Back when flights were cancelled all across Europe because of the Icelandic ash cloud, I went to the tropical rainforest for a weekend, and popped into the Mediterranean for a few hours on Saturday afternoon! Of course, I was at the Eden Project. Following a very interesting visit on 17th April 2009 with the British Myriapod and Isopod Group (BMIG), I arranged for a return visit on 17th-18th April 2010 for myself and Jo, along with Steve Gregory (woodlouse expert), Darren Mann and Clive Turner plus friends and partners.
You might say that studying the wildlife within a greenhouse is a trivial thing, and not nearly as interesting as studying the native wildlife outdoors. But for me this is about as close as I have come to my unattainable dream of being the first naturalist to step ashore on some undiscovered land, seeing species that no-one has laid eyes on before. And yes … I have seen undescribed species.
Identifying the species that I and others have found in the biomes at the Eden Project is a slow business, and I am reliant on the help of the top experts in Britain and abroad, whose time and expertise is greatly appreciated. This blog gives a summary of work-in-progress.
Thanks to Marc Mappley and colleagues for allowing us to study the invertebrates in the biomes.
The Rainforest Biome: Woodlice
Prior to the 2009 visit, only two species of woodlouse were known from the Rainforest Biome: the pill-woodlouse Venezillo parvus (discovered new to Britain from the Eden Project) and Trichorhina tomentosa (known from several other tropical glasshouses in Britain). Steve Gregory has now got records of a further 12 species detailed below: 4 aliens new to Britain (of which 2 new to science), 6 known glasshouse aliens, and only 2 native British species.
1. A species apparently new to science and probably in the genus Gabunillo. I found 13 (all females) of these small pill-woodlice on 17th April 2009, mostly in the bamboo litter of the Malaysia zone. Steve Gregory passed them onto world expert Stefano Taiti, who commented “Most probably a new species of Gabunillo Schmalfuss & Ferrara, 1983. The only species known in the genus, G. coecus, was described from some caves in Gabon. Your specimens differ in the lobes of the schisma and presence of the single reddish ocellus. For G. coecus males are known”. Several more were found in 2010 but although about 50 examples have been found so far, still no males. It may be a parthenogenetic species.
2. A species apparently new to science in the genus Pseudotyphloscia (a genus close to but distinct from Burmoniscus). Steve had 2 males of this philosciid from soil samples collected in the Rainforest Biome in 2004 and 2005 by the Natural History Museum and extracted by Tullgren funnel. He sent them to Stefano Taiti in March 2010 and Stefano commented: “This is a new species of Pseudotyphloscia Verhoeff, 1928. Up to now the genus includes only one species, P. alba (Dollfus, 1898) with a wide distribution in southern China, Taiwan, Indonesia and Philippines.” On our visit in 2010, Steve located this species in good numbers (including many males) associated with wooden pilings and shorings near the stream.
3. An unknown pill-woodlouse new to Britain. I collected a single specimen on 18th April 2010. It is similar to ‘Gabunillo’ but smaller, yellowish, with dark tapered bristles (rather than colourless clubbed scales), with differently shaped outer margin to first pereonite, and with different uropods, excavated to accommodate an appendage. Steve and I would still like to get Stefano Taiti’s opinion on this one. However, Steve suspects it is just an immature Venezillo parvus.
4. Another philosciid species was collected by NHM in 2003 but just a single female and in a very poor state of preservation. It is coloured chocolate and white, 3.5 mm long. It may not even be possible to determine to genus but is something new to Britain.
5. Reductoniscus costulatus, a small bumpy pill-woodlouse, known from Kew Gardens since 1947. Common in the Rainforest Biome in 2009 and 2010, its second British locality. More recently, Steve has found two specimens from soil samples collected by the NHM in 2003 and 2005.
6. Agabiformius lentus. Once thought to be the most widespread alien woodlouse in British glasshouses, the 3 specimens I found in 2009 (det. SJG) were the first British records since before 1980.
