Time flies when you’re hunting for snails – Month Two at Buglife

Hello again, and first of all sorry, as things might turn a bit hashtag blessed in a minute…

The last month has been about getting out and meeting people, with a big focus on my personal development in terms of what I’m learning and what skills I can see myself using in the future. Only 2 months into the TCV traineeship and I already feel it’s one of the most valuable things I’ve ever had the privilege of being involved in. Each day is exciting, genuinely in the sense that there’s a world of opportunities for me to access – workshops, talks and lectures, site visits all over the country, knowledgeable people who I can fire off an email to and we can arrange a meeting, I have the freedom to study, research and write about the areas I’m interested in, I’m supporting a truly remarkable project on one of my favourite animals which just happens to be a rare species for Scotland. Plus,  through the funding provided, I’m able to purchase any book or conservation resource which will benefit me in the future. Invertebrate handbooks, FSC guides, binoculars, pots, nets, lenses, posters, jackets, clipboards…the list goes on.

When I think back on an average week I’m always shocked at how much I’ve been able to do and take in.

 

On a Monday I could be out with 65 kids doing a pond dipping and bug session, using the OPAL survey sheets, so packing in some citizen science along the way. My favourite is hearing them draw their own conclusions about the animals we’re finding ‘it’s a stick with legs and I love it’, ‘Miss, that’s horrific’, ‘Miss can we keep the snail, can we name it Sue’. Being able to show them things that turn out to be ‘cool’ which they’d otherwise maybe never have known about – vicious beetle larva attacking a backswimmer went down like it was the best thing they’d ever witnessed.

Tuesday could be a Dragon and Damselfly training session, out in marshes and around pond on our hands and knees recording species and searching for the beautiful newly emerged adults, leaving behind their exuvia on a reed stem, hardening and drying out their shining wings. At a session like this I’ll take notes and write them up later, adding to the species knowledge I’m trying to build on, as well as submitting the species we did find online to iRecord.

Wednesday in the office, reading Mud Snail papers, creating a record of potential release sites, phoning primary schools to get them on board with the captive rearing, creating lesson plans by doing my own research, writing risk assessments for site visits, or maybe even popping out on my lunch break, grabbing a bumblebee guide and doing a bit of biological recording of my own – all the time trying to test my skills and see if I’m learning more each week.

Thursday, a site visit to one of locations in Scotland where the Pond Mud Snail is found, in one instance on the wettest day of the year. Head to toe in waterproofs, through ponds and ditches, over gates and under fences. Physically getting to see the animals in their natural habitat is amazing, knowing that at the end of the project at least 20 more sites will have been created out in open spaces like the one I’m standing in, and that the population will hopefully have increased to a healthy size.

Friday, I’m maybe out with a Buglife colleague who’s leading a workshop or session. All the time I’m figuring out if I was in that situation what would I be doing, how to deliver conservation messages and species information to different groups of people, then we’d be out and about at a local greenspace talking about pollinators, about beetles, or hoverflies and learning to engage with the outdoors just that bit more by understanding what we’re finding.  In the afternoon I could have time to plan what training courses I want to go on, booking on, sorting my travel and possibly find the time to write up this blog!

Life in a Shell // Snail Diary //

To tell you the truth the last few weeks have been so busy that I’ve not been able to keep track of the reproduction, which is pretty much through the roof. Conclusions to be drawn: Pond mud snails reproduce exceptionally well in captivity, and aren’t afraid to do so, I’m sure I’ll find out why.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE MONTH

200 years and a lot of rain: 

The Glasgow Botanic Gardens had a Bicentenary celebration event and I went along with TCV to run activities and show off the mud snails. We had a great turn out considering the gallons of rain. Pond dipping with tadpoles, water beetles, Ramshorn snails, backswimmers, cased caddisfly larva, damselfly nymph, and flatworm all to be found. A healthy pond! Behind the stall I think we managed to talk to, or engage with about 300 people at the event. There was a lot of interest in the captive rearing starting after summer with the Pond Mud Snails, which is definitely something I’m working on in the next few months. To host or to help out creating new habitat, digging ponds or if you want to attend a  talk, event or workshop to improve your identification skills or bug knowledge you can email me or keep an eye on Twitter.

Dumbreck Marsh, Wildlife Explorers 

The second community event for the Mud Snail project and this time it was the first in the local council areas where the wee beasts are actually found. The site in Kilsyth, North Lanarkshire isn’t too far from Dumbreck Marsh Nature Reserve and I joined at the Ranger led Wildlife Explorer Day to chat to the public about the mud snails and run some pond dipping sessions. Although not overly busy, it was a great chance to explore a new area, and even get myself on camera. I made a short film about the things we were finding as I pulled them out the pond, trying to make wee water creatures exciting and chatting a bit about the Mud Snails found in the area. I went for a wander up steam in a shallow burn on site and found what looked remarkably similar to the Pond Mud Snail, after taking the specimen home and having some microscope time it turned out to be the New Zealand Mud Snail (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) or Jenkin’s Spire Snail. So although not turning out to be what I thought was a new site to add to the project, it did get me using ID guides and doing a bit of detective work.

Snail Training Day

Following on from my discovery, it was time to really get into the technical snail stuff with a fantastic training day with mollusc expert Adrian Sumner. We headed out to Edinburgh’s Duddingston Loch in Holyrood Park, a beautiful setting with lots on offer in the water. Despite squaring up to a family of swans it was a successful day overall. I have definitely increased my freshwater ID skills, and feel lucky that I had the opportunity, so easily arranged to have a one to one session with someone like Adrian who is frighteningly knowledgeable. It makes me want to read and study even more to have an in-depth understanding of the freshwater life that is out there. Plus, snails have always been my soft spot, most people see slime with a shell but I’m very fond of them so spending a whole day looking, recording and getting to notice their subtle differences was fantastic.

Some of the Planorbids (Ramshorn Snails) and a few others we found

Bavelaw Marsh Discovery

Some amazing news came with one of the historic sites for Omphiscola glabra which we had been keeping an eye on proving to still hold a population of mud snails. This was a great discovery for the East and Lothian areas and strengthens our work with partners RZSS on the project. This was the first time a site visit had been successful for me, so the first time I’ve witnessed Pond Mud Snails in their natural habitat. It was a very unassuming location, and the rain never stopped all day. Immediately just about soaked to the skin, and armed with our pond nets we ventured out off the boardwalk path across fields and fences til finally reaching the marshy area where the snails were to be found. Clive Walton who made the discovery was kind enough to let me be the first to have a dig around and pull the first out of the pond, it was a brilliant feeling and I’m keen to visit all the sites in the next few months. It really felt like accessing a secret, one that many people don’t know (or at this stage I’m assuming particular care) about,  yet for me it was special, and over the project I know we’ll pull even more people on board.

 

Pin the Shell on the Snail

So this month I’ve had technical training, practical site surveys skills put into practice, community engagement and lots of opportunities to meet and speak to like-minded people. The only thing that was missing was the school element of my project which I have been busy preparing for. Education packs will form a central part of the Mud Snail project and the lucky primary schools that’ll be captive rearing will be provided with information, games, activity sheets,  and of course all the equipment they need. I was hard at work, bringing out my creative side to come up with a few classroom activities. Essentially I want to create a whole project package that could be given to the teachers to form lesson plans for the year around the Mud Snail project, which also touches on vitally important areas in animal biology, food webs, conservation and life cycles. At the heart of it all I think it’s important for the children (and teachers/adult helpers who some of the time can shrink back at the mention of bugs) to stop and appreciate it why it is that we should care for the environment and the animals within, even if they are ‘just a brown snail’.

Until next time…

-Kirsty

 

Be sure to follow what I’m up to on Twitter, and check out TCV Natural Talent for an update on my fellow trainees.

Thanks to the Esmée Fairbarin Foundation for funding this brilliant programme. Find out more about them here

Also to Buglife Scotland for hosting my placement. Keep up with all the amazing work they are doing and support the small things!

March = Muddy Mollusc Madness!

Hello again,

Imogen here with more mollusc goodness for your soul from National Museum Wales. I can’t believe another month has gone, it’s flown past so quickly! For me, this month has been all about getting to grips with freshwater molluscs.

Fabulous Forest School fun

The end of last month I went on a visit to my local TCV office, The Tree Life Centre, where I got to meet some of the lovely staff and catch up with Delyth my nearest Natural Networks trainee. I had fun helping out with some Forest Schools sessions and getting very muddy. The sun even came out, and Liam spotted his first bee of the year, a female carder bee searching for a nesting site. One of the mum’s with the Forest School children also managed to find a shield bug and a ground beetle – an early time of year for them to be about, and a sign that spring was fast approaching. Chatting with Delyth and Jason gave us all some great ideas for how we can collaborate on some projects, and we’re expecting exciting things this year!

Visit to tree life centre

TCV selfie! Myself, Liam Olds (both Natural Talent), Delyth Hurley (Natural Networks) and Jason Leck (Project Officer) outside the Tree Life Centre, Bristol

In search of the mouse-eared snail

My journey into fresh and brackish water Molluscs begins… something I have never looked at before. This started with a trip out to one of Gwent Wildlife Trust’s sites, Peterstone Wentlooge Marshes. I was intrigued by this reserve, as it is very different to all the others I might be looking at; a coastal site consisting of mudflats and a small amount of grazing Salt Marsh. This is a very sensitive site, being an important feeding ground for wading birds, so we took care to visit at low tide, when the birds were further out on the mudflats and we could avoid disturbing them from their dinner.

The grazing marsh at Peterstone Wentlooge

The grazing marsh at Peterstone Wentlooge

Through a conversation with a stranger on Twitter I found out that the brackish water snail species Myosotella myosotis (Mouse eared snail) is thought to be in serious decline in Yorkshire. The species is restricted to rocky or muddy coatlines, where it shelters under stones and at the roots of salt marsh vegetation. My curiosity was roused, and a quick peek at NBN gateway and chat with Ben Rowson revealed that this species had been found on the coast near Redwick, Newport, 10 miles the other side of the mouth of the river Usk. The presence of salt marsh habitat at Peterstone Wentlooge and how relatively close the site was made us hopeful that we might be able to find the species there. However, despite a careful search, no signs of M. myosotis were found, not even any empty adult shells. This may not necessarily mean the species isn’t found there in low densities, as given the tidal nature of the site and recent storms any shells may have been swept away, but it appears unlikely.

ovatella myosotis

Myosotella myosotis (Mouse eared snail) from National Museum of Wales collections

We did find some other small snails crawling about on the mud, so scooped up a couple of mud samples to pick the snails species out of later, as they were so small they need a microscope to ID them accurately. Back at the museum, we sifted out this sample and I was amazed by the number of tiny shells in one small piece of mud! Many were the remains of or juvenile sea shells, but I identified one species of brackish water snail that had caught our eye crawling over the mud as Peringia ulvae

Tiny shells and fragments under the microscope (see ruler for scale)

Tiny shells and fragments under the microscope (see ruler for scale)

 

A typical reen - common sights on the Gwent Levels and teeming with wildlife!

A typical reen – common sights on the Gwent Levels and teeming with wildlife!

Freshwater Fun!

While at Peterstone Wentlooge, Ben introduced me to sampling for Freshwater molluscs in a nearby reen (drainage channel/ditch) which I had a go at netting. The mud in the ditch was very fine and clay rich, making it a challenge to extract things from and cling to me quite nicely! The reen had been dredged within the last year, with the dredgings left at the side, making it simple for us to go along and pick out all the mollusc shells out of the dried mud. Back at the museum it was time to sit down and start keying out these freshwater species… some were incredibly tricky, and I was really stuck with a few until Ben put me out of my misery and revealed they were sneaky land snails and so not in the key I was using…oh! I did manage to identify a total of 9 freshwater species – not bad for a first attempt, and hopefully some new records for that site.

The freshwater theme continued with a (literally) flying visit of John MacFarlane from Scotland. We took him and Liam out for a fun day out to the lovely Gwent Wildlife Trust reserve Magor Marsh, where despite a mixture of light snow, sleet and sunshine, I got to introduce him to my new favourite freshwater species Planorbis corneus (Great Ramshorn Snail). The visits this month have got me excited and eager for my project of sampling freshwater reens at Gwent Wildlife Trust sites, something I will start to do from mid-April.

Myself and Ben Rowson searching for Molluscs

It’s amazing what you can find hidden in duckweed!

A selection of freshwater snails

A selection of freshwater snails, Planorbis corneus is the big flat round one

Introducing Invasive Species Week

The 26th February – 6th March 2016 was Invasive Species Week which found me joining the National Museum Wales staff at the Welsh Government offices talking to governmental staff about Invasive invertebrate species, what we can do personally to help prevent them spreading, and finding out more about the Check, Clean, Dry campaign.This was an amazing experience and a great opportunity to engage with policy makers and share museum specimens with them.

With Ben Rowson (Mollusca Curator NMW) at the Welsh Government building

With Ben Rowson (Mollusca Curator NMW) at the Welsh Government offices

Exploring under recorded areas

On one of my days off, I got itchy feet and decided to head off to SEWBReC’s Square of the Month. This is a project by the South East Wales local records centre where they high-light 1 km squares which have few or no biological records. This month’s square had a total of 7 records… which is barely anything when taking in to account the fact that it covers all taxa; plants, animals, insect etc. With maps in hand I headed off on a mini-adventure, taking along essential supplies of ID guides, tea and cake. This square was interesting rural habitat; containing a churchyard, plantation woodland and some reens. The reens were on private farmland, so I left them well alone, but in less than an hour wandering around the public access areas of the square I managed to casually record 8 bird species, 5 plant species, and 11 slug and snail species. The majority were common species, but it’s still a lovely bunch of new records for that square, more than tripling the existing amount! All it took was a short wander in the sunshine and some brisk fresh air.

Adventures with Bivalves

Sorting Pisidium mussels into species groups

Sorting Pisidium mussels into species groups

Back at the museum, I decided to start looking at fresh water bivalves, a completely new group of molluscs for me! These can range from large species, such as the Margaritifera margaritifera (Freshwater Pearl Mussel) which matures at 110mm, to the tiny species, such as Pisidium (Pea) mussels that mature at 2-5mm! The identification features are also very different to slugs and snails; taking in to account the position and shape of the ‘umbos’ (the bumpy bit towards where the two shell halves join), surface textures of the shell, presence or absence of shells pores, and sometimes the shape of the internal hinge. For the 16 tiny Pisidium species there are very few well-defined and many overlapping shell characteristics between the species. This means identification is best with whole mixed samples, not single individuals, so that characteristics can be compared against each other. They are such a difficult group to identify that most freshwater survey protocols advise against even trying to identify to species. Even the staff at the museum find them very challenging… making me determined this year to attempt to master then!

With a tiny Pisidium found at Magor Marsh

With this in mind, I was lulled into a false sense of security by 4 Sphaerium species, larger at 10-25mm and straightforward to identify… or so I thought. After identifying some of these as Sphaerium corneum from the reen at Peterstone Wentlooge, I suddenly discovered that this distinctive looking species has actually been divided into two species in 2004: S.corneum and S.nucleus. S.nucleus is fatter and more rounded, with dense pores on the umbonal region, and different shaped teeth inside the shell hinge. Still sounds fairly straight forwards hey?… until I discovered an article published in 2008 about how S.corneum can occasionally have dense pores too, all these features may vary, and that there may be another species in the UK sharing a combination of these features…argh!

Unfortunately I only had a limited selection of published photos to rely on to help me spot these features as none had been identified in the museum’s collections yet. Unphased, I decided to go on a hunt for likely specimens – proving to be a steep and very interesting learning curve in bivalve features! Taxonomic changes and realisations like this one are another example of why museum collections are so important. Even a species considered common like S.corneum is vital to have in a collection. Now we can go through them and identify S.nucleus from collected material, and find out where it has been found historically in the UK. From this we gain an idea of how habitats and distributions may have changed over time.

Examples of the Sphaerium species re-identified in the museums collections

Examples of the Sphaerium species re-identified in the museums collections

For me, it also illustrates why photos can never really be a truly effective replacement for having an actual specimen. A photos angle, lighting and even knowing which part of the animal is being shown, can make key identification features hard to see. Though saying that, I did have a great time taking photos to send off to the UK Sphaerium expert for a second opinion.

Check out the pores on this one!

Check out the pores on this one!

Stay fresh guys!

Imogen Cavadino

Natural Talent Trainee: Non-Marine Molluscs

Don’t forget you can keep up to date with my daily antics on Twitter here or here.

A massive thank you to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for funding this amazing programme. Find out more about them here.

Also to National Museum Wales for hosting my placement. Be sure to drop in for a visit to the public collections when you’re in Cardiff!