The beetles of Bookham Common | Identification Trainers for the Future

Currently all five trainees from the Identification Trainers for the Future project are nestled away within various departments in the Museum on their curation placements. Here, we catch up with Katy Potts:

I have spent the past month in the Coleoptera department delving into the wonderful world of beetles. Part of my placement involves working on a project under the guidance of Max Barclay, Head of Coleoptera, assessing the beetle fauna on Bookham Common in Surrey.

Photo of an oak tree with funnel trap suspended from a branch half way up the bough

Lindgren funnel traps in the oak woodland at Bookham Common

Early in the season I set up four Lindgren funnel traps in the oak woodland at Bookham Common and I have returned to each trap fortnightly to empty the traps. I can only describe this process as resembling Christmas; as I unlock the collecting pot underneath the funnel I am faced with an array of invertebrates, most importantly the beetles.

An example of some of the beetle families that have found their way into the traps are Cereambycidae (long horn beetles), Scolytidae (bark beetles), Melandryidae (false darkling beetles), Carabidae (ground beetles), Staphylinidae (rove beetles) and Ptiliidae (feather-wing beetles).

During the season I have found observing the changes in diversity of beetles fascinating, with June and July seeming to be the most productive months in terms of diversity of species. Now that the season is ending it’s interesting to see a different type of beetle emerging in the traps: the fungus beetles.

After a day in the field collecting the contents of the traps I return back to the Museum where I begin to sort the samples, separating the beetles from the rest of the orders, ensuring all locality and data labels are replicated as the specimens are transferred to fresh tubes of alcohol.

Photo of the view down a light microscope of the contents of the trap

A 1 cm section of the sorting tray from a Lindgren trap

After the specimens have been sorted I then begin the process of mounting; each specimen is considered when deciding which preservation method should be used. The very small beetles such as the Ptiliids are to be slide mounted as they are too small to be point mounted and too soft-bodied to be dried.

Small specimens such as members of Curculionoidae are point mounted, which ensures visibility of all features and protects the specimen from potential damage. Whereas larger specimens such as members of the Silphidae family can be card mounted.

Conservation for families such as the Staphylinidae also need to be made. When dried, specimens in this family have the tendency to curl the abdomen, making them difficult to point mount and leading to potential damage to the specimen. Therefore, Staphylid beetles are card mounted irrespective of their size, which maximises the protection of the specimen.

After preservation methods are complete, the most exciting part commences: identification, a process that my colleagues on the ID Trainers programme and I find enthralling.

Photo of Katy sitting at her desk in the Coleoptera department

Working on my identification skills in the Coleoptera department at the Museum

When I place a beetle under the microscope I am mesmerised at its beauty, regardless of size, shape and colour. They all fascinate and never fail to inspire me. Learning species identification is a captivating process, one which takes a lifetime to master, but is a reward every step of the way.

There are many ways in which to learn: some people learn by looking at species level, but personally I prefer to work top down, learning how to define each family first before working down to species level. In my time at the Museum by family level identification has improved significantly and I am now finding that I am starting to notice specific features for some families at genus level.

Photo of the view of the beetle down a light microscope

A successfully identified specimen: a false ladybird beetle (Endomychus coccineus)

After I have identified the specimens they will be databased and put into the Bookham Common collection here at the Museum. I also plan to write up this project and add to the long-term recording at this site that is being undertaken by the Coleoptera team.

Katy Potts, Identification Trainers for the Future