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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!

Cheers

Blowfish

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!

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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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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

 

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A full day of furry fun comes to a close and I hoped you’ve enjoed all the amazing footage of our apprently media friendly mammals. We had a greta impromtue field lecture from Hugh Warwick on Hedgehogs, brilliant bats on this International Bat Weekend and remarkable footage of our British Mammal Species.

What’s on tomorrow?

Tomorrow is the final day of the Final Lap and we will be celebrating the great success of the last 18 months of Meet the Species. Can we get closer to completing our species list? Will those autumn fungi and late flying moths finally make an appearance? Who knows, but we’ll continue to fly the flag for wildlife and celebrate all of the weird and wonderful things that we’ve discovered along the way.

It may be the end of the road for us…but for YOU! You can keep on recording wildlife and meeting species and our pal Ed Drewitt will be telling you how!

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Pine Marten and Fallow Deer, caught on night camera!

And this Pine Marten feeding in daylight.

For more amazing wildlife footage visit, www.youtube.com/user/KindroganFSC

This video is courtesy of KindroganFSC on Youtube….All footage filmed at Kindrogan, Perthshire in Scotland. Many thanks chaps!

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