In recent years, an increasing concern has been caused by the decline of butterflies in Britain. Almost half of the 59 resident species have reduced their ranges over the last 150 years, and five species have become extinct: Black-veined White (Aporia crataegi; c. 1925); Large Copper (Lycaena dispar, c. 1851); Mazarine Blue (Cyaniris semiargus, c. 1903); Large Blue (Maculinea arion, c. 1979); and Large Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis polychloros, 1980s?). Many of the remaining butterfly species continue to decline nationally or even have become extinct locally on many sites. One of such species is the Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus argus), which is scarce elsewhere in the UK with a high extinction rate (evaluated as 25%): i.e., the species no longer occurs in about a quarter of the localities from where it was recorded in the 1970s. In the UK, this species declined most severely from 1950 to 1980, but with relatively few extinctions occurring between 1980 and 1985 (data by Warren, 1993, for Central Southern Britain).
The main reason for extinction/declining of this and other butterfly species in the UK is a combination of habitat loss and fragmentation/isolation, and changes in habitat management (especially, in Forestry Commission and Public Authority sites). Butterflies are known to be highly sensitive to environmental changes and therefore they often decline whilst their larval food-plants are still widespread and abundant. However, any changes in butterfly populations are to be seen as early indicators of habitat changes that in the future will affect many other wildlife groups.
The Silver-studded Blue is more usually associated with heathland habitats, and a number of regional nature reserves have been specifically established to protect it. One of such sites is the Prees Heath Common Reserve (Shropshire), the last sanctuary for the Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus argus) in the Midlands.
Stephen Lewis, Officer at the Prees Heath Reserve, visited the Manchester Museum on 19/12/2014 in order to study historical records of the Silver-studded Blue from the Midlands on the basis of museum specimens. He also gave us a short interview about the conservation of the Silver-studded Blue in Shropshire (see below).
A more complete story of the Silver-studded Blue butterfly at the Prees Heath Common Reserve presented by Stephen Lewis can be seen in the following short video.
If you are interested in British Butterfly Conservation (the British Butterfly Conservation Society) and their currently formulated strategy for British butterflies please visit the society’s site.
Warren, M.S. 1993. A review of butterfly conservation in Central Southern Britain: I. Protection, evaluation and extinction on prime sites. – Biological Conservation, 64, 25-35; pdf-file online.
Warren M.S., Barnett L.K., Gibbons D.W. & Avery M.I. 1997. Assessing national conservation priorities: an improved red list of British butterflies. – Biological Conservation, 82: 317-328; pdf-file online.
Posted in Arthropoda, Biodiversity, entomology, Insects, Manchester Museum, Museum Visitors, Nature Manchester, Research | Tagged ecosystem scientist, entomology, environment, insect, manchester museum, university of manchester uk | Leave a Comment »
Lets Get the Party Started – Dig the City Grow Wild! Parade.
Thursday 30th July 9:30 – 11:30 am
Got Green fingers? Wild about Wild flowers? Well come along and join the party, as we take a “Meadow for a Walk” from Hulme Garden Centre into downtown Manchester.
Working with the City Council, National Trust and the National Wildflower Centre, Kew Gardens London are looking for Fun loving Flower People to help carry flower pots, shake some seed packets and join in the carnival atmosphere of dancers and performers as we get ready for Dig the City 2015.
Kew also need volunteers to help promote their Grow Wild! campaign for the duration of Dig the City (Monday 3rd – 7th August 10:30 – 4:30pm) so if you love gardening and nature, and can spare a few hours, you might be able to help us out (lunch, t shirt and free seed pack provided!)
For more information, contact
Manchester Project Coordinator for ‘A Tale of Two Cities’
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The Golden Orb-Weaving spider – Nephila clavipes (Linnaeus, 1767) of the family Nephilidae – is known from USA to Argentina. In Costa Rica, it occurs in lowland and premontane tropical rain forests. Females make large aerial webs in which they usually occupy the centre. Orb-web spiders are effective predators and can easily subdue prey that is significantly larger and heavier than the spider (see on photo).
Two females of Nephila clavipes with prey; Costa Rica.
One of the most peculiar characteristic of this species, as well as of other Nephila species, is an extreme sexual size dimorphism, where dwarf males can be many times smaller and lighter than the females (see on photo). Numerous hypotheses have been proposed to explain the factors that may give rise to such size dimorphism in spiders. Some of them are briefly discussed here.
