Entomology Department


Re-storage of part of the Entomology collection

30 September 2016

The Entomology Department of the National Museum has a rapidly growing collection of Afrotropical flies, generated through recent field work excursions in Southern, Central and East Africa, comprising over 35 000 dry-pinned specimens, making this the second largest collection of flies in Africa.  The study of these specimens is being actively encouraged through the loan of material to specialist researchers worldwide, especially to contributors to the forthcoming Manual of Afrotropical Diptera.

In line with this development, the entire Diptera collection has now been re-housed in purpose-built glass-topped drawers with a new cardboard unit tray system.  This brings curation of the collection to international standards.  Three 40-drawer cabinets have been constructed and others will follow, allowing re-organising of the ants, bees, wasps, ant lions and true bugs.  This is linked to the transfer of existing collection information to the relational database Specify 6.

Multidisciplinary international expedition to KwaZulu-Natal Province

10 February 2015

Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs, curator of Entomology and Dr Vaughn Swart, University of the Free State, organized a 20-day multidisciplinary international expedition to KwaZulu-Natal Province (19 November–8 December 2014). Fieldwork was conducted at Royal Natal National Park and Ndumo Game Reserve.

The expedition comprised 18 participants namely Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs and Ms Eunice Letsobe (National Museum) – sampling of Diptera and Hymenoptera in general; Mr Burgert Muller and Mrs Chrizelda Stoffels (KwaZulu-Natal Museum, Pietermaritzburg) –sampling of Diptera in general and soil-inhabiting arthropods; Prof. Steve Marshall (University of Guelph, Canada) –capturing images of living flies for use in the forthcoming Manual of Afrotropical Diptera; Dr Ben Price and Ms Elizabeth Allan (Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom) – sampling of aquatic insects, including Odonata; Dr Steen Dupont (Natural History Museum, London) – sampling of Lepidoptera in general; Dr Daniel Whitmore (Natural History Museum, London), Dr Peter Kerr, Dr Shaun Winterton and Ms Laura Breitkreuz (California State Collection of Arthropods, United States) – sampling of fruit flies (Tephritidae) of economic significance; Dr Vaughn Swart and Ms Tanya Smit (University of the Free State) - sampling of Araneae and insects in general for use in student practicals; Dr Johann van As and Ms Michelle van As (University of the Free State, Qwaqwa Campus) – insect-borne pathogens of reptiles, using blood samples; Dr Courtney Cook and Mr Edward Netherlands (North-West University, Potchefstroom) – amphibian and reptilian insect-borne pathogens, using blood samples.

Back row (from left):Courtney Cook, Ashley Kirk-Spriggs, Burgert Muller, Laura Breitkreuz, Stephen Marshall, Edward Netherlands, Vaughn Swart, Peter Kerr, Daniel Whitmore, Benjamin Price, Steen Dupont, Shaun Winterton. Front row (from left): Eunice Letsobe; Johann van As; Michelle van As; Tanya Smit; Chrizelda Stoffels; Elizabeth Allan.


Belgian researchers visit Entomology Department

30 October 2014
Dr Marc De Meyer and Kurt Jordaens
Dr Marc De Meyer (seated) and Kurt Jordaens

Dr Marc De Meyer (seated) and Kurt Jordaens from the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, visited the Entomology Department in October.  They are working on a project that involves identification of the Museum's recently collected material of the fly family Syrphidae, and removal of legs for DNA extraction and analysis.  The information obtained will feed into a larger phylogeny of the Afrotropical syphid flies.

International Congress of Dipterology

22 October 2014

Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs (Curator of Entomology) attended the 8th International Congress of Dipterology held in Potsdam in Germanyon 10–15 August 2014.  He presented four papers (the most presented by any Congress delegate) and also organized and moderated the symposium: Diptera biogeography – patterns and processes.  Dr Kirk-Spriggs is currently a member of Council of the International Congresses of Dipterology, and was elected as Secretary and Treasurer at the first meeting of Council.


During this meeting Dr Kirk-Spriggs presented a bid for Africa to host the next Congress in 2018.  The bid was successful, and ICD9 will be held in Windhoek, Namibia, 25–30 November 2018.  Dr Kirk-Spriggs is Chair and ICD Council representative.



Progress on the Manual of Afrotropical Diptera

22 October 2014

Major progress has been made this year with the forthcoming Manual of Afrotropical Diptera.  This prestigious project was instigated by Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs (Curator of Entomology), who is also Editor-in-Chief)  This book, which will be published in three volumes by SANBI is a collaboration of over 90 international experts on flies, and is the first-ever synopsis of the 119 families of flies known from the Afrotropical Region.  The book includes 13 introductory chapters and 106 chapters dealing with individual fly families.  Each family chapter includes a diagnosis, discussions on biology and immature stages, economic importance, classification, identification to the generic level, as well as a synopsis of each genus.  This work provides the basics for understanding the diversity of a major order of insects in a large tropical region and is the first such synopsis of its kind for any major insect order occurring in the Afrotropics.

