Max Lawson is a London National Park City Ranger and works for the environmental charity ‘The Orchard Project’ where he helps develop and coordinate their accredited training courses. Max has always appreciated the diversity and importance of invertebrates and has even researched the Bornean rainforest millipedes for his degree.
In this blog, he explores how invertebrate species were named and how orchards are excellent havens for all kinds of wildlife…
What’s in a name?
“What’s in a name?” asks Juliet, of Shakespeare’s quill. As the naming of families affects her romance, the same can be asked of why animals are called what they are, a puzzle which I encountered on many occasions during my Zoology degree. At university we studied taxonomy, or species classification, filled to the brim with Latin scientific names that seemed, at times, nonsensical to me. Because of this, I regularly found it difficult to know which taxonomic group we were referring to – as I was treating it like a memory test, rather than learning and understanding the words for certain species. Recently in my role at The Orchard Project, I was tasked to give a brief talk on Invertebrate Taxonomy. While researching for this, I discovered the fascinating world of Etymology – or rather, the history of names. My immediate thought was “ah, did that at university – way too difficult!” but as I got into it, it was much more interesting than I had previously thought!
I’m no Latin/Greek scholar, but learning a few of these words can get you pretty far! Let’s start with something we all remember from trips to the museum, Pterodactyl for example and break it down into Ptero and Dactyl. Dactyl is Greek for fingers or toes, whereas Ptero means wing; Pterodactyl translates to winged finger, because their wings are formed from membranes between their fingers.
Now let’s take the invertebrate order Lacewings, or rather Neuroptera. If we split that word up into Neuro, which means nerve, and Ptera which means wing. Lacewings have nerved wings; which makes sense as their wings look like an intricate fabric of intertwined mesh; lace.
Or another one, Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths). Lepido means scales, and Ptera (as we’ve already learnt) means wing. You may be thinking butterflies and moths surely don’t match that description, however, their wings are actually formed of flattened hairs, and when looked at closely actually resemble scales!
My favourite etymological discovery whilst preparing this blog was for Dermaptera (or as you might know them, Earwigs). Many believe the Old Wives’ Tale that it’s because they crawl into your ears, but looking a little deeper into their naming you see that Dermaptera has two parts, Derma – skin, ptera – wing. If you fold out their hindwing, it is in a shape resembling a human ear, which is where they gained their more commonly known name. The moral of this story? Delving a little under the surface, every creature has a (potentially) relevant and interesting reason why they are named the way they are.
Why was I looking at invertebrates for my job at The Orchard Project anyway?
The Wonder of Orchards
Orchards, a traditional form of agriculture, were once found widespread throughout the UK. Since the 1950s, we have lost over 90% of traditional orchards in the UK1. Orchards are habitat mosaics that include unimproved grasslands, ponds, hedgerows, and of course fruit trees, making them a great place for wildlife; so much so that traditional orchards have been listed as a priority habitat.
You might be thinking well how are they so good for wildlife? Fruit trees are ‘early senescent’ and usually short-lived, meaning they produce veteran features at an early age. These veteran features, such as rot holes and cavities, provide habitat for a wide range of invertebrate species, many of which are saproxylic; meaning that they depend/live on decaying wood. Well-known examples including the majestic Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus)
but also an orchard icon, the Noble Chafer (Gnorimus nobilis), a rare beetle that relies on traditional orchards.
As well as veteran features, before fruiting, fruit blossoms appear on the trees providing an excellent source of nectar for our pollinators. Further to this, wide tree-spacing is typical of orchards, providing an open canopy structure letting sunlight through to provide warmth to species that need it such as bees and butterflies. With this plethora of flourishing and mostly helpful wildlife, understanding what was there and how to name it was a great way for me to link my studies to the work I do every day.
Interested in learning more about The Orchard Project and our work?
As well as being a haven for wildlife, orchards are powerful community tools that can connect people to their local neighbourhoods. Community orchards not only provide much-needed greenspace, they also give communities more ownership over food sources and increase tree coverage, cooling the urban landscape.
At The Orchard Project, we work to plant and restore orchards in urban areas in England, Wales and Scotland and since 2009, we have supported over 540 community orchards, you probably have one near you!
Check out our map of orchards we’ve supported HERE. Please check out our website as well as our social media on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for all the fun fruity news and stories! We also run accredited orcharding training courses that train people to confidently design, plan and maintain vibrant community orchards.
1 - Burrough, A.E., Oines, C.M., Oram, S.P. and Robertson, H.J., 2010. Traditional orchard project in England - the creation of an inventory to support the UK Habitat Action Plan. Natural England Commissioned Reports, (077)
Fruit Trees in The Royal Parks
Thanks to the support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, native fruit trees have been planted across The Royal Parks through the Mission: Invertebrate project, including a new orchard at the Holly Lodge in Richmond Park. This new orchard features mixed varieties of damsons, plums, pears, and six species of British apple. These fruit trees, native hedgerow plants and the wildflower meadow will provide an invaluable nectar and pollen source for a wide range of invertebrates to enhance habitat for insects, birds, bats, fungi and lichen.
This orchard will become a vital learning resource for The Holly Lodge Centre, an on-site educational charity which specialise in activities for those with disabilities. In addition, this orchard is open to the public on select Open Day events. For more information, please visit www.thehollylodgecentre.org.uk.