Archive for the ‘Meet the Species’ Category

Tom Hird AKA The Blowfish

Hey Guys! Blowfish here, and those fantastic people at Meet The Species have given me freedom to blog about whatever I fancy! HA HA HA HA! The FOOLS! Don’t they know how much The Blowfish can gabble about crabs, waffle about whales or speak about sharks!? It’s a wondrous prospect and so full of choice, but I thought I’d tell you guys and gals about one of my fave marine creatures found in the UK. He’s small, he’s bland but he really packs a punch! Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you… the Dog Whelk!

Nucella lapillus, the Dog Whelk, can be found up and down the coast of the UK and if you saw him, you’d just assume he was another boring old snail, going about his business just munching on algae and slime. A dangerous mistake to make. This sniper of a snail is a ruthless predator and is certainly not squeamish. Its favourite prey is mussels. Although mussels might be considered a sitting duck (after all, they hardly move), they do have a super tough shell that even a human can have problems cracking.

So how do you make a meal of a mussel? Well, the dog whelk is not afraid of using a little chemical weaponry. There is a special patch on the whelk’s muscular foot that secretes a powerful acid that will start to dissolve the mussel’s shell. Backing up this acid attack, the dog whelk produces his most devastating weapon, a radula. All molluscs have radula and they are very wonderful things. A radula is essentially a long conveyor belt of teeth. In algal grazing molluscs, the teeth are flat and evolved for grinding, but in predators like the dog whelk, the teeth are long, curved and dagger sharp! Using the radula like a chainsaw, the whelk starts to saw through the acid-weakened shell. But the worst is yet to come!

Once the shell has been breached, the living mussel inside is slowly shredded to pieces by the buzzing radula. It can take up to a week for a dog whelk to eat a single mussel! However, one mussel’s sacrifice might not always be in vain. Chemicals given off by feeding dog whelks stimulate the surrounding mussels to defend themselves. Using strong sticky adhesive threads called byssus, the mussels will bind the dog whelk to the surface of the rock, holding it fast and leaving it to face a long drawn-out end.

You see! All this hardcore drama! All occurring right under your nose! So next time you’re down on the beach, don’t go looking for the fast scuttling crabs, or the darting actions of fish, why not spot the Dog Whelk and his slow but deadly methods! Great stuff!



To read more about Reptiles, Amphibians and Marine Life, you can visit the Blowfish’s blog here; www.school-of-fish.co.uk/blog

Or to contact Tom (Hird AKA the Blowfish) please visit; http://www.atwenterprises.co.uk

Many thanks for your great contribution Blowfish!

Read Full Post »

For the past 18 months in which we’ve been ‘Meeting the Species’, we’ve duly noted that nature, in its many weird and wonderful forms, shouldn’t be limited to being recorded in black & white. We’ve explored many different ways of recording our findings, through photography, audio, and video. We also love the idea that using art not only to record nature but using art to connect and engage with your natural surroundings and the wildlife in it. Luckily for us some of the most captivating artists can be found right here in the world of blog, and here’s one of our favourites!

Katie Vernon (Indiana, USA) takes leaves out of nature’s many pages. Her projects capture a simple essence of structure & form in nature and the unique beauty of wildlife around her. Here’s what happened when ‘Meet the Species’ get the opportunity to ask Katie about the inspiration for her artwork…..


MTS: So Katie… What is the connection between your art and your interest in nature?

Katie: The most obvious connection lies in the fact that I was a florist for a few years. It was easy to be inspired to draw/paint floral images when I was surrounded by them. I love drawing animals because I think they can be more expressive than drawing humans (and drawing humans has never been by forte). I have always been more drawn to nature than cities- put me in a mountain range and my heart sings, put me in a crowded city and my senses become overwhelmed. (although I do love some good people-watching)

MTS: Where does you passion for nature come from?

Katie: My mom always wonders where I got the ‘outdoorsy’ gene from. I always loved playing outside as a kid, then in high school we had a gym class that exposed me to climbing, kayaking, and camping-and I was hooked! I’ve done a 28 day course with NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) in Wyoming, am married to an Outward Bound instructor, and find that the more time I spend in nature, the more I love (and crave) it.



MTS: Are there any green spaces or natural locations near you which particularly inspire you?

Katie:  I currently live in the awesome town of Bloomington, Indiana. It’s a great little liberal town with so much to offer, but I am unfortunately not inspired by its natural surroundings. I think I have been spoiled by spending lots of time out west in places like Yosemite, some of the more remote areas Yellowstone, and so many other places with absolutely breathtaking overlooks, pristine mountain streams, and wildlife more majestic than a squirrel. (no offense to the cute squirrels in Bloomington) Since my job is very portable, we will be moving in a few years and have our sights set on places like Oregon, Idaho, or even New Zealand.


MTS: Do you have a favourite animal or plant you like drawing?

Katie: Lately I have enjoyed drawing botanicals that aren’t necessarily flowers and I always love drawing bigfoot and brontosauruses.

MTS: What is your favourite season?

Katie: definitely fall. I love being outside without having to wear a million layers or breaking a major sweat. The crisp air is at the same time invigorating and soothing- it makes me want to go for a hike and then come in a sip on some hot cocoa.


 MTS: What materials do you use?

Katie:  I use a combination of materials in my work- pencil, acrylic, gouache, and ink. I also use a tablet sometimes and I do a lot of collaging on the computer.

 MTS: Describe your art style in 3 words?

Katie: Whimiscal, quirky, in-development


MTS: So….Any projects on the horizon?

Katie: 3 months ago I gave birth to our first little girl- Juniper. So that’s my main job for a bit, but I am in the very early stages of working on a few children’s products (games/puzzle) with Chronicle Books. I also have a new etsy shop (KatieVernon) for my current work that isn’t strictly floral fauna (like ChipmunkCheeks). And lastly, I have a small online shop called Good Voyage that a friend and I opened earlier this spring (good-voyage.com). It combines our love for adventure, the outdoors, and design. We are currently working on our fall/winter products!

Thanks Katie… We wish you all the best with your future projects!  If you like Katie’s work, then here’s where you can find her:



Etsy Shops: www.etsy.com/shop/KatieVernon or www.etsy.com/shop/ChipmunkCheeks

Facebook: Katie Vernon Illustration


Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/kyvernon/

Instagram: kyvernon


Read Full Post »

This year many of our Meet the Species accredited events were BioBlitz events – where scientists, volunteers and members of the public all come together to survey a green space for wildlife. This video is from Cambridge BioBlitz and you can find you local event through the National BioBlitz Network.

Many thanks to Cambridge University (& Cambridge University Botanical Gardens) for this amazing video and their kind contribution.

Read Full Post »

Cut out and colour in your own animal face mask. There are six to choose from.

What you will need:

– some plain card or paper

– a length of string or elastic, or a stick and tape

– colouring pencils or felt-tip pens

– a printer

– a helpful adult

What to do:

1. Print out your favourite mask from the selection below onto your plain card or paper. Card is best for making a strong mask, but if you only have paper you could try sticking it down on a piece of old cereal box.

2. Ask your helpful adult to help you cut out your mask design. You’ll need to carefully pierce holes to help you cut out the eyes.

3. Now colour in your mask. You could use the pictures in Explore Wildlife to help you, or make up the colours as you go along. Either way, try to keep inside the lines!

4. Next you can decide how you want to wear your mask. You could ask your helpful adult to pierce holes on either side of the mask to thread your string or elastic through, tying a knot at each end to hold it in place. Then slip the whole thing over your head and adjust until it stays in place. Or you could tape your stick to the back of the mask and use that to hold it in front of your face like you’re at a fancy dress party!

5. Show off your new headwear! Why not take a picture of yourself and send it in to us at watch@wildlifetrusts.org or Watch, The Wildlife Trusts, The Kiln, Mather Road, Newark, Nottinghamshire, NG24 1WT


Click here to download the badger mask

 Click here to see a picture and find out more about badgers

Peacock butterfly

Click here to download the butterfly mask

 Click here to see a picture and find out more about peacock butterflies

Common frog

Click here to download the frog mask

 Click here to see a picture and find out more about common frogs


Click here to download the kingfisher mask

 Click here to see a picture and find out more about kingfishers

Grey seal

Click here to download the seal mask

 Click here to see a picture and find out more about grey seals

Long-eared owl

Click here to download the owl mask

 Click here to see a picture and find out more about long-eared owls


With thanks to The Wildlife Trusts for their kind contribution. For more from The Wildlife Trusts:www.wildlifetrusts.org

Follow The Wildlife Trusts on: Facebook  &  Twitter

Read Full Post »

By Remy Poland

Who we are

 We are five biologists working in teaching and research with a love of natural history, and a passion for ladybirds in particular!  Together we run the UK Ladybird Survey to encourage others to get involved in biological recording, and to monitor the status of UK ladybirds. Remy Poland is a biology teacher at Clifton College. Helen Roy is an ecologist at NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Richard Comont is a PhD student at NERC CEH. Peter Brown is a lecturer in zoology at Anglia Ruskin University. Lori Lawson-Handley is a lecturer in evolutionary biology at the University of Hull.

 What we do

The UK Ladybird Survey was launched in 2005, following the arrival of the invasive harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, in Britain.  It built upon the success of previous recording schemes, such as the Coccinellidae Recording Scheme and the Cambridge Ladybird Survey.  The is was to allow members of the public to submit records of both harlequin ladybirds and native British species by means of an online recording form.

The UK Ladybird Survey  was launched in 2005, following the arrival of the invasive harlequin ladybird in Britain.  It built upon the success of previous recording schemes, such as the Coccinellidae Recording Scheme and the Cambridge Ladybird Survey.  The aim is to allow members of the public to submit records of both harlequin ladybirds and native British species by means of an online recording form.

Harlequin Ladybirds

Harlequin Ladybird Larva feeding on a greenfly

The harlequin ladybird (above) is native to central and eastern Asia, but has long been used to control pest insects such as aphids in North America and continental Europe.  It was first recorded in south-east England in 2004, and has since spread rapidly to become one of the most commonly seen ladybirds in the UK.  Members of the public have submitted over 30,000 records of harlequin sightings, verified by the survey’s experts by inspection of specimens or photos, and this has allowed us to build up accurate maps of its distribution and spread.  In addition to this, we have received many thousands of records of native British species, which have also contributed to national distribution maps and the publication of a ladybird atlas in 2011.  This data is invaluable in monitoring the impact of harlequin ladybirds on native species, with which they compete for food and sometimes even prey upon (above).

2 Spot Ladybirds

Orange ladybird

Eyed Ladybird

Sadly, the data has revealed a significant decline in some species, most notably the 2-spot ladybird (above).  Rather more encouragingly, we have seen an increase in numbers of the orange ladybird (above)in recent years – this is a mildew feeder that may have benefited from prolonged spells of wet summer weather and lack of competition for food with harlequins (which prey on aphids).  Another species that appears relatively unaffected by the harlequin (and the favourite species of many of the survey team!) is the eyed ladybird, a large species whose larvae are covered by an armoury of thick spines which protect them from hungry harlequins (above).  It is vital that we continue to assess the status of all ladybirds in Britain, as this will help us to conserve their habitats and communities in the future.

7-spot ladybird infected with the parasitoid wasp Dinocampus coccinellae

A parasitoid fly on a Harlequin ladybird pre-pupa

As well as submitting records of ladybird sightings, we are also encouraging people to look out for the natural enemies of ladybirds.  Our research has shown that the harlequin ladybird is less susceptible to a range of natural enemies, including a fungal pathogen, and some parasitoid wasps and flies (above).  This apparent immunity may partly explain why the harlequin has spread so quickly in this country.  It will be interesting to monitor this situation over time – it may be that British natural enemies start to utilise the harlequin ladybird as a novel host.

10 fun facts about ladybirds

  1.  Ladybirds are beetles, belonging to the insect order ‘Coleoptera’, and the family ‘Coccinellidae’.
  2. Ladybirds undergo a full metamorphosis, hatching from an egg into a larva, then changing from a larva to a pupa, and then finally transforming from a pupa into an adult [ladybird life cycle, larva, pupa- See below].
  3. Ladybirds are named after the Virgin Mary, who was often depicted wearing a red cloak.  The red of a 7-spot ladybird is said to represent ‘Our Lady’, while the seven spots represent her seven joys and seven sorrows.
  4. The number of spots on a ladybird does not tell you how old it is, spot number varies between species, but also within species due to factors like temperature.
  5. There are 47 species of ladybird found in Britain, only 27 of these are brightly coloured and conspicuous, the rest are small, often hairy, and can be difficult to identify at first.
  6. Not all ladybirds are red with black spots! Some are black with red spots, some are yellow with black spots, some are orange with white spots, and one species even has stripes!  Ladybirds show ‘warning colouration’: they contain bitter-tasting chemicals and advertise their distastefulness to predators with bright and memorable colours and patterns.
  7. Most species of ladybird eat greenfly or blackfly, some eat scale insects, some eat plants and some even eat mildew!
  8. Not many things eat ladybirds as they do not taste very nice, but they are attacked by some parasites and pathogens
  9. The largest ladybird species in Britain is the eyed ladybird
  10. The smallest of the ‘conspicuous’ ladybirds is the 16-spot ladybird

Ladybird Life Cycle

Get spotting!

Looking for ladybirds in a pine tree using a beating tray

Hunting for ladybirds is fun, simple and easy to learn.  It can be done in your garden, at public parks and woodland, and even in school grounds and churchyards.  Three pieces of equipment are useful here: a beating tray or light coloured umbrella, a sweep net and a long stout stick.  To look for ladybirds in trees, place the beating try/ umbrella beneath the foliage, and firmly tap the branches with the stick (above photo) .  Any insects resting in the tree will fall into the tray and you can try to identify them (ladybirds are easy to spot once you have your eye in, but take a look at the other creatures you might find: earwigs, shield bugs, flies, wasps, caterpillars etc.).  Lime, sycamore and oak are particularly good for ladybirds, but you might also like to try some conifers like Scots pine, to find more specialist species like the eyed and striped ladybirds.

To look for ladybirds in grass and meadowland, a sweep net can be used.  An improvised version can be created by using an old pillow case held open by a coat hanger and mounted onto a handle.  Walk through the grass and sweep the net from side to side in a figure-of-eight motion.  Insects in the undergrowth will be knocked into the net and can then be inspected.

You will also need an identification guide so you can try to determine which species of ladybird you have found.  The most useful is the FSC ladybird field guide (a guide for ladybird larvae is also available), but there is also plenty of information and photos on our website, including downloadable ID sheets for the most common species.  A more comprehensive coverage is given in the NERC atlas – Ladybirds (Coccinellidae) of Britain and Ireland.

Don’t forget to record your sightings online at www.ladybird-survey.org.  Happy spotting!

[Photos by Remy Poland and Mike Majerus]

Further information


Brown, P.M.J., Roy, H.E., Comont, R. & Poland, R.L. (2012) Guide to the ladybird larvae of the British Isles.  OP152. FSC.


Majerus, M.E.N., Roy, H.E., Brown, P.M.J., Frost, R. & Ware, R.L. & Shields, C. (2006) Guide to ladybirds of the British Isles.  OP102. FSC.


Roy, H.E., Brown, P.M.J., Frost, R. & Poland, R.L. (2011) Ladybirds (Coccinellidae) of Britain and Ireland.  NERC CEH.


Roy, H.E., Brown, P.M.J., Comont, R., Poland, R.L. & Sloggett, J.J. (2012) Ladybirds (Naturalists’ Handbooks 10).  Pelagic Publishing, Exeter.



Read Full Post »

We’ve got until the end of the Paralympic Games to find our remaining species! Upload your photo records to iSpot or (if you’re a more experienced wildlife recorder) send us your species lists to matt@bnhc.org.uk including a location and date of viewing.

Click here to download the list of species still to find!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »