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A team of Museum scientists and volunteers are in Slapton Ley Nature Reserve this week to sample invertebrates from a variety of habitats. Volunteer Rachel Clark reports back on their first day and plans for the week ahead.

 

Day one - the road to Slapton


An early start was made by all ten of us today to arrive at the Museum nice and early. Before 10am it's still a place buzzing with activity as scientists work and front-of-house and retail staff prepare for some of the 4 million people who come through our doors into the Museum.

 

Soon enough we were leaving London behind and heading off for the sunny coasts of Devon and our field site.

 

All about Slapton Ley Nature Reserve


Slapton Ley Nature Reserve is in Devon, near Dartmouth in the South West of England. The reserve is an area of biodiversity importance as it is a designated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) with a rich coastal heritage. The lake in the nature reserve is separated from the sea by a thin band of land, with a lovely beach too!

 

With this in mind and the recent headlines during the winter, sampling places like Slapton Ley Nature Reserve is more important than ever as sooner rather than later the environment will be claimed by the sea.

 

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A view of the Slapton Ley Nature Reserve to the right showing the size of the lake and the surrounding woodland and cliffs (some of which we will survey this week), and the gorgeous blue sea to the left.


Slapton Ley Nature Reserve has been studied well by scientists in certain areas such as bats and birds, but the invertebrates in the area are under-recorded. Jan Beccaloni found this out earlier in the year and believed it was time to do something about it!

 

Why and what we're sampling

 

We are sampling for collections enhancement and to provide species records to the Fields Studies Council (FSC). The habitats we will be sampling are a range of natural and semi-natural habitats, including woodland, cliffs, grassland, open water and banks.

 

The invertebrates we are collecting include:

  • Arachnids (spiders and their relatives)
  • Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps)
  • Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths)
  • Diptera (flies)
  • Orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets)
  • Isopoda (woodlice)
  • Myriapods (millipedes and centipedes)

 

Now the serious explaining is over, time for the fun of the adventure! 

 

The long journey


First I must say a big thank you to Jan Beccaloni for driving us down to Slapton, Thomas our Hymenoptera specialist for driving down the bags and equipment in his amazing 40-year-old Land Rover, and last but not least Georgie for directing us.  

 

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Georgie navigating while enjoying a ride in a classic Land Rover.

 

I personally tried to use the time to catch up on some podcasts on my iPhone which are over a year old, including one on Alfred Russel Wallace and the Birds of Paradise... I fell asleep twice! It was a 8 hour drive, though we all had a brilliant laugh in the mini bus throughout the day and got to know each other.

 

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The bright and breezy (at a petrol station!). Left to right: Beau, Fevziye (Fez), Sara, Thomas, Ryan, Jan, Georgie, George, Miranda and Rachel).

 

We passed one famous landmark, Stonehenge, very slowly which gave everyone a chance to take photos and we also passed some impressive fields with what looked to be hundreds of bales waiting to be taken into storage. We finally arrived in Slapton at our base camp of Start Bay FSC Centre at 19:00 (ish) hours with a lovely meal waiting for us ready prepared by the amazing staff at Slapton.

 

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A busy Stonehenge on a sunny summers day, it wasn’t only busy there... it was busy on the road running past!

 

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The mass of hay bales we encountered on our travels.

 

Some of us (myself included) were so eager to start collecting we set up a moth trap before heading off to bed. Well, that was the plan, some of us stayed up until gone past midnight looking at our catch. We plan to set it up tomorrow night and will write about it in a following post.

 

Hope you have enjoyed the excitement of our long journey! Bigger and better things to come!

 

Thank you for reading

Rachel 

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Last month we were fortunate to have two students from the Young Graduates for Museums and Galleries Programme (YGMG), Ayana Porteous-Simpson and Carrie Roberts, spend two weeks helping us in the Garden including the surveying and comparing two of our hedges. They learnt several things along the way as they explain below.

