Help us get glowing reports for Renfrewshire

Who knew that we had glow-worms in Scotland? I certainly didn’t but after watching the fascinating talks in March organised by Charlotte Martin, Scottish Glow-worms researcher, I’m eager to see one and I hope others are too. They aren’t actually worms but beetles of the Firefly family. The only species found in Scotland is the Common Glow-worm, Lampyris noctiluca. For up to 10 days between late May and early July females emit a yellow/green bioluminescence from the base of the abdomen at night to attract males for mating.

Close-up photograph of an adult female glow-worm standing on a twig with an orange background. She has about 8 body segments, the lower three are glowing green.
Female glow-worm. Photograph by Christophe Quintin, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

With Glow-worm survey season almost upon us, we are looking for people to get involved and help us survey for them in Renfrewshire. There are no recent records for them in the vice-county although historically they have been reported in Kilmacolm (1901), Lochwinnoch (date unknown) and possibly at Formakin (uncertain word-of-mouth report). None of the records give a point location and, of course, much has changed in the last 120 years so it really would be ground-breaking to find them here. The lack of records is probably due to low awareness of glow-worms and that they are mostly seen in the hours of darkness. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t exist here.

What we do know from existing populations elsewhere is that the places they tend to be found are unlit road verges, grassland on marginal/hill sheep farms, forestry rides, coastal sites, disused railway lines and embankments. They like:
• Unimproved or semi-improved grassland and scrub with typical vegetation including Cock’s Foot, Yorkshire Fog, Soft Rush, Crosswort, Ladies Bedstaw, Ox-eye Daisy, Black Knapweed, Gorse, Hawthorn
• Damp areas
• Edge habitats e.g. where gravel meets grassy sward, where forestry meets sheep grassland
• Dark skies, no direct light pollution from streetlights
• Good prey populations – the larvae (adults don’t feed) are ferocious predators of snails (Brown-lipped Snail is a favourite) and slugs.

Larva standing on the shell of a snail with its head inside the opening of the shell.The larva is black with orange tips at the lower corner of each body segment
Larva feeding on snail. Photograph by Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

We would like to co-ordinate some glow-worm surveys in Renfrewshire during late May and June. To help us we would like people to get in touch and let us know if:

  • you have ever seen any glow-worms in and around Renfrewshire
  • you have identified a potential survey site where glow-worms might be found
  • you would like to come out in a group and do some surveys (registering your interest doesn’t oblige you to commit to this)
  • you have done your own surveys tell us what you did or didn’t find
  • there is anything else we can help you with to carry out a survey

Surveys are carried out once darkness falls and you aren’t able to detect colours, this is usually after 11pm. If you are going to survey it is best to visit the site during daytime to assess the terrain. When you go out at night carry a torch (one with a red filter is best) and mobile phone with you. Once your eyes have adjusted to the dark walk slowly looking at the lower vegetation on either side and slightly ahead (keep the torch turned off except where essential for safety). Remember to record the date, start and end time, grid references and weather conditions. If you are lucky enough to to see one then try and get a good photo (but don’t disturb any glow-worms through overuse the camera flash or by moving them) and record your sighting on iRecord. Even if you don’t see a glow-worm it is useful to record nil results on iRecord. Charlotte Martin’s Scottish Glow-worms website has really useful information and resources for conducting a glow-worm survey including a survey form, guidelines and risk assessment template. You can also find out more about glow-worms on the UK glow worm survey website.

Photograph of a hand beside a small beetle in grass with the end of its abdomen glowing green
Female glow-worm. Photograph © Charlotte Martin, Scottish glow-worms.

If you are able to help in any way please get in touch by email to PNHS.website@gmail.com or use our contact form, we would love to hear from you.

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