Specimens of a rare family of flies discovered in the Western Cape

3 December 2013

Yuchen Ang collecting Thaumaleidae from a rock seepage. Photo by Steve Marshall

Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs undertook field work in the Western Cape in September 2013 with Dr Stephen Marshall (Canada) and Yuchen Ang (Singapore).  A major discovery was specimens of the rare fly family Thaumaleidae, known as Seepage midges or Trickle midges, from the Cederberg Moutnains. The family is confined to temperate zones, normally in hilly or mountainous regions.  In South Africa it is known only from the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal and Buffalo River in the Eastern Cape Province. Larvae and adults are associated with seepages on wet rock faces and are rarely collected.  The specimens represent a new species of the genus Afrothaumalea and are currently being studied by Dr Bradley Sinclair (Canada), who is the specialist on the group.

 Steve Marshall
Adult of the rare fly family Thaumaleidae photographed in the Cederberg. Photo by Steve Marshall

Fieldwork in the Western Cape, South Africa

22 September 2013

Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs, Curator of Entomology, conducted fieldwork in the Western Cape Province in October 2012. This fieldwork represents collaboration between Dr. Pierfilippo Cerretti (Sapienza Universitá di Roma, Rome, Italy), Dr. Jim O’Hara (Canadian National Collection of Insects, Ottawa, Canada), Dr. John Stireman and Dr. Isaac Winkler (both Wright State University, Dayton, USA); three of whom are authors on the systematic chapter on the fly family Tachinidae for the forthcoming Manual of Afrotropical Diptera. The broad aim of the project was to obtain suitably-preserved specimens of the family Tachinidae from the Afrotropical Region for the extraction and sequencing of DNA. The Curator participated in this project, in order to undertake general sampling and to build the Diptera and Hymenoptera collections.

As the collecting focus of the working group was predominantly “hill-topping” for tachinid flies, it was only possible to collect by sweeping at many of these sites, but Malaise traps were deployed at three sites where the group was based for two or more days, namely at: Anysberg Nature Reserve, Gamkaskloof (Die Hel) and at West Coast National Park. Gamkaskloof (Die Hel), an isolated, heavily vegetated river valley, in particular, proved extremely productive for flies.

Dr. Ashley Kirk-Spriggs
Dr. Ashley Kirk-Spriggs servicing a 6 metre Malaise trap at Anysberg Nature Reserve ©Jim O’Hara.

Welcome to Hell! Gamkaskloof (Die Hel). This richly vegetated valley provided the best sampling of the trip ©Jim O’Hara.

Dr. Pierfilippo Cerretti and Dr. Jim O’Hara
Dr. Pierfilippo Cerretti and Dr. Jim O’Hara on their “sweepstake” in Die Hel ©Jim O’Hara.

Dr. Isaac Winkler and Dr. John Stireman
Dr. Isaac Winkler (checking his “net income”) and Dr. John Stireman (“Out of Africa”) ©Jim O’Hara.

Entomology receives SABIF funding for digitization

23 January 2013

The Entomology Department of the National Museum was in receipt of a “Seed Funding for Digitisation Grant” from SABIF in early 2013. This funding is enabling digitisation of our extensive collection of Coleoptera (beetles), which currently comprises over 153 000 specimens. The collection is significant both in its geographical scope and as the largest collection of beetles from the Free State Grasslands. Ms. Eunice Letsobe was employed in January 2013 to undertake the digitisation, and over a period of 12 months 26 000 individual specimens will be fully digitised, for later transfer to Specify 6. This is also enabling full re-curation of the material and transfer to newly-constructed glass-topped insect drawers with unit trays.

Ms Eunice Letsobe
Ms. Eunice Letsobe

Drawer of beetles

Fieldwork in Namibia and Zambia

17 January 2013

Dr Daniel Whitmore, Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs and Dr Steve Marshall
Dr Daniel Whitmore, Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs and Dr Steve Marshall
Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs, Curator of Entomology, undertook fieldwork in the Caprivi Region of Namibia and Zambia in November/December 2012, with two overseas visitors: Dr Steve Marshall (University of Guelph, Canada) and Dr Daniel Whitmore (Zoological Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark). Dr Marshall is one of the world’s leading fly photographers and his main objective was to obtain suitable images of living flies for use as frontispiece illustrations for systematic chapters in the Manual of Afrotropical Diptera. Dr Whitmore was focusing on the collection of flesh flies of the fly family Sarcophagidae for revisionary studies of the group. Ashley focused on the general sampling of Diptera and Hymenoptera using Malaise traps, baited hanging traps, mercury vapour light trapping and the deployment of lure-baited fruit fly traps.

Dr Steve Marshall capturing images of living flies on the Zambezi River.
Dr Steve Marshall capturing images of living flies on the Zambezi River.










Examples of Dr Steve Marshall’s images of living flies for use in the Manual (both from Aardvark burrows (Auchmeromyia bequaerti and Pachychoeromyia praegrandis).

Flesh flies
© Steve Marshall

Demonstration of Specify 6

11 September 2012

Curators and collection managers depend on reliable and user-friendly databases to store information regarding their objects and specimens and to keep track of loans to other institutions.  Various databases are currently in use, but it is desirable to have a single database, which could in future be web-based, for all the natural history collections in the Museum.  Dr Willem Coetzer (South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity; SAIAB) demonstrated Specify 6 to all concerned staff at the National Museum.  Specify 6 is a relational database tailored to suit natural history collections.  It is a freely available and is already widely used in other museums in South Africa and worldwide.  Data from part of the Entomology collection (four insect orders) and the entire Arachnology database have already been migrated to Specify 6 by Willem and Brigit Davis, who provided training in the use of the program to relevant staff.