Professor beaten to rare discovery by 7-year-old son

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A leading expert on crickets, looking to prove an endangered UK colony had survived the harsh winter, was beaten to finding the insects – by his seven-year-old son.

Professor of Entomology, Karim Vahed, from the University of Derby, was looking for evidence that a colony of Scaly Crickets (Pseudomogoplistes vicentae) had survived the winter’s severe Atlantic storms.

The centimetre-long, wingless cricket is unusual, in that it lives among marine shingle and cobbles. It exists in only four known UK locations – Marloes in Pembrokeshire, Chesil Beach in Dorset, Branscombe in Devon and the Isle of Sark – and the species is officially classified as ‘endangered’.

But it was Karim’s seven-year-old son, Gabriel, who actually discovered that the small cricket had survived the winter bad weather, while on a trip with his father to the Pembrokeshire beaches.

Karim said: “I had been hunting among stones in a spot where the species had been found in previous surveys without much success. Then my son, Gabriel, called me over to a different area, saying ‘there’s three under this stone’. Further searching amongst the shingle and cobbles revealed the existence of a healthy population.

“I couldn’t be prouder of him for beating me to the punch. If I produce a paper on the discovery, I might even have to share credit with him.

“I’m not sure how the crickets survived the winter storms. Judging from the debris on the beach, and the devastation caused to coastal villages and towns further up the coast, the storm waves must have reached right up to the cliff face.

“Scaly Crickets must have survived many severe storms during their evolutionary history. In a way, they rely on the effect of such events, as the banks of cobbles and shingle they inhabit are technically known as ‘storm deposits’.”

Commenting on the discovery, Dr Sarah Henshall, Lead Ecologist for ‘Buglife’, the invertebrate conservation trust, added: “This is great news. The Scaly Cricket is one of our rarest insects and we are delighted that the population remains healthy at Marloes Sands.”