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Yearly Archives: 2013
A miscellany from the last couple of days. Firstly a female Southern Oak Bush-cricket Meconema meridionale from south London today, one of many seen. These bush-crickets were discovered in Britain in 2001 having spread north from the Mediterranean. This is an adult, and the wings are tiny, so it clearly didn’t arrive in Britain by flight. But bush-crickets are sometimes found on parked vehicles and are amazingly good at clinging on at speed. It’s conceivable that it made it to London by just clinging on to some cross-channel traffic.
I don’t normally pay much attention to spiders when I’m on a survey but this big girl certainly grabbed my attention: 13 mm long and looking like the sort of thing you’d see imported in a bunch of bananas, not under a log in London. It turns out to be Steatoda nobilis, and true enough this species “has been repeatedly introduced from the Canary Islands and Madeira with bananas”! In the Harvey, Nellist and Telfer (2002) Atlas it only has four dots in Britain but a look at the latest map from the Spider Recording Scheme shows that it has made itself firmly at home in southern England in the last decade. It is obligatory to mention that this is a species which can inflict a painful bite if suitably provoked.
Finally, a beetle I could reasonably have expected never to see my whole life long: Oxytelus piceus. It lives in cow-pats and would not have been an unexpected sight to a Victorian coleopterist living in southern Britain. But the progress of the 20th century was tough on many dung-feeding beetles and by 1994 Hyman and Parsons were only aware of records since 1970 from West Norfolk and Monmouthshire, and made it a Red Data Book species. In a cursory search, I’ve not been able to find any other records from recent decades. It wouldn’t be surprising if it hasn’t been recorded in recent decades – the dung fauna is not exactly making a come-back. The specimen in the photo is one of two found at a light-trap in cattle pasture in Cambridgeshire on Wednesday night. Not for the first time, I’m thinking why don’t I go out on mothing nights more often. The beetles can be really interesting (and it is certainly more fun than poking through cow-pats).
I almost never go birding any more but I can’t bear to let myself become a non-birder. So for the last 9 years I have been diligently working my local patch on an almost daily basis: my garden. It’s basically a bog-standard garden in bog-standard countryside but it’s been incredibly rewarding over the 9 years we’ve lived here. I’ll tell you why.
From the start, in August 2004, I’ve followed Graham Hirons’ advice and kept a list for each and every month. It gives me the impetus each month to record all the common species and means that I’ve always got my eyes peeled and my ears tuned. I don’t actually make a special effort to go birding other than to take my coffee-breaks in the garden, with my bins, and always to look out of the window while I’m on the phone in the office, again with my bins handy.
I was woken at a cruel hour this morning by the junior member of the household, so we sat out in the garden together while I drank a couple of pots of coffee. I added 6 birds to the August 2013 list: Bullfinch heard, Raven heard, Herring Gull over, Goldcrest, Chiff-chaff and best of all my second Tree Pipit heard going south. That takes this month’s list to 48, though there’s still a long way to go to match my best ever August tally of 57 in 2009.
The downside of choosing my garden as a patch is that nobody else is really that interested in what I see. Find a Slavonian Grebe at Tring Reservoirs and loads of people will go out of their way to see it. Find a Treecreeper in my garden and a few people will say “That’s nice, Mark”. I’d like to be able to say that the upside is that there aren’t any other birders around to grip me off but that wouldn’t be true. I returned from Papua New Guinea in 2008 to find that Jo had seen an Osprey over the garden! Grrripped. Luckily, I only had to wait till the following year before I saw one myself. On that occasion, I had to drop the phone, and later apologise to one of Britain’s top coleopterists that I’d needed to grab my binoculars in a hurry.
