Beetles, Bugs and Beyond

Last week drew to a close the first MSc Entomology module – The Biology and Taxonomy of Insects – and WOW, what a fortnight it was! From Dictyoptera to Hymenoptera and Hemiptera to Diptera, we covered it all*. Spending our mornings in lectures, we were introduced to the Orders learning about their morphology and behaviours as well as taxonomic importance. After learning the theory, we were soon let loose in the afternoon to don our lab-coats and get close and personal with these Orders under the microscope. (Well, that’s the only thing any of us are getting close and personal with this year!). We were encouraged to key out each Order to either Family or Species level, aided by the support of leading specialists from the Natural History Museum and the Royal Entomological Society.

Our first visit saw the incredible ‘Fly Girl’, Erica McAllister (@flygirlNHM), unsurprisingly share with us a fascinating insight into the world of flies. We learnt about their ecological diversity, life stages and the complexities surrounding Dipteran ID. Soon after she joined us in the lab for all I can surmise as ‘bristles, bristles and a few more bristles”! All joking aside, our time with Erica was both immensely informative and jam packed with energy.

Lecture and Laboratory sessions with Erica McAlister (@flygirlNHM) learning all things Diptera. Entomology student George Ryley (@GRyley99) sharing his findings with Erica (on right).

Next up, we had the pleasure of a virtual Dictyoptera Q&A session with the lovely Paul Eggleton. We were honoured to be able to talk to Paul about his research into termite ecology, as well as clarifying our understanding surrounding the taxonomy of Dictyoptera. It is safe to say that for a Monday morning, we all couldn’t have been more engaged if we tried!

In the afternoon, we were graced with the presence of the delightful Fran Sconce (@FranciscaSconce) from the Royal Entomological Society. Fran talked us through the importance of correct insect collection and preservation in aid of understanding global biodiversity. She also shared with us pinning and carding techniques as well as how to correctly label preserved specimens. For many of us, this was our first insight into the world of insect curation and shaky hands were, indeed, a common sight!

Practicing collection techniques with Fran Sconce (@FrancescaSconce).

Hymenoptera was on Tuesday, led by the engaging Andy Polazsek. In the morning Andy was virtually ‘beamed’ to us all to share his wisdom with us live-time on the fascinating world of Hymenoptera. He broke down Hymenopteran morphology into a series of diagrams, turning us all into artists before the morning was over! In the afternoon, we were left to determine “is it an insect or a speck of dirt?” as we identified a range of specimens down to the Superfamily level. Never have I seen so much pride in a room as we successfully identified even the smallest of specimens!

Identifying a range of Hymenoptera with Andy Polazsek.

Thursday brought us a day of mystery with the enthralling Amoret Whitaker (@AmoretWhitaker). We learnt all about the applications of entomology in forensics and how important correct species identification really can be. In the labs, we were back to identifying flies but this time focussing on their larval forms. Our day with Amoret really left our skin crawling for more!

Last, but certainly not least, was Coleoptera day with the captivating Max Barclay. Having the last spot on the module Max had a lot to live up to and, my goodness, he certainly succeeded. The day was jam packed with beetle facts including their global economic importance. We learnt why beetles are so well studied, as well as the need for this study to continue! After the lectures, Max joined us for a final lab session equipping us with knowledge on how to best identify beetles. The labs were a mixture of silent with concentration and a-buzz with celebration as we managed to successfully complete our IDs.

Laboratory session looking at Diptera larvae with Amoret Whitaker (@AmoretWhitaker; on left) and Lecture covering all things Coleoptera with Max Barclay (on right).

The Biology and Taxonomy of Insects has been one monumental module and I am sure it will remain one that we Masters students (@EntoMasters) remember for years to come. We have had the honour of meeting, talking to and learning from some incredible people and I hope you have enjoyed this first insight into studying an MSc Entomology course at Harper Adams University (@HarperAdamsUni).

Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming blog posts exploring a few more topics covered in The Biology and Taxonomy of Insects!

– Aimee (@tonks_aimee)

*Well… we covered everything you can possibly cover in the space of only two weeks!

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