So I recently moved to Finland to start my post-doc. It’s all been a bit crazy what with trying to write up, publish a bunch of papers and fit all my worldly belongings into two suitcases. Well, actually, it’s still a bit crazy but nothing motivates you to write blog posts like procrastination so here goes!

I’ve joined Johanna Mappes’ lab and I’m going to be working on variation in chemical protection in the wood tiger moth. Here is a photo of a wood tiger moth. Aren’t they cute? They definitely help make up for having to say goodbye to all my old lab pets (sob).

I did not take this photo, I stole it off a co-workers fb page
I did not take this photo, I stole it off a co-workers fb page.

So I will have to think of a new name for this blog (and my twitter feed). Not that it’s urgent, this is not exactly an active website ūüôā

Also Finland is awesome, not sure about their coffee though…

The view from the bridge to my department


Baby mantids

Since this blog has just turned into “pictures of lab pets” here are some blurry photos of baby mantids!

I did eventually have to separate these guys as they just wouldn’t stop eating each other. Unfortunately, there were a few I didn’t have pots for so I ended up with a sort of mantid hunger games. I have named the survivor Katniss.

march 2014 027 march 2014 029march 2014 026


My trip to PopGroup got off to a shaky start this year when a ‚Äúpotentially suspicious‚ÄĚ package shut down Edinburgh Airport ¬†hours before we were due to fly to Bristol. Thus, while everyone else was drinking wine in the roman baths, we were stuck in a hotel lobby waiting for updates via twitter. Eventually we were allowed back in the airport and made it to Bath around 1am.

Despite this, the conference was very enjoyable. The venue (the Assembly rooms) was beautiful and conveniently placed a short walk from the centre of Bath and the long lunch breaks gave us ample time to get out into the city. We even had a bit of sunshine!

Bath Abbey

The quality of the talks was very high (I feel like everyone always says this about conferences, but it is true!) My favourite was the plenary given by Dr Lilach Hadany on stress-induced variation. She talked about the ways in which stress-induced recombination, dispersal and mutation can all spread through populations. The idea being that individuals of low fitness (that are therefore stressed) have more to gain from changing their phenotype than successful individuals. Thus, ‚Äúthe living dead can take any risk‚ÄĚ. I also liked Krzysztof Kozak‚Äôs talk on the non-hybrid origin of the butterfly Heliconius hermathena. The talk pretty much does what it says on the tin, despite its hybrid phenotype, genotypic evidence suggests that the species is not the result of hybridisation at all. Instead its characteristic zebra pattern may be ancestral, or have evolved multiple times.

As for prizes, the Scottish universities clearly came out on top. The prizes for best student and best post-doc talk went to Sam Lewis and Susan Johnston respectively. The prize for best post-doc poster also went to Edinburgh. In fact the student poster prize was the only one to go to a different university, as I won it! A clear indication of the value of summing up you findings clearly and succinctly, even if they are not what you were hoping for.

My winning poster.

Finally, the conference dinner was delicious and the live band very impressive. I only wish I could say the same for the DJ! At least he did his bit for the local pubs of Bath by forcing us all out of the venue in search of better music.

Look! Sunshine!
I forget their name but they were very good.
The live band.

Baby snails

Our lab tech keeps Giant African Land Snails and today some of her eggs hatched. I was going through the photos I took of them when I realised I had taken so many I had effectively filmed one of them them in stop-motion.

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I’ve also cleaned a few of them up and added the to the lab pet gallery. We’ll all be getting baby snails in our christmas stockings this year!

Mantid Mating!

We’ve just had the second (apparently) successful pairing in our lab preying mantis population and this time we had a camera handy!¬† The female is Victory and the male is Suicide.¬† Victory caught and ate three locust during the course of the copulation but thankfully all her jumping around didn’t seem to deter Suicide.

Spiders and other peoples’ photos

Quite some time ago I set out to learn how to keep and breed jumping spiders. Well, despite the complete romantic incompetence displayed by the late Baby, my two female Plexippus petersi each produced several clutches of eggs and I am now swimming in spiderlings. I recently gave some of them away to a fellow PhD student Tom Houslay who is (thankfully) a far better photographer than I am. To see photos of the babies, as well as many other awesome spiders, check out his Flickr page here.


At long last all but one of our mantids have reached adulthood.¬† A couple came through their final moult a little odd (we think the humidity was a bit low) but all are eating well and will soon be ready to mate.¬† The sex ratio is a bit male-biased, but we have three females so with a bit of luck that will be enough to get our colony going (it also means it’s not so much of a problem if a few males get eaten along the way). Here are some lovely photos courtesy of Paris Veltsos.

Yet more spiders

The last few weekends I’ve been helping out at an outreach event at the Bell Pettigrew Museum.¬†The event, Gardenlife: biodiversity in urban gardens, is part of the British Ecological Society’s Centenary Festival of Ecology and is designed to get children interested in the awesome little creatures you can find in your garden. It means I get paid to run around with sweep nets and pooters catching insects and spiders to bring back to the museum for identification.

One of the coolest finds so far has been a rather unfortunate cucumber spider.


As you can see the little guy has been parasitised by a wasp (probably a Pimplinae of some sort but don’t quote me on that). The spider is still very much alive as the larva will eat around its vital organs in order to avoid killing it for as long as possible. My plan is to keep the spider until the wasp pupates as I’ll have a better chance of identifying it then.

Overall it’s been an unlucky week for spiders as my male Plexippus petersi¬†Baby died two days ago. While sad, this has given me an opportunity to get some shots of him under the microscope (a previously impossible task).¬† One of his close-ups is below and I’ve added the rest to the gallery.


Lab pet update

Our Ampulex wasps arrived yesterday!  They are so pretty!







Rapacious has reached adulthood!  Hopefully the other mantids will soon do the same and we can aim to start breeding them in August.


We now have a controlled temperature room.  The plan is to move the mantids plus some of our other lab pets into there to free up incubator and bench space.

Our current set-up in the incubator
Our current set-up in the incubator
The new CT room
The new CT room