Recording: How to record
HOW TO RECORD BEETLES
Why record beetles?
One of the main aims of ColSoc is to promote the recording of beetles in Britain and Ireland. Accurate records are fundamental to every aspect of the study of beetles, including faunistics (list of beetles in a particular area), ecology and conservation.
This guide is intended to demonstrate a ‘best practice’ for how to keep your beetle records and where to submit them.
What is a beetle record?
A record contains, at a minimum, evidence about who recorded the beetle, of what species, and where and when it was found: ‘who, what, where and when’. Other optional information can be appended to the record, and this makes the information held much more useful. For example, notes on how the beetle was found, its habitat, abundance, names of associated food-plants, and so on.
In order for your records to be integrated with local and national biodiversity databases, the information you provide needs to be held in a standardised and shareable format.
How should I maintain my records?
You should keep your beetle records on a computer to facilitate record sorting (for example, you may want to extract all records for a particular family or vice-county) and so that it is possible to upload your records to the national biodiversity databases.
Many beetle recorders maintain their records in a simple spreadsheet. A proforma Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for beetle recording can be downloaded from here.
What information should I record?
For a modern taxonomy and nomenclature of beetles, ColSoc recommends that you follow the Checklist of Beetles of the British Isles, Third Edition (Duff, 2018). This checklist is being adopted by the UK Species Inventory which underpins all of the main biological recording software packages. The only exceptions would be if you have recorded a species new to Britain and Ireland, or where a species has been the subject of a more recent taxonomic revision, but in these cases please enter a Note (see below) to this effect so that the discrepancy can be noted when your spreadsheet is uploaded to the national database.
ColSoc recommends that you use the following fields in your spreadsheet of beetle records:
Family name This field enables you to sort your records by family. For example, you may wish to submit records for a family or group of families being covered by one of the beetle recording schemes.
Species name Always record the scientific (“Latin”) name for your beetle. Do not use a common name on its own, especially one of the more recent ‘made-up’ common names, however these names can be included in an optional Common name field (see below).
Common name (optional) Common names for well-known species like ‘Stag Beetle’, ‘Glow-worm’ and ‘7-spot Ladybird’ are also acceptable, but these should be kept in a separate field from the Species name.
Locality This is the name of the place where the beetle was found. Be careful to use the precise name of the site rather than a vague abbreviation, e.g. use “Berrow Dunes” rather than a shorthand form “Berrow”, which could refer to the nearby village. Use the nearest place name which can be located on a map - do not use place names known only to local people as they cannot be independently validated. ColSoc recommends that a Locality should always be included as it the only way to validate the grid reference (see Grid ref, below).
Grid ref An Ordnance Survey grid reference should be given to show more precisely where the beetle was found. Grid references do not usually need to be more accurate than 100m (‘six-figures’). If you are surveying a larger area then grid references accurate to 1km (‘four figures’) are also acceptable, but when in the field you must try to ensure that records from different 1km squares are not mixed up. More accurate grid references (‘eight-figures’ or ‘ten-figures’) are not usually necessary but can be used to pinpoint the site of a rare species or trap site. ColSoc recommends that you use the alphabetic code for the 100 km square reference - in Britain this is a two-letter code, while in Ireland it is a one-letter code.
See A beginners guide to finding grid references | OS GetOutside (ordnancesurvey.co.uk) for an introduction to the British grid reference system. The following webpage allows you to find a grid reference from a fully zoomable satellite map of Britain www.gridreferencefinder.com or of Ireland www.irish.gridreferencefinder.com.
VC name / VC no. Unlike counties and modern metropolitan districts, which are subject to political change, vice-counties have fixed boundaries and are normally used in biological recording. Including vice-county information can help to validate the grid reference and enables you to sort your records for a particular local region, so that you can submit records to a county Coleoptera recorder or local environmental records centre. Using both the VC name and number helps to validate your record and ensure that the correct VC number has been entered.
See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vice-county for an introduction to the vice-county system. If you are unsure of the vice-county, there are websites which display the vice-county corresponding to a grid reference; see www.herbariaunited.org/gridrefVC or www.cucaera.co.uk/grp for Britain, and www.herbariaunited.org/gridrefVCH for Ireland.
Date Note the date, preferably accurate to the day, when the beetle was found. Dates should be held in ‘dd/mm/yyyy’ numeric format, e.g. ‘05/09/2021’ (note the leading zeroes) for 5th September 2021. If the exact date is unknown, use “September 2021” or “2021” rather than the first day of the month or year.
Date Start / Date End If you use traps that have been left over a period of days, such as pitfall and flight-interception traps, then you will need to use two separate date fields to record the range of dates that the trap was collecting specimens. You should never record only the date the trap was emptied as this introduces a bias in phenological data obtained from the dataset, for example spring-active species appearing to be alive in the autumn.
Finder (optional) This field allows you to note the name of the person who actually found the beetle. For a personal database this will usually be the same person as the Recorder (see below), but the Finder field is very useful if you are compiling records made by a number of coleopterists, for example to document the results of a field meeting or BioBlitz.
Recorder This is the name of the person (you) who creates the record and is ultimately responsible for the integrity of the dataset. Please remember to spell your name consistently across all of your records, to assist with later searches for your records in public databases.
Determiner (optional) This is the name of the person who identified the beetle. For a personal database this will usually be the same person as the Recorder, but the Determiner field is very useful for noting which records have been determined or confirmed by an expert. As with the Recorder, please spell the determiner’s name consistently across all of your records.
Obs type This field is used to note the type of observation. ColSoc recommends that you use this field to note if a voucher specimen has been retained by entering “voucher specimen” here, as this information may be important to record verifiers (see How can I check my identifications?, below). A voucher specimen is normally required for hard-to-identify beetle species which require specialist determination.
Voucher This field enables you to record the number of any voucher specimens retained. By summing the values in this column you can easily obtain a total for the number of specimens in your collection.
The aforementioned fields establish the basic ‘who, what, where and when’ of your beetle record. Other optional fields may be appended to this basic set, for example:
Stage (optional) Use this field to record the life stage of the beetle, i.e. ‘egg’, ‘larva’, ‘pupa’ or ‘adult’.
Sex (optional) Use this field to record the sex(es) of the beetles, i.e. ‘male’, ‘female’ or ‘mixed’.
Method (optional) Use this field to record how the specimens were obtained, for example “sweep net”, “pitfall trap”, “light trap”, “beating tray”, “sieving litter”.
Habitat (optional) Use this free text field to give a brief description of the habitat sampled.
Image (optional) Use this free text field to record the filenames of any photographs taken of the specimen(s). Photographs, ideally taken from several angles, will usually be required if you are submitting records of rare or unusual species. These can be taken in the field or of a retained voucher specimen.
Notes (optional) Use this field to add any other notes to qualify or supplement the record, for example if the Species name is not as used in the standard checklist (such as a species new to Britain and Ireland, or if the taxonomy has changed), or a citation if the record has been published.
How can I check my identifications?
It is important that the national databases of beetle records do not contain identification errors, especially where rare species have been claimed. Many beetles can be very difficult to identify so your identification may need to be verified by someone with more experience of the species. You will need a good-quality photograph and/or a voucher specimen to support your record. For information on how to collect beetles and maintain a collection of voucher specimens, see Cooter & Barclay (2006).
A county Coleoptera recorder is a coleopterist who maintains a database of beetle records for a particular area (usually based on vice-county boundaries). County recorders have detailed knowledge of which beetles are found in their recording area and will be very grateful for any beetle records. They may also be able to help you with identifications. For a list of county recorders see: www.coleoptera.org.uk/contacts.
There are also a number of excellent natural history museum collections of beetle specimens, and the curatorial staff can usually arrange for you to access the collections in order to check your identifications. To find out whether there is a natural history museum near you, follow the instructions here: www.coleoptera.org.uk/museums.
For some beetle families records are collated at a national level by a beetle recording scheme organiser. If you have recorded a nationally rare beetle, the organiser is likely to need to verify your record by viewing a photograph or voucher specimen. For a list of beetle recording schemes see: www.coleoptera.org.uk/recording-schemes.
Where should I submit my records?
Unless there are strong reasons to keep your record confidential, then it is important to send your beetle records to a national biodiversity data centre. Only in this way can we build up a detailed picture of the national distribution of our beetle fauna.
ColSoc recommends that you use the wildlife recording software iRecord (www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/). By using iRecord you can ensure that your records will be automatically transferred across to the NBN Atlas data portal for sites within Britain and the Isle of Man (www.nbnatlas.org) and the National Biodiversity Data Centre portal for sites in Ireland (www.biodiversityireland.ie). Your records will also be made available to local environmental record centres (LERCs), the various beetle recording schemes which cover some families of beetles, and county recorders.
Using iRecord has the advantage that records of species monitored by one of the beetle recording schemes may be verified by an authorised specialist, although this can take a considerable time. Species which are not monitored by a recording scheme are still uploaded to the national databases but marked as ‘unverified’ until such time as the identification can be checked.
Another advantage of iRecord is that it considers that records entered into it are master copies, and
you are always able to edit records which you own, for example to correct misidentifications. If you use iRecord in this way - effectively as cloud storage for your beetle records - then it is essential that you do not submit your records to any other data centre as this may lead to uncorrected errors being perpetuated.
iRecord allows you to enter all of your natural history records, whether on a home computer or, by using the iRecord smartphone app, you can submit records while in the field.
iRecord can accept beetle records for the whole of Britain, the Isle of Man, and Ireland. Spreadsheet records can be imported into iRecord by exporting your spreadsheet data as a ‘comma-separated values’ or CSV file and importing that into iRecord. For information on how to do this, see the iRecord user guide at www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/user-guide.
COOTER, J. & BARCLAY, M.V.L. 2006. A Coleopterist’s Handbook. 4th edition. Amateur Entomologists’ Society.
DUFF, A.G. (ed.) 2018. Checklist of Beetles of the British Isles. Third edition. Iver: Pemberley Books (Publishing).