Bad TV entomology

Anyone watching a TV drama featuring their particular area of interest/professional specialism will probably find holes in it. Whether it’s a doctor watching a TV medical drama, a police officer watching a cop show, or a classicist watching a costume drama set in Ancient Rome, I’m sure they end up finding something to criticise. Of course, a lot of these mistakes can be prevented with a simple phone call to the right specialist!

As a lover of insects, it’s bad TV entomology that really bothers me! Some productions (e.g. the stunning movie Duke of Burgundy) get it pretty much correct, but others…not so much. It tends to come up perhaps once a year or so, but where possible I do like to keep a record of the culprits and screencap the offending items.

They amuse and frustrate me in equal measure, not least because there are loads of people across the country/world who would gladly have set the producers/prop specialists on the right path if asked.

A typical example was from the TV show The Body Farm, in which one character (allegedly with an interest in forensic entomology) claimed to find dermestid skin beetles on a corpse, but the beetle he then held up looked to me like Tenebrio molitor, the mealworm beetle – presumably because they can be easily obtained from the live food section of a local pet shop and saved someone some time obtaining!

Another one: Death in Paradise, where telling the difference between a click beetle (Elateridae) and a jewel beetle (Buprestidae) was apparently beyond whoever was in charge of props…

DIP notaclick

Not a click beetle, but a nice jewel beetle. Which are used as jewellery in some cultures!

Ripper Street is another example – they reference an “Old World Swallowtail” in one episode, presumably referring to our native species Papilio machaon (which does, as they say, feed on milk parsley), but the butterflies and picture they proceeded to show actually appear to be the Scarce Southern Swallowtail, Iphiclides feisthamelii, which is native to the Mediterranean but not the UK, and eats small rose-family trees like apple, pear and almond.


It is a swallowtail, but you won’t find it in the UK, and it doesn’t eat milk parsley.

Most recently was an episode of Whitechapel (apparently the East End is a focus for bad TV entomology?) about a poisoning with Spanish Fly. This is obtained from the Meloidae beetle Lytta vesicatoria, a fairly elongate metallic green beetle. For reasons I don’t understand, the “Spanish Flies” pictured in this episode were actually some sort of fruit chafer – not even the same family. Same colour, different in almost every other respect. In fact, in one scene with the live beetles it seemed there were two species in the cage, and neither looked right!




This also is not Lytta vesicatoria.


And neither is anything in this image.

Does it matter? Good question. I guess most people wouldn’t remember exactly what an insect looked like on a TV show. But if it can be argued that wearing a Casio watch in a costume drama is jarring for some viewers, or using anachronistic language bothers others, I think it’s reasonable to ask for a decent attempt at factual accuracy on the entomology.

So if you’re listening, TV producers – if you’re putting insects into an episode of your show, please feel free to e-mail me a couple of photos and ask whether the insect in the picture is really the one on which your plot pivots (or at least morphologically not distinguishable from the correct one)! It would save entomologists a lot of teeth-grinding!

(Postscript: I realise this article has also laid bare my utter weakness for a good – or even mediocre – crime drama, given that all the examples seem to have a certain similarity of genre.)


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