Saturday 13 November 2010

Nice art, bad spelling

Some cool artwork at Creative Review - although their spelling of entomology is pretty terrible....

Friday 5 November 2010

Virtual Cockroach Anatomy

The pest control company Orkin have made a virtual cockroach anatomy tool. It's quite neat - check it out.

Sunday 31 October 2010

An editorial issue......

A few months ago there was a publication I wrote on phasmid foodplants in Practical Reptile Keeping magazine: The Food Plants of Phasmids. I supplied a few photos of plants, but the editor added a few other photographs, one of them of a procsopid grasshopper. Particularly embarrassing as I wrote this blog post earlier in the year: Not a phasmid.....

The motto of this story is to always insist on seeing final page proofs!

Friday 29 October 2010

Species of the day: Lord Howe Island Phasmid

A piece I wrote on the Lord Howe Island Phasmid, Dryococelus australis, has been published as species of the day on the Natural History Museum website: Dryococelus australis.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Some endangered orthopteroids

The IUCN Grasshopper Specialist Group (that also covers other orthopteroid insect orders such as stick insects and mantids) has contributed a number of pages to the IUCN Red List Species of the Day. For a list so far please visit the GSG Species of the Day page.

Sunday 17 October 2010

How to make a human-cockroach hybrid... (aka strange cockroach porn)

This was sent to me by an esteemed colleague at a major institution, somewhere in the world, to follow up on some strange things on cockroaches and snails I found down the back of the internet.

It seems there may be quite a market for invertebrate-human pornography of various kinds.

Indeed the photograph above is taken from a post discussing some historical Japanese erotica, which is perhaps not for the faint of heart.

Just in case you think this is a new thing then check out this rather old example of inter-species love:

It turns out that people have desired, or at least thought about intimate relationships with impressive looking invertebrates for centuries.

Which doesn't make it OK, or less weird......

Sunday 26 September 2010

Eddie Izzard: Beekeeping

Something nice and light-hearted for a Sunday evening.

Thursday 23 September 2010

NHM Science Uncovered

Cockroach in Baltic amber
Originally uploaded by edwbaker

At tomorrow night's Science Uncovered event at the Natural History Museum David Nicholson and I will continue our quest to make people like cockroaches.

Come along and say hi, will be around fairly early on but I will be doing some more things with cockroaches at the end of the night with Vince Smith (who will be talking about parasitic lice).

You can also read a blog post I write for the event: Long live cockroaches, man's uninvited fellow travellers.

Sunday 22 August 2010

2010 AES Exhibition and Trade Fair

From the AES website (AES Annual Exhibition 2010):

"Celebrate the 75th anniversary of the the Amateur Entomologists' Society at our annual Annual Exhibition and Trade Fair.

This is the entomology show to attend. The show takes place at Kempton Park Racecourse near London and exhibitors and traders pack two floors of exhibition space.

The exhibition is open to members of the public and not just members of the AES. Should you wish to join the AES then you can do so on the day but you don't have to be a member to attend. Ticket prices are yet to be confirmed but are likely to be similar to the 2009 prices: £3 per adult and £1 per child. Tickets can be bought on the gate.

Traders include those selling books, equipment, livestock, specimens and food plants. In addition, the show is attended by most of the major invertebrate societies and organisations within the UK."

This is the best UK insect show for the general entomologist, and there will be lots of people selling live and dead specimens, equipment, books, etc. I plan to be there, and will probably be found at the Phasmid Study Group table.

NHM Volunteers

One of Erica's volunteers has written a post on her Curator of Diptera's blog. Since then we have been to Exmoor on fieldwork, I have put a few photos up on Flickr but there are more to come.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Some moths from Windsor

A list of moths found in Windsor by my friend and colleague Alessandro Giusti.

Apamae monoglypha
Idaea dimidiata
Crambus pascuella
Chrysoteuchia culmella
Idaea rusticata

Friday 20 August 2010

Heteropteryx Creation

A creation from Lisa Wood's Curiosities. The stick insect is an adult female Heteropteryx dilatata.

