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 collecting
Amoeba with ingested diatom [By Paul Smith]
Pediastrum sp. [By Paul Smith]
Vorticella 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 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 trap
Insects 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.
Neil Henry sampled the water in the small pond just outside the Centre, where 4 turtles were basking in the sun.
Phacus sp. [By Neil Henry]
Brachionus 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 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 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 moth (Laothoe populi)
Small moths on egg boxes
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.
Nets for collecting specimens
Group at Hookhamslade Pond
Group on the Plain with Ros Taylor
Les Evans-Hill demonstrating netting techniques
During the 2 walks, we saw a good range of butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and other insects
Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae)
Six spot burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae)
Oak processionary (Thaumetopoea processionea) nest, with a few caterpillars
Large skipper butterfly (Ochlodes sylvanus)
Painted lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) on blackberry flowers
Peacock caterpillars (Aglais io) on stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)
European hornet (Vespa crabro)
Iris sawfly larvae (Rhadinoceraea micans)
Honeybee on blackberry flowers
Red poplar leaf beetle (Chrysomela populi)
Ladybirds on thistle
Robin’s pincushion gall (caused by a gall wasp, Diplolepis rosae) on wild rose
Cuckoo spit, enclosing a froghopper nymph
Marble galls (caused by a gall wasp, Andricus kollari) on oak tree
Holly 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 trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) with some orange flowers
Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens)
Tormentil (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 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 iris (Iris pseudacorus)
Heath bedstraw (Galium saxatile)
Tufted vetch (Vicia cracca)
White clover (Trifolium repens)
Trees keep encroaching on the grassland and have to be removed so that the woodland does not take over.
Silver 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 (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 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