ENV 2A7Y, Community Analysis in Ecology

Instructions for Taxonomy Collection

Alastair Grant

Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK.

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(Please note that this originated as a word processed document that was then placed on the web, and not all formatting is perfectly preserved).


There are two pieces of assessed work for this course. The first consists of a collection of organisms of a specified group of plants or animals. Your specimens should be identified correctly, preserved carefully and appropriately, and be accompanied by a written report which draws attention to key characteristics. The written material may be presented as a separate written report or as annotations linked to the specimens. It will be assessed on the quality of the collection - correct identification, annotation or description in a separate report of key features, quality of preservation and quality of presentation.

Your collection should be handed in to the ENV teaching labs and the written account submitted via the course graded work pigeon holes on Floor 0 by Monday Week 7, Autumn Semester (exact date subject to confirmation at the start of the Autumn Semester).

You would be very well advised to complete this during the coming Summer Vacation. Collections should normally be made in the British Isles. Importing of most biological specimens into the UK requires an import licence because of the risk of introducing plant diseases or agricultural pests. Many developing countries have blanket ban on the export of biological specimens.

Specific instructions about this exercise are given below. If things are not clear please query with me.


This is a training exercise with the following aims:

  1. To enable you to become practiced at and to gain confidence in using dichotomous keys in the identification of species.
  2. To increase your familiarity with some of the diversity of living organisms.
  3. To give you practice in the presentation of preserved material in an ordered way such as to enable others to use your specimens as part of a reference collection.
  4. To enable you to acquire a skill much in demand in the ecological survey job market.


    There are a number of components to this task, the relative importance of which will vary with the group of organisms you choose. There will NOT be a formal marking schedule with fixed proportion of marks going to each component. This means there is more than one way of getting good marks. But you need to be aware that those who are judging the quality of what you hand in will be looking for evidence of the following :

  1. Effort in collecting. If fewer than the specified number of species in the group you choose are handed in marks will be deducted pro rata with respect to this criterion.
  2. Presentation. The material should be presented following standard museum practice. This is often described at the front of the relevant identification guides. If in doubt visit a museum and seek guidance from a professional curator. The notes attached give you very general guidance. To get top marks all key diagnostic characteristics need to be displayed which may involve dissection of parallel specimens, e.g. to display details of genitalia for some molluscs and insects or interior details of floral anatomy.
  3. Identification. In most cases requires use of dichotomous keys (there will be much less credit for this criterion where the specimens do not need to be identified using formal keys). For most groups this should be to species level but, particularly for some of the invertebrate groups, this may not be possible, especially for juveniles. (NB: It is better to give a correct generic identification with indication of which of a number of species it might be than to claim to have identified it to species when this is not possible for the juvenile you’ve presented. Obviously it is better still to stick to adults that can be keyed to species level.)
  4. Labelling. Very important to give full scientific name and authority, arrange specimens in groups according to higher taxonomic categories, genus, family, order, etc. and make these categories obvious in your presentation. Labels should also include details of the date, habitat, precise location (including grid references), and method of sampling if an invertebrate. You should also initial each of your labels.
It cannot be stressed too much that a specimen without any data is of no scientific value. Wherever possible the label should carry the date of capture, as exact a description of the locality as possible (grid reference is useful), some relevant ecological data, and the name of the collector, e.g.
Earlham Park
Norwich 15.10.01
TG 194 073
on tree trunk
J. Bloggs

Costessey Church Yard
TG 177 091
Beat from Yew Tree
F. Smith
Norwich Golf Course
TG 52° 36’ N 1° 15’ E
swept from rough grass
J. Jones

This labelling is best done in Indian ink on thick white card with a mapping pen. Accurate, informative labeling is vital if you are going to collect and study any group seriously. If you are storing specimens in liquid, make sure that the label is completely dry before you put it in with the specimen.

v) Report. This should justify the identifications for each specimen, indicating the features that distinguish it from other related species. This may be in the form of notes and comments associated with the specimens (e.g. annotations to pressed specimens of angiosperms) but may be as a separate document.

4. PLANT COLLECTIONS (including seaweeds)

4.1 General Constraints

Please take great care to assimilate the following important points.

  1. The legal position: you should obey the law. If in doubt about it, consult Section 13 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act which inter alia says that, without a licence it is illegal intentionally to pick, uproot or destroy any wild plant listed in Schedule 8 (currently 62 species); or intentionally to uproot any wild plant unless one is an authorised person. An ‘authorised person’ is the owner or occupier of the land upon which the plant grows. If this is a local authority, permission should be obtained in writing. Any collection which shows evidence of contravention of the law will automatically receive a fail mark.
  2. General conservation considerations: Try to avoid collecting rare species, and you should avoid collecting on nature reserves (although it is fine to do your survey on a reserve if you have the permission of the owner or warden)..
  3. Each specimen must be keyed out to species (but see below) using the dichotomous key appropriate to the group/genus. For example, in the case of flowering plants, this means reference to the genus keys in Rose and/or those in Clapham, Tutin & Warburg (see below): reference to pictures in popular handbooks is insufficient. Similarly, mosses need keying out using the microscope keys of Watson or Smith. Any identification which fails to show evidence of having been keyed out in this rigorous way will be liable to a fail mark.
  4. Season: some kinds of material are best collected in certain seasons. It is difficult, for instance, to make an effective collection of wild flowers in winter. In the case of whole plants, try to collect in the season when flowers and fruiting bodies are most likely to be present.
  5. Presentation: in the past, students have demonstrated flair and originality in the way in which they have presented their collections to best effect. ‘Best effect’ means the ease with which a third party can get to grips with the species group in question as a result of the way you have identified, pointed out key features, preserved, and presented your collection.
4.2 Identification
  1. General : This must be done as precisely as reasonably possible. It should always be possible to get trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, sedges, rushes, ferns, mosses and liverworts down to species level. It should be possible to get the commoner Ascomycete and Basidiomycete fungi and the large lichens also to species level, but this may not be possible in the case of smaller or more obscure species and, in the case of fungi, keying out may only practically be done to the level of the genus. Make sure you collect the material necessary for use of the dichotomous key you intend to use.
  2. Equipment : Have a lens about your neck (x10) when you are collecting and identifying. You will quickly get to know the key features, and a lens helps you to see them when they are small and before you collect them.
If you have chosen lichens, mosses and liverworts, ferns or fungi you will require at least a binocular microscope, possibly a high-powered monocular one to get spore shape in fungi or lichen structure for instance. Chemicals are also necessary for lichens and some fungi and in which case, completion of a COSHH form will be necessary.

