Biodiversity update – Moths

By Mary Shotter, Biology Technician

Moths are declining in the UK. Studies have found the overall number of moths has decreased by 28 percent since 1968. The situation is particularly bad in southern Britain, where moth numbers are down by 40 percent. Many individual species have declined dramatically in recent decades and over 60 became extinct in the 20th century.

These alarming decreases in moth populations are not just bad news for the moths themselves, but also have worrying implications for the rest of our wildlife. Moths and their caterpillars are important food items for many other species, including amphibians, small mammals, bats and many bird species.

The reasons for the loss of moths are likely to be many and complex, including changes in the way we manage our gardens, pesticides, herbicides and light pollution. Climate change appears to also be affecting moths.

However at Bedales moths appear to be doing very well. Over the last few months, I have been putting out a ‘light trap’ once a week to attract moths and have so far found just over 100 species, including 4 types of hawkmoth – elephant, pine, poplar and the giant privet hawkmoth which has a 12cm wingspan.

Many of the moth species we have at Bedales are masters of camouflage – such as the Buff tip, which disguises itself as a birch twig and the Flame which has evolved to resemble a broken stick.

My favourite to date has to be the wonderfully named Merveille du Jour which translates roughly as ‘the best thing I’ve seen all day’ –  pictured above (bottom right) merging into lichen on a fence behind the science department.

Many moth caterpillars feed on grasses and it appears that the policy of keeping  areas around the school uncut is reaping rewards for both moths and the many other species that depend on them.

Biology department marks Parents’ Day

By Mary Shotter, Biology technician

Following on from this year’s Eckersley Lecture on the History of the Periodic Table by Dr Peter Wothers, this year the theme of the Biology department’s Parents’ Day display was The Elements of Life, which looked at how individual chemical elements were used in the natural world.

In the lab there was the chance to make slides to view under the microscope and see the myriad of microscopic creatures found in pond water, test your grip strength (won, as always, by Sam Wilson in 6.2), check your lung volume and blood oxygen levels, and test your speed using a reaction timer.

Most popular of all, though, was a chance to see if you were ‘one in a million’ by trying out a series of genetic tests where people looked at a number of their own physical traits – for example, whether they could smell freesias, taste the bitter chemical found in sprouts or roll their tongue. Results ranged from being one in 31 to one in 2 million!

It was particularly nice to meet up with several Old Bedalians who came back to see us and who have gone on have very successful careers in the field of biology including Gary Skinner (OB 1992), who specialises in the use of DNA as a digital storage device and whose father, also Gary, was a previous Head of Biology and Science. We were also visited by the daughter of another former Head of Biology, Andrew Routh, who at 95 was keen to find out how the department had changed over the years.

It was a lovely day and a pleasure to welcome so many, old and new, to explore the world of Bedales Biology.