Friday, January 16, 2015

Lab logo

A glorious new lab logo designed by Ainsley Seago @americanbeetles.

 
If you want a T-shirt with the same design, these are available for sale here http://teespring.com/staph until Jan 31.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Twitter to the rescue

A short story on how twitter (and specifially Lu Musetti ‏@osuc_curator) really helped a lot with a project today, despite my obvious typo on the original tweet.

Head and pronotum of Triacrus dilatus
I have been working on a project to redescribed Triacrus dilatus Nordmann and at the same time we are doing some fancy allometry work with them. These are fascinating beasts because according to the literature they live (and attack) with paper wasps. Wassman (1902) pointed out that they live in the nests of Polybia vicina Sauss. and later Kistner (1982) in his monster chapter (222 pages long!) "The social insects' bestiary" refer to the wasp genus as Stenopolybia.

I have been trying to find out information about that wasp for a long time, but Google was not returning many results -- a clear indication that something was sketchy, but who am I to doubt Kistner, right?

But as shown above, the name Stenopolybia  is typo of the genus name Stelopolybia, which was synonymized by Carpenter (1999) with the genus Agelaia.

So, the correct name of the wasp is Agelaia vicina, a wasp used as a keystone species in southern Brazil and with its own wikipedia page. 

Now, who said again that Twitter is a waste of time for academics?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sabbatical projects

My sabbatical officially starts Monday (first day of classes for the Spring semester), so I decided to put here a list of projects/papers I want to finish by August 1. The main reason for putting these up here, in public, is to try to keep myself honest more than anything else.

So in no particular order:

1. NSF pre proposal submission

This should be straight forward to accomplish, considering that the pre proposal is written. All I have to do is coordinate with the local grants office and get final approvals.

2. Revision of Smilax (not the plant :))

Currently, there are four species in the genus. This is a complicated revision because I have no access to two of the types, for reasons I am not going to address here. But I have accumulated almost all other specimens from museum around the world, and done a lot of the prep work already. Smilax species are myrmecophiles, known to occur in leaf cutter ant nests and there are a lot of bizarre (and potentially belonging to new species) specimens.


3. #365papers

An idea I got online from the twitter feed of Meg Duffy (@duffy_ma) to try to read one (new to me) paper every day. For as much as I am emphasizing the primary literature to my students, it is amazing how many days can go by without reading a paper.






4. Description of a new genus with multiple new species from South America.

This is the taxon listed as "Undescribed" genus in the phylogeny of Chatzimanolis 2014 and potentially the sister group of Isanopus. I have been accumulating materials for three years now and I doubt I could (easily) locate many more specimens without extensive field work. So I am pretty confident that this is the time to describe the taxon.

5. Research trip to Copenhagen

I plan to visit Copenhagen in March to meet many fellow rove beetle systematists. I am really looking forward to this trip because there are a few projects waiting to be finished, several new project/grant ideas to be discussed and cool types in the Fabricius collection to look over. Could I have Skyped in the whole thing? No. One week of one-one interactions is way beyond Skype can offer. Plus, when I travel I tend to focus 100% on the discussion/projects ahead, while staying here does not have the same effect.

6. Review of Phanolinopsis

Currently a monotypic genus but at least two more undescribed species and couple of other species that need to be transferred here from other genera.

7. Allometry in Triacrus?


The question mark here means that I really do not know if this is an actual project. We have taken a lot of measurements and compared males and females but we have not done any statistical analyses yet, so... to be determined I guess. I got the idea for this project when I received a box of ~20 specimens from the Natural History Museum in Vienna with amazing size differences among different males. These are interesting beetles because they are predatory of larvae of wasps and they can only be found in the refuse piles of these wasps.






8. New species in Scaponopselaphus

There are a couple new species in this enigmatic genus from South America. "This should be an easy paper to write". The last time I said that (actually I did not, my graduate advisor did) back in 2000, I ended up describing 17+ new species for a genus I thought there were just one or two more new species to describe.

So here they are, five papers, one research trip and (at least) one grant proposal. Probably overly optimistic. And these are the projects where I am the first author, there are a few others where I have a lesser role and I am not mentioning them here. I will make sure I will report back in August on how I did with all these.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Collection growth


Here is a picture of Gillian adding a few hundred specimens of fully curated and databased beetles to our research collection. One of these days we will make our database accessible through the web but for now we can accommodate any requests for specimens with email.  

UPDATE 12/10/2014: The beetle collection is now online as part of the Symbiota Collection of Arthropods Network and can be searched here

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Lots of new projects going on

It's been a while since I posted anything here - the semester classes and other writing caught up with me. But just wanted to post a quick note saying that we have many new exciting projects going on.

Photo by Jaimie Davis/UTC
Above is a photo of Max who is doing a massive photographic project of xanthopygine rove beetles. Max is also working with me on a morphological allometry project, but more details on that soon.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ten facts about rove beetles

I wrote a small blog post hosted by Christopher Buddle at Expiscor.  The post is about what I thought were 10 really cool things about rove beetles. Go read it here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Celebrating synonymies in taxonomy

Taxonomists like to celebrate every new species described. If it happens that one described a new species after a famous person or a particular feature of a famous person, then our papers get a lot of media attention, which (trust me) is a good thing.

However, as taxonomists we also tend to propose a lot of synonymies, i.e. recognize that a previously proposed taxon has already been described, or perhaps that it belonged to a different genus, family, or order [yes, once I transferred a taxon from Coleoptera to Dermaptera]. Unfortunately, we do not emphasize synonymies because we see this as just correcting past mistakes or perhaps as a decrease in the number of species for a taxon. The latter argument is of course wrong because synonymies decrease the number of names for a species, and do not produce a net decrease in the number of species. Proposing synonymies is really important in taxonomy because it really helps in making order out of chaos. And do not start me on how much taxonomists contribute to chaos formation...

One of my all-time-favorite papers was written by Vladimir Gusarov while he was a postdoc at the University of Kansas. In that paper Vladimir proposed more than 100 synonymies of aleocharinae rove beetles, cleaning up the mess of aleocharinae taxonomists for the last 200 years.

So, I recently started counting how many synonymies I have proposed. The number (20) is not as impressive as the number of new taxa I have described, but to be honest, I get much greater joy for every new synonymy proposed, than for every new species described.