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Running a woodlouse drop-in session at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh


Identification guide

Our team was crucial to the success of the afternoon. The group of ten was passionate about invertebrates and helped the visitors to take part. They were all prepared to 'engage' and soon established their own roles such as using microscopes, looking for specimens, considering the value of different books and artwork. Most were members of Edinburgh Natural History Society ENHS and Edinburgh University with Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh RBGE staff supporting beforehand and on the day.

The Real Life Science Studio RBGE was perfect and the binocular microscopes gave good views of features to identify the species. Art materials and a space to work occupied some children. The AIDGAP guides and a recent FSC fold-out guide to common woodlice were used to identify the woodlice gathered from the gardens. There is a shortage of recent woodlouse books, however, the website www.bmig.org.uk is a valuable resource.

Visitors fell into four categories: those that had come into to see a longer-term display about oak trees, passers-by, those that had seen social media generated by ENHS and those that had seen the RBGE events listing. The weather for mid-March was sunny and dry, although it had snowed the day before, so the studio was not used as a shelter. The mix of people fitted in with the wished for 'all ages'; individuals and groups. A small number definitely didn't like woodlice but managed a little peek.

The subject, the woodlouse, is a common and misunderstood invertebrate. It's group, Isopods, has about 35 members in the UK making it a manageable sized group to learn. We found, identified and discussed three of the common UK woodlice; Oniscus asellus, Porcellio scaber and Philoscia muscorum – the fast one. The material was fresh leaf mould which yielded a host of other animals such as millipedes, centipedes, spiders, ladybird and parent bug. Rummaging through it seemed to be a very absorbing pastime. Tubes of the larger finds started to show the diversity of form of soil organisms.

Comments and surprises 'When I arrived it looked as if it was for children' – she stayed a long time. 'I would enjoy more events like this'. A child, probably less than ten years, was proficient to using a x15 hand lens – he appeared to be a future entomologist.

Would I do it again? Yes, perhaps ladybirds or shieldbugs which are well represented at RBGE and are small groups to learn.

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