 

 

"After a whirlwind introduction on the 19 August, we began our two week internship at the Wildlife Garden. We were greeted not only by Larrissa, Caroline, Naomi and volunteers, but also by Bee, Bella and Honey, the resident sheep we helped look after for the following two weeks. Our efforts were concentrated mainly on hedgerows, and the comparison of which of the two made a better habitat for wildlife.

 

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'Good morning' from Honey the sheep.


Almost immediately after starting our internship here, it became clear that identifying plants would be an important and large part of our project. Our second hedge has many different kinds of plant species. Identifying them was no easy task, but with the help of Caroline we knew several woody plants by the end of the week. To help gain a picture of the background of hedgerows, Caroline enlisted the help of Roy Vickery who spoke to us about the history of English plants such as hawthorn and holly.

 

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Roy grasping the nettle.

 

One of our first afternoons at the Garden was spent with Museum lepidopterist, Alessandro Giusti, who sorted the moths from the light trap that we helped to set up the night before. Though initially apprehensive, we developed a new found appreciation of the moths, which we realised weren’t scary at all, but quite cute!

 

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Poplar hawk moth.

 

Our next challenge was the dreaded spider counting. Tom Thomas, a fellow of The British Naturalists Association, knowing much more about spiders than we did, took us sweep-netting around the garden in search of our eight-legged enemies.

 

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Searching for spiders with Tom Thomas ...

 

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... around the ponds ...

 

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... and in the yew hedge ...

 

After looking at them under a microscope we found, much in the same way as the moths, they were in fact far more interesting creatures than we expected.

 

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... and then close up!

 

To learn more about the kinds of fauna that live in the hedgerows, we used three different methods of animal catching. The first, (pitfall trapping), helped us look at some of the invertebrates that lived in the hedgerows. We had a hard time identifying them, but we learnt again just how the Wildlife Garden attracts all kinds of insects and other invertebrates.

 

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Identifying some of our findings from the pitfall traps.


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Sadly, our humane mammal traps did not present us with the same array of wildlife, and though we managed to catch a few mice, they escaped before we could examine them. Squirrels, attracted by the seed we lay out for the mice, seemed to work against us as they broke into the traps and stole the food.

 

Lastly, Duncan Sivell who works within the Museum’s Life Sciences department came to help us with sweep netting. Though most of what we found were flies (moth flies, hoverflies, mayflies and midges) and wasps, we also found spiders, and a southern oak bush cricket.

 

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Ayana tries to sweep net.


The two weeks we spent in the Wildlife Garden were both challenging and interesting. Though we knew we would be gardening, we had almost no idea how much we would learn on top of it. From watering plants to spending the day examining spiders under a microscope, we had a great time, and appreciate all the patience and work put in by Larissa, Caroline, Naomi and the volunteers to help us."

 

 

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"We will miss the sheep too."

 

And we also learnt some useful tips from Ayana and Carrie

Thank you and we miss you two already!

 

If you'd like to come and see the Garden and its hedgerows yourself, we'll be giving 'A Walk on the Wildside' tours between 16.30 and 21.30 as part of this Friday's free Science Uncovered event at the Museum.

 

If you can't make it on Friday, then don't miss our Hedgerow Harvest event and talks on the 6 October.

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On a summer’s day in the Wildlife Garden and the Museum grounds, you might find several hundred different kinds of insects. If you count the individuals, including the honey bees and ants, then maybe thousands. Who knows, they might even outnumber the daily throng of human visitors to our galleries and exhibitions.

 

Indeed, there are more species of insect in the world than any other  group - experts have named over 1 million. (Some entomologists even  estimate 10 million species.) And not a day goes by for us humans, I’m  sure, without an encounter with at least one or many of them.

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Discover insect life this weekend in the Wildlife Garden as you  explore the meadows by the ponds. There are displays, activities and  tours and also talks in the nearby Darwin Dentre to join.

Come along on Saturday and Sunday, 2 and 3 July, to Insect Weekend in the Wildlife Garden and Darwin Centre and meet some of this multitudinous and diverse group. Find out about the buzzers, flutterers and crawlers from bees to beetles and damelflies to butterflies and moths.

 

On both days, there will be lots of fun activities for all ages, and many displays to explore.

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What will you see at Insect Weekend under the microscope? And tread carefully by the ponds, froglets are about. Select images to enlarge

Recent sightings in the garden includes lots of butterflies, from large white to comma, holly blue and speckled wood varieties.

 

Tiny froglets and toadlets are emerging from the ponds, so you'll need to tread carefully in the grasslands by the ponds. And don't forget the hundreds of tropical butterflies to see next door on the East lawn in our Sensational Butterflies exhibition.

 

Another highlight of the weekend event on Sunday will be botany expert Roy Vickery's tour of the garden about the 'forgotten uses of wild plants'. The 30-minute tours start around 1.45 and 3.15.

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Spiders are distant relatives of insects but that doesn't seem to bother them when it comes to their dietary requirements. Not sure what would escape this spider web photographed recently in the Wildlife Garden!

Visitors will get an insight into the insect diets of other creatures like bats, spiders and frogs. Apparently, at last month's Bat Festival in the Wildlife Garden, a lttle pipestrelle  bat spent nearly an hour flying over and around the main pond, in  pursuit of midges and other small insects. It caused a bit of a stir! And the Wildlife Garden team will be doing a bat survey on Saturday.

 

Max Barclay's Beetlemania talk and his collection highlights on Saturday are sure to be popular and another talk on Sunday, Caught in a Trap, will reveal the secrets of collecting insects. Both free talks are in the Attenborough Studio at 12.30 and 14.30.

 

Find out about the Wildlife Garden online

What is an insect?

Insects (from the Latin insectum) are a class of living creatures within the arthropods that have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body (head, thorax, and abdomen), three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae.

 

Find out more about insects and spiders on our Nature Online pages

 

Every day we get enquiries about identifying strange looking insects on our online Identification forum

 

Join the OPAL Bugs Count survey - an amazing 204,205 bugs have already been counted so far.

 

Read the Bug Count launch news story and find out the 6 minibeasts to look out for

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Do you know what bugs are living near you? Are some spiders more common in cities or in the countryside?

 

Help us find out by joining in the new nationwide Bugs Count survey launched today, 8 June, by the Museum and OPAL partnership. The scientists asking for our help want to know what bugs are out there and the differences between what we find in the cities or rural areas.

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Hunt for bugs in soil, short or long grass. Search on paving and outsides of buildings and on plants and shrubs.small-tortoiseshell-butterfly-crop.jpg

On your bugs hunt, keep a special eye out for six specific minibeasts, including the small tortoiseshell butterfly (right), which is in decline. Use the Species Quest bugs sheet to help in your identification.

 

Find out how to join in the OPAL Bugs Count and what resources you'll need

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You'll be surprised at what buggy creatures you can find in towns and the countryside.

 

On the recent Big Nature Count of our Wildlife Garden, we found over 60 species of bugs in a morning and the final count hasn't been done yet. As well as the unusual drab wood soldier fly, Solva marginata, discovered, there was a new Coleophora glaucicolella moth found, not recorded in the garden before. And just the other day, a Museum volunteer out on a field trip in Surrey's Bookham Common, found a population of scarlet malachite beetles, left, one of the UK's rarest insects.

 

Read the news story about the bug count and which six specific minibeasts you should look out for

 

Come along to the Museum's Attenborough Studio this Saturday, 11 June, to hear two Big City Big Hunt talks at 12.30 and 14.30 with our scientists. Afterwards, you can take part in various bug-hunting activities and pick up a Bugs Count pack in the Wildlife Garden.

What's a bug?

The term ‘bug’ is a widely used name for insects. In our Bugs Count we are including non-insect groups such as spiders, centipedes, millipedes and woodlice. These are all collectively part of the group called arthropods and are invertebrates.

 

True bugs are a specific group of insects that include shield bugs, water bugs, aphids, scale insects and others.

 

More bug information

 

Find out about bug identification in our Nature Online section

 

Join the Bug forum

 

Browse our Young naturalists page and enjoy the Big Nature Day video

 

Discover how to identify the Cockshafer May bug and watch the video


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Ever heard the squeal of the Death's-head hawkmoth? As a Halloween treat, you can now.

 

Acherontia atropos, Death's-head hawkmoth in action

The Death's-head hawkmoth has one of the most devilish reputations of any insect, says moth expert Ian Kitching in this short video. One of the  reasons why we feature it as our special Species of the day on Halloween. Another reason, of course - aside from being large - is the moth's skull-like marking on its thorax which has contributed to its mythical status.

Get a sneak peak at Sunday's Death's-head hawkmoth, our Species of the day.

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Another frightening creature you can get to know better this Halloween is Teraphosa blondi, the Goliath bird-eating spider (pictured above), and the world’s heaviest spider. It usually feeds on insects such as crickets and beetles, but also eats small mammals, frogs and reptiles, injecting venom into its prey with its 20mm fangs. Nice.

 

Despite its formidable appearance, a bite from this tarantula species is apparently no worse than a wasp sting. Goliath tarantulas are often kept as pets.

 

Both these critters will get you in the Halloween mood, so browse our Species of the day at the weekend for more deadly details. The Goliath spider features on Saturday and the Death's-head hawkmoth on Sunday.
Explore Species of the day online

Halloween at the Museum

If you're looking for an excuse to avoid the local trick or treat brigade, then come to the Museum on Halloween and join our free Myths and Monsters of the Mediterannean event. You'll see the fossil that may have inspired the legend of the one-eyed Cyclops, and discover why the devil has horns. There are 2 events at 12.30 and 14.30 on the Sunday, 31 October.

 

Over the weekend, bring the kids and explore our Creepy Crawlies gallery and visit the Wildlife Garden. It's the last weekend the garden is open and there are bound to be some spiders about.

 

For adults there is Night Safari on Monday evening, 1 November, although I think it's now sold out. The lucky safari visitors with tickets will be treated to a night of wondrous spookification including albino bat specimen, cursed gems, scarab beetles and demonish cocktails at the bar.

 

Slime on.

 

Spider photo courtesy G. Beccaloni

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What are you most squeamish about? Giant cockroaches, spiders, centipedes, scorpions, beetles or even moths?

 

Me, I'd say most of them, especially if they were the size of a hand or more. Luckily, most of the biggest bugs on our planet are usually found in jungle rainforests, savannahs and caves, or in the safety of our Museum collections.

 

However, this summer, some of our largest and heaviest insect and arachnid specimens are being let out to star in the Big Bugs exhibition at our Natural History Museum at Tring which opened yesterday and runs until 21 November.

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The Australian rhinoceros cockroach is the heaviest cockroach in the world. A female was recorded at just over 1 oz (33.45gms).

From the safety of their exhibition display cases, despite my squeamishness, like many others I will find these mega mini-beasts utterly mesmerising to behold, and highly recommend a visit to Big Bugs. The exhibition is free.

Live creatures like the venomous Emperor scorpion and world's longest stick insect at 14 inches, are on show alongside many rare and incredible specimens from the Natural History Museum's collection. It's the first time that all these enormous bug specimens have been displayed together.


And it's not just the scary bugs and spiders you'll meet, but eye-catching beauties like the delicate Helicopter damselfly and Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterfly, the largest butterfly in the world.

 

There will also be creepy-crawly activities for kids at the exhibition and other bug-related activities at Tring throughout the summer season.

 

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The docile giant leaf bush-cricket from New Guinea has a maximun wingspan of 11 inches

 

The inspiration behind the exhibition is a recently published Museum book, Big Bugs Life-size by our Museum entomologist and bug expert, George Beccaloni, which features actual life-size pictures of each marvellous mini-beast included.

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My favourites in the book are the nocturnal rhinoceros cockroach, which is the world's heaviest cockroach, and the giant leaf bush cricket with a wing span of a whopping 11 inches. But the white witch moth, below right, tops that with 12 inches and the greatest wingspan of any living insect.

 

Read the news story about the Big Bugs exhibition and book

 

The Natural History Museum at Tring is located in Hertfordshire.

