An Update (Part 2)

Welcome back peeps! Here’s the second part of the overview/highlights of what we’ve been getting up to so far on the course:

Module 2: Diversity & Evolution of Insects

This module was a nice transition from the previous module content-wise. The first day was a mixed bag, it started with a lecture from Prof. Simon Leather (@EntoProf) on the history of entomology as a subject and insect paleontology (come on, who doesn’t love a bit of Meganeura spp.). Followed by Dr. Andy Cherrill giving a lecture on intraspecific variation. Theeeeen, back to Simon, with a lecture on the super weird, awe-inducing and ever so slightly ridiculous aphid life cycle. The day concluded with the first guest speaker for this module: Professor Tony Dixon! He gave us a lecture on aphid thermobiology and coccinellids (ladybirds, namely on generation time and their usage in biocontrol). He was Simon’s PhD supervisor! It was a privilege to be lectured by someone who has been in the game for so long, is still publishing research and has taught one of our lecturers. The next day was also a healthy mix of topics, covering soil biodiversity to aquatic insects and estimating insect species diversity.

Leading on from the previous day, we had a lecture on Acari (ticks and mites). The study of non-insect arthropods meshes nicely with entomology. As entomologists, it is important for us to be able to identify relatives and to understand their ecological interactions. The rest of the day was full of the mighty Odonata! Starting with a series of lectures from guest speaker Steve Brooks (once again, from NHM) on the identification of British Anisoptera (dragonflies) and Zygoptera (damselfies). The afternoon was spent gleefully identifying odonatans using their larval exuviae with The British Dragonfly Society’s Shropshire County Recorder, Sue Rees Evans!

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The larval exuviae of the Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea). Dragonfly larvae are predatory and possess a labial “mask”, a modified labium tipped with pincers. The mask is fired out to grab and immobilise prey. 

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The larval exuviae of a damselfly. The appendages on the rear are called lamellae and they aid gas exchange.

With Odonata checked off the list, we had a day dedicated to an assortment of insect orders with Dr. Mike Copeland. To name a few, we covered the Phasmida, Dermaptera and Neuroptera. The following day started off with a practical session in which we unleashed the fury of lacewing larvae onto some chubby mealybugs; a little taster of what is to come in the Commercial & Practical Biological Control module!

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A lacewing larvae chowing down on a mealy bug. They are voracious predators with specialised mandibles used to extract the bodily fluids of their prey.

The module and week ended on a mellow note, with another chill session of pinning and curation. Practice makes perfect!

Module 3: Experimental Design & Analysis

Being able to design an experiment to test a hypothesis and then analysing the acquired data using the appropriate statistical analyses, holds fundamental importance in science. Once again, the course is full of people with varying levels of experience in different areas, and statistics is no exception. The module reinforced the importance of a robust experimental design, and introduced the cohort to the statistical software R and how to run a range of tests using it. Of course, I would rather have fun practicals over this in a heartbeat, but you can’t replace bread and butter with more filling and expect to have a sandwich! Having just finished this module, we start the Commercial & Practical Biological Control module on Monday! *crowd cheers* HUZZA!!

Soooooo…that’s it from me for now! Linzi will be posting an article on Tuesday on insects which survive in extreme environments and their adaptations to the hostile conditions they live in.

Until next time!

 

By Aqib Ali  (Twitter:@EntoAqib , Email: Aqib1996@hotmail.co.uk , Linkedin: Aqib Ali)

MSc Entomology Twitter: @EntoMasters

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MRP: Optimising rearing conditions for black solider flies – Julian Beniers

Julian Beniers is a man with a mission. Before he even applied for the MSc course, he had formulated his Master’s Research Project (MRP), methods and all. During his BSc at HAS University of Applied Sciences, he started a project on black solider flies (Hermetia illucens) and became interested in their biology and behaviour. He then furthered this interest when doing an internship with the same species before coming to Harper Adams University (twitter: @HarperAdamsUni). By the time he arrived in Shropshire, his MRP was complete in all but execution.