In the case of Nephila, it is argued that that large size in females could be driven by selection on female fecundity (= the potential reproductive capacity), acting to increase the number of offspring produced. With the high level of juvenile mortality, the production of larger numbers of offspring is crucial for survival of the species. Thus such size dimorphism is almost always due to female gigantism rather than male dwarfism.
As was demonstrated for some African species [e.g., Nephila pilipes (Fabricius 1793)], females continue to grow after reaching maturity. The females mature at varying body sizes and instars and then continue to grow by molting the entire exoskeleton except their copulatory organs (=genitalia). Apparently, this is why in Costa Rica Nephila clavipes is represented by mature females of markedly variable body sizes (although, to date, a post-maturity molting has not been described for this species).
In a short video presented below (courtesy of Alex Villegas, Costa Rica) it is shown how a dwarf male of Nephila clavipes is approaching a giant female in its attempts to mate, alas unsuccessfully this tiem. Indeed, the male is to be careful in order not to be mixed up by the female with a potential prey.
Kuntner, M. & Coddington J.A. 2009. Discovery of the largest orbweaving spider species: the evolution of gigantism in Nephila. – Plos; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007516
Kuntner M., S. Zhang, M. Gregorič, and D. Li. 2012. Nephila female gigantism attained through post-maturity molting. – Journal of Arachnology 40(3):345-347. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1636/B12-03.1
Posted in Arthropoda, Biodiversity, Evolution, Manchester Museum, Spiders | Tagged manchester museum | Leave a Comment »
It is known that during the latest Pleistocene glaciations (2.59-0.01 Million years ago) the territory of Britain, as well as of Ireland and many other territories of the northern hemisphere, were covered by glacier and were uninhabitable for terrestrial fauna. During glaciations animals and birds either migrated southward or died out. Palaeontological and genetic evidence indicates that the majority of the contemporary fauna of Britain arrived from continental Europe dispersing across a land bridge that existed between Britain and mainland Europe during the short period after ice retreat and before it was submerged by rising sea level (ca. 0.45 Mya).
However, surprisingly, there are few British species that were able to survive the latest Ice Ages, for instance, the endemic Groundwater Shrimp (Niphargus glenniei; see on the photos below) currently known from cave ecosystems of Devon and Cornwall only. Another endemic species of the groundwater shrimps, restricted to Ireland, is Niphargus irlandicus. None of these species is known outside southern England and Ireland correspondingly.
Niphargus glenniei, the Groundwater shrimp that is adapted to live in subterranean environments. Shrimps are blind, lack pigmentation and have elongated appendages. Photo credit: Chris Proctor.
As argued by McNerney et al. (2014), the most recent common ancestor of both species and all other Niphargus species (over 300 species distributed in cave ecosystems across Europe) was isolated approximately 87 Million years ago, i.e. during the late Cretaceous period (100–66 Mya). More importantly, that the two endemics (glenniei and irlandicus) should have been where they are now for at least 19.5 Mya and thus they have survived the entire Pleitocene period and many glaciations in the groundwater. This makes both groundwater shrimps the oldest known species of the British fauna.
This story is based on the paper by McNerney et al. (2014), The ancient Britons: groundwater fauna survived extreme climate change over tens of millions of years across NW Europe. Molecular Ecology, 23: 1153-1166; doi: 10.1111/mec.12664
Posted in Arthropoda, Biodiversity, entomology, Manchester Museum, Research, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »
One of the aims of our field work in Iceland was to visit the areas with the native forest of Downy Birch (Betula pubescens). We’ve visited several places with the birch forest, for instance, the site in the southern shore of the Lake Myvatn and the forest along Logurinn fjord in eastern Iceland. In both places the forests were full of edible mushrooms, and I could not help myself and collected some, which then we cooked and eat together. Here are the photos or some of those edible mushrooms we encountered during our trip.
Milky Mushroom (Lactarius resimus), or ‘Груздь’ in Russian, is considered a delicacy in Russia and some other countries of Eastern Europe when pickled in salt.
Slippery Jack (Suillus luteus), one of the most popular edible mushrooms; especially tasty when pickled.
Woolly Milkcap (Lactarius torminosus).
The Brown Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrum) is typically used in soups and also commonly added as a component of mixed-mushroom dishes. Very delicious when fried with onion in soared-cream, as we did in Iceland.
