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Posts Tagged ‘American Burying Beetle’

Photos: Ashleigh Whiffin.
Amateur nature recorders in the UK are providing vital data on beetles, soldierflies, and many lesser-known insects.

Britain’s long tradition of amateur scientists sets the stage for today’s enthusiastic volunteers mapping the nation’s insect population.

Isabella Kaminski writes at the Guardian, “Ashleigh Whiffin’s day job as assistant curator of entomology is to look after National Museums Scotland’s vast collection of preserved insects. But her passion for the creatures doesn’t end when she goes home; in her spare time she spends hours recording and verifying sightings of a specific group of large carrion beetles in the family silphidae.

“ ‘Silphidae are absolutely brilliant,’ Whiffin says from her Edinburgh office. ‘They’re decomposers, so they are really vital for recycling and also have forensic applications. Some of the members in the family are called burying beetles and they actually prepare a carcass, make a nest out of the corpse and then feed on the rotting flesh and regurgitate it for their kids. They’re quite a charming – but also grisly – insect.’

This banded burying beetle in the UK is a scavenger said to be able to smell a rotting carcass from two miles away. I’m thinking it’s a cousin of the endangered American Burying Beetle that John used to study in Rhode Island.

“Wanting to know more about the distribution of silphidae across the UK and how they were faring in conservation terms, Whiffin established what already exists for more charismatic species such as ladybirds: a national recording scheme. …

Whiffin is one of Britain’s tens of thousands of volunteer nature recorders, whose detailed sightings of flora and fauna, or key events in their lifecycles, are vital for keeping tabs on biodiversity as the climate warms, habitats shrink, and pesticides and pollution degrade the quality of land.

“It’s a hobby with a long history in the UK, where amateurs have been stuffing, pinning and pressing specimens for centuries. … These days, records are collated, verified and filtered through a patchwork of recording schemes and local environmental record centres. Many end up in the National Biodiversity Network’s Atlas, the country’s most comprehensive collection of biodiversity information. …

“The Biological Records Centre (BRC), a research institution in Oxfordshire set up in the 1960s, calculated a few years ago that about 70,000 people take part in biological recording each year, although Helen Roy, the BRC’s coordinator of zoological data and research, thinks that is probably an underestimate. Despite years of doom-mongering about the death of natural history as a pastime, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ State of Nature 2019 reports calculated that there had been a 46% increase in the time donated to nature recording since 2000.

“Martin Harvey, who also works at the BRC but runs a recording scheme for soldierflies and their allied families in his spare time, says most insect surveys are run by volunteers. …

“But while there is little concrete data on demographics, recorders admit there is a lack of diversity among those involved. … Says Whiffin. ‘I have to say for the beetle community, that is predominantly white men and that is something that I’m very keen to change.’

“Whiffin has been advertising her recording scheme on social media and running beetle identification courses online to try to reach a wider range of people.

“Biological recording has also benefited from apps such as iSpot and iRecord, which allow citizen scientists to snap a picture of their subject and quickly upload it. …

“Harvey notes that people get involved at different levels, from casual recorders to those who go to ‘extraordinary lengths’ to specialise in a subject or species. … ‘For most, if not all, insects there’s a lot we don’t know and a lot of areas that don’t get recorded very well,’ says Harvey. ‘There’s also basic natural history gaps in how they live, what they feed on, what their lifecycle and behaviour is, and individual volunteer naturalists can and do make an enormous contribution to finding out that sort of information.’ …

“There are now 30,000 records on large carrion beetles from the silphidae family recording scheme combined with historical data gleaned from dusty museum notebooks. This enabled Natural England to commission a recent study on the prevalence of silphidae in the UK, which showed that several species were critically endangered or vulnerable.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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