There is no typical day as a project officer for the Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms (RIC), a partnership project looking to understand more about the distribution and ecology of several rare insects. Communicating with landowners, volunteers and the wider public, delivering training sessions and leading work parties are all part of the job. But the best bit, of course, is surveying for the invertebrates themselves!
Invertebrates are comparatively under-studied and under-recorded, meaning that for many species, we don’t have much information on their whereabouts or needs. For rare species, this is, surprisingly, even more the case. If we don’t know what these species need in a home, or where populations currently exist, then we can’t hope to help them. This is where RIC comes in.
Our intrepid team of volunteers have achieved an enormous amount since the project began in 2017. Just some of the highlights are: 89 new 1km2 sites found for Kentish glory, the southern-most records of small scabious mining bee in Scotland and three new sites discovered for the super elusive shining guest ant. But there is still plenty to do.
Looking for rare invertebrates has all the interest and excitement of looking for buried treasure. You put your cross on the map based on little snippets of information about where the insect might be found. For example, for small scabious mining bees, we map devil’s-bit scabious records (the necessary food plant) plus other species which need similar habitat (such as narrow-bordered bee hawk–moth). This starts highlighting potential areas to search, with a quick look at an aerial map to check for obvious sandy patches or evidence of short vegetation, focusing the search area further. Once the search site’s chosen, it’s time to go on the hunt for treasure.
For some of these species we have specific survey methods, such as moth trapping for dark-bordered beauties or pheromone luring for Kentish glory moths. For others it is simply a case of moving slowly and looking carefully.
There is nothing quite like slowly walking through a rippling ocean of devil’s-bit scabious, scanning each flower head for small scabious mining bees. Anticipation and excitement are there, briefly surfacing when a passing honey bee or hoverfly imitates your target. And just as you begin to doubt if you will discover it here after all – a flash of fluffy white legs, a soft hum of flight. Success! You feel a grin spread over your face as you home in on your quarry, distracted as she busily collects pollen so you can take a photograph to prove your sighting. Luckily, invertebrates are rarely put off by human observers, so you can now enjoy the moment. Watch the bee busily at work, perhaps even follow her to her nest, and then share with everyone the good news that you have found a new site!