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Scotland's special invertebrates

Scotland’s diverse range of habitats provide home to a number of invertebrate species. Scotland has several endemic species that are found nowhere else on Earth and also represents a stronghold for many species. In 1997 it was estimated that approximately 1,300 Scottish insect species are, within the British Isles, restricted to Scotland.

There is currently no accurate number of invertebrate species that have been found on mainland Scotland, our freshwater and surrounding seas. There are thought to be around 14,000 species of insects (Arthropods) and other invertebrates including marine species may add another 10,000 species making a total of around 24,000 invertebrate species.

Endemic species

There are at least six species of invertebrate that are endemic from Scotland that are found no where else in the world. These include:


The flea Ceratophyllus fionnus – a parasitic flea found in Manx shearwaters nests, only on the island of Rhum.


The planthopper Cixius caledonicus – a species of true bug which is thought to live under rocks in grassland, possibly with a preference for calcareous areas. There are three records for this species from the Lothians and Tayside, all of which were made prior to 1960. It is possible that this species is now extinct.


The long-nosed weevil Protapion ryei – a weevil found on the Western and Northern Isles where it is associated with grassland, machair and brownfield sites with Red clover (Trifolium pratense). This species is likely to be adversely affected by development of brownfield sites and grasslands being invaded by scrub.


The beetle Anaspis septentrionalis – a species of tumbling flower beetle known from specimens collected in 1976 near Aviemore. It is thought that this species may now be extinct.


Fonseca’s seed fly (Botanophila fonsecai) – associated with sand dunes and only found at a site along the Dornoch Coast known as Coul Links, within Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest. Buglife are currently fighting an application for a golf course that has been proposed at this site. If this golf course is built it has the potential to not only lead to the extinction of this species of fly but the loss of other locally important invertebrate populations.


Northern February red stonefly (Brachyptera putata) – this stonefly is now only found in larger rivers in the north of Scotland. Historically it was also found in the River Wye in Herefordshire, but there have been no recent records from here. This species is affected by poor water quality, the acidification of head waters and poor river management schemes.


Species for which Scotland is a stronghold

There are a number of species that have a stronghold in Scotland, including Northern emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora arctica), Pinewood mason bee (Osmia uncinataand the Chequered skipper butterfly (Carterocephalus palaemon). Recent work has also indicated that Scotland is the European stronghold for the Red pine hoverfly (Callicera rufa).


Keystone species

Some invertebrate species can be classed as ‘keystone’ species whose loss from an ecosystem would have a major effect on other species and on ecological processes in that system.


These include the wood ants (Formica sanguinea, F. aquilonia and F. lugubris) and Narrow-headed ant (F. exsecta). Wood ants and Narrow-headed ants influence the distribution, abundance and community structure of many other species of invertebrates as well as dispersing large numbers of plant seeds.


Other keystone species include invertebrates such as the Brown shrimp (Crangon crangon) and Krill (Meganyctiphanes norvegica) which ‘power’ marine ecosystems. They provide food for fish e.g. Basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) and marine mammals e.g. Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). Marine invertebrates are also responsible for some of the most important marine habitats. Flameshell reefs are created by the mollusc Limaria hians, and the west coast of Scotland is home to the majority of this habitat found in the United Kingdom. These spectacular reefs can support over 250 species of plants and animals including sponges, worms, molluscs and crustaceans.


As we continue to raise awareness and promote the recording of invertebrates in Scotland, what new species will we find?


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