Our trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project are now well into Phase 2 of their traineeship. Phase 2 is the section where our trainees spend much of their time developing their species identification skills, working with our curators through a series of specialist workshops, as well as helping out in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity with everything from the Identification and Advisory Service, to getting out and about at events. In this first blog from Phase 2, Steph Skipp gives us an overview of how the first half of the traineeship has gone.
To begin our workshop phase, the ID Trainers had a crash course in lichens. April was in her element, having previously discovered the wonders of peatland lichens whilst working in Exmoor National Park. In contrast, I think the rest of us were taken aback by how interesting lichens actually are!
Getting to grips with Phase 2 of training
The wealth of colours and forms were very visually exciting, especially under a microscope. After a trip to Bookham Commons, we came back to the lab with some specimens.
Fly expert Duncan Sivell and forensic entomologist Martin Hall were with host Camilla Tham discussing the many ways in which flies (and their maggots!) are important. From helping the police to identify time of death at a crime scene to pollinating many key crops – and even producing a Sardinian cheese – we’re more dependent on flies than you might imagine.
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The UK Insect Pollinators Initiative (IPI) provided funding between 2010-2015. This was a joint initiative supported by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), NERC, the Wellcome Trust and the Scottish Government, under the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership to support projects studying a wide variety of UK pollinators and their habitats.
Nine separate projects were funded and as a result of these projects around 50,000 specimens were collected.
Jacqueline Mackenzie-Dodds, Molecular and Frozen Collections Manager with some of the IPI specimens.
Insects visiting flowers, including bees, hoverflies, beetles, butterflies and moths, are very important to plants. While moving between flowers they carry pollen from one flower to another.
The next new trainee from our Identification Trainers for the Future project is Matt Harrow. Matt has a passion for a subject many may not initially share – Diptera (the true flies), but having started out identifying the more charismatic hoverflies, his interest quickly extended to some of the more unusual groups within this diverse and fascinating Order and he hopes to pursue this interest through the traineeship with the help of our colleagues in the Diptera team.
I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had the urge to get outside and see the wonders of the natural world. For the most part my forays into nature have simply focused on being in the landscape with next to no interest in the smaller things; the plants, birds and insects which do in fact make the place what it is.
It was only whilst studying for a degree in countryside conservation at Aberystwyth when I really started to look at the bounty of life all around. My final year project was decided after scrolling through social media and seeing all the wonderful photos people had posted of Hoverflies, after a few emails to the recording scheme organiser I had a solid title and lots of data to play with! The only problem now was that I knew next to nothing about this fascinating group of flies so off I embarked on some serious reading, realising soon enough not only the vast amount of information there is to take in but also how much is unknown and the opportunities for discovery.
Before the Museum exhibition about Colour and Vision closes on 6 November, I thought I should write a piece about some of nature’s most amazing eyes (their patterns and shapes). I’m talking of course about those belonging to flies – the most enigmatic of all species on the planet – and specifically all the species referred to as stalk-eyed flies.
Once more I am writing in defense of some very attractive but much-maligned creatures that, due to the maternal habits of the females, are universally disliked. People scream, run, swat them with wild abandonment to stop these ladies from providing essential resources to enable them to produce their next generation – it’s not very nice of us to let them get food for their offspring!
The Tabanidae have it… the dramatic banding of the eyes of Haematopota pluvialis
Yes, Tabanidae, or horseflies to give one of their common names, are some of the most painful biters of all flies but, like their also very much-maligned cousins, the mosquitoes, the males are vegetarian and can also be very important pollinators (e.g. Philoliche species found in South Africa – see the reference in one of my older blogs).