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Acrotona pseudotenera

This aleocharine staphylinid was discovered by sieving grass cuttings from Tony Galsworthy’s garden compost heap in Merton Park, Surrey (VC 17), on 13th August 2004 and subsequently. It was first published as an addition to the British list after a specimen was exhibited by Tony Galsworthy and Roger Booth at the 2004 Annual Exhibition of the BENHS (Hodge, 2005). It originates from the Far East and is pretty clearly something that has recently been accidentally imported to Britain and become established. To the best of my knowledge, no further British records have been published but my experience is that this is now a widespread species in south-east England at least and one that is quite likely to be encountered by sieving heaps of woodchip, manure or general garden debris. I’ve recorded it in West Kent, Middlesex, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire (VCs 16, 21, 24 and 30), mostly by sieving heaps but also once by evening sweeping on Chilterns chalk grassland. I’m not alone in finding that this beetle has become quite a familiar species.

Derek Lott (2009) briefly discusses how to separate Acrotona pseudotenera from A. convergens, noting that in “A. pseudotenera … the hairs on the mid-line of the pronotum point backwards but the outer margin of each mid-tibia carries a long medial seta”. But the main literature for the identification of A. pseudotenera is Assing (1998) on pages 181 – 182 of volume 15 of Die Kafer Mitteleuropas. Dave Buckingham suggested I should put some photos on my blog, so here they are.

If you have an Acrotona specimen with the 1st hind tarsal segment as long as the 2nd, with a long mid-tibial bristle, and with Pronotal Behaarungstyp V, and it looks like these pictures, it’s probably pseudotenera. The classic Pronotal Behaarungstyp V pattern has hairs on the midline lying backwards throughout but in some pseudotenera, the hairs lie forwards on the front part of the midline, occupying up to 20% of the midline and thus approaching the pattern of Pronotal Behaarungstyp III.

Acrotona pseudotenera female. All photos taken at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, with thanks to Darren Mann and James Hogan.

Acrotona pseudotenera spermatheca

Acrotona pseudotenera aedeagus

References

Hodge, P.J. (2005). 2004 Annual Exhibition. Imperial College, London SW7 – 13 November 2004. Coleoptera. British Journal of Entomology and Natural History, 18, 201 – 208.
Lott, D.A. (2009). Acrotona convergens Strand (Staphylinidae) new to Ireland. The Coleopterist, 18, 131 – 138.

Ponking

For those who don’t follow The Ponking Chronicles, “ponking” is what Wil Heeney and John Lamin do when they go out in the field trying to identify as much wildlife as they can across all the groups. I met Wil and John through facebook and last Sunday I drove up to Lincolnshire to meet them in person, having been invited to come and look for an extremely rare beetle. I also got to meet Rowan Alder for the first time, another fellow coleopterist and pan-species lister.

I wasn’t actually blind-folded but after weaving through the country lanes of Lincs behind John’s car, I’m not really sure where we ended up. I was taken to the tree – a single standing dead oak of no more than 6 inches in diameter, shaded out by surrounding oaks and larches in a bit of ancient woodland that was cleared and replanted in 1959. It really doesn’t look like a very special place but it is one of only two modern localities for Platydema violaceum, a violet-coloured darkling beetle. We didn’t find it on this first tree but we did find one on the third tree we checked and it is a stonker!

Platydema violaceum. The metallic violet and indigo colours are much more vivid in life but not so on a flash photograph.

There may only be three suitable trees in this bit of wood – I certainly didn’t see any others. And finding Platydema requires pulling bark off so it would be all too easy to destroy a significant proportion of the habitat. So if you want to see this beetle for yourself, and you do, you need to find your own somewhere else. Look under very loose bark, curling away from the trunk of small, standing, dead oaks. I was really surprised to discover that this is how John and Wil find it. It’s the sort of place I might not bother looking – where you generally just find a lot of debris, spiders’ webs and woodlice rather than interesting beetles. I expect the beetles are just hiding there during the day and at night they roam about on the tree trunks feeding, so torchlight searching might be an even better way to find it. We could almost have tested that prediction on the day as it got so dark and gloomy in the afternoon that I was using a headtorch to examine the beating tray!

It was really good to meet up and I’m really glad to have been given the chance to see this beetle. I tried to repay the favour by finding them a few other beetles by beating and sieving but it was mostly small fry which are difficult to do in the field. Best of the beetles were Phloiophilus edwardsii and Cis festivus, both off the same self-shaded lower branch of an oak with the fungus Peniophora quercina. I was also shown quite a few interesting fungi and four of them were new for me: Yellow Stagshorn Calocera viscosa, Fenugreek Stalkball Phleogena faginea, Brown Cup Rutstroemia firma and Tripe Fungus Auricularia mesenterica.

Fenugreek Stalkball Phleogena faginea was conspicuous on one of the Platydema trees.

Check out Wil’s more detailed blog about the day and look out for the forthcoming paper by he and John in The Coleopterist about Platydema in Lincs.

Into the Valley of the Millipedes, part 2

Part 1 tells the story of 3 hours in the field with Chris Owen and Dave Gibbs. This story begins at the microscope a week later, keying out some millipedes from the beech wood.

Firstly, by sieving just a couple of handfuls of leaf-litter, I not only found Lithobius tricuspis (which is what I was after) but 30 or more small whitish millipedes. They must be very abundant at this site. I pooted 11 to give myself a good chance of getting an adult male, and Dave took a few as well. I guessed they were a species of Melogona in the field but under the microscope it was clear they had blunt paranota (bumps at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock) on the body segments rather than being smoothly cylindrical. Unfortunately they were all immature so I put them aside and moved on.

Secondly, I had found a single specimen of what I thought was Craspedosoma rawlinsii under a log. I’d called Dave and Chris over to see it before pooting it for later checking. As well as being one of the few species with blunt paranota, and quite a strikingly patterned species, C. rawlinsii is quite a scarcity, occurring in wet, shaded habitats. There were loads of the little whitish immatures under the same log so I guessed they were the same species.

That “Craspedosoma rawlinsii” turned out to be an adult male. It keyed out as Craspedosoma rawlinsii but the gonopods and paragonopods (the highly modified 8th and 9th pair of legs used in mating) looked completely different to the pictures. I only had two female rawlinsii in my collection for comparison but they were bigger animals (my Bargoed specimen is just 10 mm long) and clearly different in other respects. What else could it be? It clearly wasn’t Nanogona polydesmoides and I could rule out Anthogona britannica and Anamastigona pulchella from the gonopod illustrations in BMG Bulletin 12.

So I arrive at that “Eureka moment” – I’ve discovered a millipede new to Britain! But in reality, rather than leaping around my study punching the air, a large part of me is thinking I’ve probably just made some daft mistake – after all, I’m no expert when it comes to millipedes. It is time to seek advice. Next day, Steve Gregory confirmed it was something new to Britain and recommended asking Des Kime in France if he could put a name to it. Des replied straight away suggesting genus Rhymogona and that I send my photos to Jörg Spelda in Munich. Jörg too was incredibly prompt and helpful, and after I’d carefully dissected the specimen and photographed and sketched the gonopods and paragonopods, he was able to recognise it as Ceratosphys confusa Ribaut, 1955, currently regarded as a variety or subspecies of Ceratosphys amoena Ribaut, 1920. Time to punch the air!

Ceratosphys amoena male. Montage image taken at the Hope Dept of Entomology, Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Ceratosphys amoena male

Here’s Chris’s video of Ceratosphys amoena.

Though it was brilliant that a pan-species listers’ field meeting had resulted in a first for Britain, and brilliant to get it named so quickly, I couldn’t help feeling gutted for Chris, who’d had a first for Britain pinched from right under his nose. But while all this was going on, Chris was busy returning the favour …

Chris recognised that those abundant whitish immature millipedes were not Ceratosphys amoena but ANOTHER millipede new to Britain! Something so mind-fryingly improbable that I hadn’t considered for a moment that they were anything other than immature Ceratosphys. I think only one millipede (Brachyiulus lusitanus) has been added to the British list from outdoors (i.e., excluding greenhouses) since 1996 so to turn up two firsts for Britain in one day is simply incredible!

By checking his reference specimens, Chris found that he’d seen both Ceratosphys amoena and “Chris’s millipede” a few times in his area but had identified them all as Craspedosoma rawlinsii, having never seen the true rawlinsii! He soon located some adult males and enlisted the help of Steve, Des and Jörg to try and name it. This one was more difficult and whereas we’d had a name for Ceratosphys amoena within a few days, this time we had to wait a couple of weeks. I even started to wonder whether “Chris’s millipede” could be new to science. After all, the Ghost Slug was discovered new to science in the same part of the world. Why not a millipede?

In the end, Des recognised “Chris’s millipede” from Steve’s drawings and photos as Hylebainosoma nontronensis Mauriès & Kime, 1999. So not new to science but quite a recently described species. Jean-Paul Mauriès has also seen the images and has written: “C’est magnifique de retrouver cette espèce au Pays de Galles!”

Hylebainosoma nontronensis male

Hylebainosoma nontronensis male

We’ll be writing a paper on these two millipedes new to Britain in due course. Chris has found both of them in several more sites since but also drawn a blank at a few other sites further afield: map here.

Keep an eye on the Pan-species Listing website for news of a return visit to the Valley of the Millipedes in 2015.

Into the Valley of the Millipedes, part 1

It is a tradition of the Telfer family to hold a biennial gathering in the Brecon Beacons. The naturalist in me wishes that this family tradition had come to be based in a hotspot for wildlife like Purbeck or the New Forest. But the pan-species lister in me knows that I can find species I’ve never seen before wherever I go. Last time I tackled the whitebeams of the Brecon Beacons. This time I got in touch with Chris Owen to see if it might be possible to meet up and look for two of his local specialities: the Ghost Slug Selenochlamys ysbryda and the harvestman Sabacon viscayanum. Chris gave it the thumbs up and I’m so glad he did because the three hours we had in the field on Sunday 28th September will be long remembered.

Jo, Bradley and I pulled in to the car park in Bargoed to meet Chris for the first time. Dave Gibbs was there too which was a nice surprise and made it a proper pan-species listers’ gathering. In emails, Chris had mentioned a few other highly desirable species that he might be able to show us and after dropping down the valley into a jungle of Japanese Knotweed we were soon seeing one of them, the flat-back millipede Propolydesmus testaceus, in good numbers. Ghost Slug took a bit more work, turning logs and stones and rummaging in leaf-litter but Dave eventually found a tiny one, before Chris located a couple of adults. They are uncannily like shelled slugs but from an unrelated family, with an extremely reduced shell and with a bizarre narrow foot like a monorail train. Bradley got this one on his “Poked it!” list.

Ghost Slug Selenochlamys ysbryda, the only species with a Welsh scientific name? Described from Wales in 2008 but thought to have been introduced from the Crimea.

Chris is very good on his slugs and also showed us presumed individuals of Arion distinctus, hortensis and oweni which gave Dave and I some dissection work for later. But with no sign of Sabacon, Chris decided to take us on to a nearby woodland where he was more confident of finding it. We just rolled a couple of logs and there it was! It’s one of the more unusual harvestmen and one with a restricted range.

The harvestman Sabacon viscayanum under a log showing the extraordinary pedipalps. They're well camouflaged and they kept absolutely still for a long time after the log was rolled over.

Deeper into the wood, we searched in beech leaf-litter for the Lemon Slug Malacolimax tenellus and the centipede Lithobius tricuspis. We saw both species in some numbers. Dave and I were reeling with all these new species in such a short space of time, and all the while Chris kept mentioning other highly desirable species we might find: the three-pronged bristletail Dilta chateri, the slugs Arion cf. iratii and Arion cf. fagophilus (both recent additions to the British list) and the nemertine worm Argonemertes dendyi. My limited time was running out but I already knew that Chris’s patch was worth a much longer visit and that I’d be back to do it justice.

Driving home, I reckoned Chris had shown me 7 or 8 ticks, and I was well pleased with that. I had a few specimens to confirm or identify but no inkling at this stage that my tubes contained two species new to Britain! Read on in part 2.

Schoolboy errors

Common mistakes of the newbie naturalist, and how to avoid them! Test yourself: there are six common mistakes listed here. How many did you already know about?

1. This is a scientific name: Homo sapiens. Loads of people would call it a “Latin name” and many scientific names are derived from Latin. However, because scientific names may be derived from other languages both ancient (Greek, Sanskrit) and modern, then you are showing your ignorance by calling them Latin names.

2. A scientific name has two words, e.g. Pterostichus madidus. The first word is the name of the genus, Pterostichus in this case, and the second word is the specific name, madidus in this case. The generic name is always spelt with an initial capital letter, and the specific name is never spelt with a capital letter. Ok, so the rules were different a long time ago but specific names are never spelt with a capital letter nowadays. Journalists, for some unfathomable reason, will routinely capitalise all the specific names in any article!

3. If you are the sort of person who likes to insert foreign words into your writing, to add a certain je ne sais quoi, then you may be familiar with the convention of italicising foreign-language words. When writing names, only names of genus rank and below are considered to be foreign-language words and italicised: thus Amniota, Diapsida, Archosauromorpha, Archosauria, Dinosauria, Theropoda, Coelurosauria, Tyrannosauroidea, Tyrannosauridae, Tyrannosaurinae: Tyrannosaurus rex. Italicising names other than genus, subgenus, species, subspecies (and other infraspecific taxa like varieties) is probably the single best way to get the experts to snigger at you!

4. The names of taxonomic groups of genus-level rank and above should be given an initial capital letter. So one of the commonest British beetles is Amischa analis, a member of the order Coleoptera, family Staphylinidae and subfamily Aleocharinae. But once you anglicise those taxonomic names, they are no longer proper nouns: Amischa analis is an aleocharine staphylinid, and one of the commonest British coleopterans.

5. If you have seen a single unidentified species of the genus Hypericum (St John’s-worts), you could write it down as Hypericum sp. If you’d seen two or more species, then you’d write Hypericum spp. In other words, the abbreviation of species (singular) is “sp.” and the abbreviation of species (plural) is “spp.”. So, the abbreviation for one or more species is “sp(p).”. Obviously the same applies to subspecies, so you can have “subsp.”, “subspp.” or “subsp(p).”, although it is a varied world we live in and many people use “ssp.”, “sspp.” and “ssp(p).” instead! Simple!

6. A few words that have transferred straight from Latin into English retain their original Latin singular and plural endings, which catch a lot of people out. So, you can have one larva or many larvae, one pupa or many pupae (both feminine nouns), one ovum or many ova (a neuter noun), or (and I can only think of a bird example) one pullus or many pulli (a masculine noun).

Is all this just pointless pedantry, designed by the experts to fortify their positions of authority and repel the advances of unwelcome beginners? Or are these conventions worth understanding and following so that you can communicate clearly and accurately with your fellow naturalists? Maybe a bit of both!

Weevil-thigh Lice

What on earth are these invertebrates?!? I haven’t got a clue – a situation which is exciting and frustrating in equal measures!

mystery invertebrate (in DMHF)

mystery invertebrate in situ on the right hind-femur of the weevil Sitona lepidus

I found four specimens on Wednesday from a wetland site on the edge of Pevensey Levels, East Sussex. I didn’t see any in the field but started noticing them as I was identifying my beetle specimens. The first was loose in a tube with two Datonychus melanostictus and I assumed it was bycatch, rather than a parasite of the weevils. But I then found one attached by its mouthparts to the mid-femur of a Protapion fulvipes, and two more attached to the hind femur of a Sitona lepidus.

I don’t think these things can be common or I’d have noticed them before. Maybe I’ve seen them before with eyes blinkered to all but beetles and just disregarded them? For the time being I will call them Weevil-thigh Lice. I would dearly like to give them a scientific name and unlock whatever knowledge exists about them. But the only way I can think to go about identifying them is to stick the photos up here and ask – do you know what they are?

Isn’t this a … ?

I don’t know if anyone’s heard this story before, but I once uttered the line “Isn’t this a White Prominent?” beside a moth trap in Co. Kerry, which was followed by a great deal of shouting, swearing, hugging, back-slapping and general euphoria. The answer to my question was yes – the first since 1938. I was able to hit the Bucks moth-ers with the line “Isn’t this Oxyptila pilosellae?” on Tuesday night, as I happened to be the first to spot one. It was on the sheet while I was crawling over it pooting beetles, and was the first of three that came to light. With no British record of the Downland Plume O. pilosellae since 1964, Colin Hart wrote that it “may now be extinct” in his 2011 monograph on the plumes. But the Bradenham area in Bucks has produced two singletons in more recent years and now three in one night. Colin himself was there to witness it. The foodplant of the Downland Plume is Mouse-ear Hawkweed Pilosella officinarum, growing on chalk or limestone grassland.

Downland Plume Oxyptila pilosellae at Bradenham by Peter Hall

I focused on beetles rather than moths (though I still saw 8 new moths!) and recorded 33 species, including the whirligig Gyrinus paykulli and the saproxylic species Euglenes oculatus. I had been hoping to see the scarab Odonteus armiger, especially a male with its rhino horn, but it was not to be. This beetle is a familiar sight to the Bucks moth-ers when they’re light-trapping on chalk grassland and seems to be extremely difficult to find by any other means.

More pleasing than any of the beetles was this fly, pooted out of the bottom of one of the traps: the chloropid Camarota curvipennis. Jeremy Richardson and I had been talking about it only the day before, as one of a few curious species of fly that drape their wings around themselves and look like roosting bats. I’ve only recorded it once before but it’s probably common.

Camarota curvipennis with its bat-fold wings.

There’s a really good photo of Camarota here. And also check out this drosophilid which has even more of a roosting bat look to it.

Edible Dormice Glis glis were constantly woofling and squeaking in the adjacent woodland and we could even occasionally see them clambering about by the light of the moth traps. I’d only previously seen them by volunteering for box-checking.

Many thanks to Peter Hall, Martin Albertini, Dave Wilton and Colin Hart for allowing me to join them.

Tales of the unexpected

Jeremy Richardson found a very striking longhorn beetle on Hackney Marsh on Wednesday and identified it as Stictoleptura cordigera, apparently new to Britain. Jeremy emailed me his photos and I was able to offer my agreement with his identification the next morning. I suggested it might make a good day out for Bradley and I on Monday and we arranged to meet up. News came in from Max Barclay at the Natural History Museum that a single S. cordigera had been recorded in “July 2007, collected by Les Wilson on thistles in Hackney Wick”. What had looked like a one-off imported individual at the time, now looks more like the fore-runner of an established population.

Stictoleptura cordigera at Hackney Marsh

Bradley pointed at it and said "Beetle", becoming the fourth person to see S. cordigera in Britain.

I hadn’t given us more than a 50:50 chance of seeing S. cordigera, so I was delighted to lay eyes on it, especially after a long and gruelling journey backpacking Bradley into London on the train. In the end we saw at least four, probably six. But as if that wasn’t enough, the same thistle patch yielded another totally unfamiliar longhorn beetle, which Jeremy instantly recognised as Paracorymbia fulva!

Paracorymbia fulva from Hackney Marsh

Another of Jeremy’s discoveries at this site is the stunning fly Myennis octopunctata. I’d drooled over his photos in Dipterist’s Digest last year so when Jeremy said he could show me some on a nearby stack of poplar logs, I was buzzing. And there they were! In life, they almost seem to be mimicking Salticus jumping-spiders. I had three more ticks on the same pile of logs: the groundbug Rhyparochromus vulgaris, the cranefly Gnophomyia viridipennis and the soldierfly Neopachygaster meromelas, this latter also a new species for Jeremy. This was one of those topsy-turvy places where it seems like everything you look at is a rarity. So much so that I mentioned there’d been a beetle added to the British list in recent years that is a specialist of poplar logs …

And there it was: Hololepta plana out on the surface! An incredibly flat beetle, well-adapted to living under the very tight-fitting bark of poplars.

Hololepta plana from Hackney Marsh

Hololepta plana side on!

Hololepta plana was discovered in the Norfolk Brecks in 2009 and I know it has been seen again in more recent years but I think this is the first occurrence elsewhere in the country. Really nice to find it for myself having dipped it at the original poplar tree in 2009.

Finally, Jeremy showed me the very rare tachinid Litophasia hyalipennis, one of the tiny minority of tachinids that lacks a sub-scutellum. It is officially “Extinct” but has obviously been resurrected!

Many thanks to Jeremy for the guided tour. As I said – he should charge!

A Night at the Achopera

I will be lurking around the Cassiobury Park entrance at ten thirty. I will be able to stay until midnight which should be plenty of time.
Dave.

I had never met Dave Murray of the Watford Coleoptera Group before. He has been working Cassiobury Park and Whippendell Woods for beetles for several years and, as I found out on Friday night, knows the place and its beetles like the back of his hand. After meeting up at the appointed lurking place, Dave took me straight to a lime snag in the Park, I flicked my headtorch on and there was Uloma culinaris!

Uloma culinaris in Cassiobury Park

Uloma is a smart, polished mahogany beetle that the WCG discovered and is still only known from Watford, and from an old record by G.B. Alexander: “Bushy Hall, in rotton wood, 20.vii.1950”. We saw at least six individuals, all on this one trunk, along with a few other saproxylic beetles: loads of Endomychus coccineus (Endomychidae), 1 Triplax aenea, 1 Dacne bipustulata (both Erotylidae) and a few Lesser Stags Dorcus parallelepipedus (Lucanidae). Uloma culinaris is not regarded as a native species, at least not by Alexander et al. (2014). I can’t really disagree, except that it would be nice to think that Uloma has been lurking in the darkness on Watford’s ancient trees since way back, until Dave and co. shone a light on it.

Achopera alternata is another startling discovery by the WCG. It’s an Australian weevil, certainly not native to Britain that was first found at Erddig in Wales by John Bratton (see Beetle News of May 2012). Rowan Alder made an online discovery of a second Welsh locality (apparently photographed somewhere near Llangollen). But the place to see this weevil is Cassiobury Park where Dave and co. have seen it in numbers on some of the stumps. We saw three on exposed sapwood of a beech snag. Even though this is not a small beetle (6 mm), they are quite difficult to spot: cryptically patterned, dull and sloth-like. Through the hand-lens, I watched this one nibbling away at the surface, presumably grazing algae?

Achopera alternata in Cassiobury Park

If you weren’t specifically searching for Achopera, it would be really hard to see, and I wouldn’t mind betting that this beetle is more widespread than we currently know.

Amongst some of the other saproxylic beetles seen on the night were 4 Colydium elongatum (Colydiidae) and a couple of dozen Teredus cylindricus (Bothrideridae), both species that are much easier to see by torchlight.

Many thanks to Dave for the guided tour, and for the humbling insight into what can be achieved by thoroughly working your patch (rather than gallivanting all over the country getting a big pan-species list!).

Reference
Alexander, K.N.A. Dodd, S. and Denton, J. (2014). A review of the scarce and threatened beetles of Great Britain. The darkling beetles and their allies. Aderidae, Anthicidae, Colydiidae, Melandryidae, Meloidae, Mordellidae, Mycetophagidae, Mycteridae, Oedemeridae, Pyrochroidae, Pythidae, Ripiphoridae, Salpingidae, Scraptiidae, Tenebrionidae & Tetratomidae (Tenebrionoidea less Ciidae). Species Status No. 18. Natural England.