Sunday, 21 July 2013

Kids, the next generation!

Well last time we spoke, I left you with the thought of doing the Big Butterfly Count and I hope you took part, or are going to take part. I've just done mine in the garden on this glorious sunny afternoon and was pleased to see 4 Large Whites, a Ringlet and a Small Tortoiseshell in the allocated 15 minutes. Yes, that's all it takes so you have no excuse, and don't worry either because it's running till 11th August, so you haven't missed it! Again, no excuses, just get out there and do it and if you need that special reason or excuse why you should do it, here's something that'll make you think:
How many wasps have you seen this summer? 
How many ladybirds have you seen this summer?
I bet it's not many, I'd be surprised if you said it was as many as 10. I've only seen 4 ladybirds this year and I've been out looking for them! As for wasps, I've seen 2 this year and that was this week, and it's pretty likely I saw the same one twice, just on different days. This isn't right, we've just had a two week heatwave and at some point or other during those glorious sunny days, all of us should've come across a wasp at some point, whether it's been shooing it away from your ice cream, or watching them gnaw away at your fence for nest building materials. But I bet many of you haven't seen them. Now this is the reason we, the general public, are asked to do surveys. We are the eyes of the world, we see everything, everyday. We notice the changes, we see the declines, we see the improvements and just by observation alone, we are part of that intricate web, that delicate balance that is nature. If we see changes, especially detrimental ones, and do nothing, then we are a part of that demise. Yet, by doing a simple little thing as sitting in your garden, with a nice drink in lovely weather and taking 15 minutes out just to look at what butterflies are passing through your little patch, then you are helping. Not only helping to stop the demise, but even in spotting the demise.
Maybe if we had been monitoring wasps over the last few years, we might have spotted a problem in their numbers. However, as far as I know, no surveys have been done and now we know something's wrong.

I've also just completed the last of my National Bat Monitoring Program field bat survey for the year. Due to injury, I had a friend along with me to help and also learn as she is rather new to all this bat malarkey.
I've been doing the same transects for the past 4 years and was saying to my friend Jackie how much I've noticed declines in some areas and improvements in others. And it's information like this conservation groups need to monitor the welfare of our wildlife and it's people like us who help them to see what's going on out in the towns and countryside.
It's not rocket science, the even give you an ID chart of what to look for.
It's not rocket science, you don't need to have any special qualifications or prior knowledge and no-one is going to be upset if you find it all a little daunting and you're not sure what you're doing. we all had to start somewhere.

Starting somewhere, a different take.

I've got a wonderful little 7 year old niece called Gabby who has a passing interest in nature of sorts and usually comes to me if she has any questions in the subject, or wants to tell me something about what she's seen. This year in her primary school, she and her classmates have been learning all about insects and bats. Gabby, never being the shy one, often tells the teacher what her Uncle Hawk has told her. So much so, the teacher ended up asking Gabby, if her Uncle Hawk could come in and have a chat with the class. Not wanting to disappoint, I gathered some of my specimens together, and I also had a chat with the lovely Ann Ainsworth of Ipswich Museum. I told Ann of the task that had been laid before me and she helped by providing a display box of British butterflies and other small interesting creatures for a small fee. Also being a member of the Amateur Entomologists Society I told them what I was up to and asked them if they could provide any leaflets and stuff for the kids. They didn't fail me and Dafydd Lewis of the AES didn't fail me and sent me lots of leaflets, mags, pencils and stickers.
One of my boxes of Hawkmoths.

I also wanted the kids to see living examples of our insect life and decided to take along the remaining 4 emperor caterpillars (I'll tell you later what happened to the others) and my Poplar Hawkmoth caterpillars. It suddenly occurred to me that it was Stag beetle season and the night before I went on a little hunt with torch in hand to areas where I knew them to be present. One of these areas was around Ipswich hospital and it wasn't long before I was approached by an officer of the law enquiring as to what I was doing exactly. Thankfully, he laughed when I told him what and why I was searching for and left me to get on with it.
Alas, I didn't find any males stag beetles with the large antler type pincers, but I did come across a female stag beetle and a Violet beetle, which I knew would be happily received.

