on a species) containing two main casts: a queen laying eggs and her daughters, the workers that cooperate in rearing the brood and maintaining the nest; exactly as it happens in the hives of the well-known Honey Bee (Apis mellifera). Many regional hotels in Costa Rica have special feeders set up for hummingbirds so than visitors can observe them virtually from the windows of their rooms or from hotel balconies. The same feeders, which are filled with sweet nectar-like liquid, also attract lots of Stingless Bees. On the following photos and a short video below you can see and watch a group of Trigona bees, apparently of the species Trigona corvina, observed on a hummingbird feeder near the hotel ‘Rancho Naturalista’ in Turialba region of Costa Rica. The second image and video shows the Stingless Bees of an unknown species near their nest at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica.
Image_02_Trigona
Image_03_TrigonaNest

Image_04_Meliponinae

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