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Copris_lunaris

Nesting by the Horned Dung Beetle (Copris lunaris): 1 – Initial stage, male (left) and female (right) working the ‘dung cake’; 2 – Female alone, making brood-balls of the ‘cake’ for laying eggs. Illustration by V.A. Timokhanov (Almaty, Kazakhstan).

Waste disposal is a growing problem for any industrialized nation. The UK alone generates about 100 million tonnes of waste each year, the majority of which is still being disposed of through landfill. The present story is about dung beetles or scarabs (family Scarabaeidae) that are involved in processing and decomposing dung.

On average, about 40% of the food intake of mammals is either excreted as urine or passed out of the body as faeces. This waste is decomposed and returned to the soil by insects that use dung as food for themselves and for their larvae, thereby preventing it from building up. How this is accomplished is best known for cattle dung.

A cow’s fresh dung pat is colonized by a succession of dung-breeding insects, numbering several dozen species and often exceeding 1000 individual insects. A total of 275 species has been reported to occur in cattle dung in Britain. The majority of them are dung beetles that feed directly on dung. There are three main ecological groups of dung beetles. First, small-sized beetles (Aphodius species) usually feed in the main dung mass. Others, like the horned dung beetle, dig burrows beneath the pat and pack pieces of dung into them for feeding their larvae (see figure above). The third group includes beetles that make spherical dung balls, roll them away and bury them intact in shallow burrows. The Sacred Scarab is the most famous of the rollers. As well as dung beetles, the pat is colonized by dung-feeding fly maggots, predatory beetles which feed on eggs and larvae of other insects, small parasitic wasps, fungus-eating insects and mites, etc. At the advanced stage of degradation, soil invertebrates, including earthworms, begin to move into the dung pat. The natural rate of dung degradation depends on temperature, humidity, habitat and season of deposition. In Britain, the complete natural disappearance of a dung pat is achieved in two to three months.

Sacred_Scarab_Stockholm

Sculpture of the Sacred Scarab in the Natural History Museum in Stokholm, Sweden. © Dmitri Logunov, Manchester Museum.

It is known that each cow produces an average of 12 dung pats per day, or over 9000 kg of solid waste per year. It is estimated that each year approximately 200 million tonnes of waste are produced by livestock in England and Wales, and about 900 million tonnes in the USA. About third of this is recycled by dung beetles. In the USA alone, the annual economic value of this service is at least $380 million.

Unfortunately, the activity of dung beetles is severely disrupted by current agricultural practices, such as the treatment of livestock with persistent anti-helminth drugs given to kill parasitic worms or helminths. Residues of these drugs can persist in the dung and are lethal to the beetles. As a result, the dung pats of animals treated with anti-helminthes remain biologically undegraded for months, fouling available grazing area. If left unprocessed, livestock wastes may present a health risk to humans, because they can contain some pathogenic microorganisms.

By recycling the nutrients locked up in dead organic materials such as dung, insects make these nutrients available to new life. As recyclers, they do an indispensable job for our planet. Without organisms breaking down dead organic materials and recycling nutrients in the wild, as well as in gardens and on farms, the planet would soon be piled deep with the waste products of its inhabitants, and potential spread of diseases would be unavoidable. Whether we like it or not, our own existence directly depends on insects and their ecological services. As M. Telfer (2004) put it: “Not everyone welcomes having ‘creepy-crawlies’ around but we should be grateful for what they do.”

In the following video, our special guest, Ms Roisin Stanbrook from the Manchester Metropolitan University, is taking about the ecological role of dung beetles in Kenya.

The presented story is based on: Logunov D.V. 2010. Nature’s recycling squad. Biological Sciences Review, 22(3): 22-25.

Further reading:

Berenbaum, M.R. (1995). Bugs in the system. Insects and their impact on human affairs. Helix Books.

Waldbauer, G. (2003). What good are bugs? Cambridge-London: Harvard University Press.

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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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Lets Get the Party Started – Dig the City Grow Wild! Parade.

Thursday 30th July 9:30 – 11:30 am

Got Green fingers? Wild about Wild flowers? Well come along and join the party, as we take a “
Meadow for a Walk” from Hulme Garden Centre into downtown Manchester.