So armed with my specimens alive and dead and some advice from wonderful Twitter friends going round in my head (thanks guys, you know who you are), the following lunchtime saw me waiting around the reception area of Trimley St Mary Primary School, feeling like a naughty school kid waiting to see the headmistress. Frankly, Mrs Jiggings was far from scary and was only to pleased to see me and helped me set up my display whilst the kids were having their lunch. The weather was scorching outside and my nerves weren't helping, after all, I had never done anything like this before. But the kids came in and were sent to me in groups of 6, and what wonderful kids they were. So knowledgeable, they had obviously learnt loads over the past year and were keen not only to see what were in my little boxes, but to tell me everything they had learnt. I was soon put at ease with their friendliness and politeness, something we don't see too much in today's society. The afternoon whizzed by with lots of interesting questions and some wonderful answers such as when one little boy picked up my dead stick insect specimen and I asked him does he know why the insect looks like a stick?
Boy: Because it's a stick?
Me: No, it's an insect that looks like a stick. But why do you think it looks like a stick?
Boy: Because its mum and dad was a stick! 

Love it, it made me smile anyway and I explained to him the meaning of camouflage and that's why a stick insect looks like a stick. To actually see the point when they suddenly get it was quite rewarding and for that alone, it was worth being there. It wasn't long before the teacher brought in the kids from the class next door, who also had lots of questions and answers for me.
At the end of it all, as the kids got ready for home, some came up to me to give me wonderful pictures they had done, just for me. Here they are:

Loads of wonderful bugs

A female caterpillar from Toby

A wonderfully coloured in Lime Hawkmoth that I downloaded from
the AES.
So, judging from the feedback I received, from the kids as well as Mrs Jiggings, they loved it. So much so, I've been asked to come back at the start of next term and do it again, I've happily agreed.

The importance of specimens

One thing that struck me was how amazed the kids were when they saw my hawkmoth collection. They had never seen moths that big before, nor had they seen some of the butterflies that the museum had loaned to me. If it wasn't for collections like these, people wouldn't know about these creatures. People often say to me how amazing and colourful some of the moths are after seeing moths from my moth trap and they never knew that moths were like that. Now, let me say here and now, I never harm any of the moths I capture. Sometimes, the occasional one dies on me unfortunately. The moths that I have for display, are moths that have been prepared by someone else, from collections that are being broken up. My Death's Head Hawkmoth dates back to 1894 for instance. 
My Death's Head Hawkmoth from 1894. Think you've seen it before? Then
think 'Silence of the Lambs'.
As yet, I cannot bring myself to kill an insect just to stick a pin through it, but I am finding the odd dead bumblebee in my garden from time to time and am learning to set and pin them.

Two specimens being set on a setting block.
 Slowly, very slowly, I'm beginning to build up my own pinned collection. A collection that will allow others, children as well, to see these insects close up without the fear of being stung.
Pins are used to hold the various limbs and wings in place so it sets in that particular way
instead of being all curled up.
People, myself included, will be able to study minute details such as the hairs on the legs or the wing venation pattern (the various cells in a wing).
Doing this enables others to study the specimen easily as trying to move a wing or leg after it's dried up
would only cause the appendage to break off.
Once the insect has set, usually after a few days, I pin them in to the temporary display case. with their respective label which marks what it is. Like I say, I'm just beginning to learn this art and for anyone else who's thinking of doing this, there are many reputable companies who sell all the right equipment. Unfortunately, the first company I dealt with was supposed to reputable but I found far from. They're a Polish company who told me they were processing my order via Paypal and even though they never told me how much the postage would be. After much waiting, I got an email in broken English demanding I make the payment. Apparently, unlike most companies who take the money from your Paypal account, these don't, you have to send the money to them via Paypal. This should've been a warning to me, but no I ignored it and paid. When the order arrived 2 weeks later, I opened it up to find that they had sent me one item out of three that I had asked for and three items I hadn't asked for. I sent them an email asking them to rectify the situation. That was 2 weeks ago and I still haven't heard from them and doubt if I ever will.
Thankfully, they are not the only suppliers of entomological equipment and am now dealing with an English company. You live and learn.

The munchers update!

As I mentioned earlier, I took the remaining 4 munchers to the school visit. I can almost see the looks of concerned shock and horror in wondering what's happened to all the many other munchers. Has there been some sort of catastrophe? Did Trousers the cat get TOO curious? Fear not dear follower, all is well. The many other munchers have completed their destructive munching cycle and are now entering the long drawn out cycle of metamorphosis. Yes, they're all busy in their little cocoons now and will spend 1, possibly 2 winters, in those cocoons. So a long wait for them to change.
All set in for winter, an Emperor moth cocoon.

Cocoon in the making.

Unfortunately, for the Poplar hawkmoth caterpillars, I do have some bad news to report. Alas, three of the eight have died off. I suspected this would happen, as some were getting bigger than the others at quite a rate and the poorly three were very lethargic. Are the good news front, the remaining five are doing well and getting bigger everyday.
Poplar Hawkmoth caterpillar, the pointy bit is the tail.

I think that's enough for this week, I hope you have a good week.

Till then, take care.

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