It is common to collect into poly bags. But as soon as you return to the Lab. or home remove the specimens from the bags and press them or whatever is initially necessary. They will rot or grow all peculiar remarkably rapidly in a wet poly bag in a dark cupboard. It is most important that specimens are dried completely and quickly, or they discolour. Leaves go black, and flowers, particularly blue and mauve ones, lose their colour. This may mean frequent changes of absorbent paper or newspaper.

4.3 Groups acceptable for a collection

You may collect from the following groups only. The list has been compiled in order to facilitate the fulfillment of the aims (above) and to minimise the risk of collection of rarities. Numbers given are the number of species required from the particular group.

i) Flowing plants and ferns

(a) Collection: 20 species from one or more of the following families only:




Rosaceae (a collection from the genus Rubus is acceptable)








Gramineae (grasses)

Cyperaceae (sedges)

Juncaceae (rushes)

Pteridophyta (ferns and fern allies) (15 species)

Or a collection of aquatic plants or seaweeds

Credit will be given to students who collect from just one or two families. Prior permission must be obtained before collecting from any other family.

(b) Keys:

Herbaceous plants

Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. & Warburg, E.F. (1981) Excursion Flora. Cambridge University Press.

Rose, F. (1981) The Wild Flower Key. Warne.

Stace, C.A., 1997. New Flora of the British Isles. Cambridge University Press. This is the current definitive guide to UK plants.

Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. & Moore, D.M. (1987) Flora of the British Isles. Cambridge University Press. Grasses

Hubbard, C.E. (1984) Grasses. Pelican, Penguin.

Rose, F. (1989) Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns. Viking.

Fitter, R. and Fitter, A. (1984). Collins Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns of Britain and Northern Ireland. Collins


Page, C.N. (1982) The Ferns of Britain and Ireland. Cambridge University Press.

Johns, H.M. (1980) Collins guide to the ferns, mosses and lichens. Collins.

Merryweather, J. & Hill, M. (1994) The Fern Guide - AIDGAP, FSC.

Rose, F. (1989) Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns. Viking.

Water Plants

Haslam, S.M., Sinker, C.A. and Wolseley, P. (1975) 'British Water Plants'. This can be bought from The Field Studies Council Information Office, Preston Montford, Montford Bridge, Shrewsbury, SY4 1NW, and is highly recommended. The Teaching Lab has copies also. It has line drawings and is probably the best book for identifying submerged water plants.

  1. Material Presentation: Don’t collect during one go more than you can deal with that evening. Ensure material is not crushed in transit to the Lab. Lay between ample sheets of absorbent paper (newspaper) for initial pressing and drying. It is critical that great care is taken at this stage to lay out all the parts of the plant as you will want to mount them later. Make sure small, delicate parts are neatly separated. Place a heavyweight (generally books) on top of newspaper to press plants effectively. If plants are very wet/succulent, change newspaper frequently. Continue until flat and dry. Do not do this in a damp cold room or outbuilding or material will be attacked by fungi. To retain colour in flowers, it is most important to dry quickly and effectively.
(d) Mounting and Presentation: on white card of appropriate size (see 5 below). Do not cover with cling film or sticky-backed plastic - this makes it impossible to check identifications and specimens often go mouldy

(ii) Mosses and liverworts (20 species)

  1. Collection: Any time of year, an advantage of this group. Mosses and liverworts may be found in almost any habitat, but are most diverse in humid or wet places.
  2. Keys: It will be possible to identify most species using the microscopic keys in Watson. Failing this use Smith. (Both in Lab. B). The Collins Guide is good for getting as far as genus.

    Watson, E.G. (1963) British Mosses and Liverworts. Cambridge University Press.

    Smith, A.J.E. (1978) The Moss Flora of Britain and Ireland. Cambridge University Press.

    Smith, A.J.E. (1990) The Liverworts of Britain and Ireland. Cambridge University Press.

    Jahns, H.M. (1980) Collins Guide to Ferns, Mosses and Lichens of Britain and Northern and Central Europe. Collins.

  3. Material Preparation: Collect in poly bags, but remove and allow to air-dry on return to Lab. Preferably identify them before they dry out.
  4. Mounting and Presentation: The commonest way is to follow the instructions in the Introduction to Watson’s book. This means using both enveloping whole specimens and presenting permanently mounted slides of individual leaves for microscopic examination.
iii) Lichens (15 species)
  1. Collection : Technique depends on substrate. Lichens may commonly be found growing on wood, stone, peat and soil. It is best to collect the substrate to which they are attached if you wish to present a life-like specimen. This is especially so with crustose liverworts. Any season. Tree trunks and branches - slice off with sharp knife. Twigs - break off twig. Stone, wall, concrete - chip lump off with geological hammer if permissible (difficult e.g. UEA concrete). Peat, soil - no problem apart from disintegration.
(b) Key: familiarise with techniques before collecting:

Chemical tests are required for certain identification.

Duncan, U.K. (1970) Introduction to British Lichens. (Notes on collection, preservation, identification and comprehensive keys).

