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Fantastic mini-beasts and where to find them

Anthony is a Community Engagement Coordinator for Earthwatch (Europe) and Enquiries Officer for the Earthworm Society of Britain. Anthony is a passionate naturalist who is a Team Leader for #TEAMINVERTS and shares his fascination with invertebrates, why we should care about them and how you can support #TEAMINVERTS in this year’s City Nature Challenge…

“It’s only a few days until this year’s City Nature Challenge and I’m excited to be working with the CIty Nature Challenge team and fellow #TEAMINVERTS team leader Becky! We have some brilliant events for you to get involved and I will share my interest in invertebrates, some guidance on where to look and what you might see in gardens, parks and green spaces to record using the iNaturalist app as part of the challenge.

Why do you love invertebrates?

As a child I often picked up earthworms, marveled at woodlice and enjoyed exploring the dirt in my back garden. I was entranced by strange blood red creatures moving across the back of an old coal bunker, the surface of which became very hot in summer. I later discovered these were velvet mites. I watched Zebra spiders move with lightning speed to hunt their prey – the equivalent of cheetah on the African plain. Insects with many legs such as millipedes, centipedes and ground beetles also fascinated me.

I still have that same fascination with my garden when a few days ago I discovered the caterpillar of the Scarlet Tiger moth in my borage plants.  From March till May the caterpillars of the Scarlet Tiger moth are conspicuous and can be found in the daytime either feeding or resting in the sun on their favoured plant of Common Comfrey, but when larger they disperse to feed on other plants including Common Nettle, Sallows, Honeysuckle and Meadowsweet and some may disperse and may be found feeding on other nearby plants including bramble.

Whilst I was incredibly curious about these mini-beasts crawling, flying and buzzing around up until my teenage years, I did not properly understand how their rich relationships with fungi, animals, plants and micro-organisms in the soil benefited the environment and supported all life on Earth. Invertebrates are incredibly diverse, making up 97% of all life. Insects have been around for 480 million years – long before human beings arrived around 3 million years ago and should command our respect. They are incredibly beautiful creatures whose relationships with plants and animals stretches back for millennia. You only have to spot a rose chafer beetle, a jersey tiger moth or an emperor dragonfly to recognise this.

All life ultimately depends upon invertebrates whose ecosystem services pollinate the plants we grow for food, recycle waste and decaying plant material, improve the structure of and provide nutrients for soils and are a major source of food for wildlife on land and in our oceans.

Where can you look for invertebrates?

Whether you are joining one of the many city nature challenge events happening in the Bristol and Bath area or if you are an amateur naturalist and would like to join one of our survey team events if you haven’t done already, you can still take part in the City Nature Challenge by doing your own survey throughout 27th-30th April.

All you need to do is download the iNaturalist app and go searching for wildlife in your local area. Below are tips on where to look in a garden, park or community green space for #TEAMINVERTS:

  1. Invertebrates in the sun – During warm days, you can find a variety of insects including ladybirds, butterflies and moths (either as adults or caterpillars) on leaves and flowers in spring. Many will be feeding on nectar and pollen others will be hunting and bathing in the sun such as spiders.
  2. Invertebrates in cool, damp conditions – You can search in wild areas, under hedges and along borders where there is leaf litter and under rocks/paving and you will find snails, slugs, earthworms, woodlouse and in soil and compost centipedes, millipedes, ants, beetle larvae and pseudo-scorpions.
  3. Invertebrates in the lawn – Many insects and spiders favour the shelter of the lawn and long grass so it’s a good place to look for leafhoppers, spiders and grasshoppers.
  4. Invertebrates on trees and shrubs – It’s easy to over-look these areas, but the leaves and branches of shrubs and trees harbor a wide variety of insects including flies, spiders, caterpillars and moths.
  5. Invertebrates near water – Ponds, streams and rivers are a host to a variety of flying insects, so if you have a pond or you leave near a waterbody on a warm day, this is an excellent place to look. See Karie Anne Heald’s guide to aquatic life for #TEAMAQUA

Don’t forget that the iNaturalist app is the official app for the challenge and all sightings must be recorded on it to count. You can download the app free from the app store. Click here for more information about recording wildlife on the app.

My favourite invertebrate group

Earthworms to me are remarkable invertebrates. A single hectare may hold as many as 8 million earthworms and worldwide there are around 6,000 described species. Earthworms alongside bacteria, fungi and insects are vital for recycling organic material (such as fallen leaves and rotting wood) to create the soils we need to grow food and provide food for all kinds of wildlife. Healthy soils are very important for supporting plants and animals on Earth as soils recycle nutrients, filter our water and allow us to grow our food. The soil also limits the effects of climate change by storing carbon in the form of tiny fragments of plants, microorganisms and animals in the soil. Without earthworms to maintain the health and structure of soils, plants and animals would be unlikely to receive the nutrients, water and food they need.

In Britain and Ireland there are 31 different kinds of earthworms and they can be pale green, blue to deep red and stripy in colour. Some earthworms even glow in the dark (known as bioluminescence). Historically, compared with other wildlife such as birds, butterflies or mammals, earthworms have been very under-recorded. It was because earthworms were under-recorded and I was fascinated by them that I decided to join the Earthworm Society of Britain (ESB) to inspire others to better understand them and their habitats.

The Earthworm Society is a voluntary organization that plays an important part in supporting scientific research to improve the conservation of earthworms and their habitats and educates and inspires people to take action to help earthworms. The ESB runs the National Earthworm Recording Scheme and training courses and events for those who are keen to identify and record earthworms.  My role with the Earthworm Society of Britain is to answer enquiries from our members, individuals, researchers, wildlife organisations and many other people who are interested in earthworms.

It remains for me to say that I’m delighted to to join the City Nature Challenge this weekend! I wish you all the very best of luck in your quest for searching and recording wildlife for #TEAMINVERTS. Below are some species that are around in Spring and you might come across!

Don’t forget that if you aren’t using iNaturalist (though we prefer that you do) to record your sightings, please send in your species lists to: data@bnhc.org.uk

Species to look out for this Spring

Early bumblebee Bombus pratorum

Crab Spider Xysticus cristatus

Brown-lipped snail Cepaea nemoralis

Peacock Butterfly Aglais io 

Garden Snail Helix aspersa

Drone-fly Eristalis Tenax

Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula

Pill Woodlouse Armadillidium vulgare

Common Earthworm Lumbricus terrestris

Bee Fly Bombylius major


Black oil beetle Meloe proscarabaeus

Bloody nosed beetle Timarcha tenebricosa