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The sea is a mysterious place – millions and millions of gallons of water home to marinelife both above and below the sea’s surface. I am at my most relaxed and chilled when I am on a boat watching anything from dolphins to birds. And a bird you can almost guarantee to see is the Gannet. It is huge, very white and definitely my favourite.

Image of a Gannet by Richard Towell Flicr

Its’ long body, pointed wings with black tips and summery yellow head make it unmistakable. The bill is the Gannet’s most important tool. When they find a shoal of fish they hold their wings back and become a straight, pointed dagger. Dropping at speed, they plunge the water, catch their fish and rise to the surface to eat their prey within seconds.

This year I went out on a boat to see thousands of Gannets breeding on the small island, Bass Rock, in Scotland. It was certainly a sensory experience. The smell (very smelly and fishy!), the sight (a spectacle), the sound (a grating cacophony) and the taste (seasalt on your lips).

If you’d like to see your own Gannet watch from a coastal vantage point looking out to the horizon, get out onto a special boat trip or if you don’t like boats watch young Gannets currently still in their nests at Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire.

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If you’re out and about on a nice sunny day and notice what you think is a pretty red and black butterfly it is actually the Cinnabar moth (Tyria Jacobaeae).

The Cinnabar moth (Tyria Jacobaeae) was originally named after the bright red mineral ‘cinnabar’ once used by artists as a red pigment for painting.

The adult moth has two bright red spots and red stripes on its forewings and scarlet hind wings with charcoal edging. Moths are split into 2 broad groups – the macro moths (large) and the micro moths (small). The Cinnabar is a macro moth and has a body length of 20mm and a wingspan of between 32mm – 42mm. Although this is a predominantly nocturnal moth it can also be seen during the day.

Cinnabar moth (Tyria Jacobaeae) © Clare Dinham

Life cycle

Females can lay up to 300 eggs, usually in batches of 30 or 60 on the underside of ragwort leaves. When the caterpillars (larvae) hatch they feed on the around the area of the hatched eggs but as they get bigger and moult (instars) they mainly feed on the leaves and flowers of the plant, and can be seen out in the open during the day.

Caterpillar

Caterpillars are feeding from July – early September and are initially pale yellow but soon develop bright yellow and black stripes to deter predators.

Cinnabar moth caterpillar (Tyria Jacobaeae) © Roger Key

The caterpillars feed on poisonous ragwort leaves. The poision from the leaves is stored in the caterpillars body (and even remains when they are an adult moth). Any birds or other predators that ignore the caterpillars bright warning sign will be repulsed by how foul they taste.

Numerous caterpillars on one ragwort plant can reduced it to a bare stem very quickly. They are also known to be cannibalistic.

The caterpillars overwinter as pupa in a cocoon under the ground. The adult moths emerge around mid May and are on the wing up until early August, during which time males and females will mate and eggs are laid.

Distribution and Habitat

The Cinnabar moth is a common species, well distributed throughout the UK and has a coastal distribution in the northern most counties of England and Scotland. Due to its toxicity to livestock Ragwort is being controlled in many areas across the UK. A study carried out by Butterfly Conservation and Rothamstead research in 2003 showed that although the distribution of the Cinnabar moth has remained roughly the same between the study period of 1968 – 2002 their numbers have dropped dramatically due to the persecution of their food plant Ragwort.

Cinnabar moths are found in typically well drained rabbit grazed (short sward) grassland including sand dunes and heathland and lots of other open habitats such as gardens and woodland rides.

Moth trapping

Cinnabar moths are attracted to moth traps which is the main way of recording moths. A moth trap is essentially a light trap which is set in the evening just before dusk and left on throughout the night. Any moths found within the trap can be studied the following morning and released without harming.

Moth trapping using a light trap © Clare Dinham

National Moth Night

Moth night is an annual event carried out across the country aimed at raising the awareness of moths among the public. This year it was carried out from the 21st – 23rd of June. Click on this link to find out more about National Moth Night

With thanks to Buglife for their contribution. To find out more about Buglife visit them at;

 www.buglife.org.uk

www.facebook.com/pages/Buglife-The-Invertebrate-Conservation-Trust

www.twitter.com/Buzz_dont_tweet

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Ceri is working to raise awareness for wildlife conservation through art. She studyied Zoology at Cardiff University and has worked on projects to protect and study British wildlife which has inspired her work. We pariculalry love the Long tailed tit designs!!!

Website: PlanetCeri.Wordpress.com

Facebook/PlanetCeri

Long-tailed tit – digital artwork by Ceri Mair Thomas

 

Long-tailed tit – digital artwork by Ceri Mair Thomas

 

smoothnewt in watercolour – Ceri Mair Thomas

Short-eared owl – digital art by Ceri Mair Thomas

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A stirring thought from Hugh during his talk at Wilderness Festival: one of our Meet the Species feature events

To see more of Hugh, please visit his website or follow him on Twitter

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Rebecca Nesbit (Butterfly Becky): Conservation and the environment have been my passion from when I was far too young to know what it all meant. So I studied biology at University of Durham and in 2010 I was awarded an ecology PhD. I did my research at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire and spent my time chasing migrant butterflies. I now work as a PR consultant, and represent small companies with bright ideas in science and technology.

A few weeks ago my friend was surprised to find a small green caterpillar in her peas from Mozambique. Curious to see what species had made it all the way from Africa we kept it in a pot and were delighted when it turned into a pupa. Sure enough, two weeks later it emerged as a beautiful moth, which turned out to be the scarce bordered straw, Helicoverpa armigera, a species that arrives in small numbers in the UK as a migrant.

Scarce Bordered Straw, Helicoverpa Armigera

Our pet moth had come to the UK the easy way, thanks to people. But its wild counterparts can get here without us, and it’s not alone. Many insects travel thousands of kilometres and move between continents without the help of humans. Take the silver Y moth, which is very common in the UK. It never spends the winter here, but uses wind currents hundreds of metres above our heads to reach the UK from Africa.  Don’t be fooled by its tiny size though – it is by no means at the mercy of the wind, as this research shows.

You may also have spotted the painted lady, a beautiful butterfly with winter breeding grounds in north Africa. When weather conditions get too dry in Africa butterflies make the journey north, and lay their eggs in Europe where the weather is better for the caterpillars’ food plants. In the autumn they fly south to escape the cold. If you see any, Butterfly Conservation would love your records.

Insect migration can be very different to bird migration. Many birds migrate each year between summer breeding grounds and winter feeding grounds. But lots of insects don’t show this distinct pattern and are simply moving to a new area so they lay their eggs somewhere with a plentiful supply of food.

Also, most insects don’t live that long. In many insect species, such as the painted lady or silver Y, no individual makes a northwards and southwards migration – instead it is the next generation which completes the round trip. That makes it even more mind boggling to think about how they find their way without anyone to follow or any prior knowledge of the route. You can read about my research into how butterflies know which way to fly  The more I learn about the world of insects the more amazing their world seems!

With many thanks to Dr Rebecca Nesbit ( rebeccanesbit@societyofbiology.org )  for her great contribution!

To find out more about Minibeasts visit www.thesciencesays.southernfriedscience.com/who-we-are

Or visit them on Twitter @thesciencesays or @RebeccaNesbit

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Mumuration madness

 

On a very cold day in December I went with my good friend Georgia on an adventure to watch a Starling Mumuration in the RSBP Ham Wall reserve. We followed the sat nav down many narrow lanes and eventually came to a car park in the middle of nowhere. The RSPB website strongly advised we got their 15 minutes before the mumurations normally start and we were late. We walked around a little lost and thought we may have been in the wrong place. Then bang on schedule a swarm of starlings darkened the sky and streamed over our heads. The wave of black dots passing up in the sky never seemed to end, thousands and thousands of birds kept swopping and twisting in crazy black ball and cylinder shapes.

An image of stralings mumurating

We watched amazed and looked behind us to see about 300 faces watching in the designated area packed with binoculars and dropped jaws! We watched for an hour as the starlings brushed through the reeds where they would spend the night. It is believed that they do the murmurations to both trick predators and also to warm up the reed beds where they sleep. The sheer numbers of birds generating heat by flying can increase the temperature of the reed bed by a couple of degrees – It’s getting towards the right time of year so you will have to go to your nearest reserve and watch your own murm!

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