More information about each mushroom can be found online at the following links: Milky Mushroom (Lactarius resimus); Woolly Milkcap (Lactarius torminosus) or here; The Brown Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrum) or here; and Slippery Jack (Suillus luteus) or here.
Posted in Biodiversity, Edible Mushroom, Manchester Museum, Public Events, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »
While travelling from the Town of Stykkishólmur to the Town of Grundarfjördur (road No.54, along the northern coast of Snaefellsnes Peninsula), about half-way, we came across a road sign depicting a shark (see on photo). The information desk below this sign said that there the place Bjarnarhöfn is named after Björn Ketilsson from Norway who settled in here around 900AD and also that there is one of the oldest churches in Iceland built up in 1856-59. Being puzzled we immediately turned to the place and were not disappointed.
The road sign and the building of the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland
What we found there was one of the most eclectic Museums I’ve even seen, the Shark Museum. The Museum contains all sorts of objects related to every-day life of a small fishing farm in Iceland: anything one can image from the kitchen tools or a gramophone of the early 20th century to taxidermy of Icelandic variety of chickens and models of Viking or more recent fishing boats. However, the main story was about shark fishing and the production of shark meat. The guests of the Museum are met by the friendly curator and owner, known as the famous ‘Shark Man’ Hildibrandur of Bjarnarhöfn. Details of the shark fishing industry (mostly on the large local Greenland shark – Somniosus microcephalus) in Iceland were shown on a big screen, and all the kinds of relevant fishing equipment, from the shark-fishing boat to harpoons and fishing nets, were exhibited on the walls and display cases. Shark-liver oil was once an important export commodity for Iceland. The shark meat was cured with a particular fermentation process to make the notorious Icelandic delicacy known as hákarl (see also here).
The boat and equipment needed for fishing the Greenland shark; the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland.
A variety of museum objects reflecting an every-day life of a shark-fishing village in Iceland, plus something else; the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland.
We were able to visit the drying house where shark and fish meat is hung to dry for four to five months before use. Shark meat (hákarl) and dried fish (harðfiskur), as well as nice pieces of traditional Iceland knitting, could be purchased from the Museum. We also found out, the owner offers individual/personal guided tours of the Museum. Unfortunately, as he does not speak English, a personal tour was not an option for us.
Drying of shark and fish meat; the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland.
One of the oldest wooden churches of Iceland built up in 1856-59; Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland.
We were more than impressed by the Shark Museum (and the old wooden church, see on photo below), as what we saw was a true authentic story of the life of an individual shark-fishing village told by those who have been involved in their family business for generations. I am sure that the content of this Museum sooner or later will become an essential part of a National Museum of Icelandic Culture and Lore, should such museum be ever organized in Iceland.
Dmitri Logunov (the Curator of Arthropods at the Manchester Museum) and the owner of the Shark Museum, Hildibrandur of Bjarnarhöfn.
Posted in Biodiversity, Manchester Museum, Public Events, Research, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »
During the field trip to Iceland, we have visited many places of interests, including of course pebble-beaches on sea shores made of grey, smooth basalt pebbles.
Grey basalt pebbles on the sea-shore of western Iceland (Londrangar, Snaefellsnes)
To my surprise, the same pebbles can be found on shelves of many gift- or craft-shops that are available virtually in every hamlet, village or town of Iceland. However, the pebbles in shops are nicely hand-painted, representing examples of mini-artworks, often naive but always touchy (see on the photos below). In one shop the painted pebbles were crafted as ladybirds of various shapes and colours (from yellow and green to the traditional red-coloured beetles).
Lovely ladybird crafted from pebble, NW Iceland.
I don’t know whether it is indeed a national Icelandic tradition to hand-paint pebbles, such craft is suitable to everyone, from children to enthusiastic adults, allowing everyone to become a master of own mini-masterpiece. Someone called this the ‘beach stone craft’; further instruction and inspiration of this craft can be found here.
Hand-painted pebbles with diverse wishes, craft festival at Hrafnagil near Akureyri, NW Iceland.
A collection of artworks (=painted pebbles) produced by students of a local primary school on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Natural History Museum in Heimaey Island.
Posted in Art Project, Arthropoda, entomology, Insects, Manchester Museum, Nature Manchester, Public Events, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »