Recording Orthoptera using a bat detector

Great Green Bush Cricket
The Great Green Bush Cricket is the largest of the UK Bush Crickets. This beautiful image of a female cricket was taken by Charlie Jackson, from Flickr Creative Commons (CC by 2.0).

 

The order Orthoptera consists of the grasshoppers and crickets. Although most suited to warmer climates where they are incredibly diverse, in Britain we have 27 native species, as well as a number of non-native, naturalised species. From a very young age we are aware of these beautiful creatures as the sounds they produce fill our countryside with noise.

The characteristic Orthoptera song or “stridulation” is produced either by rubbing the wings together (observed in most of the grasshoppers) or by rubbing a hind leg against a wing (a method used by most crickets). The sound produced is an important part of the courtship ritual and is also used for other types of communication. As the sound created by different species varies significantly, studying these calls is an excellent way of surveying Orthoptera, and is helpful for finding individuals which can then be identified visually.

Stridulation produces a sound which covers a variety of frequencies – the sound made by grasshoppers is usually audible, but many species of cricket produce a higher ultrasonic frequency which cannot be heard by most humans. The use of a bat detector to listen to these higher frequency songs is an excellent way to listen to those species that we would not ordinarily be able to hear, such as the Speckled Bush Cricket. It also allows us to increase the range at which we can hear the audible ones. Bat detectors are also of use to older surveyors, whose ability to hear higher frequencies has naturally declined.

A simple heterodyne detector is perfect for listening to grasshoppers and crickets – one such as the Magenta Bat 4 or the Batbox IIID is ideal as it allows you to tune it to a specific frequency (as opposed to some of the more “intelligent” detectors which will alter it for you). The detector should be set to a frequency of 35-40kHz then all you need to do is sweep it around in different directions until you pick up your subject. It is best to stand in one place while surveying as the noise produced by your footsteps and clothes moving will produce background ultrasound noise which can confuse what you are hearing. The best days for surveying are warm and sunny; crickets are generally crepuscular (active during twilight) whilst grasshoppers are usually active throughout the day.

Unlike bat detecting, where the peak frequency is a key diagnostic feature for determining species, this information is less important for Opthoptera. Of more importance is the pattern and type of sound produced. The Environmental Records Centre of Cornwall and Scilly has a great guide to identifying Orthoptera including a useful information sheet on the use of bat detectors. They also have a collection of sound files of grasshoppers and crickets that you can use to recognise the typical calls produced by many of the species found in Britain.

Why not take along a leaflet or book to aid your identification: The FSC guide to British Grasshoppers and Allied Insects is a handy fold out guide with a useful key. For those looking for a more in depth guide, try the Photographic Guide to the Grasshoppers and Crickets of Britain and Ireland or the Pocket Guide to the Grasshoppers, Crickets and Allied Insects of Britain and Ireland.

Books

Want to know more? Visit the website of the Grasshoppers and Related Insects Recording Scheme of Britain and Ireland where you will find lots of information and can submit your survey results. Or why not download the iRecord Grasshoppers app which is available for iPhone and Android devices.

 

BugDorm: Insect survey and rearing equipment

BugDorm Title Image

BugDorm have been supplying equipment for entomological research and teaching since they were established in 1995. Their products have become firm favourites with both professional and amateur entomologists and they are continually being developed to address the challenges encountered by field and lab workers everywhere. NHBS is proud to be a distributor of the BugDorm range.

Bugdorms
BugDorm Cages and Tents are available in a range of styles and sizes

For breeding and rearing insects, the BugDorm range of cages and tents offer a solution for every situation. Available in a wide range of sizes and mesh apertures, most have both entrance sleeves and zippered doors for convenient access. All pack flat for storage and transport. For rearing and studying insects in situ, insect rearing sleeves and bags allow you to contain leaves and branches within a temporary enclosure.

ez-malaise
The ez-malaise trap is quick to erect

For field sampling, BugDorm offer malaise and migration traps, berlese funnels, emergence traps and bait traps. The ez-malaise and ez-migration traps use shock-corded poles to create a frame to which the net is clipped making them quick and easy to assemble. The ez-migration trap is cleverly designed with two collection areas, each with their own collecting bottle so that flight direction can be determined.

Slam Trap
Slam traps can be used on the ground (left) or suspended at height with the optional bottom collector attached (right)

The innovative Slam Traps work on the same principle as the malaise traps, but can also be strung in a vertical chain to sample at different heights in the canopy. When used with the bottom collector (available separately), they will also collect insects such as beetles, that drop when they hit the trap. A four-headed version allows you to study migration patterns by collecting insects entering each of the four quadrants into separate collecting bottles.

Insect net
Create an insect net to your own specifications from the BugDorm range of frames, bags and handles

The BugDorm range of insect net sets let you create your own net from a selection of frames, bags and handles. Net frames are collapsible and handles are telescopic with the longest options extending up to 530cm in length; ideal for sampling in the canopy.

Browse the full range of BugDorm products on the NHBS website.

 

The Week in Review – 12th December

Dragonfly
Dragonfly use neurological calculations which allow them to actually predict the movements of their prey. Photo by John Flannery.

News from outside the nest

This week…we learned why pufferfish build sandcastles and how it has taken us such a long time to observe this particular behaviour.

A study published this week in Nature showed us how dragonflies go beyond mere reflexive responses and actually predict the movements of their prey as they are hunting.

This short guide helped us to address the most common questions posed by “climate change challengers”.

We discovered the OceanAdapt website which lets members of the public search and download geographic data of more than 650 species of fish and invertebrates and track how these have changed over time…a hugely valuable resource for fishermen and scientists.

Camouflage in the natural world is incredibly common and well understood. However, a paper published this week by the Royal Society revealed a new kind of camouflage exhibited by the beautiful harlequin filefish: smell camouflage.

And finally…we were amazed by this extraordinary bird that disguises itself as a caterpillar.

New arrivals at the warehouse

Useful and fun: these cute animal head torches are a great stocking filler for young outdoor enthusiasts.

 

 

Our ten favourite (and free) apps for wildlife lovers

Title Image

These days there’s an app for everything and everyone. For those of us with a passion for nature and the outdoors, they provide a fantastic way to improve our knowledge and identification skills, record and share our findings and even contribute to scientific research. We’ve compiled a list of our ten favourite (and free) apps for wildlife lovers. Most of these are designed for UK users, but if you’re based in other countries, have a dig around at the App Store or on Google Play; there’s bound to be something there to inspire you.

All of the apps listed are available for iPhone and Android and they’re all free. So if you’re needing some inspiration to get outside and start exploring, look no further.

Project Noah

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Project Noah

Explore and document wildlife wherever you are in the world with this educational app. Discover new organisms, record and share the specimens you find and help scientists collect important ecological data.

Birdtrack

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Birdtrack

Produced by the British Trust for Ornithology, BirdTrack lets you create logs of your bird sightings and create year and life lists. View your local hotspots and see what species have been seen in your area.

BatLib

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Batlib

The BatLib app contains ultrasonic calls of the most common European bat species, transformed to a sound that you can hear. Extremely useful to compare with the sounds heard using your heterodyne detector and a great tool for those new to bat detecting.

Nature Finder

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Nature Finder

The Nature Finder app from The Wildlife Trusts is a brilliant way to plan your wildlife excursions and learn about the animals you see while you’re there. It includes a map of more than 2000 nature reserves, lists of events, information on UK wildlife species and a directory for all 47 Wildlife Trusts.

Mammal Tracker

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Mammal Tracker

Identify and submit your records of mammals when you’re out and about with this mammal tracker app and contribute to the Mammal Society’s mammal population map of the British Isles. Submit a photograph if possible so that mammal experts can verify your sighting.

iGeology

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - iGeology

Discover exactly what’s beneath your feet and how the hidden geology affects the landscape you see with this app from the British Geological Society. Includes over 500 geological maps of Britain, available to view in 3D or from a birds-eye view.

Roger’s Mushrooms

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Rogers Mushrooms

With detailed descriptions of over 1500 species of mushrooms and fungi across Europe and North America, Rogers Mushrooms app is a must for both beginner and expert mycologists. It includes multiple images of each species in different stages of maturity, along with a detailed description. Choose between the free Lite version or the Pro version for a price of £2.50.

ForestXplorer app

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Forest Xplorer

Find out more about the trees around you with this app from the Forestry Commission. As well as a picture gallery and tree identifier you can download trail maps, see events happening in your local woodland and share your findings with your friends via Facebook or Twitter.

PlantTracker app

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Plant Tracker

Join forces with the Environment Agency, the University of Bristol and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to help map some of the UK’s most problematic invasive plants. Learn how to identify these species and submit geo-tagged photographs whenever you come across them.

OPAL Bugs Count

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Opal Bugs Count

Be a part of the nationwide bug hunt with this Bugs Count app. Learn about common groups of bugs, contribute to scientific research by taking part in a Species Quest and view the beautiful gallery of bug images from the Natural History Museum.

 

Book of the Week: Britain’s Plant Galls: A Photographic Guide

Continuing our selection of the very best titles available through NHBS:

Britain’s Plant Galls: A Photographic Guide

by Michael Chinery

What?

A photographic guide to the natural history and field identification of the “strange lumps and bumps that we call galls…” (Introduction, p5).

Why?

Plant galls are a great subject of research for the amateur naturalist. Bridging the sciences of botanyBritain's Plant Galls jacket image and entomology, they are a fascinating example of the symbiotic interdependence of nature, and the diversity of their size and appearance – from exquisitely attractive orb-like features and spiked swellings, to leaf blisters and discolourations – gives the interested naturalist a satisfying range of study.

The reader is taken on a guided tour of the galls arranged according to their host plants for ease of identification, and there are over 200 detailed colour photographs of the commonest galls to be found among Britain’s 1,000 species. The interaction between insect and plant which results in the gall is briefly described in each case, and the book contains a general introduction to the subject.

Who?

Michael Chinery is best known for his field guides to insects and other creepy-crawlies, especially those that occur in our gardens, and for his numerous books encouraging young people to explore and enjoy the countryside and its wildlife. Insects and wild flowers fascinated him from a very early age and this led inevitably to an interest in plant galls, with their intimate mix of plant and animal life. He joined the British Plant Gall Society soon after its formation  in 1985, and has been editing the Society’s journal, Cecidology, since 1990.

Available Now from NHBS


 

Four great books for wildlife gardeners

With wildlife conservation high on everyone’s agenda, here are some recommendations to introduce you to the natural diversity of your garden, and help you to create a haven for wildlife on your doorstep:

Four great books for wildlife gardeners

Guide to Garden Wildlife, by Richard Lewington, is a field guide to all the wildlife you might expect to encounter in the garden – from mammals, birds and insects to invertebrates and pond life. The species descriptions are full of useful detail, and Lewington provides the intricate illustrations that make this a real treasure of a handbook. There are informative sections on garden ecology, nest-boxes and bird feeders, and creating a garden pond.

Gardening for Butterflies, Bees and Other Beneficial Insects, by Jan Miller-Klein, homes in on practical techniques for encouraging insect diversity in your garden. A large-format tour through the seasons, with additional sections on tailored habitats, and species-appropriate planting, this beautifully photographed guide is perfect for every bug-friendly gardener looking to provide a good home for the full range of insect life.

RSPB Gardening for Wildlife: A Complete Guide to Nature-friendly Gardening, by Adrian Thomas, is a fantastic encyclopaedic introduction to how best to provide for the potential visitors to your garden, while maintaining its function for the family. A species-by-species guide to the ‘home needs’ of mammals, birds, insects and reptiles is followed by a substantial selection of practical projects, and helpful hints and appendices, to get your garden flourishing – whatever its size.


Dr Jennifer Owen’s Wildlife of a Garden: A Thirty-year Study, is a rare and illuminating book, in which is recorded – in scrupulous detail – the evidence of dramatic changes in populations in a single suburban garden in Leicester over a thirty-year period. An abundance of beautifully presented data, discussed in the context of wider biodiversity fluctuations, is balanced with numerous colour photographs, illustrations, and descriptive natural history of the residents of the garden. Modest in one sense, but unbelievably grand in timescale – and in its completeness – the rigorous effort and expertise that have been applied to the task of collecting and interpreting these data make this study a real one-off in the field of natural history writing.

Insectopedia – An Interview with Hugh Raffles

Insectopedia Jacket Image

We asked Hugh Raffles, author of Insectopedia, to give us a glimpse into the intriguing  subject matter of his new book. Here’s what he had to say:

What inspired you to write about insects?

Insects are fascinating. They exist in vast numbers and extraordinary diversity, and they’re ecologically and economically vital. They elicit intense and intensely ambivalent feelings from us – do they think? Do they feel? We’re not sure. Yet, as Elias Canetti put it, they’re “outlaws” and we kill them not just with impunity but, often, satisfaction. They’re mysterious, powerful, and our relations with them are very complicated. I find that a pretty inspiring combination.

What is your earliest insect memory?

When I was little, we used to go to Norfolk for a few weeks every summer. My mum would put a jam jar part-filled with water on our kitchen windowsill. Attracted by the jam, the wasps would land on the rim and fall into the trap. I’d watch for hours, fascinated but immobilized – too scared to rescue them but horrified by their struggles. I’m sure I had happier insect encounters, but that’s the one that’s stayed with me all these years!

Tell me about ‘mushi-eyes’ and ‘konchu-shonen’ – do you now have them, and are you one?

‘Konchu-shonen’ (insect-boy) and ‘mushi (insect)-eyes’ are terms I learned in Japan while researching the chapter on Japanese beetle collecting. I was fascinated to discover that so many celebrated Japanese artistic figures, including pioneers of anime and manga such as Tezuka Osamu and Hayao Miyazaki, had been obsessive insect-lovers as children. Once you know that, you see it clearly reflected in their work. Yoro Takeshi, a well-known neuroanatomist and popular writer in Japan, was also a ‘konchu-shonen.’ He told me that spending time with insects gives you ‘insect-eyes’ – an enhanced sensitivity to small differences, to the individuality of plants, animals, and people, and to the existence of multiple, intersecting worlds. I came to a love of insects pretty late in life but like to think I developed a little mushi-vision over the course of writing this book.

The chapters in Insectopedia are as much about people as they are about insects. Do you draw any parallels?

I’m wary of drawing these kinds of parallels. It’s too easy to project our dreams and ideologies onto animals and find the lessons that suit our purpose. I’m an anthropologist, not an entomologist and I like to explore the worlds that humans and insects create together in our entwined lives on this planet. There’s a lot to learn about both people and insects from looking closely at these connections. One of the things I’ve loved about writing this book has been meeting people who are deeply connected to insects, maybe as artists, musicians, farmers, scientists, or collectors, and learning about insects through their experience. That’s been very inspiring.

Which is your favourite story from the book?

My favorite fieldwork was in Shanghai, meeting people who trained crickets to fight and going to the casino to watch the battles. My favorite story though is about Yajima Minoru, a prominent and innovative designer of Japanese insect zoos. Mr. Minoru was present during the bombing of Tokyo in 1945. As we know, the destruction was immense, more people were killed in the raids and the firestorm they generated than in the nuclear explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mr. Minoru describes wandering dazed through the smouldering city among the traumatized population, in deep shock and despair. Then, in a crater, half-filled with water, he sees a dragonfly perched on a floating twig, laying her eggs. He takes it as a sign of rebirth amidst the rubble. The sight of this insect tells him that there’s a possibility of overcoming the nightmare and that there’s still a future to live for. This was a dramatic and moving story, but it wasn’t unusual to meet people who found in insects similar emotional strength and also refuge from difficult personal experiences.

If you could be an insect for a day, which would you be?

One of the 24-hour adult mayflies. I could live my entire life in the time allotted!

You obviously have a great love of diversity – have you always been a collector of specimens?

I do love the diversity of insects but I’m not actually a collector of specimens. I have a low-level kleptomania that makes it hard for me not to pick up stones, shells, dead insects, and other little things, and I have a desk cluttered up with that kind of stuff. But I’m not attracted to the killing and manipulation that’s involved in collecting. And, in fact, I’m not really attracted to collections. As I say somewhere in the book, they remind me of mausoleums – the transformation of living beings into aestheticized objects makes me a bit uneasy.

I was speaking metaphorically. The book is like a cabinet of curiosities and your interests so far-reaching…

Oh, that kind of collector! Yes, I do have some of that early modern curiosity. Happily, insects are everywhere and I had a lot of fun following them into unexpected and obscure places, and along the way learning about all kinds of topics about which I knew very little.

Does Insectopedia have an overall message?

It may sound clichéd, but I think of the book as a journey. It’s an exploration into our deep and varied connections with one part of the natural world. More than anything, I hope it creates reflection and helps people look at insects with slightly different eyes and slightly different feelings. If there is a message, it’s one that we already know: We’re all in this together!

What are your favourite natural history books?

I have a fondness for 19th-century naturalists which I developed when I was writing my first book, In Amazonia: A Natural History. I especially like Henry Walter Bates’ A Naturalist on the River Amazons and Alfred Russel Wallace’s Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro. Both books offer such a strong sense of first-hand experience and the unfolding struggle to understand the totality of a world so different from the one these two men left behind in England.

Who are your heroes in your field?

I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant but I don’t have heroes. However, I’ve come away from this book full of admiration for many of the people I spent time with. One of them is Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, a Swiss artist who, for more than 30 years, has been painting tiny insects she’s collected close to nuclear power plants around the world and is convinced that the high incidences of deformities she’s found are the result of low-level radiation. Her paintings are beautiful and disturbing and her discoveries should make us hesitate in the current rush to embrace nuclear power as a “green” energy source.

If you could spend a month working in another field, which would you choose?

I’d have to say marine biology. It’s always been my fantasy to spend time in the deep ocean. It might be the only landscape on this planet even more alien than the land of insects!

What will you be working on next?

I’m starting research on a book about rocks and stones. It’s a big project and I’m looking forward to getting going. Last summer I began some fieldwork in China and in a few weeks I’ll be going to the UK to visit a few megalithic sites. I’m very excited about it!

Buy Insectopedia now.

Visit Hugh Raffles’ Insectopedia site.

New! British Insect and Butterfly Field Guides

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Hot off the press from Collins are two great identification guides – the new edition of the Collins Complete Guide to British Insects, and the immensely popular third edition of the Collins Butterfly Guidenow available in paperback!

The new edition of the Collins Complete Guide to British Insects is a photographic field guide to all the common and some unusual species of insects across Britain that the keen amateur naturalist is likely to spot. Over 1,500 species are illustrated with detailed photographs chosen for their help in identification. Featured insect groups include: butterflies and moths, mayflies, dragonflies, damselflies, grasshoppers, crickets, earwigs, lacewings, bugs, bees, wasps, ants, beetles and larvae, all with keys to ensure accurate identification.

Order your copy of British Insects today!

The immensely popular third edition of the Collins Butterfly Guide is now available in paperback.  This comprehensive guide to the butterflies of Britain, Europe and North Africa describes and illustrates all 440 species, depicting both males and females and – where there is significant variation – subspecies.  Distribution maps accompany every widespread species, and the text covers all taxonomic nomenclature, distributions, flight periods, variations, habitats, behaviour, life cycles and conservation.

Collins Butterfly Guide is on special offer until 30 June 2009 order your copy today!

Check out our new range of homes for bugs and bees in your garden, including the Bee Hut, the Bumblebee Box and the Bug Mansion.

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Bestselling Wildlife Equipment at the Birdfair

The equipment bestsellers at this year’s Birdfair were small items for entomology:

Bug Box Magnifying Pot – great for freshwater sampling, examining insects and other invertebrates.
Bug Box Magnifying Jar

Entomological Collecting Pots – for holding small invertebrates for examination, they also fit our Pooter so you can swap pots as you collect things. Sold as singles, or in packs of 5.

Entomological Collecting Pots

Pooter – for collecting small arthropods for identification and examination. An entomology essential!
Pooter