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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Caught on camera

I love seeing Hedgehogs in the garden, or more often just hearing them snuffling, rustling and chomping in the borders. When we had part of our fence replaced a few years ago with more durable concrete gravel-boards, we got a few holes cut in the boards to allow Hedgehogs to come and go. Here’s one of the Hedgehog portals in action, filmed on a borrowed trail camera last night.

Lots of photos of cats as well – I think I should make the gaps smaller.

Sunshiners, Moonshiners and Stem-climbers

The ground beetles in the genera Amara and Curtonotus have always been among my favourite beetles. In the Breckland, where I cut my beetling teeth, they are a highly diverse group. Along with the other seed-eating carabids (e.g. Harpalus and Ophonus), they are the ‘arable weeds’ of the beetle world, turning up in places where there is soil disturbance, bare ground and lots of ruderal plants producing lots of seeds. Several of the 32 species occurring in Britain and Ireland are rare.

Many coleopterists have struggled to identify these beetles. Even the name Amara is reputedly derived from the Latin word for bitter (amarus) in reference to the bitter experience of trying to identify them! I have now produced a detailed identification guide with photos of all but one of the species which I hope will sweeten the experience.

Download here (version 3.1, 16th October 2016): Identification guide to the Amara and Curtonotus (Carabidae) of Britain and Ireland.

The guide also introduces new English names for all the species as Sunshiners, Moonshiners and Stem-climbers.

The commonest British Amara is Amara aenea, or the Streak Sunshiner.

Jenny Taylier

It is a line that many budding entomologists fear to cross. Even some of the established figures in British entomology are not prepared to go there. I’m talking about dissection, gen-detting, whipping their nadgers out … genitalia dissection.

True, most of the time it’s just a bit of a chore. But it makes identification of many beetles much quicker and much more accurate than making difficult judgements about, say, the relative breadth of the pronotum.

Occasionally, dissection reveals structures that really are a marvel to behold. I well remember a lunchtime conversation in a busy pub nearly 20 years ago with Brian Eversham and an aleocharine staphylinid expert: let’s call him “Mike”. I think I was probably expressing disbelief that anyone could find the will to try and identify such horrible little beetles, let alone dissect them. Mike’s response, delivered for all in the bar to hear, was “But under the microscope THE FEMALE GENITALIA ARE ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS!!” The next few moments were mortifying but gradually the hubbub of bar conversation returned.

Gyrophaena is a genus of 19 British species of small aleocharine staphylinids that breed in rotting fungi. The male genitalia are truly extraordinary in this genus. I look at these and wonder why all these hooks, corkscrews and knobbles have evolved and what function they perform? I guess they must make it difficult or impossible for a male of one species to mate with a female of another, like trying to fit a key into the wrong lock. All four of the Gyrophaena species pictured below were found in a single tuft of oyster mushrooms.

Gyrophaena joyioides aedeagus

Gyrophaena manca aedeagus

Gyrophaena gentilis aedeagus

Gyrophaena affinis aedeagus

Oh yes, and in case you’re wondering about the title of this blog … when I told my wife I was writing a blog about genitalia, she said “Jenny who?”

More on Albert Ross

In response to my story of dipping Albert, Simon Mustoe writes: “Albert was still there in 1994 when a team of UEA birders cashed in on a special deal for flights to Shetland (thanks to Dick Filby). After having endured the same lengthy journey that Mark and his colleagues did (though we only went once, LOL) and the wrath of lunging Great Skuas, we arrived.”

Simon's sketches from 30th April 1994.

As Simon said, this is from a time when birders used to carry notebooks instead of cameras. But few have Simon’s artistic talent. It is entirely thanks to Simon that this website he designed for me looks so good.