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Research Insights Q & A – Luna Thomas

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What is your place of study? 

I am a PhD student at the University of Otago in the zoology department. I am studying the mating behaviour of the endemic stag beetle Geodorcus helmsi.  

 

Tell us about your visit 

My visit was fascinating! The University of Otago has a large number of stag beetles in their collection! I was able to get localities off of them, which will allow me to get a better picture of their range. I was also able to get a better understanding of the variation in the morphology across this group. I was also able to measure all of the beetles and obtain images that I can use to determine if there are major and minor morphs! 

 

Why did you visit Otago Museum? 

Museums hold an incredible diversity of insects! Many of the specimens in the Otago Museum insect collection are from Southland and Fiordland, which is the range for G. helmsi. I wanted to collect measurements for all specimens of Geodorcus in the Museum. This is particularly useful for beetles as they are so sturdy that they aren’t as affected by dehydration or age as other insects may be. I also intend to go to several other entomological museums in New Zealand to look at their Geodorcus specimens. 

 

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What do you hope to achieve from your research visit here? 

My PhD is focused on the mating behaviour of G. helmsi. But an important part of the life cycle for any animals with exaggerated morphology is how they use them. Stag beetles use their enlarged mandibles in contests with each other over access to mates. For stag beetles, the mandibles start to grow during the final larval stage when specialized cells start to rapidly grow. The amount that these mandibles grow is largely based on larval nutrition. So a larva that had a particularly nutritious diet is able to invest more in their mandibles than a larva whose diet may have had fewer nutrients. But these smaller (or minor) males, that aren’t very good at fighting with their larger (or major) competitors, may use alternative tactics to gain access to females. By looking at museum specimens and taking measurements of specific body parts, we are able to make hypotheses about whether this species uses alternative mating tactics. 

 

Why do you love science, or in your case, zoology? 

My love of zoology comes from when I was growing up. I lived in Africa for a significant part of my childhood and while I was there I was able to see and interact with all kinds of amazing insects. From then on, all I wanted to do is find out more about this magical world. Zoology is also a very hands-on science that allows you to observe animals and start asking questions about their biology and behaviour