Much ado about mothing

On a clear sunny day, a butterfly skips across a field; its bold colours brightly displayed against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. It floats in the air with such a grace and beauty that all who see it point and marvel at this wonder of nature. However, as the day draws on and the night creeps in a looming shadow stretches out from dark. From the dimmest corners of the forest, a creature lurks ready to infest our homes and bring us dread. As you look in terror, it enters your home- its dark brownish-grey form skulks through the corridors as it settles on your carpet, sofa or within your wardrobe.

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Poster from the 1961 movie “Mothra” wherein a giant moth attacks Japan and is belived to be evil, it is later revealed that Mothra is trying to protect its island’s culture.

There, the beast starts to munch away at the material until a multitude of holes cover your belongings. You know that when day comes it will melt back into the shadows, but for now your traps and mothballs are for naught as your home is savaged by a bleak, boring and fearsome moth; a slave only to street lamps and bedside lights.

Misunderstandings can lead to us causing an array of mistakes and acts of poor judgement, in the Shakespeare play “Much ado about nothing” a character is fooled into believing their betrothed is a scoundrel and cheat resulting in them leaving their lover at the altar. In the same way we have been led to believe that whilst butterflies are resplendent gems of the warmer seasons, their moth cousins are drab grey beasts ready to ruin our homes in the dark unforgiving night. Instead, both butterflies and moths deserve to be celebrated for their beauty and wonder, all preconceptions about moths should be put aside so they can be appreciated and not just be thought of as pests. Why are moths not so bad? Why should we like them as much as butterflies? Well, there are plenty of answers to these questions and, hopefully, I can convince you why moths should be given a chance by separating mothmyth from mothfact.

MothMyth #1- Moths are all dull, boring and small
In mothfact, much like our resplendent butterflies, moths come in a plethora of shapes, sizes and colours. The atlas moth (Attacus atlas), as its name suggests, is one of the largest moths in the world with a wingspan reaching up to 30cm.

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The Atlas moth (Attacus atlas). basking on a tree

Instead of being drab, its wings are a wonderful orange colour with white and black patterning on the inner wing with purple, yellow and red outlines. The pattern on its forewing “hooks” are reminiscent of a snake’s head- this is thought to help deter predators who would eat this goliath of a moth. The Merveille du jour (Griposia aprilina), meaning “wonder of the day” is a resplendent creature with a light-green colouring banded with black and white to make it appear like lichen on a tree; this wonderful pattern allows it to seem almost invisible when sitting in plain sight.

MothMyth #2- Moths only ever come out at night
Although many moth species do come out at night, in mothfact a large number of them can be seen fluttering around in the daytime. The Humming bird Hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) is one of the best examples that moths have to offer.

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A humming bird hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) feeding on flower nectar

It gains its name from the way its wings move in a figure eight motion and paired with its fondness for nectar has been likened to a hummingbird. Most importantly (for this section at least) it mostly flies during the day, favouring bright sunny weather over moonlit skies.

 

 

MothMyth #3- Moths just want to eat my clothes
Different species of moth dine upon a variety of food items, from fruit to nectar. For these mothfacts I will mention a few of the fascinating dietary options some moth species have chosen. Firstly, we have a vampire moth (Calyptra thalictra) which, as you may have guessed, stalks the dark night in search of blood. Using its proboscis (an elongated mouthpart) it pierces the hide of mammals, like elephants and buffalo, where it sucks up blood which wells towards the entry point. Although this may seem scary, it represents a unique, interesting feeding method only seen in one moth subfamily, showcasing how intriguing moths can be.

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One of the death’s head hawkmoths (Acherontia atropos), with it’s beautiful skull markings and yellow colouration

Next, we have our superstar moth the death’s head hawkmoth (Acherontia styx, to name one), famed for the skull shaped pattern on its abdomen and high-pitched squeaking- this moth rose to fame when people believed it was an omen of death and later when it starred in “Silence of the Lambs”. The black and yellow colouration of this moth helps it blend into beehives allowing it to dine on honey, not your socks.

So next time you hear someone complain about moths, just remember this small insight into their fascinating world and how interesting they really are despite their poor reputation

 

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‘Lady Entomologists’ – International Women’s Day 2019

If when you hear the word “Entomologist” your mind instantly jumps to a Victorian man brandishing a butterfly net and carefully pinning glittering beetles, I can’t entirely blame you. Entomology took off during the 19th and 20th centuries and, with Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace famously interested in Entomology, its image has remained stuck in that time. Entomology wasn’t and isn’t just eccentric old men with big beards (although there are a fair few of them) and as today is International Women’s Day, I thought I would research a few historical ‘Lady Entomologists’ and to look to the present day to see how equal entomology really is.

