Deal or no deal


by Darren Mann, Head of Life Collections

In a previous article on this blog I reported the discovery, in an insect collection, of the 21st British specimen of the ‘Regionally Extinct dung beetle Melinopterus punctatosulcatus. And since then, I’ve been on the hunt for more…

Heading out to numerous other museum collections I discovered more specimens, all collected in the same locality – Deal in Kent. In Ipswich Museum there are six, collected by C. Morley in 1896; there are two in the Natural History Museum, London, collected by G.C. Champion; and in the Museum of Zoology, Cambridge there are two collected by G.C. Hall in 1883.

Ipswich Museum
A view through the microscope of Melinopterus punctatosulcatus held in the collections of Ipswich Museum, collected by C. Morley in 1896

But the earliest and most recent finds are both in the National Museum of Scotland – one from May 1871, in the G.R. Waterhouse collection, and one from 1923, in the T. Hudson-Beare collection. So now we know of 42 specimens of this beetle with data and we know that the species occurred at Deal for about 50 years. But why are there no records after this time?

The Deal sandhills in Kent were famous for their insects, but even as long ago as 1900 entomologists* were discussing the negative impact of “summer camping-out stations and the modern craze for the ‘Royal and Ancient Game of Golf'” on beetles and butterflies in the area.

Today, most of the sandhills are gone and there are no grazing animals other than a few rabbits. Most of the surrounding land is either developed as a golf course or under agricultural management. So, is the possible local extinction of this dung beetle due to habitat loss and a lack of dung?

Deal, Kent: the original locality for Melinopterus punctatosulcatus, with remnants of the sandhills in the distance

To try and answer this question, naturally I went looking for poop in Deal. In a field in Sandwich Bay I could hear sheep bleating in the distance, although poo was scarce. Eventually I found a few old plops and inside were ten Calamosternus granarius, a small dung beetle. This was good, but my main target was Melinopterus punctatosulcatus.

Melinopterus punctatosulcatus edit
A specimen from the Museum of Melinopterus punctatosulcatus, previously listed as ‘Regionally Extinct’ in Britain, but now rediscovered in Deal, Kent

I probed the poop further. To my delight, crowded in the remaining squishy bit were four other species. On close inspection, one of these was hairy, so a male, and much darker than its close relatives. It fitted perfectly with my expectations for Melinopterus punctatosulcatus after seeing so many examples in museum collections. Success! This beetle, misidentified in museum collections for so long, and not seen since the 1920s in Deal, is indeed hanging on in Kent.

Disappointingly, after a further few days of searching, only a handful more specimens were seen. This suggests that either the species exists at low population levels, or that it was it was not the peak emergence period when I was there. Nonetheless, a species not recorded anywhere in the UK for over 70 years is actually still here.

Now hopefully we can encourage local land owners to help conserve this all-important dung fauna and flora.

* Walker, J.J. 1900. The Coleoptera and Hemiptera of the Deal Sandhill. Entomologist Monthly Magazine 36: 94-101.

Carnivore conservation

A new choose-your-own-adventure board game created by researchers from the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology puts players centre-stage in a global carnivore conservation challenge. The educational game is launching a Kickstarter fundraising campaign today and here co-designer Dr Cedric Tan tells us all about it…

Have you ever wondered what it’s like being a conservation biologist? We have spent the past year creating and testing a brand new board game – The WildCRU Game: Global Carnivore Conservation – that reveals some of the challenges faced by conservationists, the animals themselves, and the indigenous people who live with them. We’re now looking to get the game out to schools and communities all across the world with a £40,000 Kickstarter funding campaign featuring lots of rewards and discounts for our backers.

The game has been co-designed by Jennifer Spencer and myself to appeal to non-scientists and people of different ages. Players work together cooperatively as WildCRU researchers to gather the resources to complete carnivore conservation projects across the globe.

Stories in the game are taken directly from the real experiences of the WildCRU team. Players must decide what to do in choose-your-own-adventure-style encounters to gather the equipment, personnel, and transport resources they need for their projects.

In developing this game, we chose six varied WildCRU projects including the Hwange Lion Research project, based in Zimbabwe, and the famous water vole study in the UK, to show players the breadth of WildCRU’s research.
– Co-designer Jennifer Spencer, WildCRU

Multiple choice research questions are also based on real WildCRU research; they reveal more about the environment of each project – the flora, herbivores, competitor carnivores, and study species of the study sites. With the additional pressure of Global Events, players will learn about how difficult wildlife conservation projects can be.

It has been great to see that the game appeals to both kids and adults. People have found it to be an immersive experience in which players experience the challenges of real people, real situations and real research. We also hope that the game will provide local families with the opportunity to learn about the wildlife around them, and how to live in harmony alongside it.

Through the game and our other education efforts we’re hoping to increase environmental awareness and to introduce a wide variety of people to the science and processes behind real-world conservation.

Images and video: Laurie Hedges (