Citizen Science

Recently added: Non-native flatworm information and survey.

What is Citizen Science?

Citizen science uses the power of collaborative volunteer research to collect much broader sets of data than academic researchers on their own would be able to build. There are citizen science initiatives in many disciplines, but this page focusses on those of most relevance to gardeners.

There are three ongoing insect surveys on this page that are inviting contributions during the spring and summer when these pest species can be found in gardens.

There is also a survey of non-native flatworms which can be found at all times of the year.

You can also find some information about species of concern, that aren't established in the UK yet and for which we should be on the lookout.

Jeff

Active Surveys

Spittlebug Survey

Plant scientists are monitoring the spread of the pathogenic plant bacterium Xylella fastidiosa very closely. At the moment it has not been found in the UK, but it is devastating olive groves and other plants in southern Europe, where it arrived in 2013.

According to a 2019 BBC article if it's found in the UK, all host plants within 100m would need to be destroyed and there would be immediate movement restrictions on some plants within a 5km radius for up to five years.

Spittlebugs (froghoppers and leafhoppers) are sap sucking insects that are an important vector of the bacterium and so understanding more about spittlebugs will be important should Xylella fastidiosa reach the UK.

The John Innes Centre in Norwich, together with 12 other organisations including the RHS are researching Xylella and spittlebugs. They are asking gardeners to record sightings of spittlebugs.

See www.spittlebugsurvey.co.uk for more about identifying the insects and how to submit a sighting.

Spittlebugs are normally seen between April and June.


An olive grove infested with Xylella fastidiosa in Italy

An olive grove infested with Xylella fastidiosa in Italy

Image credit: Sjor

Lily Beetle Survey

The RHS have an ongoing survey of lily beetles. They are very easy to spot as they are bright scarlet and about 8mm long. They emerge in March and April having spent the winter underground.

RHS information about lily beetles

Record any sightings on the RHS lily beetle form


A scarlet lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii)

Image credi: Salicyna

Rosemary Beetle Survey

The RHS also have an ongoing survey of rosemary beetles. These pretty metallic looking beetles are 6mm to 8mm long and affect not just rosemary plants, but also lavender, sage and thyme.

RHS information about rosemary beetles.

Record any sightings on the RHS rosemary beetle form


Rosemary beetles (Chrysolina americana)

Image credit: Hectonichus

Non-Native Flatworm Survey

Britain has four native species of land dwelling flatworms and now, over fifteen non-native species. All flatworms are predators, and some of these invasive flatworms kill and consume our native earthworms. This may ultimately have a significant effect on soil structure, for which earthworms are so important.

The flatworms of most concern are:

  • The New Zealand flatworm (Arthurdendyus triangulatus). Reaches up to 20cm in length. Pale on the edges of the body.

  • The Australian flatworm (Australoplana sanguinea). 2-8cm, bright orange.

  • The Obama flatworm (Obama nungara). 7cm, leaf shaped, brown or black. Considered extremely invasive and a significant threat to soil ecosystems. First reported in 2016 in an imported potted plant.

  • Kontikia flatworms (Kontikia ventrolineta and Kontikia andersoni). 1-2.5cm. Striped.

Although in parts of the UK some of these flatworms are widespread, East Anglia has had few reports. This could be because invasive flatworms haven't established here, or it may be a lack of reporting?

To report a non-native flatworm, see the Buglife Flatworm Survey and/or iRecord

If you find a flatworm and would like help in identifying it, contact Jeff.


A native terrestrial flatworm (Microplana terrestris)

Image credit: Andre Lopez

Flatworms can be mistaken for slugs, but can be distinguished by their lack of tentacles and their smooth unsegmented skin surface.

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The Obama flatworm derives its name from Brazil's indigenous Tupi language; Oba ma means leaf animal.

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Flatworms can't be killed by chopping them in half - it just creates two flatworms.

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Flatworm identification guides:

New Zealand flatworm (Arthurdendyus triangulatus)

Image credit: S.Rae

Australian flatworm (Australoplana sanguinea)

Image credit: Jon Sullivan

Obama flatworm (Obama nungara) eating an earthworm

Image credit: Pierre Gros

Plant Alert

Plant Alert is a citizen science project for gardeners. Help other gardeners and protect the countryside by warning about invasive plants before they become a problem. Plant Alert website

Thumbnail of Plant Alert website

Species of Concern

These species aren't yet established in the UK, but with climate change and transport of international goods, it may only be a matter of time.

If you spot any of these, report the sighting.


Asian Hornet

An invasive predator of honey bees and other insects. In the past few years there have been sighting in the South and West, but none as yet in Norfolk.

See the APHA blog about the Asian hornet.

If you spot any of these, report the sighting on the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology website. Alternatively, the Centre has developed smartphone reporting apps:


Other Hornets

Our native European hornet can be distinguished by its abdomen which is generally yellower, more like a wasp's. They have brown, not yellow, feet.

Also in the news sometimes is the Asian Giant Hornet, or 'murder hornet', though this has never been sighted in the UK to date.


Asian hornet (Vespa velutina). Note the yellow feet.

Video credit: APHA
Picture of a native hornet

European hornet (Vespa crabro). Note the brown feet.

Image credit: Niek Willems

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

Since 2018, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) has been found a few times in Southern Britain, including the RHS garden at Wisley in 2021. These individuals don't yet seem to have formed breeding populations, but surveillance is necessary. More information at the Natural History Museum.

Report a sighting.


Picture of a stinkbug

Brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys)

Image credit: Tim Haye/CABI

A Success Story: Subterranean Termites

In October 2021, a colony of Mediterranean Termites (Reticulitermes grassei) that had become established in Devon was declared eradicated after 27 years of biosecurity and eradication effort.

Had the termites spread, they could have become a significant financial burden to householders and the economy. Although much of the UK is too wet for termites, with global heating, drier areas of the country like East Anglia, could well have been at risk.

For more on this story see The Guardian.


Subterranean termite (Reticulitermes sp.)

Image credit: Hans Hillewaert

If there are any other species that you think should be added to this page, or you spot any errors please contact Jeff.