Italian researches VN insects

Update: September, 04/2014 - 10:09

Field work: Italian entomologist Luca Bartolozzi (left) and his Vietnamese partner Vu Van Lien collect insects in Tam Dao National Park in the northern province of Vinh Phuc. — Photo courtesy of S. Bambi

by Lan Dung

Holding a tray and net in his hands, Dr. Luca Bartolozzi looked carefully among the trees, leaves and flowers in Cuc Phuong National Park in the northern province of Ninh Binh.

An entomologist, he was trying to flush out insects in a two-week trip to Viet Nam, which is a paradise for the little creatures.

In the past four years, the 60-year-old Italian has made five visits to Viet Nam, joining forest expeditions with his Italian and Vietnamese colleagues.

The trips followed an agreement between the Viet Nam National Museum of Nature and the Museum of Natural History in Florence, Italy.

Bartolozzi has been insect-mad since he was a boy. He decided to research beetles when studying biology at the University of Florence.

He specialises on one family of beetles, Lucanidae, also known as stag beetles.

When he first arrived in Viet Nam in 2010, he was impressed by its richness of insects, which thrive in a diverse climate that ranges wildly in humidity, rainfall and vegetation - the perfect home for the biggest family of living creatures on earth.

"In Italy, we have about 20,000 different species. However, our cold winter is not good for them. Tropical countries like Viet Nam produce many more species. I estimate that the number of insects in Viet Nam is 10 times that in Italy," he said.

So far, the Italian insect man has visited northern and central forests, such as Na Hang Nature Reserve in Tuyen Quang Province and Xuan Son National Park in Phu Tho Province.

Night shift: Bartolozzi collects insects caught in a night trap. — Photo courtesy of Bartolozzi

Having field experience in African forests, Malaysia and India, Bartolozzi was quite comfortable working in hot and humid Vietnamese forests.

To catch insects, Bartolozzi and his colleagues have to choose the right time and techniques. The best period is when the weather is hot and wet. Insects can be caught in night traps when the moon is covered by cloud. They can also be attracted by bright lights.

Species collected are preserved and taken to a laboratory for research. According to Bartolozzi, identifying insects can be difficult because much of the research information can be as old as 200 years. If nobody has described the species before, scientists can describe them and name them.

Vu Van Lien, deputy director of the Viet Nnam National Museum of Nature, has accompanied the Italian on all his trips in Viet Nam.

"He does not fear to climb hills and wade streams and is not put off by high temperature and humidity. The doctor is always willing to share his knowledge and documents, and to help scientists, especially young ones," Lien said.

"He has discovered lots of new species in Viet Nam and helped Vietnamese entomologists describe new species and publish papers on them in international magazines."

Vietnamese entomologists like to work with the Italian researcher.

"They are not only very friendly but also good scientists who know the forests well," the Italian said. "That's why the agreement between my museum and the Viet Nam National Museum of Nature was extended for another three more years." — VNS