Thursday 12 August 2010

A pest of Hawthorn

Originally uploaded by edwbaker

This photo (and there are a few more on the Flickr stream) is of a Hawthorn bush that was infested with caterpillars of a moth from the family Yponeumetidae. Commonly called Ermine moths there are hundreds of species, and many of them form communal webs. When this photo was taken the caterpillars had already pupated.

The best guess at species is Yponomeuta padella.

Sunday 18 July 2010

Beetle Tea

Thanks to Max Barclay for posting the link to this on Facebook: Unusual Tea Additive. (Max thinks the beetle is liekly to be Gametis jucunda.)

It's always worth checking your food for insects, you might find something even better than this!

Saturday 3 July 2010

Insect Week

I have blogged about my National Insect Week activities over at the Pestival blog: Insect Week by Ed Baker.

Alexandra Palace BioBlitz

On Saturday, 5th June Heather Bonney and myself met up with colleagues Max Barclay and Conrad Gillet at the Alexandra Palace BioBlitz.

For those unfamiliar with the BioBlitz concept the idea is that scientists and the public descend en masse on a given area and identify as many species as possible. This event was organised by OPAL and was paqrt of BBC Springwatch's Wild Day Out festival.

Scientists from the Natural History Museum were there to identify species that other people had found, and lots of national and local wildlife charities and projects had interesting stands.

We found lots of species of beetle (hardly surprisng given we had Max and Conrad with us), hundreds of grasshopper nymphs, several damselflies and the odd newt.

There are some more photographs in my Flick set: Alexandra Palace BioBlitz

Friday 2 July 2010

Mantids of the Euro-Mediterranean Area

Just a brief post to announce that my Natural History Museum and Phasmid Study Group colleague Judith Marshall has co-authored this new book on the Praying Mantids of Europe and the Mediterranean. I have a copy and while I haven't had the time to get beyond the introductory chapters it is excellent (and lavishly illustrated with line drawings and photographs).

A must for anybody with a serious interest in this enigmatic order.

Saturday 19 June 2010

Nature Live: Insects Rule the World

I have a huge backlog of stuff to write about, although this is reasonably recent it is quick to get on here. This is a video of David Nicholson and I doing a Nature Live event at the Natural History Museum called 'Insects Rule the World', perhaps it should have been called 'Cockroaches Rule the World', but never mind!

David and I will be doing the talk again on Monday: Insects Rule the World 21/06/2010.

I have details of my past and present talks online: Talks by Ed Baker.

Saturday 12 June 2010

Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

I have been appallingly bad at keeping things up-to-date here, so this post comes from the distant past (the end of April this year could be a century ago in the blogosphere).

Lyme Regis is famous for its association with many fossils and fossil collectors. Among the collectors the most famous is Mary Anning, whose grave is in the village and can be visited (the organisers of the festival left a wreath on her grave).

As an unofficial delegation to the Fossil Festival (our frieds were more directly involved) we managed to spend a day collecting fossils with Phil from the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre (a friend of ours who used to work at the NHM).

Walking along the beach from Charmouth to Lyme Regis we collected various ammonites, belem
nites, a bivalve and what is (possibly) a fish skull.

Meanwhile in the marquee there was a hive of activity, stalls selling various fossils and minerals, art and craft activities for children, and a whole bunch of scientists and science educators from the NHM.

As well as various palaeontological activities Alessandro and Martin from the NHM's Entomology Department were there talking about insects alongside members of Butterfly Conservation.

There are some more photos of the event in my Flickr set Lyme Regis 2010.

Monday 31 May 2010

Pestival Blog

I was recently asked to blog on the Pestival website, an offer that I have accepted. But don't worry, Invertebrate Diaries will stay here, but in addition I will be blogging at ttp://

Monday 17 May 2010

Sao Paulo Collection Destroyed

Throughout the world many millions of natural history specimens are stored in flammable liquids. Just occasionally something incredibly tragic happens.

The Butantan Institute in Brazil is a leading research centre, which had over 85,000 specimens of snakes and nearly half a million spider and scorpions. Unfortunately it seems the building had no fire alarms or extinguishing systems.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

X-raying Goliathus Beetle

This is a bit of a 'dump all the links in one place' page for people who may be interested in the specimen of Goliathus goliathus that has most probably been shot.

The original article by Conrad Gillet is available in Scarabs:

"The obvious puncture marks and cracks breaching its armour are, I believe, tell-tale signs that the last thing this particular beast saw was the wrong end of a Victorian big game hunter’s blunderbuss!"

Max Barclay (Twitter) had pointed this out to me a while ago, and I introduced Max and Heather Bonney (Twitter) one evening in The Queen's Arms. Then the BBC got involved and the story became a bit of a hit (even if I have not been mentioned to date, anywhere!). Eventually we will write up a more scientific account of the story for publication.

It should be pointed out that there are some extra points that have not been published anywhere to date, and we would like to (and plan to) do some further investigations.

There are some Flickr photos I took while Heather and I figured out the best settings for the x-ray machine.

The Natural History Musuem's press release can be downloaded here: Who Shot Goliath.

Further press coverage is available here:
  • Metro
  • New Scientist - has stupid URL structure, you will need to go back to 11th March 2010 if they have added new images since I made this post.
We like publicising our science, and Twitter is great. Although sometimes I can't help thinking I should have paid more attention to Twitter at the time!

Please leave links to any missing resources as a comment!

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Cafe Scientifique

Cafe Scientifique
Originally uploaded by edwbaker
On the 6th April I gave a talk as part of the Cafe Scientifique series at the Photographers' Gallery in London, chaired by radio presenter and psychologist Claudia Hammond.

The main topic of the talk was the mimicry complex of phasmids mimicking leaves and twigs, their eggs mimicking seeds, the eggs being taken into ants nests to protect them from parasitic wasps that may mimic ants, and the hatchling phasmid nymphs mimicking ants.

We know very little about this system (even less than we know of the ecology of the stick insects and wasps), but I am keen to find out. (More about this later).

After the talk there was a question session which addressed some further points about mimicry, the danger of studying species in isolation from the species they interact with, and a bit about cockroaches (with some help from David Nicholson who I am doing some Nature Live talks with in May).

There are some more photographs of the event on my Flickr set Cafe Scientifique.

Monday 5 April 2010

Discovery News Stick Insect Fail

The video about the Giant Prickly stick insect on Discovery News has one major problem. Adult stick insects cannot regrow lost limbs.

Nymphs are capable of regrowing lost limbs, and over a period of moults it may even reach the same size as the normal adult legs. As adult phasmids no longer moult, they can no longer regrow shed limbs.

Saturday 3 April 2010

The Milk

The Milk
Originally uploaded by edwbaker
Several groups of people club together to purchase milk, coffee, biscuits etc. We have traditionally labelled everything 'Orth.' after orthopteroid insects. Looks like the hymenopterists have shamed us with this artisitic creation.

Thursday 25 March 2010

Bad Science Journalism

It's amazing how much science journalism doesn't quite cut the mustard (I love that phrase). I haven't even read the paper Geographic parthenogenesis and the common tea-tree stick insect of New Zealand yet - but I have some doubts about this article on Voxy: Sex? Female Stick Insects Can Take It Or Leave It.

For a start they have illustrated the article with a photograph of a praying mantis.

Monday 22 March 2010

Douglas Adams

Not much to do with inverts but a great and passionate communicator of science.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Giardia or Diardia?

I quite often get asked for information about insects that look like sticks but aren't stick insects. I rarely get asked about protozoans.

I recently got an e-mail asking for help controlling Diardia in somebody's water supply. Of course they don't actually have stick insects in their water supply (see The Myth of Semi-Aquatic Phasmids), but instead have the protozoan parasite Giardia.

Names are important, correct names more so!

Thursday 11 March 2010

Dressed Ants

ballerina ants
Originally uploaded by Tony Irwin's pics
Dressed fleas are quite a well known curiosity - but dressed ants?

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Coming soon: Museum of Life

A documentary about the Natural History Museum, London: Museum of Life.

Well worth a watch, I imagine.

Sunday 21 February 2010

The 'Of the day...' initiatives

As part of the 2010 Year of Biodiversity a number of institutions have started a 'Species of the Day' project to highlight biodiversity and their work. This is a partial list:

Not a phasmid...

Although it may seem superficially stick-insect like, this is not a phasmid, but a proscopid (a kind of grasshopper). They are found in South America, and unlike true stick insects they can jump. Other distinguishing characters are the forward-facing head, head-shape (eyes are situated well above the body) and the relatively long rear legs.

Although the differences are quite clear, a lot of people who should probably know better have been caught out over the years.

Although the cover of C. A. Ealand's book is beautiful, his knowledge of what makes a stick insect a stick insect is sadly flawed.

The close-up photo of the head of the stick insect is clealry actually a proscopid grasshopper: Head forward-facing (or vertical), eyes well above the body.

Despite this in the text the head of the Phasmidae is described as "nearly horizontal, generally quadrangular".

Some other inaccuracies are "they moult but twice" - in fact five is about average, between 4 and 7 common. I have never had confirmed reports of less than 4, but more than 7 is not that unusual - especially when the insects are poorly nourished.

I might write more about Ealand's account of the Phasmidae another time.

More recently in the first issue of the magazine Practical Reptile Keeping a photograph of a proscopid was used to illustrate an article on stick insects.

My final example is Slim from A Bug's Life - phasmid or proscopid?

Friday 19 February 2010

Account denied

My application to join the Phasmid Forum has been declined becuase I don't meet the membership criteria.

Perhaps I just don't know enough about them......

Incidentally the Phasmid Study Group forums have recently had a bit of a make over - and I'll be able to answer any queries you may have there.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Sunday 14 February 2010

Bug Chicks: Final Part

Snail Cartoon

I found this is the Continental Airlines magazine last April, apparently it's been reprinted from the New Yorker.

The bad condition comes from its trip around Champaign, Illinois and the jungles of Costa Rica.

Bugfest 5

A shout-out to you UK types living in the South-West, the next BugFestSW is on the 20th February. For more details check out the BugFest website.

Saturday 13 February 2010

The Bug Chicks Part 2: Spiders

The Bug Chicks

First of a new YouTube series... pretty basic stuff, but a good introduction (with lots of energy).

Mantis tries to catch mouse pointer

You have to feel slightly sorry for it really....

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Invertebrate Rearing

Last month I published the first issue of a new journal dedicated to invertabrate rearing, called (surprisingly) Invertebrate Rearing. The journal covers all aspects of keeping inveretbrates in captivity, whether it is for research or pleasure.

The first issue has articles on the Lesser Stag Beetle, Marmorkrebs and Portia, a fascinating Australian spider. Check out Volume 1 Issue 1.

Trachyaretaon brueckneri

Trachyaretaon brueckneri
Originally uploaded by edwbaker
One of the species I picked up from the Phasmid Study Group winter meeting. Trachyaretaon brueckneri is an easy species to keep that will feed readily on bramble.

I have kept this species before, but it's large size and relative docility make it a good choice for events (like Nature Live) where insects are handled in front of an audience.

Saturday 6 February 2010

Pestival Party

Last night I had the unexpected pleasure of going to a party in Russel Square at the Horse Hospial to celebrate the screening of a film about last year's Pestival event.

Having missed the film due to other plans I spent some time talking (and drinking) with Amoret Whitaker and Tessa Farmer who were both there and also maybe hatching some plans for an art/science collaboration type-thing (how vague).

Monday 1 February 2010

Species descriptions

Susan Perkins at Dechronization made a post about species descriptions, both in the post and the comments there are pleas for descriptions of new species to be as comprehensive as possible. This is a good thing. Yes, molecular work is great, but for many organisms some kind of morphological assessment is often extremely useful. It would be best to include molecular characters alongside the traditional drawings, measurements, photographs and everything else. Doing a species description well makes the lives of everyone else working on the group much, much easier.

Hermit Crabs feeding on coconut

taken earlier this year on Playa Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. Do any of you crab people want to have a go a go at an identification?

Thursday 28 January 2010

Tuesday 26 January 2010

The Phasmid Study Group and Livestock Exchange

I will write about the recent PSG Meeting once I have had a chance to photograph some of the species that I bought back from there. There are some photographs of the meeting online already: PSG Winter Meeting and AGM 2010.

The one thing that I would like to say outside of that report is a comment on the availability of livestock. The group has traditionally been the source of many species entering culture in Europe, mainly through the collecting efforts of its members. This has also helped develop the collections of many museums, in particular the Natural History Museum, London. In turn this has helped to facilitate the large amount of recent taxonomic work on this order.

The over-arching principle of this process has been free-exchange. You bring your surplus to the meeting, or send it to the livestock coordiantor, and in return you can get different species. This works well to an extent. it is also open to abuse, with people taking livestock and never contributing any in return, or taking livestock and selling it to others. I imagine a fair few people take species they don't have the experience to keep and the culture suffers as a result.

So, I aks all of you (not just PSG members), do you think anything can be done to help this situation? Please reply with ideas or comments, or e-mail me.

Large scale cockroach farming

Well, large enough to keep your reptiles fed....

This was posted on The Cockroach Forum, which is incidentally probably the best place for all you 'roach lovers and breeders to hang out and ask questions.

Saturday 16 January 2010

Rational Mantis

Combining my love of insects with a passion for reason. Awesome.

Friday 15 January 2010

New cricket species filmed pollinating orchids

Read the story (and get a better version of the video) at BBC News: New cricket species filmed pollinating orchids.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Calendar has arrived...

As I mentioned in a previous post, I ordered the StickTalk calendar which included my image of Eucles bifasciatus. Well, it has arrived!

I promised I'd review it, so here goes. Positive things first - it is printed on high quality card and the design is pretty professional. Some of the photographs however leave a great deal to be desired technically. It's good to have the insect in focus (preferably all/most of it in focus). This isn't the case in some cases, and it's a shame.

In fact it's not a shame, it's a travesty. There were some submissions that are excellent pictures but they didn't get included. I can only assume this is a product of the system of voting - perhaps next time it would be good to have a judging panel instead?

I'm aware this may sound like some sort of snobbery - but it's not. I'm the first to keep out of focus images, they can be useful (good enough to ID a species, a visual record of observations, etc), I just wouldn't have them on display around my desk.

On a slightly differnet note - we may have some examples of the first of the new Phasmid Study Group t-shirts and polo shirts at the meeting - assuming that they arrive on time!

Monday 11 January 2010

Insect Humour*

*humour as defined by entomologists at the recent Entomological Society of America meeting.

Looking back at 2009

In a brief editorial to the latest Phasmid Study Group Newsletter I said that for phasmatologists it had been a good year with several major papers (I will say something about the partial review of Phyllium by Hennemann et al soon), a field guide to the Australian stick and leaf insects by Paul Brock (I reviewed it here), and a number of new species bought into culture.

Personally it's also been good, in particular a trip to Costa Rica but also e-Biosphere, work on the Blattodea SpeciesFile, visiting the SpeciesFile team and a new job at the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature.

In the blogosphere (bugosphere?) we have seen new offers from Erica McAlister (Curator of Diptera's Blog) and a student blog from the entomologists at the University of Illinois (I went there this year too).

So despite what you may hear or feel, there are still some good, new and exciting things happening in the world of insects.

Sunday 3 January 2010

Phasmid Calendar

The guys at StickTalk have put together a calendar of members' photographs, including one I took while in Costa Rica last year. I have just ordered my copy - I will review it when it arrives. My contribution is shown below.