Ferry, B.W. (1971) Lichens of the Dale Peninsula and other nearby localities. Field Studies 3(3), 481. (key).

Dobson, F. (1981) Lichens: An Illustrated Guide. Richmond Press. (A well illustrated and relatively straightforward paperback). For some additional specialist keys, see Bull. Lichenological Society (Castle Museum, Norwich).

(c) Material Preparation : generally only necessary to air dry.

(d) Mounting and Presentation : depends on nature of material and substrate. Refer to references.

(iv) Fungi (18 species)

(a) Collection : July (after first major rains) to first frost; by and large August to October are the best months. Fungi fruiting bodies are notoriously difficult to preserve, but most species may be dried at about 40°C. However, the colour and appearance changes even though microscopic characters needed for identification do not. A collection of high quality close-up colour photographs of species growing in their habitats may make the most effective collection (but make sure that you camera and photography skills are up to it before committing yourself to this option). Such photographs must be supplemented by spore-prints and preserved sections, paintings or drawings. Collect photographed specimens for subsequent identification.

(b) Identification: requires use of microscope for spore examination. Key out to genus using Lange and Hora, then to species using Phillips.

Bessey, E.A. (1952) Morphology and Taxonomy of Fungi. The Blakiston Co., Philadelphia (key to most general).

Buczacki, S. (1989) Collins New Generation Guide to the Fungi of Britain and Europe. Collins, London.

Findlay, W.P.K. (1979) Mushrooms and toadstools. A field guide. Open University Press.

Lange, M. & Hora, F.B. (1963) Mushrooms and Toadstools. Collins. (Key to genera only).

Phillips, R. (1981) Mushrooms and other Fungi of Great Britain and Europe. Pan Books.

(c) Material Preparation : follow instructions in references.

(d) Mounting and Presentation : depends on material to be presented.


You may well want to include larger filamentous forms of algae in your collection. These may be floating on the surface of stiller water or attached to stones in faster flowing habitats. Remove about a dozen strands from your bulk sample and preserve them in alcohol in glass screw-topped bottles. There are one or two large species which could be pressed following the methods for higher plants. Use your judgement to decide which method is best. You will need to use a microscope to identify fresh specimens and will need to include sketches of the diagnostic features. A collection of smaller phytoplankters would involve some sophisticated photography so it is best to deal with these groups later on in our practical sessions.

Belcher, H and Swale, H. (1978). Beginners Guide to Freshwater Algae. Institute of Terrestrial Ecology. NERC. Available for loan from the teaching Lab. Only identifies to Genus.

Bellinger, E.G. (1992). A Key to Common Algae. The Institution of Water and Environmental Management. (15 John Street, London WC1N 2EB).

4.4 Presentation

By and large a collection is presented to best effect when mounted on high quality white paper or card (e.g. Cambridge Board) and labelled using Indian ink and a fine nib. Typed labels mounted on the card may also be effective. Thick absorbent white paper is obtainable from the ENV teaching lab technicians. This may be appropriate for presentation or for the intermediate stage of pressing after the newspaper stage. Other material you are expected to purchase, beg or borrow yourself.

Various methods of attaching specimens to paper are appropriate. It is advisable to try several. The best are those which make neither marks on specimens nor on the paper, nor cover parts of the specimens. Some gums or glues, notably "cow gum", achieve this (recently students have been told that "cow gum" is no longer available - but solid glue sticks such as Pritt seem to work OK). Protection of the specimen from above may be achieved by an extra piece of paper, tissue or a sheet of "Tacky-back", but if you are covering specimens with plastic make sure that they are completely dry..

Bear in mind, effectiveness of presentation is in the permanence of the mounting, the effectiveness of display of all key features, perfection in specimen quality and in the labeling.

For groups where presentation on white card is not appropriate (e.g. lichens, mosses, fungi) follow suggestions in references or develop your own techniques if think this is better.

Labeling should include key features of the specimen (e.g. floral parts of a grass spikelet). Basic information for each species, normally displayed with the specimen should include name, authority, where collected grid reference, habitat associated species, date collected, collector’s name.

4.5 Seaweeds

The most useful keys are:

Dickson, C. I., (1963). British Seaweeds. Eyre and Spottiswoode.

Hiscock, S, (1979). A field Key to the British Brown Seaweeds (Phaeophyta) Field Studies 1-44.

Hiscock, S, (1986). A field Key to the British Red Seaweeds. Occasional Publication of the Field Studies Council


5.1 General

Should comprise specimens from a minimum of 20 different named taxa. They should preferably be identified to species level using the relevant dichotomous keys, but in some of the more obscure groups, e.g. the Acari (mites), identification to generic or even family level would be accepted. All specimens must be fully labelled with the relevant information and accompanied by an orderly list of the species presented, showing their taxonomic affinities at family and higher taxonomic levels. This list should be presented as a table and should not exceed one side of A4 paper. It should complement the written report on the specimens that you have presented.

5.2 Acceptable Groups

Collections of terrestrial, freshwater or marine invertebrates can be made from members of a larger taxonomic group such as an order of insects, e.g. Coleoptera (beetles) of Arachnids, e.g. Araneae (spiders), or of a range of invertebrates from a single habitat, e.g. rivers, ponds, grasslands, or heath or representatives of the soil fauna. The second approach is more difficult as it will involve using a number of different keys, which for invertebrates are rather specialised and take time to learn how to use unless it is a habitat covered by one of the Naturalists Handbooks (see list attached). This approach is probably more tractable for freshwater or marine invertebrates where the total number of species in the UK fauna is lower. Collecting of rare specimens will be penalised. For this reason collecting butterflies is discouraged but moths are acceptable.

