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A day in the life …

… 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!

Centrotus cornutus, a treehopper

Attelabus nitens, the Oak Leaf-roller

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.

Coproporus immigrans, a distinctive tachyporine rove-beetle

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
Anthophila fabriciana Nettle-tap None
Pieris rapae Small White LC
Pararge aegeria Speckled Wood LC
Monacha cantiana Kentish Snail None

A day on Salisbury Plain

Dave Gibbs and I had three days’ fieldwork together recently in Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire. For two days we took a drenching and struggled to find any but the most ordinary invertebrates. And then on Friday 11th May we had a dry day with just enough sun to get a few butterflies on the wing. Our survey site proved to be a very interesting place on a south-facing, rabbit-grazed slope of Salisbury Plain with a very friable, chalky soil. Two new beetles for me: Ptomaphagus varicornis (Leiodidae) is a rare species (RDBK) which to the best of my knowledge has only been recorded from Surrey and Wiltshire in the last 40 years; and Stenus ochropus (Staphylinidae) which has no conservation status but must be fairly rare and has not been recorded from Wiltshire before (Darby, 2009). Dotted Bee-fly is always a superb thing to see, and I even had to stop work briefly to admire one basking on my sieving equipment!

Dotted Bee-fly Bombylius discolor

I also suction-sampled Geomyza breviseta (Opomyzidae), a Nationally Scarce fly mining grass leaves. Other scarcities on the day included the longhorn beetle Phytoecia cylindrica on Cow-parsley, the weevil Trachyphloeus aristatus*, the bee Osmia bicolor, a probable Hedge Rustic caterpillar**, the weevil Limobius borealis on Meadow Crane’s-bill, and Dingy Skipper. A single worker of the ant Stenamma debile s.s. looks like a good distributional record.

Couldn’t help but notice some big birds too …

Great Bustards

* previously determined as Trachyphloeus asperatus, re-determined and corrected on this webpage 7.vii.2012.
** Dave reared this and it was a Feathered Gothic.

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!

 

A weekend in the rainforest

Back when flights were cancelled all across Europe because of the Icelandic ash cloud, I went to the tropical rainforest for a weekend, and popped into the Mediterranean for a few hours on Saturday afternoon! Of course, I was at the Eden Project. Following a very interesting visit on 17th April 2009 with the British Myriapod and Isopod Group (BMIG), I arranged for a return visit on 17th-18th April 2010 for myself and Jo, along with Steve Gregory (woodlouse expert), Darren Mann and Clive Turner plus friends and partners.

The two biomes

The two biomes

In the Rainforest

In the Rainforest

You might say that studying the wildlife within a greenhouse is a trivial thing, and not nearly as interesting as studying the native wildlife outdoors. But for me this is about as close as I have come to my unattainable dream of being the first naturalist to step ashore on some undiscovered land, seeing species that no-one has laid eyes on before. And yes … I have seen undescribed species.

Identifying the species that I and others have found in the biomes at the Eden Project is a slow business, and I am reliant on the help of the top experts in Britain and abroad, whose time and expertise is greatly appreciated. This blog gives a summary of work-in-progress.

Thanks to Marc Mappley and colleagues for allowing us to study the invertebrates in the biomes.

The Rainforest Biome: Woodlice

Gabunillo

Gabunillo

Prior to the 2009 visit, only two species of woodlouse were known from the Rainforest Biome: the pill-woodlouse Venezillo parvus (discovered new to Britain from the Eden Project) and Trichorhina tomentosa (known from several other tropical glasshouses in Britain). Steve Gregory has now got records of a further 12 species detailed below: 4 aliens new to Britain (of which 2 new to science), 6 known glasshouse aliens, and only 2 native British species.

1. A species apparently new to science and probably in the genus Gabunillo. I found 13 (all females) of these small pill-woodlice on 17th April 2009, mostly in the bamboo litter of the Malaysia zone. Steve Gregory passed them onto world expert Stefano Taiti, who commented “Most probably a new species of Gabunillo Schmalfuss & Ferrara, 1983. The only species known in the genus, G. coecus, was described from some caves in Gabon. Your specimens differ in the lobes of the schisma and presence of the single reddish ocellus. For G. coecus males are known”. Several more were found in 2010 but although about 50 examples have been found so far, still no males. It may be a parthenogenetic species.