We start with Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), a German-born naturalist and illustrator who published many illustrations of insect metamorphosis some of which we saw at the Royal Entomological Society. So prolific is her work that the Sibylla genus of mantises, the Cuban sphinx moth (Erinnyis merianae) and the cane toad (Rhinella meriane) have been named after her!

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A portrait of Maria Sibylla Merian.

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A lifecycle illusration from the Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (the Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname) from the library of the Royal Entomological Society.

Moving closer to home, Lady Eleanor Glanville (c. 1654-1709) collected large numbers of butterfly specimens around her Somerset home which are now some of the earliest in the Natural History Museum. After separating from her second husband, Eleanor pursued her interest in Entomology, distancing herself financially from her immediate family, who disapproved of her interest.

“Some relations that was disappointed by her will, attempted to let it aside by Acts of Lunacy, for they suggested that none but those who were deprived of their senses, would go in Pursuit of butterflies.” – Moses Harris, 1776

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The Glanville fritillary which Lady Eleanor discovered and gave its common name (Melitaea cinxia L.).

In the field of Agricultural Entomology, Eleanor Anne Ormerod (1828-1901) published a series of articles on pests and beneficial insects in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and the Agricultural Gazette. She worked as an honorary consulting entomologist for the Royal Agricultural Society (she was NOT paid) from 1882-1892 and lectured on scientific entomology at the Royal Agricultural College. She was recognised throughout Europe, receiving gold and silver medals from the University of Moscow for models of pest insects and known for carrying out “brave” natural history experiments including one where she put a live Great Crested Newt in her mouth, presumable to test its toxicity.

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Eleanor Anne Ormond, presumably not whilst holding a newt in her mouth.

“The first effect was a bitter astringent feeling in the mouth, with irritation of the upper part of the throat, numbing of the teeth… holding the animal, and in about a minute… a strong flow of saliva. This was accompanied by much foam and violent spasmodic action, approaching convulsions, but entirely confined to the mouth itself. The experiment was immediately followed by headache lasting for some hours, general discomfort of the system, and half an hour after by slight shivering fits.” – Gadow, 1909

Evelyn Cheesman (1882-1969) “the Woman who Walks” initially wanted to be a veterinary surgeon but was unable to because at the time (1906) the Royal Veterinary College did not accept women. She later studied Entomology under the Professor of Entomology at Imperial College at the time, Harold Maxwell-Lefroy. In 1917 she became the Assistant Curator of Insects at London Zoo and, in 1920 became the first female Insect House Curator, recruiting local children to help her restock the dilapidated Insect House. From then she started her lifelong passion for scientific expeditions, including eight solo trips to the South Pacific, collecting over 70 000 specimens. Cheesman worked as an unpaid volunteer for the Natural History Museum for many years until her death, writing and classifying specimens and in 1955 was awarded an OBE for her contributions to Entomology.

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Portrait of Evelyn Cheesman. The caption reads “Friendship between man and animal: butterflies on the Curator’s eye-catching blouse in her London Insect House.”

“We drop down, or get run over, but we never retire.” – Evelyn Cheesman

In America Annette Frances Braun (1884-1978) was a leading authority on Microleptidoptera. She was the first woman to earn a PhD from the University of Cincinnati in 1911 before working for 8 years as a zoology teaching assistant. Throughout her later private research career she described and named over 340 species, often illustrating her own field observations. She served as vice-president of the Entomological Society of America in 1926.

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Some of Annette Fraces Braun’s entomological illustrations.

It’s easy to look at these women, who were pioneers in their field, and to put them into a time bubble of “long ago” where historical context excuses the discrimination they faced but is the situation really ‘fixed’?

A study published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America in October 2018 found that, despite women making up 40-50% of PhD graduates in Entomology in the last ten years, the percentage of female Entomologists in postdoctoral academic and government positions decreases with increasing rank more than for men. Women are more likely to hold low-ranking positions within a faculty such as instructors or lecturers, a situation not that different from when Annette Frances Braun could only work as a teaching assistant despite holding a PhD. The author of this study, Karen A. Walker, was quoted in Entomology Today as saying “Citizens tend to equate being an entomologist with being a man, and I have been referred to as ‘the bug lady’ before, as though it is remarkable that a woman would want to work with insects”.

