5 October 2003

Ullswater Secondary School A Biology Story

Biology was a subject I enjoyed and when I think of Penrith Secondary Modern and Biology I always think of the day when the subject was environmental and the decline of insects thus leading to rarity and specialised habitats. The teacher... I forget his name now mentioned a rare water beetle found only in Ullswater now and my ears pricked up. Being a local rarity he used it as his example and drew it out on the blackboard in colour and giving the reasons for its rarity.

That weekend wandering along the shores of Ullswater with the water beetle in the back of my mind, I took along a jam-jar... who knows I might be lucky! I remembered the teacher's description of the beetles’ habitat and decided to try just passed Lowis's farm where the lake had a small pebbly bottom and no weed. I was lucky, there was no wind and the surface was like glass. As I moved along the shore edge I periodically got down on my stomach on the grassy edge and peered into the water. After a few tries my eye caught a movement and I thought it was a Caddis fly lava moving among the sand and pebbles, but it then came to the surface for air and realized it probably was a water beetle.

There are many water beetle species and they all need to come to the surface for a gulp of air. I moved to get a better look for I knew the beetle would surface again so I patiently waited. The water beetle surfaced again and I got a good look at him this time, I think my eyes must have bugged out, for it was just as the teacher had drawn it on the blackboard. I swiftly opened my bag and took out the jam jar with a cord round its neck and immersed the jar in the water near where the beetle disappeared in the pebbles. Again I waited and up came the beetle and as it rose to the surface I positioned the jar vertically and eased the jar beneath the beetle's upward path knowing it would descend more or less again vertically. The beetle after its gulp of air started its downward path and I gently adjusted the jar and, at the precise moment when the beetle was about 2 inches away I whipped the jar up-wards by its string and I had the beetle. I was an expert at this game for this is how we boys often caught the fast minnows and other aquatic life abundant in the lake.

I then gently popped sand and pebbles in the bottom of the jar and fastened on the top then returned home with my prize. I now just needed a few air holes in the lid.

Next Biology class I took the water beetle with me in my bag. The biggest problem was wedging the jar in an upright position, but I managed to get the jar to school with no spills from the air holes. I gave the specimen to the Biology teacher and to say he was flabbergasted would be an understatement, after his initial excitement and queries of the water beetle's source, he asked if he could keep the beetle, I had no hesitation in saying yes, for that was my intention all along, I knew he was deeply interested in Botany as a hobby and collected specimens which he sometimes brought to school to show us.

As I re-read this piece trying to correct the grammar I idly wonder if the Biology teacher used the specimen I gave him to show future classes and if he told the story how he obtained it. I like to think he did.

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