Shropshire Entomology Day – 04/02/2018

Yesterday, me (@EntoAqib) and three fellow entomologists (@pseudoliam, @ento_the_wild and @Apis_linzi) began our journey to the Shropshire Entomology Day at the Field Studies Council centre at Preston Montford, bright and early *shudders*. Upon arrival we were greeted with tea and biscuits, alas, we felt alive once more. After signing in and a warm welcome from Sue Townsend (the FSC chair) we saddled up and waited patiently for the talks to begin.

Starting off was Peter Boardman, a dipterist with a particular fondness for craneflies. He gave us an overview of his past year working for Natural England. He began with tales of traversing the country, sampling at stunning SSSI’s (Sites of Special Scientific Interest); accompanied with pictures of beautiful critters. However, it’s not always sunny days spent sweep netting, there’s also an immense amount of post-fieldwork time and effort that goes into sorting, identifying and then recording specimens!

Next up, was Mike Shurmer, a micromoth super-fan and recorder. Turns out micromoths aren’t just boring brown things, they come in a bunch of different colours and patterns. They are the most diverse of UK Lepidoptera, trumping the substantially more popular butterflies and macro-moths, highlighting their importance and need for attention. Some notable records were mentioned, one of which was Crambus ulliginosellus:

Crambus uliginosellus

Crambus ulliginosellus © Jens Christian Schou


,this funky looking moth, with an equally funky name, was recorded in Shropshire recently for the first time in 50 years! The presentation ended with a challenge, so I’m going to re-present you guys with the same challenge:

Look out for these two micromoths:-

Twenty-plume moth

  • Keep a look out indoors, in wood stores, garden sheds and in garages.

Twenty-plume moth ©RodBaker

Ectodemia septembrella (slightly trickier)

  • Has leaf mining larvae (the larvae feed within the leaves).
  • Look out for feeding signs on Hypericum spp., commonly known as St. Johns Wort.


    Feeding signs of the leaf mining larvae of Ectodemia septembrella ©BarryDickerson

If you do find them (or any other micromoth) remember to submit a record on iRecord!

Third on the agenda was a short presentation by Keiron Brown about BioLinks, a project being ran by the FSC which aims to train individuals of varying expertise in the identification and recording of several invertebrate groups, including relatively overlooked ones.


Focus species groups of the BioLinks project ©HeatherCampbell

Following suit was a talk by Godfrey Blunt on the problems associated with mapping invertebrates. He began by highlighting the problems with current record mapping. Firstly, just because an organism was once there it doesn’t mean it’s still there now. Current mapping uses the botanists approach, but unlike plants, inverts can move. So, if something was found in a spot away from it’s range it doesn’t mean it’s expanding its natural range, it’s very likely that it’s just a chance recording. Therefore, it is important to note that record maps depict static resident population not mobile ones. He also stated that it shouldn’t just be about simply putting a blob on a map, we should be selective in the data we input (especially with old records), as too many inputs may make a map difficult to interpret. The other side of this problem coin is that not having enough records, which is just as bad. He offered an adequate manner (he stressed that this isn’t a solution) of addressing this problem by adopting the mapping approach used by ornithologists; using different sizes of dots and different shapes depending on the record. This provides a visual source of information which is clearer and substantially easier to interpret. Richard Burkmar gave a demonstration on how to use nifty QGIS to produce a base map with the necessary information and then overlaid the records onto it, followed by a resounding “ooooo” from the audience at the pretty result.

Lawrence Bee followed up with a presentation on what went into the making of the British Spiders Field Guide which he co-authored. It’s a handy dandy book jam-packed with lots of info and tons of gorgeous photographs of spiders. I just couldn’t resist grabbing myself a copy!


Lunch break!

With our stomachs full, we were ready for another round of talks. It was time for a talk which I was really looking forward to- rearing bushcrickets in captivity! Jon Delf talked through several aspects of rearing: starting a culture, suitable housing, feeding requirements, mating and how to treat their eggs. Everything you need to know to rear bushcrickets in the comfort of your own home.

Next up was fellow entomologist and @EntoMasters student, Liam Andrews. His talk was titled: “Pseudoscorpions of Shropshire”. He started off by informing the crowd about this understudied group with an overview. There’s only 27 species in the UK, but about 3500 worldwide (probably substantially more). He then went on to talk about their physiology and behaviour. Pseudoscorpions display phoretic behaviour- they hitch a ride on other organisms such as flies and beetles to disperse. Their physiology is pretty awesome, these little predators are armed with venomous pedipalps (but some don’t have any venom) and chelicerae which they use to subdue their prey. The chelicerae are also tipped with silk producing structures called the galea. The audience was also informed on how to sample for them. A Tullgren funnel can be used, however these aren’t readily accessible, but you can make your own (pic below)! Sieving compost heaps and leaf litter may also expose these elusive critters, as well as scouring under rocks and logs. The informative presentation came to a close with a run through all the species recorded within Shropshire.


Viv Marsh then delivered a talk on siting and managing artificial bee hotels, with a focus on Osmia bicornis, a stingless bee species which is an effective pollinator. The last presentation of the day was by dipterist Nigel Jones, on the insects which he found sweep netting a single ash tree in his back garden. His finds were very interesting to say the least, including a potentially new species to science! It’s incredible how a single tree can boast such diversity.

Aaaaand that’s a wrap! I’d like to thank the organisers and the speakers for such a fantastic day! Hopefully I can make it next year for another day full of ento-goodness.

Follow these folks on twitter:

FSC Centre Preston Montford: @PrestonMontford

FSC Preston Montford chair: @SueTownsend3

Peter Boardman: @pebo22 who runs the cranefly recording scheme @CRStipula

Keiron Brown: @KeironDBrown and the official BioLinks twitter account @FSCBioLinks

Mike Shurmer: @mike_shurmer

Liam Andrews: @pseudoliam who also runs @PseudoscorpUK

Lawrence Bee: @LawrenceBee

Richard Burkmar: @burkmarr


By Aqib Ali  (Twitter:@EntoAqib, Email:, Linkedin: Aqib Ali)

MSc Entomology Twitter: @EntoMasters


How Insects Survive in Extreme Cold Winters

Insects survive in many different environmental conditions, across the world. But, when winter hits temperatures can be extreme in places, reaching  -60℃, and colder! So how do insects survive this extreme fluctuation in temperature? Some insects migrate to avoid these temperatures, but some species stay put, and have physiological adaptations to survive the winter months. Thousands of species spanning several orders, including Lepidoptera, Coleoptera and Mecoptera, use two techniques to survive: freeze tolerance and freeze avoidance, which have evolved independently for many species (Dennis, et al, 2015; Duman, et al, 2004; Li, 2016).

1) Freeze Tolerance:

As temperatures start falling in autumn, insects begin to synthesise 3 components key to their winter survival, these are: antifreeze proteins (AFPs), polyols and ice-nucleating agents (INA proteins).

Freeze tolerant species survive by encouraging ice formation in extracellular spaces, using INA proteins. Through osmosis, water is drawn through the cell membrane creating an equilibrium, through these two methods ice is prevented from forming within the insect’s’ cells, which can lead to severe damage and could become lethal (Bale, 2002).

However, the insect is still susceptible to injury from the ice, this is where the polyols come in. These are used to prevent mechanical damage to the insect and have various uses to do this, such as reducing the fluctuation of water across the cell membrane (Bale, 2002).

The insect has one final hurdle to overcome to ensure its survival over winter. As the winter months draw to an end the temperature begins to rise, and water may attach to the ice crystals, within the extracellular spaces, and cause secondary recrystallisation. This is where it gets complicated. Using AFPs, insects can prevent the growth of ice crystals as they preferentially grow from surfaces with a small radius.  AFPs prevent this by adsorbing onto these low radius surfaces of the ice crystal meaning that that they do not grow, unless the temperature reaches the colligative melting point – the Kelvin effect. Essentially the ice crystal will not grow unless the temperature reaches the hysteretic freezing point. Due to the AFPs the water becomes supercooled, and the freezing point is much lower than usual, termed the hysteretic freezing point (Duman, et al, 2004; Zachariassen and Kristiansen, 2000).

