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Fig. 1. The specimen of Euoniticellus intermedius (Reiche, 1849) from Honduras in the collection of the Manchester Museum. © Roisin Stanbrook.

In November 2017, the Manchester Museum acquired a specimen of a very interesting dung beetle – Euoniticellus intermedius (Reiche, 1849) (see Fig. 1) – collected from Honduras by Roisin Stanbrook, a young researcher from the Metropolitan University of Manchester who studies the ecology of dung beetles in Central Africa (see here for her interview). In Honduras, Roisin was running a field course for a group of British students, when she came across this beetle which she was familiar with from her fieldwork in Kenya. What a surprise! Below is a brief account of how this dung beetle species appeared in Central America.

E. intermedius is also known as the Intermediate Sandy Dung Beetle. It is a medium sized (6.5-9.5 cm long) species of the burrowing dung beetles that build brood chambers in the soil beneath a dung pat and supply them with dung as food for their larvae. Although this beetle is native to Africa, now it has a worldwide (=cosmopolitan) distribution because the species was intentionally introduced to many countries such as Australia, New Caledonia, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the USA, as a biological control to decrease the dung accumulation caused by cattle and the proliferation of pest flies.

Following its introduction to the USA (in California apparently in 1978, in Texas in 1979, and in Georgia in 1984), E. intermedius started a rapid range expansion across the south of the USA, up to Florida, and Central America, with an estimated speed of about 50 km or more per year. In 1992, it was first recorded in Mexico (the site Mapimí), then it reached Guatemala in 2002, Nicaragua in 2007 and Costa Rica in 2008; in 2015, the beetle was already recorded from the border of Panama (see Maps below).

Maps

Maps. A – Dispersal of Euoniticellus intermedius in Mexico after its introduction in the USA (after de Oca & Halffter, 1998). B – Further dispersal of E. intermedius from southern Mexico across the Isthmus of Panama (after Solis et al., 2015).

 

The beetle has been particularly successful at colonizing arid zones, where the number of native burrowing dung beetles was rather low. For instance, at some places in Mexico, 96% of the individuals (and a great proportion of biomass) corresponded to two invasive dung beetles: E. intermedius and the Gazelle Scarab – Digitonthophagus gazella (Fabricius, 1787), another widely introduced species of dung beetles (see here for further information about it).

But why has the Intermediate Sandy Dung Beetle been so successful in colonizing Americas? There are two main reasons. First, this species has certain biological properties that help its rapid expansion: (1) it is a highly prolific species that can have two or more broods of offspring per year; (2) it is an eurytopic species that can live in a wide variety of habitats and tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions; and (3) it has a preference for bovine dung, which is both very abundant in cattle-farmed areas and nutritionally rich, but yet poorly/not utilized by native Central American species.

Second, quite favourable ecological conditions for E. intermedius (and for D. gazella) have been created by the human activity in Central America: viz., (1) deforestation leading to the creation of open, sunny and dry habitats (=pastures) to which this African species is well-adapted; (2) increase in cattle breeding resulted in the production of excessive amounts of dung (=food resource for the beetle); and (3) the inability of native dung beetles to properly utilize cattle dung, which actually means that there was no competition with native species for this food resource.

Although the ecological impact of E. intermedius on native dung beetles is poorly understood yet, those from the guild of burrowing (=paracoprid) dung beetles are to be affected for sure. Soon we’ll be able to see if this beetle is able to colonize South America and what its presence in the areas already invaded could do to the native biota.

Here and here you can find further information about E. intermedius.

Further reading:

Oca de, E.M. & Halffter, G. (1998) Invasion of Mexico by two dung beetles previously introduced into the United States.- Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment, 33(1): 37-45; http://dx.doi.org/10.1076/snfe.33.1.37.2174

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Harelquin_Ladybird_Collection

The Manchester Museum’s collection of Harlequin Ladybirds recently acquired under the ongoing museum project ‘Thematic collecting’.

Recently, the Manchester Museum’s Entomology Department acquired some specimens of the Harlequin Ladybird, an invasive beetle species that appeared in Britain (Essex) in 2004 only, but is now a widespread and even dominant species of ladybirds in the UK.

 

Harlequin Ladybird – Harmonia axyridis (Pallas, 1773) (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) – is a beetle species in the same family with the Seven-spot and Two-spot Ladybirds, both being considered gardener’s best friends as natural enemies of aphids and other garden pests. Harlequin Ladybird was deliberately introduced from east parts of Eurasia, where it is a native species, to many places of continental Europe as a biological agent to control aphids (=greenflies) and scale insects. As Harlequin Ladybird has excellent dispersal abilities (by means of flight), it was just the matter of time until it could have reached the British Isles.

A number of factors have contributed to the successful establishment and dominance of this ladybird species in the UK, particularly, its high reproductive capacity and ability to live in most available habitats. Harlequin Ladybird is also a voracious predator that can feed on other ladybird species.

The UK Ladybird Survey is a citizen science initiative that was launched in 2005, right after the first records of Harlequin Ladybird in Britain had been done. This programme is aimed at encouraging people across Britain to track the spread of Harlequin Ladybird (and other ladybirds) across the UK and submit their records online. Based on this survey, it is clear that by 2014 the Harlequin Ladybird has extended its range by almost half of the country. A decline of seven native ladybird species, which is correlated with the arrival of Harmonia axyridis, has also been demonstrated.

How to control this species and its spread in the UK is a bit unclear. Harlequin Ladybird produces a special, aggregation pheromone to attract other individuals to overwinterwing habitats. It has been proposed to use this pheromone within a network of traps in order to physically withdraw Harlequin Ladybirds from the environment. However, the cost of managing such traps is potentially too high to be feasible. The use of natural enemies of Harmonia axyridis, such as the ectoparasitic mite (Coccipolipus hippodamiae) that is capable to induce sterility in females of Harlequin Ladybirds, has also been considered, but alas with no practical applications so far. Therefore, this species is likely to be staying in the British Isles, apparently becoming another ‘native’ ladybird species with which we are to live (as it already happened with many other insect, crustacean and mollusc species).

Harelquin_Ladybird_Map

The occurrence of Harlequin Ladybirds in Britain from 2004 to 2014 (one dot is equal to 10-km square), after Roy & Brown (2015).

In the following interview, Don Stenhouse, the Curator of Natural Sciences at the Bolton Museum, will share with us his own experience in studying the Harlequin Ladybird.

A full story of the Harlequin Ladybird in the UK can be found in the following paper:

Roy H.E. and P.M.J. Brown (2015), ‘Ten years of invasion: Harmonia axyridis (Pallas) (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) in Britain’ – Ecological Entomology, 40(4): 336–348; online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4584496/

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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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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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