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A new Sunshiner

New version of the Amara and Curtonotus (Carabidae) ID guide available to download. Includes the newly-discovered Amara majuscula.

Acrotona pseudotenera

This aleocharine staphylinid was discovered by sieving grass cuttings from Tony Galsworthy’s garden compost heap in Merton Park, Surrey (VC 17), on 13th August 2004 and subsequently. It was first published as an addition to the British list after a specimen was exhibited by Tony Galsworthy and Roger Booth at the 2004 Annual Exhibition of the BENHS (Hodge, 2005). It originates from the Far East and is pretty clearly something that has recently been accidentally imported to Britain and become established. To the best of my knowledge, no further British records have been published but my experience is that this is now a widespread species in south-east England at least and one that is quite likely to be encountered by sieving heaps of woodchip, manure or general garden debris. I’ve recorded it in West Kent, Middlesex, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire (VCs 16, 21, 24 and 30), mostly by sieving heaps but also once by evening sweeping on Chilterns chalk grassland. I’m not alone in finding that this beetle has become quite a familiar species.

Derek Lott (2009) briefly discusses how to separate Acrotona pseudotenera from A. convergens, noting that in “A. pseudotenera … the hairs on the mid-line of the pronotum point backwards but the outer margin of each mid-tibia carries a long medial seta”. But the main literature for the identification of A. pseudotenera is Assing (1998) on pages 181 – 182 of volume 15 of Die Kafer Mitteleuropas. Dave Buckingham suggested I should put some photos on my blog, so here they are.

If you have an Acrotona specimen with the 1st hind tarsal segment as long as the 2nd, with a long mid-tibial bristle, and with Pronotal Behaarungstyp V, and it looks like these pictures, it’s probably pseudotenera. The classic Pronotal Behaarungstyp V pattern has hairs on the midline lying backwards throughout but in some pseudotenera, the hairs lie forwards on the front part of the midline, occupying up to 20% of the midline and thus approaching the pattern of Pronotal Behaarungstyp III.

Acrotona pseudotenera female. All photos taken at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, with thanks to Darren Mann and James Hogan.

Acrotona pseudotenera spermatheca

Acrotona pseudotenera aedeagus

References

Hodge, P.J. (2005). 2004 Annual Exhibition. Imperial College, London SW7 – 13 November 2004. Coleoptera. British Journal of Entomology and Natural History, 18, 201 – 208.
Lott, D.A. (2009). Acrotona convergens Strand (Staphylinidae) new to Ireland. The Coleopterist, 18, 131 – 138.

Ponking

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!

Platydema violaceum. The metallic violet and indigo colours are much more vivid in life but not so on a flash photograph.

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.

Fenugreek Stalkball Phleogena faginea was conspicuous on one of the Platydema trees.

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.

Weevil-thigh Lice

What on earth are these invertebrates?!? I haven’t got a clue – a situation which is exciting and frustrating in equal measures!

mystery invertebrate (in DMHF)

mystery invertebrate in situ on the right hind-femur of the weevil Sitona lepidus

I found four specimens on Wednesday from a wetland site on the edge of Pevensey Levels, East Sussex. I didn’t see any in the field but started noticing them as I was identifying my beetle specimens. The first was loose in a tube with two Datonychus melanostictus and I assumed it was bycatch, rather than a parasite of the weevils. But I then found one attached by its mouthparts to the mid-femur of a Protapion fulvipes, and two more attached to the hind femur of a Sitona lepidus.

I don’t think these things can be common or I’d have noticed them before. Maybe I’ve seen them before with eyes blinkered to all but beetles and just disregarded them? For the time being I will call them Weevil-thigh Lice. I would dearly like to give them a scientific name and unlock whatever knowledge exists about them. But the only way I can think to go about identifying them is to stick the photos up here and ask – do you know what they are?

Isn’t this a … ?

