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!

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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.

OPAL soil and earthworm survey

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The work I’m currently doing at the Open University’s Biodiversity Observatory is part of a much bigger project called Open Air Laboratories (OPAL). The aim is to encourage more people to find out about their environment, get involved with the science associated with environmental issues, and learn more about wildlife and conservation.

One of the (many!) activities that OPAL is promoting is a series of public participation surveys, and the first of these is now up and running. It is devoted to soils and earthworms. The survey asks you to select a suitable site, do some simple tests to assess the nature of the soil, and find and identify a range of common earthworm species. You’ll need to do a small amount of digging! The results are posted online and can then be seen on the survey map (some are appearing already).

In terms of biological recording, earthworms have been rather neglected in this country, perhaps surprisingly given our penchant for recording other rather obscure invertebrate groups, and at the moment there is no recording scheme nor published atlas for earthworms. The OPAL survey provides a well-illustrated Field Studies Council key to 12 common species of earthworm (download from the OPAL links given above), but if you want to take things further and look at the full range of species the Natural History Museum is seeking volunteers to undertake full surveys of worms in natural habitats. Training in the use of the full key by Sims and Gerard (1999, Synopses of the British Fauna, [currently out of print] UPDATE: now back in print) will be given. For further details of this, contact:
Dr David Jones, Soil Biodiversity Research Group, Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum, London, SW7 5BD. 020 7942 5706 or dtj [AT] nhm.ac.uk

While we’re on the subject, there’s a lot of good information on earthworms at the UCLAN Earthworm Research Group, and some fun video footage of Lumbricus terrestris at ARKive.

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