MC 00359 Guide to the Elizabeth A. McMahan Entomological Research Films and Manuscripts, 1986-2005
The films are stored on 400-foot reels. McMahan stated that these films used to be on 1200-foot reels and have since been divided. Therefore Films #1-2 and #1-3 belong together, Films #2-1, #2-2, and #2-3 belong together, Assassins of La Selva 400 Reel 1 and Reels 5-12 belong together, Assassins of La Selva #1-200 Reels 1-3 belong together, Assassins of La Selva #2-1200 Reels 1 and 3 belong together, and Assassins of La Selva #3-1200 Reels 1-3 belong together.The descriptions for the reels listed below are the descriptions McMahan wrote on the reel labels. They have been transcribed as accurately as possible.
Try experimental container filtering.
[Box 1] Films, 1986
5th instar sits beside hole w/carcass at edge. Uses as baffle & as bait. Catches new W. Copy 1, Baiting, 5th instar
Film #1-3, 1986
5th instar angles for termites; film, very indistinct but bug catches 2 W's in sequence. La Selva, Costa, Rica, EA McMahanCopy 1, Baiting, 5th instar
(from 1200 ft. reel) 3rd instar baiting indistinct. Catches 1 W & feeds. Returns to hole w/carcass & baits. No W's attach. 3rd instar Salvayata variegata catches termite works at nest repair site. Took it some distance to feed. Termites repairing hole in nest. Returns w/carcass to hole. Soldiers active. Reel ends before baiting successful. E McMahan #1 La Selva, Costa Rica 1986 Copy 1, Baiting, Bug 3rd instar.
(from 1200 ft. reel) 3rd instar baits out 2 Ws in sequence. Beak insertion shown. Best angling at end. Bug pulling worker out of hole in termite mound. Inserts beak behind head. Feeding takes several minutes. Draws another worker out of hole. Film ended. S. variegata. E McMahan/John Stokes, photog. La Selva, Costa Rica. 1986. #2Copy 1, Baiting, 3rd instar
3rd instar baits out another W. Best of sequence probably (but indistinct). Third reel of 1200 ft. sequence. #3 Salyavata variegata 3rd instar. Third reel in baiting sequence. Takes caught worker away from hole to feed. Termite workers at hole take in carcasses at rim of hole. Assassin bug brings carcass back to hole. Jerks. Worker takes hold of carcass. Bug seizes worker. Takes it off for feeding. EA McMahan/John Stokes, photog. La Selva, Costa Rica. 1986. Copy 1, Baiting, 3rd instar
Assassins of La Selva, 400 Reel 1, May 1986
Two captures (by a 1st & a 4th? instar) but no baiting. Too dark (& out of focus in some cases).
Assassins of La Selva, 400 Reel 5, May 1986
Futile attempts to get bugs to bait. Several were tried. All uncooperative. Fuzzy film. (plus or minus 3 ft. length of film at beginning)
Assassins of La Selva, Reel 6, May 1986
Uncooperative bugs. Camouflage w/whole spots.
[Box 2] Films, 1986
Assassins of La Selva, 400 Reel 7, May 1986
Adult bug. Wouldn't feed. Several good dorsal views as it sat on nest. Focused & brighter.
Assassins of La Selva, 400 Reel 8, May 1986
Adult bug. Uncooperative re termites but some good (inactive) dorsal shots.
Assassins of La Selva, 400 Reel 9, May 1986
Uncoop. juvenile bug. EMcM shaving off layers of nest to find royal chamber. Roiling masses of termites (incl. Alates).
Assassins of La Selva, 400 Reel 10, May 1986
EMcM demolishing nest. Plastic ground sheet w/termites & carton. Nursery area w/egg clots & larvae. Hard nest carton.
Assassins of La Selva, 400 Reel 11, May 1986
EMcM continues to demolish nest. Bashes w/crow bar & saws with coping saw. Royal chamber found. No reproductives.
Assassins of La Selva, 400 Reel 12, May 1986
Last reel of EMcM demolishing nest down to last crumbs. Used screw driver & Swiss army knife. Alates
Assassins of La Selva, #1-1200 Reel 1, May 1986
Assassin bug stands just below hole; termites repairing. Appears to be trying to catch first prey.
Assassins of La Selva, #1-1200 Reel 2, May 1986
Salyavata variegata. Bug baiting (view from directly above). Side view of bug baiting. Carcass of W on side of nest below.
[Box 3] Films, 1986
Assassins of La Selva, #1-1200 Reel 3, May 1986
Bug fishing in active termite hole. Workers refuse to try to draw it inside. Reel ends before baiting is successful.
Assassins of La Selva, #2-1200 Reel 1
2. Bug catches termite at repair site. 3. Takes termite back to hole. 1. Hole made in surface. Termites emerge. Bug ( Salyavata variegata) stands at hole in termite mound. Catches worker & pulls it out. Goes off to side to feed. Turns carcass about in feeding. Takes carcass to hole & shakes it but termite workers won't take it; maybe because fecal droplets have been deposited on it by other workers. A soldier is much interested. (La Selva Costa Rica)
Assassins of La Selva, #2-1200 Reel 3
Bug baits. Pulls out W. Carries it away.
Assassins of La Selva, #3-1200, Reel 1, May 1986
Soldier outpouring. 1 uncoop. bug in last few frames.
Assassins of La Selva, #3-1200, Reel 2, May 1986
Hole repair & uncooperative bugs. Out of focus mostly.
Assassins of La Selva, #3-1200, Reel 3, May 1986
Unsuccessful bugs (uncoop.) S's rushing from new breach. Alates & workers.
[Carton 5] Films
Assassins of La Selva, #2-1200, May 1986
Assassins of La Selva, 400 Reel 3, May 1986
Assassins of La Selva, 400 Reel 3, May 1986
Assassins of La Selva, 400 Reel 2, May 1986
Assassins of La Selva, 400 Reel 4, May 1986
W1. STRI, Panama City bldgs, Flag, oropendalla nests. 1st instar bug avidly chasing S. Feeds. Good sequenceof nest repair: S, SW, LW. Panama city. Bridge of the Americas. 1st instar Salyavata nymph captures termite soldier. Jumps astride him and inserts beak. Another solider investigages. Bug very still. Soldier wals away. Workers repairing nest. (good sequence) Will Owens, photog., 1985
W2. Adult bug hunts at active hold snatches a W or two. Leans into hole. Leaves S's alone. Rubs fossae together cleans antennaw w/fossae. Good. Salyavata sp. Panama, Photog. Will Owens. Adult bug trying to catch his dinner at hole in a termite nest. Rubs tarsi together (has pads like velcro with which he seizes termite), 1985
W3. S's running over nest surface after initial surface breach. Mostly of blue-lined Petri dish w/1st instar bug (one caught and ate S) and a large no. of termites.
W4. Bug eggs on a stick. Adult bug catchings W's at hole (Waits for vulnerable W; avoids S's) 1st instar bug feeding on W. (its size) Beak visible.
W5. Many mangoes on a tree at Gamboa golf course. Good long sequence of breach repair in termite nest surface. Anal daubing, use of mandibles. LW's and SWs. S's guarding.
W6. Dead alates, W's and S's in Petri dish. Yang Ming ship in canal. Lagoons of Gatun Lake Beetle (huge Dynastid) Bird at hanging nest. EMcM at nest. Nests in situ. EMcM at Gamboa Apt nest.
W7. Juveniles and adult bugs by nest holes. No success in hungting. Barro Colorado visit. View on approach. Leaf cutter ants good.
W8. Barro Colorado: Canopy, monkeys. Boa (good). Adult bug hunts at active hole. Feeding sequence on W is good.
W9. Adult feeding. Chagras in the misty morning (Janana) Nest by boat house. Adult bugs 2 by hole. (One is shot by S, I think)
W10. Adult bug. In situ N. Corniger nests. Azteca ant nests. Gamboa Apts on Ridge Row. Dead LW, SW, S in Petri dish. Bugs insterested in nest breach, Little action. Juvenile bug feeding sequence. Termite types active.
W11. Adult bug snatching and feeding sequence. Uncoop. juvenile bug. Long uninteresting hole repair sequence.
This series contains illustrated, self-published manuscripts that Elizabeth McMahan wrote for her nieces and nephews. One is a children's book and the other four are autobiographical writings.
[Box 4, Folder 1] McMahan, Elizabeth A., "Mr. Piccalilly's Fantastic Machine"
[Box 4, Folder 2] McMahan, Elizabeth A., "Heart and Nerve and Sinew or Aunt Betty's Around-the-World Adventures", 1990
[Box 4, Folder 3] McMahan, Elizabeth A., "Warming Both Hands Before the Fires of Life," Vol. I, 2005
[Box 4, Folder 4] McMahan, Elizabeth A., "Warming Both Hands Before the Fires of Life," Vol. II, 2005
[Box 4, Folder 5] McMahan, Elizabeth A., "Warming Both Hands Before the Fires of Life," Vol. III, 2005
[Box 4, Folder 6] Sociobiology Journal, vol. 56, no. 1, 2010 edition to include chapter on Elizabeth Anne McMahan written by Christine A. Nalepa, 2010
4.0 Linear feet
General Physical Description note
4 archival boxes, and 1 carton
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Special Collections Research Center Reference Staff .
Immediate Source of Acquisition note
Films received from Elizabeth A. McMahan, August 2003 (Accession no. 2003-0023). Additional films received 2010 (Accession no. 2010-0214). Manuscripts received from the NCSU Libraries Development Office, April 2007 (Accession nos. 2007-0127 and 2007-0161).
Processed by: Dawne E. Howard; machine-readable finding aid created by: Dawne E. Howard; updated by Judy Allen Dodson, 2010 November
2010, Additional films added to the collection by Kellie Strickland.
The Elizabeth A. McMahan Entomological Research Films and Manuscripts collection consists of twenty-two reels of 8mm film documenting McMahan's research on the assassin bug ( Salyavata variegata) in La Selva, Costa Rica. These insects use dead termites as bait in order to catch other termites, a technique similar to fishing. The films depict various stages of this process, such as the assassin bug waiting outside a termite hole with his bait, the assassin bug catching termites with the bait, and the assassin bug returning to the hole to catch more termites. Some of the films show unsuccessful baiting attempts. Others show McMahan destroying a nest in order to find the royal chamber.
McMahan indicated Reels #1-2, #2-1, #2-2, #2-3, Assassins of La Selva #2-1200 Reel 1, and Assassins of La Selva #2-1200 Reel 3 are the most important.
The collection also includes illustrated, self-published manuscripts, including a children's book as well as autobiographical writings and a bibliographical journal article on her life. Also included is the Sociobiology Journal, vol. 56, no. 1, 2010 edition to include chapter on Elizabeth Anne McMahan written by Christine A. Nalepa.
Entomologist Elizabeth A. "Betty" McMahan, best known for her study of assassin bugs, was born in Pino, North Carolina. Intending to become a high school science teacher, McMahan attended Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., after leaving Pino. While at Appalachian State, a faculty advisor introduced McMahan to parapsychology, and she transferred to Duke University in order to work with J. B. Rhine. From 1943 to 1954, McMahan completed her B.A. and M.A. in psychology and published nine papers.
In 1954, McMahan decided to pursue a degree in entomology. She studied termites at the University of Hawaii, receiving her Ph.D. in 1960. She completed post-doctoral work at the University of Chicago and then took a teaching job at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she taught for 26 years.
McMahan's research took her all over the world, including Australia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Panama, and Ecuador. While in Costa Rica in 1980, McMahan discovered that assassin bugs ( Salyavata variegata) used tools in order to catch food. She published articles about the insects in several scientific journals and videotaped the food-catching process for the BBC documentary "Alien Empire."
After retiring, McMahan became a professor emerita at UNC. She taught in Jamaica as a Peace Corps volunteer and also became a children's book author. A collection of her books is located at the North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
In 2003, Dutch taxonomist Pieter van Doesburg named a newly classified species of the assassin bug after McMahan, Salyavata MacMahanae. In 2004, McMahan's friend and colleague Christine Nalepa established the Elizabeth A. McMahan Endowment at North Carolina State University. This endowment enhances the libraries' entomological collections.
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