Archive for the ‘Hemiptera’ Category

Thoughts on Entomology & Flickr

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

I am a fan of Flickr and think it’s a wonderful place to store and tag photos. Recently I’ve been wondering about how useful Flickr is as an entomological resource and thought of a few questions:

  • How many new insect photos are being added daily?
  • How common are misidentifcations?
  • How many insect photographers add geographic data (geotags)?
  • What is the number of unique insects represented on Flickr?
  • How could Flickr be used in an insect-based meta-analysis?

As I wrote this there were (searching everyone’s uploads with no filter):

  • 839,123 results for ‘insect’
  • 28,014 results for ‘hemiptera’
  • 1,673 results for ‘pentatomidae’
  • 816 results for ‘palomena prasina’
Flickr map of Palomena prasina © Yahoo 2009

Flickr map of Palomena prasina © Yahoo 2009

I found that there have been around 1,000 extra hits for insect everyday in the past week and that searching for ‘palomena prasina on the Flickr map gave ~217 results (depending on the type of sort) which were spread around the UK, France, northern Spain, Germany, Finland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

As I browsed through general search results for the Palomena prasina photos, I saw a few that were obvious misidentifications. I think that misidentifications are probably the biggest limiting factor that would be hard to control if you wanted to use Flickr tags/information in an academic way. Whilst there are plenty of very knowledgeable Flickr entomologists, it’s hard to know which photos are identified correctly.

Whilst the map search was interesting, it wasn’t overly useful in it’s basic form. I think that a more sophisticated map search might be possible using of the Flickr API, but you would still be limited by the proportion of images that have geographic data.

Finally, everyone tags and organises their photos differently. I try and enter in as much information as I can without it being too long or bothersome. For an insect shot I try and include: country, county, area name, specific location (like the nature reserve), class, order, family and genus+species. By doing this I can search for particular insects in different areas quite easily. I started added a few six-figure grid references to the images, but as every specimen has a map location, this isn’t a priority for me.

I feel that Flickr could be used in a more powerful way and have a few ideas how, but I’ll save that for another post.

For now, why not check out some of the Flick insect groups? I’ve linked a few below:

Insect Hunting in Essex: The Chafford Gorges

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

After two visits to the Rainham Marshes this year, I wanted to explore other local sites in Essex. The Chafford Gorges (owned by the Essex Wildlife Trust) are local to me and seemed interesting because of their flora and history. They are located in the the Chafford Hundred area which is mostly a modern housing development, and is adjacent to one of our huge regional shopping centres, Lakeside. The three gorges are all that remain of a much larger wild area that I remember from my childhood.

A shot of one of the nearby chalk pits (mostly filled with Birch)

A shot of one of the nearby chalk pits (mostly filled with Birch)

When I visited with Tristan I went to Grays Gorge and Lion Gorge. At Grays Gorge I saw my first wild British orchid, the common spotted orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii.

Common Spotted-orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Common Spotted-orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii

We were fortunate to meet the site warden whilst we explored, and hopefully I will be able to acquire some old records for insects in the area.

Somewhat anecdotally, I recall seeing glow worms, Lampyris noctiluca, on the nearby cliffs when I was younger but do not recall seeing them after a road was built nearby, which would have coincided with increased light in the area from both new houses and street lights. Perhaps this can be seen from the local records…

Some photos from the gorge area:

A lucky shot

A lucky shot

The rather attractive Cercopis vulnerata

The rather attractive Cercopis vulnerata

Spring Insects & April Holidays

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

My April holidays have ended and I am back at work. I spent a lot of time in the garden, digging vegetable beds and constructing some pallet-based compost bins.

Whilst last week was fairly rainy, the previous week had some nice sunny days so there was plenty of insect activity. I have seen much more insect variety, with various flies, butterflies and bees on the wing.

The holidays seem to use my time faster than when I am working so I will just post some spring insect photos for now:

Anthophora plumipes (male)

Anthophora plumipes (male).

A leafhopper, Euscelis incisus.

A leafhopper, Euscelis incisus.

A lateral fly shot, probably a bluebottle.

A lateral fly shot, probably a bluebottle.

Heteropteran Hunters: Aquatic Predators

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009
When I was editing the photo of the water scorpion, Nepa cinerea, I remembered one of the heteropteran specimens that I saw in my first visit to The Natural History Museum as a volunteer: a large and rather scary looking bug from the Belastomatidae, a family known colloquially as ‘toe biters’.

I thought I would share the specimen with you and took photos of two Nepidae to give a sense of scale: an unidentified Laccotrephes sp. from Arabia, and a smaller native Nepa cinerea specimen from the British Collection.

Left, unidentified 'toe biter' (Belostomatidae); Middle, Laccotrephes sp. (Nepidae) collected in Arabia; Right, Nepa cinerea (Nepidae) a British specimen. © The Natural History Museum

As you can see, the Belostomatid dwarfs them both! My supervisor tells me that the biggest Hemiptera are the Belostomatidae and some Pomponia cicada species. Our water scorpion is a relatively small member of the Nepidae, but the unidentified Arabian specimen looks remarkably similar.  I chose Laccotrephes sp. because it is part of the accessions, a veritable treasure trove of unidentified speciemens, and because it has nice patterns on the limbs.

Whilst looking for specimens to photograph, I noticed that the majority of siphons (the abodominal air tubes) of the Nepidae had separated into their two component tubes.

Wicken Fen

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

A few weekends ago I visited Wicken Fen, the UK’s oldest nature reserve. Since it was first bought in 1899 by the National Trust, the area of the reserve has increased from 0.008km² (2 acres) to 7.7km², and the trust plans to buy more of the surrounding land to enlarge it further.

Wicken Fen

Wicken Fen

The habitat of the reserve is a remnant of the formerly vast Cambridgeshire fenlands, land which is now used almost entirely (99.9%) for farming. The fen has long been a place of interest for entomologists, and continues to be so: as well as being species rich, the British Dragonfly Society will be opening a dragonfly center at the fen later in the year.

Even though I visited early in the year, the weather was nice and sunny, and I saw many insect species for the first time. On the start of our walk my girlfriend found a prowling water scorpion, Nepa cinerea, which was an exciting first Heteropteran bug of the year! This was also my first proper opportunity to use my new macro lens, and although I am still learning many basics, I was happy with most of the photos I took.

Water scoprion, Nepa cinerea

Water scoprion, Nepa cinerea

Some other firsts for me was seeing a slender groundhopper, Tetrix subulata, and a 24-spot ladybird, Subcoccinella 24-punctata. Whilst my girlfriend is (fortunately) fond of insects, she was particularly excited to see a common lizard, Zootoca vivipara, basking in the sun.

Common lizard, Zootoca vivipara

Common lizard, Zootoca vivipara

On the way back I saw many mining bees, Andrena clarkella, digging their burrows around an oak tree.

Mining bee, Adrena clarkella

Mining bee, Adrena clarkella

I am hoping to visit Wicken Fen again soon, perhaps during my next holiday.

Long Range Macro Photography

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

My weekend has been very busy.

On Friday night I cooked for my family; as usual, cooking new dishes meant I was a little late in serving (I made a shallot compote and I used rather large shallots which took longer to cook than I anticipated!) but I think it was worth the delay!

On Saturday we had an early start to go into London and buy a dedicated macro lens for my camera. My Flickr friends recommended getting a Sigma 105mm, so now I can take reasonable photos at a much further distance than I could previously. Once I get some extension tubes I hope to take photos of smaller insects, like leafhoppers and ants.

After buying the lens I went into the museum to try the camera out:

An unidentified Cercopid taken using a Sigma 105mm Macro lens © The Natural History Museum

An unidentified Cercopid taken using a Sigma 105mm Macro lens © The Natural History Museum

Very shortly I will be leaving to visit Wicken Fen and shall go insect hunting with the new lens. I’ll post some new photos and the photos I took last weekend soon.

Taxonomic Categories in Posts & Insect Record Keeping

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

I recently came across Beetles in the Bush, an excellent entomology blog written by Ted MacRae. I particularly liked the use of taxonomic post categories to organise families into their respective orders and will start using it in my blog because it’s such a good idea.

Earlier this week I finished organising my insect records from last year in Excel. I was thinking about putting them into Access because it’s much better suited for such data and I may start building an Access database over the weekend. Another thought occurred to me, which was that there must be some freely available programs, perhaps some which can make use of Google Maps/Earth and Flickr. Do you know of any?

Finally, a little bit of eye candy:

Red and Black Shield Bug - This pentatomid caught my eye amongst material collected in Ecuador.

Red and Black Shield Bug - This pentatomid caught my eye amongst unidentified material collected in Ecuador. © The Natural History Museum

Orellana nigriplaga (depth stacked image)

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

I have been meaning to try and make a focus stacked image after being inspired by some of Lord V’s photos and his various photo stacking guides for the freely available CombineZ programs, made by Alan Hadley.

A focus stacked image is a composite image with a better depth of field, made by combining images taken at different focal distances.

Orellana nigriplaga (depth stacked image)

Orellana nigriplaga (depth stacked image)

This image is the result of combining the images below.

Preparatory images for depth stacking

Preparatory images for depth stacking

I would recommend trying CombineZP, especially if you work with something like pinned specimens. I will be posting some more depth stacked images soon and might experiment with some landscape images.

This specimen is part of The Natural History Museum collection and was taken for a research request. © The Natural History Museum

First Insect Photo & Flea Circuses

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I took my first spring insect photos today after seeing a queen bumblebee flying around the garden. There were quite a few hoppers about, one of which I photographed:

Unidentified planthopper (Hemiptera: Homoptera)

Stenocranus minutus (Hemiptera: Delphacidae)

I’m hoping to go out and catch one because I can’t quite get enough detail in a photo, but I will be getting a new (macro) lens which should help when taking photos of small insects! I had a look on the British Bugs site but didn’t see anything which had the black mark on the wing (until Joe identified it for me on Flickr!).

Tonight’s episode of QI (now in the “F” series) had a flora and fauna theme, of which one of the topics was flea circuses. I had always thought that flea circuses were mechanical and did not use fleas, but Stephen Fry has dispelled me of my ignorance! It seems that this is a common misconception and that flea circuses did use live fleas, although there were some mechanical “flea circuses” too.

Stockholm Visit (part 2): Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Part of the work I do at the Natural History Museum involves the preparation for construction of taxonomic database on Coreidae, a family of ‘true bugs’ (Hemiptera) known colloquially as squash bugs or leaf-footed bugs. One aim of the database is to include photographs of as many important museum (type) specimens as possible, allowing researchers to view the specimens without having to travel to the museum or request to have the specimens sent through the post.

The Swedish Natural History Museum, Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet, holds a number of these type specimens. As I was already going to be in Stockholm, my supervisor and I thought it would be good to visit the museum.

The entrance to the Swedish Natural History Museum, Naturhistoriska riksmuseet.

The entrance to the Swedish Natural History Museum, Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet.

The curators in the entomology department were very welcoming and helpful, answering many questions and allowing me to study some of their Hemiptera. Hopefully I will get to visit for longer this summer and photograph more of their specimens.

One of the photographed Coreidae, Bostrostethus annulipes © Naturhistoriska riksmuseet

One of the photographed Coreidae, Bostrostethus annulipes © Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet

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