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Final results: Sandwich Bay Coleopterists’ Meeting 2012

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.

Martin sieving a wood ants' nest at Blean Woods.

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.

My first alexiid!

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.

Sphaerosoma pilosum, Britain's only alexiid beetle.

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!

Anommatus duodecimstriatus, one of Britain's 12 blind beetles.

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!

A Ptenidium from Sandwich Bay

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:

A male Ptenidium from Sandwich Bay, East Kent from an Autokatcher sample on 31st August 2012. It is an unusual specimen of P. pusillum (or maybe an additional species of the pusillum-complex?). Click for large photo.

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?

Acknowledgements
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.

Final results: Dungeness Coleopterists’ Meeting 2010

Fourteen coleopterists gathered at Dungeness on 28th and 29th August 2010. I posted an account of the meeting here shortly afterwards but have only recently finished identifying my own samples from the meeting, and collating records from others who were there. A spreadsheet including all our records and a species list 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.

 
This spreadsheet only includes records from myself, Roger Booth, Martin Collier, Andrew Duff and the late Eric Philp. (Apologies to James McGill who did submit his records but I lost them when I hit trouble with my old @carabids.fsnet.co.uk email address).

We recorded 187 species of beetle, and a scattering of invertebrates from other groups (woodlice, bugs, ants, etc.) to bring the total species list up to 212. Perhaps not an impressively long list but awash with rarities, as you’d expect from Dungeness. The list includes 37 Nationally Scarce or Near Threatened species and 4 Red Data Book species; collectively 19.3% of the species had conservation status. That’s about as good as it gets in terms of the proportion of rare and scarce invertebrates in Britain. My highest ever percentage from my invertebrate survey work was 22.8% – from Dungeness RSPB Reserve!

In my account of the meeting posted online just a month afterwards, I wrote:
    “For Dungeness virgins there was much to see but for veterans, the pit margins were disappointing by the high standards of years past. Most people, including myself, have yet to finish identifying their specimens, or send in their records, but as far as I know there were no sightings of any of these carabids: Acupalpus maculatus, Dyschirius obscurus, Bradycellus distinctus, Bembidion caeruleum, Bembidion decorum, Bembidion pallidipenne or Bembidion semipunctatum.”
Well only one species on that list turned up; Bembidion decorum was found by Martin Collier and Roger Booth.

I also wrote:
    “But once all the samples are identified, and the records are in, what’s the betting that Dungeness will surprise us and yield yet another first for Britain?”
I think I may have fulfilled that prophecy but that will have to be the subject of a separate blog …

I’d like to repeat my thanks to Pete Akers and Mark Gurney of the RSPB for hosting the meeting and to Dave Walker for letting us take over the Dungeness Bird Observatory. The insurance for the meeting was provided by the BENHS; without their support meetings like this would not be feasible.