Wimbledon Common BioBlitz

Sunday 23rd June 2019

After a disappointing start to the summer, the weather finally warmed up for the weekend when Quekett members attended the sixth BioBlitz on Wimbledon Common (a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC)) in south-west London as part of the Club’s microscopy outreach programme.

Alan Wood, Barry Wendon, Dennis Fullwood, Neil Henry and Paul Smith set up their microscopes and cameras in the Information Centre (next to the Ranger’s Office) to assist with identifying plants, insects and other organisms found during the organised walks.

Paul Smith collected specimens from the cattle trough. This had been thoroughly cleaned earlier this year, but microscopic life had started to re-colonise it.

Paul Smith collectingPaul Smith collecting

Paul SmithPaul Smith

Amoeba with ingested diatomAmoeba with ingested diatom [By Paul Smith]

PediastrumPediastrum sp. [By Paul Smith]

VorticellaVorticella sp. [By Paul Smith]

Paul also looked for specimens in the wood pile and found some white fibres.  One suggestion was that they were dog hairs from grooming, but under the microscope they did not show any of the structures of animal hair, so they were probably synthetic.

Mystery fibresMystery fibres under polarised light [By Paul Smith]

Early in the day, Dennis Fullwood set out yellow pan traps in the long grass near the Centre and near the wood pile. The traps are simple, just a bright yellow plastic bowl with some water and a small drop of washing-up liquid.  Some insects are attracted by the colour and get trapped in the water. To extract the insects, Dennis pours the water through a piece of gauze held in an embroidery hoop, and then puts the hoop under his stereomicroscope or his inspection camera.

Dennis Fullwood emptying yellow pan trapDennis Fullwood emptying yellow pan trap

Insects caught in a yellow pan trapInsects caught in a yellow pan trap

Barry Wendon used his inverted microscope (it looks up through the bottom of a glass dish) to examine the specimens that Neil and Paul found.

Barry WendonBarry Wendon

Neil Henry sampled the water in the small pond just outside the Centre, where 4 turtles were basking in the sun.

Neil HenryNeil Henry

PhacusPhacus sp. [By Neil Henry]

BrachionusBrachionus sp. (a rotifer) [By Neil Henry]

Dennis Fullwood brought his compound microscope for looking at slides and his stereomicroscope for larger specimens. He also brought a Chinese inspection camera connected to a monitor for looking at all sorts of things. In the photo below you can see scales on the skin of a live snake, one of the animals brought along by Reptile Events.

Dennis Fullwood and Barry Wendon with live snakesDennis Fullwood and Barry Wendon with live snakes

Alan Wood brought 2 small microscopes that are suitable for children. On the left is a stereomicroscope that is easy to find on eBay and provides a 3D image magnified 20 times. On the right is the Natural History Museum Pocket Microscope that magnifies by 20× or 40×.

Alan Wood’s small microscopesAlan Wood’s small microscopes

On Saturday evening, Les Evans-Hill set out a moth trap, which he opened on the Sunday morning to reveal lots of live moths from micros to a hawk moth.

Poplar hawk mothPoplar hawk moth (Laothoe populi)

Small moths on egg boxesSmall moths on egg boxes

Les Evans-HillLes Evans-Hill

The organised walks were on two days this time, Butterflies and Dragonflies on Saturday 22nd and General Nature on Sunday 23rd. The walks were led by people who are familiar with the Common and its plants and animals and were happy to point out interesting specimens and identify them.

Identification guidesIdentification guides

Nets for collecting specimensNets for collecting specimens

Group at Hookhamslade PondGroup at Hookhamslade Pond

Group on the PlainGroup on the Plain with Ros Taylor

Les Evans-Hill demonstrating netting techniquesLes Evans-Hill demonstrating netting techniques

During the 2 walks, we saw a good range of butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and other insects

Cinnabar mothCinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae)

Six spot burnet mothSix spot burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae)

Oak processionary nestOak processionary (Thaumetopoea processionea) nest, with a few caterpillars

Large skipper butterflyLarge skipper butterfly (Ochlodes sylvanus)

Painted lady butterflyPainted lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) on blackberry flowers

Peacock caterpillars on stinging nettlesPeacock caterpillars (Aglais io) on stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)

European hornetEuropean hornet (Vespa crabro)

Iris sawfly larvaeIris sawfly larvae (Rhadinoceraea micans)

Damsel flyDamsel fly



Honeybee on blackberry flowersHoneybee on blackberry flowers

Red poplar leaf beetleRed poplar leaf beetle (Chrysomela populi)

Ladybirds on thistleLadybirds on thistle

A bugA bug

Robin’s pincushion gall on wild roseRobin’s pincushion gall (caused by a gall wasp, Diplolepis rosae) on wild rose

Cuckoo spitCuckoo spit, enclosing a froghopper nymph

Marble galls on oak treeMarble galls (caused by a gall wasp, Andricus kollari) on oak tree

Holly leaf minesHolly leaf mines, caused by Phytomyza ilicis

The General Nature walk took us across the plain, through the woods, round Hookhamslade Pond, and back through the woods and across the plain to the Information Centre.

A surprising number of the wild flowers are yellow, the same colour as the pan traps that Dennis uses to attract and catch insects.

Bird’s-foot trefoilBird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Bird’s-foot trefoilBird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) with some orange flowers

Creeping buttercupCreeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens)

TormentilTormentil (Potentilla erecta)

Yellow rattle has only been present on the Common for a few years, and may have been introduced on a mowing machine. It is a parasite on grasses, but by thinning the grass it allows more wild flowers to grow.

Yellow rattleYellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor)

Irises grow on the banks of ponds, but for some reason they have been attacked by large numbers of iris sawfly larvae this year.

Yellow irisYellow iris (Iris pseudacorus)

Heath bedstrawHeath bedstraw (Galium saxatile)

Pink flowerPink flower

Tufted vetchTufted vetch (Vicia cracca)

White cloverWhite clover (Trifolium repens)

White flowersWhite flowers

Trees keep encroaching on the grassland and have to be removed so that the woodland does not take over.

Silver birchSilver birch (Betula pendula) encroaching on grassland

A few areas of the Common are suitable for heather, but they need to be managed to stop the heather taking over grassland and to stop trees encroaching.

Ling heatherLing (Calluna vulgaris)

A close look at the plants reveals that some of them are bearing galls; these seem to do little or no harm, and they add to the biodiversity of the Common.

Galls on leaf of alderGalls on leaf of alder (Alnus glutinosa)



We are grateful to the Conservators for allowing us to use the Information Centre for our microscopes and cameras, and to collect specimens from the Common.

Members of the Quekett Microscopical Club will be in the Information Centre again for Wimbledon Common Open Day on Sunday 8th September 2019.

Report and most photographs by Alan Wood, photomicrographs by Neil Henry and Paul Smith

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