Garden BioBlitz 2013

03rd June 2013
The 1st and 2nd of June, marked the weekend for the 2013 Garden BioBlitz. Trialled for the first time in 2012 (I participated in that too), it's an opportunity to look more closely at all the wild plants and animals that use your garden.

It all started with a group of wildlife experts and enthusiasts who met on Twitter and decided it would be fun to record the wildlife in our gardens. It's simple really, just choose a 24-hour period during the weekend and record all the wild plants and animals that you can find in your garden. There's lots of help, including recording forms from the Garden BioBlitz Website, the expertise of iSpot contributors/experts and Twitter followers. There's a "dedicated" upload facility on iRecord too, to identify all the records. There were nearly a thousand species recorded in the 2012 "trial". That's well exceeded in 2013. At the time of writing this, over 1700 different species had already been recorded.

My first BioBlitz activity started at a rather relaxed pace; birdwatching from in bed! Our bedroom window overlooks the garden and the birdtable, so I was soon adding garden bird activity to my BioBlitz recording form. Although photographic "confirmation" is an important aspect of the Garden BioBlitz process, I didn't bother to photograph our garden birds. I'm pretty confident in my IDs for these. In total I saw fifteen species.

Although the BioBlitz is not a competition, it's always rewarding to find something a little unusual in the garden! I have recently been finding a species of pseudoscorpion (False Scorpion) in leaf-litter and under bark, so my first action once actually out there, was to look in some of their favourite hiding places. Sure enough, I found this Chthonius ischnocheles. Interestingly, I assume from its virtually transparent appearance, that it has recently shed its skin. I haven't seen this before. Pseudoscorpions are very small arachnids (this was 2-3mm long). They have pincers (chelae) at the end of their palps and it's these that make them resemble true scorpions. They don't possess a tail and sting though, and are harmless to humans.

Several invertebrates that I found and photographed, I had not seen in the garden before. Doing a BioBlitz certainly makes you look more closely for things. One such invertebrate was this Mirid Bug - Harpocera thoracica. The term "bug" is often used generically for all insects (and other invertebrates), but true bugs (the Hemiptera) represent one of the major groups of insects found in the UK, comprising nearly 2000 species.

I posted a couple of images on iSpot and the identification was soon proposed by iSpot user chrisbrooks. These are a common species, associated with oak trees. There is a large mature oak in our neighbour's garden. I found three Hemipterans in total, this and two different species of aphid.

Looking under stones and leaf-litter will invariably yield plenty of the less-commonly-seen garden inhabitants. Within the Mollusca, I found two varieties of slug and two different snails; the common garden snail (Helix aspersa) and this smaller, slimmer specimen of Oxychilus navarricus. Again this was identified for me on iSpot. It is apparently, one of the Garlic Snails. They sometimes emits a faint garlic smell when disturbed, but not as strongly as the smaller Garlic Snail. As such, they have the rather quaint common name of the Slightly Garlic Snail!

Amongst the other finds under rocks and stones was this centipede (Lithobius melanops). Although common, I've haven't seen one of these for ages. They are nocturnal hunters though, and spend daylight hours hidden away. This species is similar to another common centipede, Lithobius forficatus. Centipedes have one pair of legs per segment whereas millipedes have two pairs on most segments. Centipedes also have a pair of claw-like structures just below the head, that can inject venom. They use these to paralyse their prey (typically other insects, spiders and worms). I'm sure I remember being bitten by one of these as a child!

Naturally, no BioBlitz would be complete for me without bees! My "bee hotel" is still very active, with Red Mason Bee (Osmia bicornis) males and females present in reasonable numbers. I also have an Andrena nigroaenea mining bee colony in the garden and Hairy-footed Flower Bees (Anthophora plumipes), nesting in the house wall. Their cuckoo bees Nomada goodeniana and Melecta albifrons, also showed up. I was also very excited when I saw this bee and thought it might be Osmia leaiana. It was smaller than the typical female Osmia bicornis I had been seeing, but the facial "horns" (not present in any other UK bee species) are clear in the photograph. Just a smaller-than-usual individual!

Of the other hymenoptera, I also photographed Bombus hypnorum and Bombus pratorum, a queen Vespula germanica, a Lasius species ant and an Ichneumon wasp.

So, a very enjoyable Garden Bioblitz, with 52 species in total. I managed 32 species last year. No doubt I could have had a higher count if I'd used netting, beating, pooting and trapping techniques. I'm a photographer though, not an entomologist and don't currently use these techniques routinely. A moth trap is tempting however. I might consider that for Garden BioBlitz 2014!

Total findings by taxon group:

Acari (Mites) - 2
Birds - 15
Centipes & Millipedes - 1
Crustaceans - 2
Pseudoscorpiones - 1
Coleoptera (Beetles) - 1
Lepidoptera (Butterflies) - 2
Hymenoptera (Bees, Wasps, Ants) - 11
Hemiptera (Trus Bugs) - 3
Diptera (True Flies) - 4
Mollusca - 4
Arachnida (Spider) - 1
Collembola (Springtails) - 2
Symphyla - 1
Flowering Plants - 1
Terrestrial Mammal - 1


Photo comment By Amelia: I had never heard of this. It is a courageous effort to identify the creatures in a garden. I'm a bit overawed at the idea but I really enjoyed the photographs.

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