Dear Readers, the world is so full of gloom and doom these days that on Friday I plan to post something a little more optimistic. One thing that really cheers me up is the number of people involved in small scale projects, be it monitoring the wildlife on a local ‘patch’, making their gardens more friendly for wildlife, or working to preserve or renovate habitats that have become damaged or overgrown.
The Blue Ground Beetle (Carabus intricatus) is Britain’s largest ground beetle (up to 38 mm long), and very splendid it is too. There are other, smaller, commoner ground beetles which have a more violet sheen to their elytra (wing cases), but as its name suggests, this species is very definitely blue. It is largely nocturnal and makes its home in damp deciduous ancient woodlands, where it lives by eating slugs – it grabs them with its fearsome jaws and injects them with digestive juices, before sucking out their insides.
It was previously known from only 13 sites in Cornwall, Devon and South Wales, and is most often spotted at night as it runs up and down a mossy tree trunk, looking for prey. But staff at Buglife (the invertebrate conservation charity), local naturalists and local volunteers have been searching possible sites for the beetle at night, quite often in the rain, and have found them at two new sites on Dartmoor.
While this might not sound very exciting, it means that the beetle is more widespread than was thought. Plus, once a site is known, it can be protected. Knowledge is so important, and invertebrates are a very understudied group, plus the taxonomic knowledge to identify species is becoming rarer and rarer – you could argue that taxonomists themselves are becoming an endangered species. But if we don’t know what is living at a site, it becomes very difficult to advocate for it, and we will have no idea about the distribution or rarity of particular species. This is an argument for better natural history education, for citizen science, and for funding, particularly of small, specialist charities like Buglife and the Bumblebee Conservation Society who are both doing such useful work on such tight budgets. I look forward to the launch of the new Natural History GCSE course that’s being launched in 2025 – hopefully, it will inspire a whole new generation of naturalists, ecologists and taxonomists.