It seems socially acceptable to be repulsed by invertebrates, especially for girls and women which, along with other societal pressures and gender stereotypes around STEM subjects, may explain why fewer women study entomology. After all we know that men have no innate ability in STEM subjects. It seems that there are barriers stopping female entomologists progressing into STEM careers. Women are as likely as men to want to stay working in STEM after completing a PhD but less likely to be able to get a job in research. That combined with the fact that women and people of colour are likely to have a significantly lower mean salary than men makes high-tier STEM positions seem unachievable to minority groups.

This glass ceiling will never be shattered in one blog post or at one university or in one year, it’s a global issue which is going to take a time to resolve but we are well on the way to future equality. In the meantime we can encourage prospective entomology students, support women already in the field, and to increase visibility scientists from every background.

“You cannot be what you cannot see”

Links to organisations:

 

EntoMasters vs Royal Ent Soc 2019

The 13th of February heralded an early start for the Entomologists as we assembled, ready for another coach trip halfway across the country. The destination: The Royal Entomological Society headquarters in sunny St Albans, a recent(ish) move from London, where the society had been since its foundation in 1833.

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An illustration from an 18th century guide to insects of Suriname. This was, unsurprisingly, in the “European Insects” section.

We made good time on the way down and were greeted by some very welcome tea and coffee and, if that hadn’t woken us all up enough, an incredible selection of biscuits (both chocolate and shortbread). After initial introductions had been made, we had some free time to very carefully explore the Society’s collection of historical entomological texts including some beautifully illustrated guides to insects from all over the world, and to explore the building. The ‘little’ details around the RES make it a great place to visit; from the giant ant model outside, the figurine of Barry B. Benson in the library, or, of course, the incredible lift, it was nice to see insects so front and centre.

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Exploring some of the library’s collection.

After an especially winning group photo underneath said giant ant, we had a series of talks from three bona fide entomologists of the society. First we were welcomed by the Director of Science, Jim Hardie, who gave us an introduction to the society and its history, as well as the conferences, prizes, special interest groups, and opportunities that the society offers. This was followed by another talk from the Director of Outreach and Development, Luke Tilley, who emphasised the need for science communication in general, but especially in entomology where the common response is usually a lack of understanding and often disgust.

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No group of people I’d rather stand under an enormous ant with.

Serendipitously, our visit fell just a few days after the biggest entomological, if not scientific, news story of 2019 (so far): Insectageddon. This led to a very interesting talk on how the RES fields media interests and re-directs them to experts who would be willing and able to talk about the story whilst fielding sometimes unrelated information about everything insect. Emphasis was put on the need to read the source material and know who the ‘good’ journalists are, as well as how to best communicate entomology in an accessible way.

Luke Tilley and Outreach and Engagement Executive Fran Sconce presented the range of science communication events which the society runs and participates in, including the Big Bang Fair, Insect Week, and Field to Fork- keep an eye out for Harper students at these events in future!

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Eerie wilderness or potential insect haven?

Once the talks had finished, we had some more free time. Some of us went outside to explore the abandoned Royal National Rose Society Garden, which is now owned by the society. Abandoned fountains and mossy paths provided the perfect opportunity for some of us to have a cheeky insect hunt whilst others of us just suppressed the urge to push them into the water.

 

After our little explore we were treated to a lovely lunch (shout out to the range of vegetarian options, especially the goat’s cheese mini croissants) and the opportunity to chat with staff, visit the council room, and peruse the range of entomological publications merchandise on offer before starting our long journey back to Shropshire.

In many ways this trip provided a gentle introduction to important information and networking opportunities. For example, whilst in awe of the colour plates of the insect guides, we were told that we are welcome to use the texts there and that librarian Val McAtear will be happy to help us where required. The presentation on the different conferences and meetings introduced us to the opportunities to engage in the entomological community both as students and in the future as we enter our entomological careers. My main takeaways from the day were an understan

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One of the Ento Masters found a novel use for the phone holder.

ding of the opportunities, publications and support offered by the society, a pending membership application and a plastic phone holder from the 00s which definitely doesn’t fit my phone in but which I am determined to find some use for.

 

On behalf of all the Masters students, I’d like to thank the Royal Entomological Society for their warm welcome.

Fear of Moths: Ridiculous or Reasonable?

Alright, confession time: one of my best friends is scared of moths. I know, it was a shock for me too. I found this out about two and a half years ago when I sent this friend (let’s call her Sarah because that is her name) pictures of a poplar hawk moth I’d caught. In hindsight, maybe I should have checked first.

Like all phobias, it can be really difficult for those of us without it to understand what the problem is so I asked Sarah exactly what she doesn’t like:

“I don’t like them cause they freak me out irl when they fly in my face and they’re fuzzy and look like death and just looking at them gives me shivers

That any good for your blog?”

Although we often refer to it as lepidopterophobia (the irrational fear of all Lepidoptera), its true form is actually very rare. Many people are terrified of moths but have no problem at all with butterflies, leading to mottephobia (the irrational fear of moths) being increasingly common.

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The picture that started it all.

 

Specific phobias” are an intense and persistent fear of a certain object or situation, most of which are thought to develop in childhood as a result of a traumatic experiences and/or genetic predisposition, and usually go away by adulthood. In the case of a lot of common fears, such as arachnophobia or cynophobia (fear of spiders and dogs, respectively), it is thought that they might be an evolutionary adaptation to things which were once dangerous for us, even if they aren’t any more. Both of these factors make sense for fears of things which can hurt you, bees and wasps for example, but what possible harm can moths do?

According to some sources, it seems Sarah is not alone, the fear is mostly linked to movement. Some find the unpredictable fluttering flight patterns unsettling, feeling uncomfortable when a butterfly or moth flies near them in case it lands on them or brushes against their skin. These fears are multiplied when the insects are swarming in groups, something which must make lepdiopterophobes who live in monarch butterfly migratory “highways” somewhat uncomfortable. At the end of the day, it seems to be the unpredictability which is especially fear-provoking, which ties in with the fear of the unknown. This still doesn’t answer why more people are scared of moths than butterflies and it doesn’t seem that clear. My best guess is that is has something to do with the fact that we mostly encounter moths by night as they try to get into our houses – a distinctly creepy scenario.

Although it is important to be understanding of people with true mottephobia, there is a greater issue here: that of irrational disgust and dislike of interests, without the excusable irrational fear and panic of a phobia. A third of fear of British animals in UK adults was of “fear-relevant animals” (snakes etc.) and invertebrates. Not of fear relevant invertebrates like wasps and bees, or even disease relevant invertebrates like mosquitos and cockroaches, just “invertebrates”. The paper even lists slugs and worms as given examples of feared invertebrates, suggesting that the disgust the great British public feels about “creepy crawlies” is entirely without logical reason.

To a certain extent it can be argued that fears develop because of a lack of exposure: students from urban areas on field trips to wildland areas were recorded as frequently expressing a fear and disgust of insects, as well as snakes, plants, and “getting lost”. Fear of the unknown is considered by some researchers to be “the fundamental fear”; what you don’t know can, in fact, hurt you. To link this back to mottephobia, if the only exposure you have to moths is them flapping in your face on summer evenings, I can see why it would be annoying, even distressing and how that could develop into a fully blown phobia.

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Even by the BBC’s standards this was a weird one

The idea for this article was sparked by an episode of Doctor Who back in November where the Doctor and her companions ended up in an anti-zone between universes infested with flesh moths: enormous carnivorous moths which are attracted to light and movement and could strip the flesh from prey in moments. Look, don’t ask me, ask the BBC.In order to reduce and remove specific phobias, exposure therapy is used to gradually reduce the amount of fear associated with a trigger.  But how are people supposed to ‘grow out’ of their childhood fears if the media constantly feeds us negative images of insects?

Now whilst some moths do, as Sarah said, “look like death” (I’m looking at

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Acheronita atropos, the Death’s Head Hawk Moth with its distinctive skull-shaped marking

you, Death’s Head Hawk Moth), there are many more which are beautiful and play incredibly important roles in their ecosystems – one of the best well known being the obligate mutualism between yuccas and yucca moths. Maybe the fact we never see these moths represented in the media but are regularly exposed to butterflies in a positive context also contributes to the difference in attitudes.

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The truly beautiful, and somewhat butterfly-like, atlas moth (Attacus atlas) defies all preconceptions about moths’ small and dowdy nature.

 

Sometimes we have a tendency, as people who know about and spend time with insects, to find the level of disgust the British public feel towards invertebrates frustrating. That’s fair enough, but what scares people, scares them, and there’s nothing we can do except try to support those with true phobias and educate those who just don’t understand.

And whatever you do, don’t send mottephobes pictures of hawk moths!

 

 

Apocalypse by mosquito?