Before we moved here I was incredibly envious of Richard Thewlis’ 100+ garden list in Cambridge with quality birds like Nightingale, Quail, Rough-legged Buzzard and Red-footed Falcon. It seems amazing that I now have a garden list of 109. The rarest birds, all once-only, have been Little Gull, GBB Gull, Kingfisher, Mediterranean Gull, Shoveler, Turtle Dove, Hawfinch, Ring-necked Parakeet, Tree Sparrow, Mandarin, Lapland/Snow Bunting, Woodcock, Tufted Duck, Green Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Teal, Treecreeper and Oystercatcher. You will realise by now that my ‘garden’ list is a list of everything seen or heard from the garden, even if they are distant flyovers. The point of my garden list is just to keep my birding skills sharp, not to be a meaningful record of the avifauna of the garden. Of that list only two birds actually came and fed in the garden …
Other rarities with two or more records include Greylag (2), Marsh Harrier (2), Wigeon (3), Common Tern (7), Little Egret (3), Lesser Whitethroat (4), Osprey (2), Yellow-legged Gull (4), Merlin (2), Barn Owl (2), Crossbill (2), Whimbrel (2), Waxwing (2), Grey Partridge (6), Tree Pipit (2) and Common Whitethroat (2).
What’s amazing to me is how much I’ve learnt from micro-birding the garden. Nine years ago, I’d never heard of vismigging (visible migration watching), and I was nowhere near as good at identifying birds in flight or on call only. I’ve had to learn to identify birds on whatever calls or views I get. It may seem lazy that I didn’t already know this stuff, but garden birding has spurred me to learn the calls of Corn Bunting, Mandarin and Barn Owl, to learn the difference between Grey and Red-legged Partridge calls, to learn how to identify large gulls (some of the time at least) without seeing the upperside, and to learn the silhouettes and flight actions of the finches.
I’ve also learnt a lot about migration, which is after all the most awesome thing about birds. Somehow, being brought up as a twitcher, I’d always believed that autumn migration started in late September. But in and over the garden, autumn migration delivers surprises from [Raven just flew over!] early August at least. This month has already produced a Crossbill over, a couple of Whimbrel over, a calling flock of Oystercatchers one night, Hobby, a few Yellow Wagtails, Willow Warbler, etc. I’m sorry to see the last of the Swifts (none since 12th) but there’s lots of bird migration to look forward to between now and November.
Sitting in one spot also forces me to look at whatever there is to look at rather than legging around hunting for something rare. For example, until I started micro-birding, I didn’t know whether the wing-clap of a Woodpigeon was made by clapping their wings together over their backs or under their bellies. Now I’ve watched them, I know it’s neither! I’m also fascinated by my resident Woodpigeon (called Woody-Dangler), with a distinctive dangling right leg who is present all year round and I’ve been seeing since about 2007, even on late autumn days when high energetic ‘power-balls’ of hundreds of migrating Woodpigeons are racing southwards overhead. Does totally sedentary Woody-Dangler really share all the same genes with the power-ballers?
Regrets and near-misses: there’ve been a few possibles that I just couldn’t nail. It’s inevitable with such restricted views of the sky. My biggest regret was not chucking the phone down when I saw what I still reckon were two Shelduck going high south. I was talking to Dave Allen, setting up a survey contract which secured my mortgage payments for the next three years. Massive error – Dave would’ve totally understood. So be warned if you’re on the phone to me – you may suddenly hear the receiver hit the carpet!
The oldest book I own was published in 1839, and in it James Francis Stephens describes the distribution of Rhyssemus germanus with a few words: “Sandy coasts: near Bristol”. When the Canon Fowler wrote about it in 1890 he was able to add that it was “said by Curtis [who was active up until the mid-1850s] to have been taken near Swansea” but added that “I know of no recent captures”. This beetle was also recorded from South Lancashire in the 1800s but I don’t have any more detail on that record.
It was a massive shock to identify a single specimen of Rhyssemus germanus from a nocturnal torching session at Dungeness RSPB Reserve on 15-16 June this year! There is a similar species of dung beetle which I have seen a few times before at Dungeness (Psammodius asper) and I had little doubt that this specimen would turn out to be another of those. But when, on Thursday, I lined this year’s specimen up against my reference specimens of P. asper, I got a shock. Definitely something else, and I pulled out the RES Handbook and had soon keyed it out to R. germanus!
Unfortunately, the thrill of rediscovering a long extinct beetle in Britain was fairly short-lived. Once I’d got in touch with Darren Mann, he told me that R. germanus was discovered elsewhere in south-eastern England a few years ago. The discoverer has yet to publish his find so I won’t steal any more of his thunder here.
R. germanus is a dung-beetle in name but I think it is one of the species that feeds on decaying vegetation rather than on dung, living in dry sandy areas such as coastal dunes and riverbanks. I would guess that R. germanus has genuinely gone extinct at its 19th-century sites on the west coast of Britain but has recently re-colonised the south-east from the continent. Bearing that in mind, Darren advises that there’s a very similar species Rhyssemus puncticollis on the continent which could potentially make it over here. We’ll need to study a male from Dungeness to be sure which species occurs there, and my sole specimen is a female.
So I haven’t rediscovered an extinct beetle, and there is a small chance that I’ve discovered a beetle new to Britain. The rest of the story will unfold with further research. But I got a real kick out of seeing it anyway!
Thanks to Darren Mann for info and to Mark Gurney and Andy Skinner for company in the field.
I caught a spider on the bedroom ceiling on Saturday and was about to chuck it out of the window when I noticed it had four pointy tubercles on its abdomen. There aren’t many spiders with abdominal tubercles so I thought I’d have a go at identifying it. Lucky I did as it turns out to be one of the pirate spiders Ero aphana – only the third record for Bedfordshire!
The Atlas of British spiders (Harvey, Nellist and Telfer, 2002) lists about 11 sites for this species, all on the heathlands of Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey. It is still a Vulnerable (Red Data Book 2) species but since the turn of the millennium it has ceased to be dependent on heathland and has been turning up in a wide variety of mostly dry habitats (houses, gardens, brownfield sites, etc.) and spreading as far north as Nottinghamshire. Map and further info on the Spider Recording Scheme webpage.
Many thanks to Ian Dawson for helping to identify this spider and for information on its status in Beds.
The Knepp Estate in Sussex is my new favourite place in England. This is a landscape of woodlands, copses, rambling hedgerows, veteran trees, streams, ponds and lakes with herds of Longhorn Cattle and Exmoor Ponies wandering throughout. A place without fences, where a naturalist can wander through beautiful habitat to the accompaniment of Nightingales, where a picnic may be interrupted by a hungry Tamworth Pig coming grunting out of the undergrowth, where you can dream of what England would have been like in centuries past.
I was there on 1st and 2nd June, for a recording weekend organised by Penny Green of the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, and to which the pan-species listers were invited. Inspiring company in an inspiring place and superbly hosted by Charlie Burrell, whose vision it was to “re-wild” Knepp.
Pan-species listers are, by definition, interested in all wildlife. But somehow on this occasion it all gravitated towards invertebrates on dung and carrion – luckily somebody brought some latex surgical gloves! Respite was provided by some lovely beetles on log-stacks and veteran trees, as well as some rare fungi.
With the field season in full flow, I’ve not had time to identify everything yet but this post is just to show a few photos. The rest may have to wait until calmer times!
Peter Hodge discovered several Pyrrhidium sanguineum on a stack of oak logs in the car park. It’s a red longhorn beetle newly arrived in Sussex from its historic range on the Welsh borders and was one of the highlights of the weekend. Torchlight searching of the log-stacks and surrounding tree trunks was productive with several Dromius agilis (an uncommon carabid), a single Corticeus unicolor (Tenebrionidae) and a single specimen of “Xyleborus species A”, a recently arrived bark-beetle (from the Orient?) discovered in Richmond Park by Peter Hammond and also known from Cowdray Park (discovered by Graeme Lyons and myself).
After a disappointing catch of moths on Sunday morning, most of the pan-species listers took the opportunity to join a fungal tour with Ted Green and Jill Butler. I think Ted quickly got the measure of his audience and showed us some extremely rare species.
Really enjoyed a weekend binging on biodiversity in fab weather and great company. I could do it every weekend, if only I could spend all week identifying specimens and photos and making sense of my notes! I learned so much from other people. My main regret is of having taken hardly any photos of people and landscapes … but it’s nice to have a reason to return.
… of an entomological consultant. Yesterday was a pretty typical day, surveying a site which is proposed for development. I’m not able to reveal the location but it is a site with a mix of unmanaged grassland and secondary woodland. I spent a little over 6 hours in the field, concentrating my efforts on sweeping and beating. It almost goes without saying that I wore full waterproofs throughout though there was sunshine between the showers.
I worked yesterday evening and from early this morning to finish all the identification work and I’ve listed 102 species for the site. It is always my aim to record over 100 species from a day’s survey but I only just scraped over the line yesterday. I would expect more and I’m tending to agree with others who are saying that this is a poor spring for insects.
The list includes one Red Data Book species and five Nationally Scarce species, though, as is so often the case, some of these statuses are in need of revision for species which have become commoner and more widespread. But they are still useful species for assessing the conservation importance of the site.
I was really pleased to find the RDB hoverfly Rhingia rostrata: only the second one I’ve seen after Dave Gibbs showed me one last year. And there were two species which I got the camera out for. They’re just superb beasts and I don’t think I will ever get tired of seeing them!
Coproporus immigrans is a recent arrival in Britain, specialising in woodchip piles, and I’d only seen it on two previous occasions before yesterday. Here it was in quite an old woodchip pile with thistles growing out of it, though it favours fresh woodchip.
It’s not my aim on survey work to look for species I’ve never seen before: it’s about playing to my strengths and giving the client best value for money, rather than trying to get ticks. But I usually manage a few new species and yesterday I cut open a currant gall on oak for the first time to see the larva of Neuroterus quercusbaccarum within. Also, the common mirid bug Dicyphus globulifer was a new one for me, from a group which I’m tackling more seriously since I acquired Suomen Luteet.
|Species (scientific name)||Species (English name)||Conservation Status|
|Oniscus asellus||Common Shiny Woodlouse||None|
|Porcellio scaber||Common Rough Woodlouse||None|
|Nuctenea umbratica||a spider||None|
|Pisaura mirabilis||a spider||None|
|Glomeris marginata||Pill Millipede||None|
|Cylindroiulus punctatus||Blunt-tailed Millipede||None|
|Forficula auricularia||Common Earwig||None|
|Leptophyes punctatissima||Speckled Bush-cricket||None|
|Centrotus cornutus||a treehopper||None|
|Dicyphus globulifer||a mirid bug||None|
|Deraeocoris lutescens||a mirid bug||None|
|Liocoris tripustulatus||a mirid bug||None|
|Miris striatus||a mirid bug||None|
|Stenodema laevigata||a mirid bug||None|
|Harpocera thoracica||a mirid bug||None|
|Anthocoris confusus||a flower bug||None|
|Anthocoris nemorum||a flower bug||None|
|Kleidocerys resedae||a ground-bug||None|
|Pentatoma rufipes||Red-legged Shieldbug||None|
|Paradromius linearis||a ground beetle||None|
|Ptinella aptera||a featherwing beetle||None|
|Euplectus karstenii||a pselaphine rove-beetle||None|
|Tachyporus hypnorum||a rove-beetle||None|
|Coproporus immigrans||a rove-beetle||None|
|Stenus flavipes||a rove-beetle||None|
|Trixagus dermestoides||a beetle||None|
|Athous haemorrhoidalis||a click-beetle||None|
|Agriotes pallidulus||a click-beetle||None|
|Cantharis decipiens||a soldier-beetle||None|
|Rhagonycha lignosa||a soldier-beetle||None|
|Epuraea pallescens||a beetle||None|
|Meligethes carinulatus||a pollen beetle||None|
|Meligethes nigrescens||a pollen beetle||None|
|Byturus ochraceus||a beetle||None|
|Cerylon histeroides||a beetle||None|
|Rhyzobius litura||a ladybird||None|
|Exochomus quadripustulatus||Pine Ladybird||None|
|Propylea quattuordecimpunctata||14-spot Ladybird||None|
|Coccinella septempunctata||7-spot Ladybird||None|
|Cortinicara gibbosa||a beetle||None|
|Mycetophagus piceus||a beetle||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Mordellochroa abdominalis||a tumbling flower-beetle||None|
|Nalassus laevioctostriatus||a darkling beetle||None|
|Ischnomera cyanea||a beetle||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Oedemera lurida||a beetle||None|
|Pyrochroa coccinea||Black-headed Cardinal Beetle||Nationally Scarce (Nb)|
|Salpingus planirostris||a beetle||None|
|Anaspis frontalis||a beetle||None|
|Anaspis fasciata||a beetle||None|
|Anaspis maculata||a beetle||None|
|Bruchus rufimanus||a seed-beetle||None|
|Lochmaea crataegi||Hawthorn Leaf-beetle||None|
|Longitarsus luridus||a flea-beetle||None|
|Crepidodera aurea||a flea-beetle||None|
|Lasiorhynchites olivaceus||a weevil||Nationally Scarce (Na)|
|Tatianaerhynchites aequatus||a weevil||None|
|Attelabus nitens||Oak Leaf-roller||None|
|Aspidapion aeneum||a weevil||None|
|Protapion fulvipes||White Clover Seed Weevil||None|
|Protapion trifolii||a weevil||None|
|Perapion curtirostre||a weevil||None|
|Perapion hydrolapathi||a weevil||None|
|Apion frumentarium||a weevil||None|
|Ischnopterapion loti||a weevil||None|
|Phyllobius roboretanus||Small Green Nettle Weevil||None|
|Phyllobius pyri||Common Leaf Weevil||None|
|Sitona lepidus||a weevil||None|
|Magdalis armigera||a weevil||None|
|Rhinoncus pericarpius||a weevil||None|
|Ceutorhynchus typhae||a weevil||None|
|Ceutorhynchus obstrictus||a weevil||None|
|Trichosirocalus troglodytes||a weevil||None|
|Nedyus quadrimaculatus||Small Nettle Weevil||None|
|Anthonomus pedicularius||a weevil||None|
|Anthonomus rubi||a weevil||None|
|Curculio glandium||Acorn Weevil||None|
|Archarius pyrrhoceras||a weevil||None|
|Gymnetron pascuorum||a weevil||None|
|Neuroterus quercusbaccarum f. sexual||Currant gall causer||None|
|Biorhiza pallida f. sexual||Oak-apple causer||None|
|Lasius brunneus||Brown Tree Ant||Nationally Scarce (Na)|
|Lasius niger sens. str.||an ant||None|
|Myrmica rubra||an ant||None|
|Myrmica scabrinodis||an ant||None|
|Bombus hortorum||Small Garden Bumblebee||None|
|Bombus pascuorum||Common Carder-bee||None|
|Panorpa germanica||a scorpion-fly||None|
|Rhagio scolopaceus||Downlooker Snipefly||None|
|Beris chalybata||Murky-legged Black Legionnaire||None|
|Microchrysa polita||Black-horned Gem||None|
|Empis tessellata||a dance fly||None|
|Melanostoma mellinum||a hoverfly||None|
|Sphaerophoria scripta||a hoverfly||None|
|Rhingia campestris||a hoverfly||None|
|Rhingia rostrata||a hoverfly||RDB3|
|Neoascia podagrica||a hoverfly||None|
|Syritta pipiens||a hoverfly||None|
|Tephritis neesii||a picture-winged fly||None|
|Pieris rapae||Small White||LC|
|Pararge aegeria||Speckled Wood||LC|
|Monacha cantiana||Kentish Snail||None|
It’s been well over a month since my last blog (back on April 12th) but my excuse is that it is May, the best month to be a naturalist in the field in Britain, and a busy time for an entomological consultant!
I have actually posted a few blogs in recent weeks about my progress towards recording 1000 species in my home 1-km square here in Eaton Bray, Bedfordshire. For those who don’t know, the participants in the “1000 1ksq challenge” are attempting a pan-species total of 1000 for a 1-km square of their choice between 1st Jan and 31st Dec 2013. Click here to see all my posts. It is amazing how much wildlife you can see if you go really broad and stay really local, and amazing just how successful you can now be as a truly pan-species naturalist using online identification resources.
One of my recent highlights was this weevil, Bradybatus fallax. Roger Booth found one resting on his car roof in Merton Park, Surrey on 13 August 2011 but I’ve not heard of any more being found since so this could be the second British individual. It is associated with Sycamore and other Acer species. I found one by beating trees, including sycamore, in Middlesex on 9 May 2013.
I wrote a brief blog about this sunny and sociable weekend in Kent shortly after the event: here.
I have now finished my identifications from the Sandwich Bay Coleopterists’ Meeting (31st August to 2nd September 2012) and have also received records from Eric Philp, James McGill, Kevin Chuter, Martin Collier, Peter McMullen, Roger Booth, Simon Horsnall and Tony Allen. Between us we recorded 273 species of beetle (and 36 species of other invertebrates, including spiders, millipedes, dragonflies, bush-crickets, bugs, flies, bees, wasps, ants, moths and snails).
One of the highlights for me was the discovery of the phalacrid beetle Olibrus norvegicus new to Britain, as well as an intriguing featherwing-beetle specimen of the genus Ptenidium. Another major discovery was of the dung-beetle Euheptaulacus sus which was found by Roger Booth (from a light trap), Tony Allen (by evening sweeping) and James McGill. It is many decades since this dung-beetle was recorded from Kent.
Amongst the beetles were 7 Red Data Book, 1 Near Threatened and 36 Nationally Scarce species. In total, 16% of the beetles recorded during the meeting have conservation status, a figure which is consistent with top sites of national importance for invertebrate conservation.
A spreadsheet containing a species list and a worksheet of all records from the meeting can be downloaded here.
|To download the keys, left-click the link. This will take you to my Google Docs webpages where you can see an online preview of the document (in which the formatting and pagination isn’t great). From the File menu, select Download and Save the file to your computer to see it in its original form.|
The meeting did not formally start until Saturday morning (1st September) but most people travelled down on the Friday and the results include records from Friday afternoon and evening. In my case, I worked the area seaward of the Chequer’s Inn, Deal, where I had found Amara spreta, Melanotus punctolineatus and many other interesting beetles on a previous visit in 1999. This was also the area where Eric Philp recorded Ophonus cordatus although a few decades earlier. On a warm and still evening, I gave the Autokatcher a spin, driving back from the Chequer’s Inn to our accommodation at the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory. It yielded a massive sample of mostly very small beetles, including the Ptenidium mentioned above and an impressive five species that I’d never seen before. Only one of the five (Omalium exiguum) is actually Nationally Scarce but the Autokatcher seems to be a good way of finding beetles that I don’t bump into using my normal fieldcraft. After dining together at an Indian restaurant in Sandwich village, a small party donned headtorches and headed out with sweep-nets to the dunes north of the Prince’s Golf Course clubhouse. This was when I found Olibrus norvegicus new to Britain though of course it wasn’t until a few days later that I dissected them and realised what they were. Of the species recognisable on the night, one of the most interesting finds was a single individual of the tenebrionid beetle Xanthomus pallidus.
After much loitering in the Bird Observatory car park on Saturday morning, the meeting got underway with people dispersing in small groups, some back to Chequer’s Inn, others to the Prince’s Golf Club dunes and some walking out to the north in search of Dune Tiger-beetle Cicindela maritima. It was a good day for carabids with several people finding Amara curta, and with several other scarce carabids being recorded: Amara fulva, Amara equestris, Harpalus serripes, Dicheirotrichus obsoletus, Panagaeus bipustulatus, Masoreus wetterhallii and Demetrias monostigma. We dined at a good Thai restaurant in the evening, followed by more torchlight fieldwork.
On the Sunday, while some carried on with fieldwork at Sandwich Bay, a few of us visited the other site for which permission had been arranged: Blean Woods RSPB Reserve. Martin Collier and I tackled a wood ants’ nest – the first time either of us had attempted to find beetles in such a potentially painful microhabitat! We soon discovered that the ants were remarkably placid and the whole experience was surprisingly painless. However, there were very few beetles evident in the field (only three individual beetles in my sample, only one of which (Gyrohypnus atratulus) was an ant-nest specialist). Martin wisely took his sample home and put it in an extractor which yielded a specimen of Myrmetes piceus. Meanwhile, Roger Booth and Tony Allen were beating dead and dying branches and amongst a good list of saproxylic beetles, found the Vulnerable anthribid beetle Pseudeuparius sepicola off a dead oak branch.
I really enjoyed this meeting, not just because Sandwich Bay is such a great place for beetles but also for the chance to socialise with other coleopterists over the course of the weekend. I enjoy it enough to be thinking of organising another weekend field meeting but I’m not going to do that until 2014 (probably at Orford Ness). Meanwhile, if anyone else wants to organise a meeting, it doesn’t have to be a lot of work: pick your location and dates, suggest somewhere people could stay but leave them to make their own arrangements, make a restaurant booking in the evening, and arrange with the BENHS to extend their insurance to cover the meeting. That really is all it takes. Following the successful examples of Dungeness in 2010 and Sandwich Bay in 2012, both based around bird observatories, a couple of obvious venues to try are Portland Bill Bird Observatory and Lizard Point Youth Hostel.
It is a rare event nowadays for me to see a new beetle family but yesterday’s highlight was finding Sphaerosoma pilosum for the first time, the sole British member of family Alexiidae.
I knocked it off a log with a white crustose polypore fungus, lying on the ground in calcareous woodland near Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire. I have now seen 96 of the 103 families of British beetles. Of the remaining seven families, six are represented by single British species that are either rare, very difficult to find, or Scottish. The seventh family is the Bostrichidae with five species on the British list and it is high time I bumped into one of them.
Another exciting find on the same outing was this Anommatus duodecimstriatus, found under bark on the underside of an Elder log pressed into the soil. This is one of Britain’s 13 species of blind beetle, previously featured on this blog after some turned up in my garden. It did two remarkable things, for a beetle. One, it just turned round and round on the spot rather than running away (maybe being blind has its disadvantages when someone disturbs your hiding place). And two, it clung on to the log despite me dropping it from waist height!
Recent attempts at fieldwork have felt pretty futile so it is good to have finally found some decent beetles. Looking forward to spring really getting going now!
I am no great fan of the featherwing beetles (Ptiliidae) but they are growing on me and I’ve been trying hard to get to grips with the genus Ptenidium and others, though still largely ignoring the dreaded Acrotrichis. This blog is just to put on record an interesting specimen of Ptenidium which might be a species new to Britain:
It is closest to P. pusillum (probably the commonest British species of the genus) but differs most strikingly in having much deeper and more extensive puncturation on the elytra. In addition, it has slightly more elongate elytra with less strongly rounded sides, elytral hairs a little shorter, pronotum sides a little more strongly rounded and with slightly broader side-margins, and the antennal clubs a little darker than the average pusillum. Michael Darby kindly examined it and agreed that it could be a species new to Britain, but what?
I sent my photo to Mikael Sörensson in Lund, Sweden who is an expert on European ptiliids and got an excellent response. In fact, Mikael’s reaction was that this looks the same as specimens of P. pusillum which he sees from Sweden and continental Europe. P. pusillum is apparently highly variable in body shape, colour of body and appendages, and also length of the pubescence. Mikael was struck by the somewhat darkened last two antennal segments of my specimen but has seen such colouration before in occasional specimens. So the conclusion is that “your specimen is a mere variant of P. pusillum“.
However, Mikael stressed that “because of the external variation, the taxon ‘P. pusillum‘ seems complex and might include ‘hidden’ taxa within. Viewed on a western Palaearctic level it is extremely difficult to tell if we have one single, much variable species, or two (or more?) ‘hidden’ within. Until we have applied other methods (molecular) for separating populations and variants on a pan-European basis I hesitate to split P. pusillum and therefore regard it as one single variable species”.
So what next? Mikhael writes: “It would be nice to uncover more specimens from that part of Britain, and also from France, in order to get an idea of the local variation. The problem of P. pusillum sensu lato is indeed intriguing and calls for more work”. I plan to pay much closer attention to Ptenidium, especially if I’m on the Kent coast, and I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has found similar specimens in Britain or abroad.
It would also be good to start applying molecular techniques to these kinds of taxonomic problems but I still don’t know of anyone who I can send a beetle to, with a cheque enclosed, and get it sequenced. Any suggestions?
I thank Michael Darby, Peter Hammond and Mikael Sörensson for helpful discussions and for sharing their expertise. As always, I have Darren Mann and James Hogan (of the Hope Department of Entomology, Oxford University Museum of Natural History) to thank for allowing me to use their auto-montage kit.