ID Trainers – June 2017 update

Having concluded May with an introduction to Diptera – much to the delight of our very own Matt Harrow who lives breaths, sleeps (and probably eats) flies! We steamed ahead into June, here’s a snap shot at what we’ve been getting up to.

Flowering plants

Flowering plants, like the prodigcal son before we knew it Fred Rumsey had returned to us inundated with even more plant matter, books and a charismatic grin ready to impart more wisdom. One is never disappointed when Fred is around.

I will not mince my words when I say we got extremely wet on our field trip to Benfleet (no really, soaked through, please remember waterproof trousers people!), despite the rain this was a really enjoyable excursion as we were treated to rarities such as hairy vetchling (Lathyrus hirsutus) as well as our fair share of urban plants in London including members of the Rubiaceae family.

Guided by Fred we’ll re-explore flowering plants in August and see what delights are in store for us later in the season.

Tring bioblitz

What fun! Based in Hertfordshire and running for the last four years the Tring bioblitz offers visitors the chance to join focused nature walks and get involved recording species in the museum grounds with ecologists and enthusiasts alike.

Plant extraordinaire Alex Mills headed the plant walk.

“I’ve never seen a bee orchid before.”

All that was about to change for our plant goers. Locating some pretty spectacular bee orchids, much to the delight of parents and children, Alex successfully created a new hoard of plant enthusiasts.

As always the pond dipping was popular, there really is a tangible sense of excitement when the nets come out. The dragonfly exuviae were also a big hit – once people were assured they weren’t dead but rather the remnants of the larval dragonfly which ascend the reeds and triumphantly bursts from the exoskeleton taking flight in its adult form. Leaving the exuviae to dry on my picnic table I felt safe in the knowledge I would ID them the following day… I later discovered they had been eaten by birds!


To say that Coleoptera, that’s beetles to you and me, is a large order is an understatement. In fact it’s the largest insect order in terms of named species. Of course whether the actual number of species outperforms Diptera (true flies) and Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants) is another matter – hint, it’s very unlikely. Nevertheless, squeezing the entire order into one week (even when you’re focusing on UK species) is quite a feat: Thankfully, this was in the hands of Max Barkley and the coleopterists (including by Katy Potts of Cohort 1!) who did a fine job and even let us re-curate specimens from the Christie collection donated to the museum over a decade ago. It transpired that many of the original copper pins hadn’t stood the test of time, degrading and producing verdigris, these crystalline copper sulphate filaments can really damage directly pinned specimens, fortunately beetles we worked on were carded therefore safely removing the pins was possible.

Our field trip took us back to Bookham Common under very different weather conditions, Wednesday 21st June was hot, in fact it was a scorcher at over 30°C. Sure that’s fine if you’re secretly part lizard or live in a desert not so fine if you’re swinging about a net in full sunlight used to average temperatures of around 10°C and smothered in factor 50. But I digress. Beetles are awesome and entirely worth it. We saw a broad range on beetles at Bookham, including family Chrysomelidae, the leaf beetles. Our resident AMC coleopterist Steph Skipp (skippy to her friends) introduced me to Chrysomelidae in the synoptic collection remarking that they looked like earrings – metallic, shiny and rather rounded.

Filming for Nature Live

The ID trainers got behind the camera for a second time, joining Steph West in Nature Live: “Fantastic mini-beasts and where to find them”. Reaching for our nets once more we headed through the thicket of vegetation to the edge of the pond and found some real beauties including a cased caddisfly case covered entirely in pond snail shells. The episode itself consisted mainly of a live streaming from the wildlife garden including homage to stag beetles, a snippet of pre-recorded footage by the pond and Steph West being awesome! Check it out on the NHM facebook page.

June has been action packed. We also joined a team from NHM to monitor biodiversity within the museum grounds, this included collecting soil samples, pond dipping , setting up pitfall and malaise traps and the eventual trialling of eDNA methods. This investigation will provide a baseline of biodiversity within the grounds. Finally, the process of re-curating the fish drawers: it turns out the AMC has a collection of rather lovely animal models dating from the 80s. We’re in the process of moving and rehousing these delicate objects – my personal favourite is the yellow slug (Limax flavus) mounted on a tomato complete with a grazed patch!

That’s it for June, join us in July for Hymenoptera, FSC placements and more.


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