 

Explore insects and spiders on our website. You can identify and discuss bugs on our bug forum

 

 

 

Click on the images to enlarge them.
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Animal Attraction in Nature Live

Posted by Aoife Feb 17, 2010

Ah, Valentines Day. A day when red roses, gifts of chocolates, and lingering glances abound. Its all about showing the one you love, that you love them.

 

But what happens in the animal world?

 

There are lots of different ways that animals attract and win a mate. Some of them are similar to what humans, do, and others are..umm..slightly different.

 

In the deep sea, its so hard to find a significant other that when the male angler fish finds the lady of his dreams, he never lets go. Special nostrils help him detect her in the blackness down in the depths, then he gives her a little nip, latches on, and stays put. Over time, he actually fuses with her, sharing her blood supply and nutrients. Together forever!

 

The Adele Penguin inhabits one of the coldest regions on Earth: Antarctica! So when the males think they have found someone to snuggle up to, they will present them with some beautiful shiny stones, to build their nest with. Together, they will raise their family, but actually they don't see much of each other after wooing and mating; each takes turns watching the nest, so its only when they swap over that they meet up.

 

And finally; spiders! These amazing creatures have so many different ways of attracting and winning the lady of their dreams, and not surprising. Firstly, with so many thousands of species out there, you have to get it right. Secondly, its a dangerous game for the males - put a foot wrong, and they may end up a dinner for the lady! So some species will do a special dance, waving their colourful legs around, others like Tarantulas will soothingly stroke the females long, lovely, hairy legs, and other species give the spider equivalent of a box of chocolates; a nice big juicy fly wrapped in silk. Mmmmmm delicious!

 

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Spider curator Jan Beccaloni and Ana Rita.

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Spiders galore in What's new at the Museum

Posted by Rose Oct 16, 2009


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Is my garden the set for Arachnophobia 3?

Yes I’m lucky enough to have a little patch of green in London, but not so sure at the moment it really is mine. Spiders and their webs have taken it over.

 

There’s been a lot in the press about the recent record numbers of spiders invading our homes this autumn but for me it’s the garden invasion that’s far more troubling.

 

Last time I counted there were at least 20 big webs on either side of my garden (it’s small) and that’s without probing deeper into the foliage. As dusk gathers every evening when I’m home from work, I’m out there, torch in hand on spider patrol.

 

The big golden brown one I first discovered in my garden (shown above) is still my favourite. It just grows and grows (lengthways) and has the most elegant of webs. It has a leg span of at least 2 inches. There are now many more big brown ones which I’ve learned are known as Cross spiders (not because of their temperament I’m assured, but because of a distinctive white cross on their backs). Their real name is Araneus didematus. It’s the females which are the biggest.

 

I’m not particularly scared of spiders, but last night I started to panic when I came across a huge new swarm of spindly-legged ones crawling over a border bed. These ones are Harvestman spiders, closely related to daddy-long-legs. The Harvestman gang seem to be getting closer to the house then ever before. Should I be worried?

 

I asked Stuart Hine, our Museum arachnid expert, who’s been busy giving comments to the media on the outbreak. His advice is the same as other experts: ‘Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone.’ Ok will do. Stuart also explained that “Spiders are most prevalent at this time of year. The trouble is that like spiders, we humans also enjoy warm dry autumns. So we spend more time outdoors and notice more of them.’ Well, I suppose he has a point.


But in the meantime, I’ll be getting the conkers ready, whether spiders are conkerphobes or not! Serious arachnophobes should also have a look at the recent Independent’s article on how to beat the terror.

 

You can visit the arachnid room in the Museum's Creepy Crawlies gallery and find out just how amazing spiders really are.

 

Join the Museum's bug forum to identify your spiders.

 

For that extra scary bit of bedtime reading try a new Arachnids book just out written by another Museum spider expert, Jan Beccaloni.

 

And did you know there are over 650 species of spider in Britain? But, only a very few of these are spiders that bite. One of the Museum website's most popular news stories uncovers the truth about the UK’s false widow spiders.