… is a question I love to be asked but it’s quite a hard one to answer (and not because there are so many that I’ve lost count!). The reason it is difficult to answer is that discovering a first for Britain is usually a joint effort. The list of firsts where I was the first to find it, the first to recognise it was something new to Britain, and the first to put a name to it is quite short. But those pure discoveries are some of the great highlights of my time as a naturalist, and I’m really proud of having played my part in the joint discoveries too.
One of my first bird books was “Birds new to Britain and Ireland” which contains accounts of the discoveries of 83 species of bird new to Britain and Ireland from 1946 to 1980. I read this book over and over again as a schoolboy and dreamt of finding my own first for Britain. Sadly my chances of discovering a bird new to Britain are close to zero but studying beetles and other invertebrates has allowed me to fulfil those schoolboy dreams many times over!
In this blog, I’m going to describe the firsts for Britain that I’ve been involved with, and then offer some suggestions on how to discover your own firsts for Britain.
I got off the mark by writing up two ground beetles (Bembidion caeruleum and Ophonus subsinuatus) new to Britain in 2001 but both had been found and identified by others and I was just the one who stepped up to put these discoveries into print.
Telfer, M.G. (2001). Bembidion coeruleum Serville (Carabidae) new to Britain and other notable carabid records from Dungeness, Kent. The Coleopterist, 10, 1 – 4.
Telfer, M.G. (2001). Ophonus subsinuatus Rey (Carabidae) new to Britain, with a discussion of its status. The Coleopterist, 10, 39 – 43.
I was the first to identify Acupalpus maculatus from Britain but those first specimens had been found by John Paul at Dungeness. It later turned out that quite a few coleopterists had already collected Acupalpus maculatus at Dungeness and misidentified it as Acupalpus parvulus – and I was one of them!
Telfer, M.G. (2003). Acupalpus maculatus Schaum, 1860: another carabid new to Britain from Dungeness. The Coleopterist, 12, 1 – 6.
In the case of Xyleborus monographus I found it, figured out it was new to Britain and confirmed it as Xyleborus monographus at the Natural History Museum. Unbeknown to me, Peter Hammond had also found it and only a few days later he would pull out the same drawer of specimens at the NHM and come to the same conclusion. He let me write it up and take the glory!
Telfer, M.G. (2007). Xyleborus monographus (Fabricius) (Curculionidae: Scolytinae) new to Britain. The Coleopterist, 16, 41 – 45.
I then hit a bit of a drought for a few years though I did find 8 species of beetle new to Ireland in this period. It is not as difficult to add beetles to the Irish list.
Telfer, M.G. (2007) Macrorhyncolus littoralis (Broun) (Curculionidae) new to Ireland. The Coleopterist, 16, 118 – 119.
Telfer, M.G. (2009) Seven beetles new to Ireland, seven new to Northern Ireland and other noteworthy discoveries. The Coleopterist, 18, 121 – 129.
With Quedius lucidulus, I found and identified it myself. By the time I got it into print, it had been found three more times but my record from The Mens Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve in May 2010 still stands as the earliest British record.
Telfer, M.G. (2012). Quedius lucidulus Erichson, 1839 (Staphylinidae) new to Britain. The Coleopterist, 21, 129 – 131.
My next first, Olibrus norvegicus at Sandwich Bay, was another pure discovery which I both found and identified myself. It’s quite a difficult species to identify and it was amongst much larger numbers of commoner Olibrus. To the best of my knowledge it has been successfully twitched once but there have been no other British records.
Telfer, M.G. (2013). Munster, 1901 (Phalacridae) new for Britain. The Coleopterist, 22, 25 – 26.
In September 2013 I identified the first Soronia oblonga for Britain though it had been standing in my collection as S. grisea since I collected it in July 2005 at Langley Park. An earlier specimen collected by Peter Hammond in 2004 has since come to notice, and I found it again in September 2013 at Windsor.
Telfer, M.G. (2014). Soronia oblonga Brisout de Barneville, 1863 (Nitidulidae) new to Britain. The Coleopterist, 23, 144 – 148.
In April 2009 I set foot in the Eden Project biomes for the first time and returned in April 2010, both times targeting woodlice and myriapods. Both were group visits and the lengthy identification process has been carried out by Steve Gregory with help from other experts around the world. However, I found six species of woodlice which have now been added to the British list by Steve, plus a single specimen of another which Steve is still working on. At least one of these woodlice is also new to science. I also found the millipede Amphitomeus attemsi new to Britain which was subsequently identified by Helen Read and written up by Tony Barber and others, and a narwhal-headed millipede of the Order Siphonophorida which will probably never be named to species but is a new Order for Britain.