Working with the City Council, National Trust and the National Wildflower Centre, Kew Gardens London are looking for
Fun loving Flower People to help carry flower pots, shake some seed packets  and join in the carnival  atmosphere of dancers and performers as we get ready for Dig the City 2015.  

Kew also need volunteers to help promote their Grow Wild! campaign for the duration of Dig the City (Monday 3rd – 7th August  10:30 – 4:30pm) so if you love gardening and nature, and can spare a few hours, you might be able to help us out (lunch,  t shirt and free seed pack provided!)


For more information, contact

Stephanie Lynch

stephgrowwilduk@gmail.com

Mobile: 07756344263

Manchester Project Coordinator for ‘A Tale of Two Cities’

https://www.growwilduk.com/content/england-flagship-site

@GrowTwoCities

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It is known that during the latest Pleistocene glaciations (2.59-0.01 Million years ago) the territory of Britain, as well as of Ireland and many other territories of the northern hemisphere, were covered by glacier and were uninhabitable for terrestrial fauna. During glaciations animals and birds either migrated southward or died out. Palaeontological and genetic evidence indicates that the majority of the contemporary fauna of Britain arrived from continental Europe dispersing across a land bridge that existed between Britain and mainland Europe during the short period after ice retreat and before it was submerged by rising sea level (ca. 0.45 Mya).

However, surprisingly, there are few British species that were able to survive the latest Ice Ages, for instance, the endemic Groundwater Shrimp (Niphargus glenniei; see on the photos below) currently known from cave ecosystems of Devon and Cornwall only. Another endemic species of the groundwater shrimps, restricted to Ireland, is Niphargus irlandicus. None of these species is known outside southern England and Ireland correspondingly.

Niphargus glenniei, the Groundwater shrimp that is adapted to live in subterranean environments. Shrimps are blind, lack pigmentation and have elongated appendages. Photo credit: Chris Proctor.

Niphargus glenniei, the Groundwater shrimp that is adapted to live in subterranean environments. Shrimps are blind, lack pigmentation and have elongated appendages. Photo credit: Chris Proctor.

As argued by McNerney et al. (2014), the most recent common ancestor of both species and all other Niphargus species (over 300 species distributed in cave ecosystems across Europe) was isolated approximately 87 Million years ago, i.e. during the late Cretaceous period (100–66 Mya). More importantly, that the two endemics (glenniei and irlandicus) should have been where they are now for at least 19.5 Mya and thus they have survived the entire Pleitocene period and many glaciations in the groundwater. This makes both groundwater shrimps the oldest known species of the British fauna.

This story is based on the paper by McNerney et al. (2014), The ancient Britons: groundwater fauna survived extreme climate change over tens of millions of years across NW Europe. Molecular Ecology, 23: 1153-1166; doi: 10.1111/mec.12664

 

 

 

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One of the aims of our field work in Iceland was to visit the areas with the native forest of Downy Birch (Betula pubescens). We’ve visited several places with the birch forest, for instance, the site in the southern shore of the Lake Myvatn and the forest along Logurinn fjord in eastern Iceland. In both places the forests were full of edible mushrooms, and I could not help myself and collected some, which then we cooked and eat together. Here are the photos or some of those edible mushrooms we encountered during our trip.

Milky Mushroom (Lactarius resimus), or ‘Груздь’ in Russian, is considered a delicacy in Russia and some other countries of Eastern Europe when pickled in salt.

Milky Mushroom (Lactarius resimus), or ‘Груздь’ in Russian, is considered a delicacy in Russia and some other countries of Eastern Europe when pickled in salt.

Slippery Jack (Suillus luteus), one of the most popular edible mushrooms; especially tasty when pickled.

Slippery Jack (Suillus luteus), one of the most popular edible mushrooms; especially tasty when pickled.

Woolly Milkcap (Lactarius torminosus).

Woolly Milkcap (Lactarius torminosus).

The Brown Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrum) is typically used in soups and also commonly added as a component of mixed-mushroom dishes. Very delicious when fried with onion in soared-cream, as we did in Iceland.

The Brown Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrum) is typically used in soups and also commonly added as a component of mixed-mushroom dishes. Very delicious when fried with onion in soared-cream, as we did in Iceland.

More information about each mushroom can be found online at the following links: Milky Mushroom (Lactarius resimus); Woolly Milkcap (Lactarius torminosus) or here; The Brown Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrum) or here; and Slippery Jack (Suillus luteus) or here.

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