In search of a little brown lacewing

Thursday 20th August 2015

After being awarded a grant by the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) I have spent my summer walking around Holyrood Park in Edinburgh surveying for the Bordered brown lacewing (Megalomus hirtus). It hadn’t been seen there since 1982 so I was worried that it had gone extinct and that I would have nothing to show for my work. Thankfully this hasn’t been the case as I have recently found it.

Initially I was really excited to start surveying and had high hopes that I would find it in no time. I’ve adopted many surveying strategies; moth trapping (brown lacewings are also attracted to the light), sweep netting and ‘bug-vaccing’ (a leaf blower with a pair of tights over the top to catch insects).

Walking around with the bug-vac certainly attracts a lot of strange looks! Often people stop me to ask what I am doing, and I am really happy to tell them about my work. Everyone has been really interested to learn about such a rare species right in the middle of the city.

After many weeks of searching went by with no success those initial high hopes started to dwindle. Finally, on a hot day in June, while sweep netting though some wood sage I caught a lacewing. It was small, brown, and somewhat inconspicuous – brown lacewings are not the most ‘showy’ of insects, making them difficult to identify in the field. Back at the Buglife office I confirmed that it was the bordered brown- I still had to get Suzanne and Craig from Buglife to double check it as it seemed too good to be true. It was exciting to have discovered it after so long.

Given the concerns that it had gone extinct in the UK it’s great to have found it and has given me a real incentive to carry on with the work and contribute to its conservation. There have been other recent cases of species that have recently been rediscovered in the UK such as the spider Hypsosinga heri in Dorset and the fly Rhaphium pectinatum in Devon. In Scotland there are other species, some endemic, that are thought to be extinct. Finding the bordered brown lacewing after so long gives hope that these may still be holding on somewhere in Scotland, just waiting for someone to find them.

The work I am doing as an intern at Buglife has been fantastic. It hasn’t just been about lacewings, I have come across all sorts of insects when surveying and have learned so much (thanks in a large part to the help of Suzanne, Scott and Craig at Buglife). A recent Guardian article suggested spending time observing insects is greatly rewarding and I have certainly found that to be the case.

~ Mike Smith
Peoples Trust for Endangered Species Intern