Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Battling with beetles...

If the ground beetles (Carabidae) are like the European Knights of the 13th century - soldiers encased in ungainly, heavy steel plate armour...

Carabus nemoralis - Goat Meadow at Gatwick

...then the rove beetles (Staphylinidae) are the fearsome Mongolian warriors of the steppes, with overlapping scales of iron and flexible leather, allowing for furiously fast attacks on the enemy (I've been reading a lot of Conn Iggulden historical fiction of late).

Devil's Coach Horse (Ocypus olens) - Photo by W J Heeney

As mortal enemies, Carabids and Staphs will go into battle and the result comes down to the size of beast, which is highly variable. The biggest, baddest of the rove beetles is the Devil's Coach Horse pictured above, which makes Genghis Khan look like a lovable chap who'd give out free hugs.




Last Saturday was the Staphylinidae Identification Workshop with the British Entomological and Natural History Society, lead by Roger Booth and Peter Hodge. It was another excellent day of networking with beginner and expert entomologists alike, learning about the fearsome (and sometimes beautiful) variety of rove beetles.


Roger Booth lead the workshop on Saturday at Dinton Pastures

For me, it was throw back to entomology lessons at Royal Holloway University - Dr Angus was the lecturer who described invertebrate sexual strategy in such graphic detail, that his lectures became infamous (there's even a facebook page in his honour, with one lengthy thread on locust bits which is very NSFW).

A clumsy abdominal dissection

However, I'm not really sure how Dr A. would feel about this; my first attempt since uni at beetle genitalia dissection in order to determine the exact species... Needs a little more practice.

Tergites IX and X, plus one really mashed up aedeagus (male organ)

Aedeagi aside, all beetles at have the same basic body plan. Instead of iron, their exoskeleton is actually made up of a hardened material called chitin, particularly obvious in the solid wing cases (elytra). In Staphylinids, the wings are folded away and the wing case is particularly shortened, allowing for more flexibility in the body.

From Staphylinidae of Britain and Ireland

These are a few I've found about the place so far at Gatwick, usually lurking underneath reptile refugia and bits of bark...
Devil's Coach Horse (Ocypus olens) - a monsterous 30mm

This little bullet-shapped jobby is Tachinus rufipes - around 6mm in length

Drusilla canaliculata (some species names make even adult entomologists snigger), about 5mm

Mongol warriors, about 5ft 7"

Platydracus sp. Another large staph at around 20mm.
Photo by W J Heeney

There is something like 1,000 species of rove beetles in the UK, so lets just say I've got a few more to go! Thanks to Roger and Peter for a brilliant and inspiring workshop.