The Importance of Nest Sites for Birds and Bees

Changes in land use can result in strong competition between species that have historically survived alongside eachother, such as goldfinches and chaffinches. Goldfinch by Tony Smith is licenced under CC BY 2.0.

Over the last century, land use in the UK has changed drastically. Small mixed-crop farms, traditionally separated by lanes, hedgerows and wild meadows have been replaced with larger, more specialised facilities. At the same time, the density of grazing animals such as sheep and cattle has also risen substantially. This combination of land-use change and agricultural intensification has contributed significantly to habitat degradation and biodiversity loss, and has led to huge, often dire, changes for the wildlife that call these places home.

Understanding these processes is of huge importance to conservationists, and a considerable amount of research has been conducted into the broad scale effects of land use changes on biodiversity. It is less well understood, however, why seemingly similar species can be affected to a different extent by local changes in their habitat.

A recent study, conducted by Dr Andrew Higginson at the University of Exeter, suggests that competition for nesting space may be a key factor in the differences observed. His study used a mathematical model to predict the likely outcome when populations of birds and bees are faced with a reduction in suitable nesting sites. Results indicated that larger, earlier-nesting species tend to fare better in these conditions, but at the expense of smaller, later-nesting species who, in the real world, would either fail to find a nesting site or be forced into using a poor quality or risky location.

Dr Higginson’s results illustrate that, whilst two or more similar species can co-exist together very happily when there are sufficient nesting spaces available, as soon as these become limited, competition and conflict become inevitable. In severe situations, species that have historically thrived in the same environment may suddenly find themselves battling for survival.

A key message from the study was that conservation efforts should ensure that priority is given to the creation and maintenance of suitable nesting sites. Conservation practices often focus on provision of food for wildlife, such as planting wildflowers for bees and providing food for our garden birds. Preserving and creating safe and accessible places for these animals to nest, however, is just as critical if we are to ensure their continued survival.

Head over to www.nhbs.com for our full range of bird nest boxes and insect nesting aids, or download our full nest box price list.

 

The NHBS Guide to Moth Traps

Flatpack Skinner Moth Trap with Electrics
The Flatpack Skinner Moth Trap is made from FSC timber and is easy to assemble.

In this brief guide we will take a look at the main types and designs of moth traps. We will also address many of our most frequently asked questions, including why you will no longer find Mercury Vapour traps for sale at nhbs.com.

Robinson Moth Traps

Twin 30W Actinic Robinson Moth TrapRobinson Traps are the preferred choice amongst many serious entomologists because they offer the highest retention rates. On a very good night you may catch in excess of 500 moths. They tend to be more expensive that other types of trap, however, and they are quite large. They also cannot be collapsed down for storage or transport. The Robinson Trap is available with twin actinic bulbs and is powered by 240V mains electricity.

Skinner Moth Traps

Mobile 15W Actinic Skinner Moth TrapSkinner Moth Traps will attract a similar number of moths to Robinson Traps. However, they are less efficient at holding the catch. The main advantages of Skinner Traps are price and portability, and they also let you access your catch whilst the trap is running. Skinner Traps collapse down quickly and easily when not in use, making them very easy to store and transport. They are available with actinic electrics and can be provided with either 240V (mains powered) or 12V (battery powered) control panels. Lucent traps have a clever design with all components fitting neatly into a suitcase-style case.

Heath Moth Traps

6W 12V Portable Heath Moth TrapThe traditional Heath Moth Trap has a small actinic tube mounted vertically within three vanes that work together to attract and then deflect moths downwards into the holding chamber below. The traps are very lightweight and portable and are usually powered by a 12V battery, although mains powered traps are also available. Variations on the Heath Trap design include the “Plastic Bucket” model which allows the trap to be packed away and carried conveniently. Although catches from Heath Traps tend to be less than for Robinson and Skinner traps due to their lower wattage bulbs, their affordability and portability makes them a great choice for beginners or for use at remote sites.

Moth Collecting Tents

Moth Collecting TentMoth Collecting Tents provide a unique alternative to traditional style moth traps and are ideal for educational use or group trapping events. They consist of a large white fabric structure which is fitted with a UV light source. Moths which are attracted by the light settle on the white fabric and can be observed or collected for study. As the collecting area is large and accessible, it is easy for many individuals to view the specimens at the same time. However, tents and sheets do not have the same retention rates as traditional box-type traps.

Moth Trapping FAQs

What kind of trap is best for garden or educational use?
The design of the Skinner Trap means that you can access the catch without having to switch off the bulb. This is particularly useful if you are looking at your catch over the course of the evening, rather than leaving the trap all night and returning to it in the morning. Skinner Traps also have the added benefit of collapsing down, making them easier to store.

Which trap is best for unattended trapping?
The Robinson Trap is the only trap that will retain the whole catch after dawn. Some moths will escape from other trap designs.

Which trap is most portable?
Heath Traps are the smallest and easiest to transport. They can also run off a 12V battery, allowing them to be used in remote sites. The Safari and Ranger Moth Traps are the smallest and lightest traps we sell, so are ideal for travelling, however, they do require mains electricity (or a generator) to run.

Why can I no longer find Mercury Vapour traps on your website?
Mercury Vapour bulbs have recently been phased out as part of the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive. Therefore, we have removed the traps from our range and are now focusing on actinic replacements. If you have a Mercury Vapour trap and would like to convert it to run with actinic electrics, please get in touch with us to have a chat about this.

What are actinic bulbs?
Actinic bulbs produce a small amount of UV light alongside the visible light which makes them more “attractive” to moths. They are not as bright as Mercury Vapour bulbs but because they don’t get as hot they are much safer to use, particularly for public and attended trapping events. They are also much less of a disturbance to neighbours if you are using the trap in your garden.

What is the difference in catch rates between the different traps?
The Robinson Trap and Skinner Trap will attract a similar number of moths but the Robinson has the highest retention rate of the two. Heath Traps will retain fewer moths but will still attract the same range of species. You can therefore obtain similar results trapping for a longer period or over several nights in the same area.

Do different traps attract different species?
No, all traps using actinic electrics will attract the same range of species. However, species of macro-moth from different families have been shown to vary in the extent to which they are attracted to a light source. This means that care must be taken when estimating local abundance from the relative abundance of species in your trap as some species will be attracted from a wider area than others.

A full range of moth traps and other entomological equipment is available at www.nhbs.com

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.