I have been an amateur entomologist since childhood – in fact for as long as I can remember I have been turning over stones and catching things. I have always had an intense curiosity and a need to identify things.
Like most budding entomologists, I started with butterflies and then moved onto moths – spending 12 years doing a personal moth-trapping project on my local nature reserve. Around 1998 I decided that I needed to stretch my knowledge a bit more and started to look at other orders – namely Diptera & Hymenoptera.
After a year or so dabbling with hoverflies I put myself on the Parasitic Hymenoptera course at Imperial College and this grounded my knowledge of entomology, taxonomy and insect curation while opening my eyes to the wonderful world of parasitoids! I spent a few years studying parasitica before going on the Dipterist’s Forum Tachinid Workshop, run by Robert Belshaw. While on this course I realised that tachinids were much easier to study than parasitica, because there is a good, comprehensive key, and there was nobody in the UK specialising in them.
After a few discussions I teamed up with Matt Smith (a local entomological consultant and good friend) to form the UK Tachinid Recording Sceme. Since then I have been improving my knowledge of the group in my spare time while promoting them amongst other entomologists and working to make the family easier to study. The first part of this was to create a website for the scheme to hold keys and articles that pull together lots of disparate sources and provide a one-stop-shop for anyone who wants to study tachinids in the UK. I also teamed up with Rotraud Rayner and together we translated the Central European key from German into England and this important resource is now available for download from our website – free of charge and with the kind permission of the author, Peter Tschorsnig.
Recently I have tried to broaden my knowledge of world tachinids by networking with other dipterists in Europe and America. I have taken on samples from places as far apart as Russia, Finland & Portugal and in exchange for the specimens I have provided the collectors with identifications.
My latest and most ambitious project started when I visited French Guiana and took away some Malaise trapped tachinids. They sat in a box until the horrendous, wet summer of 2008 (when I hardly left the house!) when an idea realized itself. Instead of trying to identify the specimens to species (an extremely difficult task in the neotropics due to the vast number of species, the lack of keys and the confused nature of the taxonomy) I would sort them into taxon-groups. These groups would just be as close to “species” as I could get, based on my limited knowledge of the fauna, and using keying features present in Palearctic keys. I teamed up with Jean Cerda & Odette Morvan (entomologists who live in the Mtn de Kaw region of French Guiana) and they have very generously agreed to provide me with Malaise trap samples.
Much of this blog will be dedicated to my findings.