I don’t know if anyone’s heard this story before, but I once uttered the line “Isn’t this a White Prominent?” beside a moth trap in Co. Kerry, which was followed by a great deal of shouting, swearing, hugging, back-slapping and general euphoria. The answer to my question was yes – the first since 1938. I was able to hit the Bucks moth-ers with the line “Isn’t this Oxyptila pilosellae?” on Tuesday night, as I happened to be the first to spot one. It was on the sheet while I was crawling over it pooting beetles, and was the first of three that came to light. With no British record of the Downland Plume O. pilosellae since 1964, Colin Hart wrote that it “may now be extinct” in his 2011 monograph on the plumes. But the Bradenham area in Bucks has produced two singletons in more recent years and now three in one night. Colin himself was there to witness it. The foodplant of the Downland Plume is Mouse-ear Hawkweed Pilosella officinarum, growing on chalk or limestone grassland.

Downland Plume Oxyptila pilosellae at Bradenham by Peter Hall

I focused on beetles rather than moths (though I still saw 8 new moths!) and recorded 33 species, including the whirligig Gyrinus paykulli and the saproxylic species Euglenes oculatus. I had been hoping to see the scarab Odonteus armiger, especially a male with its rhino horn, but it was not to be. This beetle is a familiar sight to the Bucks moth-ers when they’re light-trapping on chalk grassland and seems to be extremely difficult to find by any other means.

More pleasing than any of the beetles was this fly, pooted out of the bottom of one of the traps: the chloropid Camarota curvipennis. Jeremy Richardson and I had been talking about it only the day before, as one of a few curious species of fly that drape their wings around themselves and look like roosting bats. I’ve only recorded it once before but it’s probably common.

Camarota curvipennis with its bat-fold wings.

There’s a really good photo of Camarota here. And also check out this drosophilid which has even more of a roosting bat look to it.

Edible Dormice Glis glis were constantly woofling and squeaking in the adjacent woodland and we could even occasionally see them clambering about by the light of the moth traps. I’d only previously seen them by volunteering for box-checking.

Many thanks to Peter Hall, Martin Albertini, Dave Wilton and Colin Hart for allowing me to join them.

Tales of the unexpected

Jeremy Richardson found a very striking longhorn beetle on Hackney Marsh on Wednesday and identified it as Stictoleptura cordigera, apparently new to Britain. Jeremy emailed me his photos and I was able to offer my agreement with his identification the next morning. I suggested it might make a good day out for Bradley and I on Monday and we arranged to meet up. News came in from Max Barclay at the Natural History Museum that a single S. cordigera had been recorded in “July 2007, collected by Les Wilson on thistles in Hackney Wick”. What had looked like a one-off imported individual at the time, now looks more like the fore-runner of an established population.

Stictoleptura cordigera at Hackney Marsh

Bradley pointed at it and said "Beetle", becoming the fourth person to see S. cordigera in Britain.

I hadn’t given us more than a 50:50 chance of seeing S. cordigera, so I was delighted to lay eyes on it, especially after a long and gruelling journey backpacking Bradley into London on the train. In the end we saw at least four, probably six. But as if that wasn’t enough, the same thistle patch yielded another totally unfamiliar longhorn beetle, which Jeremy instantly recognised as Paracorymbia fulva!

Paracorymbia fulva from Hackney Marsh

Another of Jeremy’s discoveries at this site is the stunning fly Myennis octopunctata. I’d drooled over his photos in Dipterist’s Digest last year so when Jeremy said he could show me some on a nearby stack of poplar logs, I was buzzing. And there they were! In life, they almost seem to be mimicking Salticus jumping-spiders. I had three more ticks on the same pile of logs: the groundbug Rhyparochromus vulgaris, the cranefly Gnophomyia viridipennis and the soldierfly Neopachygaster meromelas, this latter also a new species for Jeremy. This was one of those topsy-turvy places where it seems like everything you look at is a rarity. So much so that I mentioned there’d been a beetle added to the British list in recent years that is a specialist of poplar logs …

And there it was: Hololepta plana out on the surface! An incredibly flat beetle, well-adapted to living under the very tight-fitting bark of poplars.

