The ramblings of an all-round naturalist based in north Surrey
To kill or not to kill? The Facebook group response
For those of you who do not have a Facebook account. I placed a link to yesterday's post on the 'Pan-species Listers' Facebook Group and asked for members opinions to collecting and killing specimens. There were many replies, and here are just a few...
Chris RaperDepends entirely on personal preference AND on how much you want to know the name of something (as opposed to having a rough idea what it might be). Obviously many distinctive species are easy to ID in the field or alive in a net/tube but more are impossible to identify without taking a specimen. Digital photography can only go so far because often the bits you need to see are not shown in a photo (genitalia etc) or the insect flew off before you could get that all-important shot of the middle leg. Where I get a bit hot under the collar is when (rarely) someone who doesn't want to take specimens starts to send in records for things that can only be identified to a sufficient level with a specimen (guesses aren't good enough for serious biodiversity recording). But if non-specimen takers know their limitations and only submit records for the things that really, genuinely are field-identifiable then there is no problem
Chris RaperPS: also, of course, a specimen is the only way that someone else later on down the line can redetermine what you saw. I recently found a few specimens here in the NHM for a fairly rare fly that were determined by a very eminent Dipterist but which were clearly wrong. Now if we didn't have those specimens then we wouldn't be able to improve the data we hold on that species.
Robert JaquesWould some form of compromise be the best course of action? If you are killing specimens for identification then try to make every thing about the process publicly available, through the means of blogs and websites. Take efforts to take quality pictures which other people can use and attempt to find means of identification that wouldn't require the death of a specimen, whether it's an environmental, habitat or physiological feature.
Natalie WindsorOwing to the severe decline of many UK species (as shown in The State of Nature Report, etc), common sense dictates that killing should only be done when absolutely necessary. And definitely not if the species is endangered (Red Listed).
Need to refer to the Entomologists' Code of Practice here:
Information on the publications of the Amateur Entomologists' Society (AES). A code of conduct for collecting insects and other invertebrates
Richard ComontMy stance is basically the same as Graeme's comment on the blog - killing to ID is fine, as long as that data is used - submitted to the LRC/Recording scheme/etc. It's probably also worth mentioning that the records of species that require gen det are likely to be (subjectively) more valuable as so few people will do them. It's fine to stay as part of that larger group, but that does mean that you're restricted to those groups ehich are field-identifiable
Mark SkevingtonIt's often harder for those getting into inverts after many years birding to get their head around taking specimens, but I note a recent increase in 'feathers lost during ringing' for DNA analysis and wonder how long before odd vagrants start having heart-attacks during the process allowing the skin to be preserved .....
Mark SkevingtonThe box that I really can't square is those getting into moths who run traps but won't take specimens for gen det. You kill more moths inadvertently by running a trap in the first place (eg creating predation opportunities, walking around the trap, moth under finger picking out egg trays, overnight rain). Not to mention the 1000s inverts you kill driving home overnight from a day out in the field!
Chris RaperNatalie - actually there is a huge problem with not enough taxonomists studying most insect groups that require the taking of specimens. Some families of Diptera & Hymenoptera are just starting to get the attention they deserve but there are still huge numbers of species that have one (or no) people able to survey them seriously and we have the whole country to try to survey. For this reason the government tasked the Linnaean Society with the job of investigating how to encourage more people to take up under-studied groups on a national and international basis. Projects like BioFells and a few upcoming projects will try to make under-studied groups more accessible but it is a huge uphill struggle. This is exacerbated by the fact that there is so little money to actually pay people to do the work - there are very few professional taxonomists doing taxonomy. I'd say that the vast majority of serious taxonomists now are amateurs (many retired) and if taxonomists are in employment they jobs actually don't involve a lot of taxonomy and even less field surveying. If I see a person in the countryside with a net then I am pleasantly surprised ... it has only happened a few times, outside the usual field-trips by entomological groups. :S
Chris RaperSorry for the huge posts but also I should add that Natalie hits the nail on the head when she says that wildlife is in decline ... but it isn't because people are taking specimens - far from it. The problems are bad/destructive land-use that destroys habitats and wipes out whole populations and ecosystems in one sweep. There have been many very good, scientific studies on insect population dynamics and the effect of taking specimens and it basically boils do to the fact that a person with a net, collecting responsibly, has an absurdly negligible effect ... next to nothing. If a collector took a specimen that then resulted in a population dying out then it was almost certainly going to die out of its own accord - due to the far more significant effects of natural predation, habitat decline, climate change or any number of other natural causes.
Seth GibsonI recently stuck my neck out on the UK Hoverflies FB page. A guy showed a pic of a pinned hoverfly and was immediately 'attacked' for killing it. He defended himself very admirably and came away fairly unscathed with a few more folks having a better understanding of why he'd pinned it in the first place. I mentioned that I kill and pin hoverflies because I'm far too inept at field recognition of 99% of them and don't intend to put duff records through to the Hoverfly Recording Scheme. Roger Morris has all of my recent hoverfly records via email. I then went on to say that at this time of year I see a lot of queen bees and wasps which I'm unable to confidently ID. But I refuse to take (ie kill and pin) any of these despite now having the literature. If I remove a queen then I remove a colony, and I'm not about to do that. That is where I personally draw my line at collecting.
Andy MusgroveI've killed my share of insects recently for ID purposes. However, I'm particularly pleased when, given my experience gained by doing so, I can subsequently identify with confidence in the field. Clearly not always possible, but I was chuffed to find Pterostichus madidus the other day under a log, give it a quick check in a pot through the "back of the bins", then let it scurry off on its beetly way. I agree with most of the comments here - no-one gains great pleasure from killing (except bluebottles that buzz me when I'm going to sleep - sorry, will admit to that one - and I do identify them as Calliphora vicina!), but I don't have a concern it has an effect on populations. I'm fairly happy that I can do more good through raising the profile of previously obscure creatures than the harm caused. My twopenneth anyway.
Andy MusgroveBombus tend to be big enough to cool down a bit in the fridge then look at the features on the live insect before releasing. For most anyway. Andrena is quite another matter!
Chris RaperAndy - that's a good point. I think sometimes people get a false idea of how easy it is for an expert to identify in the field or from photos. It's only after very intensive study of a group (usually by taking specimens and building a reference collection) that an expert can get a broad enough feel for the range of variation and the 'jizz' of a species. After this level of study we all get better at spotting certain species in the field but it would be very dangerous for the novice to make assumptions that they knew what something looked like without the backing of experience backed up by close study.
Chris RaperI had another nice example of why we take specimens today. I was given a Pollenia to ID and it keyed to Pollenia griseotomentosa, a fairly unusual calliphorid. So I pulled a tray of reference material in the NHM collection to check my ID ... but a block of Fonseca's specimens didn't match mine. After showing Nigel Wyatt he agreed with me (they were way wrong) and has redetermined the Fonseca specimens as another species. We all have off-days (and Fonseca had quite a few) but because he took specimens to get his 'tick' we can correct his errors and improve our knowledge of rare species.
Martin HarveyThere's loads of natural history you can do without killing specimens, and there's loads you can't do unless you kill specimens. As long as you're within the law it's a personal choice depending on what you're trying to achieve and what your own moral sense says. Entomologists are pretty inefficient predators compared to everything that likes to eat insects - the total population of Blue Tits in Britain are estimated to kill 35 billion caterpillars every single year.
Alison FureThere is a paper on voucher's in this years London Naturalist 92 by James Wearn from Kew. Summed up- Morphological, phenological, biochemical, genetic and distribution data from vouchers are critically important to assessments of taxonomic, phylogenetic and evolutionary placement of organisms and to elucidate changing body patterns etc etc.
The east coast of Britain, plus a rash of Scottish Isles, is/are playing host to a stellar cast of rare vagrants - Masked Shrike, Tennessee Warbler, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Siberian Thrush, White’s Thrush, Eye-browed Thrush, Two-barred Greenish Warbler - I could go on... plus a mouthwatering back-up courtesy of multiple Red-flanked Bluetails, Radde’s Warblers and more Yellow-browed Warblers than it is possible to accurately count. For many birders the knee-jerk reaction is to head straight to the hot-spots where the rarity - and the action - is taking place. And who can blame them. But, things are different now. Joining the ‘to be expected’ moral conundrums that usually accompany such a birding scrum (trespass, toggers and carbon foot-print) there is a new concern in town, that of the COVID-19 virus. A rare bird = a birding crowd. When something as modest as a scarce migrant can gather 20-30 birders within minutes, what chance do we stand of conforming to health guidelines? There
I’ve recently updated you on my diminishing hearing capabilities (with grasshoppers joining the list of disappearing sounds) and not too long ago I confessed that my sight is somewhat compromised in low light. But what about a sense that I possess which still seems to be functioning as it should? Step forward smell! In fact, my sense of smell is famous throughout the family for being hyper-sensitive. I can pick up on odours (good and bad) way before anybody else, and if you give me a glass of wine or a single-malt whisky I will be dismantling the bouquet into its constituent parts - plums, liquorice, tarmac, apricots, toffee - within seconds. Needless to say from that last sentence, my accompanying taste buds are more than up to scratch as well. One of life’s pleasures is to take the time to sniff the wildflowers. There are some top smells to be had, small free hits of olfactory wonder. Never walk past Fennel without taking in the aniseed; various labiates that will sooth you with
For a change I explored the River Hogsmill between Ewell and Kingston, most of its winding length served by a good footpath. From a natural history point of view, it was very quiet, but I did come across this utterly charming mosaic. Completed last year, it has been placed underneath a railway bridge at Malden Manor. Apart from helping to brighten up a spot that had been the haunt of graffiti artists, it is also in honour of the John Everett Millais pre-Raphaelite masterpiece 'Ophelia', which was painted at the very spot. Community funded and completed by a team of artists and locals it is arresting to come across as you step out of the thistle, Himalayan Balsam and Hogweed choked footpath and into the cool underworld of the railway arches. It depicts a natural world transition from night to day, full of owls, flowers, butterflies, birds, snails and fungi. In a fitting aside, while I was admiring the work, I met a local White Witch. We fell into a long and easy con