Saturday, 22 February 2014

Can I count it? Er, sometimes...

Sussex Emerald - fortunately seen away from pots and fridges

Recently, within the pan-species listing community, there has been some discussion as to the rules and regulations behind what is acceptable as a lifer. For example, is it enough to identify (and count) a leaf-mine (without seeing the life-form that actually created it?). Should you be allowed to 'have' a moth that someone shows you in a pot in a fridge? Can you count a bird that is only seen whilst being ringed? And does it all matter?

If you are part of a professional enterprise, if you are taking part in an competition or are a member of an organised society, then you are agreeing to abide by the rules and regulations of that body. When you play such 'sport' there are agreed rules to adhere to, to ensure that the playing field is a level one and that any result and resulting league table has credibility and meaning.

With pan-listing (at the moment), there does exist a list of rules but comes with an understanding that all those who are taking part in it are given leeway to amend these to their own way of thinking. Therefore, the pan-listing rules are there to act as a guidance and are not set in stone.

There are voices within this community that have no truck, for example, with potted moths. Where do I stand? A bit confused if truth be told. I have seen plenty of moths in pots (particularly at Dungeness) that I have not seen anywhere else. I don't intend to give these up soon - they include such beauties as Death's-head and Spurge Hawk-moths. But now we come onto semantics...

Scenario 1: you are out with a friend running your MV trap in a wood. You have a number of pots at the ready. It soon gets busy, so you are both keeping an eye on what's coming into the trap. As you are chasing down an interesting micro, your friend comes up to you with a pot (your pot!) and shows you a moth that he caught that was flying around the trap (your trap!) - it's a Triangle. You've never seen one before. Do you count it?

Scenario 2: same wood, same friend, except they've set up their own trap two hundred yards away. You keep an eye on your own traps. He wanders down to you after a while to show you a Triangle that he's potted up. Do you count it?

Scenario 3: after your trapping session you return home, where your partner (long gone to bed) has left you a note on the table. It reads:  'Interesting moth flew into kitchen. I've put it in one of your pots and it's in the fridge'. You check it - it's a Clifden Nonpareil! Your house, your pot - do you count it?

Scenario 4: a neighbour (who knows of your interest in moths) tells you that he found a big colourful moth and has put it in a box for you to look at. You go and have a look - it's a Clifden Nonpareil! You know what I'm going to say - do you count it?

Call me a naturalist lacking in moral fibre if you like, but I would count the moth in any of the examples above. But even here there are increments of unacceptability. I have been shown some stunning, live, rare and potted moths that I haven't 'ticked' and this is because they were not at their place of capture (ie a lovely Marsh Carpet, fresh from the fens but shown to me on Ashtead Common!) So am I talking about a minimum distance for a potted moth to be transported that will allow its acceptance onto my list? My mate's MV trap 200 yards away was fine, but what about 2,000 yards? Or two miles? Doesn't this just show up the absurdity of it all?

There are entomologists out there who only count moths that they have trapped themselves. They can even be leaning over a friends MV and see a 'lifer' settled on an egg box and they still won't count it! This is going too far the other way in my opinion.

What really matters in the long run is that any recording of a species is a valuable record, as long as that record is entered into a database and is correctly identified. Whether it came from a pot, a fridge, a bed-post or Auntie Flo's left leg is of no consequence.

15 comments:

  1. Scenario 1 and 2 for me. I don't count moths from other peoples traps, and if it is your neighbour that found it, they would have found it in their garden, and I personally only record moths from my garden and my traps whilst out in the field. it is such a tough call! Easy compromise, goto France and trap for a week, you will then add species like Triangle and Clifton nonpareil with relative ease and then count them on your life list.

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    1. I only 'tick' things I've seen using my own eyes, not anyone elses :-/ ( 'recording' them is a different thing altogether and down to who is responsible for the catch)

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  2. 1 and 3 I meant! 3 would imply that your partner found it your own garden so its a viable record in my eyes.

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  3. It all counts Steve-get a grip!!

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  4. Yes to the lot because you have seen the moth alive and kicking. Not to count is denying you have seen the thing at all!

    Rules for me are - Anything alive as long as it hasnt been kept alive in captivity ie been fed to sustain life. So, an injured Scops Owl seen a month after rescue is a no no because it would have died if left alone. The same bird seen on its way to the rescue centre, yes because its in a natural state allbeit in captivity. Same for ringing and mothing etc. Those moths would all have still been alive if left outside. No one has artificially sustained their life.

    Providing it is in a wild state, even if temporarily captive, and alive, get it on the list.

    What about plants they are a much more tricky prospect? A hawthorn ( or any) hedge is untickable? Unless self sown? What about a 200 yr old Sweet Chestnut or Lime tree? I look around our local countryside and nothing is natural. Only remnant ancient woods that have been left unaltered, but there are none up here.

    So, if they look wild, they go on the list.phew.

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  5. Oh and fish. Its got nothing to do with who caught the thing as long as its alive and wriggling even on the hook, its on the list. Or do we have to done scuba kit and get swimming. These are man made rules that dont stop the fact that you have seen the thing alive, and in a wild state. If ringing, mothing or fishing are untickable, what about if your mate picks a crab up from a rock pool and hands you it? Of course its on the list.

    Steve you may be forgiven for thinking that I have pondered this for some time....

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  6. Thanks for your comments chaps. Yes Stewart, you are, like me, one of life's ponderers. Benny, I have seen Clifden Nonpareil before, but not The Triangle.

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  7. But what about plants? What can I count?

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    1. Well... the Wild Flower Society allow self seeded trees, garden escapes (ie dumped soil that then springs all sorts of garden stuff up), self-seeded garden plants (ie 'over the fence' colonisers) - anything that is wild or has become 'wild' beyond being planted. Confused?

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  8. You forgot scenario 5 which is actually the real bone of contention and does happen: moth recorder catches something nice/rare and alerts news/pager services, moth is potted and in recorders fridge (which in itself is likely to be well away from where the moth was taken), keen moth-ticker drives to recorders house (in different county / other end of the country), sees moth in pot and ticks it. Bonkers. I have no problem ticking moths that are potted up as part of a collective recording effort I am part of regardless of whose pot/trap it was in (as otherwise it gets silly on a big night), provided I do see the thing on site and we are all recording an aggregated list for the night. I have declined ticks where I've seen moths in pots that were recorded from a different part of the coastline on the same night by another group, and I don't count moths I've seen in pots that one of my mates caught in their garden etc. Scenario where wife pots up moth for me is too outlandish for me to have previously considered ;-)

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    1. Yes Skev, the moth transported away from place of capture and then visited by ticking lepidopterists is rather bizarre, isn't it.

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  9. It's quite arbitrary. On the pan-species get-together last summer one of us had a quite strict "doesn't count in a pot" rule. This was pretty funny when a pretty and uncommon beetle he hadn't seen (Cryptocephalus bipunctatus) was potted first and presented to him to ID. Luckily I caught one later in my sweep net which he could count.

    I don't really see how it's more valid a tick if the critter is trapped in a folded-over net compared to being in a pot but there you are; we're all making it up as we go. Far better than trying to get everyone to adhere to one hard set of rules that would be just as arbitrary (we are meant to be having fun after all!).

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    1. Wise words Rob, especially the having fun bit...

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  10. "we are meant to be having fun after all"....and submitting the records we're sure of! ;)

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    1. I'd better not admit to counting empty leaf mines, had I? But at least they are genuine records (after all, you ID'd them!)

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