Moth Night 2017

Silver Y (Autographa gamma)
Viewed up-close, moths show a dazzling range of colours and patterns as well as a wonderful variety of wing and body shapes. The Silver Y (Autographa gamma) is named for the metallic silver mark on its forewing. Image by Oliver Haines.

What and when is moth night?

Moth Night 2017 takes place from Thursday 12th to Saturday 14th October. Organised by Atropos and Butterfly Conservation, this annual event aims to increase public awareness of moths and also to provide an organised period of recording by moth enthusiasts around the UK. The theme of the 2017 Moth Night is “Ivy and Sugaring”.

Why “Ivy and Sugaring”?

During September and October, ivy blossom provides a major source of nectar and pollen and so attracts a wide range of insects including honey bees, late-season butterflies, hoverflies and moths. Searching ivy blossom by torchlight is therefore a useful way of finding and surveying moths at this time of year and can be particularly productive between mid-September and mid-October. Sites should be scoped out during the daytime and then visited again at least one hour following dusk, using a torch to locate and identify the moths.

Sugaring is a useful technique for attracting moth species that may not be easy to catch using a moth trap. (It is also a good alternative if you don’t have access to a light trap). It involves painting a tree trunk or wooden post with a sweet sticky mixture and then going back after dark to see what has arrived. As many moth species feed on nectar, sap and honeydew, the sweet sugaring mix is particularly attractive to them. This useful guide from Butterfly Conservation includes a recipe, as well as lots of information about other methods of surveying moths without a moth trap.

How do I take part in Moth Night?

You can take part in Moth Night in any way you choose. If you have a moth trap then you can run this in your or garden or further afield. If you don’t have your own trap then you can look for moths that are attracted to your windows from the house lights, go for a walk to search local ivy blossom, or you might want to attend or organise a public event. For details of events in your area, take a look at the map on the Moth Night website.

Where and how do I submit my sightings?

Records of the moths you have seen should be submitted via the Moth Night online recording form. All of this information will be incorporated into the national dataset, helping to providing a comprehensive view of moth populations and distributions around the country. Full details and a list of FAQs about submitting your results can be viewed on the Moth Night website.

Help! What species of moth is this?

A good moth guide is invaluable for both the beginner and seasoned moth enthusiast. Below you will find a list of some of our best-loved moth ID guides:

Moths of Great Britain and Ireland

Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland
Paul Waring & Martin Townsend  

Alongside the comprehensive text descriptions, moths are illustrated in their natural resting postures. There are also paintings of different forms, underwings and other details to help with identification.

 

Moths of Great Britain and Ireland

Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland
Martin Townsend & Paul Waring

This is a great practical solution for every active moth enthusiast and is ideal for use in the field. Concise field descriptions written by leading moth experts Paul Waring and Martin Townsend feature opposite colour plates illustrated by Richard Lewington.

 

Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland

Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland
Phil Sterling & Mark Parsons

The most comprehensive field guide to micro-moths ever published, making this fascinating and important group of insects accessible to the general naturalist. It describes all the families of micro-moth and covers 1033 species with beautiful art and photographs.

 

Britain's Day-Flying Moths

Britain’s Day-Flying Moths
David Newland, Robert Still & Andy Swash

This concise photographic field guide will help you identify any of the 155 day-flying moths found in Britain and Ireland. Combining stunning photographs, authoritative text, and an easy-to-use design, Britain’s Day-Flying Moths makes a perfect travelling companion.

 

Can you recommend a moth trap?

For an introduction to the main types of moth traps and answers to our most frequently asked moth trap questions, take a look a the NHBS Guide to Moth Traps. We have also included a list here of some of our best-selling traps.

6V 12V Portable Heath Moth Trap

6W 12V Portable Heath Moth Trap

This small compact 6W moth trap runs from a 12 volt rechargeable battery with a minimum rating of 12Ah. The trap is lightweight and can be fully dismantled for easy transport.

 

 

Flatpack Skinner Moth Trap with Electrics

Flatpack Skinner Moth Trap with Electrics

Constructed from FSC certified European birch plywood, this trap slots together easily without the need for any tools. It has a 240V lighting system fitted and includes a 25W blue black bulb.