As part of our molecular tools lecture, expertly executed by Joe Roberts, we discussed the recent advancements of gene editing and its use in the eradication of malaria in Africa. Crispr is the cutting-edge gene editing tool that has garnered a lot of attention since it’s discovery in 2007. Further developments have led to it being the simplest method for editing the nucleotides on a DNA strand altering the original gene which can result in resistance to diseases, alleviate genetic disorders or treat blood diseases.

Despite its multitude of uses genetic engineering has been faced with large amounts of controversy. Gene drive, which is the promotion of specific genes in a population that cause infertility or death through release of carriers into the wild, has faced mass criticism due to the uncontrollable nature of the concept. Once these genetically engineered individuals are released, there is little that can be done to prevent the spread of the unwanted gene across species through natural hybridisation. There are also concerns over the potential impacts of eradicating an entire species from an ecosystem, which could result in a collapse if the eradicated species is an important food source-as in the case of mosquitos.

Malaria-carrying mosquitoes of the Anopheles family are one of the prime candidates for gene drive control. The infected females spread malaria through their bites, which release the parasite into the bloodstream of the unlucky animal. Malaria is life threatening, killing half a million people annually so control of the vectors (mosquitoes) is of particular importance. Many studies have been done into the prospect of gene drive control of these insects, with the most recent being the release of genetically engineered males into Burkina Faso that you may have seen on the news in the last couple of weeks, treated as the new apocalypse.

The release of these mosquitoes is being controlled by the non-profit research organisation “target Malaria” as a test for the potential release of gene drive organisms. The mosquitoes being released in their experiment are all sterile, thus are unable to pass on their edited genes. They are simply being released to gather data on their dispersal and won’t last more than a few weeks in the ecosystem. So, no, we haven’t reached the point of using gene drive in the control of malaria quite yet, but the organisation is hoping to eventually use their mosquitoes to eradicate Anopheles in sub Saharan Africa, albeit with more work needing to be done.

Whilst gene drive systems have been highly effective in population control for lab studies, the issues around potential hybridisation needs to be considered and it’s been discovered that these mosquitoes are capable of developing resistance to the edited genes through random mutations. Lab work is limited and simply can’t match the population size found in the wild-thus the rate of mutation faced by their gene drive experiments is much lower as they have fewer individuals to experience a random mutation. Therefore, actual field results may be hampered by development of resistance.

We are faced, then, with the final dilemma. Does the risk befit the reward? Do we risk the transfer of these genes through hybridisation to save the lives of half a million people a year? Is the rate of mutation high enough to negate the entire gene drive system in the wild populations? All that can be done is further research, taking the necessary precautions before leaping into a potentially disastrous situation. Which is exactly what the Burkina Faso release is for.

The collection conundrum: How useful are Museum collections?

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Hope the whale suspended over Hintze hall

Visiting a museum for the first time can be a magical experience. Wandering through the vast halls, awing at the exhibits and looking at all the various artefacts within the museum walls can inspire wonder and intrigue into pretty much anyone.For me, the Natural History Museum is one of the greatest museums I have ever visited; with its breath-taking architecture, plethora of exhibitions and host of scientific specimens within the main halls and the Darwin centre cocoon. However, just walking around and taking in all of this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the treasures held within.

The NHM (like most museums) isn’t just a place to visit, but also a cornucopia of scientific research and constant study which the museum wants to share with as many people as possible. They do this by hosting talks in the Darwin centre, ‘Lates’ evenings – where you can go to talk with curators and participate in backstage tours of the collection areas – and even through sleepovers at the museum. On some occasions, however, the museum will have stalls erected during visiting hours to engage the public about the collections.

I have been fortunate enough to help talk to the public about the Entomological collections held within the museum, the most prevalent questions being – “How many insects do you have?”, “Where do you keep them all?” and even, “How do you keep that many insects alive?”. Most people respond to the answers by enthusing about how amazing it is that so much has been collected and how the museum can manage to keep it in such good condition. However, there are equally many people condemning this fact; believing that it is cruel to have pinned so many specimens instead of simply recording their whereabouts. This got me thinking; why is there an aversion – in some people – to Museum collections? Do we really need hundreds of a single species pinned in boxes? And do they all just sit there gathering dust?