Hololepta plana from Hackney Marsh

Hololepta plana side on!

Hololepta plana was discovered in the Norfolk Brecks in 2009 and I know it has been seen again in more recent years but I think this is the first occurrence elsewhere in the country. Really nice to find it for myself having dipped it at the original poplar tree in 2009.

Finally, Jeremy showed me the very rare tachinid Litophasia hyalipennis, one of the tiny minority of tachinids that lacks a sub-scutellum. It is officially “Extinct” but has obviously been resurrected!

Many thanks to Jeremy for the guided tour. As I said – he should charge!

A Night at the Achopera

I will be lurking around the Cassiobury Park entrance at ten thirty. I will be able to stay until midnight which should be plenty of time.
Dave.

I had never met Dave Murray of the Watford Coleoptera Group before. He has been working Cassiobury Park and Whippendell Woods for beetles for several years and, as I found out on Friday night, knows the place and its beetles like the back of his hand. After meeting up at the appointed lurking place, Dave took me straight to a lime snag in the Park, I flicked my headtorch on and there was Uloma culinaris!

Uloma culinaris in Cassiobury Park

Uloma is a smart, polished mahogany beetle that the WCG discovered and is still only known from Watford, and from an old record by G.B. Alexander: “Bushy Hall, in rotton wood, 20.vii.1950”. We saw at least six individuals, all on this one trunk, along with a few other saproxylic beetles: loads of Endomychus coccineus (Endomychidae), 1 Triplax aenea, 1 Dacne bipustulata (both Erotylidae) and a few Lesser Stags Dorcus parallelepipedus (Lucanidae). Uloma culinaris is not regarded as a native species, at least not by Alexander et al. (2014). I can’t really disagree, except that it would be nice to think that Uloma has been lurking in the darkness on Watford’s ancient trees since way back, until Dave and co. shone a light on it.

Achopera alternata is another startling discovery by the WCG. It’s an Australian weevil, certainly not native to Britain that was first found at Erddig in Wales by John Bratton (see Beetle News of May 2012). Rowan Alder made an online discovery of a second Welsh locality (apparently photographed somewhere near Llangollen). But the place to see this weevil is Cassiobury Park where Dave and co. have seen it in numbers on some of the stumps. We saw three on exposed sapwood of a beech snag. Even though this is not a small beetle (6 mm), they are quite difficult to spot: cryptically patterned, dull and sloth-like. Through the hand-lens, I watched this one nibbling away at the surface, presumably grazing algae?

Achopera alternata in Cassiobury Park

If you weren’t specifically searching for Achopera, it would be really hard to see, and I wouldn’t mind betting that this beetle is more widespread than we currently know.

Amongst some of the other saproxylic beetles seen on the night were 4 Colydium elongatum (Colydiidae) and a couple of dozen Teredus cylindricus (Bothrideridae), both species that are much easier to see by torchlight.

Many thanks to Dave for the guided tour, and for the humbling insight into what can be achieved by thoroughly working your patch (rather than gallivanting all over the country getting a big pan-species list!).

Reference
Alexander, K.N.A. Dodd, S. and Denton, J. (2014). A review of the scarce and threatened beetles of Great Britain. The darkling beetles and their allies. Aderidae, Anthicidae, Colydiidae, Melandryidae, Meloidae, Mordellidae, Mycetophagidae, Mycteridae, Oedemeridae, Pyrochroidae, Pythidae, Ripiphoridae, Salpingidae, Scraptiidae, Tenebrionidae & Tetratomidae (Tenebrionoidea less Ciidae). Species Status No. 18. Natural England.

Mediterranea and Victoriana

A miscellany from the last couple of days. Firstly a female Southern Oak Bush-cricket Meconema meridionale from south London today, one of many seen. These bush-crickets were discovered in Britain in 2001 having spread north from the Mediterranean. This is an adult, and the wings are tiny, so it clearly didn’t arrive in Britain by flight. But bush-crickets are sometimes found on parked vehicles and are amazingly good at clinging on at speed. It’s conceivable that it made it to London by just clinging on to some cross-channel traffic.

Southern Oak Bush-cricket female

I don’t normally pay much attention to spiders when I’m on a survey but this big girl certainly grabbed my attention: 13 mm long and looking like the sort of thing you’d see imported in a bunch of bananas, not under a log in London. It turns out to be Steatoda nobilis, and true enough this species “has been repeatedly introduced from the Canary Islands and Madeira with bananas”! In the Harvey, Nellist and Telfer (2002) Atlas it only has four dots in Britain but a look at the latest map from the Spider Recording Scheme shows that it has made itself firmly at home in southern England in the last decade. It is obligatory to mention that this is a species which can inflict a painful bite if suitably provoked.

Steatoda nobilis female

Finally, a beetle I could reasonably have expected never to see my whole life long: Oxytelus piceus. It lives in cow-pats and would not have been an unexpected sight to a Victorian coleopterist living in southern Britain. But the progress of the 20th century was tough on many dung-feeding beetles and by 1994 Hyman and Parsons were only aware of records since 1970 from West Norfolk and Monmouthshire, and made it a Red Data Book species. In a cursory search, I’ve not been able to find any other records from recent decades. It wouldn’t be surprising if it hasn’t been recorded in recent decades – the dung fauna is not exactly making a come-back. The specimen in the photo is one of two found at a light-trap in cattle pasture in Cambridgeshire on Wednesday night. Not for the first time, I’m thinking why don’t I go out on mothing nights more often. The beetles can be really interesting (and it is certainly more fun than poking through cow-pats).

Oxytelus piceus male. Apical abdominal segments flipped to show the diagnostic coupling apparatus. Identifiable from the non-crenulate pronotal margins, constricted 1st antennal segment and large eyes.

Extinct no longer

The oldest book I own was published in 1839, and in it James Francis Stephens describes the distribution of Rhyssemus germanus with a few words: “Sandy coasts: near Bristol”. When the Canon Fowler wrote about it in 1890 he was able to add that it was “said by Curtis [who was active up until the mid-1850s] to have been taken near Swansea” but added that “I know of no recent captures”. This beetle was also recorded from South Lancashire in the 1800s but I don’t have any more detail on that record.

Rhyssemus germanus. The bumpy ridges on the elytra are the most striking difference from Psammodius asper.

The structure of the hind tarsi and hind-tibial spurs is a key distinction from other psammodiines.

It was a massive shock to identify a single specimen of Rhyssemus germanus from a nocturnal torching session at Dungeness RSPB Reserve on 15-16 June this year! There is a similar species of dung beetle which I have seen a few times before at Dungeness (Psammodius asper) and I had little doubt that this specimen would turn out to be another of those. But when, on Thursday, I lined this year’s specimen up against my reference specimens of P. asper, I got a shock. Definitely something else, and I pulled out the RES Handbook and had soon keyed it out to R. germanus!

Unfortunately, the thrill of rediscovering a long extinct beetle in Britain was fairly short-lived. Once I’d got in touch with Darren Mann, he told me that R. germanus was discovered elsewhere in south-eastern England a few years ago. The discoverer has yet to publish his find so I won’t steal any more of his thunder here.

R. germanus is a dung-beetle in name but I think it is one of the species that feeds on decaying vegetation rather than on dung, living in dry sandy areas such as coastal dunes and riverbanks. I would guess that R. germanus has genuinely gone extinct at its 19th-century sites on the west coast of Britain but has recently re-colonised the south-east from the continent. Bearing that in mind, Darren advises that there’s a very similar species Rhyssemus puncticollis on the continent which could potentially make it over here. We’ll need to study a male from Dungeness to be sure which species occurs there, and my sole specimen is a female.

So I haven’t rediscovered an extinct beetle, and there is a small chance that I’ve discovered a beetle new to Britain. The rest of the story will unfold with further research. But I got a real kick out of seeing it anyway!

Thanks to Darren Mann for info and to Mark Gurney and Andy Skinner for company in the field.