2) Freeze Avoidance:

Freeze avoidance is a completely different strategy, using the same materials. Freeze avoidance works by keeping the insects bodily fluids liquid, throughout the entire winter, as opposed to letting the extracellular spaces freeze (Dennis, et al, 2015).

First things first, the insect has its last meal and finds a nice spot to overwinter. Then it begins the process of removing any ice nucleating substances from its body: it’s water content becomes reduced whilst its fat content increases and the digestive system is emptied (Bale, 2002). The insect then synthesises AFPs and polyols which results in the insect having a very low supercooling capacity and thus preventing any bodily fluids from being able to freeze, as long as the temperature remains above their supercooling point (Overgaard and MacMillan, 2017).

To summarise some insects have complex systems allowing them to survive the extreme cold, and it’s pretty cool!

By Linzi Thompson (Email:, Twitter: @Apis_linzi )

Harper Adams MSc Entomology Twitter: @EntoMasters



Bale, JS. 2002. Insects and Low Temperatures: from Molecular Biology to Distributions and Abundance. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 357, pp.849-862.

Dennis, AB, Dunning, LT, Sinclair, BJ, and Buckley, TR. 2015. Parallel molecular routes to cold adaptation in eight genera of New Zealand stick insects. Scientific Reports. Nature. 5

Duman, JG, Bennett, V, Sformo, T, Hochstrasser, R, and Barnes, BM. 2004. Antifreeze Proteins in Alaskan Insects and Spiders. Journal of Insect Physiology. 50, pp.259-266.

Li, NG. 2016. Strong Tolerance to Freezing is a Major Survival Strategy in Insects Inhabiting Central Yakutia (Sakha Republic, Russia), the Coldest Region on Earth. Cryobiology. 73, pp.221-225.

Overgaard, J, and MacMillan, HA. 2017. The Integrative Physiology of Insect Chill Tolerance. Annual Review of Physiology. 79, pp.187-208.

Zachariassen KE, and Kristiansen, E. 2000. Ice nucleation and Antinucleation in Nature. Cryobiology. 41, pp.257-279.

The marvels of chocolate

Have you ever wondered where chocolate comes from and if it is possible that there will be a chocolate shortage in the future? Have you ever wondered if chocolate has anything to do with entomology? According to the Telegraph newspaper the average person In the UK spends a minimum of £57 on chocolate per year. It is therefore no surprise that the Theobroma cacao tree, from which we get most of our chocolate, is the second most important tropical cash crop, being worth $5 billion, providing employment for approximately 40-50 million farmers in Africa and Asia. (Schawe et al. 2013). Chocolate is processed from cocoa beans which grow on the 5-8 metre tall T. cacao tree (Young, 1982). As well as chocolate the cocoa beans are also processed into many well-known products such as cocoa powder and cosmetics (Schawe et al. 2013). Chocolate is not only delicious, but it has actually played a major role in human society by representing power and celebration and was even historically used as a currency.

The red/ brown egg shaped cocoa pods containing the cocoa beans are only produced if the flower is successfully pollinated by a particular insect. For once we are not talking about bees. Although you probably will not believe me, the pollinator is actually a fly, well, two species of the biting midge. Their Latin names are Forcipomyia quasiingrami and Lasiohela nana and they both belong to the Ceratopogonidae family (Young,1982). Can you believe it! Chocolate production is solely reliant on a biting midge!

The biting midge is 2-3mm long, about the size of a grain of rice (Young, 1982). Considering how important the midge is it lives quite a secretive life, the larvae (maggot) feed on dead organic matter and fungus and the adults require pollen and blood for egg production (Leston, 1970). The midge larvae click and jump so maybe that has made you rethink your opinion of maggots (Frimpong, 2009). Well when you think of flies you may automatically think of their larvae the maggot. I am writing this to show you wonder of chocolate, I certainly don’t want to put you off it. But without the midge larvae there would be no chocolate! Therefore if we destroy this annoying midge we would have no chocolate. Which would be worse?

