Chris Guggiari-Peel, Laura Kor and Eleanor Drinkwater

Chris Guggiari-Peel, Laura Kor and Eleanor Drinkwater

Exeter filmmaker documents search for mysterious beetle

An expedition to tag and track the world’s biggest beetle for the first time has been documented by an Exeter filmmaker.

Earlier this year, Chris Guggiari-Peel, a University of Exeter graduate who now works as a bee technician at the university, joined two ecologists on their trip to the rainforests of French Guiana to study titan beetles (Titanus giganteus).

Titan beetles are highly valued in the insect trade, with single beetles selling for up to £1,000.

Despite this financial value, little is known about the beetles’ lives.

Its larvae have never been found and males are much more commonly caught than females. 

The documentary, Expedition Titan, filmed and edited by Chris, follows ecologists Laura Kor and Eleanor Drinkwater on their three-week expedition, Cash of the Titans, to improve the scientific understanding of these beetles and raise awareness of the invertebrate trade

In the film, the team are shown catching the beetles at night using a special UV lamp, also known as light-trapping, and later releasing them with a radio-tracking tag.

The team are the first to radio-tag these species, a method that allows them to track the beetles movement in their environment.

The film also shows Laura and Eleanor conducting behavioural observations of the beetles by setting up a grid in their lodge, located in the heart of the rainforest, to see which parts of the day the species are most active.

The research, which could help influence ecological legislation, has now been submitted for publishing in a scientific journal.

“Not much is known about the invertebrate trade and even less is known about titan beetles – even though they are amazing and huge creatures,” said Chris.

“We made this film about our expedition to show how challenging this sort of field research can be, but also to highlight titan beetles.

“We had no guarantee that we would catch one in our short time out there but were fortunate to catch seven.

“They were immensely strong and difficult to handle and we were careful to avoid their mandibles which would cut your finger to the bone.

“Our field work was strenuous, light-trapping from 8pm-5am, multiple days in a row to catch the beetles, then also tracking their movements in the rainforest every six hours and doing the behavioural observation experiment every hour simultaneously.

“Hopefully the film and our overall project will help to get people more interested in entomology and to be more aware of invertebrate trade.”

As well as documenting the research project, the film also features experts in biodiversity and animal welfare, including Frédéric Robin, a longhorned beetle expert from Societe Entomologique Antilles Guyane. The society are carrying out long-term studies in the area, as well as expeditions into deeper parts of the forest to look for new species and to study the variation in invertebrates.

The film was funded predominantly by the Scientific Exploration Society ‘Inspirational Explorer award 2018’ and Royal Entomological Society ‘Goodman Award.’

Chris will be creating a follow-up film in a few months’ time which will look at the wider issue of the global invertebrate trade, but still focusing on titan beetles.

To watch Expedition Titan and find out more about some of Chris’ other films, visit the Farsight Conservation YouTube Channel.

Date: 25 July 2019

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