Bug Hunt @ Midsummer Common, Cambridge

Hello internet users,

I am running a Bug hunt on 1st July 2012 at Midsummer Common in Cambridge. Starting at 10am and running throughout the day, we will be surveying for the Common’s invertebrates. Refreshments and snacks will be provided. You’re encouraged to bring a picnic. There is a wonderful Common Orchard for all enjoy.

Further details @ http://www.midsummercommon.org.uk/





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Bee-bee sitting

It would seem that the Royal Mail is modern day equivalent of the stork as it delivered 400 Red mason bees, Osmia rufa to my door today. After spending 12 hours in the back of a warm van, some had started to wake from their overwintering cocoons. Although, they were easily subdued into thinking it’s winter again by popping them into the fridge. At 4 degrees Celsius it’s a warm winter for them and it should keep them happy until Monday when I can put them out in the artificial nests we have in place over East Anglia.


Above is a photo of the set-up. In each tube, or emergence chamber that has the hole taped up for now lies 6 males and 6 females , all placed in a cool bag, for hygiene reasons (to appease my housemates) next to my milk! One of each tube will be put out next to each Osmia nest.

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Sorry it’s been a week since my last posting. I have had a busy time starting my new job and moving house etc. I will have a further week out of action as I will be training in Reading. I will post some time next week for sure. Watch this space. I have a few cool, draft posts, I’ll try and finish off in the meantime. Now to meet the Reading, AgriLand team as one of the team.

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More of the same with some extra

More collating reference specimens of Hymenoptera from the New Forest that had been DNA barcoded. I didn’t manage to complete the full collection. Just 130 more to do: Monday’s job.

It’s strange that it’s the usual volunteers (and what would have been mine) first formal week of starting and yet I was fully conversant with the lab organisation and  was able to help them at the end of the day making sure the whole transect was completed for a fresh start on Monday. This made me realise I am really getting the intensive volunteer experience I mentioned when I first started.


Ants always have elbowed antennae at the tip as seen under a microscope.

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Hymenoptera Project

With a strong sorting team now set up and to give me some variety I’m told, I have moved to the Hymenoptera project. Any excuse really to work with them! I love bees, wasps and ants – well less so of the latter but they form the Hymenoptera grouping. The Soil Biodiversity Group which works primarily in the New Forest in Hampshire (and Borneo later on in the year) has found some 350 Hymenoptera species which is a huge amount of diversity for one area. Specimens taken from the New Forest were DNA barcoded, so their DNA sequence is known, are sorted in the boxes at the back and labelled with different reference numbers. I’m in the process of collating a collection of each of the species found there so they can be pinned later on and form a collection. This will be BILD0202used to match the codes of the  DNA barcoding with the species names which is based on their morphology.

With more than 200 insects to hunt through, and labels to write for each reference specimen, this is no easy task. Strangely I still really enjoy this: taking a peek at the different species as I go.

Below is a example collection that has been started on. I can’t wait to start pinning to see them better. I will work extra hard on Friday to hopefully start next week.


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Final Countdown

With the reserve warden from Froglife on holiday I was asked to cover his absence so that the final (yes final!) ponds can be raked over during this period with an existing volunteer team. After an initial safety talk and induction into the day’s work, we commenced the raking task. It was great fun leading this group and there was a big turn out, with a strong, and now muscley team of 6 volunteers – thanks!

Interestingly, we saw a great diving beetle (the size of a £2 coin although more elliptical of course), a diving beetle and a few newts which I was pleased I had remembered the identifying features of to share with everyone. Naturally I pointed out a stonewort to two.

I must remember to give some wildflower seeds to one of the volunteers who would like to attract even more pollinators in her garden – great news!

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Ant ‘ere!

Some funny looking ants were found in my samples – I say funny because they looked like ants but they appeared to have a stockier waist, that is the part between the thorax and the abdomen. And indeed they were Hymenoptera! Ants are in the Hymenoptera Order but I was sorting them further into ants and non-ants, i.e. bees and wasps because ants are easily confused with some wasps as was the case today. I was so pleased I managed to spot the difference which is the ‘waist’ part is smooth and in one segment in Hymenoptera,  whereas ants usually have 2 segments.

Keiron from the SBG is working on photographing some specimens for an event he is running at the NHM – I hope to be able to show you some images here too.

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Pictured below are some menaces in terms of pond conservation. Pike, as you may know are a carnivore which therefore eats smaller fish. Firstly, it is a concern that any fish is found at this nature reserve because fish eat newt and frog tadpoles greedily and so reduce these less widespread animals. On the other hand, pike do not cause a concern for conservation because it is a relatively common fish in most ponds and rivers in the UK. But my main concern is that to be able to sustain a carnivore, this fish must have plenty of food – so there must be more fish in the pond in some quite high numbers to be able to support this consumer.

Geese are also a danger in terms of pond conservation, shown by the egg below, because they introduce nutrients to ponds after grazing on grass – which they eat a lot of. In this way, ponds can be loaded with nitrogen and provide an unsuitable environment for plants and animals which need unpolluted waters such the rare bearded stonewort, found here.


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Froggy Friday

With the Newts soon to wake up and thus become more active and the Reserve warden’s imminent holiday, more raking was done today. I will be leading some of the volunteer sessions while the Warden is on holiday so I hope we can have the rest of the Reserve raked (all 375 ponds) ready for his return and the start of the Big Newt Count on the 24th March.

Even this early, though on quite a warm day, newts were seen in one pond: it had gentle, sloping and vegetated sides and it was quite shallow with a Southern exposure – perfect for them. The site is photographed below. Your garden needn’t be this messy though, but it goes to show – newts, which are beautiful, don’t mind it. Some 15 or so must have been found here.



Here is a smooth newt: more slender than Great Crested Newts. Please note, all care was taken handling these by trained professionals and one must have a licence to handle Great Crested Newts as they are protected under European Law. Natural England are kept up-dated with our work which has been fully approved.

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More sorting

I took some photos of beetles to grab your attention. They were just lying around in the lab. It’s great to be around such interesting collections everyday. The dung beetles at the far right have very cool, jagged legs.

So today I was sorting more invertebrates from leaf litter samples taken form the New Forest where the Soil Biodiversity Group has been surveying at for the last 10 years. Some alluring specimens were found today – the elytrum , or ‘shell’ of a beetle found in my quadrat was brilliant blue, almost like glitter. Amazing.

I am growing a repertoire of knowledge of the taxonomic features of invertebrates at the Order level. For example, Hemiptera, true bugs, such as the shield beetle are really easy to spot now as they are hard and have a very long mouth-piece. Diptera larvae have no legs – whilst Lepidoptera and Coleoptera do. I was working on identifying the larval stages today – tricky but and as a general rule beetles have U or C shaped larva whereas Diptera, of flies are straight.


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