Hurray for Blue Tits!!
(No! Not THOSE kind of… oh, never mind!)
Could they be the key to solving a serious British environmental problem?
(THIS kind!! )
Yes, bird-watchers and tree huggers, the geeks and nerdlings over at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology have uncovered the wonderful truth about blue tits.
(A bird feeder sporting a nice pair of British blue tits)
The article begins, “Blue tits, a familiar garden bird, could be the salvation of our imperiled conker trees (horse-chestnut trees), which are under severe attack by a tiny non-native moth that has spread from continental Europe.”
Yes, the foreign illegal alien moth arrived in London just ten years ago, and has since spread across most of England and Wales. The moth caterpillars eat the leaves while hiding inside them, so damaging the leaves and causing them to turn brown and making the tree appear as if autumn has come early.
(Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner Cameraria ohridella. [Photo © Ian Kimber])
Experts at the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and the University of Hull are asking today (August 30, 2012) for the public’s help to find out how many moth caterpillars are eaten by birds, such as blue tits. They are asking volunteers to check leaves from a horse chestnut tree for the distinctive damage caused by the birds to the leaf mines and report it through the Conker Tree Science website.
(Damaged horse chestnut leaf, showing whitish leaf mines )
Dr Michael Pocock, from CEH, said, “It’s a big mission and we’re reliant on people’s help to discover how much birds are feeding on the alien moths.”
Dr Darren Evans from the University of Hull added, “In discovering whether garden birds, like blue tits, can help to protect conker trees, we will also be learning more about the behaviour of the birds themselves.”
The alien moth, which was discovered in the 1980s, has caterpillars that live inside the leaves, forming distinctive patches of damage called “leaf mines”. Up to 700 leaf mines have been recorded on a single leaf and the damage caused by large numbers of larvae can be striking. A previous Conker Tree Science mission discovered that predatory wasps were not effectively controlling the alien moths, possibly explaining their rapid spread.
(Signs of a bird attack on the leaf mine home of the moth )
This project, where anyone can get involved with genuine scientific research, is one of the largest of its kind in the UK and is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
Find out more by visiting the Conker Tree Science project’s website. People in Britain can take part in the new “Bird Attack” mission from August 20 to September 23, 2012.
Let’s keep those cute blue tits up front in our battle against these pesky moths!
 A blue tit in front of horse-chestnut leaves that are covered with brown patches of damage caused by the caterpillars of the leaf mining moths. (Photo Credit: Richard Broughton/CEH)
  Photo credit: Dr Michael Pocock/CEH
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