 

Mobile 15W Actinic Skinner Moth Trap

Mobile 15W Actinic Skinner Moth Trap

This trap is particularly suitable for garden use. Easily assembled, it folds flat for storage or transportation. It is designed so you can access the catch whilst the bulb is still on.

 

Twin 30W Actinic Robinson Moth Trap

Twin 30W Actinic Robinson Moth Trap

The Robinson is the traditional design of moth trap, and offers maxiumum catch rates and retention. This trap is particularly suited to unattended overnight operation.

Our full range of moth books and moth traps can be viewed at nhbs.com

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

Britain’s Butterflies: some good news but mostly bad

Marsh Fritillary
The Marsh Fritillary is just one of the species currently experiencing long-term decline. Image by Mark Searle.

News that three-quarters of the UK’s butterfly species have declined in the last four decades despite intensive conservation efforts comes as a disturbing jolt.

Climate change and pesticides may be playing a more harmful role than previously thought, according to The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015, which can be read here.

Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, behind the annual report, also blame habitat deterioration due to agricultural intensification and changing woodland management, particularly for those butterflies who only live in particular habitats.

This year’s findings reveal a clear north-south split, with butterflies in England declining and those in Scotland showing no long-term trend. Less severe habitat loss in the north and different effects of climate change are thought to be among the reasons.

Image by Mark Searle.

For some species the situation is stark. The long-term decline of Wood White, White Admiral and Marsh Fritillary shows no sign of slowing, while once widespread species such as the Essex Skipper and Small Heath are now amongst the UK’s most severely declining butterflies.

The Wall, once a common farmland butterfly in southern Britain, has suffered a 25 per cent decline since 2005, the once abundant Gatekeeper a 44 per cent decline in the same period, while numbers of Small Skipper have been below average every year this century.

Sorry reading but there is a silver(ish) lining – and the report’s authors believe conservation efforts may be beginning to help.

The UK’s most endangered butterfly, the High Brown Fritillary, has been fairly stable in the last decade, while numbers of threatened Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, Pearl-Bordered Fritillary, Dingy Skipper and Silver-Studded Blue have increased.

Red Admiral
Image by Mark Searle.

Many common migrant species such as Clouded Yellow, Red Admiral, and Painted Lady, have increased dramatically. While rarer migrants such as the Scarce Tortoiseshell and Long-Tailed Blue have also been arriving in the UK in unprecedented numbers.

 

Naturalist, artist and author Steven Falk on his new field guide to bees

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and IrelandNaturalist and wildlife artist Steven Falk has had a diverse career with wildlife and conservation, including working as an entomologist with Nature Conservancy Council, and as natural history keeper for major museums. He is now Entomologist and Invertebrate Specialist at UK invertebrate conservation organisation Buglife. His new Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland will be published by British Wildlife Publishing next month.

Tell us about your role at Buglife.
At Buglife, I have quite a diverse role. I provide information and advice to colleagues, external enquirers and a plethora of external organisations. I’ve been particularly involved with overseeing the production of new red lists for assorted invertebrate groups, also providing feedback to the various national pollinator strategies, new agri-environment schemes, plus helping to develop projects for some of our most endangered invertebrate species. We also have a consultancy now, Buglife Services, which carries out and coordinates invertebrate surveys all over Britain. We’ve just done an exciting survey of the A30 and A38 in Devon and Cornwall. We need more understanding of road verge invertebrates, especially pollinators.

How did you come to write this landmark identification guide to all the bees of Britain and Ireland?
I was approached by Andrew Branson in 2012 and was initially quite reluctant, because you cannot use a traditional field guide approach for bees, as many cannot be identified to species level in the field (they require the taking of a specimen for critical examination under a microscope) and it is crucial that we keep the national dataset (run by BWARS) clean and reliable by being honest about where the limits of field identification lie. So I agreed to write it on the basis that it covered all 275 species, had reliable keys, and could appeal to both hardcore recorders and general naturalists. I knew this was feasible, because we had faced the same challenge with the seminal book British Hoverflies (Stubbs & Falk, 1983, 2002). So it is a field guide in the loose sense – it will help you to recognise much of what you see in the field, but also indicate at which point you need to take specimens and put them under a microscope. But you don’t need to collect bees or have a microscope to enjoy the book – we made sure of that.

