Natural England - Unnamed species in the spotlight

Unnamed species in the spotlight

The Guardian, Natural England and Buglife launch public competition to rescue unnamed British wildlife from obscurity.

The third annual Name a species competition is launched today, with the aim of finding a common name for 10 amazing but little-known British species. A host of seemingly forgotten species exist in Britain and many are disappearing fast. Known to just a few scientists and identified only by scientific names, they lack the common touch and their decline risks going unnoticed as a result.

Now in its third year, the Name a species competition - run by Natural England, The Guardian and Buglife - aims to shine the spotlight on some of Britain’s unnamed species.

Scientific names are very useful since common names for the same species can vary so widely – what we call the stoat in Britain is known as the short-tailed weasel in the US, and hermine in France (hence the British name of ermine to describe its white winter-coat). But scientists all over the world can be sure they’re discussing the same species by using its scientific name, Mustela erminea.

It’s difficult for people to empathise with scientific names however. The colourful and highly descriptive common names that have been applied throughout history have helped bring us closer to the wildlife around us, often reflecting the species’ characteristics, behaviour or song. The heard-more-often-than-seen Picus viridus is named both for its appearance – green woodpecker – and for its call – yaffle. The painted lady describes a particularly well adorned butterfly (Vanessa cardui).

Among the species in this year’s naming competition are a bee-mimicking hoverfly and a spider-stalking wasp, known as Apis unicolor. Dr Pete Brotherton, Head of Biodiversity at Natural England said: “Scientific study needs the precision and discipline of Latin names, but it’s difficult to fire the imagination with a name like Nymphon gracile. A name like gangly lancer, chosen for this species of sea-spider by one of last year’s winners, is much more exciting and wonderfully descriptive of the animal. We want to remind people of the importance of all species, because many unknown plants and creepy crawlies play a key role in sustaining the health of the ecosystems upon which we depend.”

The first Natural England/Guardian Name a species competition was inspired by the environment writer George Monbiot. Adam Vaughan, editor of link, said: “We’re proud to be hosting the third year of the Name a species competition. Twenty species - from a bright orange-red fungus dubbed ‘hotlips’ to a Windsor-based beetle named the ‘Queen's executioner beetle’ - now have a common name thanks to the ingenuity and wit of Guardian readers. Giving popular names to species helps people relate to them – which is the first step to protecting and conserving them.”

Last year the overall winning name was hotlips, a disc-shaped fungus that is a vivid orange-red and often resembles puckered lips. Other winning names included the scarlet lady and zipperback.

Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive of Buglife and Guardian Country Diarist said: “The world is full of a richness of strange, amazing and beautiful animals, but to communicate their wonders we must to be able to talk about them with ease. This marriage between the equally rich English language and these ten animals will doubtless be a poetry of motion – let your minds run free!”

Anyone can enter the Name a species competition by reading The Guardian on 18th June in print or online at: Guardian online/name a speciesexternal link. Our expert panel will judge the entries, and the winning names will be announced in the Guardian on 23 July.


Notes to editors

For further information and photographs contact: Lyndon Marquis on 0300 060 4236, Out of hours contact duty press officer on 07970 098005.

About the species

See our competition pages for more information on the species below

Akera bullata - Squid-like sea slug

This sea slug feeds on sea grass during the summer and sediment through the rest of the year. When disturbed, it uses the fleshy protrusions you can see wrapped around its body to swim away – it can also squirt out a purple coloured fluid from its glands.

Aporus unicolor - A spider-hunting wasp

A specialised wasp with only one known prey, the purse web spider. The female wasp uses her specialised enlarged foreleg to break into to the spider's underground tubular web. She paralyses the spider with her sting and lays her egg there. The larva feeds on the still-living spider.

Brindalus porcicollis - A shiny scarab

A member of the scarab family – the group that includes dung beetles and chafers. This beetle favours sandy habitats and in particular coastal sand dunes. In the British population, it is thought that the adults breed in spring, with the larvae spending the summer underground. They emerge as adults in July or August and are believed to go into hibernation in September.

Brissopsis lyrifera - Spiny heart in the mud

Like other urchins, this species relies on its “test” for defence. The test is series of skeletal plates (or petals) joined to form a complete shell. This urchin’s test is formed from five petals and covered in coarse, mobile spines. Heart urchins are burrowing animals – this is the only species of heart urchin likely to be found in muddy sediments.

Elysia viridis - Photosynthesising sea-slug

This species is commonly vivid green, and occasionally bright red or brown. It feeds on seaweed and takes its colour from the seaweed’s photosynthesising cells (chloroplasts). The chloroplasts are retained unharmed in its body, where they continue to photosynthesise – the sugars they produce supplement the sea slug’s diet.

Halictus eurygnathus - Lost bee of the South Downs

This species of solitary bee, was, until recently, thought to have been extinct in the UK since 1946. However, a recent study has found individuals at seven sites in the chalk grassland where, it seems the main requirement of the bee is an abundance of greater knapweed as a pollen source.

Peachia cylindrica – Lurker in the sand

Members of this genus don’t attach themselves to rocks as most anemones do – they burrow. At its base this species has slender column, which it buries in the sand; the column has rounded end that acts as an anchor. Its tentacles seize passing prey, which they transfer to the central mouth.

Pocota personata - Hoverfly in disguise

Hoverflies don’t have stings, instead relying on their resemblance to bees and wasp for defence. This hoverfly takes the deception a stage further and looks exactly like a bumblebee – it even flies like a bumblebee. They are extremely hard to spot, but can sometimes be seen visiting hawthorn flowers and around rot holes high in trees. Their eggs are laid in these holes and it’s thought the larvae take several years to develop.

Poecilobothrus nobilitatus - Glittering green fly

The male has conspicuous white wing tips. The male performs a courtship display where the conspicuously-marked wings are solemnly raised and lowered, a bit like an airport marshaller guiding a plane to a parking spot with a pair of batons. Wingspan is directly related to body size, so the better (or bigger) the display, the healthier the male!

Sacculina carcini - A parasitic barnacle

A female larva of this species attaches itself to a crab and grows branching routes through the unfortunate host. She is produces a mass of eggs below the crab’s abdomens (this is what’s shown in the picture), which are fertilised by male larvae (the males have no adult stage). The host crab is prevented from moulting by the parasite and so eventually is encrusted with other animals. The parasite also feminises male crabs. The crab (male or female) cares for the parasite’s eggs as if they were its own

How to choose a good name:

  • Names can identify significant aspects of the species appearance, natural history or location or any combination of these. For example: colour, texture, shape, feeding habits, movement, favourite habitat, location where it is found.

  • Names should be distinctive and help to inspire people to learn more about the species.

  • Names should ideally consist of two words (not including the taxonomic group name eg beetle, lichen, shrimp) A good case must be made for longer names.

  • Names do not need to be a translation of the scientific name.

  • Word play, humour and cultural references can be used in a name, where this has relevance to the species. Participants are encouraged to check if their suggested names are already in use by searching on the internet before submitting entries. Try sites such as , , or Google.

Winners and prizes:

  • The competition is open to United Kingdom residents of any age.

  • The judges will award a winner and a runner up for each species, as well as one overall winner for the most imaginative and evocative name.

  • Selection of the winners will be by consensus of the judges, according to how well names match the guidelines listed above.

  • The judges are: Dr Peter Brotherton (Natural England), Dr Keith Hiscock (Marine Biological Association), George Monbiot (the Guardian), Matt Shardlow (Buglife).

  • Winning names will be announced on Monday, 23 July in the Guardian.

  • We regret that we are unable to acknowledge receipt of entries.

  • The main prize is the prestige of coming up with a new name for a species – one that may be used for centuries to come! If one of your names is selected as a winner it will be announced nationally in the Guardian and on Natural England’s website. Natural England will send you a commemorative certificate.

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