Biology Road

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 10 May 2016 08:20

What road do you walk down?

October 1988: I made my first biological record aged ten (without really knowing what a record was) with the help of Ewart Gardner. It was a Goldeneye at Blithfield Reservoir.

September 1991: Steve Cooper showed me a moth trap for the first time on my school roof. Angleshades and Canary-shouldered Thorns blew me away.

October 1996: Partly through frustration at my A-level biology teachers ("that's not a rock-rose Graeme, it's a buttercup" - really? Is this what it's gonna be like if I do biology at university?) and partly for reasons that will forever remain a mystery, even to me, I started a degree and masters in astrophysics at Sussex University.

July 2001: I started my career in conservation at Dungeness RSPB.

May 2016: I returned to Sussex University to teach students from all over the UK about entomology.

I have just had one of the most rewarding weekends! Six month's ago Dr Alan Stewart of Sussex University asked me and a number of other specialists to come and help teach students in entomology at the campus as part of a BENHS event. For me, coming back to the university after all these years was very strange. Especially as I often used to look across from the maths and physics blocks up to the biology department thinking, "I really should be over there". I remember seeing the Biology Road sign all those years ago. So to go back and teach entomology, all be it just for a weekend, provided a great deal of catharsis for me. I gave talks on beetles, spiders and biological recording. The weirdest thing here was the lines and lines of calculus on the chalk boards, all very familiar but totally forgotten by me.

Anyway, the real stars of the show were the students. I was amazed at how keen they were, many of them turning up with reference collections and lots of equipment! On the first day we spent our time in the field by a dew pond on the campus (next to where twenty years ago Richard Attenborough gave us an introductory talk and I specifically remember him mentioning how important extra curricular activities are! - this could not be more true in the field of entomology) and the chalk-grassland at Stanmer Park. Alan and I had our petrol and electric suction-samplers respectively and this produced a wealth of material to show students. I was encouraging students to take carabid specimens to key out (the other half of the students split off with Mike Edwards to look at bees and flies).

I even managed ten new beetles with the help of Peter Hodge but it was back in the lab where the real work started walking students through keys for the first time. It was so great to see students get their first correct identification. One student picked up what I thought was a small Harapalus in the field which turned out be a male Ophonus. I helped really only by dissecting the aedeagus but the student managed to card the beetle and mount the aedeagus and we tentatively put the name Ophonus schaubergerianus which might even be new to East Sussex. I'm going to get a second opinion on this one. Sadly I didn't manage to get many photos of specimens or students. I did manage this photo of Chris Bentley and I at the microscopes.

On the second day we opened some moth traps. The highlight was the most well hidden Mullein, perfectly adapted to hiding on pegs.

We did more survey work on the campus and the highlight was finding yet another of the RDB1 Cassida denticollis. This area is clearly a hot-spot for this very rare beetle as we recorded it at Malling Down and Southerham last year. We picked it up (and two much commoner Cassida) in the suction-samplers. What was great was seeing students in the field come back with specimens they had caught such as Green Hairstreak, Rhinoceros Beetle, Andrena fulva, at least eight species of shieldbug and the saproxylic weevil Phloeophagus lignarius. The whole weekend was so exciting and I really felt like I helped make a difference. Well done to all the students and teachers alike, I hope this becomes a regular event!

Four years with my head in the stars seems like just a drop in the ocean now for me as I continue my life long journey down biology road.

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