For those who don’t follow The Ponking Chronicles, “ponking” is what Wil Heeney and John Lamin do when they go out in the field trying to identify as much wildlife as they can across all the groups. I met Wil and John through facebook and last Sunday I drove up to Lincolnshire to meet them in person, having been invited to come and look for an extremely rare beetle. I also got to meet Rowan Alder for the first time, another fellow coleopterist and pan-species lister.
I wasn’t actually blind-folded but after weaving through the country lanes of Lincs behind John’s car, I’m not really sure where we ended up. I was taken to the tree – a single standing dead oak of no more than 6 inches in diameter, shaded out by surrounding oaks and larches in a bit of ancient woodland that was cleared and replanted in 1959. It really doesn’t look like a very special place but it is one of only two modern localities for Platydema violaceum, a violet-coloured darkling beetle. We didn’t find it on this first tree but we did find one on the third tree we checked and it is a stonker!
There may only be three suitable trees in this bit of wood – I certainly didn’t see any others. And finding Platydema requires pulling bark off so it would be all too easy to destroy a significant proportion of the habitat. So if you want to see this beetle for yourself, and you do, you need to find your own somewhere else. Look under very loose bark, curling away from the trunk of small, standing, dead oaks. I was really surprised to discover that this is how John and Wil find it. It’s the sort of place I might not bother looking – where you generally just find a lot of debris, spiders’ webs and woodlice rather than interesting beetles. I expect the beetles are just hiding there during the day and at night they roam about on the tree trunks feeding, so torchlight searching might be an even better way to find it. We could almost have tested that prediction on the day as it got so dark and gloomy in the afternoon that I was using a headtorch to examine the beating tray!
It was really good to meet up and I’m really glad to have been given the chance to see this beetle. I tried to repay the favour by finding them a few other beetles by beating and sieving but it was mostly small fry which are difficult to do in the field. Best of the beetles were Phloiophilus edwardsii and Cis festivus, both off the same self-shaded lower branch of an oak with the fungus Peniophora quercina. I was also shown quite a few interesting fungi and four of them were new for me: Yellow Stagshorn Calocera viscosa, Fenugreek Stalkball Phleogena faginea, Brown Cup Rutstroemia firma and Tripe Fungus Auricularia mesenterica.
Check out Wil’s more detailed blog about the day and look out for the forthcoming paper by he and John in The Coleopterist about Platydema in Lincs.