Julian will be investigating the effect of protein and carbohydrate levels in black solider fly larvae foods and its relation to larval mass over the course of larval development, and potentially macronutrient levels within the larvae too (time permitting). He wants to answer the question “When do black soldier fly larvae begin producing large fat reserves, and specifically, at what weight does this normally occur?”. Black solider fly larvae rapidly become larger during their first instars and protein is likely to the most important macronutrient of their diet, whereas later in larval development, carbohydrates and fats may become more important. To answer his research question, Julian will attempt to map protein and fat content of larvae at precise intervals throughout their development by killing, drying and subjecting the dried tissue to Soxhlet and leco fat and protein analysis, respectively. He’ll also be using a variety of different foods with varying levels of protein and carbohydrate to see if these can be used to determine an optimal diet and growth rate. He suspects the larval mass at which a change in macronutrient storage occurs in between 140-160 mg.

This research is potentially quite commercially important because of the widespread use of black soldier fly larvae in the pet trade (food for exotic pets) and in human entomophagy (food for us). Interestingly, Julian gently suggests that this research may actually have been done before internally within pet food companies, however, as the Robin Hood of trade secrets, Julian attempts to get this research published, which could make things easier for other companies and independent rearers.

More generally, Julian is an avid keeper of entomofauna and is curious about the upcoming entomophagy industry in the West (an age-old industry in other parts of the world); he is planning to attend the Royal Entomological Society’s entomophagy day on April 4th.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me (details below) or Julian with advice or questions (twitter: @Julianosaurus; email: julianbeniers@hotmail.com; LinkedIn).

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Featured photo: Black solider fly larvae – photographed by Julian Beniers, of course!

Blog written by Max Tercel (email: max.tercel@hotmail.com; twitter: @MaximumInsect).

 

 

 

 

 

Master’s Research Project: methods of sampling ant-associated beetles – Jack Weatherington

The ecological dominance of ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) is striking across a very wide spatial scale, reaching its pinnacle in the rainforests and savannahs of the tropics (Hölldobler and Wilson, 1990). The jurisdiction of this Queendom reaches Britain too. Red wood ants (Formica rufa), where found, can constitute a vital part of the local ecology of forests, feeding on aphid honeydew and pretty much any invertebrates they can overpower, like the little myrmidons they are. Jack Weatherington, a fellow MSc student boasting an impressive knowledge of insect taxonomy, has chosen the red wood ant as the focus for his Master’s Research Project (MRP). However, he faced a dilemma! Continue reading

Master’s Research Projects: gut analysis of coprophagous dipteran larvae – Alex Dye

The first in a series of posts detailing some of the Master’s Research Projects (MRPs) being undertaken here at Harper Adams University features the dipterist, head our MSc twitter page, and all-round good guy, Alex Dye! Continue reading

Parenting for Dummies (feat. burying beetles)

Festive greetings readership,

On a gloomy, mist-filled night, the life of a mouse is gently extinguished by disease. Its blood stills, its body cools, and a slight wind carries its almost imperceptible scent through the air. A faint buzzing approaches from the darkness, growing louder and louder; a flash of jet-black and red in the moonlight. Another. Then… silence. Two beetles scamper onto the carcass after their nightly flights. They are burying beetles, a male and a female, and have much to do over the next 2-3 weeks. Continue reading

Night takes Queen: where do all the wasps go in winter?

Season’s greetings readership,

As I type, millions of Vespula vulgaris (‘common wasp’) queens are in a deep slumber within dead logs, sheds, attic spaces, burrows, and innumerable other areas out of the British elements. Because all other members of a wasp colony die over winter, the survival of the queen is vital to regenerate populations in the spring and summer. But this process is far from simple, incorporating physiological and behavioural adaptations that must be timed accurately to prevent freezing, parasitism, predation,and starvation. The journey of a queen wasp is quite an incredible one involving death, opposition, sex, family, altruism, resurrection, and prejudice, and I would like to personally recommend it as a superior alternative to the biblical prose to which we are flooded at this time of year. Continue reading

If a flea were the size of a human could it really jump over the Eiffel Tower?

Greetings readership.

Quite a lengthy one for you this time.

The ‘well-known fact’ that If a flea were the size of a human, it could jump over the Eiffel Tower is an interesting misconception – one that disregards laws of scaling and structural engineering. A brief analysis of the claim can reveal some of its substantial flaws. But before we go any further, let’s use our imaginations, if only as a preliminary thought-experiment.

Picture a human-sized flea (let’s say about 170cm in length), henceforth named ‘enormo-flea’. It has the exact same proportions as an ordinary flea, but happens to be 170cm long.

Continue reading