Monday, February 14, 2011

Tracking insects

Many people view insects as a pest that must be destroyed. As one of the earth’s oldest species, having existed for around 400million years, they are however a vital part of the food chain and play a variety of key roles upon which we all depend. When you consider that 90% of the world’s mammals are insects you can begin to understand how life as we know it could not exist without them.

One area where insects often earn themselves a bad name is in agriculture. Some species of insect are known to damage and destroy crops. Beneficial insects however prey on those who do the damage and so protect the crop by controlling pest numbers.

Decomposition is an extremely important ecological function. Insects play a key role in breaking down dead plant and animal matter, keeping the earth clean and helping to return essential nutrients to the soil.

Insects play a vital role in pollinating our plants. Travelling from flower to flower feeding on nectar they carry the plant’s pollen with them. Without insects many plants would have no way of transferring their pollen and so would be unable to reproduce.

Part of the food web:
Insects are an essential part of the food chain. The diet of many of our best known animal, bird and amphibian species includes insects. Without large insect numbers rich levels of biodiversity could not be supported.
Why not try tracking and recording insect species in your home garden and local area.

•Get a long piece of string and map out a big loop in your garden, quietly examine how many different varieties of insect you can see within your loop to get an understanding of the insect biodiversity present.

•A great place to find insects is under rocks and logs. Why not take a look beneath them and see what insect species you can find. Be very careful not to squash your new found friends when putting the log or rock back in place as they are very fragile!

Things you can do to help insects in your home garden:

•Don’t squash them!

•Don’t use chemical pesticides

•Do leave leaf litter and rotten logs etc about for them to clear up and live amongst.

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tracking Mammals

It’s very easy to live life completely unaware of the wildlife that surrounds you. We know a lot about our cats and dogs and of course each other, but very little about other mammals that live silently and often unnoticed among us. A great way to find out more and have some fun out of doors is to track mammals. Tracking mammals takes you off the beaten track and gives you a great insight into their world.
Just like humans animals leave signs of wherever they’ve been;

Each species of mammal has a unique footprint, try thinking about the best places to find them. A great place to start is near water, all animals need to drink and usually the ground surrounding lakes and rivers is soft enough to leave really clear prints. Mud, soil and wet sand also hold animal prints well. Check to see how fresh the tracks are, if any plants or leaves stepped on by the animal are dead you know they haven’t walked through the area recently.

Studying mammal droppings is a great way to identify the species. You can tell how big the animal is by the size of its dropping and often what it eats. For example a vegetarian species will leave waste that looks a lot like straw. Be careful not to handle any droppings as they can contain harmful levels of bacteria.

Food remnants:
A good way to establish what species of mammals are around is to look out for signs of feeding. Animals feeding on nuts and berries often drop them or leave shells behind, the bark of trees can be ripped or gnawed and occasionally you may see fur, feather or bone remains; evidence a carnivore has killed in the area.

Top tips:
• Never go alone- if off in search of mammals always take a friend or adult with you and let someone know where you’re going.

• Dress appropriately: Don’t wear bright colours, try your best to camouflage yourself with the surrounding environment to ensure you don’t frighten any animals away.

• Stay quiet: Keep talking to a minimum, tread softly and switch your mobile phone to silent.

• Take care of the environment: Tracking can be hungry work, if you’re having a picnic be sure to take any rubbish home with you.

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana