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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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