Gregory, S. (2014). Woodlice (Isopoda: Oniscidea) from the Eden Project, Cornwall, with descriptions of species new to Britain and poorly known British species. Bulletin of the British Myriapod and Isopod Group, 27, 3 – 26.
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.
I played my part in the addition of Xylosandrus germanus to the British list, first found and identified by Peter Hammond.
Allen, A.J., Hammond, P.M. and Telfer, M.G. (2015). Xylosandrus germanus (Blandford, 1894) (Curculionidae: Scolytinae) in Britain. The Coleopterist, 24, 72 – 75.
I found Britain’s first Carpelimus nitidus in August 2010 but it was not until winter 2014/15 that I got the identification confirmed and submitted the paper. My Dungeness specimen remains the only British specimen, so far.
Telfer, M.G. (2015). Carpelimus nitidus (Baudi di Selve, 1848) (Staphylinidae): another beetle new to Britain from Dungeness. The Coleopterist, 24, 100 – 105.
It gave me great pleasure to discover my first bug new to Britain in 2013: Dicyphus tamaninii.
Telfer, M.G. (2015). Dicyphus tamaninii (Hemiptera: Miridae) new to Britain. British journal of entomology and natural history, 28, 71 – 74 and Plate 6.
After a pan-species listers’ gathering in South Wales in September 2014, I was the first to recognise the millipede Ceratosphys amoena as something new to Britain though it fell to others to put a name to it. On the same day I also collected immatures of Hylebainosoma nontronensis but completely failed to compute that they were another chordeumatid millipede new to Britain (I just assumed they were immature C. amoena). Fortunately, Chris Owen got to the truth of it.
Telfer, M.G., Gregory, S.J., Kime, R.D., Owen, C. and Spelda, J. (2015). Ceratosphys amoena Ribaut, 1920 and Hylebainosoma nontronensis Mauriès & Kime, 1999 new to Britain (Diplopoda: Chordeumatida). Bulletin of the British Myriapod and Isopod Group, 28, 15 – 30.
I still find it magical to think that in 2015 I discovered an insect in Ireland that was not just new to Ireland but new to the Palaearctic, previously unknown outside of Chile and Argentina! The barkfly Chilenocaecilius ornatipennis has swiftly become established across Ireland and Britain.
Lienhard, C., Telfer, M.G. and Anderson, R. (2017). Chilenocaecilius ornatipennis (Blanchard, 1851) (Psocodea: ‘Psocoptera’, Paracaeciliidae) in Ireland, first Palaearctic record of this South American genus and species. Entomologist’s monthly magazine, 153, 25 – 30.
In January 2016, I was the first to identify Amara majuscula from Britain, which Tim Hodge had found and first recognised as something potentially new.
Hodge, T.N., Telfer, M.G., Lane, S.A. and Skirrow, M.B. (2016). Amara (Bradytus) majuscula (Chaudoir, 1850) (Carabidae) new to Britain from East Norfolk, West Norfolk and Worcestershire. The Coleopterist, 25, 99 – 105.
This was to be the beginning of an amazing bumper year: the first of 11 species new to Britain in 2016! There is plenty of work still in progress on that lot. Three are published, one is in press, three have manuscripts in preparation, and three more are awaiting identification/ confirmation. This is a story to be continued …
So, based on these experiences, what’s the best way to find a first for Britain?
- Look carefully amongst existing specimens. A surprising number of firsts are discovered only after they’ve sat in a collection for a few years, or even a few decades, overlooked and misidentified as something else.
- Always be on the look-out for a potential first for Britain. It might just start with a specimen that doesn’t quite fit the key, or doesn’t quite match the pictures. Don’t assume you’ve found something common. Don’t squash a square peg into a round hole. Be dogged about identifying these misfits.
- Use unusual sampling techniques, such as nocturnal fieldwork (responsible for the discoveries of Xyleborus monographus and Olibrus norvegicus), vane trapping (Quedius lucidulus, Soronia oblonga and Xylosandrus germanus) or using light traps for groups other than moths (Amara majuscula).
- Target the coast of south-eastern England (especially Dungeness!) for new immigrants from the continent. And target highly urban and man-made environments for new importations from anywhere.
- There are lots of firsts for Britain to be found in hothouses. Identifying them can be extremely arduous but worth the challenge, and hothouse faunas are starting to get the attention they deserve.
- Be prepared for the unexpected and be lucky!