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and IrelandThere is growing concern about the conservation status of bees – how are our bees getting on, and how might the publication of this book help them?
Yes, we need to be concerned about bees. We have already lost 25 species and several more are teetering on the edge of extinction. Good bee habitat continues to be lost. Brownfield land came to the rescue last century, but most of that has now been developed or lost its flowery early successional stages, which is what so many bees need. The research being carried out on pesticides such as neonicotinioids is also pretty disturbing – check out the work by Prof. Dave Goulson at Sussex University. It seems to be affecting bee numbers in many parts of the country. The national pollinator strategies being published by UK member states are a call to arms – let’s get monitoring bees. But the emphasis is on developing citizen science to achieve some of this, because there is little funding. High quality amateur recording is part of this plan, and Britain’s strong tradition of this makes it a realistic proposition. But the last comprehensive coverage of British bees was Saunders, 1896, and it has been the lack of modern ID literature that has held bee recording back. Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland, and the supporting web feature (embedded in my Flickr site) will hopefully fix this!

Your career as a wildlife artist began early – you worked on the colour plates for Alan Stubb’s guide to British Hoverflies when you were just a teenager. How did this collaboration come about?
I pinned some bumblebees I had caught near my home in North London when I was 12. Half of them turned out to be bee-like hoverflies, and that started a fascination with hoverflies. The following summer holiday, I went out with a net almost every day, and seemed to find a new type of hoverfly daily. I was totally hooked on them, and I painted things that fascinated me, including those hoverflies. I exhibited some hoverfly artwork at the 1976 AES Exhibition in Hampstead, and met Alan Stubbs who told me he was writing a new guide to hoverflies. I said I wanted to do the artwork (I was only 14), and the rest is history. It took 3 years of evenings, and I think I was 17 when I finished it. I’m very proud of those plates, and you can see how my style develops (plate 8 was the first and plate 7 was the last – you can see a lampshade reflection in the early ones!).

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and IrelandDo we see any of your artwork in this book?
Sadly not, my eyesight is not great these days and I do very little drawing and painting now. But the British Wildlife Publishing ‘house artist’ is the great Richard Lewington, and he’s done a magnificent job. The bumblebee plates in particular, are just stunning, the best ever produced.

What sort of techniques do you use to produce your artwork – which is strikingly realistic and very detailed?
I painted birds a lot as a young child and was very aware of the bird artists of the time and their styles, people like Basil Ede, Charles Tunnicliffe and Robert Gillmor. I particularly liked the detail and photo-realism of Basil Ede’s work and became aware that he used gouache. So I started to use gouache and preferred it to watercolour. I’d often start with a black silhouette and build up the colour and texture on top of this, which is the opposite of watercolour painting. But others, like Denys Ovendon and Richard Lewington, show what can be done with watercolour, so it’s just a taste thing. For really intense or subtle colours, I’d need to use watercolours, because they produce a much larger colour pallete than gouache. Richard knows his watercolours – you need to if you want to tackle butterflies like blues, coppers and purple emperors. I’m possibly more proud of my black and white illustrations than my colour work. Here I was most influenced by the likes A. J. E. Terzi and Arthur Smith, house artists for the Natural History Museum. Their use of cross-hatching and stippling is so skillful, and I’ve tried to emulate this in my pen and ink artwork. Never use parallel lines in cross hatching!

Any future interesting projects coming up that you can tell us about – artistic, or conservation-based?
There are many more books I’d like to write, especially for wasps and assorted fly groups. It’s not just the subject, it’s the approach. I like getting into the mindset of the beginner and finding the right language and approach. We need to get more people recording invertebrates. I like the double-pronged approach of books plus web resources, and I have a popular and ever-expanding Flickr site that greatly facilitates the identification of many invertebrate groups. On the conservation front, I’m keen to continue promoting understanding of pollinators and to increase the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes. Invertebrate conservation is in my blood and I’ll be pursuing it to the very end in one form or another. I might even try illustrating again one day if I can find the right glasses!

