How ‘The Beetles’ Changed my Life

Beetles are one of the most successful groups of organisms on the planet. In the UK there are over 4000 species, compared to fewer than 600 wild bird species and around 90 mammal species. Beetles are critical to the health of many habitats, through their roles as feeders on plants and fungi, recyclers of animal and plant debris, and as predators.

When I first began volunteering with natural science collections at Plymouth City Museum, I occasionally assisted local entomologist Peter Smithers of Plymouth University, who regularly ran ‘Bug Hunts’ with schools around the Devon and Cornwall area. It was here that I came across some of my first beetles. In 2010, whilst walking along the South West Coast Path near the chalk cliffs at Beer, I found a black beetle with a vinyl-like sheen. It was beautiful, but unlike anything I had seen before. I later discovered that it was from a distinctive group called Oil Beetles (Meloidae), which possess one of the most extraordinary life cycles of any UK insect: they are nest parasites of solitary mining bees such as Andrena, Anthopora, and Lasioglossum.

After a female Oil Beetle lays her eggs in a nest hole, the larvae (known as triangulins) wait on a plant until they can attach themselves to a passing bee, using hooks on their feet. The larvae then eat the stored pollen and nectar in the bee’s nest. The strategy means minimal effort from the adult female in raising her young, and the larvae have all the food they need.

Black Oil Beetle (Meloe proscarabaeus)

Black Oil Beetle (Meloe proscarabaeus)

At the time of my discovery, Buglife was leading the way in trying to understand the state of Oil Beetle populations in the UK, which had suffered severe declines over the past 100 years. With four species believed to be extinct already, there was an urgent need to understand the distribution of the remaining Black, Violet, Rugged and Short-necked Oil Beetles. Buglife launched an Oil Beetle Recording Scheme to map their distribution and engage people of all ages through citizen science.

The survey results have enabled Buglife to learn more about the habitat preferences and hosts of the remaining species, and gain a better understanding of the health of the UK landscape, as Oil Beetles are restricted to wildflower-rich habitats, unimproved coastal grasslands, and woodland edges. Two species of Oil Beetle that were believed to be extinct in the UK have been re-discovered. The Short-necked Oil Beetle was found in South Devon in 2006, before a much larger second population was found on the Isle of Coll in Scotland in 2010. The rare Mediterranean Oil Beetle was found on the same Devon site in 2012, having been last recorded in Kent in 1906.

The efforts of Buglife, local recorders and naturalists have produced valid records to create time series of biodiversity data. Museum collections can also provide useful time series data for conservation efforts, based on specimen label data in terms of location and distribution in a given year. Where a species has been recorded in a particular place and time, we can perhaps find relic populations or sites for reintroduction.

Interior of the Angela Marmont Centre, NHM

Angela Marmont Centre, NHM

It was my interest in Buglife’s Oil Beetle recording scheme that led me to recently join the Natural History Museum’s Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity (AMC) as an Identification Trainee. The AMC provides world-class facilities in the museum’s Darwin Centre for citizen scientists, as well as expert and amateur naturalists, to enable them to identify UK species using the AMC’s extensive reference collections. Working here is brilliant, and I hope to be trained to identify the key UK biodiversity groups, gain more practical experience of surveying UK wildlife, assist the AMC team in developing citizen science projects based around museum collections, and continue to develop collections management experience through curatorial projects.

 

Anthony Roach
Skills for the Future Trainee & Science Educator
NHM

 

Uses of Natural History Collections – NatSCA2014 Meeting

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Day three of SPNHC2014 kicked off with the NatSCA conference! Clare Brown introduced the session with a brief account of the importance of NatSCA. Many non-specialist museums do not have access to staff with an understanding of science, and so NatSCA can provide support to these institutions as well as demonstrate the importance of advocating collections and the many different uses that can be made of them.

The NatSCA conference continued with a series of (strictly!) five minute presentations.

Henry McGhie, of the Manchester Museum, discussed how natural history collections are under-appreciated and underused, and how an informal partnership of museums in the North West has formed in order to aid advocacy.

Rob Huxley, Natural History Museum, London, showed that museums could be used much more by a range people, such as molecular biochemists, vets, geneticists or medical practitioners. We need to think of strategies for reaching out to many more people that could make use of the collections.

David Schnidel from the NMNH Smithsonian Institution suggested we focus on what others might want from the collections, and the new uses that could be discovered for data. Scientific collections could hold answers for research in a range of fields such as the food shortage crisis, disease research and climate change. In addition to scientific research, collections could be used for inspiration for artists, fashion designers, or even architects. With millions of objects across the UK, the opportunities for expanding the usage of our collections could be endless!

Glenn Roadley, Natural Science Curatorial Trainee

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Review of a Training Course on Pesticides and the Latest Legislation

The following is a review made by Roberto Portela Miguez, Mammal Group Curator at the NHM London:

About a week ago I attended a course and talk at the Natural History Museum of London, entitled “Control of Pesticide Regulations 1986 (as amended 1997) EU Biocides Regulations 528/2012”.

I know that, even if your two passions in life are pesticides and obscure legal documents, it is highly unlikely that you would rush to sign up for it.

After attending the event I can assure you that I still do not wish to look into both topics more than I need to. I do however strongly recommend all collections management staff to attend any future opportunity to listen to Bob Child’s talk or training event on this topic.

Robert Child was formerly Head of Conservation at the National Museum of Wales, and is now a Conservation Consultant, Advisor on Insect Pests to the National Trust and Director of Historyonics.

His company, Historyonics, sells insect pest products and carries out treatments on historic buildings and collections – so he has plenty of first-hand anecdotes to illustrate the various points he makes during his talks.

His experience on these matters is vast, but possibly more important: he is a brilliant communicator that can easily turn what is a dry and dull topic into two hours of effective and entertaining training.

The course Bob runs is required training for anybody using pesticides as part of their work ( this includes volunteers ) and is based on the requirements of the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986 (as amended), the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988 (as amended) and the new Biocides Regulation 528/2012. It is further based on the HSE’s publication ‘Recommendations for Training Users of Non-agricultural Pesticides’.

The course lasts for about two hours and covers both theoretical aspects on a Powerpoint and practical demonstrations of:

  • principles of pest control and nature of pesticides
  • legislation
  • storage and transport of pesticides
  • use of pesticides (on site assessments)
  • labels and data sheets
  • safety in preparation, clean up and disposal.
  • emergency procedures
  • record keeping

Once you have gone through the training, you will be qualified to apply pesticides in your collections and, without doubt, be extremely grateful that Bob has done all the reading of the relevant EU legislation on your behalf.

I know most of us do our best to prevent infestations but, just in case, better to be prepared and qualified than …you know.

Keep checking our NatSCA website and blog for news on future workshops and training events and if you want to contact Bob to run the course at your institution, you can email him to bobchild@historyonics.com .