2. A species apparently new to science in the genus Pseudotyphloscia (a genus close to but distinct from Burmoniscus). Steve had 2 males of this philosciid from soil samples collected in the Rainforest Biome in 2004 and 2005 by the Natural History Museum and extracted by Tullgren funnel. He sent them to Stefano Taiti in March 2010 and Stefano commented: “This is a new species of Pseudotyphloscia Verhoeff, 1928. Up to now the genus includes only one species, P. alba (Dollfus, 1898) with a wide distribution in southern China, Taiwan, Indonesia and Philippines.” On our visit in 2010, Steve located this species in good numbers (including many males) associated with wooden pilings and shorings near the stream.

Pseudotyphloscia

unknown pill-woodlouse

3. An unknown pill-woodlouse new to Britain. I collected a single specimen on 18th April 2010. It is similar to ‘Gabunillo’ but smaller, yellowish, with dark tapered bristles (rather than colourless clubbed scales), with differently shaped outer margin to first pereonite, and with different uropods, excavated to accommodate an appendage. Steve and I would still like to get Stefano Taiti’s opinion on this one. However, Steve suspects it is just an immature Venezillo parvus.

4. Another philosciid species was collected by NHM in 2003 but just a single female and in a very poor state of preservation. It is coloured chocolate and white, 3.5 mm long. It may not even be possible to determine to genus but is something new to Britain.

5. Reductoniscus costulatus, a small bumpy pill-woodlouse, known from Kew Gardens since 1947. Common in the Rainforest Biome in 2009 and 2010, its second British locality. More recently, Steve has found two specimens from soil samples collected by the NHM in 2003 and 2005.

6. Agabiformius lentus. Once thought to be the most widespread alien woodlouse in British glasshouses, the 3 specimens I found in 2009 (det. SJG) were the first British records since before 1980.

7. Nagurus cristatus. Recorded from Northumberland in 1965 but not since (Gregory, 2009). I found 2 in 2009 and Darren found it in 2010 (all det. SJG).

8. Nagurus nanus. Steve had lots (males and females) of this species (identification confirmed by Stefano Taiti in March 2010) from samples collected by NMH in 2004 and extracted by Tullgren funnel. New to Britain but there is one Irish record of a single specimen from a heated glasshouse in Belfast Botanic Gardens in 1911.

9. & 10. On 17th April 2009, Helen Read found a female styloniscid woodlouse, possibly Cordioniscus stebbingi (det. S.J. Gregory). There is also a single female styloniscid from the NHM soil samples in 2004 which appears to be a different species. There are three styloniscids on the British list, all hothouse aliens. Males are needed to determine which, if any, of these are present in the Rainforest Biome. However, our visit in 2010 didn’t turn up any styloniscids.

11. & 12. In 2009 I found a few specimens of Haplophthalmus danicus near the edge of the Rainforest Biome. This is a common pygmy-woodlouse outdoors in Britain. The NHM samples also contained Armadillidium nasatum, a common greenhouse species in Britain but also fairly widespread outdoors.

The Mediterranean Biome: Woodlice

Armadillidium ?assimile?

Chaetophiloscia sicula

Lucasius pallidus

The Mediterranean Biome is not quite so well-stocked with exotic invertebrates but in 2005, Tony Barber recorded three species of woodlouse, two of them new to Britain: 8 females of an Armadillidium sp. new to Britain (males needed for identification), a single female ?Chaetophiloscia? (again, males needed) and Porcellio scaber (perhaps the commonest British woodlouse; also present in 2010).

In 2010, Steve Gregory was keen to try and find males of the Armadillidium and the ?Chaetophiloscia? He succeeded in finding a male of the Armadillidium which he has provisionally identified as A. assimile.

Steve’s searches also turned up an unfamiliar porcellionid which he identified within the week as Lucasius pallidus, new to Britain, a woodlouse of Mediterranean France and Spain.

Steve kindly showed me the spot where he’d found what turned out to be Lucasius pallidus, and by heaving over a large and deeply-embedded rock, I found some of the ?Chaetophiloscia?, including a single adult male. I have confidently identified this as C. sicula but will get Steve to check it in due course.

