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Published: August 7, 2011

Fossil beetle video

Margaret Thayer, Curator Emeritus, Integrative Research Center

From mid-June to mid-July, Chenyang Cai, a master's student at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, visited the Division of Insects at the Field Museum.  He brought with him a large number of spectacular fossil beetles belonging to the families Silphidae (carrion beetles) and Staphylinidae (rove beetles).  Most of the specimens he brought came from the mid-Jurassic Daehugou Biota (165 million years old), plus a few from the Cretaceous Jehol Biota (125 million years old), both occurring in northeastern China. He spent the month working with me and Curator Emeritus Al Newton studying the fossils and the Field Museum's huge collections of extant (modern) beetles of both families.  

From mid-June to mid-July, Chenyang Cai, a master's student at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, visited the Division of Insects at the Field Museum.  He brought with him a large number of spectacular fossil beetles belonging to the families Silphidae (carrion beetles) and Staphylinidae (rove beetles).  Most of the specimens he brought came from the mid-Jurassic Daehugou Biota (165 million years old), plus a few from the Cretaceous Jehol Biota (125 million years old), both occurring in northeastern China. He spent the month working with me and Curator Emeritus Al Newton studying the fossils and the Field Museum's huge collections of extant (modern) beetles of both families.  The Jurassic silphids are the oldest known members of that family (some that age reported previously were misidentified), and several of the staphylinids represent the oldest known members of their subfamilies.  The number of specimens found in the deposits is staggering, and it will take a lot of work to study them all thoroughly and publish the results.  Chenyang is studying the fossil Silphidae for his master's thesis, and in parallel is studying some of the Staphylinidae, on which he plans further work for his Ph.D.

While Chenyang was here, we enjoyed squeezing in work with C&R Media Producer Federico Pardo to create a video about the fossils and our collaborative work.

29 August 2011 update - the video was selected as Imagine Science Films' Pick of the Week and featured on their festival page! 


Margaret Thayer

Thayer is a retired curator in the Division of Insects in the Field Museum's Integrative Research Center (Life Sciences), where she conducts specimen-based research on rove beetles (Staphylinidae) and continues to work in the collection of over 12 million specimens and lots of insects and other arthropods. 

Margaret is particularly interested in the evolution, biogeography, and biology of rove beetles of the Austral region: Australia, New Zealand, southern South America, and South Africa and has also worked extensively with the North American fauna. Her systematic research is based mainly on study of morphological features, but she collaborates with colleagues on research using molecular (DNA sequence) data to help understand the evolution of rove beetles and their relatives.  Field work is an essential part of her research program that she enjoys tremendously, and she has done field work in the United States and nine other countries.

Research Interests

  • Systematics, phylogeny, biology, and evolution of Staphylinidae of the world, especially Omaliinae and other relatively basal taxa
  • Long-term primary emphases on Omaliini of the world and various southern hemisphere temperate zone staphylinid groups
  • Fossil Staphylinidae and other Staphylinoidea (mainly Mesozoic)
  • Faunal surveys: southern hemisphere temperate Staphyliniformia
  • Historical biogeography, especially with regard to austral regions

For papers, see "Publications" below

Field Experience

Over three full years of total field experience in temperate and tropical regions, using a variety of collecting techniques (flight intercept, baited pitfall, and light traps; Berlese and other soil extraction methods; standard and non-standard hand-collecting techniques) in the following areas:

  • United States & Canada (ca. 69 weeks, 1974–present): New England, California, Pacific Northwest, Arizona, New Mexico, Smoky Mts., Ouachita Mts., Rocky Mts., Alaska, Hawaii, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Texas. Includes directing and carrying out long-term sampling in Chicago area, 1996–2000 and leading 5-week western US expedition in 2006.
  • Australia (36 weeks): 1980, 1986–87, 1993, 2004 [expedition leader], 2013)
  • New Zealand (22 weeks): 1980, 1984–85; 2005 (expedition leader)
  • Chile (17 weeks): 1982–83, 1996–97; 2002 (expedition leader)
  • South Africa (5 weeks): 2004 (expedition leader)
  • Laos (4 weeks): 2008
  • Mexico (4 weeks): 1999
  • Peru (2 weeks): 1983
  • Costa Rica (8 weeks): 1974 (field assistant)
  • Germany, Italy, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland (1-3 day excursions each, 2005–present)
  • Effectiveness of field work

Over 280 new species and at least two new genera of arthropods (in 2 classes, 7 orders, and 42 families) and 6 species of parasitic fungi have been described (published by over 80 authors) based on holotypes from material collected in nine countries in her field work listed above, most of it done jointly with A. F. Newton (plus far more species with just paratypes they collected).  Two-thirds of these taxa are known only from their collections.  Many more new species and genera, as well as previously unknown larvae of at least 100 genera of Staphyliniformia, have been recognized among this material and are being described or await description by them or other workers.  Their field work has also provided the first or only detailed locality, habitat, and/or ecological data for many already-described but poorly known taxa (e.g., Thayer 1985 [3 papers], 1987, 1997, 2003; Thayer et al. 2004; Newton et al. 2000; Navarrete-Heredia et al. 2002; Betz et al. 2003; Weide et al. 2010, 2014; countless papers by others); critical material for wide-ranging molecular and morphological studies (Lawrence et al. 2011; McKenna et al. 2015 [2 papers]) and has been critical to synthetic work as well (Newton 1984, 1985; Newton et al. 2000; Navarrete-Heredia et al. 2002; Thayer 2005, 2016).