Order your copy of the Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland
Visit Steven Falk’s website

Sweden’s first regional dragonfly atlas – interview with author Tommy Karlsson

Tommy Karlsson, author of Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
Tommy Karlsson, author of Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
Congratulations on the book and on publishing the first regional distribution atlas for dragonflies in Sweden. What is your background in natural history? Have you always been interested in dragonflies?
Thank you very much! I am a biologist and work since 2005 at the department of Nature Conservation at the County Administrative Board of Östergötland, mainly with action plans for threatened species. I have always been interested by natural history, and as a kid I liked to collect larvae of dragonflies, stoneflies, mayflies and other limnic insects. However, my interest for imago dragonflies and identification of species started during my biology studies, about 2002-2003.

For those who may not be familiar with the natural history of Sweden, what sort of place is Östergötland in terms of biodiversity and landscape?
Östergötland is situated in south east Sweden and covers 14,500 km sq. It is situated in the boreonemoral vegetation zone and can be divided into four natural geographic regions: the southern woodlands, the plains, the archipelago, and the northern woodlands. The woodlands and the archipelago mainly consist of coniferous forests, while the plains mainly consists of intensively cultivated agricultural land. The woodlands have great numbers of lakes and mires, while the plains are very poor in water. The main part of Östergötland is lowlands, but in the southern woodlands there are considerable areas above 200 m.a.s.l. The bedrock in the county is mainly acid but in the western part of the plains there is an area of Cambro-silurian calcareous rock. During the last glaciation, calcareous material was dispersed southwards, resulting in calcareous soils in some parts of the southern woodlands with granite bedrock. As a consequence of bedrock and soils you find mainly oligotrophic and dystrophic waters in the northern woodlands, eutrophic waters in the plains, and a mix of oligotrophic, dystrophic and mesotrophic in the southern woodlands. Östergötland, along with other southeastern regions, is one of the most species-rich regions in Sweden considering invertebrates due to its relatively warm and dry summers. It is well known for its considerable areas with hollow oaks and the saprolyxic fauna and flora associated with them.

Onychogomphus foripatus description and distribution map from Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
Onychogomphus foripatus description and distribution map from Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
How do you co-ordinate a project like this, with 150 volunteers over the course of five years (2008-2012), and what were some of the highs and lows?
It worked out very well since all was based on voluntarism. After getting initial information about surveying and identifying dragonflies, the participants could work quite independently. Most of the communication with the participants was made through e-mail. In addition, several activities were organized: kick-offs every spring, survey courses and excursions during summer, and reporting courses during fall. Many of the participants had no experience of surveying dragonflies before, and the fact that we managed to get so many volunteer amateurs out surveying dragonflies was one of the highlights of the project. Furthermore, the participants were a heterogenous group in terms of age and gender, and not only older men which is common in entomological contexts.

In the study you make comparisons with 10 other regions in Europe. What conclusions have you been able to draw through these comparisons?
Yes, I compare Östergötland with some other European regions where dragonfly surveys have been performed. Most of the regions have more species than Östergötland because they are situated south of Östergötland. On the other hand, Östergötland has two species which generally are missing in the other regions: Coenagrion johanssoni and Aeshna serrata. When comparing the species the regions have in common, the frequency for some species differs a lot between Östergötland and the other regions. Östergötland is distinguished by the fact that species classified as red-listed and/or decreasing in Europe occur more frequently in Östergötland than in most of the other regions. Particularly Coenagrion armatum and Leucorrhinia caudalis can be pointed out as much more common in Östergötland. Thus, Östergötland has both a national and international responsibility for these species, together with A. serrata, Aeshna viridis and Nehalennia speciosa. The reason for this is that important habitats for these species, such as bog ponds and mesotrophic lakes are naturally more common in Sweden, and that the exploitation of waters in Sweden has not been as severe as in central Europe.

Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
What were some of the other significant findings of the project?
Probably because of global warming there is an ongoing change in the European dragonfly fauna where several southern species have expanded rapidly northwards and some northern species have retreated. In Östergötland the establishment of Lestes virens and Ischnura pumilio has been documented during the survey. L. virens was observed for the first time in the county in 2005 and, during the period 2008-2012, was found at several new localities every year. I. pumilio was first noted for the Östergötland in 2012.

