iSpot features moth new to Britain

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The OPAL iSpot project (see previous post) has had an exciting few days – a moth, found by six-year-old Katie Dobbins in Berkshire, was posted on iSpot, and has turned out to be a species not recorded in Britain before: Pryeria sinica, the Euonymus Leaf-notcher. This is native to Asia but has been found in a couple of places in the States since 2001.

Further details and more photos are on the Berkshire Moth Group website.

Thanks to Katie Dobbins for getting her dad to report the moth, and to Martin Honey of the Natural History Museum for his help in confirming its identity. Full details will be published as soon as possible, and the specimen is being passed on to the NHM.

This may well be just a one-off importation with plants or packaging, but it’s emerged via the Back Garden Moths forum that the Euonymus Leaf-notcher was also seen in Spain last June, the only other record for Europe that we’ve heard of (so far!).

The Open University press office have made good use of the story and so far it’s been picked up by the Express, Mail and Mirror. As usual the papers have their own perspective on this, and according to taste the moth is either the “UK’s rarest moth” or the next major pest outbreak.

All good fun, and hopefully Katie has enjoyed her encounters with biodiversity and the media!

New atlas of bees, wasps and ants

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The latest atlas in the set being published by BWARS arrived a week or two ago:
Edwards, R., and Roy, H. (eds) 2009. Provisional atlas of aculeate Hymenoptera of Britain and Ireland Part 7. Wallingford: Biological Records Centre.

Part 7 of this atlas includes maps for a further 58 species, with brief species accounts summarising the distribution, ecology and conservation status. Following the BWARS plan, part 7 contains a mix of ants, wasps and bees, including nine of the small (and hard to identify) parasitic jewel wasps in genus Chrysis, seven of the solitary wasps in genus Crossocerus, a range of solitary bees and six bumblebees (genus Bombus).

The latter group includes an account of Bombus cullumanus, last recorded in Britain in 1941, in Berkshire, and now considered extinct following recent surveys of all the sites from which it was previously known. By contrast, the map for Bombus hypnorum shows how far this species has spread since it colonised Britain in 2001.

There is a useful summary of the problems of distinguishing workers of Bombus terrestris from those of Bombus lucorum (queens and males can be separated relatively easily, although for queens the situation is becoming more difficult as colonies of the continental, white-tailed, race of Bombus terrestris have been imported for commercial use); and of the status of Bombus lucorum itself, which has been shown to be an aggregate of three very similar species: B. lucorum sensu stricto, B. magnus and B. cryptarum.

The dot maps in part 7 show the most recent records as black dots for the period 1970 to 2007 (or so it says on page 9, but I think at least some of the maps include records after 2007 – certainly that for Bombus hypnorum does). While this maintains consistency with the maps in the previous parts of the atlas, it does not enable more recent changes in distribution to be shown. For example, it would have been good to see the recent expansion of range in species such as the parasitic bee Sphecodes niger shown more clearly on the maps.

One reason for producing atlases, and one of the reasons why mambers of BWARS work so hard to collate the records, is to monitor changes in species and look out for any worrying declines, and in part 7 there several examples of just this. For instance, the closely related solitary bees Andrena rosae and A. stragulata have not previously been listed as scarce or declining, but these maps show that there is cause for concern with few recent records.

The BWARS data for these species (but not the species accounts) can be seen on the NBN Gateway – for example, here is the map for Specodes niger.

iSpot – helping people learn about wildlife

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iSpot was launched last summer: “iSpot is the place to learn more about wildlife and to share your interest with a friendly community. Take a look at the latest spots, start your own album of observations, join a group and get help identifying what you have seen.”

iSpot has been developed by the Open University as part of the Open Air Laboratories project (OPAL), with funding from the Big Lottery Fund. I’ve been part of the team working on it for the last year or so.

Here’s an introduction to what iSpot is all about:

So far we have over 1,000 registered users on the site, including a healthy mix of beginners and more experienced naturalists, all busy helping each other identify what they’ve seen. One thing we’re trying to encourage on the site is for people to explain why a species is that particular species, not just give its name. Of course, not all species can be identified from photos or descriptions, and the site allows this to be shown clearly where necessary.

Several national and local recording schemes have representatives active on the site, and they are being ‘badged’ with a logo next to their user name so that every time they are active on the site a link is given back to their society’s website. If you’re involved with a recording scheme or society and would like to find out more about this please do contact iSpot.