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


An Update (Part 1)

It has been a hot minute since we posted the last article which introduced us, so a little update about what us budding entomologists have been getting up to on the course so far and my thoughts on it seemed rather apt. I present to you part one of the overview/highlights of what we’ve done so far:

Module 1: Biology & Taxonomy of Insects

Following the introductory Research & Information Skills module, this was the first entomology module with two weeks of entomological goodness for the cohort to get stuck into, and boy, we weren’t left disappointed. The module started with a session on Orthoptera and a general run through of insect anatomy led by Dr. Andy Cherrill. This was followed by practical session which involved a delightful dissection of the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria).


The next day we covered the order Thysanoptera (thrips) with Dr Tom Pope (@ipm_tom), followed by a zoom through the superorder Dictyoptera (comprising of the orders Mantodea (mantids) and Blattodea (cockroaches and termites)) with Dr. Rob Graham. With everyone on the course being from varied backgrounds and holding different levels of experience within different things, the session on insect pinning and curation was extremely useful for everyone. The cohort spent the afternoon pinning, micropinning and carding insects in a thrilling practical session led by PhD student Francisca Sconce (@FranciscaSconce).


Pinned 3rd instar desert locust nymph and carabid (specimens pinned and photographed by Linzi (@Apis_linzi)).

After a whizz through a lecture on sampling methods by Prof. Simon Leather (@EntoProf) we covered a range of methods, ranging from beating to sweep netting and from pitfall traps to malaise traps. The afternoon was spent in the great outdoors sweep netting and getting to use the Vortistm, a vacuum used to suck up and sample insects (and relatives).


Fellow entomologist Brinna (@BrinnaBarlow) trying her hand at sampling some insects using the Vortis suction sampler.

The first week of this module ended with a bang, with the first guest speaker from the Natural History Museum: hymenopterist Dr. Andy Polaszek (@AndyPolaszek)! In a blitz through the hyper diverse Hymenoptera, we covered several groups, focusing on their identification as well as some tidbits on their biology. We put what we learnt during the morning lecture to test in an intense identification practical.




Week two of the module started with an aphid-packed day on Hemiptera. The next day was Lepidoptera-filled. We had a practical session which involved taking morphometric measurments in waxmoths (Galleria mellonella) and dissecting out the females ovarioles to count the number of eggs.


A female wax moth (Galleria mellonella) dissected with ovarioles spread out, as part of the Lepidoptera class practical.

Speaker number two from NHM was THE fly girl herself, Dr. Erica McAllister (@flygirlNHM)! She vividly captured our interest and introduced us to the weird and wonderful world of flies. Leading on nicely from the zoom through Diptera, we had a session on Forensic Entomology, full of murder (not literally of course…that’d be bad) and maggots with one of the UK’s leading forensic entomologist’s Dr. Amoret Whitaker. The module ended with shimmer and shine a.k.a beetles, with coleopterist Dr. Max Barclay (@Coleopterist)!


This module was certainly a personal favourite of mine (so far), we covered SOOO MUCH in a relatively short space of time. With informative lectures from the university lecturers, plenty of hands on practicals, combined with several external speakers who are experts within their respective fields; I feel as though we thoroughly covered the major insect orders in a very engaging manner! A truly fantastic start to the course!

Make sure to check out the next post “An Update (Part 2)” on Saturday!


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

MSc Entomology Twitter: @EntoMasters

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

Friday brings many good things. Nevermind the weekend, we love hymenopterans.

Greetings readership.

Friday brings us many things. Many good things (besides the end of the week).

Today, the students taking the Biology and Taxonomy of Insects module on the Applied Ecology suite of MSc courses here at Harper Adams University were treated to a day consisting entirely of Hymenoptera-related (wasps, bees and ants) lessons, from Dr Andrew Polaszek, of the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London. Starting the day off with an overview of the Order, Dr. Polaszek went on to characterise the super-families using morphological and ecological definitions. The class later went on to try our hand at the initially daunting task of  identifying specimens to super-family, family or genus level based on various keys. The fact that the majority of students were able to identify the specimens shows the quality of the keys and the direction Dr. Polaszek gave to us. By the end of the afternoon, most students had been identifying specimens for 2h30m, with the majority actively enjoying the process, and improving over the course of the day. Continue reading

What’s the point of wasps?

‘But seriously, what is the point of wasps?’ This is a question I often find myself being asked. Unlike their cute, somewhat fluffy cousins, the bees, it seems people have a much harder time accepting wasps. Indeed, they often find themselves on the wrong end of extreme prejudice with people willing to swat them without hesitation; there is even an ‘anti-wasp’ internet meme! This ‘speciesism’ should hardly be surprising given the emphasis placed on pollination services provided by the Apiformes. Wasps however, also play an important role in the functioning of our ecosystems; the health of which we rely upon for our very survival.


Perhaps the single most important thing that wasps do for us is the provision of ecosystem services though pest control. Many species of social wasp are veracious generalist predators, with each nest capturing and removing many kilograms of arthropod prey from an ecosystem every year (Harris, 1996). Much of this removed biomass is that of species which would otherwise represent significant pests to our agricultural and forestry systems. Wasps can be so efficient at predating on arthropods that in some ecosystems where they have been introduced they actually represent a conservation concern by out-competing native insectivorous birds (Beggs, 2001).

Given this ability to help maintain the functioning of ecosystems, social wasps have occasionally been deliberately employed or encouraged as pest control agents. The introduction of nests has been used to provide successful biological control in production of cotton, tobacco, cabbage, coffee, fruit and timber (Spradbery, 1973). In fact, it is surprising how under-utilised they are considering their apparent ability to effectively control pests. Due to their generalist nature, in many ways social wasps are more highly suited for bio-control than some of some of the specialist species which are currently more widely used. For example, not only will they help maintain populations of multiple pest species below the levels that might affect yield, they are also able to maintain their own populations by utilising various other food sources. This means that their population is not tied to that of the pest species thus there is no ‘lag time’ between the initial outbreak and the time when there are sufficient numbers of predators to have a controlling effect. Furthermore, the social foraging behaviour of wasps causes them to return to sites with abundant food resources, meaning they will concentrate disproportionately at sites with highest pest densities, unlike other biological control agents which tend to distribute themselves more evenly (Richter, 2000). This will allow for more efficient control as the most damage occurs at the sites of greatest pest densities, which will be targeted first by the wasps.


Contrary to what some people might believe, it is not just bees which pollinate! In fact, any insect which visits flowers has the potential to act as a pollinator. This includes beetles, butterflies, moths, flies and yes, even wasps. In fact, some plants, such as the Chiloglottis orchids, can only be pollinated by a single specific species of wasp (Peakall, 1990). Wasps normally pollinate during their search for carbohydrate rich nectar, but will occasionally frequent flowers during their search for prey. Sometimes they are even tricked into visiting flowers in reaction to volatiles released by the plant! Some species have evolved the ability to produce chemicals to attract male wasps by mimicking female sex pheromones (Schiestl et al., 2003) or by releasing damage signal volatiles to mimic pest damage to attract hunting wasps (Brodmann et al., 2008).

Wasps also have much to teach us. It was by watching wasps create their nests by mulching wood that Cai Lun, an official of the Chinese court of the Han Dynasty, first developed the idea of paper around 105AD. This now ubiquitous technology underlies much of the functioning of our society and owes its inspiration to the remarkable wasps. Even today we are learning much about social evolution by examining the range of socialities exhibited by wasps along with the underlying genomics.

By examination of the services that an organism provides us, it may become easier to justify why we should respect and safeguard them. This carries with it however, the danger that we should only value an organism by what it contributes to ourselves. This narcissistic view is dangerous as in reality human-kind knows very little about the complex world we inhabit. Surely species have a right to exist that is not solely determined by their detectable utility to one other particular species? Even if wasps did not provide us with all of these fantastic services free of charge, I would argue that they are beautiful creatures in their own way. Each individual organism we see around us represents the culmination of millions of years of evolution. Surely it should be a pleasure to share the planet with these creatures. This, I would argue, is ‘the point of wasps’.

By Liam Crowley.


Ballou, H.A., 1913. Report on the prevalence of some pests and diseases in the West Indies during 1912. Barbados, West Indies, Bull. 13, pp.333-357.

Beggs, J., 2001. The ecological consequences of social wasps (Vespula spp.) invading an ecosystem that has an abundant carbohydrate resource. Biological Conservation, 99(1), pp.17-28.

Brodmann, J., Twele, R., Francke, W., Hölzler, G., Zhang, Q.H. and Ayasse, M., 2008. Orchids mimic green-leaf volatiles to attract prey-hunting wasps for pollination. Current Biology, 18(10), pp.740-744.

Harris, R.J., 1996. Frequency of overwintered Vespula germanica (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) colonies in scrubland‐pasture habitat and their impact on prey. New Zealand journal of zoology, 23(1), pp.11-17.

Peakall, R., 1990. Responses of male Zaspilothynnus trilobatus Turner wasps to females and the sexually deceptive orchid it pollinates. Functional Ecology, pp.159-167.

Richter, M.R., 2000. Social wasp (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) foraging behaviour. Annual review of entomology, 45(1), p.142.

Schiestl, F.P., Peakall, R., Mant, J.G., Ibarra, F., Schulz, C., Franke, S. and Francke, W., 2003. The chemistry of sexual deception in an orchid-wasp pollination system. Science, 302(5644), pp.437-438.

Spradbery, J.P., 1973. Wasps. An account of the biology and natural history of social and solitary wasps, with particular reference to those of the British Isles. London: Sidgwick and Jackson Limited, pp.282-283.