And what is next for you and for the Östergötlands Entomological Society?
This year I have got the assignment to co-ordinate Sweden’s monitoring of the dragonflies species listed in the EU’s habitat directive. It will be very nice to work professionally with dragonflies and I have learned a lot about these species and dragonfly monitoring during the survey in Östergötland. I started this work last week with a field study of Ophiogomphus cecilia, a species only occurring in some few unregulated rivers in the very far north of Sweden. Concerning the Entomological Society in Östergötland, we have discussed the possibility of starting up another voluntary survey of some other easy identified insect group, e.g. shield bugs or grasshoppers, but nothing is ready to start yet.

Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland] is available now from NHBS

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.

 

On the importance of pollinators in East Africa: an interview with Whitley Gold Award winner Dino Martins

Dino MartinsDr Dino Martins is an entomologist and evolutionary biologist with a PhD in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology from Harvard University. He is also well-known in his native East Africa where he works to educate farmers about the importance of the conservation of pollinators. It is this work that recently won Dr Martins the prestigious Whitley Gold Award presented by the Friends and Scottish Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature. His book, The Pocket Guide to the Insects of East Africa has just been published by Random House Struik. What’s more, he takes great photos, the majority of those in the book being his own.

Congratulations on winning the award – how did you become involved in entomology, and what does this award mean to you personally?

I am very honoured and deeply humbled – I take this award as recognition for the immense contribution by pollinators (mainly insects) and small-scale farmers in rural areas around the world to biodiversity. So I am receiving it I feel on their behalf. My earliest memories are of insects, as I spent a lot of time watching and chasing after them as a child. This award will enable me to scale up our work on the conservation of pollinators in East Africa, and also raise further awareness among farmers, school children and the general public on how this important ecosystem service puts food on our plates and nutrition in our bodies.

You  work extensively with the East African farmers, educating them about the importance of pollinators for healthy crop yields – what is your main message to them?

Cuckoo wasp and lycaenid butterfly on coriander flowers in Turkana, Northern Kenya – photo credit: Dino Martins
Cuckoo wasp and lycaenid butterfly on coriander flowers in Turkana, Northern Kenya – photo credit: Dino Martins

Our main message to farmers is to celebrate the biodiversity that underpins the life support systems of the planet. Farmers are our greatest allies in the conservation of biodiversity in East Africa. Most of the forest habitats, for example, are surrounded by small-scale farmers whose actions can go a long way to either protect or degrade the forests, and of course the many endemic species they are home to. We want to get farmers and everyone to understand the connection between their own lives, food production and wild insects. We do a simple experiment where we bag one flower and leave one open to insects, then watch what develops over the next few days or weeks depending on the crop. It is always uplifting to see the moment a light goes on in the farmers’ eyes when they see the connection between insects visiting the flowers and the yields they enjoy. Working to help conserve pollinators and restore habitats has seen yields increase up to ten-fold on some crops, such as passionfruit and watermelon.

Entomology may be perceived as a less glamorous area related to wildlife conservation, but it is so essential globally – what is the appeal, and the importance of your field for world biodiversity?

Honeybee on the blackjack weed (Bidens pilosa) in the Kerio Valley Kenya - photo credit: Dino Martins
Honeybee on the blackjack weed (Bidens pilosa) in the Kerio Valley, Kenya – photo credit: Dino Martins

As Professor E. O. Wilson stated so eloquently some time ago: “Insects are the little creatures that run the world”. This is more true than ever in Africa where the large mammals are important, but also depend on insects that pollinate wild plants, disperse seeds, help build soil and recycle nutrients through the whole ecosystem. Understanding biodiversity is essential for sustainable development and conservation in Africa today. I feel that we are uncovering a previously ‘hidden’, somewhat unrecognised sphere of biodiversity: that of the rural farming landscape. When farmers create hedgerows of natural plants, protect patches of forest or grassland, or work together to create on-farm habitats we are finding that some of these landscapes are especially rich in pollinators. For example, on one mango farm in the Kerio Valley we have recorded over 1,000 different species of flower-visiting insects. This farmer harvests up to 12,000 mangoes weekly that earn him thousands of dollars. Without pollinating insects there would be no income on this farm. Watermelon farming brings in over 10 million US $ annually to just one county (Baringo) in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Scaling this up globally means that a huge part of our food production and especially high-value crops like nuts and berries are dependent on wild insects.

Do you feel confident that enough is being done to protect our pollinators?