So when you think of chocolate what do you imagine the flowers would be like? Well actually they are 5 pink sepals, holding 5 pouch like yellow petals. The petals conceal a ring of 5 staminodes, infertile stamens which enclose a central ring of 5 stamens covered in pollen. The flower’s ovaries are in the centre. The midges hover and weave around the aromatic flowers before crawling into the petal. The red nectar lines guide the midge towards the central narrow nectaries, where it feeds on nectar. The pollen from the previous flower visited is transferred to the ovary, fertilising the seed. When the midge crawls out of the flower it consumes some of the stamens pollen, but a large majority of pollen sticks to the midges long caudal hairs (Young, 1985). The midge then flies up to 6m away or is blown 100m-3km away from the flower, to another flower (Frimpong, 2009; Klein et al. 2008; Groneveld, 2010) and so it continues.

So far so good, but what if I was to tell you this midge is becoming rare, then what would you say? And what should we do about this? What if I was also to tell you that these midges also depend on rotting bananas and fungus growth on them for larvae growth (Leston, 1970) would you change your mind about fungus? The main reason for the midges decline appears to be loss of its microhabitat of dead leaves and discarded cocoa pods. The farmers are keeping their plantations too clean, banana peel may be the answer.

There is an additional problem. This particular tree (T. cacao ) is inefficient at producing fruit. Flowers must be pollinated on their first day of bloom. Otherwise, after 2 days, the flowers drop to the ground. As a result less than 5% of the 10% of flowers that are successfully pollinated develop into fruit (Groneveld, 2010). So next time you open a 100g chocolate bar remember it took 1 pod with 30-40 seeds to produce it. In a year alone the cocoa industry uses about 35 trillion cocoa pods. And so perhaps it is no wonder chocolate can be loosely translated to “the food of the gods”. So, next when you hear someone talking about the importance of bees just stop for a minute and consider the midges and how without them there would be no chocolate. And, next time a midge bites you think of their cousins the insect pollinators.

By Ruth Carter


Encyclopedia of Life. 2015. Theobroma cacao. [On-line]. Encyclopedia of Life. Available from: [01/11/2015].

Frimponga, E., Gordona, I., Kwaponga, P. and Gemmill-Herrena, B. 2009. Dynamics of cocoa pollination: Tools and applications for surveying and monitoring cocoa pollinators. International Journal of Tropical Insect Science, 29 (2), pp. 62-69.

Groeneveld, J., Tscharntke, T., Moser, G. and Clough, Y. 2010. Experimental evidence for stronger cacao yield limitation by pollination than by plant resources. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, 12 pp. 183-191.

Kew. 2015. Theobroma cacao (cocoa tree). [On-line]. Home Science & Conservation, Discover plants and fungi. Available from:[01/11/2015].

Klein, A., Cunningham, S., Bos, M. and , S., I. 2008. Advances in pollination ecology from tropical plantation crops. Ecological Society of America, 89 (4), pp. 935-943.

Schawe, C., Durka, W., Tscharntke, T., Hensen, I. and Kessler, M. 2013. Gene flow and genetic diversity in cultivated and wild cacao (Theobroma cacao) in Bolivia1. American Journal of Botany, 100 (11), pp. 2271-2279.

Young, A. 1985. Studies of cecidomyiid midges (Diptera: Cecidomyiidae) as cocoa pollinators (Theobroma cacao L.) in Central America. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington, 87 (1), pp. 49-79.

Young, A. 1982. Effects of shade cover and availability of midge breeding sites on pollinating midge populations and fruit set in two cocoa farms. Journal of Applied Ecology, 19 (1), pp. 47-63.

Young, A., Severson D. 1994. Comparative analysis of steam distilled floral oils of cacao cultivars (Theobroma cacao L., sterculiaceae) and attraction of flying insects: Implications for a Theobroma pollination syndrome. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 20 (10), pp. 2687-2703.