5.3 Terrestrial invertebrates

5.3.1 Equipment

Correct mounting of many invertebrates is a delicate and painstaking procedure, requiring the use of special pins, setting boards, etc. These can be loaned from Laura Sturman (Chief Technician, Lab. B) for the summer. At least a x10 hand lens, and for many groups a binocular microscope, is required for identification.

5.3.2 Collections

Flying insects are usually caught in a kite net the bag of which is made from material with a loose transparent weave and should be long enough to be folded over to close the inlet when the frame is held horizontally. It should be made of strong enough material to withstand occasional encounters with briars, etc. and preferably be dark in colour. This is the most effective way of catching many butterflies, dragonflies, true flies and Hymenoptera.

More sedentary groups such as grasshoppers, beetles, bugs and psocids are usually removed from the vegetation by sweeping or beating. A sweep net is used in low herbage such as grasslands and is swept to and fro through the vegetation as the collector walks along. Stouter material such as white canvas is required for sweep nets which have a rigid often triangular frame and often a supporting strut across the entrance.

Small living animals are most easily removed from a net or beating tray by means of a pooter or aspirator into which air is sucked in short vigorous bursts while holding the intake as close as possible to the animal.
  Image of pooter cannot be displayed

A pooter is also useful when making a direct search of likely collecting sites such as under stones or dead logs and amongst leaf litter, this being the best method for collecting many of the soil fauna.

Further details of collecting methods are given by:

Dowdeswell, W.H. (1961) Practical Animal Ecology. Methuen, London.

Kevan, W.H. (1962) Soil Animals. Witherby, London.

Oldroyd, H. (1958) Collecting, Preserving and Studying Insects. Hutchinson, London.

Smart, J. (1954) Instructions for Collectors. British Museum (Natural History) London.

5.3.3 Killing

After examining the catch to determine which need to be retained, kill insects which are to be stored dry in a killing bottle.

The most useful chemical agent for killing is ethyl acetate. To use this a tube may simply have the bottom inch packed with cotton wool and covered with blotting paper. The ethyl acetate is then added to saturate the cotton wool but with NO free liquid. Insects may get entangled in the cotton wool and more satisfactory is to replace it with plaster-of-Paris which again can be saturated with ethyl acetate. It may be remembered that soiling the wings of Lepidoptera with liquid ethyl acetate tends to ruin the wing pattern, making them difficult to identify. This is a good killing agent, it leaves the insects pliable which is not true of chloroform or carbon tetrachloride, but cannot be used with plastic tubes as it dissolves them. Safe and relatively harmless to man in small quantities.

Another good killing agent, for larvae and molluscs, is very hot water. The specimens should be left in for only a few moments.

5.3.4 Bringing Specimens Home

If brought back alive it is best to keep the different species apart and give them something to cling to in the tube. Do not keep them in your pocket or in direct sunlight as the heat will cause condensation of water droplets in which small insects may be trapped and damaged.

If you have several ethyl acetate bottles insects can be brought back in these and stored with a label till they can be dealt with. Pieces of tissue should be inserted to prevent the dead insects from rolling about in the jar.

A useful technique for bringing back winged insects is paper envelopes in which the killed insect can be stored. They are made as in Figure 1.

image cannot be displayed

5.3.5 Preparing and Mounting for Permanent Preservation Liquid Preservation

This applied to slugs, terrestrial anthropods other than insects (woodlice, millipedes, centipedes, spiders, mites, harvestmen, pseudescorpians). It also applies to the larvae and nymphs of most insects and the adults of those which are soft bodied. The best general liquid is 70%-80% ethyl alcohol. Specimens should be put in small tubes with a date label (Indian ink on white paper, making sure that the ink is dry before immersing the label in alcohol). The tube is filled with alcohol and plugged with cotton wool so that the specimens cannot jiggle about. These tubes are then inverted in a large container which is kept topped up with alcohol.

For the precise identification of some spiders it is necessary to preserve them with the legs spread out. They often contract them tightly under the body if killed by direct immersion in alcohol. For critical work it is therefore often best to kill them using ethyl acetate vapour, spread them into a suitable position (in for example a small petri dish) and then gently immerse them in 70% alcohol. After they have hardened they can be stored in the usual way.

Some larvae discolour in alcohol and a very useful alternative is van Emden’s fluid (2ml glacial acetic acid; 30ml of distilled water; 6ml of formaldehyde (40%), 15ml of 95% alcohol), but you will need to complete a COSHH form before you use this preservative.

It if often useful to collect in the field straight into alcohol, especially with litter fauna. Dry Preservation

Specimens may be either pinned or mounted on card in various ways. This has to be done to stop the insect body moving about as when dry they are very fragile and brittle - the pin enables the specimen to be moved for examination without touching. Manipulation ideally is done on the freshly killed insect. If specimens have become stiff after killing they can be relaxed before mounting by exposing to 100% relative humidity for 12-24 hours which will relax all but the largest and driest. Care should be taken to prevent mould gathering during this process by including some paradichlorobenzene or ethyl acetate in the relaxing bottle. A relaxing fluid is marketed by Watkins and Doncaster and the laurel leaf bottle is another alternative - the most satisfactory for Lepidoptera.

5.3.6 Setting

This particularly applies to the Lepidoptera where the wing pattern is the major character used in identification. Setting the wings is not always an advantage, except aesthetically. In other groups, particularly the Diptera and Hymenoptera, the process obscures the characters of the thorax which are often vital for identification. The wings of Coleoptera are never set.

5.3.7 Pinning

Small, fragile or soft bodied insects are often ruined by pinning. Insects that are to be pinned should be strong enough to support themselves on the pin. It is not possible to repin an old dry specimen, as the cuticle will not grip the pin. Choice of size of pin is personal but of course partly dictated by the size of the specimen.

Direct pinning involves passing the pin through the thorax of the specimen and moving the insect well up the pin so that the data and identification labels can be pinned below.

Staging or double mounting consists of passing a very fine black pin through the specimen and pinning it to a strip of Polyporus (bracket fungus) which is then in turn pinned by a normal long pin which also bears the data labels. This is suitable for small insects but there are those too small and delicate for even these fine pins and these are best glued to the tip of a triangle of white card - process known as pointing. The tip of the card should be a little broader than the thorax of the insect to be mounted on it. Glue (preferably fairly quick drying) is put on the tip and the insect picked up with the tip under the binocular by attaching to one side of the thorax. The insect is then arranged to the best advantage with fine needles. Remember the aim is not to totally immerse the specimen in glue but to lightly attach it.

Beetles are usually mounted by gluing the whole ventral surface to white card with water soluble glue such as gum tragacanth and spreading out the legs and antennae so that they can be seen from above. This method, beloved of Coleopterists, has the disadvantage of completely obscuring the ventral characteristics. However, beetles are robust and if necessary can be gently removed with warm water and restuck after examination. This is fortunately not often needed as most keys confine themselves, where possible, to dorsal characters.

5.3.8 Storing

All mounted specimens when stored in a cabinet must be protected against fungal, insect and mite attack. This is best done by keeping the cabinet saturated with the vapour of paradichlorobenzene crystals.

Permanent Mounts

Some insects such as the Apterygota, Thysanoptea, Aphids, Siphonaptora siphunculata, and Mallophraga are best mounted as permanent slide preparations. This involved boiling in 10% KOH to remove the soft tissues, rinsing in water, dehydrating through graded alcohols or in glacial acetic acid, clearing in xylol or clove oil, and mounting in Canada balsam or DPX. These specimens are in fact usually stored in alcohol but this mounting process is often necessary to examine microscopic details of the cuticle which is best done on the transparent specimen.

5.3.9 Equipment

If you wish to purchase any entomological equipment, the major supplier in this country is Watkins and Doncaster, Fourthrows, Hawkhurst, Kent.

For your taxonomy project all the equipment described above can be borrowed from the School subject to suitable arrangements being made with the appropriate technicians.

5.3.10 Identification

As over 20,000 different insect species have been recorded from the British Isles the taxonomic literature is very extensive. The following titles indicate a few of the books that are likely to prove useful for the groups indicated on your course information sheet.

5.3.11 General

Cloudsley-Thompson, J.L. & Sankey, J. (1961) Land Invertebrates: A guide to British worms, molluscs and arthropods (excluding insects). Methuen, London.

Chinery, N. (1973) A Field Guide to the Insects of Britain and Northern Europe. Collins, London (well worth buying if you decide to make an insect collection).

Kevan, O.K., McB (1962) Soil Animals. Witherby, London (includes good descriptions but NOT keys).
  5.3.12 Particular Groups


For the most detailed guides "Handbooks for the identification of British insects" published by the Royal Entomological Society, 41 Queens Gate, London SW7 5HU. A full list of these keys is attached. Other relevant texts are listed below.

The approximate number of species represented in the British Fauna for each group is given in brackets. The number of species required in bold.

PROTURA 15   Tuxen, S.L. (1974) The Protura : a revision of the species of the world, with keys for determination. Hermann, Paris.
Species with aquatic larvae (20)

Miller, P.I. Dragonflies, 96pp. Naturalists’ Handbook 0 521 317657
Hammond, C.D. (1983) The dragonflies of Great Britain and Ireland. Harley Books.
EMPHEMEROPTERA  (Mayflies - 25)

Elliott, J.M. & Humpesch, V.H. (1983) A key to the adults of the British Emphemeroptera, FBA.

Harker, J. Mayflies, 68pp. Naturalists’ Handbook 0 85546 2736

TRICHOPTERA (Caddisflies) 192

Macan, T.T. & Worthington, C.J. (1973) A key to the adults of the British Trichoptera. FBA.

Mosely, M.E. (1939) The British Caddis Flies, Routledge & Sons Ltd.

ORTHOPTERA 20   (Cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers, etc.)

Brown, VK. Grasshoppers, 76pp. Naturalists’ Handbook. 0 85546 277 9

Ragge, D.R. (1965) Grasshoppers, crickets and cockroaches of the British Isles. Wayside and Woodland.

HEMIPTERA 20   (1679)

Southwood, TRE & Leston, D Land and water bugs of the British Isles. Wayside and Woodland series.

LEPIDOPTERA 20   (Butterflies and moths) (3469)

Skinner, B (1984) Moths of the British Isles.

Viking, Heath, J & Eremet, AM (1976-onward) The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland. 4 volumes - unfinished. Harley Books.

Carter, DJ & Hargreaves, B (1986) A field guide to caterpillars of Great Britain and Europe. Collins.
Carter, D (1982) Butterflies and Moths in Britain and Europe. Pan.

South, R Caterpillars of the British Butterflies. Wayside and Woodland.

South, R Caterpillars of the British Moths (2 volumes). Wayside and Woodland.

South, R Butterflies of the British Isles. Wayside and Woodland.

South, R Moths of the British Isles (2 volumes). Wayside and Woodland.

DIPTERA 20   (Flies) 5,000

Stubbs, A & Chandler, P (1978) The Dipterist’s Handbook, Amateur Entomologists Society.

Snow, KR Mosquitoes 76pp. Naturalists’ Handbooks 0 85546 275 2.

Gilbert, FS Hoverflies 78pp. Naturalists’ Handbooks 0 521 27701 9

Unwin, DM (1981) A key to families of British Diptera. Aidgap Offprint No 143. Field Studies Council.

Colyer, CN & Hammond, CO Flies of the British Isles. Wayside and Woodland. (Keys to most general good illustrations and introduction to the order).

HYMENOPTERA 20   (Sawflies, Parasitic wasps, wasps, bees, ants etc.)

Yeo, PF & Corbet, SA Solitary wasps 70pp. Naturalists’ Handbooks 0 521 299403.

Prys-Jones, OE & Corbet, SA Bumblebees 98pp. Naturalists’ Handbooks 0 85546 275 4.

Betts, C (1986) The Hymenopterist’s Handbook. Amateur Entomologists Society.

Wright, A (1990) British Sawflies (Hymenoptera: Symphyta) : a key to adults of the genera occurring in Britain. Aidgap Offprint No 203. Field Studies Council.

Willmer, P (1985) Bees, ants and wasps, a key to genera of the British Aculeates. Aidgap FSC

Step, E Bees, wasps, ants and allied insects of the British Isles. Wayside and Woodland. (Not possible to identify many species but good pictures and introduction to order).

COLEOPTERA 20   (Beetles)

Morris, MG Weevils 84pp. Naturalists’ Handbooks 0 85546 2817

Majerus, M & Kearns, P Ladybirds 116pp. Naturalists Handbooks 0 85546 267 1.
Forsythe, TG Common ground beetles 86pp. Naturalists’ Handbooks 0 85546 263 9.

Cooter, J (1991) A Coleopterist’s Handbook. Amateur Entomologists Society.

Unwin, DM (1984 revised 1988) A key to the families of British Coleoptera (beetles) and Strepsiptera. Aidgap Offprint No 166. Field Studies Council.

Harde, KW with Hammond, PM (1984) A field guide in colour to Beetles. Octopus.

Linsson, EF Beetles of the British Isles 2 volumes.

Wayside and Woodland. (Useful pictures but no keys).

Joy, NH (1932) Practical Handbook of British Beetles. 2 volumes.

LUMBRICIDAE 15   (Earthworms)

Linnean Soc. Key No. 6 by Gerrard, BM

MOLLUSCA 20   (Slugs and Snails)

Kerney, MP & Cameron, RAD A field guide to the land snails of Britain and North-West Europe. Collins.

Cameron, RAD & Redfern, M (1976). British Land Snails Mollusca : Gastropoda. Linnear Society. Synopses of the British Fauna (New Series) No. 6. Academic Press, London.

Cameron, RAD, Eversham, B & Jackson, N (1983) A field guide to the Slugs of the British Isles. Aidgap Offprint No.156. Field Studies Council.

Quick, HE (1949) Linnean Soc. Key No.8 Slugs (Mollusca).

Soil Macroarthropods : 20  
    Tillins, SM (1987) A key to the major groups of British Terrestrial Invertebrates. Aidgap Offprint No.187. Field Studies Council.
ISOPODA   (Woodlice - 42)

Sutton, SL (1972) Woodlice. Ginn, London. (Key published as separate offprint for £1).

DIPLOPODA   (Millipedes - 44)

Linnean Soc. Key No.11 by Blower, JC

CHILOPODA   (Centipedes - 44)

Eason, DH (1964) Centipedes of the British Isles. Wayside and Woodland.

SYMPHYLA   Edwards, CA (1959) A revision of the British 14 Symphyia, Proc. Zool. Soc. London 132 (3) 403-439.
Arachnids : 20  
PSEUDOSCORPIONES   (Pseudoscorpions) 25

Linnean Soc. Key No.10 by Evans, GO & Browning, E

OPILIONES   (Harvestmen) 20

Sankey, JHP & Savory, TH British Harvestmen.

Linnean Soc. Synopses of the British Fauna (New Series) No.4 Academic Press, London.

ARANEAE   (Spiders) 605

Jones-Walters, LM (1989) Keys to the families of British Spiders. Aidgap Offprint No.197. Field Studies Council.

Jones, D (1983) The country lifeguide to spiders of Britain and Northern Europe. Country Life.

Roberts, MJ (1987) The spiders of Great Britain and Europe. 3 volumes.

Lockett & Millidge, (1951, 1953) British Spiders (2 volumes). Walter L Johnson Ltd, Ray. Soc. Publications 135, 127.

Lockett, GH, Millidge, AF & Morrett, P (1974) British Spiders Vol. 3. Walter L Johnson Ltd. Ray. Soc. Publications.

The number of species of invertebrate is such that many will not be described in the books listed above. There are more detailed keys available for:

i) the insects by the Royal Entomological Society of London - Handbooks for the identification of British Insects.

ii) freshwater organisms (may have terrestrial stages) - scientific publications of the Freshwater Biological Association.

iii) other non insect invertebrates - Synopses of the British Fauna (new series) published by the Linnean Society of London, and the Estuarine & Coastal Science Association.

iv) various publications of the Field Studies Council, and other associations.

v) The Naturalists Handbooks, published by Richmond Publishing Co. are useful, e.g. handbooks on solitary wasps, hoverflies, bumblebees.

These more specialist keys (see attached list) can be seen in the Library, in the book cupboard in BIO 0.46, and with the ENV teaching technicians.

Books covering invertebrates found in particular habitats or guilds of invertebrates.

Skidmore, P (1991) Insects of the British cow-dung community. Occasional Publication 21, Aidgap, Field Studies Council.

Davis, BNK Insects on nettles (new edition) 68pp. Naturalists’ Handbooks 085546 2833.

Redfern, M Insects and thistles 68pp. Naturalists’ Handbooks 0 521 29933 0.

Rotheray, GE Aphid predators 86pp. Naturalists’ Handbooks 0 85546 269 8.

Guthrie, M Animals of the surface film. 100pp. Naturalists’ Handbooks 0 85546 271 X.

Redfern, M & Askew, RR Plant Galls. 104pp. Naturalists’ Handbooks 0 85546 285 X.

Kirk, WDJ Insects on cabbages and oilseed rape. 76pp. Naturalists’ Handbooks 0 85546 287 6.


Animals can be picked out of streams easily by careful removal of stones and careful examination of them. This is the best way for flatworms. You can also sample using a benthos net. The net is not pushed against the stream or lake bed - this may damage it irreparably. Stand in the stream with your back to the current and disturb the bottom with your feet. Wellington boots will be essential here. The net is held in front of your feet just clear of the bottom and, working backwards, organisms disturbed by your feet are swept into the net by the current. Plant beds may have a different fauna to rocky or shingly areas. In soft mud, the net may be pushed into the surface layers to obtain a sample, which is cleared of mud by working the net bag to and fro in the water with the net opening just above the water surface. Be sure to make careful records of the type (and variation) of substratum for your write-up.

After larger stones are removed (to prevent crushing your samples), the organisms caught in the net are washed out into a tray or a wide-mouthed bottle, half full of water. The catch is then sorted, a little at a time. It is best to sort as soon after collection as possible because in the crowded conditions of the bottle, carnivores will eat other invertebrates and probably within only a few hours. Incidentally, English leech species will not cling to you - most eat invertebrates and bloodsuckers only feed on fish or frogs. Collecting will take relatively little time compared to identification - which takes a long time and lots of patience!.


For identification it is desirable although not essential to sort at least half a dozen of each species and, for your collection, a similar number should, if possible, be preserved together. As far as possible, try to identify organisms when they are still alive. A hand lens is essential and, if available, a stereo-microscope is even more convenient.

Useful starting keys are:

T.T. Macan 'Guide to Freshwater Invertebrate Animals' (Longmans).
  M. Quigley 'Invertebrates of Streams and Rivers, a Key to Identification' (Arnold).

Note that few organisms can be classified safely to species using Macan and Quigley - these are preliminary guides. You will need to use more detailed keys on specific groups. If you would like to buy your own copies, they may be obtained from the Librarian, Department DWS, The Freshwater Biological Association, The Ferry House, Ambleside, Cumbria LA22 OLP.

Most useful are: No.13 Gastropods by T.T. Macan (£8.00); No.4O Leeches by J.M. Elliott and K.H. Mann (out of print although copies in ENV); No.17 Stoneflies by H.B.N. Hynes (£9.00); No. 15 Water bugs by T.T. Macan; No.49 Ephemerophtera larvae (£12.00); No 47 Ephemerophtera adults (£8.00) ; No.22 Oligochaetes by R. Brinkhurst; No.23 Triclads by T.B. Reynoldson; and No.43 Caseless Caddis Larvae by J.M. Edington and A.G. Hildrew. The standard key for cased caddis fly larvae is the book by J.E. Hickin (1967) 'Caddis Larvae' (Hutchinson) but may be in demand. One copy is in the Library.

General texts

Croft, P.S. (1986) A key to the major groups of freshwater invertebrates. Field Studies, 6.
  Worms Ball, Ian R. and Reynoldson, T.B. (1981) British Planarians. Synopses of the British Fauna (New Series) No.19. Published for the Linnean Society of London and the Estuarine Brackish Water Sciences Association by Cambridge University Press.

Elliott, J.M. and Mann, K.H. (1979) A key to the British Freshwater Leeches, with notes on their life cycles and ecology. Freshwater Biological Association Publication No. 40.

Reynoldson, T.B. (1978) A key to the British species of Freshwater Triclads (Turbellaria Paludicola). Freshwater Biological Association Scientific Publication No.23.

Davies, L. (1968) A key to the British species of Simuliidae (Diptera) in the larval, pupal and adult stages. Freshwater Biological Association Scientific Publication No.24.

Disney, R.H.L. (1975) A key to the larvae, pupae and adults of the British Dixidae (Diptera). Freshwater Biological Association Scientific Publication No.31.

Edington, J.M. and Hildrew, A.G. (1981) A key to the Caseless Caddis Larvae of the British Isles, with notes on their ecology. Freshwater Biological Association Scientific Publication No.43.

Elliott, J.M. (1977) A key to the larvae and adults of British freshwater Megaloptera and Neuroptera. Freshwater Biological Association Scientific Publication No.35.

Macan, T.T. (1965) A revised key to the British Water Bugs (Hemiptera-Heteroptera) with notes on their ecology. Freshwater Biological Association Scientific Publication No.16.

Macan, T.T. (1961; 1979) A key to the Nymphs of the British Species of Ephemeroptera, with notes on their ecology. Freshwater Biological Association Scientific Publication No.2O.

Hammond, C.O. (1985) The Dragonflies of Great Britain and Ireland. Harley Books, Colchester.
  Hicken, N.E. (1967) Caddis Larvae. Hutchinson, London.

Hynes, H.B.N. (1977) A key to the adults and nymphs of the British Stoneflies (Plecoptera) with notes on their ecology and distribution. Freshwater Biological Association Scientific Publication No.17.
  Arachnids Hopkins, C.L. (1961) A key to the Water Mites of the Flatford Area. Field Studies, 1(3), 45-64.
  Crustaceans Gledhill, T., Sutcliffe, D.W. and Williams, W.D. (1976) A key to the British Freshwater Crustacea Malacostraca. Freshwater Biological Association Scientific Publication No.32.
  Molluscs Ellis, A.E. (1978) British Freshwater Bivalve Mollusca. Synopsis of the British Fauna No.11 published for the Linnean Society of London by Academic Press.

Fretter, V. and Graham, A. (1978) The Prosobranch Molluscs of Britain and Denmark, Part 3. Neritacea, Viviparacea, Valvatacea, terrestrial and freshwater Littorinacea and Rissoacea. Published as a supplement to The Journal of Molluscan Studies.

Macan, T.T. and Cooper, R.D. (1949; 196O) A key to the British Fresh and Brackish Water Gastropods. Freshwater Biological Association Scientific Publication No.13.

A general preservation solution is 70% alcohol. Snails and arthropods may be dropped straight in. Mineralised (purple) methylated spirit is fine for preserving if you have not taken alcohol home from the teaching labs. Transfer to clear alcohol before handing in. Soft-bodied animals like leeches, triclads and oligochaetes need relaxing first by slowly adding alcohol to their water over about an hour to give a final concentration of 70%. Specimens must be kept in tightly stoppered containers because alcohol evaporates. Labels must be made from white card or strong paper, written in good quality water-proof black ink and inserted into the specimen tube. Make sure that ink is thoroughly dry before putting labels into the bottles. Ink from most printers will run in alcohol: a way around this is to first photocopy the labels. Cut the label so that it will fit through the neck without folding, it must be readable from outside the tube. Mapping pens (Rotring, etc.) and ink are suitable, and you can use these in Cartography (ENV Room 3.17). You will have to print neatly and in a small hand to get all of the following essential information on the card: full Latin name, including authority (e.g. Polycelis felina Dalycell), phylum (e.g. Tricladidae, Platyhelminthes), order or family, place (national Grid Reference), date of collection, and habitat (e.g. River Dove, Derbyshire, England; among rocks in stream) and name of collector. It is essential that this is done carefully and this means accurately and very neatly. See the example below for Hippuris vulgaris.

General references (in the main UEA Library)

Mellanby, H. (1963) 'Animal Life in Freshwaters' Chapman and Hall.

Hynes, H.B.N. (1972) 'The Ecology of Running Waters' (Liverpool University Press). Macan, T.D. (198O) 'Freshwater Ecology' Longmans.

Moss, B. (1988) 'Ecology of Freshwaters' Blackwell.

Townsend, C.R. (198O) 'The Ecology of Streams and Rivers' Arnold. 5.5 Marine Invertebrates

A rich diversity of invertebrates can be found on both rocky shores and intertidal soft sediments. Animals can be removed from rocks using a knife, and will survive for a few hours in a bucket of seawater (but most would not survive overnight, so deal with them quickly). Some animals are large, so preservation can be more of a problem than with freshwater invertebrates, but most will preserve OK in 70% alcohol. For soft bodied animals, better results will often be obtained if the animal is first anaesthetised in 5% alcohol before being preserved. Polychaetes can be easier to identify when alive, so preserving some and keeping one or two for initial identifcation work may be sensible. Rocky shores can experience considerable pressure from educational parties, so do not collect more animals than you need and return stones to their original positions so that animals on the undersides are not killed by dessication. A number of picture books are available, but for identification, the most comprehensive guide is:

Hayward, P.J. & J.S. Ryland, 1990. The Marine Fauna of the British Isles and North West Europe. Clarendon.

Keys to more specialist groups include:

Coelenterates (Cnidarians)

Manuel, R.L, (198O). The Anthozoa of the British Isles. A colour guide produced for the Underwater Conservation Society

Manuel, R.L, (1981) British Anthozoa. Linnean Society synopses of the British Fauna, New Series No. 18, Cambridge University Press.

Ball, I.R and Reynoldson, T.B® (1981). British Planarians, Linnean Society synopses of the British Fauna, New Series No. 19, Cambridge University Press.


George, J.D. and Hartmann-Schroder,G. (1985). Polychaetes, British Amphinomida, Spintherida & Eunicida. Published for the Linnean Society of London by E.J.Brill and Dr.W.Backhuys, London.

Gibson, R. (1982), British Nemerteans. Linnean Society synopses of the British Fauna, New Series No. 24, Cambridge University Press.

Prudhoe, S., (1982) British Polyclad  Turbellarians, Linnean Society synopses of the British Fauna, New Series No. 26, Cambridge University Press.


Crothers, J. and Crothers, M., (1983). A key to the crab abd crab-like animals of British Inshore Waters. Field Studies, 753-8O6.

Ingle, R.W., (1983) Shallow-water Crabs Linnean Society synopses of the British Fauna, New Series No. 25, Cambridge University Press.

Mauchline,J. (1984). Euphausiid, Stromatopod and Leptostracan Crustaceans. Published for the Linnean Society of London, by E.J.Brill, and Dr.W. Backhuys, London.

Naylor, R (1972) British Marine Isopods. Linnean Society synopses of the British Fauna, New Series No. 10, Academic Press.

Smaldon, G (1979), British Coastal Shrimps and Prawns. Linnean Society synopses of the British Fauna, New Series No. 15, Cambridge University Press.

Southward, A.J and Crisp, D.J. (1963), Catalogue of main marine fouling

Organisms, volume 1 Barnacles, OECD Paris.


Fretter, C and Graham, A (1976-85) The Prosobranch Molluscs of Britain and Denmark Nine parts, published as supplements to Journal of Molluscan Studies. (Well illustrated authoritative summariey of the biology of all operculate marine snails of the British list. Incorporating keys for identification).

Tebble, Norman (1966), British Bivalve Seashells. British Museum (Natural History).

Thompson, T.E and Brown, Gregory. H. (1976), British Opisthobranch Molluscs. Linnean Society synopses of the British Fauna, New Series No. 8, Academic Press.


Ryland, J.S and Hayward, P.J.  (1977-85). British Anascan, Ctenostome, and Cyclostome Bryozoans. Linnean Society synopses of the British Fauna, Cambridge University Press.


The above hints apply also to fish. How you collect the specimens will tax your ingenuity but the following are useful for identification.

Maitland, P.S. 'A Key to British Freshwater Fishes' Freshwater Biological Association 1972. Obtainable from the Librarian, FBA, The Ferry House, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 OLP.

'Collins Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Britain and Europe'. B. Muus and P. Dahlstrom 1978. (In colour, lovely book - about £8). QL633 Muu

Wheeler, A. (1969) The Fishes of the British Isles and North-West Europe. Macmillan, London.