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Christmas shopping entomology

I know for most people a Christmas shopping trip is a lost natural history opportunity. But for a pan-species lister, something good can turn up wherever and whenever. First up, this striking black-and-red Arocatus ?longiceps? bug found on the trunk of a Plane tree while browsing the Christmas market on the Champs Élysées, Paris on 20th November. My French specimen (on the left) looks quite different to the Arocatus longiceps I have previously found on London’s Plane trees (on the right, from the Natural History Museum’s wildlife garden), with paler appendages and reduced black markings on the body.

Arocatus from the Champs Elysees (L) and NHM garden (R)

The following weekend we visited Whipsnade Zoo with friends Rich and Sara and budding mammalogist Lucy. As well as doing some Christmas shopping in the gift shop, we found a couple of interesting insects in the Insect House but on the loose. There were trails of a miniscule ant which I think is a species of dolichoderine but doesn’t seem to be included in Bolton & Collingwood’s RES Handbook, or Skinner & Allen’s Naturalists’ Handbook.

Miniscule ?dolichoderine? ant from Whipsnade

And on the exit door, this Australian Cockroach Periplaneta australasiae was making a bid for freedom. I’ve seen this species before in the Eden Project biomes.

Australian Cockroach Periplaneta australasiae

Finally, our local Tesco in Leighton Buzzard still supports a population of the weevil Otiorhynchus crataegi in the car park, first found here in September 2008. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only Bedfordshire site for this weevil but I’m sure if more people looked it could be found much more widely. It was discovered new to Britain in Berkshire in 1980 and has since been reported from Surrey and Middlesex (map here, doubtless incomplete).

Every little helps (the beetle list)

Entomologising in car park shrubberies can be pretty good. Look out for feeding signs such as notched leaves. Whenever I get out my beating tray and start thwacking the shrubberies, I always imagine I’m going to be either set upon by security guards or ridiculed by crowds of jeering shoppers. But, in practice, everyone studiously ignores me, though I sometimes think mothers take a tighter grip of their children’s hands as they pass! Richard ‘Bugman’ Jones would advise wearing a hi-vis vest in such circumstances: it makes you look so much more official!

Notched leaves on this Euonymus are the first sign that weevils are present.

Otiorhynchus crataegi makes quite regular, semi-circular notches in the edges of the leaves.

Otiorhynchus crataegi: at a supermarket near you?

Happy Christmas shopping everyone!



  1. Stephen Plant says:

    Hello Mark, are the notched leaves specific to O. crataegi or do other weevil species also leave such evidence ?
    I ask because this last summer a friend and myself have noticed such notches on various shrubs in our gardens and elsewhere here in Derby.

  2. markgtelfer says:

    A lot of weevils notch the edges of leaves. I think the notches left by O. crataegi are quite small and neat but I doubt if they’re the only species that feeds in that way. I’ve also found Vine Weevil O. sulcatus and O. armadillo by initially looking for notched leaves in garden centres and shrubberies. Prime suspect in your garden must be the Vine Weevil.

  3. markgtelfer says:

    10th Feb. 2012: found identical feeding damage on the same shrub in the car park of Sainsbury’s in Dunstable. I ought to go and look for adults later in the year for confirmation but seems very likely to be another Beds population of Otiorhynchus crataegi.

  4. Rhian says:

    Hi Mark, just seen your blog. Maybe my comment will be too late and you already have a correct ID but anyway! Looking at that tiny yellow ant from Whipsnade zoo and it looks like Plagiolepis alluaudi (a Formicine). This species is a tramp and can be found in tropical houses in zoos and botanical gardens around the UK. I recently found it in Paignton zoo. The best way to identify Plagiolepis is by counting the antennal segments – Plagiolepis have 11 segments whereas all other ants in the UK have 12 segments (workers and queens only not including males).

  5. Rhian says:

    ha, I forgot – Leptothorax also has 11 antennal segments but it’s a myrmecine so can easily be told apart from Plagiolepis 🙂

  6. markgtelfer says:

    Many thanks Rhian,
    I’d got no further with identifying my Whipsnade ant but it looks like you’ve solved the puzzle. I will check it out and post another comment here with my findings.

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