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A collection box from the NHM containing moths collected in South Africa

In short, the answer is as follows; these questions arise from a lack of understanding on museum collections and the data they hold which can be used for scientific study, particularly that of entomology. The collection data held within museums is invaluable and help progress our understanding of a variety of topics surrounding the specimens. Entomology benefits heavily from the use of museum data in studies, many published papers use the date, life stage (adult, pupa, larva) and site in which a specimen was collected in order to discuss how Lepidoptera may have been affected by climate change. One paper even looks at how the phenology (life cycle) of British butterflies has changed since the 19th century. It talks of how the rates of phenological change in butterflies (as a response to changes in host plant flowering periods) is slowing down and should these changes continue, it could cause greater problems for many species.

Furthermore, some papers even use genetic data extracted from museum specimens in order to help determine how some species of insect have evolved, and look at the changes in biodiversity within a given habitat. One such paper used tissue samples from both dry and ethanol preserved specimens of sack-bearer moth (Mimallonidae) to construct a phylogeny for the moth family. The results of that study will greatly contribute to further studies concerning the biogeography, evolution and host plant relations of Mimallonids.

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The caterpillar of a Mimallonid moth which will later go on to build a “sack” of silk (from which it’s common name is derived).

Recently, the Natural History Museum has embarked on a large scale digitisation of their collections, starting with the Lepidoptera in a project called iCollections. The digitisation of the collections held within the museum are available to the public through the NHM data portal. This provides a wealth of data on the digitised specimens (including year, location, species, holotypes, paratypes etc.) which lends itself to further use of their data in many studies concerning conservation, biogeography, taxonomy and genetics. The large sample sizes of the collections and range of locality and year of collection add to this possibility of further study, helping to increase our overall understanding of the many insect species held within museums.

Overall, Museums are fantastic places filled with the potential of further study, and those like the NHM have an unending potential to help develop our understanding of insects through time. On the 6th February the Harper Entomology students will be visiting the NHM where we hope to learn even more about the wondrous Entomological collections held within their walls.

 

Understanding the Impacts of the Beekeeping Buzz

As part of my campaign to promote pollinator friendly gardening, in my hometown Neilston, I got chatting with a lot of people.

My Plants for Pollinators stall at the Neilston Cattle Show

The reception I received was greater than I could ever have hoped for, with so many schools and nurseries already running projects to help raise awareness of the decline in bees. What amazed me the most, though, was the sheer number of people who had taken an interest in beekeeping. Many had already become certified beekeepers with their first hive. Hearing local people so passionate about the life of an insect made me so proud of my community.

It’s not just my community that has taken its hand to apiculture (beekeeping). Beekeeping has been on the rise for the past decade, particularly in the cities. Most people become beekeepers as a hobby, interested in reconnecting with nature within an urban environment. Recently, there has been a rise in people raising bees out of concern for the environment, as I found in my home town.

The issue, though, is that there are very few studies out there regarding the positive or negative impacts these introduced honeybee colonies can have on the environment.

One study has found that the introduction of honeybees has negatively impacted the survival rates of bumblebees, whilst another showed that honeybees had no significant effect on local flora or fauna. It’s difficult to assess the truth amidst conflicting reports – but there have been concerns raised that need definitive answers.

Wildflower populations have been shown to increase due to honeybees increasing pollination of the plants, however, pollination is not as simple as a single bee going from one flower to the other. Each species is better suited for the pollination of certain plants and are inefficient pollinators of others. When honeybees are the primary source of pollination in an environment, the plants that they prefer or are capable of pollinating are fertilised more often. This can result in alterations to floral diversity, which in turn may lead to a decline in the preferential food plant of other bee species.

Honeybees have also been shown to they can deplete a plant’s nectar source without providing any pollination. The competition for nectar in these plants has resulted in changes to the behaviour of fellow pollinators. In Australia, the honeybees out-compete the New Holland Honeyeater, resulting in the birds increasing their territories.

New Holland Honeyeater, Image by Louise Docker

This could result in them running out of resources, and ultimately, a decline in their population – though no significant declines have been documented so far. A recent study has emerged trying to measure the impact apiaries can have, but their result was highly variable and merely highlighted the need for further research on the impacts honeybees have on wild bee populations and other native fauna. It’s surprising that no study has focused on the impact apiaries can have on other insect pollinators such as hoverflies.

I find this topic particularly concerning, in part to the lack of research, but mostly due to the skewed opinion of the well-meaning public. Apiculture is an excellent hobby to get into, with many benefits for yourself and particularly for agricultural crops. It is irresponsible, however, to take up apiculture to benefit the bees, especially when there is so little evidence available. That’s why more research needs to be done into this topic so that we can have a clearer picture of the true impact beekeeping can have and so those who only wish to help aren’t mislead into doing the exact opposite.