Sunday, 11 August 2013


Just added my Twitter feed to the sidebar should anyone be interested. If you are more interested in what I am meant to be doing at work, try following @plymouthbiol! After a long time resisting Twitter, I am getting quite into it!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Black Darter

A trip up to Dartmoor yesterday to mess around in some ponds collecting some water samples. I found something that I had been looking for for ages - Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) exuvia:

I had a hunch that this was going to be danae but had to wait for it to climb up the stem and leave the exuvia. Actually ended up IDing the dragonfly from the exuvia as it was so young!

When it had hardened off a bit it was clearer that it was a danae.

The key criteria for the exuviae is the short length of the spine on segment 9 (S9) compared to the length of that segment. The ratio on this came out as 0.348 which is consistent with the spine being about a third the length of the segment.

The UK confusion species are S. striolatum (Common Darter) and S. sanguineum (Ruddy Darter). Never found sanguineum exuviae but there were plenty of striolatum for comparison yesterday.

Note the length of the spines compared to danae. The ratio came out at 1.114 on this one which is on the low side but the spine is longer than the segment so should be OK to rule out sanguineum which should be shorter. Also pretty sure that sanguineum does not occur in that area.

This is what the emerger might turn into if it is a male.

Friday, 19 July 2013


It has been a while since any moths featured here. Not had time for a huge amount of trapping this year but have done a bit over the last couple of weeks now the weather is better. Having started only last year and with last summer being rubbish, lots of new species have found their way into the trap. I'm also trying to start with micros but am only having limited success!

True Lovers Knot - possibly the coolest common name ever!

Burnished Brass

Double-striped Pug


Barred Yellow

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Plymouth Panoramas

The sound from Mt Edgecumbe

The sound from the top of Smeaton's Tower

Been playing with the new panorama function on the iPhone!!

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Weekday Biologist!

Time for a career change! Due to various bits of restructuring in the university, the department that I am in currently (Biomedical and Biological Sciences) will soon become two departments (Biological Sciences and Biomedical and Healthcare Sciences). That has left me in a bit of a quandry as to what to do and where to go but I have opted for (and been granted) the possibility to go with the new school of Biological Sciences. Kind of a career change but it means I can keep my human biology research interests and develop my biological interests further!!! Looking forward to new things and to leading the Biological Sciences degree programme.......

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

More on mimicry

You may remember last year I posted on Crypsis and Mimesis in moths? You might have guessed that I like mimicry! Yesterday while looking for bumblebees I came across this:

This is not what it looks like as it is the Hoverfly Volucella bombylans var. plumata which exhibits Batesian Mimicry. Batesian mimicry is all about looking like someone else for a variety of reasons (looking like someone who is toxic when you are not to fool predators for instance). For this Hoverfly, the reason is simpler but more devious as it clearly looks like a Bumblebee. The reason is that they manage to sneak in to Bumblebee nests to lay their eggs and the larvae feed on nest detritus. Indeed there are two forms, var. plumata and var. bombylans that look like Bombus lapidarius and Bombus leucorum/terrestris (below) respectively.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Friday, 14 June 2013

Some plants for those who are interested

I have been trying to get my head round plants as there are lots of them I don't know. It is always fun starting almost afresh on a big group as you spend long periods of time puzzling over some of the commonest of species which makes you feel a bit stupid!

Most of these are pretty common:

Yellow Rattle


Kidney Vetch


Pink Sorrel

English Stonecrop

Wood Spurge

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Messing about in ponds........

Not much to post about recently.......

Last Friday I took the opportunity to show a new colleague around some sites on Dartmoor that are good for amphibians. Lovely sunny day, messing about with pond nets and a beer to finish - does it get much better?? I'll let the photos speak for themselves:

Toad Tadpoles at Hemerdon

Palmate Newt

Palmate Newt with deformed tail and massive cloaca!

Toad Tadpoles

Common Frog Tadpoles (massive bias towards Toad at all sites)

Shoreweed at Hemerdon

Baby Newt with gills

Dysticus marginalis mummy

Dysticus marginalis baby (with unfortunate Newt)

A hole that used to be Dartmoor

One of the prettiest pools I know

Aeshna juncea larva near Cadover

Friday, 17 May 2013

Contamination in cell culture

Nice contamination in the HL-60 cells today!! Bacilli and maybe fungus..........

And a close-up just for the guilty party!!

Saturday, 9 March 2013


Got the trap out last night, trying to take advantage of a bit of warmth before the predicted snow! Worthwhile as well with 5 species:

Common Quaker

Satellite (new for me)

March Moth
Hebrew Character
Dotted Border

This flightless female Dotted Border appeared on the wall this week as well.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Species numer 900

Polytrichum commune (Common Haircap Moss) from Ayelsbeare on Monday when I was visiting a student on placement. 900 isn't much to shout about but they do say that it is not the size that matters but if it gives you pleasure anyway.......

Damp woodland at Ayelsbeare that provided 3 moss ticks!

Polytrichum commune

Sunday, 17 February 2013

I'm not dead least I don't think so. Winter is always a bit of a quiet time but being busy and taking part in the 1000for1ksq challenge have been taking up a bit too much time.

Anyway, I stuck the moth trap on last night in hope and had the first moth of the year in the trap!

Hebrew Character
I have also started trying to identify some micros - below is the 6th micro species I have seen - apparently Acleris umbrana which is meant to be a pretty good record! Beginners luck.....

Agonopterix heracliana
The 100for1ksq challenge has been forcing me to look at stuff I would previously have ignored. Below is (probably) Ashfordia granulata which if you look very closely has a hairy shell.... Who knew!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Pan Species List Update

I haven't forgotten about PSL and have been adding quietly. Update as of end of Jan 2013. Biggest increases in moths and plants and a few groups now with a nice 1 instead of a 0! Getting involved in the 1000 for 1kSq challenge has made me have a look at some new groups and buy some nice shiny new books......

Moths 143  Macros 138, Micros 5 (+36)
Birds 303 (+1)
Vascular Plants 178 (+24)
Beetles 23 (+2)
Craneflies, True Flies, Hoverflies 3 (+1)
Butterflies 27

Bees, Wasps, Ants, Sawflies 11

Bugs, Hoppers & Aphids 0

Fungi & Slime Moulds 35 (+1)
Terrestrial Mammals 32

Terrestrial & Freshwater Molluscs 12 (+7)
Dragonflies & Damselflies 30

Spiders & Harvestmen 1 (+1)
Lichens 1 (+1)
Crickets & Grasshoppers 5

Amphibians & Reptiles 8

Marine Molluscs, Crustaceans etc 14 (+2)
Centipedes & Millipedes 2

Woodlice & Freshwater Crustaceans 13 (+1)
Mosses & Liverworts 1 (+1)
Lacewings & Scorpionflies 0

Caddisflies 0

Worms & Leeches 0

Silverfish, Springtails & Bristletails 1

Freshwater Fish 22

Mites & Ticks 2 (+1)
Seaweed 4

Cockroaches 0

Earwigs 1

Fleas 0

Lice 0

Stick Insects 0

Marine Fish 9 (+1)
Mayflies 0

Stoneflies 0

Total 881

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Geeky post alert

I'm allowed to be geeky every now and again.

Yesterday evening I found Garlic Snail finally (Oxychilus alliarius)

One of the ID features of this species is that it exudes a strong Garlic smell upon handling (or fingering as quoted in many places). Once Dr Boden had stopped sniggering, he found the compound responsible: n-propanethiol (below). Nothing like the compound allicin that gives garlic its smell (also below).

n-propanethiol is very volatile (it boils at about 60 degrees) so evaporates very quickly thus why the smell from the snail disappears quickly unlike garlic. Interestingly, allicin is not found in garlic as such. When you crush or cut garlic, allicin is formed enzymatically from alliin.

n-propanethiol is very similar in structure to n-butanethiol (just an extra CH2 in the chain) and n-butanethiol is one of the compounds that give Skunks their smell. Rearrange the chain of n-butanethiol slightly and you get the compound below - tertbutylthiol. This is the compound that is added to domestic gas supplies so you can smell the gas (methane is odourless).


For anyone who has had the pleasure of eating white truffles (or even truffle oil), you will know that they also smell a bit like domestic gas but this is due to another (mixture) of compounds, one of the principle compounds being 2,4-dithiapentane (below). All of these compounds are very volatile and contain sulfur (they are known as VOSCs - volatile organic sulfur compounds) and the slight differences in their structures give them different odours. In this family is also DMS, dimethylsulfide, the attractant they mix with chum to attract seabirds.

For a really good example of how little changes in chemical structure can give completely different smells, look at the two compounds below:


The top compound is eugenol, the volatile oil characteristic of cloves while the other is vanillin, the odor of vanilla. These two are very similar chemically (mix eugenol with wood pulp waste from paper making and it becomes vanillin) but have a completely different odor.

Enough geekiness - I'll try and stick to organisms for a bit.