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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

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.

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

Badger

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

Kingfisher

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

www.wildlifewatch.org.uk/face-masks

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

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!

Meet the UK Ladybird Survey

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

www.ladybird-survey.org

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

http://www.field-studies-council.org/publications/pubs/ladybird-larvae.aspx

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.

http://www.field-studies-council.org/publications/pubs/guide-to-ladybirds-of-the-british-isles.aspx

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

http://www.ceh.ac.uk/products/publications/Ladybirds-Britain-Ireland-atlas.html

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

http://www.pelagicpublishing.com/ladybirds-naturalists-handbooks.html

 

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!