There is a lot of interest in pollinators today that has come about from regional initiatives, including the Global Pollination Project managed by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. There is also an on-going assessment of pollinators by the IPBES (I am a coordinating lead author for one of the chapters). Locally, many farmers, gardeners, beekeepers and enthusiasts are working to create habitats, provide nesting sites and learn about the pollinators around them. This is very inspiring and heart-warming to see. In East Africa, where we have a huge diversity of bees and other insects, one of the challenges is actually just identifying them, and this is where we are working with farmers – so that they can recognise that the diversity on their farms is of direct benefit to them and their families. Major challenges remain in terms of better understanding and managing pesticides and also farming in ways that are compatible with nature while scaling up food production worldwide.

pocket insects east africaWhat is coming up for you next, following this award, and the publication of your book, Pocket Guide to the Insects of East Africa?

I am back in Kenya now after an amazing few weeks in London. I am very much looking forward to getting back into working with farmers and completing a number of other books including ‘The Bees of East Africa: A Natural History’, and ‘The Butterflies of Eastern Africa’ with Steve Collins. A book we launched digitally on pollinators is also due to be printed shortly, but can also be downloaded here.

The Pocket Guide to the Insects of East Africa is being very well-received here and abroad, and I have had hundreds of messages saying how exciting it is to finally have a book on insects for the region. On the work front I have just been appointed the Director of the Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia, Kenya and am looking forward to getting more entomology projects going there.

The Pocket Guide to the Insects of East Africa is available now from NHBS

Ecology gifts raise money for key UK conservation charities

Creature Candy mugsLizzie Barker is a working ecological consultant, and the creator of gift and homeware design company, Creature Candy. This newly-launched enterprise produces quality British-made products featuring hand-drawn illustrations of wildlife. As well as raising profits for the Bat Conservation Trust, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and Butterfly Conservation, Creature Candy also intends to raise awareness around the conservation of our endangered and protected wildlife. We asked Lizzie how it all came about:

What are your background and current interests as an ecologist?

I studied Zoology between 2007 and 2010 at Aberystwyth University and graduated with a first degree. I then went on to work at Darwin Ecology in September 2010 as a consultant ecologist and have been there ever since. It’s a great company to work for and my job is very varied, although I specialise in bats. I hold a Natural England bat and great crested newt survey licence, but I also survey for dormice, badgers and reptiles. I love the spring and summer months so I can get outdoors and explore the English countryside for wildlife.

Creature Candy printsWhat’s the story behind Creature Candy?

I wanted to take more of a proactive role in wildlife conservation and raise money for the charities that I work so closely with as a consultant. Two years ago (whilst sitting on my sun lounger in Portugal) I came up with the idea of Creature Candy. I not only wanted to raise money for the charities, but also raise awareness of Britain’s declining & protected wildlife species, and to inspire people to take active roles in conservation. It was also incredibly important to me to change perceptions of bats, which is why my first design was a beautiful, charismatic brown long-eared bat illustrated in its true form, not a typical black silhouette with red eyes and fangs! It was also a priority to produce all our products with a “Made in England” stamp on them, which I think is very appealing in today’s market dominated by mass produced imported products.

How do you find the time to be an ecologist and an entrepreneur?

It’s a very hard balance to achieve. On a typical day, I switch off from the ecological consultancy world at 5pm, make myself a cup of tea and re-enter my office as the Director of Creature Candy. I then usually work for a few hours each night on marketing, processing orders and accounting, before spending some time with my husband before bed. It’s very important to find time for a social life and to relax, and I’m sometime guilty of over-working. However my husband is very supportive and I couldn’t manage the business without that support.

Can you tell us more about the artwork, and what’s to come for the range?

Our illustrations are hand drawn by my friend Jo Medlicott. Jo is a very talented artist and draws inspiration for our designs from photography and the natural world. Our next design is likely to be a red squirrel or a bird and we would like to introduce aprons and fine bone china jugs into the product range. The rest is top secret!Creature Candy moth tea towel

Browse Creature Candy products at NHBS

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.

 

 

In search of Odonata: an interview with ‘Dragonflight’ author Marianne Taylor

National Dragonfly Week is fast approaching, so in our quest for things Odonata-related we interviewed Marianne Taylor – author of Dragonflight: In Search of Britain’s Dragonflies and Damselflies. The book documents the author’s adventures around Britain over two summers, in search of as many species as possible…

Dragonflight: In Search of Britain's Dragonflies and Damselflies jacket imageAs a keen wildlife watcher from an early age, what drew you in particular to the passion for dragonflies which led to the writing of this book?

I have always enjoyed seeing dragonflies and damselflies when I was out birdwatching, but it wasn’t until I began taking wildlife photographs seriously, in 2009-2010, that I started to really appreciate Odonata. Photography has made me want to look at all wildlife in new ways, and I found the forms of dragons and damsels very appealing. I also quickly developed an interest in taking flight photographs – initially of birds but that quickly expanded to include everything that flies. As relatively large targets, dragonflies make challenging but very satisfying subjects for flight photography. And my geeky need to catalogue all my images correctly forced me to take on the challenge of properly identifying every dragon and damsel that I photographed. Learning about identification went hand-in-hand with learning distribution, behaviour and other aspects of their ecology.

You have spent two summers immersed in dragonfly and damselfly-spotting – and have encountered the majority of established British species.  How has such a dedicated involvement over a set period added to your knowledge of the natural history of your subject? Any surprising discoveries? There must be nothing like prolonged in-the-field focus for gaining an intimate appreciation of their behaviour…

I’d certainly not say I’m any expert, but I have learned a huge amount in the last two years, both from books as I ‘revised’ my subject, and from first-hand observation. I can now answer most questions put to me about Odonata by interested laypeople. What has surprised me most is the complexity of their behaviour, in particular territorial and courtship behaviour. I was also absolutely fascinated to see damselflies apparently ‘mobbing’ large dragonflies – if that’s really what it was, that is a sophisticated response to a  dangerous predator that I would never have expected to see from an insect. I would love to learn more about Odonata intelligence. I am quite convinced that they have some awareness of, and interest in, humans! I would also love to know more about their behaviour prior to adulthood.

Do you have a favourite, or stand-out, Odonata encounter from the book?

The morning spent at Strumpshaw Fen is what comes to mind – the Norfolk Hawker (see gallery – below) that finally gave itself up after a very long search, quickly followed by the utterly charming female Scarce Chaser that was, hands down, my favourite individual dragonfly from the whole two years. Two new species in the space of half an hour, both of them allowing prolonged and close-range observation. I was also really impressed by the damselflies (I only mentioned one in the book but there were several) which I picked out of spiders’ webs – it was great to have the opportunity to study them very closely and watch how deftly they cleaned the spider silk from themselves before going on their way.

Have you continued your search this year?

I have continued to watch and enjoy Odonata on my local patch and elsewhere when weather has permitted. I was also lucky enough to visit Sri Lanka in April, where I photographed and identified as many of the amazingly diverse local Odonata as I could. I have not sought out any new species in Britain so far this year, but that may be about to change as a new colony of Red-veined Darters has been found not far from home, and I’m hoping to pay them a visit next week. I am also very much hoping that RSPB Rainham Marshes will draw in another Southern Migrant Hawker this summer/autumn and that I’ll get to see it this time!

And finally what would be your top tips for aspiring dragon/damsel enthusiasts who want to encounter more of these magnificent beasts for themselves?

Establish a garden pond – even a small one may well be used by the commoner damsels. Always walk slowly and check low-level waterside vegetation – this is where resting and newly emerged dragons and damsels may be found, and they will let you look at them much more closely than the more mature and lively ones will. Try to spend a couple of hours at least at a site, as most species behave differently at different times of day – for example, many only engage in courtship behaviour during the warmest hours of the day. Remember that the chaser, skimmer and darter dragons in particular are creatures of habit and like to visit the same perching spots again and again, so if you disturb one from its perch, just loiter nearby and it will probably come back. To improve your chances of seeing scarcer species, regularly check the sightings pages at the British Dragonfly Society’s website to check where and when they are being seen. Take photographs! It helps greatly with identification to have a static image you can study at length, and you can get excellent macro images from most point-and-shoot digital cameras these days.

Dragonflight available now from NHBS

Check out our recommended kit and field guides for successful dragonfly-spotting

Visit Marianne Taylor’s photography and wildlife blog, The Wild Side

Gallery of images from Dragonflight, taken by Marianne Taylor: