When a chief of police contacts you about insects and dead bodies, a good entomologist hopes that her skills are badly needed to solve the crime of the century…that the insects found on the body are clues to the time and place of death. One of the critical roles of insects in any ecosystem is to break down dead bodies, and this is what they naturally do with any carcass. The first handbook for coroners was written by Song Ci in 13th century China; since then, this field has become professionalized and there is even a North American Forensic Entomology Association. One CSI team member is a forensic entomologist and a real life expert is a consultant for the series (us bug people are hyper-alert to these parts the show!). But back to my police chief. He sent me some photos and sure enough, a carcass….of a dead bird in western Pennsylvania. Riddled with lovely beetles doing their thing: eating it up!
These were Nicrophorus of the family Silphidae, but the species identification would require close examination of the the orange pattern on the elytra (hind wings). They were not Nicrophorus americanus, which is commonly called the endangered burying beetle as it is found in less than 10% of its historic range of distribution. Nicrophorus beetles show an unusual behavior of elaborate parental care: the carcass becomes the site of courtship, and the male and female bury the carcass so they and their offspring can feed. Aren’t insects bizarre and wonderful?
When a chief of police contacts you about insects and dead bodies, a good entomologist hopes that her skills are badly needed to solve the crime of the century…that the insects found on the body are clues to the time and place of death. One of the critical roles of insects in any ecosystem is to break down dead bodies, and this is what they naturally do with any carcass.
From small towns in Kansas to Chicago to New York, Lewis Lindsay Dyche thrilled audiences with his skill in natural history displays and later with lectures about his adventures. Many of the glass slides that he displayed in these "magic lantern" talks have not been seen by the public in more than 100 years and will be featured in an exhibition opening and major public event on Nov. 4 at the University of Kansas. For more information about these and other events, visit http://naturalhistory.ku.edu/events
The Chaboo lab hosted Sara López from the Ciudad Universitaria (UNAM) and the Departament of Zoology, National Collection of Insects, Mexico City, Mexico. Sara is conducting M.Sc. research on a revision and phylogeny of the genus, Ogdoecosta (Cassidinae: Mesomphaliini). Several cassidine genera have most of their species distributed in Mexico, and Ogdoecosta is one of them. Sara’s phylogenetic matrix will open new research into the biology of this little known group. We had a super time discussing morphology, characters, biology, and combing historical literature for clues of new characters, to understand how important researchers like Spaeth and Boheman defined the genus and species. Good luck to Sara in completing this important new work in Cassidinae and in becoming a badly-needed expert of the Mexican chrysomelid fauna.
Please congratulate Dr. Matthew Gimmel on his acceptance of a 2.5 year European Social Fund postdoctoral fellowship to work on beetle systematics in the lab of Dr. Milada Bocakova, Department of Biology, Palacký University, Olomouc, Czech Republic. Since graduating from Louisiana State University (Dr. Chris Carlton's lab), Matt has worked as my lab manager, helping so much with my Peru project: processing an unbelievable amount of specimens, overseeing undergraduate assistants, helping to mentor undergraduate researchers in their manuscripts. Indeed, his enormous knowledge of beetles, coupled with his generosity, patience, and enthusiasm, has made him a wonderful mentor to all in our unit. Now, we must race to submit our first manuscript together — on Peru beetles, of course - before he departs Kansas for Europe.
The Aug. 6 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences included a large-scale analysis of bony fishes using DNA sequencing. One of the major conclusions is that tarpons, eels and their relatives (Elopomorpha) is the sister group (branched first) of all living teleosts.
Gloria Arratia, research associate in ichthyology, first published this idea in 1997 (see reference 11 in the PNAS paper). Her conclusion was based on morphology. In short, molecular analysis confirms a careful morphological analysis conducted about 15 years ago. More interesting is the fact that Gloria’s results were not widely accepted because the dominant figures in the field had championed the idea that the Osteoglossomorpha (mooneyes and bonytongues) were below the tarpons and eels on the tree. This inhibited some other ichthyologists from accepting Gloria's findings, in spite of the fact that she had the evidence and presented it clearly.
The Biodiversity Institute was well represented at the 7th World Congress of Herpetology held on August 8–13 in Vancouver, Canada. Among the 1700+ delegates from 41 countries were Rafe Brown, Bill Duellman, Linda Trueb, KU undergraduates, our new curator, Dr. Rich Glor, and 19 former herpetology students who had received PhDs at KU between 1974 and 2012. Among them was Dr. Joseph R. Mendelson III (PhD, 1997), now president of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.
After a day of rest back in Paramaribo after our Voltzberg adventure, we loaded up the trucks today and headed for Brownsberg Nature Park, which sits atop a 1500 ft. mountain a few hours drive south of the capital (no unusual transportation required...). Upon arriving at the structure where we hung our hammocks, we had a surprise: A KU Jayhawk decal on the wall! If surrounding dates are any indication, it seems to be around 10 years old.
We woke up at 4 o’clock this morning and we’re on the trail shortly before 5 a.m. We were planning to reach the summit of Voltzberg to watch the sunrise. Of course, this meant we had to hike there in the dark and there is really only one way to describe pre-dawn jungle: pitch black. If you get stuck in the jungle at night, without a light source, you better just hunker down and pray for morning because you are in for one terrifying ordeal.
After about a thirty minute hike, we arrived at the base of Voltzberg. For the next twenty-five minutes, we scrambled over slick boulders, dodged a column of army ants (which zigzagged over our path no less than four times), tried our best to avoid prickly and spiny plants (which is difficult because it seems like every tree, bush, fern, and flower is armed and ready for battle), and silently hoped that no snakes would decide to fall on our heads. Once we had cleared the tree line, the real fun began. The next stage of our ascent involved scrambling up several hundred feet of algae-coated, dew-slicked granite (which rates about a 9.413/10 on the International Standardized Slipperiness Scale). However, that wasn’t all. The slope of the mountain was steep to say the least and I swear there were times when we were going almost straight up. The combination of the terrain and the exacerbating conditions made for a climb that was mildly nerve-wracking at times.
However, we did all make it to the top and almost right as the sun was breaking through the clouds. It was a truly magnificent and spectacular thing to witness with the clouds rising over the jungle and the fiery, orange sun rising next to the adjacent inselberg.
I caught a glimpse of the mountains as I left the field team, two days ago. Over the last 48 hours Dr. Tess Sanguila and I drove back and forth along the north coast of Mindanao, visiting various government offices, having specimens inspected, and applying for export permits to ship our collections back to Kansas. Today we went back to the edge of the forest, at the closest drop-off point near our final field site, to pick up the team members. Our plan has been to transport them down to a beach side hotel where we intend to spend a few days, washing gear, cleaning clothes, sorting specimens, and getting ready for the trip back to Manila, and then Kansas by way of Japan. After a couple nights in hotels, I felt guilty picking up the crew in the clean university van. I was showered and comfortable, well fed, wearing dry clothes, a couple nights of air conditioning under my belt… they were grungy and wet, muddy and smelled like mold. Several of the students have constellations of skin infections covering their legs. No one was in a very good mood.
I had one last look at the mountains as we turned the van around and retreated down the muddy road. As I have often done in the past, I could not resist the chance to voice my vow to return (A sarcastic cross between MacArthur’s “I shall return” and Arnold Schwarzenegger “Ahhh’ll be baaaack.”).
A couple days on the beach raised most of the team’s spirits. We had great food, cold beer, air conditioning, TV and internet—luxuries most had come to crave over the last few weeks of the expedition. Reflecting on the team’s performance and endurance over the 9-week trip, I’m pretty impressed. We got through several tense logistical challenges and a few scares, braved severe extremes of cold and heat, handled a few minor medical issues, navigated the gauntlet of permitting regulations, and got along reasonably well with each other. The new information on vertebrate biodiversity of northeast Mindanao—and the biocollection documenting that diversity—represents a research and conservation resource that scientists, conservationists, wildlife managers, and students will rely on for many decades to come. What a summer…it has been a thrill to see the wild side of Mindanao again. I can’t wait until the next Mindanao field season! What an amazing, complex, fascinating and sensationally diverse island!