For the past two days I have started, and finished recurating the British Acroceridae Collection. Wow, you must be thinking, that young Erica is fast! Recurating an entire family in two days; updating the nomenclature, bar coding and databasing the specimens, and then rehousing into modern museum standard unit trays. Well, a slight confession is that there are only three species found in the UK.
Deadly predators. Venomous machines. Stealth assassins. Yes, it’s the robber flies, or assassin flies if you’re from across the pond. These beautiful, lethal creatures are, to my mind, some of the most amazing species on the planet, with not only some amazing adaptations to their predatory lifestyle but also exhibiting a great morphological variety – including some of the most hirsute insects on the planet.
Our trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project are now well into Phase 2 of their traineeship. Phase 2 is the section where our trainees spend much of their time developing their species identification skills, working with our curators through a series of specialist workshops, as well as helping out in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity with everything from the Identification and Advisory Service, to getting out and about at events. In this first blog from Phase 2, Steph Skipp gives us an overview of how the first half of the traineeship has gone.
To begin our workshop phase, the ID Trainers had a crash course in lichens. April was in her element, having previously discovered the wonders of peatland lichens whilst working in Exmoor National Park. In contrast, I think the rest of us were taken aback by how interesting lichens actually are!
The wealth of colours and forms were very visually exciting, especially under a microscope. After a trip to Bookham Commons, we came back to the lab with some specimens.
Fly expert Duncan Sivell and forensic entomologist Martin Hall were with host Camilla Tham discussing the many ways in which flies (and their maggots!) are important. From helping the police to identify time of death at a crime scene to pollinating many key crops – and even producing a Sardinian cheese – we’re more dependent on flies than you might imagine.
If you are enjoying this series, please leave us a review in iTunes as it really helps others find the feed. We will be back with more studio-based shows in August 2017 but over the next three weeks we’ll be bringing you a series of special events to celebrate the reopening of the Museum’s main space with its new displays, Hintze Hall. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to find out more details.
The UK Insect Pollinators Initiative (IPI) provided funding between 2010-2015. This was a joint initiative supported by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), NERC, the Wellcome Trust and the Scottish Government, under the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership to support projects studying a wide variety of UK pollinators and their habitats.
Nine separate projects were funded and as a result of these projects around 50,000 specimens were collected.
Insects visiting flowers, including bees, hoverflies, beetles, butterflies and moths, are very important to plants. While moving between flowers they carry pollen from one flower to another.
The next new trainee from our Identification Trainers for the Future project is Matt Harrow. Matt has a passion for a subject many may not initially share – Diptera (the true flies), but having started out identifying the more charismatic hoverflies, his interest quickly extended to some of the more unusual groups within this diverse and fascinating Order and he hopes to pursue this interest through the traineeship with the help of our colleagues in the Diptera team.
I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had the urge to get outside and see the wonders of the natural world. For the most part my forays into nature have simply focused on being in the landscape with next to no interest in the smaller things; the plants, birds and insects which do in fact make the place what it is.
It was only whilst studying for a degree in countryside conservation at Aberystwyth when I really started to look at the bounty of life all around. My final year project was decided after scrolling through social media and seeing all the wonderful photos people had posted of Hoverflies, after a few emails to the recording scheme organiser I had a solid title and lots of data to play with! The only problem now was that I knew next to nothing about this fascinating group of flies so off I embarked on some serious reading, realising soon enough not only the vast amount of information there is to take in but also how much is unknown and the opportunities for discovery.
Before the Museum exhibition about Colour and Vision closes on 6 November, I thought I should write a piece about some of nature’s most amazing eyes (their patterns and shapes). I’m talking of course about those belonging to flies – the most enigmatic of all species on the planet – and specifically all the species referred to as stalk-eyed flies.
My first experience of stalk-eyed flies came while I was carrying out fieldwork in Costa Rica over 10 years ago and it can probably go down as one of my favourite fieldwork moments. So what happened?
Once more I am writing in defense of some very attractive but much-maligned creatures that, due to the maternal habits of the females, are universally disliked. People scream, run, swat them with wild abandonment to stop these ladies from providing essential resources to enable them to produce their next generation – it’s not very nice of us to let them get food for their offspring!
Yes, Tabanidae, or horseflies to give one of their common names, are some of the most painful biters of all flies but, like their also very much-maligned cousins, the mosquitoes, the males are vegetarian and can also be very important pollinators (e.g. Philoliche species found in South Africa – see the reference in one of my older blogs).
2015 saw me launch the inaugural day of celebration of all things robber fly so, on this 2nd #WorldRobberFlyDay, here’s a quick spin through the best of last year’s event:
And take a trip to Twitter to see what’s happening this year.
Within the Diptera section we are asked a lot about individual species of flies and so we thought we would put pen to paper (or key to board) and give some species descriptions of the more popular requests.
My co-author for this post, Nigel Wyatt, is the curator of all things bristly (including his own, he adds!) such as some of the most well known of all Diptera – the houseflies. Often seen as the greatest nuisance to humans and animals, this tenacious species has travelled with us all over the planet and enjoys all the creature comforts that we provide for it! Continue reading “What’s in a fly? Musca domestica – the greatest traveller of them all | Curator of Diptera”