Millipedes

The Rainforest Biome had been better worked for millipedes prior to the 2009 BMIG visit, with five species recorded, including the superb Paraspirobolus lucifugus which was discovered new to Britain from the Eden Project and was common in 2009 and 2010.

Amphitomeus attemsi and 2 Reductoniscus costulatus

I didn’t pay as much attention to millipedes as I did to woodlice on the 2009 visit (nor the 2010 visit for that matter) but I did find 12 specimens of a tiny white pill-millipede that seemed likely to be new to Britain. Helen Read also found one on that visit and quickly pinned it down as Amphitomeus attemsi, new to Britain (Barber et al., 2010).

Siphonophorida sp.

close-up of horn

Better was to come in 2010 though when I found a single small, white millipede by digging down at the side of some damp, rotting, wooden pilings. Now I love the instant thrill of discovering a rarity that you instantly recognise, like the Bee-eater that came and flew about overhead one fine June day on the Deal sandhills. But I also love the feeling of staring at an invertebrate in a state of complete bafflement. Under the microscope, this millipede was like nothing I’d ever seen and after consulting every book in my possession and googling everything I could find, I was still not even entirely sure it was a millipede! Description here. Fortuitously, Helen Read recognised it as a millipede of the Order Siphonophorida, a pantropical group in which she is something of an expert. This is a new Order for Britain, and maybe a new Order for Europe! Unfortunately, they are a taxonomist’s nightmare and the chances of being able to identify my specimen to species are very small. No-one knows what they feed on or what the narwhal-like head-spike is for.

Cylindrodesmus hirsutus is a millipede known from the Palm House at Kew and from a tropical butterfly house in South Yorks as well as from the Rainforest Biome. This and/or a comparable species were found in 2009 and 2010: whitish specimens lacking paranota which seem to be C. hirsutus as well as pinkish-terracotta coloured specimens with distinct paranota which seem to be a different species. Steve is trying to figure this out with advice from Henrik Enghoff.

Anthogona brittanica is an outdoor millipede, described new to science from a male specimen collected at Slapton Ley, South Devon by Steve Gregory in 1993 (Dick Jones had also collected a specimen there in 1983) and still believed to be a British endemic. Lee (2006) mapped it from four contiguous 10-km squares of South Devon. I collected one specimen in 2009 near the edge of the biome and although it is a female, it is probably A. britannica (Steve Gregory, who described the species, tentatively agrees!). It would be good to find a male and clinch this as it would be a significant record of a rare, endemic invertebrate.

Of the three other species known from the Rainforest Biome prior to 2009, Oxidus gracilis was fairly common in 2009 and 2010 but neither Poratia digitata nor Rhinotus purpureus was seen. Later in 2009, after the BMIG visit, Tony Barber discovered Pseudospirobolellus avernus new to Britain and in fact a new family (Pseudospirobolellidae) to Europe (Barber et al., 2010). There is some evidence that species in the biomes change in abundance and it is possible that some have established only temporarily and now died out.

Beetles

Disappointingly, there are very few beetles in the Rainforest Biome. In fact, I have only found two species, though one is quite an unusual species: the silvanid Cryptamorpha desjardinsii (common in 2009 but less so in 2010). The other was Harpalus rufipes, a very common carabid beetle.

I have found several species of beetle in the Mediterranean Biome but all are common species of outdoor habitats in Britain.

Other invertebrates

A short-tailed whip-scorpion Schizomida sp.

There are lots of other invertebrates in the biomes, and with the need to screen everything carefully as a potential new to Britain or even new to science, it is quite difficult to record across all groups. However, some of the highlights are:

  • Australian Cockroach Periplaneta australasiae
  • Surinam Cockroach Pycnoscelus surinamensis
  • a jumping spider Hasarius adansoni
  • a short-tailed whip-scorpion Schizomida sp.
  • 5+ species of ants including Hypoponera punctatissima
  • big earwigs, probably a species new to Britain
  • 4 known species of centipede: Mecistocephalus guildingii, Tygarrup javanicus, Cryptops doriae and Lamyctes caeculus.
  • several species of snail including Subulina octona and Striosubulina striatella

There’s sure to be a lot more to be found, and I know there’s a lot more still to be identified from Darren and Clive’s samples. It would be interesting to have a look round the biomes at night!

Reference
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.