7. Nagurus cristatus. Recorded from Northumberland in 1965 but not since (Gregory, 2009). I found 2 in 2009 and Darren found it in 2010 (all det. SJG).
8. Nagurus nanus. Steve had lots (males and females) of this species (identification confirmed by Stefano Taiti in March 2010) from samples collected by NMH in 2004 and extracted by Tullgren funnel. New to Britain but there is one Irish record of a single specimen from a heated glasshouse in Belfast Botanic Gardens in 1911.
9. & 10. On 17th April 2009, Helen Read found a female styloniscid woodlouse, possibly Cordioniscus stebbingi (det. S.J. Gregory). There is also a single female styloniscid from the NHM soil samples in 2004 which appears to be a different species. There are three styloniscids on the British list, all hothouse aliens. Males are needed to determine which, if any, of these are present in the Rainforest Biome. However, our visit in 2010 didn’t turn up any styloniscids.
11. & 12. In 2009 I found a few specimens of Haplophthalmus danicus near the edge of the Rainforest Biome. This is a common pygmy-woodlouse outdoors in Britain. The NHM samples also contained Armadillidium nasatum, a common greenhouse species in Britain but also fairly widespread outdoors.
The Mediterranean Biome: Woodlice
The Mediterranean Biome is not quite so well-stocked with exotic invertebrates but in 2005, Tony Barber recorded three species of woodlouse, two of them new to Britain: 8 females of an Armadillidium sp. new to Britain (males needed for identification), a single female ?Chaetophiloscia? (again, males needed) and Porcellio scaber (perhaps the commonest British woodlouse; also present in 2010).
In 2010, Steve Gregory was keen to try and find males of the Armadillidium and the ?Chaetophiloscia? He succeeded in finding a male of the Armadillidium which he has provisionally identified as A. assimile.
Steve’s searches also turned up an unfamiliar porcellionid which he identified within the week as Lucasius pallidus, new to Britain, a woodlouse of Mediterranean France and Spain.
Steve kindly showed me the spot where he’d found what turned out to be Lucasius pallidus, and by heaving over a large and deeply-embedded rock, I found some of the ?Chaetophiloscia?, including a single adult male. I have confidently identified this as C. sicula but will get Steve to check it in due course.
The Rainforest Biome had been better worked for millipedes prior to the 2009 BMIG visit, with five species recorded, including the superb Paraspirobolus lucifugus which was discovered new to Britain from the Eden Project and was common in 2009 and 2010.
I didn’t pay as much attention to millipedes as I did to woodlice on the 2009 visit (nor the 2010 visit for that matter) but I did find 12 specimens of a tiny white pill-millipede that seemed likely to be new to Britain. Helen Read also found one on that visit and quickly pinned it down as Amphitomeus attemsi, new to Britain (Barber et al., 2010).
Better was to come in 2010 though when I found a single small, white millipede by digging down at the side of some damp, rotting, wooden pilings. Now I love the instant thrill of discovering a rarity that you instantly recognise, like the Bee-eater that came and flew about overhead one fine June day on the Deal sandhills. But I also love the feeling of staring at an invertebrate in a state of complete bafflement. Under the microscope, this millipede was like nothing I’d ever seen and after consulting every book in my possession and googling everything I could find, I was still not even entirely sure it was a millipede! Description here. Fortuitously, Helen Read recognised it as a millipede of the Order Siphonophorida, a pantropical group in which she is something of an expert. This is a new Order for Britain, and maybe a new Order for Europe! Unfortunately, they are a taxonomist’s nightmare and the chances of being able to identify my specimen to species are very small. No-one knows what they feed on or what the narwhal-like head-spike is for.
Cylindrodesmus hirsutus is a millipede known from the Palm House at Kew and from a tropical butterfly house in South Yorks as well as from the Rainforest Biome. This and/or a comparable species were found in 2009 and 2010: whitish specimens lacking paranota which seem to be C. hirsutus as well as pinkish-terracotta coloured specimens with distinct paranota which seem to be a different species. Steve is trying to figure this out with advice from Henrik Enghoff.
Anthogona brittanica is an outdoor millipede, described new to science from a male specimen collected at Slapton Ley, South Devon by Steve Gregory in 1993 (Dick Jones had also collected a specimen there in 1983) and still believed to be a British endemic. Lee (2006) mapped it from four contiguous 10-km squares of South Devon. I collected one specimen in 2009 near the edge of the biome and although it is a female, it is probably A. britannica (Steve Gregory, who described the species, tentatively agrees!). It would be good to find a male and clinch this as it would be a significant record of a rare, endemic invertebrate.
Of the three other species known from the Rainforest Biome prior to 2009, Oxidus gracilis was fairly common in 2009 and 2010 but neither Poratia digitata nor Rhinotus purpureus was seen. Later in 2009, after the BMIG visit, Tony Barber discovered Pseudospirobolellus avernus new to Britain and in fact a new family (Pseudospirobolellidae) to Europe (Barber et al., 2010). There is some evidence that species in the biomes change in abundance and it is possible that some have established only temporarily and now died out.
Disappointingly, there are very few beetles in the Rainforest Biome. In fact, I have only found two species, though one is quite an unusual species: the silvanid Cryptamorpha desjardinsii (common in 2009 but less so in 2010). The other was Harpalus rufipes, a very common carabid beetle.
I have found several species of beetle in the Mediterranean Biome but all are common species of outdoor habitats in Britain.
There are lots of other invertebrates in the biomes, and with the need to screen everything carefully as a potential new to Britain or even new to science, it is quite difficult to record across all groups. However, some of the highlights are:
- Australian Cockroach Periplaneta australasiae
- Surinam Cockroach Pycnoscelus surinamensis
- a jumping spider Hasarius adansoni
- a short-tailed whip-scorpion Schizomida sp.
- 5+ species of ants including Hypoponera punctatissima
- big earwigs, probably a species new to Britain
- 4 known species of centipede: Mecistocephalus guildingii, Tygarrup javanicus, Cryptops doriae and Lamyctes caeculus.
- several species of snail including Subulina octona and Striosubulina ‘striatella’
There’s sure to be a lot more to be found, and I know there’s a lot more still to be identified from Darren and Clive’s samples. It would be interesting to have a look round the biomes at night!
Barber, T., Gregory, S. and Lee, P. (2010). Reports on the 2009 BMIG Spring Meeting in Cornwall. Bulletin of the British Myriapod and Isopod Group, 24, 65 – 74.
Web-spinners are one of the few insect Orders in the world that we don’t get in Britain, and I have never managed to set eyes on one when abroad. So it was a surprise and a pleasure to find one in Buckinghamshire on Friday 16th July. Long known as Embioptera, web-spinners are now properly known as Embiidina.
Is it a new insect Order for Britain?! Well, not really, as it has been imported from Italy on some building stone. It has however, succeeded in surviving outdoors for about two months. In any case, Darren Mann tells me that there have been previous British records of imported web-spinners that he’s heard about. Identification to species could be difficult but World Wide Webspinners is a good resource and this Italian website looks promising and has some good photos. Haploembia solieri (Oligotomidae) is my current best guess.
5th May 2012 update: I have now identified the specimen as an adult male of Haploembia solieri (Rambur, 1842) thanks to this paper by E.S. Ross (1966) on The Embioptera of Europe and the Mediterranean region.
Also present on Friday was a nest of an ant which I suspect to be Lasius neglectus though that must await expert confirmation. This is a potentially invasive alien which has been detected once before in Britain, at Hidcote Manor, where eradication was undertaken.
The insects were found on some blocks of tufa at a site in north Bucks. These were quarried in Italy and imported to Britain as building material about two months ago, complete with a covering of vascular plants, mosses and associated animals. They have been sat on pallets in the open since then and are very desiccated.