The story of the woman who discovered new species in her garden

Illustration for article titled The story of the woman who discovered new species in her garden

A nearly four-decade-long biology project conducted in a woman's garden revealed four separate species of insects previously unknown to science. Seemingly, all you need to discover a new species is a bit of land, some traps, and a lot of patience.

Jennifer Owen began digging through her garden in 1972 for new critters. It was a regular English suburban garden, and she was a regular suburban person, albeit one who was also a university professor with a biology degree. Owen and her zoologist husband decided it would be fun to start recording what they saw in the garden. Eventually, their children helped them with trapping butterflies and cataloging insects. Owen kept records year after year, and any unusual specimens she preserved and sent off to be classified.

What Owen found was 8,000 different species of mammals, birds, frogs, lizards, insects, and arachnids. She discovered 20 species that were never recorded before in Britain and four species that had never been recorded before, period. And this in a country that had been walked top to bottom by amateur naturalists.


Owen also recorded evidence of climate change, agricultural change, and the ups and downs that every natural setting experiences. She recorded how species adapted their behavior and territory during droughts and floods. She noticed the number of insects go down as the number of agricultural pesticides went up. As as the world warmed, she noticed different animals invading her garden as their territories expanded or contracted. In the end, Owen compiled a study about her small patch of suburbia that got international interest. The size of her garden? About one-seventh of a football field.

So, anyone got a park nearby, and a lot of time on their hands?

Image: Daniel Schwen. Via Times Online and The Independent.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter


Dr Emilio Lizardo

1/7 a football field isn't that small. There are about 43,000 square feet in an acre, 1/7 of a football field is about 25,000 sf. Take away the space the house is sitting on, driveway, etc, that's not such a small plot.