Pan-species listing at Knepp

The Knepp Estate in Sussex is my new favourite place in England. This is a landscape of woodlands, copses, rambling hedgerows, veteran trees, streams, ponds and lakes with herds of Longhorn Cattle and Exmoor Ponies wandering throughout. A place without fences, where a naturalist can wander through beautiful habitat to the accompaniment of Nightingales, where a picnic may be interrupted by a hungry Tamworth Pig coming grunting out of the undergrowth, where you can dream of what England would have been like in centuries past.

I was there on 1st and 2nd June, for a recording weekend organised by Penny Green of the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, and to which the pan-species listers were invited. Inspiring company in an inspiring place and superbly hosted by Charlie Burrell, whose vision it was to “re-wild” Knepp.

Pan-species listers are, by definition, interested in all wildlife. But somehow on this occasion it all gravitated towards invertebrates on dung and carrion – luckily somebody brought some latex surgical gloves! Respite was provided by some lovely beetles on log-stacks and veteran trees, as well as some rare fungi.

With the field season in full flow, I’ve not had time to identify everything yet but this post is just to show a few photos. The rest may have to wait until calmer times!

Hedobia imperialis (formerly Ptinomorphus imperialis), a distinctive and very memorable beetle from the woodworm family. Nationally Scarce (Nb).

Coleophora on Blackthorn. The possibilities seem to be coracipennella, prunifoliae and spinella: hopefully it will rear through to adult.

Lateral view of the same Coleophora.

Putoniella pruni galls on Blackthorn Prunus spinosa. A gall that's not in the first edition of the FSC galls book but was identified for me via the pan-species listers' facebook group.

Korynetes caeruleus. Always good to see a clerid. This one was beaten from a flowering Field Maple near a red-rotten oak; a Nationally Scarce (Nb) saproxylic. We also saw a few of the similar Necrobia violacea on carcasses (and Sarah and Jon had also found N. violacea on a dead Fox at Denbies Hillside the day before).

Calambus bipustulatus, another saproxylic beetle beaten from flowering Field Maple. This is also Nationally Scarce (Nb) and I'd only seen it once before - at last year's PSL meeting at Parham Park.

Peter Hodge discovered several Pyrrhidium sanguineum on a stack of oak logs in the car park. It’s a red longhorn beetle newly arrived in Sussex from its historic range on the Welsh borders and was one of the highlights of the weekend. Torchlight searching of the log-stacks and surrounding tree trunks was productive with several Dromius agilis (an uncommon carabid), a single Corticeus unicolor (Tenebrionidae) and a single specimen of “Xyleborus species A”, a recently arrived bark-beetle (from the Orient?) discovered in Richmond Park by Peter Hammond and also known from Cowdray Park (discovered by Graeme Lyons and myself).

Corticeus unicolor. The second Sussex record of this Rare (RDB3) beetle after it was discovered at Cowdray Park by Graeme Lyons and myself in 2011.

Dromius agilis, a tree-climbing "ground" beetle associated with ancient parkland and wood-pasture. This one was found by Neil Fletcher.

After a disappointing catch of moths on Sunday morning, most of the pan-species listers took the opportunity to join a fungal tour with Ted Green and Jill Butler. I think Ted quickly got the measure of his audience and showed us some extremely rare species.

Ye Olde Greene Man, a.k.a. Phellinus robustus. On oak. One of about 20 trees known to support this fungus in Britain.

Phellinus populicola on poplar. Another rarity with an important population at Knepp. Especially happy to see this as it was one Jo gripped me off on in Buckinghamshire a couple of years ago.

Ted Green and Phellinus populicola

Agathidium nigripenne: one of the delectable leiodids. This was one of three tapped from dead poplar branches. It has no conservation status but I'd only seen 5 singletons prior to this.

Really enjoyed a weekend binging on biodiversity in fab weather and great company. I could do it every weekend, if only I could spend all week identifying specimens and photos and making sense of my notes! I learned so much from other people. My main regret is of having taken hardly any photos of people and landscapes … but it’s nice to have a reason to return.