The volunteer trainee ranger team have been discovering some of the smaller and often over looked flying creatures that frequent the reserve. Toby Green and Ross Newham have very kindly been helping the team to brush up on their moth identification skills.
On Friday morning we had a fairly good haul of moths in Toby’s garden despite the recent cold weather. We recorded and were taught about many of the early spring flyers including Hebrew Character, Clouded Drab, Common Quaker and Small Quaker. Two of the real highlights were the Water Carpet moth and Red Sword Grass moth which is amazingly well camouflaged to look exactly like a twig! When you see it for the first time you really have to be told it is in fact a living creature.
On Saturday night Ross had 3 different moth traps spread around the reserve and with the improvement in the weather there was also a marked increase in the number of moths we recorded, with a grand total of 192 individual moths from 17 different species.
Highlights from Saturday night’s effort included this beautiful Shoulder Stripe.
And this non moth visitor! The burying beetle, Nicrophorus humator.
These large beetles which are also known as Sexton Beetles are attracted to light and therefore often found in moth traps. The ghastly thing about them is that they bury and later feed their young on the dead flesh of small animals like garden birds and mice. Therefore, they often have a very strong and unpleasant odour. Although this all sounds rather disgusting, Sexton Beetles are actually a fascinating rare example of parental care in the insect world. Both parents actually feed their larvae in a similar way to how many seabirds feed their chicks fish. They digest the flesh of the dead animals and regurgitate it as liquid food for their young!
Burying beetles and their relatives the dung beetles have a very important job in our ecosystem. They can be thought of as the gravediggers and dustbin men of the natural world. Their job is to recycle nutrients from the waste of larger animals by putting it back in the ground so it can help to fertilize new plants.
And finally, if you are not grossed out enough already, take a closer look at the picture of the burying beetle! It has two parasitic mites stuck to it’s head! It is not only mammals that suffer from ticks but even creatures as small as beetles!
Thomas Plant, Species Protection Officer