It is a line that many budding entomologists fear to cross. Even some of the established figures in British entomology are not prepared to go there. I’m talking about dissection, gen-detting, whipping their nadgers out … genitalia dissection.
True, most of the time it’s just a bit of a chore. But it makes identification of many beetles much quicker and much more accurate than making difficult judgements about, say, the relative breadth of the pronotum.
Occasionally, dissection reveals structures that really are a marvel to behold. I well remember a lunchtime conversation in a busy pub nearly 20 years ago with Brian Eversham and an aleocharine staphylinid expert: let’s call him “Mike”. I think I was probably expressing disbelief that anyone could find the will to try and identify such horrible little beetles, let alone dissect them. Mike’s response, delivered for all in the bar to hear, was “But under the microscope THE FEMALE GENITALIA ARE ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS!!” The next few moments were mortifying but gradually the hubbub of bar conversation returned.
Gyrophaena is a genus of 19 British species of small aleocharine staphylinids that breed in rotting fungi. The male genitalia are truly extraordinary in this genus. I look at these and wonder why all these hooks, corkscrews and knobbles have evolved and what function they perform? I guess they must make it difficult or impossible for a male of one species to mate with a female of another, like trying to fit a key into the wrong lock. All four of the Gyrophaena species pictured below were found in a single tuft of oyster mushrooms.
Oh yes, and in case you’re wondering about the title of this blog … when I told my wife I was writing a blog about genitalia, she said “Jenny who?”