Bank Holiday Special – Why insects are so colourful: The complex business of survival

In the desperate struggle to evade predators, many insects have evolved toxic or bad-tasting skin, a camouflaged body (‘crypsis’), or a startle response to scare away predators. In this “evolutionary arms race”, adaptations on one side call forth counter adaptations on the other side. One such defensive adaptation is to appear toxic using brightly coloured (‘conspicuous’) body coloration- this is known as ‘aposematism’ (“Ay-PO-Sematism”). This idea that signals are sent by prey to predators to indicate toxicity was first suggested by Wallace to Darwin in 1861- they theorised that this evolved to stop predators attacking toxic prey to benefit both sides.

Aposematic warning coloration is a widely utilised form of defence used in all the animal kingdom (not just insects) and has evolved separately from many different evolutionary lines (convergent evolution). It can warn predators of defences such as a painful sting, repellent spray (such as a Bombardier beetle’s noxious chemical spray) or a toxic (or unpalatable) taste. Entomological examples of these bright colours include the malevolent yellow and black of wasps, the familiar black-spotted red body of ladybirds and the monarch butterfly’s bright stripes of orange and black with white dots. Even honeybees and bumblebees are striped to warn birds of their painful sting, although the vile taste of their sting must be learned by the predator through repeated encounters.

But why are toxic insects usually conspicuous and not cryptic? A brightly coloured “lone mutant” in a population of cryptic prey would be more easily spotted by predators, seemingly making the genes coding for bright colour less advantageous. However, bright coloration does give a survival advantage- predators will generally only consume similar-looking items and be wary of prey that are novel or conspicuous. For example naïve birds that have not yet encountered toxic prey may have innate colour biases to stop them eating brightly coloured insects. More experienced birds will be able to remember that eating a particular colour pattern will lead to a bad feeling- that is unless some insects cheat however…

Insects that have evolved to mimic another insect’s body pattern, sound or behaviour, usually resemble a dangerous, aposematic species. This is known as batesian mimicry, and can fool predators into thinking it has defences or a bitter taste, when actually it is harmless (this is not to be confused with Müllerian mimicry, where several toxic species resemble each other). These ‘cheats’ gain a survival advantage without having to produce metabolically costly toxins or evolve a ‘weapon’. An example of this is the hornet moth, a mimic of the yellowjacket wasp- it resembles the wasp’s striking body pattern, which deters predators, but it is not capable of stinging. However more mature predators may be able to detect a fake through experience or social learning. So a scarcity of mimics is actually advantageous for both the mimic and the model insect- too many mimics and the predators will stop responding to the warning signals.

Aposematic colouration as an anti-predator strategy is simply an evolutionary alternative to other forms of protective coloration. Other ‘options’ for predator defence include background matching (a form of crypsis) and disruptive coloration, where bold and contrasting colours on an animal’s periphery act to break up its outline and confuse predators. Another intriguing form of protective coloration is known as ‘masquerade’, where the animal resembles an inanimate object (like a leaf) so the predator sees the prey, but mis-classifies it as something inedible. An extreme form of masquerade can be found in the devious pink orchid mantis, which also utilises this technique for hunting- it will wait until an unsuspecting fly lands on it to drink nectar, and instead be grasped and eaten!

AposematismAbove are examples of the different anti-predator defences that insects can achieve using body colour and pattern. (Clockwise from top left: bombardier beetle, green bush cricket, buff-tipped moth and hawk moth.)

Despite the successes of these other forms of defensive coloration, aposematism remains a widespread and successful alternative anti-predator strategy to being camouflaged, which has evolved to protect prey from predators. Predators’ sensory and cognitive abilities have been important in the evolution of warning coloration, and there are ‘cheats’ that take advantage of these otherwise reliable signals of danger.

Author – Chris Mackin (@EntoChris

Further Reading:

Allen, J. A., & Cooper, J. M. (1985). Crypsis and masquerade. Journal of Biological Education, 19(4), 268-270.

Endler, J. A. (2006). Disruptive and cryptic coloration. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 273(1600), 2425-2426.

Endler, J. A., & Greenwood, J. J. D. (1988). Frequency-dependent predation, crypsis and aposematic coloration [and discussion]. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 319(1196), 505-523.

Mappes, J., Marples, N., & Endler, J. A. (2005). The complex business of survival by aposematism. Trends in ecology & evolution, 20(11), 598-603.

Schmidt, J. O. (Ed.). (1990). Insect defenses: adaptive mechanisms and strategies of prey and predators. SUNY Press.

Sillen-Tullberg, B., & Bryant, E. H. (1983). The evolution of aposematic coloration in distasteful prey: an individual selection model. Evolution, 993-1000.

Stevens, M., & Merilaita, S. (2009). Animal camouflage: current issues and new perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1516), 423-427.

New Feature – Insect Bites: The Sunday Digest

One of the great advantages of the Entomology/IPM course here at Harper Adams Uni is learning from fellow students as well as the staff. The study of Entomology is extremely broad and we all have different interests so to take advantage of this we have a new feature on this blog – Insect Bites: The Sunday Digest.

This is a series of articles written by the EntoMasters students on any aspect of Entomology they choose giving an insight into the diversity of the subject alongside expanding your knowledge, perfect for weekend reading with a cup of tea.

I hope you enjoy

Richard Prew

EntoMasters on Tour – The Royal Entomological Society

Monday the 3rd of November saw the Harper Adams Entomology and IPM students make their way down to The Mansion House situated outside of historic St. Albans for a visit to the hub of Entomology in the UK – The Royal Entomological Society. Coming in from the drizzly November morning we were met with tea, coffee, an array of delicious biscuity treats and friendly faces, much needed after being stuck in M1 traffic for a number of hours.


Refreshing English Drizzle

Founded in 1833 and granted its royal charter by Queen Victoria in 1885, the principal aim of the society is ‘to promote the dissemination of knowledge in all fields of insect science and to improve communication between entomologists ’. The society, once situated in 41 Queens Gate, London, moved out of the capital in 2008 to the fantastic premises they inhabit in St. Albans today which has enabled a greater amount of funding to be allocated to research, journals and a number of awards for recognising achievement. Many fellows of the society are well renowned and famously include Charles Darwin, Alfred Russell Wallace and Harpers own Professor Simon Leather (Signatures can be found in the obligations book – here is Darwin’s!


A Strepsiptera – Twisted Wing Parasite

After dosing up on hot drinks and biscuits we were shown into a small lecture room and listened to talks provided by members of the society. First up was Society’s Director of Science, Professor Jim Hardie, who welcomed us and gave us an insight into the history of the society including what insect is on the logo.

The floor was then handed over to Dr Luke Tilley, director of Outreach and coordinator of National Insect Week, who reinforced the importance of communication and enthusiasm about insects to the wider population and the need to inspire the next generation of potential entomologists. National Insect Week, organised by the Royal Entomological Society, brings together partners and multitude of hardworking volunteers who all share a keen interest in the science, history and conservation of insects to pass on their knowledge to the public and happens every two years across the United Kingdom (For more information on insects and how to get involved in National Insect Week 2016 visit

As a short interactive exercise for practicing these communications skills we split into small groups and composed short fact files on various insects and tweets on a couple of journal articles. These needed to be eye-catching, interesting and be understandable from the viewpoint of someone who does not necessarily have a scientific background. Even though it was only a bit of fun it got the creative juices flowing and certainly made us think outside of the box.


Kelleigh and Aidan enjoying the spread

Following this we had a delicious buffet lunch (The miniature yorkshire puddings being my personal favourite) along with a cheeky glass of wine and were given the opportunity to explore the society building. One thing that is noticeable when you first walk in is the fantastic collection of books that is spread throughout the ground floor. These all centre around the Royal Entomological Society library which holds very well preserved, rare books some pre-dating 1850 and all managed by the society’s librarian Val McAtear who bought out some examples and was incredibly trusting enough to let the Harper Students handle and look through them!


Hundreds of years old and still extraordinarily vibrant

After perusing the RES merchandise and purchasing everything from books to umbrellas it was finally time to brave the M1 and head back up to Shropshire. On behalf of the Harper Adams Entomology and IPM masters I would like to thank the Royal Entomological Society for their hospitality and a great day out.

Richard Prew

Sources and further info: