I found myself in the Brecon Beacons on Sunday after a family gathering. I’ve always thought of the Brecon Beacons as a biodiversity coldspot but I realised prior to this trip that I could potentially tick six species of Whitebeam including three which are restricted to this part of Wales. I didn’t have time to purchase Tim Rich’s BSBI Sorbus Handbook but I was able to get some Sorbus gen from Dave Gibbs, albeit from maybe 20 years ago before Google maps and GPS.
I have been talking vaguely about going to see all the British (and Irish) Sorbus for years but this is the first time I have actually done anything about it. What appeals to me about the idea is that they almost all grow in nice parts of Britain that I’ve spent very little, if any, time in: North Devon, Avon Gorge, Brecon, Monmouthshire, Montgomeryshire, Wye Valley, Anglesey, West Lancs, Westmorland, and Arran.
But after Sunday’s experience, I now realise that seeing all the Sorbus would be a major undertaking. My main problem at Craig y Cilau was that the trees only grow where sheep cannot reach them. And I am considerably less agile on the mountains than a Welsh sheep. And with most of the leaves already fallen, it wasn’t the best time of year for it. Plus I was getting a thorough drenching, right down to my undergarments, though I was able to retreat to the caves to consult my increasingly sodden copy of Stace.
The large Sorbus leptophylla tree described as forming a carpet against the cliff prior to Agen Allwedd cave must be dead and gone. I’m sure with more time and better weather I could have found all five Sorbus species at this site but I’ll give it another go some day, and also try to visit Craig Penmoelallt at Merthyr Tydfil for Ley’s Whitebeam Sorbus leyana.
The House Longhorn Hylotrupes bajulus is something I never thought I’d see. Until very recently, I thought it was a very rare indoor pest in a few houses breeding in old timbers, with only a single post-1970 dot in the cerambycid atlas. I’ve actually been contacted a couple of times with reports of possible House Longhorn infestations but they’ve turned out to be outdoor longhorns emerging from firewood.
So when I heard that House Longhorn could be seen outdoors, on some standing dead pines on a Surrey Heath, I thought I’d better mobilise and go to take a look. I was told that on a sunny day I’d be able to see them without having to peel any bark off, and so it proved on Sunday last weekend. I found one on the third tree I looked at, and saw three in total, all active in the sunshine.
I wish it well in its bid to colonise the British countryside.
Discoveries begin with bafflement. I thought I was reasonably familiar with all the British species of Olibrus; I’ve certainly seen all 7 of the species on multiple occasions. But I found myself baffled when trying to identify some Olibrus specimens collected at Sandwich Bay on the night of Friday 31st August going into the early hours of Sat 1st September.
The key to Olibrus species relies heavily on the presence or absence of microsculpture on head, pronotum and elytra. The microsculpture can be hard to see when it is present, so it is often difficult to be sure that it is absent. So ‘route one’ for me is to dissect, hoping for males, and match up to the genitalia drawings in the RES Handbook. I had four specimens and when I dissected them on Tuesday, they all turned out to be female, clearly of two species, and could not be identified by matching to the genitalia illustrations alone. So I keyed them out and they all came to Olibrus affinis. Bafflement begins. Presumably I’ve made some mistake somewhere, perhaps failing to see microsculpture? I put them aside to come back to on the following day.
I must admit that even on Tuesday evening I was wondering whether I might have found a species new for Britain. But this is a guilty thought – the proper response is to investigate every other possibility first. Am I even sure it is an Olibrus?! Is there any chance it could just be an aberrant individual of one of the other species? After a few hours on Wednesday morning comparing my Sandwich specimens to dissected and confirmed specimens of all the other British Olibrus species, I was sure I had affinis and one specimen of something new to Britain. But what?
. . . . . . .
. . . . . . .
Ideally, it would be good to have an identification guide to the Olibrus species that occur on the near continent in northern France and the Low Countries. But in such situations, the best thing available is usually “FHL” (Die Käfer Mitteleuropas by Freude, Harde and Lohse) covering Germany and environs. And using FHL, I reckoned the only thing that fitted my specimen was Olibrus norvegicus. This species was added to the Mitteleuropas list sometime between 1967 (FHL volume 7) and 1992 (FHL volume 13) and was added to the Dutch list in 1985 but whether it was overlooked before or has recently colonised these areas I don’t know. Either way, it sounds like the sort of species that might be expected to turn up in Britain.
At this point, I decided I needed a male specimen to be certain, so I drove back to Sandwich Bay yesterday afternoon. After bumping into Paul Brock and chatting for a bit, I spent a couple of hours sweeping the grassland and dunes here. I reckon I saw many more Olibrus at night but this trip yielded 104 specimens, mostly affinis but with one male and two female norvegicus. The male is a good match to the genitalia illustration of norvegicus in FHL, so I’m now pretty confident that’s what it is. But I’d still like to compare it to confirmed norvegicus specimens, and/or get an expert opinion. If you can help, please get in touch.
It has to be said that bafflement is a pretty frequent feeling when I’m trying to identify beetles. Mostly the investigation just reveals that I’ve made a mistake, or occasionally that the author of the keys has made a mistake. But I love making discoveries so I’m always hoping that a bit of bafflement will lead to something like this!
This part of Sandwich Bay is a Kent Wildlife Trust reserve and permission to collect invertebrates on the site (which is a SSSI) can be obtained from them. Thanks to Greg Hitchcock of KWT for arranging permissions for attendees at the Coleopterists’ Meeting.
Fourteen coleopterists assembled at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory for the Coleopterists’ Meeting on Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd September, with many people (including Jo and I) having traveled down on the Friday.
The weather stayed dry and mostly sunny for us throughout, which is not how most of the summer of 2012 will be remembered. Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory was a great base for the meeting and I will definitely be back there in future. The social side of entomology is something I miss during the field season so it was great to spend time with other like-minded folk, in the field as well as in the rather good Indian and Thai restaurants of Sandwich village. So I really enjoyed myself and I think everyone else would say the same. As the leader I was relieved that the meeting went off without serious mishap, though not entirely without misfortune – there’s a notebook and a good pair of reading glasses somewhere in Kent, and a blowy exhaust on my car thanks to some monstrous sleeping policemen.
But if you were wondering whether you should have been there, or whether you should attend the next coleopterists’ meeting, I should really let the beetles speak for themselves. So here’s my list for the Sandwich Bay area.
18 Nationally Scarce
1 Near Threatened
2 Insufficiently Known (RDBK)
1 New for Britain
11 ticks for me (a few of which I have seen in trap samples before but not alive)
|Family||Species: scientific name||Conservation Status|
|Carabidae||Amara curta||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Carabidae||Amara fulva||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Carabidae||Harpalus serripes||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Carabidae||Ophonus ardosiacus||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Carabidae||Panagaeus bipustulatus||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Carabidae||Masoreus wetterhallii||Nationally Scarce (Na)|
|Carabidae||Demetrias monostigma||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Staphylinidae||Omalium exiguum||Nationally Scarce|
|Phalacridae||Olibrus millefolii||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Phalacridae||Olibrus norvegicus (TBC)||New for Britain|
|Coccinellidae||Hippodamia variegata||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Tenebrionidae||Xanthomus pallidus||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Aderidae||Aderus populneus||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Chrysomelidae||Cassida nobilis||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Chrysomelidae||Chrysolina haemoptera||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Chrysomelidae||Longitarsus parvulus||Nationally Scarce (Na)|
|Apionidae||Protapion dissimile||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Curculionidae||Neliocarus faber||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Curculionidae||Tychius tibialis||Nationally Scarce (Na)|
All my consultancy fieldwork is now finished for the 2012 season and the next few months will be spent working through and identifying my samples of invertebrates, as well as writing up reports. These samples contain many specimens which received little more than a glance in the field before being pooted, in the knowledge that they’d need microscopic scrutiny or dissection to be identified. So there’s plenty of potential for surprises, as my sample from an Oxfordshire site on 14th June proved …
This blog profiles the 9 ticks I’ve added to my pan-species list between Friday 24th August and setting off for the Sandwich Bay Coleopterists’ Meeting on Friday 31st (more on that later!). Dave Gibbs has been posting photos of each of his ticks on the Pan-species Listers facebook page which I’ve been following with interest. His 9,967th tick was the Short-billed Dowitcher yesterday at Lodmoor. So here is another instalment of my personal progress through the massive biodiversity of Britain …
Gyrophaena joyi (Staphylinidae: Aleocharinae), 1 male, Alfoxton Wood, Somerset, 19th Aug 2012.
From quite fresh Dryad’s Saddle brackets. A Nationally Scarce species. Dave Boyce has already found it on several occasions in Somerset.
Aloconota sulcifrons (Staphylinidae: Aleocharinae), Dorset, 22nd August 2012.
Grubbing in wet woodland clearing. A common species, or at least one with no conservation status. No faffing about keying this out – it is one of the Athetini that has a diagnostic pronotal hair-pattern, confirmed by dissection.
Ptenidium laevigatum (Ptiliidae), Dorset, 22nd August 2012.
I’ve trapped this species on numerous occasions using subterranean traps at tree roots but a singleton suction-sampled from a tussock-sedge pedestal was the first I’d seen alive. Carding 1.1 mm long beetles doesn’t always end up as well as this!
Orthonevra nobilis (Syrphidae), 1 male, Newlands, Heanor, 28th August 2012.
Sweeping in wet woodland. A fairly common wetland hoverfly.
Psenulus pallipes (Crabronidae), 1, Oxfordshire, 14th June 2012, det D.J. Gibbs.
Beaten off Lime branches in parkland. A fairly common wasp.
Elodes tricuspis (Scirtidae), 1 male, Oxfordshire, 14th June 2012.
Now this was a big surprise! Elodes tricuspis is Britain’s rarest scirtid and Garth Foster’s (2010) Water Beetle Review was able to list all the known British records: Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire in the 19th Century; Windsor Great Park in 1934; Frensham, Surrey, in 1954; Brampton Bryan, Herefordshire in 1981; Parham Park, West Sussex in 1996 (twice); and Mid-west Yorkshire in 1999. So this was the 8th British record and the first for Oxfordshire. It is regarded as Vulnerable. Map here. This one was swept under wet woodland canopy in a parkland.
The four British species of Elodes are only really separable by dissecting males so on this occasion the odds fell in my favour.
Lonchaea mallochi (Lonchaeidae), 1 female, Oxfordshire, 14th June 2012, det D.J. Gibbs.
Pooted off a fallen poplar trunk in wet woodland. A readily recognised family of flies with many saproxylic members. There is also a good new RES Handbook for their identification, though I still turn to Dave Gibbs for help.
Scaphisoma boleti (Staphylinidae: Scaphidiinae), 1 female, Oxfordshire, 14th June 2012.
Pooted off a fallen poplar trunk in wet woodland. A Nationally Scarce (Nb) saproxylic beetle associated with fungi.
Rhadinoceraea micans (Symphyta), larvae, Oxfordshire, 14th June 2012.
I’ve seen these sawfly larvae munching on Yellow Flag Iris pseudacorus leaves before but never attempted to identify them. The name Rhadinoceraea micans comes up on google if you enter “iris sawfly” but the clincher for me was a comment on iSpot by Martin Harvey with the assurance that Rhadinoceraea micans is the only sawfly that feeds on Yellow Flag.
No photo from me but here’s one: http://www.flickr.com/photos/simonhaas/3369939919/